ROMULO, THE LAST MAN
OUT OF BATAAN
On April 9, 2015, the Philippines will commemorate the 73rd Anniversary of the fall of Bataan.
The battle of Bataan was the most intense phase of the Imperial Japan invasion of the Philippines during World War II. The Commander-in-chief of all Filipino-American forces in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, consolidated his units all over Luzon to the Bataan Peninsula to fight the Japanese invaders. Despite an almost complete lack of supplies and material, Filipino-American forces managed to fight the Japanese army for three months and two days standstill. On April 9, 1942 Bataan fall into the hands of the Japanese. The surrender after the fall of Bataan was the largest in American and Filipino military history. Soon afterwards, Filipino and American prisoners’ of war were forced into the Bataan Death March.
The late General Carlos P. Romulo risked his life in the Battle of Bataan, which highlighted human endurance and heroism. He was the last man out of Bataan. Before he escaped, he spent four months in the fox holes of Bataan and the tunnel of Corregidor. In a book “Battle Stations”, saw the battle of the Philippines, first with General McArthur and then with Lieutenant General Wainwright, April 1942. He was sent away because the Japanese set a price on his head. His escape was due solely to ingenuity of an air crew who patched up a makeshift Navy Amphibian and flew him through Japanese bullets to safety. Romulo’s adventure in the plane begun with his frantic dash from Corregidor to Bataan airfield where he found orders from Corregidor sending him on the Cabcaben airfield.
In his history book “The Flight of the Old Duck”, Col. Carlos P. Romulo narrated his great escape from Bataan to safety. He was ordered to go to Cabcaben airfield and asked for Lieutenant Barnick to facilitate his escape. If he was still alive he would arrange a plane for Romulo’s escape. Enemy planes were droning overhead and shells and bombs were crashing down on the Cabcaben airfield when they arrived. They jounced over the field, skirting shell holes unit they saw a light gleaming in a thicket. And he saw Lt. Ronald J. Barnick, North Dakota farm boy with resourceful mind and engaging grin. For two days and nights, Lt. Barnick and his crew had been working steadily in shifts hoping, out of the salvage remains of the old Duck, J2f4 plane to make it fly so that it will be used for Col. Romulo’s safety.
They worked on the plane until night of April 8, close to midnight when he saw them in the bamboo grove. The plane can only carry four passengers but they were six on board when the plane was done.
They waited for the moon before take-off because Japanese bombs are still falling.
Barnick started the motor. The old Duck began vibrating in a way that rattled their teeth. There was a chorus of denials that anybody was doing any shaking.
The plane creaked and jerked down the bomb-pitted field. It managed to lumber into a waddle that carried a little speed. Then it was off the ground – it was over the water – it hung a few inched above Manila Bay.
Then Japanese search lights hit them. The white lines wheeled over the dark sky and finally pinned them in a cross of binding light. Japanese guns began roaring down below. A couple of bullets ripped through the sides of the plane. One of the crew members look at the window and began yelling “Our own guns are shelling us”. They recognized the shells they had using on Bataan because each third shell was followed by a tracer carrying a light. Their own soldiers down there in peninsula did not recognize their plane.
Their plane was hit, the reason they could not get any altitude. The J2f4 plane crawled along about 70 feet above the water. They throw out all extra weight even their pistol and parachutes.
The loss of their baggage seemed to give the Old Duck a new lease of life. It soared upward – 50 feet. It crawled over the bay, over the dark – blob that was Corregidor, beyond the reach of guns and the long white fingers of the search light.
The minutes and the hours passed, and they were still flying. They were all awake and trying to peer down through the clouds to see what lay below. Below lay harbor – Cebu. There were long white ribbons of search lights groped up through the clouds, searching out their wretched little plane. It came from the decks of enemy cruisers and destroyers. Their enemies were there ahead of them. Lt. Barnick called his attention that their plane was about out of gas. Col. Romulo reached into his dispatched case that he refused to throw overboard and dragged out a map that few people had ever seen except General Wainright and General MacArthur. It was a map of the secret airfields of the Philippines.
A little later, they were circling over a secret landing field on an island that must not be named.
Lights flashed on two hundred feet below. Wearily, the Old Duck lurched down to the ground. Its tank was almost dry.
An hour later they came down in at dawn on another airfield in Iloilo. It seemed there was no thought of war in Iloilo. Peanuts were on their way to rice fields. Carabao carts and carromatas dwindled over the quiet roads. Flowers were everywhere. It was April – springtime in Iloilo.
There was a little restaurant near the airport where they stumbled into it and had breakfast. Then after they finished breakfast, they found themselves standing on the airfield listening to a radio. It came from the Voice of Freedom, from the tunnel on Corregidor. He knew that the voice was Third Lieutenant Norman Reyes, one of his assistants speaking “Bataan has fallen but the spirit that makes it stands – a beacon to all the liberty-loving people of the world – cannot fall . . . .
According to Conrado O. Benitez, Colonel Carlos P. Romulo survived the Second World War. General Douglas MacArthur promoted him to Brigadier General after successfully returning to the Philippines. For his heroism during the war, he received six military decorations. One of them is the Philippine congressional Medal of Honour. He was with General MacArthur and President Sergio Osmeña when the American liberation forces landed at Palo, Leyte on October 20. 1944.
After the war, he worked for the Philippine government for more than 50 years. Among the positions he held are Philippine Ambassador or Chief of Mission to the United Nations, President of the University of the Philippines, Secretary of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He showed his best as a diplomat and was internationally admired.
This great man had made us, Filipinos, proud of our heritage. /MP