by John M. Ringler

The Mission

The Company "B" mission was only one part of the over-all operation. I was in command of Company "B" since mid-January, 1945, which gave minimum time to become acquainted with all the personnel in a new unit in combat. We were pulled off the front line on 21 February, 1945 for the Los Banos mission on the 23rd of February.

Prior to this operation, it was the battalion commander who assigned the day's operation or mission to his company commanders. For this operation, Lt. Col. Edward H. Lahti, the Regimental Commander, arrived at my company CP, as we were fighting for Fort McKinley. He stated, "You will report to the Division Commanding General and I will take you there." A thousand things can race through your mind as to what I or the company did since our 3 Feb. 511th RCT jump on Tagaytay Ridge that the Div. CG is directing my presence. At this time, I had not heard anything about Los Banos. The Regt. CO stated that he didn't know why the CG wanted me.

Upon arrival at the Div CP, the G-2 and G-3 met Lt. Col. Lahti and myself. They directed us to Major General Swing's office, where I reported as directed. It was at this time that the CG informed me that "B" Company would jump on Los Banos to rescue the internees from the Japanese prison camp. He commented that we could take heavy losses of troops and internees if we were not successful. After discussing the major points of the operation, the CG asked if there were any questions. I had none at the time and was unaware that other units would have a major role in the operation.
The Briefing

The CG then directed the G-2 and G-3 to provide a complete briefing on the information they had available to them. It was at this time that I was informed of the other elements that would make up the task force to accomplish the mission. As the air- borne commander, I was permitted to select my own drop zone from the photos that the G-2 and G-3 provided. They also provided a very detailed and complete intelligence summary on the enemy gun positions, diagrams of the camp facilities and a daily routine of activities of the Japanese guards. This information, which was very vital, was provided by Peter Miles, an American internee who escaped from the prison camp a few days earlier. After many hours of briefing and planning, I returned to my unit, which had already been relieved from the front line action. After discussions with the Ist Bn. CO Major Henry Burgess, he attached the Hq. Co. Light Machine Gun platoon, under the command of Lt. Walter Hettlinger, to "B" Company to provide extra manpower and fire power. The company only had a strength of 80 plus personnel prior to the reinforcement.

I was briefed that the Ist Bn., (minus "B" Company), with attached units, would travel by Amtrac across the lake (Laguna de Bay). The 88th Glider Infantry Regiment (minus its 2nd Bn) would establish the diversionary force to hold the enemy in their positions. The Filipino guerrilla force would outpost the outer edge of the prison camp to prevent any possible escape of the Japanese force. "B" Company, plus the LMG platoon, would revert to control of the 1st Bn. CO, upon their arrival at the camp. The Division Reconnaissance Platoon would complete all prior reconnaissance of the camp area and be in position to attack the enemy positions upon the opening of the first parachute at 0700. Lack of sufficient winds on the Laguna de Bay caused considerable problems for the Recon platoon in their water crossing, which delayed, but did not prevent, their movement to their objective areas.

My plan was to drop at a low altitude, and as close as possible outside the camp to surprise the Japanese garrison, and to avoid a concentration of enemy ground fire. The three rifle platoons would assemble on their own leaders and move directly to their objective areas to engage the enemy. The platoon leaders were briefed on their area of responsibility, and they in turn briefed their men. On the afternoon of 21 Feb., I assigned Lt. Roger Miller, with two enlisted men, to make a reconnaissance of the drop zone with the Recon Platoon and then return to the unit for debriefing and to jump with the company. The Jump

We spent the night of 22 Feb. at Nichols Field. There was no moon. The sky was clear in the predawn, as we put on full combat equipment, then our parachutes, and loaded with our crew served weapon bundles into nine C-47s, under the command of Major Don Anderson, 75th Troop Carrier Squadron. The short flight in tight formation was unopposed by Japanese fighter planes or antiaircraft fire. As we approached the drop zone, smoke was visible. I was jumpmaster of the lead aircraft. At dawn, 0700 hours, we jumped and all landed on the DZ without casualties.

Due to weather conditions, Lt. Miller and the men were not able to return for the jump. They rejoined the company at the drop zone. It was our own "B" Company men who released the smoke grenades as the planes approached the DZ. The Recon Platoon, although encountering difficulty, was able to arrive at their assigned target areas to engage the enemy gun positions. The enemy was initiany concentrating on the action from the Recon. Platoon, which permitted "B" Company to assemble and rapidly move into the prison camp.

After a rapid assembly, there was only minor enemy resistance, which was eliminated. Upon our arrival inside the camp, the internees were very jubilant and excited as to the events taking place. After a rapid survey of the situation, our company started to assemble the internees for a rapid movement out of the camp. With over two thousand individuals, this became a turbulent mass of human beings. Trying to control them and keeping them in one place was almost impossible. It was at this time that some yelled, "Enemy tanks." We had to react to the alert to defend against possible attack. The noise that the individual heard was the Amtracs headed to our positions. Another problem occurred. Many of the internees did not want to leave their huts, or were returning to retrieve items left behind. To overcome this problem, I had Lt. Hettlinger take a detail and torch all of the huts. The arrival of the Amtracs again caused mass confusion in trying to control the internees. The Liberation

After the first Amtracs were loaded with the disabled, along with women and children, we were able to assemble all the remaining internees into a walking column, and head for the Mayondon beach area. As our unit guarded the moving internee column, we heard distant firing, indicating the enemy was probably sending elements to engage our troops. The battalion commander was successful in his decisive action to evacuate all of the internees and troops via the lake; thereby, saving the possibility of receiving heavy casualties, if we had attempted to fight our way through the enemy lines, All troops and the 2,147 men, women, children internee prisoners, including a few U.S. Navy nurses POW, arrived safely near Mamatid village, the original embarkation point for the Amtracs on the shore of Laguna de Bay.

For this mission, I made a decision to jump at a much lower altitude than the normal 1,000 feet. This low altitude gave us less exposure to enemy fire and permitted a rapid assembly. Prior to this mission, each of the platoons had a Filipino lad with them for carrying ammunition, and they wanted to make the jump. After approving this request of the NCOs, they gave the three lads a quick course in proper parachute landing positions. I was not worried about them getting out of the C-47 aircraft, for I knew the NCOs would take care of it. If I had to make that decision other than during combat condition, I would not have given approval.

This operation was successful due to the efforts of all units that participated. Failure on any one unit's part could have meant serious loss of lives for the internees, the guerrilla force and our own troops. This entire operation was completed on verbal orders. The written orders came after completion of the mission.

One point of the operation that I have never understood is how could you have over two thousand persons in the target area and live fire coming in from four sides and yet not have a casualty within the camp. It is actions like this that makes us think of Who controls our destiny.


Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT" Quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute Infantry Association