Edwin P. Ramsey

Born: Carlisle,  Illinois (1917)

-  US Army,

-  26th cavalry (PS)

-  Escaped from Bataan
-  Later became a Guerrilla commander
 

Lieutenant Edwin Price Ramsey arrived in the Philippines in the summer of 1941 as an officer of the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. A few weeks after the Japanese forces invaded the island of Luzon, he led what would become the last mounted cavalry charge in the United States military history.

When Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, he escaped to the mountain and joined the Filipino resistance. Eventually Major Ramsey commanded more than 40,000 guerrillas while maintaining radio communication with General MacArthur. Intelligence reports he sent to MacArthur helped the general prepare for his promised return to the Philippines.



Col. Ramsey published his memoir, Lieutenant Ramsey's War: From Horse Soldier to Guerrilla Commander (co-authored with Stephen J. Rivele) in 1990 where he chronicled his wartime experiences.  Here are some excerpts:

Escape:

It was a difficult moment. The past few weeks of fighting and privation had welded us together. So far as we knew, we were all that remained of the Twenty-sixth Cavalry, and the enemy had not managed to destroy us. Now, voluntarily and with slim hope, we would scatter in an effort to flee the Philippines and get back into the war. We shook hands, patted shoulders, and wished one another luck. "See you in Australia," we said.



 
            


It was May 9, 1942, my twenty-fifth birthday, when I started back down the mountain. The first news I received on reaching Timbo (map above) was that Corregidor had surrendered three days before, and General Wainwright and the garrison had been taken prisoner. The Japanese had expected to take the Philippines in fifty days; we had held out for six months...

Abandoning their initial plan of escaping to Australia, Lt. Ramsey and Captain Joe Barker, a West Point graduate who was two years older than Ramsey, joined the guerrilla force organized by Col. Claude Thorpe who had been sent out of Bataan by MacArthur to establish a resistance movement.

War Rebel

Our ranks were made up of men and women anxious to do something to hurt the Japanese, and to these we gave such military training as we could. But there were few weapons to train with and even less equipment. None of our soldiers had uniforms, but instead trained and drilled in their homespun native clothing, many in shredded trousers and torn shirts, most of them barefoot. It was a peasant army in the truest sense, sustained by patriotism and a determination to resist...

Barker and I knew that it was essential to our movement that we create cadres in Manila. Organizing the capital would give us prestige and would place our agents at the very heart of the Japanese occupation authority. We therefore decided to send our propaganda officers, Alejandro Santos and Fausto Alberto, back to Manila to organize the resistance groups that already existed there and integrate them into our command.

It was dangerous work, but within a few weeks Santos and Alberto reported back to us that a network was forming across the city, including many civilians who were employed by the Japanese administration. These courageous men and women soon began funneling to us invaluable information about Japanese strengths, organization, and intentions both within the Philippines and beyond...

We learned that those of our officers who were captured were being held in Fort Santiago in Manila, a prison that was becoming notorious as a torture chamber. Our operative in Manila occasionally got word to us of their sufferings, and the reports were grim.                                              Ramsey with Alberto (right) and Santos

Agents working around the prison told of tortures medieval in their crudeness. Suspected guerrillas had had lighted matches thrust under their fingernails and white-hot irons applied to their genitals. Women came in for especially cruel treatment, including rape and mutilation. Most insidious of all was what the Japanese called, "the water cure." A hose was forced down the victim's throat and water pumped in until the stomach bloated out grotesquely. Then a guard kicked and stamped the prisoner until he talked, or his inside burst...

For the Japanese the resistance was not only a military problem but also an affront to their pride, an insufferable loss of face. An all-out effort to annihilate the guerrillas was launched, and responsibility for its success was given to the chief of the Japanese counterintelligence corps, General Baba.

In January 1943, Baba installed himself at Colonel Nagahama's kempei-tai headquarters in Manila and laid out his program. Its key elements were informants, raids, rewards, and torture. Informants were to be recruited whenever and by whatever means possible...

Capture of Captain Joe Barker

Barker, meanwhile, had fled Manila to a remote hill district northeast of the city. He stopped for the night at the home of one of our operatives, intending to return next morning to Porac. At dawn dozens of heavily armed kempei-tai troops surrounded the house. Joe had no chance. They burst in and arrested him as he slept.

He was taken to Fort Santiago where he joined Thorpe, Santos, and dozens of others in the filthy underground cells. Our agents in the prison reported that he was being tortured continuously, and that stories of his defiance were already spreading across Manila...

I was now the sole commander of the Luzon Guerrilla Force, which now numbered over ten thousand men and women, and one of the few American guerrilla commanders still at large in Luzon.  As such I became the most wanted man on General Baba's death list...

First message from MacArthur

In early 1944, Major Ramsey traveled three hundred miles to Mindoro to get a radio so that he could establish direct contact with MacArthur's headquarters. He could not get the radio, but was offered to be taken by a US submarine to Australia. He declined the offer.

"Tell them no, thanks," I replied.
Ruffy smiled and nodded. "I should not give you this," he said, handing me a folded piece of paper. "My instructions were to show it to you only if you decided to leave."

I opened the paper and read it. It was a radio signal from Australia addressed to me.

MacArthur to Ramsey, it began, Request that you return to Luzon and command of your resistance forces. It was signed by General MacArthur himself.

My first real contact with the outside world had come from MacArthur personally. I was deeply moved. He knew of my work, and evidently he valued it. In all those months of messages and those scores of couriers, something had gotten through. I had been right to go on and not give up. It all had meant something, MacArthur was affirming. And it must continue.

Captain Barker's execution

Upon returning to Luzon, Major Ramsey learned that Captain Joe Barker, with whom he led guerrilla fighting since their escape from Bataan, had been executed by the Japanese.  

...In December 1943 they had been taken together from the cells of Fort Santiago to the old Chinese cemetery in Manila. There they had been made to dig graves for themselves under the pouring rain, and then forced to kneel over the graves. One by one, they were beheaded.

It put an end to a year of cruel suffering they had all endured in silence. None of them had betrayed the organization, which had lost not a single man or woman as a result of their captures. I was living proof of their fortitude, for any  one of them might have given information and names sufficient to lead to my death. They had behaved like soldiers, and they had died like martyrs.

Though I had known Joe Barker was a dead man the moment news of his capture reached me a year before, the fact of his death still stung me. I missed him and I felt his loss keenly, but I could not mourn for him -I dare not.  He was only one of over twenty-five hundred guerrilla fighters who had so far lost their lives, and though he was closer to me than the others, and his face was clearer in my mind, I allowed him to take his place among them in my memory.

Joe was gone, I would never see him again; but the movement we had built together was still alive. I packed my gear to move on. I now had more than thirty-eight thousand men and women under my command, and I had been absent for a long while. It was time for me to get back into the fight.

Signals

In June of 1944, Major Ramsey finally got a radio and was able to establish direct communication with MacArthur. Soon there were constant messages going between the two.

MacArthur to Ramsey, the signals would begin, and he would ask for details on the number, disbursement, armament, and training of our regiments. I responded instantly and in kind, addressing my replies Ramsey to MacArthur...

MacArthur was coming closer --liberation was coming closure-- and I labored to keep the line between us vibrant and alive with as much information as the commanding general could possibly require.

            Video clip of Col. Ramsey showing one of the messages from MacArthur

The Japanese raid

In October of 1944, Major Ramsey was operated on, without anesthesia, to remove his appendix. When the Japanese raided on his base camp, he was still weak.

They found us finally on January 2, 1945.  Between the radio triangulations and the clues tortured from the agents he had captured, General Baba pieced together our location on Balagbag. patrols were sent scouring the foothills, and for a few days we watched them hacking blindly through jungle. Then, without orders, the Negritos cut the Japanese phone wires behind our camp, and the patrols began converging on us. When one got as far as the waterfall, Jimmy Carrington (a Marine who escaped from Bilibid Prison) opened fire with the machine guns...

All that day and the next the Japanese kept up their attack, gaining a foothold on the rocks. A mortal round landed on the edge of the camp and then another on the cliff above. They were probing for our range, and their infantrymen were already firing up the slope toward us. I posted the security detachment along the perimeter to return the fire, and soon we were enveloped in a racketing battle...

At dawn next morning the Japanese resumed their attack. This time they opened with the mortars while the infantry inched forward. I knew that Carrington was running low on ammunition, and so, with Cadizon's help, I hurried to the falls for a situation report.

"This is it," Carrington hollered over the rattle of the guns.
"How long can you hold out?"
"How long do you need?"
"Till 0:400 tomorrow. Can you do it?"
"Sure..." he drawled as a shell decapitated the palm trees over us, "no sweat...."

As I made my way back to the camp, leaning on Cadizon's shoulder, I reflected that if Carrington held out that long it would be a minor miracle. I gathered up my staff and gave the order to evacuate.

James Carrington (center) and Filipino guerrillas

           Mr. Carrington passed away recently. Please read following articles.

           WWII veteran reunited with man who aided his escape from Japanese prison
          
          
Days after reunion, WWII vet dies at 88

Invasion

On January 8, we were installed in our temporary headquarters near Tala, and our radio was back in operation. That afternoon I received an urgent message from MacArthur.

MacArthur to Ramsey
, it began. Starting immediately, destroy enemy wire communications, railroad tracks, rolling stock and trucks, planes concealed in dispersal area, ammunition, oil and supply dumps.... Unleash maximum possible violence against enemy.

It meant invasion, the moment we all had been working and waiting for....

On the morning of January 9, 1945, MacArthur's forces arrived at Lingayen Gulf, where the Japanese had landed four years before....

Then on January 31, I received a message from MacArthur at our camp near Tara.

To Ramsey: All
Luzon guerrilla forces will now pass under the control of Sixth Army commanded by Lieutenant General Walter Krueger. 

The message included Krueger's call sign and directed me to report to him by radio. I did so at once.

Ramsey to Krueger, I signaled. I am reporting for duty as per orders of the commanding general received this date.

After nearly three years as a guerrilla behind Japanese lines I was formally back in the war, and once again an officer of the United States Army.

Encounters  

I had been at my headquarters in Meycauayan for three days when I received a radio signal from General MacArthur's command post at San Miguel in Tarlac Province. "The boss wants to see you right away, " Colonel Guillermo told me.

I had not expected to be asked to report to MacArthur personally, and the summons took me by surprise. In my three-year relationship with him through couriers and by radio, I had come to share the Filipino people's near-worship of him. His promise to return had sustained me just as it had them, and like them I had lived for the day when he would fulfill it. But that I would someday actually meet him had never occurred to me.

When Major Ramsey reported to General MacArthurís headquarters, he was surprised to find out that Col. Glenn Finley, his professor from Oklahoma Military Academy days, was the commandant there.

...The door opened as if by magic and Finley passed me in, patting my back. From across the wide room a voice said, "So you are Ramsey."
"General MacArthur, " I replied, "it is an honor to meet you."
"No, Major," the voice came back, "the honor is all mine."

...I started to thank him, but he cut me off. "It's little compared with what you've done for me, Ramsey. You've helped me keep my promise to the Filipino people. The debt is mine, as well as that of every man who came ashore in Luzon. " 

Breakdowns

On May 10, the day after his twenty-eighth birthday, Major Ramsey, weighing scarcely 90 pounds, suffered his first breakdown and a few weeks later the second.

It was strange and ugly to be so helpless. I lay in the hospital bed day after day, wondering how I had become so weak. I could do nothing for myself, had no energy or ambition, not even any shame. I let everyone else care for me and took their kindness as a right I had earned by my incessant sadness. There was no heart left in me, nothing more to be touched. I was alone, the loneliest person in the world, loneliness itself.

And yet deep within me was that pinpoint of clear light. Everyone was safe, I told myself; no one would be killed now, no one was in danger, there would be no more raids, no hiding out in barrios, no alarms. I had brought them all through, and I deserved this despair. I had held it off with all my strength for three yeas through thousands of deaths, under a pressure of fear and loss  so great I could not have afforded to face it.  Gradually I had absorbed it all, and now here it was, laying waste to me.

What kind of war was this? I wondered. What were the rules, who was the enemy, how could I win? There had been so many fronts in my war; which one was I on now?

I looked at the poor thing my body had become, and at the shambles of my spirit, and I understood that this was a war that was beginning, not ending. It was a war to recover myself, to redefine my being out of the experiences I had had, to make sense out of the very senselessness of war itself.

I was in chaos, collapse, splintered from myself. Yet I had not surrendered. I had not surrendered on Bataan, nor had I succumbed to diseases or General Baba or the acid residue of the deaths of friends. I had helped the Philippines to fight for its liberation from fear and torment and death. Now I would have to fight for my own.

On June 13, 1945, MacArthur promoted Major Ramsey to Lt. Colonel and awarded him a Distinguished Service Cross. A few days later Colonel Ramsey left the Philippines and came back to the United States.

                    

                Lt. Col. Ramsey (left) after receiving Distinguished Service Cross


Conversation with Col. Ramsey

Kinue Tokudome

You published your book in 1990, 45 years after WWII.  What made you decide to write about your wartime experience? 

I had done a manuscript in December of 1945 but couldnít agree with the publisher and so put it on the shelf until 1988 when I redid the manuscript with a professional writer, Stephen Rivele, and the Hard Cover was published in December of 1990 by Knightsbridge.

My wartime experience was quite unique, since I lived through Bataan and the succeeding three and a half years behind enemy lines. There isnít much I can add to the experience of writing the book other than the fact that I have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) all these years since the war and at times had to undergo psychiatric treatment to eliminate stress.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing a book?  Did it occur to you that the Japanese people might read it?

I wrote the book to make a formal record of my unique war history, not only for my family to know it but for the public to know what actually happened, from the perspective of the one to whom it happened, and not just to read the interpretations of other writers and historians.  I expected Japanese people to read it.

You dedicated your book to Captain Joe Barker with whom you escaped from Bataan and formed guerrilla forces. Captain Barker never betrayed you after he was captured by the Japanese and tortured. By writing about him, what did you want to convey to your readers?

I simply hope that the readers understand the dedication he had for his country, the suffering that he endured and the tremendous courage it took for him to do what he did.

It is not easy for todayís Japanese people to understand what our military was once capable of, many of which totally defied not only the international law at that time but also basic humanity. What is your message/advice for them, especially young Japanese, as to the best way to learn from the history?

Having lived in Japan from late 1958 to June of 1964, and having been in close personal contact with many senior officers of the Japanese government, as well as many of the ordinary people, I got to know them quite well. I believe that the Japanese military have already changed a great deal, democratized as it were, and that they no longer have the same code of the Samurai that they had before.



Col. Ramsey with his business associate Mr. Ryuzo Sejima,
A former officer of the Imperial Army's General Staff Office

You lived in Japan and worked with the Japanese people?  Could you put your wartime experience behind you?  

I had no problem of putting my wartime experience behind me without rancor. I was a soldier. In time of war, one is more concerned with staying alive, and keeping those around him safe, than with the normal and civilized niceties of life.

So you were trying to understand that the Japanese soldiers were doing the same thing? Was that how you rationalized?

Not at all. I did not equate the Japanese soldiers conduct with me as there was no similarity between the Japanese military's training, culture and mental attitude to that of Americans, especially mine. Bushido and the military mentality of the Samurai are totally different than that of ours and that of the Europeans.  

Going back to my message for the young people of Japan, I think there is a benefit in realizing what happened before. Japanese soldiers were very brave. But they lived in an era that our civilization does not accept anymore.

So, I believe that realizing differences of what it was like then and the way things are now, or going to be, is a very valuable thing for them to do. 

Democracy is a wonderful system but it also has its shortcomings. Nothing is perfect. It's up to young people in Japan to improve their democracy and avoid pitfalls in their system.

Is this the picture General MacArthur gave to you?

Yes, in 1947 in Tokyo. He autographed it for me, "To Ramsey with the Admiration and Affection of His Old Comrade in Arms, Douglas MacArthur." 

Video clip of Col. Ramsey explaining how he received this photo from MacArthur       


* Information on Lieutenant Ramsey's War can be found in Col. Ramsey's website:        
    http://www.edwinpriceramsey.com/

 

* Col. Ramsey passed away on March 7, 2013.