Their objective: Los Banos Internment Camp, a prisoner-of-war stockade on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, where 2,147 Allied POWs were languishing.
The 1st Cavalry Division and the 37th Infantry Division were fighting to take the northern part of the island. A couple of dozen 11th Airborne troops jumped behind enemy lines into the heart of the camp to free the prisoners, while the rest of the airborne division advanced from the southern end of the island northward.
Al Bond of North Port, Fla. was one of the airborne troopers who made the daring jump behind enemy lines in January 1945 during World War II.
“It was 7 a.m. when two dozen of us parachuted into the camp,” the former sergeant major said. “We packed our own parachutes, climbed aboard a C-47 transport plane with nothing but our M-1s (rifles), ammo and grenades.
“We jumped at 400 feet. By the time you said ‘one thousand, two thousand, three thousand,’ your feet were touching the ground,” Bond said. “All of us landed together at the same time and caught the Japanese by surprise. They were doing calisthenics and put their hands up without a fight when they saw us.”
The prisoners were eating their morning rice when the paratroopers from the 11th Airborne miraculously arrived in their midst, said the 83-year-old father of six.
“The American POWs in the camp saw us drop from the sky and went wild. So did the rest of the prisoners being held by the Japanese at the camp,” Bond said.
The airborne soldiers quickly rounded up everyone in the camp. Those who couldn’t walk were put on an ox-drawn carts. The rest of the former POWs followed behind the slow-moving carts south down a narrow two-lane road toward their rendezvous with the main body of the airborne division coming up from the south in trucks.
“The 35 Japanese prison guards were at the head of the column of our men, under guard. The POWs wanted to kill the former prison guards, so we had to keep them separated,” Bond said.
Late that afternoon, the column of bedraggled prisoners rendezvoused with the truck convoy. The sick and starving ex-POWs were loaded aboard the Army trucks carrying the rest of the division and transported to military hospitals on the south end of the island.
By May, the three Army divisions had cleared Luzon of enemy troops during three months of hard fighting.
The 11th Airborne, known as “The Angels,” first came ashore on New Guinea in the South Pacific in 1944.
“It was suppose to be a big secret,” Bond said. “We had only been in New Guinea a few hours when Tokyo Rose broadcast on the radio, ‘Welcome to the 11th Airborne Division that just landed in New Guinea.'”
For five months, the Angels received jungle warfare training. Mostly, Bond said, they tagged around with the natives who spent much of their time killing Japanese stragglers and collecting their ears. The natives were paid a bounty by the Australians for each set of ears they turned in.
On Nov. 18, 1945, the 11th Airborne received its baptism of fire when the unit came ashore at Leyte in the Philippines. Their objective was to clear a mountain pass of enemy troops. It took three months of tough fighting to get the job done.
“It was in Leyte when I was sleeping in a tent with the colonel, and a Jap got in,” Bond said. “The tent was beside a rice paddy where the Jap had been hiding with his bayonet. He tried to stab the colonel with his bayonet, but the colonel woke up and knocked the bayonet aside. It hit me in the wrist. The colonel stabbed the Jap to death with his own bayonet. I never got a Purple Heart.”
At the conclusion of the Leyte Campaign, 11th Airborne troops had been credited with killing 6,000 Japanese soldiers holding the island. After a short rest and resupply, the division moved on to its biggest battle during World War II — the invasion of Luzon, the main island in the Philippine chain. It was late January 1945 when the airborne troopers hit the beach.
“We landed with the first wave. Our ships offshore put up a continual barrage from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. We were told the beach was all clear and we should make it ashore without much difficulty,” Bond said. “As soon as we hit the beach, we caught all kinds of hell from the Japanese defenders. They opened up on us with everything they had.”
They were 70 miles from Manila, the capital. The division was to clear Highway 17, the main road, and link up with Allied forces attacking Manila. After capturing Fort McKinley, Clark Field and Nichols Field, “The Angels” began the final assault on Manila. By the time the 11th had broken the Japanese line of resistance around the city and broke through, they found a city in ruin. It had been bombed into submission by Allied air force planes and cannons.
“The mayor of Manila dug up a bottle of rum for us and we started celebrating,” Bond said. “While we were partying, a Japanese transport flew over and a dozen paratroopers bailed out. They were dead by the time they hit the ground.”
Before the surrender was signed, Bond was on the ground in Tokyo setting up a headquarters unit for the 11th Division. For the next four months, his unit served as part of the occupation force in Japan. Mostly, they made friends with the local kids during that period.
“We were finally sent home aboard ship. It was Dec. 20, 1945, when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Harbor. We thought there would be a big parade and everything. There was nobody there to greet us,” Bond said. “Worse than that, they kept us in quarantine aboard ship in the harbor until Jan. 10, 1946. Then I took a slow troop train home to Patterson, N.J., that stopped at every little town along the way to let soldiers off.”
What did this current North Port resident do when he got home?
“I hadn’t seen my wife in four years,” Bond said with a smile.
Alfred H. Bond was born on April 16, 1923 and passed away on Tuesday, June 1, 2010.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, July 5, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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