The Illinois National Guard celebrated the 78th anniversary of the Liberation of Baguio in the Philippines during World War II at the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s headquarters in Urbana on April 26.
The Illinois National Guard is celebrating significant dates in the history it shares with communities throughout 2023 to celebrate its 300th year. It celebrated the liberation of Baguio with the University of Illinois’ Philippine Student Association, which began in 1915.
Baguio was liberated by the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Division on April 27, 1945, four years after the Division was federalized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 33rd IBCT holds the lineage and honors of the 33rd Infantry Division. The Division spent two years training in the United States before leaving California for the war’s Pacific Theater, landing at New Guinea in May 1944.
"Tonight, as we celebrate our shared history, I look forward to learning more about the Philippines and hope you learn a little about the military,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Alessia, Director of the Joint Staff, Illinois National Guard. “Since it’s beginning in 1723, 95 years before Illinois became a state, the Illinois National Guard has participated in every conflict.”
Alessia said the actions of the 33rd’s Soldiers were pretty amazing when talking about the Division’s history.
“In World War II, the Division received three Medals of Honor, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses, 470 Silver Stars, 34 Legions of Merit, 2,251 Bronze Stars and six distinguished unit citations,” Alessia said.
Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Mark Bowman, who retired from the Illinois Army National Guard in 2017 as the State Command Sergeant Major, talked about the 33rd Division’s role in World War II, and the liberation of Baguio.
“The 33rd landed on the west coast of Morotai Island in mid-December 1944 without resistance,” said Bowman. “From December 22, 1945 until January 29, 1945, it relieved the 31st Infantry Division serving at Race Island.”
Bowman said the 33rd landed on Luzon in early February 1945 where it relieved the 43rd Infantry Division in the Rosario area on Feb. 15. In just a few days, the 33rd began moving into the Caraballo Mountains toward Baguio, the Philippines summer capital, and the headquarters for the Japanese in the Philippines.
“The Illinois Soldiers faced two enemies, the well-equipped Japanese force and the mountainous terrain,” Bowman said. “The 108th Engineers used bulldozers to carve trails through the mountainous country to pave the way for the advancing infantry. The Division seized Question mark and Benchmark Hills after heavy fighting on February 22.”
Bowman said Illinois’ Soldiers fought and climbed over rocky ledges and towering peaks 5,000 feet high and many suffered from heat exhaustion due to the limited water supply.
“The 129th Infantry Brigade, which was detached from the 33rd and attached to the 37th Division, pushed up Highway 9 toward Baguio and encountered very heavy fighting in the Salat area from March 23 to April 10,” he said. “The Battle for Baguio ended on April 27, 1945, as both the 33rd and 37th Infantry Division columns converged and overran the city.”
Bowman said the 33rd was relieved by the 32nd Infantry Division after the Battle for Baguio. Sixth Army, which included the 33rd Division, began amphibious training, as the Soldiers were to be the first wave of an invasion of Japan, however the war ended before an invasion took place.
“The 33rd entered combat in September 1944 and spent 139 days in combat,” Bowman said. “The Division lost 396 Soldiers, 2,024 were wounded in action and an additional 128 died from their wounds.”
Joaquin Lainson, president, Philippine Student Association at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, talked briefly about the history of the student organization, and provided insight into the Philippines.
“The Philippine Student Association at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the second oldest Filipino collegiate organization in the United States, dating back to its beginning in 1915,” Lainson said. “Filipinos have attended UIUC since 1905.”
Lainson said many Filipinos choose to attend UIUC because of the association’s history of celebrating Filipino culture and strong community they have fostered for decades.
“Our association is dedicated to fostering and maintaining relationships through the education and awareness of the Filipino identity and culture, and developing academic and leadership skills,” Lainson said. “Our history, our culture, and our experiences define our Filipino identity. We are always creating and adding to it.”
Lainson talked briefly about the Philippines, a maritime island nation in Southeast Asia, and said location and history gives the Philippines a unique blend of cultures, religions, and experiences.
“Across our 7,000 islands, more than 150 languages are spoken,” he said. “Food, music, and clothing is influenced by centuries of cultural exchange with China, Malaysia, Polynesia and elsewhere. Our unique histories and cultures thrive in Filipinos at home and abroad.”
Lainson said sports are popular in the Philippines, with basketball being the most popular, followed by boxing, and volleyball.
Lainson explained the Philippines has, at times, a very tense history, beginning with the Philippine revolution in 1896.
“When Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, the American-backed government was exiled until the end of the war,” Lainson said. “Rebel Filipino forces conducted guerilla warfare throughout the Japanese occupation. Under an American coalition led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Philippines was liberated in 1945.”
Lainson said the Philippine Campaign was the largest campaign of World War II in the Pacific Theater.
“After the war, the Philippines gained full independence under the Treaty of Manila,” he said. “The Philippines is a founding member of the United Nations and is officially known as the Republic of the Philippines.”
Lainson said today the Philippines is a cosmopolitan nation with a renewed sense of identity and culture.
Illinois Army National Guard Maj. Matt Larson, of Mokena, Illinois, a logistics officer with 6th Battalion, 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade, based at Rock Island Arsenal, who recently completed a year-long deployment to the Philippines with Logistics Advisor Team (LAT) 6611, explained, the Philippine and United States militaries conduct combined training engagements and exercises.
“The connection between the United States and the Philippines is an important and longstanding relationship,” said Larson, a logistics advisor with LAT 6611. “Our team’s mission was to conduct combined training alongside the Philippine Army logistic units and the Philippine Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.”
Larson said the Philippine Army are some of the most hospitable people he’s worked with, and the team enjoyed participating in one of the Philippine’s favorite sports - basketball.
“We played basketball with them after work almost every day,” Larson said. “Another custom which wasn’t mentioned in our pre-mobilization briefings is their love of karaoke.”
Larson said going into their mission, they had to identify common ground as military professionals.
“We didn’t have to work too hard to understand each other,” Larson said. “The Philippine Army spoke English so we were able to communicate. Identifying we both spoke the same language and use it as a starting point allowed us to identify common ground.”
Larson told the audience it is important to know that throughout one’s career, they will engage with someone from very different backgrounds.
“Continue to build bonds with those you encounter by encouraging communication, and sharing experiences,” he said.