Filipinos fought for America with courage and fidelity.
The U.S. victory in the 1898 Spanish-American War ended Spain’s300-year colonial rule of the Philippines, yet many Filipinos were disappointed when the United States did not grant the Philippines immediate independence. From 1899-1902, Filipino guerrillas led by Emilio Aguinaldo and others waged an insurrection against American forces, while a separate Moro rebellion in the southern Philippines lasted until 1913. A key U.S. counterinsurgency tactic was to recruit Filipinos to join American units as scouts and fighters.
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt officially made Filipinos then serving with American forces (5,000 men in 50 companies) part of the U.S. Army by authorizing the creation of the Philippine Scouts (PS). For almost half a century, Philippine Scouts served America with courage and fidelity. One early example was when Private Jose B. Nisperos became the first Asian to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in combat against Moro insurgents in 1911.
In 1921, the U.S. Army created the Philippine Division, composed primarily of Philippine Scouts. The division’s major combat units were 43d Infantry Regiment (PS), 45th Infantry Regiment (PS), 57th Infantry Regiment (PS), 23d Field Artillery Regiment (PS), and 24th Field Artillery Regiment (PS). In 1922, 26th Cavalry Regiment (PS) was formed as a separate unit.
When Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941, Philippine Scouts quickly proved to be some of the most determined and courageous defenders in General Douglas MacArthur’s U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). For instance, during the 1942 Battle of Bataan they helped USAFFE delay the Japanese conquest for four crucial months (January-April) despite suffering from widespread malnutrition and disease. And on January 16, 1942, 26th Cavalry Regiment (PS) defeated a Japanese landing force at Morong on Bataan peninsula while conducting the last U.S. Army horse-mounted charge. The first three World War II Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. Army members went to a Philippine Scout (Sergeant Jose Calugas) and two American officers who were leading Philippine Scouts units (Lieutenants Alexander Nininger and Willibald Bianchi).
After the American surrender of Bataan, Philippine Scouts were among the prisoners of war who endured the horrific Bataan Death March and subsequent brutal Japanese captivity. However, many of the Filipinos escaped to form the core of the guerrilla bands throughout the Philippines that fought the Japanese during the 1942-45 occupation. When MacArthur’s forces returned to liberate the Philippines, surviving Philippine Scouts came forward to rejoin the U.S. Army, and the Philippine Division was reconstituted as U.S. 12th Infantry Division.
The Philippines became an independent nation on July 4, 1946. Although arrangements were made for a number of Filipinos to continue in U.S. Army service, President Harry Truman officially disbanded the Philippine Scouts as an element of the U.S. Army in 1948.
Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, “Armchair General” Editor in Chief.
“ACG” thanks Romulo “Mo” Ludan for his assistance with this article.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.