FAST BACKWARD: Embedding scribes in WW2

For all we know, the practice of embedding journalists in military campaign did not start with the 1990 Gulf War; rather, it dates back to World War II when American military publications enlisted stingers who were actual soldiers tapped to cover the war for them.

In the months leading to the liberation of Davao City, YANK, the Army weekly, tapped Sgt. John McLeod, who provided first-hand accounts on what really transpired inside the campaign to free the city from Japanese hold, which fell on the shoulders of the 24th Division, and the resistance poised by the enemies as they ambushed the Allied Forces while entering the city.

In his July 27, 1945, report, Yank staff correspondent Sgt. McLeod, who was with a photographer, on entering the city’s territory, wrote:

“As we neared Davao Gulf there were more reports about Jap snipers. Assistant drivers pulled their rifles out of their wrappings and held them on their laps.

“The countryside changed from the rolling pastures, rice and cane fields of Central Mindanao to plantation country where dark groves of abaca (from which comes Manila-hemp fiber), kapok and banana trees come right down to the road.

“We finally caught up with the front a day before the division entered Davao City. There was a blown-up bridge, and on the far side of it were three Jap trucks riddled with bullets and a dozen Jap carcasses. We had moved to fast that the Japs, headed from Davao City toward some hill refuge, hadn’t known we were there. Waiting for the bridge to be fixed were the jeeps and half-tracks of the 24th Recon Troop. They said they had to reconnoiter some roads leading out to an airfield, but that they probably would be the first into Davao City.”

The airfield, the first before entering the city, could have been the Libby aerodrome at Toril area. It did not take long for the damaged bridge, presumably at the boundary of of the town of Santa Cruz and Davao City, to be repaired and became accessible. Sgt. McLeod continued:

“We joined them [24th Division] and started out an hour or so later across the new bridge. The road was closely lined with abaca trees. It was dark by now and you couldn’t see a thing except cat-eye lights of the vehicles ahead and behind you.

“About 12 miles beyond the last ford, we came into a roadblock of tangled, felled trees that was impassable. The infantry had reported the road was clear, but the Japs sneaked in behind them and put in this road-block.”

Sensing an ambush was about to happen, the jeeps took a timely turnaround and headed to where they first started in order to evade being trapped. Upon reaching Toril, they headed for an alternate route but met a mine along the way. It was an aerial bomb planted nose up, which the machine-gunner failed to explode. To elude the undetonated mine, they took another road and had another near-death experience. Sgt. McLeod took note of this incident.

“The other road was worse. The Japs had already blown a huge crater in it. There was a sheer bank on either side [with] no [other] way to get around the hold. The men in the jeep got out to look. Our half-tracks nosed up close. Suddenly the driver looked to his left and started pumping his Buck Rogers gun into the bush.

“We’d gone right into an ambush. Snipers and machine gunners opened up all around us. The men up front all crouched and opened up with their tommies. [Pfc. John] Holt whipped his .50 around and fired bursts on all sides. So did the other gunners in the column.”

The unit managed to escape this second ambush and headed for a third alternative route leading to the aerodrome. Again, like the previous two experiences, the liberation of the city met enemy resistance. McLeod chronicled the ordeal as follows:

“It was the same story—another road between high banks, another roadblock, another hornet’s nest, and the lead track drew the fire. This time though we stayed longer, and every gun in the troop plastered the hillside from which the most Jap fire came, so the doggies could try to flank it. We had to finally pull out of there, too, when the Japs opened up with mortars. The armored sides of half-tracks are [of] no help when the fire is coming through the tops. Again we pulled back to the main road.”

When the reconnaissance team neared the poblacion, they received news a company of the 19th Infantry had reached the city before they did, passing through the west side of Davao River the night earlier. Nevertheless, the arrival of Mcleod and colleagues was met happily by local residents carrying American flags, offering bananas as gifts, and shaking hands.

But, again, the victorious American troops remained on the crosshairs of the Kempetai, the Japanese military police, which was making its last defense. The correspondent wrote:

“As the first infantry crossed [Bankerohan] bridge and started up a rise into the town, the Japs opened up with what sounded like dual-purpose 75s, 20-mm pompoms and woodpeckers.

“We dived down to the cover of the river bank; the civilians scattered frantically in all directions, amazement on their faces. The infantry got in about 200 yards from the river bank and were pinned down. They didn’t get any farther until the next morning.

“But the Japs do funny things. None of their guns was trained on the bridge. The big guns were shooting across the river behind us, their smaller stuff on closer targets. Company after company ran across the bridge without losing a man. On the river bank we seemed to be in more danger from our own artillery, firing in close support, than we were from the Japs. Occasional pieces of shrapnel splashed into the water a few yards from us.”

After this last encounter, the city was, from the southwest, was started to be cleansed of Japanese threat and then fully liberated from the invaders’ claws.