And so it was that Russell Volckmann was in the Philippines in 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Another Clintonian, Joe Donahey, and a Savanna man were there, too, but it was Volckmann who would rise to heights unforeseen by anyone at the time! Within months of December 7th, there were 150,000 Japanese swarming over the largest island of the Philippines, Luzon, where Manila was the largest city and capital. Within months “the Japs” had overcome American forces; MacArthur left, vowing to return; Bataan fell, and men were ordered to surrender. Then came the horrors of the Corregidor Death March, in which thousands of soldiers died at the hands of a cruel enemy.
Many of them died on the forced march, and thousands more died in concentration camps during the next three miserable years. However, Volckmann and few other military men thought for themselves and decided not to surrender, but rather to fight to end. They escaped into the jungles and distant mountains. From an initial group of four men, they began the long and arduous task of building a guerrilla force that eventually would teach the world about this type of warfare.
Meanwhile the Filipinos had difficult choices to make. They had known how to read and write before the Spaniards came in the 1500’s; then the Americans won the Spanish-American War in 1898; now the Japanese wanted to take over. These vibrant courageous people were ever-flexible and adaptive. They had learned three different languages and cultures, through difficult times, during three occupations. The oldest western university in Asia was right there in Manila. Fortunately, their education and critical-thinking skills caused them to cooperate with an American leader who won their hearts and minds and led the fight against the Japanese; a new hero for them, Colonel Russell Volckmann!