Tuesday, 22 January 2013

American Guerrilla, The book and the film

I recently wrote of the 1950’s film American Guerrilla in the Philippines that it was based on the Second World War experience of Lliff David Richardson  born in 1918 and who died in 2002  aged 82. I was sufficiently interested in the story that I investigated further and found that the book of the same name by Ira Wolfert  was available and acquired a copy of the original 1946 Victor Gollancz London edition from Kennys Books/ Able Book Sale for £7.35 including postage and  where the recent  US price was $38. My interest as usual was on the extent  to which the film was a fair cover of the true story of the book, given that the film had a fictitious character in the lead and because I was disappointed with aspects of the information about Richardson  found on line.

I received the book quicker than anticipated and once I read the opening pages I could not put it down staying up until 2am on Sunday morning January 20th 2013. I regard this slim in the sense of thickness 184 page book one of the more important accounts of what it was like to work and fight in the  Philippines during the second world war which also applies to the guerrilla activities in Borneo and other Pacific countries and island in which the battle was taken to the Japanese. This is because of the surprising amount of detail provided on how Richardson, and the men associated with him and the supporting population of the Philippines created an effective resistance movement able to provide a civilian government so quickly after the country was freed from the Japanese,  The important point to make and to be taken into account throughout the reading and understanding of his story is that he enlisted as a Navy man and therefore had no military training or experience before thrust into the role pf guerrilla organiser and fighter.

My admiration for Richardson increased with one notable exception where mystery still remains over the woman with whom he had an important relationship as stated  by him but who he appears to have abandoned  immediately on returning to the USA as the War in the Pacific was drawing to its end..

It is important to emphasise that the book only covers Richardson’s experience in the Philippines and was created from the oral accounts given to the is author Ira Wolfert whose life and writing also merits recording. Ira was born in 1908 ten years before the subject of book, growing up in New York and became Journalism Graduate of Columbia University. Working for the North American Newspaper Alliance in the 1930’s and throughout the Second World War. His reporting on the Battle for Guadalcanal won him a Pulitzer  prize in 1942 and in 1943 he published  the Battle for the Solomon Islands.

in 1944 he co wrote with Captain Don Gentle One Man Air force, about the exploits of the fighter ace and with “Rich” as he was known, Richardson,  American Guerrilla. 

He had publish a novel in 1943 about a  New York based Gangsters Tucker’s People. He co-wrote the screenplay for the 1948 released film Force of Evil which is based on his novel and which is regarded as a film meriting inclusion in the Library of Congress because of its merits. His novel Act of Love was also highly regarded, and is available second hand for £121!

Ira was subsequently branded a Communist (by Association) by the infamous Un-American Activities Committee and this may account for my having no information that he published other fictions or non fiction writings subsequently. He went on to live until the age 89  in 1997 and was married to the same person, a poet  Helen, for 57 years until the death of his wife in in 1985. They had a son and a daughter and four grand children.  Now back to the book and the film.

I understand that Rich was  the son of a Methodist Minister who died when he was 3  and according to the Forward to the book, his mother moved around a great deal gaining work as a teacher of Latin English, History and Music wherever she could, this resulted in Rich learning to live alone without being lonely and to create his own environment. This is an important point to appreciate what subsequently happened and is also something that I am able to identify with from my childhood and subsequent experience.

 It was only when he was about fourteen that his mother was able to move and settle in Los Angeles as following  the death of her cattle ranch owning father (near Springview Nebraska) there was sufficient  funds to enable her to give up going to where the next job was offered.  According to an interview given after the War to Chuck Hlava of the Houston Texas Community Newspaper,  he left Compton Junior College using the money allocated for his last two years to go to Europe, the Middle and near East before returning just before the fall of France in World War I.  Why he dropped out of college and left the USA is not known and it is of interest that he never wrote an autobiography as such or authorised a biography, given, the book about his exploits, the film and that when General MacArthur made a  visit to Houston where Rich was living with his wife, he rode McArthur’s car and sat with him at the official dinner. It is unusual that there are several  blanks about a life that appears adventurous and creative until his return to the USA and marriage.

The explanation may be his wife Coma (Noel) who according to Houston Paper interview they while students at the University of Chicago in 1940 and that on their first date they went to see a performance of AIDA although I am puzzled by this report as I will explain in a moment. After his enlistment the two kept in contact by letter until he “ disappeared into the jungle”. They were married on his return and they remained together until his death in 2001.

Coma came from Virginia, born June 1922 and graduated from the University of Houston where the  couple settled  upon their marriage. so I how both came to be at or in Chicago is a mystery.  Coma is reported as a strong practicing Presbyterian and my understanding is that she “stayed home” to raise their four children until they  grew up when her interest in Art led to joining the Southwest Art Magazine and to organise the Southwest Art Foundation and the Museum of Art of the American West. She survived Rich for another ten years dying in December 2011 knowing the pleasures of grand children and one great grand child.

The TV Director Darryl F Zanuck who planned to make the film of the book soon after it was published is reported as saying it was the most honest war memoir of the period he had read, due to the combined approach of Ira Wolfert and the openness of Rich which included his having a passionate affair with a Spanish refugee from Civil war in that the husband of her aunt, a colonel in the Spanish Army had been killed fighting against Franco and the Fascists.  There is also mention of  a married cousin but otherwise no information on how or why they made the Philippines their home and why given the frequent references to the young woman in the book and the importance given to her by Wolfert he did not return or made arrangements for her to join him in the USA,

In the film the affair does not begin until the  American wife of a Filipino businessman and guerrilla organiser is brutally murdered by the Japanese. In describing the character of Richardson Ira mentions “Then there is a considerable affair of love involved. Richardson became attached to a very splendid girl and as opportunity after opportunity arose for him to escape from his dangerous guerrilla work, her thought up reason after reason for remaining with it and near her.”  Yet as he  memoir ends  the actual final words.  “ I did not even get to see Curly again. I had to leave in a rush to catch my ship and I sent her a message by Joe Rifareal. The message consisted.... Well it said mostly the word Darling). So what happened  to Curly? Why did  he not go back for her? T is one of the thousands of question  during my life I have asked and continue to ask, that I will never know the answers. I have assumed that Curly is his nickname for her. It is extraordinary that she did not become the subject of media interest  when  the book was published and then following the film!

When Rich enlisted in the Navy  he asked for a posting in the Asiatic squadron, because of his experience of the area and which would have been regarded as an asset by the Navy. He went to the Philippines aboard a minesweeper and was involved in actions around Bataan Coriggedor. Cebu and Mindanao. According to the interview with the Houston paper it was after the attack on Pearl Harbour that in 1941 he was given the opportunity to transfer to the PT boats when one of the boats came alongside the Minesweeper, asked if he was onboard and said there was a position for him as the Executive Officer. He is reported as not hesitating to accept the offer.

He joined the third squadron of PT’s and was directly involved in the evacuation of “I shall return General MacArthur and his staff. He saw MacArthur on the deck of PT 41, acting as  the lead boat on the journey to Mindanao some 500  miles away. Another PT boat mistook the 41 for an enemy vessel, got rid of fuel in order to attack, fortunately what could proved a disastrous error was realised but by then the fuel was lost and the craft had to be abandoned with the consequence that its crew and evacuated staff were reallocated among the three  remaining PT’s making life on board difficult on the rest.

It is of interest that the Character Rusty Ryan played by John Wayne in the film They were Expendable which features the role of the PT’s in the Philippines is said  to be partly based on Rich Richardson who it is presumed was an adviser for the film.

The book provides a vivid account of the destruction of his PT boat,  where he was the Executive officer, by Japanese planes when in harbour at a time and when he was ashore and could only watch from the Quayside in horror. He was put in charge of the funerals of those shipmates killed in the attack.

After his boat  was sunk he assisted the army in setting off demolition charges in Cebu City where he meets and is immediately attracted to “Curly,” the Spanish niece of the refugee widowed Spanish army officer. It is not accurate to say that in every instance Rich chose the girl over  leaving his involvement in the guerrilla campaign because once the order to surrender the forces came, he was set on  getting to Australia and get another naval posting. He recounts that the girl was strongly opposed to the trip because of the danger and the odds against reaching Australia. Nevertheless he was set on the escape.

The problem he faced in addition to working out what was needed for the voyage in a comparatively small 12 handed  boat, was his lack of experience is operating a sailing craft. They nearly did not make it out of the harbour and then disaster struck in the form of bad weather when the had progressed only some two hundred miles and the boat was turned upside down. He estimated that they were some 8 miles from the coast of Mindanao and the decision was taken to attempt to swim ashore rather than stay with sail boat and risk being picked up by the Japanese.

The  film and book recount the swim he had to make with lasting some 24 hours. One of the others who had stripped down reached the island in eight hours but suffered greatly from sunburn but managed to explain about his companions in the water  and the coastal villagers had set out in two craft with one finding them stranded, their bodies seizing up and unable to move despite being able to stand up in the water. The book provides a good  account of just how lucky they were and the long and painful process of recovery when they were forced to swallow a little soup at regular intervals because without doing do they would have been no recovery.  In fact all the men were recovered from the sea although one died and was  buried, faithfully recorded in he film as was the bravery of the villagers who knew the penalty for harbouring American soldiers was death.

It is after they had recovered that the film and book are different. In the film Rich and the others remained determined to try and get to Australia rather than surrender  and after an unstated long period of hide and seek in the jungle they make their way to a city where they discover that groups of Americans are raising money  and goods from local communities on the pretext of providing guerrilla bands but are in effect  tricking people into  giving of the little they possessed enabling them to  live well in their hideouts. In he film he meets a genuine patriot and guerrilla organiser whose American wife he has previously encountered and been attracted to believing her to be a single woman. This man persuades the film character to undertake a long sea and jungle trek to reach an American officer known to be wanting to organise the locals  into an underground in preparation for the return of MacArthur. The carrot is that on reaching the American, he would be in a position to arrange  a boat for an attempt to get to Australia. In the book while Rich continues to want to return to the Navy via Australia, the others  do not and rather than surrender as ordered they determine to  survive on their own.

They remained on the loose for six months through the summer helped by  families with whom they stayed, fishing and swimming. Rich commenced to write down his experiences in the PT boats. He notes that the schools were closed by the government who did not want their children to be indoctrinated by the Japanese although this cause  the teachers to starve.

It is at this point important to emphasise the nature of the Philippines because while there is a large Island Luzon to the North  with the capital Manila, and Mindanao to the South there in fact over 7000 islands of which  some 2000 are inhabited. This would have made control by any invading force difficult. Rich spent his time in the central group the Visayes and Cebu (155 by 45 miles) present population  under 4 millions  and Leyte Island  group with 300 square miles and a present population of around 2 million. The present day democratic and unitary  nation has over 50% greater population than the UK with over 100 million citizens with a population jump over the past twenty years by almost a third increase and with around 10% living outside the islands which cover 186000 square miles, twice the area of the UK.

In the film after surviving on the island for an unspecified time he  remeets the  American wife of a local business man and patriot who he helped previously under the impression she was single, The husband suggests that he should make his way by sea to where an American is known to be organising resistance in preparation for the return of General MacArthur. The carrot is the suggestion that the American Colonel will  provide the means for him to get to Australia. After a perilous journey he finds the Colonel who persuades him that his best role is to stay and organise the radio services. After the husband of the woman is killed by the Japanese for his work for the resistance, the woman also takes to the jungle and on a Christmas Day they become lovers.

In the book Rich explains that because of the behaviour of the American led soldier guerrilla groups he kept separate He reports on the experiences of others while he admits he  stayed in what he describes as his Lotus world. He explains that the Filipinos like to party, more than  most populations but relations with the Filipino young women was different to that of young Americans back home. The boys and girls sit separately with  the girls guarded by their chaperones. When the music stopped the girls went back to their area so there was no opportunity to engage in chat. The way to establish direct contact was to find as a friend of the father of the girl and use him as  in between man.  In effect the in between man is used to bribe the father to allow an association  between an American and his daughter as this works as long as she does not object. Although there is a strong catholic predominance in the county then as now there was also an open minded  attitude towards sex and to children born out of wedlock including those of mixed races. Whereas in the USA and Western Europe the tendency has been to regarded anyone with non white blood and non white the reverse was true for the Philippines in that anyone with a drop of white blood was regarded as white

This was he context when Rich decided to and try and find Curly  who was part of the family which occupied the Casa a thirty room property party of what is described as a  beautiful estate with commanding view of the local Bay. A property of this nature is used in  the film as the home of  the Filipino and his American wife. However Rich found that the girl and her family was on another island which had a Japanese garrison of 5000. Rich writes to her in attempt to persuade her to visit her cousins at the Casa but she replied that her father did not want her to travel to Leyte  at that time. The letter said she would come with her father on his next visit and he had sent some cigarettes and a bottle of whisky. This overture coincided with Rich become involved  in the real guerrilla movement for the first time ( page 81 of the book) Colonel Kangleon  was a Filipino army man with 27 years experience and as he first Filipino made a divisional commander by MacArthur. He had surrendered as required but escaped to form the guerrilla movement, he impressed Rich because to fund enterprises and support his wife and five children he had built a crude soap factory  rather than  levy the local population. My impression that the Colonel represents the husband of the American wife in the film for
he asks Rich to try and find a known American colonel guerrilla organiser. With the Japanese having left the southern part of Leyte Kangleon  said it was  good time to organise resistance  but  the problem was that without the presence of the Japanese there could not raid for weapons and other military supplies thus they needed help from the Americans to become effective. Kangleon said  Rich would then work for him which suited him because it meant he would be able to see Curly rather than  remain on Mindanao.

As in the film finding the Colonel (Fertig) proved a challenge but the effort proved worthwhile because first he was put in contact with a Colonel McLish who had with him two Majors and other officers and were professionally organised. He took Rich  using a captured Japanese launch to see Fertig at what was termed the General Headquarters. The man and his HQ  was then hidden in holes in the ground. They had made radio contact with San Francisco and kept abreast with news about he war development as well as having contact with General McArthur. Rich met with a representative of McArthur on the island who persuaded him to work for the Navy setting up a radio station to report monitored movements of the Japanese Navy observed `from Leyte and other nearby islands.

With Colonel McLish and ten soldiers they had to walk 500 miles, averaging 25 a day before it was considered safe to cross back to Leyte he lost over two stone on the journey, he was in such a deteriorated condition that Colonel Kangleon  did not immediately recognise him especially as he was reported to have died. He was pleased because it meant that contact had been made with Fertig.

He reporting to as meeting with twenty five officers on the island that they under the unified command of Fertig they were no longer regarded as deserters and would be paid  IOU against their military pay books. The decision had also been taken to print money and thirdly they were to form a civil government. Colonel Kangleon was delighted with the news because it meant  he had  his army back. A deal had been struck with McLish who provided 3000 empty cartridge cases which Rich undertook to fill, returning a  third to McLish as payment or the remainder. He put sixty soldiers to work on the ordinance plants mainly using powder from Japanese sea mines. It is at this point in the book we begin to learn something of the extent of Rich’s creative energy, leadership and organising abilities.  The new government levied a tax to pay for the as yet undeclared war on the Japanese in the bid to free the islands.

Rich was responsible for the first government proclamation which created a rift between him and  Kangleon as similar to what I know happened in the UK it became essential for the military effort to get hold of various supplies, paper and ink for example to print money, and everything from  the obvious of guns and ammunitions to chemicals, radios batteries, vehicle engines, thread and buttons to make uniforms from sacks. It has to be remembered that Rich had been recruited as Executive officer to the PE. In order to counter what Kangleon regarded as confiscation Rich arranged for USA army receipts.

Having been appointed Chief of Staff Rich’s next task was to appointed the staff including medical, transportation, signals and paymaster as well as legal (Judge Advocate for Court Marshals) and  the primary function Warfare. He took a special interest in signals and describes how they set up a communications system around the island. The structure led to the creation of a proper army with exercises, night manoeuvres, forced marches and target practice( without using the bullets)!. Companies were organised on a regular army basis with barracks, guardhouse, mess etc,

He was also seeing Curly who had returned to live at the Casa although he became concerned when it was suggested that the assumption was being made he wanted to marry the young woman having mentioned  the thought of settling in the Philippines after the war. Rich pretended to himself that she was visiting to see his cousins  until it was made clear she was visiting to see him in the expectation of marriage. He records that he came to love the woman.

They received a summons to get to Colonel Fertig before November 1st when a submarine was due which he presumed meant that he was being recalled to Australia to rejoin the naval service. He took a launch from the Japanese to  reach Fertig where he was told off for not undertaking the task  that had been set for him in terms of the Naval intelligence about the Japanese navy. The arrival of the submarine  provided the opportunity to make contact with other naval officers, to  be provided with  American food, especially ice cream and books.  Fertig came on board with the guerrilla leaders including Kangleon  who pressed for supplies on the next trip, They were promised regular submarine calls from then on  but for Rich he was  leaned on the undertake the naval intelligence operation that had been promised to MacArthur.

When he returned he found that Curley had moved because the Japanese were returning  would take the Casa after the 18000 pounds of fibre used to make rope. Knowing this the fibre had been set on fire taking two days to burn. When the Japanese arrived back in  the south of the island  they found the guerrillas had moved north. It was not time to engage the enemy.

He records that the Japanese question the owner of the Casa Don Lorenzo, one of sixteen children all fop whom had children and one of his  sisters, Curley’s mother also had sixteen children. This large   family was closely knit and involved in various commercial a background of Castilian Judaism. The Japanese wanted detailed information about the commercial interests. It is said that he defended accusations supplying and supporting the guerrillas, but prisoners were taken and tortured. On learning their identity they commenced to kill. Rich learned that Curly was safe with relatives and concentrated one establishing a radio system on the island

In the book he travelled to see Curly in time for Christmas whereas in the film it is the now widowed wife of the owner of the Casa who arrives where Rich is located to celebrate Christmas with him signalling that they become lovers. Once the New Year was celebrated, the decision was taken by Kangleon for the guerrillas to go on the offensive. In the town of Anhawan the Mayor invited the 12 man Japanese garrison to a  breakfast with him on February 1st It was a trap

The Japanese retaliated with planes and then with heavy weapon patrols but this only enable the guerrillas into greater action when their casualties commenced to  run in the hundreds compared to limited loses by the guerrillas. The Japanese were driven from the countryside to the coastal towns leaving the guerrillas controlling the hinterland.

Although the Japanese used the Casa as its headquarters for South Leyte members of the family commenced to attack from the outskirts. The Japanese retaliated, and found a woman prepared to identify those in the community who were members or supporters of the guerrillas. They rounded up the whole family making prisoners of those identified who then disappeared presumed killed. When one member escaped to join the guerrillas the Japanese rounded up the whole family again and threaten to  kill all its male members. Because of all this activity Curly came to Rich for protection.  There is a similar situation involving the American widow in the film who joins Rich in guerrilla activities. They would be  together sitting out in the jungle every evening after she had  helped with preparing food, They would talk a lot before he walked her back to where she was staying, about their respective past and their previous experiences together,

He set up a radio station  in the North on the  coast going through Japanese occupied territory fulfilling his commitment to Fertig. He records that they were the only Island to be in contact with the headquarters of Macarthur on a  daily basis. Then another submarine came in loaded with supplies. He expresses mixed feelings about the development assuming that with his job done, so to speak, he would be asked to leave. He said goodbye to Curly. It si not clear if this was the order  but he elected to stay.

He rounded up sixty people to take the four tons of supplies back  HQ and then to see Curly. However he was then asked to set up another radio station in the south and plot a minefield which meant that General MacArthur was returning as promised. Cigarettes, chocolate and other goods now all had I shall return  MacArthur on their wrappers. He waited to he last minute  to leave Curly before setting off knowing the danger of the mission.

The opportunity is taken  to mention the treatment of a fifth columnist mentioned in the film in a different context. The man was given and made  to eat a whole roasted chicken on the principal that the condemned man is given a hearty meal. Despite his protestations he is executed. He also explains relationship with the civilian police including what happens in relation to the police chief when MacArthur planes began their bombardment. The pleas  of  loyalty fell on deaf ears given the knowledge of the extent of collusion with the Japanese. There is also recording of an incident  also in the film where a guerrilla  ( in the film a close associate of the main character) gets back with half his guts hanging out from a  bayonet. Rich agrees to trying and put the intestines back and sew him up, the young man  having  given consent, but the man dies. In the film  the Rich character wants to give up but the widow presses him on.

The film concentrates on communicating the movement of Japanese naval moments and that they had to quickly move to avoid  the fire from one of the vessels, also recorded in the book

In the film the Rich character, plus the widow and other guerrillas are surrounded by passing Japanese troops hiding in a church and here is a battle which they appear destined to lose because of the superior numbers. However the Japanese pull out with the arrival of the planes. The couple are seen joining other crowds MacArthur comes by in convoy.  This is fiction.

Rich begins the penultimate last short chapter of the book with his waking dream of the arrival of General MacArthur.. He receives his first mail from home, finding later that the FBI had delivered the mail he had sent with the warning that she had not to reveal to anyone she was having the contact, He then gets an official message to stay where he was while MacArthur was landing forty miles away.

He then resorts to the age old way around orders in that as the commanding officer with a situation where everything is organised and in good order, he gave himself a few days for rest and relaxation having felt under the weather. He celebrates with the locals and insists they fly their own flag along with that of the Americans and he presented with two warm bottles of Coca Cola saved for him for this occasion. This is also included in the film. The is a meal of monkey and rice and he mentions that monkey is an acquired taste.

He then sets off to greet the General without an American flag to wave on the craft Understandably he has great difficult convincing the guard  on the ship that he is who he claims he is, especially when they think his instructions to the outriggers in the local dialect are in Japanese.  On establishing his identity he is taken to the Wardroom and given food which he finds  difficult to eat given the local diet but a large bowl of ice cream provide  a different challenged so he is given another. He and those accompanying him were kitted out in uniforms and he was taken to the cruiser Nashville when he was taken to see MacArthur for a ten minute chat.

Until recalled home he worked with the army air corps. There was a guerrilla reunion after which he acted as  a liaison officer between the army and the guerrillas and hen  as mentioned earlier he doe snot get to say goodbye to Curly and as I say the evidence is there was no further communication between them.

Given that he had spent over a decade adventuring away from home it is difficult to believe he was ever able to settle down, and certainly I am not surprised that he found life as an insurance executive dissatisfying or that he set up a company manufacturing inexpensive  guns based on his Philippine experiences or that it failed.  It was no surprise that on return states sides he found himself court marshalled for drawing pay from both the Navy and the Army until  what he had. done was communicated to  the authorities and all charges dropped and the money paid in full.

When I  left school at the age of sixteen in 1955 I went to work for the Middlesex County Council Local taxation Department ( Motor Vehicle Licences) and was attached to the New registration section of five and hen six men who had served in  the  first or second world war, Including  the head of section a Naval officer, someone who had lost part of his leg in he first, a airman and a man who and fought in North Africa. Now in a job with no transferable skills they struggled to adapt  knowing there was  little prospect of bettering their lot. It was he combination  of hearing about their experience and having read the official reports of the War Crime Trials on  the concentration camps while still at school that affected how  I looked on war since, especially the use of weapons of mass destructions. I suspect that Rich despite having a  loving and loyal wife, the mother of children, and grandchildren never really settled, especially given his adventuring prior to the war.  And then of  course there was Curly.

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