June 14, 1945, Combined Filipino and American Soldiers Defeated the Japanese Troops
In 1945, the Filipino freedom fighters of Ilocos, the Cordilleras, and Cagayan Valley who had enough of the three-year oppression under the Japanese Imperial Forces, organized under the United States Army Forces in the Philippines – Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL). It was in Bessang Pass, the strategic mountain fortress in Ilocos Sur occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, that these Filipino freedom fighters mounted a series of attacks that lasted for almost six months from Jan. 1, 1945 until June 14, 1945 when the Japanese forces were crushed.
But to completely defeat the Japanese, the Filipino freedom fighters had to secure Bessang Pass, which cut through the towering mountain ranges of the Central Cordilleras, the tallest of which is at 1,400 meters above sea level. It was the backdoor of General Yamashita’s defense perimeter. Retaking Bessang Pass would mean sealing his eventual defeat and surrender. General Tomoyuki Yamashita was known as the “Tiger of Malaya”, a nickname he earned for conquering Singapore.
The Filipino guerillas marched in less than full-battle gear to the pass. Even during the summer months when the battle transpired, the high altitude only permitted one kind of weather: wet, cold, misty, foggy, and rainy. They suffered from dysentery, diarrhea, and leeches sucking their blood as they pass through the numerous streams and fought in the woods. The battle began on the second week of February 1945 with only one guerilla regiment, the 121st Infantry. American warplanes and artillery bombardment supported the brave Filipino guerrillas who engaged the Japanese soldiers during the last few days of the fighting that culminated in the victory of the Filipinos on June 14, 1945.
It was a very critical, most hazardous, and truly decisive battle. But the freedom fighters pressed on. A relatively small unit, Company “L,” led by Lt. Emilio N. Narcise, gallantly held on to its post as some battalions needed to be pulled out. They were reduced to terrible physical conditions but their unconquerable spirit formed an invincible center to the conquest at Bessang Pass. There, on 14 June 1945, they waved an olive drab GI towel, the signal flag of victory. Three months after, General Yamashita was captured and eventually surrendered at Kiangan, Ifugao.
The fall of the Japanese to the hands of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines paved the way for the entrapment of Yamashita’s forces in the Cordilleras. Yamashita finally surrendered in September 1945.