"JOCK" was Sergeant Crispin Jacob, Captain Wermuth's closest friend. Described by Wermuth as "a huge black native from Zamboanga (a southern Philippine Island)," the half-Filipino/half-oriental giant would join his commander in exploits that would become legendary.
General Douglas MacArthur awarded Captain Wermuth the Distinguished Service for his actions in and around Kalaguiman during the week of 10 to 16 January 1942. On February 23, 1942, TIME magazine detailed Wermuth's exploits under the headline "One Man Blitz", describing one of Wermuth's missions:
"On one of his reconnaissance patrols Captain Wermuth, from a foxhole, spotted a long line of Japanese crossing a ridge. 'I worked them over with my Tommy gun,' he said, 'and got at least 30 like ducks in a Coney Island shooting gallery.' Attracted by the shooting, five Filipino Scouts rushed to the scene, helped Arthur Wermuth polish off '50 or 60' more of the enemy party."
By the time that story gave the American public one of its first LIVING heroes of the war, throughout the Philippines Captain Arthur Wermuth had become known as the ONE MAN ARMY OF BATAAN. Among the Japanese, who now had placed a reward, dead or alive, on Arthur Wermuth or his band of 84 volunteer snipers, Wermuth was known by another nickname--Bataan ne Yurei....
The GHOST of BATAAN
Sergeant Crispin Jock Jacob and Captain Arthur Wermuth
When the stories of Captain Arthur Wermuth began circulating back in the United States, they contained the information that the One Man Army of Bataan has "Absolutely accounted for at least 116 Japanese dead and an inestimable number of prisoners." Hearing this, Colonel Royal Page Davidson, Superintendent of Northwestern Military and Naval Academy at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, told Time magazine, "Is that all? He'll have to do better than that!" No doubt it was a comment made with both pride and expectation. Colonel Davidson knew Wermuth well as a young man, and Wermuth would in fact do better than that before he was done.
The son of a World War I veteran and prominent Chicago family that subsequently moved to a ranch in South Dakota, Arthur Wermuth grew up in that tough Old West fashion. During summers he worked the ranch, and the rest of the year attended classes at Northwestern, where he excelled at football, in at nothing else. In fact, Wermuth's poor grades and, perhaps even more his rough lifestyle, preempted his initial goal of attending West Point. Wermuth once told a friend that is was because of his "old-fashioned Dutch temper" and "because of these mitts (that) have gotten me into plenty of trouble" that he was forced to settle for a ROTC commission while attending classes at North Park University.
In 1940 Wermuth wrote to the War Department to request active duty, and arrived in the Philippines in January 1941 to assist in training the Philippine Scouts. After Pearl Harbor was attacked he was quickly promoted to Captain. Thus began a month-long campaign that turned the former football star into the subject of one of the few stories in the first few months of World War II to spark the hopes of our nation. The public loved the legend, for all of America was desperate for any good news from the war zone, and hungered for epochal heroes. Wermuth provided both, but it also made him one of Japan's most hated, and singled-out enemies.
Wermuth's actions on the Abucay line were just a beginning of a campaign that saw him develop and train a team of snipers that, turning guerrilla, began to wage war on the Japanese with the same jungle tactics they had honed themselves. Author Lowell Thomas noted in 1943, in one of the first books written about the heroes of World War II:
"His fame during the Bataan fighting was featured by his exploits behind the enemy lines, that being his favorite theater of action: deep in the rear of the enemy positions, where an American soldier would be least expected and where the Jap hunting would be the best. Wermuth had a weird knack of getting through, an uncanny skill typical of the tactics of guerilla warfare, skill in passing through enemy forces, creeping and shooting his way through when necessary. He had a genius for concealment and cover, and besides, he was thoroughly familiar with the terrain."
On one of Wermuth's solo missions deep behind enemy lines, while hidden in dense jungle, a Japanese patrol passed by with one member nearly stepping on him. Wermuth noted the patrol was headed towards the Allied lines--and his comrades, and quickly stood in the darkness to join the enemy column. Hunching low, he followed along for miles in the dark jungle, even "Shushhhhing" the Japanese soldier ahead of him when the man stumbled and created too much noise. When the patrol neared the fortified positions of the Philippine Scouts, fearing he might be taken under fire by his own comrades, Wermuth intentionally stumbled into the soldier ahead of him, handing off a live grenade before quickly melting back into the jungle. One enemy soldier died in the subsequent blast, the remainder died when their position was thus exposed to the Scouts who promptly opened fire. These, and countless missions like it, are what earned Wermuth the Japanese title, Ghost of Bataan.
More often than not, however, Wermuth's solo-missions were at the least carried out with his comrade, Jock. Every time the intrepid Captain headed behind the lines, Jock would plead his case and ultimately get permission to participate. In all too many cases, it was a fortunate decision by Wermuth, for again and again Jock's innate jungle sense proved invaluable. Also, more than once, the Filipino giant who stood 6'4" and weighted in at 220, saved his Captain's life. Such was the case in what might well have been Wermuth's most famous escapade.
During the efforts to hold the line on Bataan, at one point it became obvious that the Japanese had located and tapped into the wires that provided communications between Allied units. Again when volunteers were needed, Jock and Wermuth set out to find the source of the deadly problem that provided the enemy with intimate knowledge of Allied strength, positions, and movement.
Daringly once again penetrating enemy-held jungle and muddy paddies, the two men searched in vain for the wire tap. Returning in disappointment to their own lines, Captain Wermuth found the tap by accident. While moving down an overgrown trail a hidden wire caught Wermuth's foot, tripping him and causing him to fall into an equally camouflaged ditch. He landed directly in the lap of an equally surprised Japanese soldier who was monitoring Allied transmissions through head phones.
Scrambling backward as quickly as he could, Wermuth drew his revolver in a fashion reminiscent of the gun fights of the old west, even as the Japanese soldier reached for his own. Wermuth won the draw and, his aim true, quickly killed his opponent.
The immediate threat dealt with, Wermuth was so fascinated by the Japanese equipment in the hidden position, he never saw the two other Japanese soldiers that crept up on him until they were almost ready to pounce on him. This time Wermuth's draw was too slow, and a Japanese bayonet pierced his arm, chipping bone and pinning him to the wall of the ditch. "Jock," he yelled, "Japanese...two more down here."
Crispin raced to his commander's aid but, finding the two Japanese soldiers in a virtual hand-to-hand struggle with Wermuth, hesitated to pull the trigger for fear of hitting his comrade. So Jock used the strength of his uncommon size to bludgeon one enemy with the butt of his rifle, then turned and shot the other. Wermuth was nearly passed out from the excruciating pain in his arm, but Jock removed the bayonet, freed the captain, and then carried him safely back to his own lines for treatment--and another Purple Heart. The problem of the enemy-tapped lines was solved, and shortly thereafter one of the cards that came packaged with war gum of the period immortalized that brief skirmish by Jock and Wermuth in a camouflaged ditch behind enemy lines.
Throughout February and March, Captain Wermuth, Jock, and other of Wermuth's highly trained guerilla fighters continued their heroic efforts to stall the enemy advance. Despite the futility of that valiant campaign, their work put the enemy on edge and certainly slowed the inevitable collapse of the Bataan defense. Estimates were that at least 500 enemy were killed by the small team of snipers, and generally it was concluded that the estimate was overly conservative.
Late in March Wermuth's snipers were assigned to recapture the vital heights of Mount Pucat. It was a near-suicide mission, and Wermuth called for volunteers. Virtually every member of his command who was still alive stepped forward.
While slowly working their way through the jungle, a hidden enemy soldier rushed Wermuth at the point of his bayonet. Wermuth slammed his huge fists into the Jap's face as the two of them fell to the ground in a life and death struggle. Pain surged through Wermuth's body when the struggling opponent slammed a knee into his groin, but Wermuth drew his own knife and killed his enemy. The patrol moved out again, killing sixty-five more invaders over the 36-hour trek to the mountain. Once the objective was reached, despite a valiant attempt, the attack failed. For more than half of Wermuth's men, it was indeed a suicide mission. This drastic depletion of his forces signaled what would soon be the end of Wermuth's unprecedented success on Bataan.
A few days later near Anayason Point, machine gun fire from dug-in positions on the other side of a small stream held up the advance. Wermuth led his snipers across the stream, fully exposed to a withering fusillade of enemy bullets. While out in front and in the open however, Wermuth had just jerked the ring from a grenade with his teeth and lobbed the orb when he was struck in the left breast by an enemy round. The bullet chipped a rib before passed through a lung, once again sidelining the One Man Army--this time far more seriously.
Wermuth was carried to an aid station where the bullet was removed, but he languished in pain and was near death for days while hemorrhaging continued. Slowly he did begin to heal, though he was still week and the hole in his chest was oozing puss ten days later when, against doctors' orders Captain Wermuth strapped his revolvers on his hips, slung his Thompson sub-machine gun over his shoulder, and returned to the field to join his men. What little remained of Wermuth's fighters were holding desperately to a bitterly contested piece of ground on Signal Hill between Mariveles and Bagac. Wermuth, despite his courage and determination, arrived with too little and far too late. He was still too weak to accomplish much, and on April 9 during the retreat down Trail Ten, behind Mount Sumat, the One Man Army of Bataan slipped in the wet grass, tumbled down the jagged mountain, and was rendered unconscious when his head hit a rock.
When Wermuth regained consciousness he found himself at Field Hospital Number 2, now in Japanese hands. The Ghost of Bataan had finally been captured.
...We'll finish up with part 4 next week...