In hopes of reaching Japan, Allied forces had to secure the Philippines, a chain of about 7,000 islands southwest of Japan. The islands would be used to stage a major attack against Japan. The US also sought to liberate the Philippines from Japanese imperial rule.
Just hours after the raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese attacked Clark Air Field outside of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, delivering a major blow to US forces there. Amphibious landings at Bataan, Corregidor, and other key islands followed, and within two days, Japan had greatly weakened American air and naval forces. Over the next five months, despite the combined US-Philippine resistance, Japanese Imperial Forces seized the Philippines, gaining new territory and attempting to secure its power in the southwest Pacific.
The campaigns of the Philippines that followed, beginning at Leyte, were crucial because the victor would likely win the Pacific war. Japan held fast to the region, protecting its critical supply line between the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia and the Philippine islands. The Americans had to wrest it back from the Japanese. Given a second chance at defending the Philippines, Allied forces could not falter.
The battle in the Philippines was long and hard. Even after the last campaign officially ended on July 4, 1945, the fighting continued until Japan's full surrender later in September. But Allied forces were able to island-hop their way to victory by moving in closer to the Japanese homeland.
The hard work and dedication of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) linguists in the campaigns in the Philippines proved significant for the Allied victory. The MIS Nisei, both war veterans and recent graduates fresh from the Military Intelligence Service Language School, helped in a myriad of ways. They worked remotely, from Vint Hill Farms Station outside of Washington, DC, where they pored over scores of intercepted messages. About 100 of them were also at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where they worked signals intelligence.
But they were also in the thick of the action in the Philippines themselves. They fought in the jungles, dropped in by parachute behind enemy lines. They fought in the urban ruins as well. They interrogated thousands of POWs at camps, including those set up on the islands of Leyte and Luzon. They translated scores of documents captured from the Japanese. They assisted with psychological warfare, intercepting Japanese radio broadcasts and delivering their own broadcasts, and creating propaganda materials.
All Allied soldiers faced the grueling hardships of jungle combat as well as urban warfare with an enemy who was fiercely driven. But the Nisei alone confronted the dangers of being mistaken for Japanese soldiers by the local population, who held an intense hatred for those who had subjected them to cruel and harsh treatment under years of occupation. The MIS Nisei also faced the possibility that their own families in Japan would be in danger if their identities were discovered by the enemy.
Fully aware of these challenges, many MIS Nisei still volunteered for the campaigns in the Philippines to prove their loyalty to the United States. Many would go on to prove their valor as well, awarded Silver Stars and other commendations for their heroism and service.
The Philippine campaigns relied heavily on combat intelligence. General Douglas MacArthur's success and the fulfillment of his promise to return to the Philippines was no doubt due in part to the work of the Nisei in the MIS.
1Jennifer L. Bailey, "Philippine Islands: The US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, last updated October 3, 2003, accessed January 17, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/pi/PI.htm.
2Stephen J. Lofgren, "Southern Philippines: The US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, last updated October 3, 2003, accessed January 17, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/southphil/southphils.htm.
3This was especially real for radio broadcasters in psychological warfare. See James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 213.
094 - Victor Abe
Starts on Tape Three, between 22 and 24 minute marks
VICTOR ABE: Oh, yes in, where was it, in the Philippines. I was fortunate enough not to catch malaria but I got dengue fever and dengue fever is similar to malaria where you get the fevers and the chills and no matter how hot it is you get chills and you're shivering and then but 20 minutes later it's so hot you take all the blankets off and you're perspiring. And that went on for several days and luckily I recovered without any after-effects.
094 - Victor Abe
Starts on Tape Three, between 24 and 26 minute marks
VICTOR ABE: Then we got ready for invasion of Philippines. So, we got on board the transport - a very old, I think, Australian transport, and we went from New Guinea and landed in Leyte.
What was the background on the invasion of the Philippines? Did you know anything beforehand before you landed on Leyte?
No. We all know we're going to - not Leyte but to the Philippines; because that was McArthur's strategy, leapfrog instead of fighting for each little island. We are just leak through and then take this strategic position. So, Leyte was one of those places and so we landed over in Leyte on D + 10.