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A Choctaw Leads the Guerrillas

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Military,Native American | No Comments

In April 1945, after mare than three years as a guerrilla leader in the Philippines, Lt. Col. Edward Ernest McClish came home to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where his family, who had refused to believe him dead, waited for him. Ira Wolfert has told some of his story in American Guerrilla in the Philippines, and other details have been added in a report given to the Public Relations Bureau of the War Department by Col. McClish. It is an extraordinary tale of accomplishment against great odds.

Lt. Col. McClish, a Choctaw, who graduated from Haskell Institute in 1929 and from Bacone College two years later, was called to active duty in the National Guard in 1940, and early in 1941he arrived in the Philippines, where he became commander of a company of Philippine scouts. In August he went to Panay to mobilize units of the Philippine Army there, and as commander of the Third Battalion he moved his men to Negros, where they were stationed when the war broke out. Late in December they crossed by boat to Mindanao and their oil the Moro bolo battalions were added to McClish’s command.

The Japanese did not reach Mindanao until April 29, 1942, shortly before the American capitulation on Luzon, and Col. McClish’s men fought them for nearly three weeks. When forces on the island finally surrendered, McClish, a casualty in the hospital, some distance from headquarters, was fortunately unable to join his men. Instead of capitulation he began to organize a guerrilla army.

By September 1942, he had an organization of more than 300 soldiers, with four machine guns, 150 rifles, and six boxes of ammunition. Some American and Filipino officers had escaped capture and joined the staff. In the early stages of the organization, McClish got word of a Colonel Fertig, of the Army Engineers, who was working along similar lines in the western part of Mindanao, and he managed to reach Fertig by travelling in a small sailboat along the coast. The two men decided to consolidate their commands and Colonel Fertig asked McClish to organize the fighting forces in the four eastern provinces of the island as the 110th Division.

Organization was at first very difficult. Independent guerrilla bands had sprung up all over the island, some of them composed of robbers and bandits who terrorized the villages. Some were anti-American, says Colonel McClish. Most of them lacked military training and education. But slowly the work proceeded. The bandits were disarmed and jailed; the friendly natives were trained, and young men qualified to be officers were commissioned. By the spring of 1943 McClish had assembled a full strength regiment in each of the three provinces, a fourth had been started, and Division headquarters staff had been completed.

Simultaneously with the military organization, civil governments were set up in each province. Wherever possible, the officials who had held jobs in pre-war days were reappointed, provided that they had not collaborated with the Japanese. Provincial and municipal officials worked bond in hand with the military, and helped greatly to build up the army’s strength.

Because of the shortage of food, reports Colonel McClish, a Food Administrator and a Civil and a Judicial Committee were appointed to begin agricultural and industrial rehabilitation. Army projects for the production of food and materials of the war were throughout the Division area, and all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50 to organize a guerrilla army. Between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to give one day’s work each week to one of these projects. They raised vegetables, pigs, poultry, sugar cane, and other foods. The manufacture of sugar, soap, alcohol, and coconut oil was started. Fishing was encouraged. In some of the provinces food production was increased beyond the peacetime level. The civilians realized that they were part of the army and that only a total effort could defeat the enemy.

The public relations office published a newspaper and headquarters kept in communication with the regiments in each province by radio, by telephone (when wire was available), or by runner. The guerrillas acquired launches and barges, which had been kept hidden from the Japanese and these were operated by home-mode alcohol and coconut oil. Seven trucks provided mare transport, but it was safer and easier to use the sea than the land. In order to maintain their motor equipment, they “obtained” a complete machine shop from o Japanese lumbering company in their territory.

From September 15, 1942, to January 1, 1945, while McClish’s work of organization and administration was continuing, his guerrilla forces were fighting the Japanese, and mare than 350 encounters – ambushes, raids on patrols and small garrisons, and general engagements – were listed on their records. One hundred and fifteen men were killed and sixty-four wounded. Enemy losses were estimated at more than 3000 killed and six hundred wounded. The guerrillas finally made contact with the American forces in the South Pacific and supplied them with valuable information about the enemy, which was extremely helpful when the time for the invasion of the Philippines came at last. They did their part in bringing about the final victory in the Pacific.


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