Key point: The raid on Cabanatuan was daring and saved many lives. The commander of that attack would go on to carry out three more amazing raids.
On January 30, 1945, a group of U.S. Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts, and Filipino guerrillas set out on a daring nighttime raid on Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines. Led by Ranger Colonel Henry Mucci, they hoped to rescue over 500 American prisoners, including some held by the Japanese since the Bataan Death March.
One of the great tragedies of war for the United States in the 20th century has been the suffering of American military servicemen seized by the enemy. During World War II, American GIs held captive by the Japanese confronted starvation, disease, despair, brutality, and death. Behind bars and barbed wire, they waited year after year, looking to the skies and praying for release or rescue. Many died waiting.
Four months after Pearl Harbor, in April 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded the Philippines where it cornered and captured nearly 80,000 defenders near Mariveles on the Bataan Peninsula of Luzon, some 12,000 of whom were American GIs. They were herded to the National Highway for the 65-mile march to Camp O’Donnell that became known as the Bataan Death March. More than 1,000 Americans died or were savagely murdered on the way.
Roughly half the surviving American POWs were transferred to Cabanatuan, a former Philippine Army recruit training camp 40 miles northeast of O’Donnell. Less than three years later, disease, execution, random murder, and shipments to slave labor districts in Formosa, Manchuria, Japan, and other sites had reduced the inmate population to 600 or less.