Odyssey of a Philippine Scout
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 22 May 2006
Full Title: Odyssey of a Philippine Scout: Fighting, Escaping, and Evading the Japanese, 1941-1944
In a nutshell, this is the story of a young cavalry officer who escapes from captivity shortly after the surrender of US forces to the Japanese, and his trek across the Philippine archipelago returning to US command. Although there are some descriptions of combat, this is not the standard war story.
The book is broken down into four parts. These are Before the War, The Japanese Invade, Derelicts, and The Long Sail. These four parts are further broken down into 41 chapters of varying lengths. Before the text, there are six maps. After the epilog, there is a short photo section, with some photos from the authorâ€™s collection and others taken from the American Historical Collection.
The book starts with the author sailing from San Francisco, headed for his new command. The first chapter, only a page and a half, takes him across the Pacific to Luzon. The next nine chapters are extremely informative. The author explains the Philippine Scouts, while giving an interesting view of life as an officer in the pre-war Philippines. By relating his experiences off-post, both on and off duty, one also gets an interesting glimpse of life in the Philippines in general. He also manages to give a short history lesson, as far as the background of the peoples that inhabit the many islands in the region.
As everywhere else where US forces served, everything changed on 8 December 1941 for the men of the Philippine Scouts. Whitehead manages to convey the surprise, and the lack of preparation for what came when the Japanese attacked. The confusion present on that day is readily apparent, as no one seemed to really know what was going on. Whether it was lack of communications, outdated weapons, or inadequate supply, the author relates all of what was going on as the Japanese assault continued. However, through it all, the Scouts continued to fight the enemy, doing what they could to hamper his advance. By the end of December, though, the author was struggling to rejoin organized US forces.
The surrender of US forces came as a shock to most of the men. It is interesting to read first hand accounts of this event. Many people will not realize that there was good reason to surrender, and not "run to the hills" after the men received this order. Military law dictated that anyone who refused the order to surrender became an outlaw immediately. However, the author realized that once he followed his last order and surrendered, his next duty was in fact to escape. By following this somewhat convoluted logic, he and his comrades complied with military law, although such niceties probably wouldnâ€™t have meant much had he been recaptured.
During his trek, the author experienced much that was good and bad in an occupied country. He continually stresses that the average Filipino was always a decent person, and more than willing to provide hospitality and assistance to those who were in need. Like anywhere else, though, there were exceptions to the norm.
At one end of the spectrum, there were still aboriginal tribes who kept to themselves, and knew little more than the daily struggle for food and shelter. The author ran into these people several times during his travels, and speaks highly of them. There were also people the author dealt with that were willing to risk all they had in order to assist an American soldier. Even though there were many people that were dismayed by the lack of US response to the invasion, there were some who were more than willing to share what little they had. In between those two extremes, the author had some experiences that would dispute the conventional wisdom of an enthusiastic, organized resistance to Japanese occupation.
The occupied Philippines were just like any other occupied nation. Some Filipinos felt extreme loyalty to the US, and would do whatever was necessary to help Americans, and to hasten the day when the US came back to throw out the invaders. There were also quite a number of Filipinos who if they didnâ€™t completely support the Japanese, were willing to work with another Asian nation to throw off "US Imperialism." It was not easy to determine where people stood, and in quite a few cases, men didnâ€™t find out until it was too late. However, the author managed to elude the grasp of those who were looking to turn him over to the Japanese, and luckily found supportive people to stay with while evading recapture.
As a cavalryman, Whitehead had next to no knowledge of boating or seamanship. By necessity, he gains this knowledge through experience as he found ways to travel between islands. At first, he was nothing more than baggage. With each leg of the trip, though, he gained a little more that would serve him in good stead when he and his comrades set out to reach Australia. Understanding the vagaries of local weather, geography would be crucial. In the end, it turned out to be enough, barely.
It must be pointed out that I am a consultant for The Aberjona Press, and I in fact drew the maps for this book. However, I had nothing to do with the textual matter, and never saw any of the narrative until after publication.
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945