The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 27, 2013

“We Remained” and “We Won!”

By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald

It is incredible that Colonel Russell Volckmann survived at all, let alone as Public Enemy Number One of the Japanese, who hunted him like a dog! Volckmann was a fierce fighter and a leader of wide repute, but perhaps his greatest skill, along with other Americans, was helping to win the hearts and minds of the Filipinos. He befriended many, and one of his lieutenants those days was Ferdinand Marcos, future president of the Philippines!


Living conditions were incredibly harsh, as he and his men coped with snakes and swamps, and the days turned into months and years.  Even the best of times were fraught with infestations of insects, and for years their most treasured commodity was that of sleep, -- often fleeing at a moment’s notice, to escape roving bands of Japanese who sought them day and night. Volckmann and his men worked hard when they were healthy, but had to rest often when "the fevers" took their strength.  


At the beginning of their ordeal, one big dilemma was not knowing friend from foe and having to discern loyal from disloyal individuals. Their little army even came into contact with the Igorots, who were head-hunters in those jungles! Elsewhere, as the world watched, Bataan and Corregidor became infamously known for the cruel “death march” forced by the Japanese, -- proof that Colonel Volckmann and others had done the right thing in refusing to surrender. 


Volckmann’s handful of Americans soon joined up with anti-Japanese Filipinos to form several battalions, which eventually spread out over the entire island.  The guerrillas used a sort of "pony express" system throughout its many trails, to keep in contact and to form the fighting units which later proved so valuable. His tiny band eventually grew to 20,000 tightly-organized and trained soldiers. They were both Americans and Filipinos, fighting side-by-side for victory and freedom. Independence was now on the horizon for the Philippines!


It is amazing how their rag-tag organization developed over the years and sat in place, ready and waiting for MacArthur’s return.  In 1945, their guerrilla army would fight heroically with American forces, and it fit perfectly, because once the Japanese were put on the run, they too resorted to guerrilla tactics and had to be routed out of mountain caves and jungles. And Volckmann knew just where to look!

The Japanese were formidable adversaries who seldom gave quarter, but the guerrillas were able to find and exploit their weaknesses, which led to many successful attacks upon the enemy. Later, when communication with the outside world was gained, the troops under Volckmannn were ordered to back-off from frequent military attacks and work solely on organization and intelligence until MacArthur and his forces returned. The existence of his guerrilla forces and their intelligence was more valuable than just pestering “the Japs," as they were referred to throughout Volckmann’s book.


At the appointed time in 1944-45, submarines began dropping off supplies to Volckmann’s guerrillas, and coordinated plans were developed to retake the Philippines.  That assignment was fairly complete by July, 1945, and dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan ended WWII in August of that year.  There was still much to be done to return the islands to normalcy, and it took a long time; but Volckmann remained loyal and stayed to help the Filipinos  set up a free, safe, and independent country. 


Interestingly, while Volckmann was there helping to clean things up, his brother-in-law, John Stansberry, came looking for him in Manila, but they were unable hook up as all military men try to do. While there though, Stansberry was surprised to run into Bob Snell, who was on “R & R” in Manila. - Isn’t it a small world?!


Russell Volckmann was by then a much-honored hero. He could have retired and rested on his laurels, but MacArthur tapped him to do still more work in Korea. Then, at age 50, he learned to be a paratrooper, and to be a leader (among many) who created the famous Green Berets. Eventually, he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, and for decades after the war was a well-known guerrilla warfare expert, who could probably have taught them a thing or two even yet today.


Finally, in the 1970’s, Russell Volckmann returned to live in Morrison and work at the furniture factory there. He returned to his home and to younger sister, Ruth, who so idolized him as a child that she “wanted to grow up and marry him!”


One day after returning home, he met local physician, Dr. Salvador Borja, from the Philippines. Dr. Borja later would tell his stories to Dr. Gregorio Lauz and Dr. Elpidio Mariano, in Clinton. Ironically, Dr. Mariano’s Uncle “Mac” Mariano was a lumber CEO in Luzon before, during, and after the Second World War. Mac told the Japanese that they could not indiscriminately deforest the mountains of Luzon, which, as you might imagine, caused political problems for him. And so it had been with all the Filipinos; they had to carefully determine who their friends were, who might win the war; and who might represent their best chance for freedom. Mac tried hard to remain neutral, but ultimately had to hide out in Mindanao for the duration of the war.


Millions of Filipinos “chose the right side,” and thus were those islands able to gain their independence. The Clinton doctors from the Philippines (above), as well as Drs. Ancheta and Corpuz, love their new country, but they probably would never have been able to venture here without the freedom that “Colonel” Russell Volckmann enabled …. for them, and for us.