Seeing Pearl Harbor day from the Phillippines

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941 New Mexico’s National Guard troops deployed to the Philippines knew the Japanese would attack them the same day.

They had been watching reconnaissance planes fly over every day, but had orders not to fire. Our reconnaissance planes saw the huge buildup on Formosa. Japan had captured everything to the north, including China. The Philippines were the last major obstacle on the way to Australia.

Our men just didn’t know when the attack was coming. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, it was about 4 a.m., on Dec. 8 in the Philippines, on the other side of the International Date Line. The attack on the Philippines was planned for 8 a.m., but clouds over Formosa delayed it until noon.

That gave eight hours advance notice. During that time, rumors of the attack spread among various units of our troops, but they received no orders to mobilize. Some of the delay was attributed to sabotage.

Clark Field was a prime target of the air attack. Tommy Foy, later a New Mexico state legislator, was unable to get through to Clark Field from his post. Neither could anyone else. The warning never got through. The planes and trucks, lined up with military precision-made perfect targets for strafing runs.

Washington had not shared everything it knew with its military commanders in the Pacific, but many still wonder why Gen. MacArthur wasn’t better prepared for alerting his troops. The 200th Coast Artillery still hadn’t gotten all its guns and equipment unpacked. That task had to be finished under fire.

The story of the equipment was the same as before. It was either defective or outmoded. The ammunition was corroded and most of the shells were duds. As box after box was opened, our men realized that these were their rejects from Fort Bliss, where they had trained, outside El Paso. Much of it was left over from World War I.

But despite only one out of 10 shells being good, they scored five confirmed hits the first day. Four years later, in a speech at Deming, Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright confirmed that the 200th had been the first unit in the Philippines to fire on the enemy.

It didn’t take long for the competence of the New Mexico guardsmen, who comprised the 200th Coast Artillery, to be noticed. That first night, the undermanned 200th, too small to defend Clark Field, was split.

A third of the regiment was sent to Manila and christened as a new regiment, the 515th. It was America’s first war-born regiment, composed of only 500 men, instead of the usual 1,800. The following day, another 200 men were transferred to other units in need of their expertise. “The old 200th” was now down to only 1,100 men.

The equipment situation was just as bad in Manila as it had been at Clark Field. Nearly everything, including communications equipment, was World War I vintage. But our guys got everything working well enough to go into action within 24 hours of their arrival.

As our troops were approaching Manila on Dec. 9, the Navy was pulling out, headed south to the Dutch East Indies. But reinforcements for our anti-aircraft units were on the way. Seven ships and a heavy cruiser were headed to Manila with planes, artillery and ammunition.

Later that day, however, Washington redirected the convoy to Australia and turned four troopships, bound for Manila, back to San Francisco. MacArthur was not told, nor was he informed of the secret Roosevelt-Churchill accord to “get Hitler first.” Instead Gen. George Marshall radioed him to “expect every possible assistance.”

On Dec. 10, Japanese assault forces began landing, preparatory to a full-scale invasion and Japanese bombers and fighters began massive assaults on airfields and Manila Bay.

And thus began a terrible four months, holding the line to disrupt Japan’s quick advance to Australia, and control of the entire Pacific.

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