Remembering the Battle of Balete PassJune 18, 2009 by Amadeo Dulay filed under Essays, history | 10,106 views
“I realize that if I were a man,
I would be at the battlefront fighting
amid bullets and explosives,
instead of sitting serenely at my desk.”
—Yamamuro Kieko( 1874 -1915). Japanese Evangelist and Philanthropist
Is there something in war that lures adventurous young men? Is it a measure of valiance? Does it also make heroes in exchange of their dear life? Is it a way to immortalize one’s name in the annals of history, or merely just to gratify the pride of a nation?
Was this the reason why 65 years ago, Japan embarked on its illustrious dream to unify East Asia? With the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan attempted to equate the Industrial Giants in the New World and Europe.
But because of patriotism that fired in the hearts of these conquered foreign lands, war was inevitable! War was the penalty of this illustrious dream, for there was resistance.
Everybody cried for freedom.
And my country, the Philippines, is no exception to this destiny; all because of a noble cause or perhaps an illustrious dream!
How can we forget the barbarity of war when there are constant reminders that have been left behind like an old scar that always rupture to a fresh wound?
Here at Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, we never forget.
Yes, the Balete Pass and Imugan, Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya were once the rendezvous of the ‘Angels of Death’ pitting the adventurous young men in the line of the Japanese Imperial Army againts the joint forces of the United States Armed Forces in the Far-East (USAFFE) and Filipino Guerilla movement under the umbrella of the United Armed Forces in the Philippines (USAFIP).
It was in Balete Pass on top of the Caraballo Mountains that extends to Imugan in South-West border connecting to the great Cordillera Mountain ranges in the Northwest boarder where many lost their lives in the defense of a nation in search for an identity; and it was written in blood of these young men the saga of the debacle only few knows; a war story — the key in liberating Cagayan Valley.
It was in the chronicles of the National Historical Institute that by February 1945, the Americans were in Manila, the U.S. Eight Army was in Mindanao, the Japanese Navy had ceased to exist after the debacle at Leyte, Japanese air defense was likewise close to being non-existent, the pragmatic Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita held no illusion of winning the battle for the Philippines. He only hoped to pin down American forces in Luzon that might otherwise be used in invading Japan. He then mustered 152,000 Japanese soldiers for a protracted resistance in Northern Luzon. He concentrated his forces in the mountainous regions of the Cordillera and Caraballo, with its deep ravines and concealed caves to maximize his defensive position. Gen. Yamashita was going to sit and wait the Americans to force him out of the mountains. He was offering a battle in a place of his own choosing with all the strategic advantages favoring him. He was famous and a master tactician in jungle warfare. His position also guarded the entrances to the fertile Cagayan Valley, his source of food supply.
Gen. MacArthur, recognizing the defensive plan of the Japanese and the fact that delay would only give the Japanese more time to fortify their defenses, quickly directed the US Sixth Army under Gen. Walter Krueger to concentrate in this area. A careful analysis revealed the weakness of the Japanese defense wherein they can be routed in the Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area.
The mission of attacking the place was given to I Corps (under Gen. Swift), which has 3 divisions on the area-the 25th, the 32nd, and the 33rd. the plan was for the 25th and 32nd Divisions to link up in Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area, while the 33rd would take Baguio.
Late in February, 1945, the I Corps launched a three-pronged attack against Gen. Yamashita’s mountain stronghold. The attack on the Villa Verde trail, leading to the municipality of Santa Fe, was under the responsibility of the 32nd Division. By the first week of March, the Division was within 10 miles from Santa Fe. It was in this area that the fiercest battle occurred, owing to the area’s natural defensive barriers plus the tenacity of the defenders. Air strikes were called in. The Division took more than two months to realize their goal, sustaining 825 men killed and 2,100 wounded. The Japanese lost 5,750 men here.
Meanwhile, the 25th Division, under Gen. Charles Mullins, was attacking Highway 5 leading to Balete Pass. The peaks of Balete Pass were steep and honeycombed with ridges from which the Japanese could fire without being seen. By March 10, the Division, with three Infantry Regiments, was less than five miles of Balete Pass. However, the Japanese, firing from the craggy ridges overlooking the pass repulsed the 25th Division. On April 15, 1945 three US medium tanks managed to climb the mountainous terrain and penetrated the Japanese line of defense. This breach was utilized by the Americans, sending an entire battalion, who attacked the unsuspecting Japanese guarding the place, dubbed Lone Tree Hill by the Americans. The defenders were quickly subdued; some fled, leaving behind their weapons.
Although now only a mile from Balete Pass, the American forces did not press on as their supplies were dangerously low and they could not be supplied on the route they had taken. They had to wait two or more weeks for the rest of the regiments for one final victorious rush to destroy the remaining Japanese defenders.
Meanwhile, Gen. Yamashita, arriving on the Balete front after evacuating Baguio, which was captured by the American 33rd Division on April 26, decided to withdraw his remaining troopers from Balete Pass (3,000 out of 12,000) and retreated into the Central Cordillera, west of the Cagayan Valley, on May 5, 1945.
On May 9, an American patrol reached the highway of the pass and found the area deserted. They eventually linked up with other American foot soldiers. The Balete Pass was freed from the Japanese by Gen. Kruger on May 13, 1945. Yet it was only on May 29, 1945 that the 25th Division finally made contact with the main body of the 32nd Division. The drive through Balete Pass cost the division 2,200 battle casualties with 544 killed. The battle for the gateway to the Cagayan Valley was over.
The Americans, however, found much of the fertile valley of Cagayan occupied and under control, not by the Japanese, but by Colonel Russell Volkmann, leader of the USAFIP North Luzon guerillas.
In memory of the battle, Balete Pass was renamed Dalton Pass after Colonel James L. Dalton II, 161st Infantry Regiment Commander and belonging to the 25th Division, I Corps, U.S. Sixth Army who died during the debacle. The 161st led the main attack to Balete Pass.
Historical Shrine and a view deck overlooking the gateway of Cagayan Valley was constructed in memory of the heroic deeds of the defenders and constant reminder that freedom has a high price to pay.
# 84, Tuao South, Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya