The following is the story of Hugh Sawyer, a veteran of World War II. It is the first of two parts.

    By mid-1944 Allied forces under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz had cut off Japanese supply sources and neutered their military effectiveness by seizing control of the Gilbert Islands and some of the Marshall and Marianas Islands.
    Under the Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations, General Douglas MacArthur, the Allies had overrun the Japanese on New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands. The Japanese South Pacific base at Rabaul, New Britain was also captured by Nimitz. Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. conducted air attacks of Japanese air bases and army garrisons with little or no opposition.
    These victories put the Allied Forces close enough to bomb the Japanese islands. Even though it was obvious they were losing the war, neither the Japanese government nor its military exhibited any sign they were ready to surrender. During a Canadian meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, a date for the first Allied landing on Leyte, a central island in the Philippines, was approved.
    Meanwhile 8,400 miles from the Philippines, eighteen-year-old Hugh Sawyer was involved in a major battle of his own – basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. His enemy wasn’t the Japanese, but the scorpions, the dust and the 110-degree heat.
    “I don’t have a good word for Texas,” spat out Sawyer. “They always put those basic training places in Hell’s Half Acre and that’s where Camp Hood is. They gave us the treatment, the whole works. Some of the fools couldn’t make it through basic training. I guess they had to put you through hell to see if you could do whatever it was you were going to do.”
    Sawyer, who will be 92 in February, was too young to join in 1941, but as soon as he was of age he joined the Army in July 1944. He took part in the 1944-45 clean-up of Japanese troops on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines and was part of the Occupation Forces after the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945.
    In March 1942, General MacArthur was forced to vacate the Philippine Islands during Japanese advancement after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Between 1942 and mid-1944, MacArthur and Nimitz armed and supplied the Filipino guerrilla resistance. The Filipinos provided reconnaissance and fought with Americans on the front lines.
    On October 20, 1944, aided by naval and air bombardment, the US Sixth Army landed on the eastern shores of Leyte. The Japanese attempt to crush the advancement of US troops proved futile and led to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was during this battle that kamikaze attacks were initiated. Over 5,000 kamikaze pilots would perish in this battle taking 34 Allied ships with them. However, the remainder of the Imperial Japanese Navy was annihilated, ending their ability to engage in subsequent major naval battles
    It was from Leyte that the Japanese would be cut off from critical support and would concede that the likelihood of keeping the Philippines as a strategic base was no longer viable. It was from Leyte that other islands in the Philippines would be liberated by Allied forces. It was upon Leyte that General MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised in 1942 announcing, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!”
    Leyte would also be the place where young Sawyer would first step foot on the Philippines and into the waning days of WWII in the South Pacific.
    “I was at Leyte,” Sawyer recalled. “Leyte was where there was the original invasion. I had to walk up onto the beach and got off right there. I was there for just a short time and then they sent me to Luzon.”
    Mindoro, a launch pad for the Lingayen Gulf operations, was assaulted by Allied forces on December 15, 1944. Meeting little Japanese resistance, Allied forces quickly controlled two Japanese air bases which would provide air support for the invasion of Luzon. MacArthur chose Lingayen Gulf for the Luzon landing so that his troops would have access to highways and the railroad in the central region, Cagayan Valley.
    On January 9, 1945, along the southern shore of Lingayen Gulf, the Sixth Army, with over 60,000 men, landed on the island of Luzon (see Lingayen Gulf Invasion map). Eventually, 280,000 men of the combined Allied forces would fight to control Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, and where 275,000 Japanese troops were embedded.
 
    “Luzon is a northern island and it has cities. In those other islands, the cities are just bamboo,” explained Sawyer. “Luzon - the southern part of Luzon - is where Manila is, which is a very large city. But the original invasion of Luzon was up the central island of Luzon where there is the Lingayen Gulf and I got off there. There’s a central valley that goes down on the way to Manila. I was actually in that central valley. From Lingayen, there was a little town named Dagupan. I know all those little towns.”
    “The Equator goes across the southern end of the Philippines. In the northern end, the weather is more moderate. They have only two seasons – the dry season and the wet season. Generally, the weather is mild and pleasant. There’s one modern city to the north of Dagupan. I was camped about five miles from Baguio. It’s what they call the summer capital of the Philippines. It was a city just like ours with houses and buildings, but they were small. Maybe one or two-story.”
    After the landing at Lingayen Gulf, the first week was relatively easy with Allied forces meeting little Japanese resistance. However, the Allies would soon discover the network of Japanese defense tunnels and caves in the Sierra Madre mountains of Luzon. The Japanese hoped to withstand a disastrous bombardment from an Allied invasion and believed Luzon to be strategic in preventing the invasion of the homeland.
    The Japanese were under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who had 430,000 troops spread over the Philippines. Yamashita knew that his troops were ill equipped, weak from disease and starvation, and that they would be no match for the Allies. He withdrew his troops into three mountain strongholds centered around Cagayan Valley (see the map of Japanese defenses in Luzon).
    The Kembu Group, the smallest of the three groups, would defend the infamous Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor, the gateway to Manila. The Shimbu Group of 50,000 men would defend southern Luzon and another 30,000 men would be deployed east and west of Manila. The Shobu Group, the largest of the three, was to secure the northern part of Luzon and was the group that Sawyer’s outfit would come up against.
    “My outfit operated and did their shooting in that central valley, not in the jungles or the mountains,” Sawyer continued.  “When we got off at Lingayen Gulf and left Dagupan, we headed south towards Manilla, about 150 miles from Lingayen. There were roads and railroads and all.”
    “There wasn’t a lot of resistance from the Japanese because the war was winding down before I got there, though initially there was a lot of Jap resistance,” said Sawyer, describing his introduction to combat. “We just cleaned up, running up and down that highway and the little towns around there. We would go out in the day time and have a little skirmish and clean out ditches. I was in a tank destroyer outfit that operated like cavalry. Little tanks, but we operated just like cavalry – small arms. Light armor, but mobile. So, we ran around to those little towns putting out fires and cleaning out ditches and that’s the action I saw,” recalls Sawyer.
    “Sometimes we’d be in one of those little towns and…a whole lot of this is ugly and most will think it’s uncivilized,” said Sawyer introspectively. “But it’s the way it was. We’d go into the little towns to get drunk. That was the only thing to do. The Philippines had plenty of rum. Heading back to camp, we’d stop and sometimes start drinking and have a chicken. Chickens was about the size of a pigeon. You’d go into a restaurant and drink and eat a chicken. Many times, the Japs would be there, too - on the other end of town. We’d just stay apart and there wasn’t any trouble. Of course, you’d stay armed, but that’s just the way it was at night.”
    “Now, we’d go out during the day time and have a little skirmish and clean out ditches. After the shooting would settle down, we’d run out and loot the dead to try and find a pistol,” recounted Sawyer. “Everyone wanted a side arm for convenience. We weren’t issued a sidearm unless it was your standard issue. Most of us weren’t issued a pistol, so largely, it was a pistol we were after. I got a pistol and kept it under my belt. Like I said a lot of people will find this uncivilized, but that’s the way war is.”
    When asked about his commanders in the Luzon operation, Sawyer talked about MacArthur and Nimitz. “He (MacArthur) was over the whole army of the whole Pacific. Nimitz was in charge of the Navy and Marines – both of them. People don’t know it, but MacArthur had a navy.”
    Sawyer had great respect for MacArthur, but not much for Nimitz or the Marines.
    “He (MacArthur) was a showman, but he was very concerned about his losses and I respected him for that. Whereas, the Marines, fools, were the glory seekers and slaughtered men for glory – the glory of war,” spat out Sawyer disgustedly.
    “He was most always right. Yeah, I had a lot of respect for MacArthur.” After Luzon, Sawyer would be part of the Occupation of Japan.