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  The 11th Airborne Division Provisional Reconnaissance Platoon           and the Los Baños Raid  
  By Robert A. Carroll  
  The Origin of the Recon Platoon   
  In the fall of 1943, Lt. James Polka upon orders from General Joseph M. Swing, Division Commander, organized the Division’s Provisional Reconnaissance Platoon at Camp McCall, North Carolina.  Lt. Polka selected a list of names of men from all units of the Division.  These names were selected based upon their basic training skills, testing scores, general physical condition, I.Q., and a personal interview with each man by Lt. Polka.  The general duties of a volunteer reconnaissance unit were described, as well as the requirement that all those who were not already qualified as paratroopers would, if selected as a member of the platoon, agree to enter the next available jump school class.  Many of those selected were already qualified as paratroopers, but some of those from the 187th and 188th Glider Regiments and other units were not.  Lt. Polka selected 35 men from those interviewed, as the initial group, and began specialized training immediately.  His skillful judgment of the men selected was borne out by the fact that almost all of the original group were still with the unit at war’s end.  Since the platoon did not show on the Division’s   
  Table of Organization, members were merely detached on a temporary basis from their original units.  Upon arrival in New Guinea in early June of l944, the Recon Platoon was reformed as a separate unit with its own quarters, area, pyramidal tents, etc.  More practice patrols in real jungle began in preparation for the campaigns ahead of us.  
  The Recon Platoon on Leyte  
  All through the Leyte campaign in the Philippines, the Recon Platoon performed many patrols through the muddy, water-soaked mountains.  During this interval our mentor, Lt. Polka, was reassigned to other duties within the division.  He was followed by a succession of temporary C.O.’s, including Major Bud Ewing and Lt. Skau.  The fact that the Platoon continued to operate with its usual high morale and efficiency is a tribute to Lt. Polka, who set up the basic organization.  We were thankful at the end of that campaign to ship out for the island of Luzon where at least the rainy season was over.  
  The Recon Platoon on Luzon  
  The Recon Platoon landed on Luzon on January 31st 1945 at Nasugbu, along with other elements of the 11th, including the 187th and 188th infantry regiments.  The platoon immediately pressed inland to scout out enemy positions on the left flank of the Division.  During the following days and weeks we completed many patrols to locate enemy strongholds for Division Intelligence.  Major Edward M.  Flanagan’s book, entitled “The Angels, A History of The 11th Airborne Division l943-l946", states that, “By the time the 11th reached Manila, the Recon Platoon had spent more time behind the Japanese lines than they had in front of them”. He further describes the platoon’s night patrol of February 3-4, from Tagaytay Ridge to the outskirts of Manila, a distance of 30 miles down Highway 17A, through enemy territory.  Many of the men later described that patrol as the most precarious one they ever made.  Through these efforts, the follow-up by the 511th Parachute Regiment, and elements of the 187th and 188th Regiments, the 11th Airborne division had established a beach head 69 miles long and 100 yards wide from the Nasugbu beach to the outskirts of Manila by the end of February 4th.  The members of the Recon Platoon, who took part in the night patrols described above, all received decorations at the end of the campaign.  
  The home of the Reconnaissance Platoon during the early months of l945 was the lawn of an estate on Dewey Blvd. in Paranaque, a suburb of Manila.  It was still the dry season so the men did not, for the most part, bother with tents, but slept on their ponchos.  A field kitchen, showers and a latrine were located nearby (on the grounds) for the soldier’s convenience.  Division headquarters was located within the mansion of the estate, so the Recon Platoon was close at hand to receive orders concerning their next patrol.  
  Planning of the Los Baños Raid  
  After the recapture of Nichols Field, and while the battle for Ft. McKinley was in progress, the 11th Airborne Division’s attention was directed to the rescue of 2,147 civilian prisoners interned at the Los Baños prison camp.  Assisted by four civilian escapees, Peter Miles, Ben Edwards, Fred Zervoulakos, and Jack Conners from the prison camp, plans were made to liberate the prisoners.(Accounts by Flanagan and Squires list only the first three, but Sandra Chapman’s extensively researched account, including an interview with Ben Edwards, adds Conners’ name as one of the escapees.  His name appears further on in my account.)  Needless to say, the Recon Platoon had a key assignment in the planned operation.  Our orders were to cross Laguna De Bay at night in three bancas (native fishing boats) and infiltrate to the camp perimeter.  The necessity of a surprise attack was critical because the Japanese had stated their intention of executing all the prisoners if any attempt was made to free them.  The Recon Platoon was given assignments to accomplish during the operation, and four group leaders were named under the command   
  of Lt. Skau.  The men were divided into the four assault groups led by Sgt. Cliff Town, Sgt. Martin Squires, Sgt. Terry Santos, and Sgt. (Later Lt.) Robert Angus.  Lt. Skau accompanied the group led by Sgt. Robert Angus.  (Previous accounts of the experiences, of the other squads have been published, as described by Sgt. Terry Santos, Sgt. Martin Squires, and Sgt. Leonard Hahn.)  The squad with Sgt. Leonard Hahn were to mark the landing site on the lakeshore for the 672nd Amphibious Battalion; two others, Leo Sapp and Bill Taylor, were to mark the drop zone for B-Company of the 511th Parachute Regiment; and the remaining members of the platoon’s assignment were to initiate an attack on the camp perimeter at the moment the parachutes of B-Company began to open over their drop zone, which was about one-half mile from the camp.    
  The Laguna De Bay crossing  
  The platoon’s crossing of Laguna De Bay was not entirely uneventful for most of the men.  We departed on February 21st in the evening from barrio Walilias in three bancas, one carrying Lt. Skau and six others, including Peter Miles.  The remaining men departed separately in two additional bancas.  Unfortunately, the largest banca, carrying twelve men and crew, soon suffered a broken rudder and had to turn back.  Men and supplies were transferred to another boat and restarted.  The boat was not more than 22 feet long and slow moving.  The men were resigned to spending most of the night sailing, expecting to be at their destination by morning.  Unlike powerboats, sailboats are at the mercy of the wind, and when it dies, the boat doesn’t move.  Morning found the twelve men and crew sitting in the middle of the lake wondering how they were going to get to their destination.  Lt. Skau and his six men, as well as Sgts. Hahn, Squires, and Santos and three of the civilians, were wondering where the rest of the platoon was.  It was concluded, that if the remaining banca did not arrive, a new plan would have to be made to complete the  
   mission.  The Filipino crew of our becalmed banca mentioned, that the Japanese army maintained armed patrol boats on the lake, which occasionally came out for routine checks of fishing boats.  At first we were concerned about this, but as morning changed to afternoon we began to wish the patrol boat would make its rounds.  Our plan was to lay low in the boat until their boat got close, then all sit up and surprise them with a barrage.  We hoped to take control of their powerboat and tow our becalmed banca.  One such patrol boat hailed the banca carrying Sgt. Santos and his unit during the night but did not follow up its challenge when the Filipino crew gave satisfactory replies to their questions.  About 3:00 p.m., the wind finally came up and we reached our destination at Nanghaya, during the early evening.  After a brief meal of K-rations, the separate units started off for an all-night hike to our assigned destinations to initiate the attack at dawn.   
  The Assault on the Los Baños Camp   
  Sgt. Town’s unit was made up of the following: BAR man (myself) Bob Carroll, Medic Gerald (Bud) Schum, Radioman Loren Brown, Mike Gulywase, and the escaped Los Baños civilian, Jack Conners, along with several Filipino guerrillas.  For this assault, Conners had been outfitted with a rifle, ammunition, grenades, steel helmet and an army uniform.  
  In the last few minutes before 7:00am (when the attack was to began) our unit, led by Sgt. Town, was rushed by time to get into position.  As we were running down a steep pathway, which would lead us up the last hill above the camp, our civilian member was leading the way.  Sgt. Town, Bob Carroll, and the rest of our unit followed Conners close behind.  Conners tripped, fell, and began rolling down the steep pathway, losing all his equipment piece by piece as he rolled.  It was actually hilarious to watch, but we had no time to stop and laugh.  As we reached level ground, he stopped rolling and Sgt. Town and I jumped over his prostrate form and went on.  He did not appear to be injured and there was no time to commiserate over his condition.  We also knew our Medic, Bud Schum was coming along and would give him first aid, if needed.  
  Once in position overlooking the camp, Sgt. Town directing the positions of our group and the accompanying guerrillas.  Being it was 7:00am; we immediately opened fire on the guardhouses at the camp perimeter below us.  I fired my BAR into the guardhouses and at any indication of return gunfire.  As anyone using an automatic rifle is taught, you don’t stay in any one position very long, as the enemy will be seeking-out the automatic weapons.  Just as I was about to move to a new position, a guerrilla next to me took a hit and fell over.  I signaled to Medic Bud Schum, who crawled over to examine the wounded man.  After a quick examination, he looked at Sgt. Town and me and said, “How lucky can you get?”  The Japanese rifle bullet had struck his belt buckle and shattered, resulting only a superficial wound, in the abdominal muscles.  
  Shortly, Sgt. Town noticed a group of six Japanese soldiers approaching across open ground toward our positions.  He and I waited until they were within 100 yards or less and opened fire, dropping the whole group in seconds.  Seconds earlier, I found a tight strand of barbed wire strung in front of my position and put the muzzle of the BAR under that wire, the wire held it down and thus I could fire a prolonged burst without the barrel rising.  It is typical for automatic weapons to respond this way.  
  As we progressed, we became aware of friendly fire coming our way from the other Recon squads or probably from Company B-511th PIR.  After that organized resistance diminished, Sgt. Town and I advanced down the hill and into the camp.  As we passed near the open area close to where the (group of six Japs were lying) one was noticed to be moving.  Sgt. Town and I raised our rifles; just then the Jap aimed his gun and fired.  How he managed to miss both of us is not clear, but that was the last chance he would have.  
  When the shooting stopped, and it was safe to proceed through the camp, we rejoined the other Recon members and checked to see if anyone was missing.  At the invitation of a couple of internees, we sat down behind an embankment and sipped, what passed in the camp, as “coffee”.   
  We then joined the troopers from B-511th in directing the internees to pick up what they could carry for the three-kilometer walk to the beach for evacuation.  There was some urgency, in getting everyone moving, as strong Japanese forces were not far away.  Elements of the 188th Regiment had earlier moved into positions some distance from the camp and had provided a protective screen between the Japanese battalions and us.  Recon members, as well as men from B-Company formed a rear and flank guard for the internees, as they hiked to the beach for evacuation.  The liberation and evacuation was accomplished without one civilian casualty, and only two of the Recon Platoon members were slightly wounded.    
  The men mentioned above, and others of the Recon Platoon who took part in the Los Baños Raid were again decorated for their part in the liberation of the internees.  After a few days of rest, the Recon Platoon resumed their routine of more patrols in enemy territory throughout southern Luzon.  
  The foregoing account is intended to describe the experiences of one squad of the Recon Platoon taking part in the attack on Los Baños.  The other squads mentioned, simultaneously initiated similar attacks on other parts of the camp.  As a result of the outstanding coordination by all involved, resistance by the Japanese garrison was quickly overcome, and they had no chance to carry out their threat to execute the prisoners.  
  About the author:  
  About the author:  
  Robert was discharged in November of 1945. He obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from Purdue University in 1950 and spent his professional career in the field of Transportation Engineering. Bob is married, has 4 children and 7 grandchildren. When Bob retired, he lived on a lake in Plainwell, Michigan, but was a Florida snowbird during January and February.  Bob passed away on April 4, 2003.