In 1942 following the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese assaulted the Philippine Islands and ultimately captured them. Because the U.S. Navy was unable to evacuate stranded soldiers, this action resulted in the capture of some 60,000 Filipino, 15,000 American and several thousand British soldiers. The capture of the allied troops led to the infamous 80-mile Bataan Death March which has been described in Congressional testimony thusly:
“They were beaten and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their Samurai swords from horseback.
“The Japanese culture of the time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human beings. The Japanese soldiers at the time felt they were dealing with sub-humans and animals.” Some of the prisoners were burned alive and buried in a mass grave.
It is estimated that up to 10,000 Filipinos and 650 Americans died before reaching the end of that horrendous march. Some of the survivors were later transferred to a prison camp located at a place called Cabanatuan.
In 2001 a book by Hampton Sides was published that gives “the grand account of one of the most daring exploits of World War II.” It is entitled “Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission.”
On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty miles in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British prisoners of war who had spent three years in a surreally hellish camp near the city of Cabanatuan. The prisoners included the last survivors of the Bataan Death March.
A massacre of American soldiers at Palawan alerted U.S. commanders to the danger of mass POW executions as the Japanese retreated from the Philippines. As a consequence, they planned and executed the mission to rescue the POWs from Cabanatuan prison camp.
As the Rangers stealthily moved through enemy-occupied territory, they learned that Cabanatuan had become a major transshipment point for the Japanese retreat, and instead of facing a few dozen prison guards they could possibly confront as many as 8,000 battle-hardened enemy troops.
“Hampton Sides’ vivid minute-by-minute narration of the raid and his chronicle of the prisoners’ wrenching experiences are masterful,” said one critic. “But ‘Ghost Soldiers’ is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress—the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures, the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerillas…; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal.”
Referring to Mr. Sides’ book, Richard C. Edgley in a recent address to members of his church said, “After the volunteers were assembled, the commanding officer instructed them something like this: ‘This evening you men meet with your religious leaders, you kneel down and swear to God that as long as you have a single breath of life, you will not let one of these men suffer one more moment.’”
Elder Edgley went on to say, “This successful rescue was a rescue from physical and temporal suffering. Should we be less valiant in our efforts to rescue those who suffer spiritual and eternal consequences?”
A BYU produced film entitled “Cipher in the Snow” portrays the heart wrenching story of a young boy who is bullied and harangued by his classmates and belittled by a demeaning foster parent. After enduring years of abuse, one day he stumbles off a school bus and falls dead in a snow bank. He came to consider himself to be a cipher, a zero, worthless. One of his teachers, who hardly knew the boy, but who the boy considered his favorite teacher, consequently makes a commitment to himself that never again will a student attending one of his classes ever go away believing himself to be a cipher, an anonymous number in the crowd.
There are countless individuals out there who need rescuing from abusive situations, from addictions, from estrangement, from poverty, from the forces of nature, from physical and spiritual deprivation. As Elder Edgley so eloquently asks, should we be any less valiant in our efforts to rescue those in need of our help? After all, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)