Then Came the War
War reached Los Baños on December, 1941 when three Japanese planes bombed Molawin Mess Hall just as the faculty were about to gather together for a sendoff luncheon in honor of the menfolk who were about to join the USAFFE at the battle front. As fate would have it, the trainees were then still at nearby Baker Hall listening to the chaplain’s sendoff speech.
Manila had hust been captured bt the invading Japanese forces and it would not be long before Los Baňos fell into the enemy’s hands.
The Internment Camp
The campus would be declared a recuperative camp for Filipino war prisoners under Fidel Segundo in September 1942, and later as an internment camp for allied nationals starting may 1943. It also served as headquarters of the Japanese Army thereby depleting its resources in no time. Many valuable trees were cut down and used for fences of the camp and for firewood. It did not take too long for the Japanese to use up the college’s provisions such as farm animals and vegetable gardens. On October 1, 1943, the Japanese army, headed by the chief of staff, decided to bivouac on the campus. They displaced the faculty from their houses and even the students from the laboratories thereby aggravating the already acute housing and classroom shortage in the college remained open through the war years especially as many oh the male students had joined the guerilla unit by January 1945. It was the same unit that would help the US Army’s 11th Airborne paratroopers and the first Calvary Division that would liberate the internees a month later.
The UPCA campus remained open despite the establishment of the camp which spilled over a good portion of the campus. All the buildings in the college were taken by the Japanese Imperial Army high command particularly the Animal Husbandry building as well as the faculty houses along the road to forestry. The only one not occupied was the Old Chemistry Building where the dean relocated his office and where most of classes were held.
The Los Baños Raid
But while the internees and the Japanese were mostly preoccupied with such concerns as food and camp’s overall conditions, guerilla and US Army forces have been conducting reconnaissance of the camp in preparation for the plans to rescue the prisoners. On February 23, 1945 the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 11th Airborne Division in cooperation with Filipino guerilla under the overall command of the 4th Division of Hunters-ROTC planned and executed an operation to rescue 2, 147 Allied civilian prisoners from an internment camp located 25 miles behind enemy lines on the grounds of the UPCA campus.
The detainees, most of whom had been held since 1942, included men, women, and children from a cross-section of nations: the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, France, and Italy.
In a tightly coordinated operation, the 511th PIR dropped a company of 125 men at dawn on Los Baños while Philippine guerillas attacked from the outside. Suffering only two guerillas death, US and Filipino forces killed or dispersed the 250-man guard force and evacuated the prisoners in a fleet of amphibian tractors belonging to the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion across Laguna de Bay to the safety of American lines.
In a special communiqué after the raid, General Douglas MacArthur wrote, “Nothing could be more satisfying to a soldier’s heart than his rescue. I am deeply grateful. God was certainly with us today.” Formerly Secretary of State Colin Powell later said of the Los Baños Raid, “I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”
While the raid was hugely successful, it had tragic aftermath. In the days following the Los Baños rescue, Japanese troops in retribution slaughtered an estimated 1, 500 Filipino men, women, and children in the villages surrounding the former internment camp.
Filipino guerillas played a key role in the liberation of the Los Baños camp. Hunters-ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), made up of former Philippine Military Academy cadets, along with ex-ROTC students and other former college students, was one of the most active groups. Its 47th ROTC Division commanded by Colonel Emmanuel De Ocampo exercised overall command of the guerillas during the raid. Lieutenant Colonel Gustavo Ingles coordinated an attack on the ground. Other forces included President Quezon’s Own Guerillas (PQOG) Red Lions Unit, the Filipino-Chinese 48th Squadron, and the Villegas group of the Hukbalahaps. Following the surrender of American and the Philippines forces Bataan on April 9, 1942, the guerillas inflicted heavy casualties upon Japanese occupation forces.
In April 1946, General Masaharu Homma and Tomoyaki Yamashita who were in command of the Bataan death march were tried in Muntinlupa for war crimes and widely believed to have been executed in Los Baños behind the PCARRD apartments in Brgy. Timugan.