Charles Clement’s Story

I was born in Danville, Arkansas in 1920 and at the age of one, moved with my parents and four siblings to a farm near Thurston, Oregon.

After graduating from high school in 1936, at the tender age of 16, and working on neighboring farms for a wage of $15.00 for a 60 hour week, I succumbed to wanderlust and joined my brother and a pal on a road trip around the United States and into Canada.  You might be interested to know that I had saved $125.00 for the trip and each of the other boys had $150.00 which paid for our food, gas and an occasional motel stay.

In 1938, while enrolled at the University of Oregon, I joined Company M of the 186th Infantry regiment of the 41st Division. I was a sergeant in that company when as part of the 41st Division it was ordered into federal service at Camp Murray, Washington in September of 1940.

Service at Camp Murray and Fort Lewis was dominated by the monotony of infantry training until Pearl Harbor.  Then we were hastily moved to the Washington Coast as defense against possible Japanese invasive action.

In June of 1942, I was ordered to officer’s candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia and upon graduation assigned to the 14th infantry regiment stationed at Fort Davis in the Panama Canal Zone.  Our duty there was guarding critical canal installations and training for jungle warfare.

In the summer of 1943 the 14th infantry regiment was returned stateside to Camp Carson, Colorado where we were used to cadre the formation of a light mountain division.  We spent the winter training there while becoming accustomed to a change from the sweltering sea level humidity of Panama to the frigid altitude of Camp Carson, Colorado!

While at Camp Carson, I was assigned to a rock climbing leadership school which provided some adrenaline filled moments, especially during night climbs!  I also volunteered for and was accepted for training at the Parachute School in Fort Benning, Georgia.

After qualifying as a paratrooper, I was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division in New Guinea.  We found after a 3 or 4 week cruise on troop ship that the 11th Airborne had been committed to action on the island of Leyte in the Philippines.  Another South Pacific cruise ship took us north to Leyte where the 11th Airborne was resting after a tortuous campaign to clear the Japanese from Leyte’s mountainous spine had resulted in heavy casualties.

My assignment to the 511th parachute infantry regiment of the 11th Airborne Division was as leader of the 1st platoon of Company B and my first combat experience was a parachute jump on Tagatay Ridge on the island of Luzon.  The jump was behind the Japanese forces defending the southern part of the island from attack by other elements of our division.

On the following day, we advanced northward against light sniper opposition approximately 30 miles to the small village of Paranaque on the southern outskirts of Manila.  Paranaque was a strongly held position on the Genko line of defense extending from Manila Bay to Fort McKinley.  We were subjected to heavy fire from automatic weapons including multi-barrel 20 millimeter antiaircraft guns targeted for anti-personnel fire.  Needless to say, our lightening advance was slowed to a crawl and our casualties increased. 

Shortly after reaching Paranaque in the late afternoon after approximately a 30 mile thrust from Tagatay Ridge against light opposition , a Jeep cruised up the road from behind us, passed the area we occupied and crossed the bridge into Paranaque where it was greeted by heavy fire from Japanese forces.

Somehow, the Jeep driver, with a racing of the engine and a grinding of gears, managed to turn around and get back to friendly territory.  In the Jeep was General Swing, the division commander who was loudly invoking the name of the deity in condemnation of the troops he believed should have stopped him.  Regrettably his Chief of Staff was killed in that encounter.

Later that evening in approaching darkness, my company commander, John Ringler asked me to cross the bridge into Paranaque to try to contact other elements of our regiment.  My radio operator, a very young and brave trooper volunteered to go with me and despite a considerable volume of hostile fire we managed to make contact with friendly forces. In later action along the Genko line, he was killed as he walked beside me.

From Paranaque, some elements of our division attacked North through the rubble of Manila.  B Company, in which I served, was directed to the NE along the Genko line of fortifications toward Nichols Field and Fort McKinley.  The Japanese forces there were difficult to dislodge as they fought fiercely from fortified positions which included concrete pill boxes having interlocking fields of fire and supported by 20 and 30 millimeter weapons, 5 inch naval guns and 150mm mortars.  They also included night time banzai attacks in their defensive efforts.

The use of flamethrowers, white phosphorus grenades, mortars, light artillery and aggressive infantry tactics finally prevailed.  Our 16 day assault on southern Luzon killed some 5200 Japanese soldiers.

The next combat action was the Los Banos raid.  Los Banos was a small town located some 30 miles southeast of Manila which was the site of an agricultural college prior to the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. They converted it to a prison camp for civilians.  At the time of the raid it contained 2157 men, women and children of different nationalities.  3/4ths of them were American.  This all happened on the same day as the flag raising at Iwo Jima, a possible reason for the lack of information regarding it. 

According to military intelligence, it was likely that they would be killed when the Japanese retreated to the Northern end of Luzon.
We were told that in addition to the prison guards, the Japanese Tiger division of 8,000 to 10,000 men was within 2 to 3 hours response time and there was also a tank battalion in the area.

The complicated plan for rescue called for a coordinated dawn attack by a company of paratroopers (about 140 men) and Filipino guerillas, followed by evacuation of the prisoners by amtrac across Laguna De Bay.  The hope was that a diversionary attack along a road leading to Los Banos by other 11th division troops would prevent Japanese forces from a quick response to the raid.

B Company, in which I was the 1st platoon leader, was selected for the paratroop assault.  So we slept under the wings of nine C47 planes at Nichols field on the night before the raid.  On the next morning, which was February 23rd (my 25th birthday) we loaded the planes at 6:30 am and arrived at the drop zone shortly before 7:00 am.

After jumping from the extremely low altitude of 400 ft. and moving quickly toward the prison camp we encountered some automatic small arms fire but a few well aimed bursts of fire from a BAR eliminated that problem.

My platoon entered the camp over a berm and through a barbed wire fence at the back of the camp.  Most of the small arms fire to eliminate prison guards was quickly abated and we were greeted by ecstatic prisoners. 

Some of the amtracs started arriving almost immediately and we were faced with the problem of loading those vehicles with prisoners who were too weak to walk and getting the others organized for the 2 mile hike to Laguna De Bay.  Time was essential so our solution to the problem of many prisoners who wanted to go back into the barracks for belongings was to set the barracks on fire.

We escorted prisoners that were able to walk to Laguna De Bay without incident and loaded the 50 amtracs for the approximately 8 mile trip across Laguna De Bay.  The top speed of the amtracs was about 5 MPH.

A second trip by some of the amtracs was necessary and although some Japanese fire was encountered during the last loading no one was killed or injured.  The youngest evacuee was just three days old.

Airborne casualties for the raid were minimal with only 2 killed.  240 Japanese were killed.

Safe haven for the rescued prisoners in US territory was New Bilibid prison which was an abandoned Filipino prison.  Our company stayed with the rescued through the night and the next morning we were replaced by another unit and dispatched to help clear the Japanese from the mountains of Southern Luzon.

The Los Banos raid was a rare combat operation in which precise cooperation and timing helped produce near perfect execution.  Had it not been so, the outcome could have been tragic for both the prisoners and paratroops.

When General Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff he wrote of the 511th, “few army units have the opportunity to prove the concept behind them as flawlessly as yours did.  To have offered that proof while engaged in some of the fiercest combat in American history is all the more incredible.  I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Banos prison raid. It is a textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”

We encountered some pockets of organized resistance in the mountains and on patrol action.  My platoon located a defile filled with the corpses of hundreds of Filipinos who apparently had been executed after preparing some of the Japanese defensive positions.

Our final combat action on Luzon was a parachute jump at Appari on the northern end of the island with the purpose of preventing escape to the North by remaining Japanese forces.  Apparently we were too late as no forces of consequence were encountered.  There was, however a brisk wind blowing when we made the jump and my contact with the ground was very, very hard but I suffered no serious injury.

Post surrender, we were transported via C54 planes to Okinawa and then on to Atsugi airdrome in Yokohama as the first American troops in Japan.  There was some concern that we might encounter pockets of resistance, but such was not the case.  The Japanese I encountered were completely accepting and we were treated with courtesy and invited to dinners and various types of entertainment.

Since I had been in service for 5 years, I had accumulated an impressive number of “points”, so I gave way to homesickness and took an early Victory ship home, an action that in retrospect I regret.  If I had it to do over I would have stayed in Japan longer to learn more about the land and its people.

After some unfocused activity in 1947, I re-enrolled at the U of O to complete work for a Bachelor of Science degree. I married a wonderful lady in 1948 and we began a partnership of 58 years of deep love and friendship. She helped me find joy and direction in my life and our union produced four fine children, two boys and two girls.  To my profound sorrow, she died from the effects of a stroke in 2006.

I taught Mathematics in high schools at Crow Applegate, Hillsboro and Redmond for a total of 25 years.  We moved to Redmond in 1964 and in addition to teaching operated a cattle ranch.  In 1980, I retired from teaching to devote full time to the ranch.  Now at 93 active years of age, I lease the land and still live in the ranch home where I enjoy kids, grandkids, great grandkids, gardening and the Bend Band of Brothers.

I am proud to have served with the 511th Parachute Infantry which performed heroically; often under adverse circumstances and occasional meetings with former Los Banos prisoners has been a great pleasure.  In a 1997 reunion I met Louise Bourniskie, a Brush Prairie, Washington nurse who was 3 days old at the time of rescue.  That was an emotional encounter!  At the time of rescue her mother was too weak to carry her.

In 2007, I had a long conversation with an alert 97 year old Tom Blaylock, an ex-missionary in China who was escorting two preteens out of China at the outbreak of the war and got no further than the Philippines.  One of the kids, Sally Morgan became an active advocate for ex-POWs.  Just this last year I met Janice Brigham, a lady from Eagle Crest.  Her father was a Los Banos internee and she had been in avid pursuit of details about the prison and the freedom raid.

In closing, it is interesting to note that the 11th Airborne name of “Angels” which persists to this day, is commonly thought to have been originated by Los Banos prisoners thinking we looked like angels floating down under our parachutes on the day of rescue.  In fact, sometime before the Los Banos rescue when General Swing was accused of having 8000 thieves under his command because of their propensity for securing supplies by “midnight requisitions” he retorted that his men were all angels!

I am Captain Charles Clement, but you can call me Chuck.

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