The word was passed down to the Marines through the chain of command. At the barracks in Olongapo, a gong was sounded and continued for several minutes. One Marine inquired, “What in the hell is that sound?” An anonymous reply came, “It’s the general alarm,” and so the Marines tumbled out of their bunks, quickly dressed, and fell in to standard formation. The Executive Officer of the battalion stood before his men and informed them of the news: “Men, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and we are at war with Japan.” One salt remarked, “Christ … you got us up for that?”
By 10 December, Colonel Howard’s 4th Marines and the 1st Separate Marine Battalion worked on their defensive positions. Crew served weapons were employed around Olongapo as an anti-air defense, beach defensive positions, and fire teams were organized, demolition crews designated, and bridges designated for destruction should the Japanese land there. The regimental band was formed as a rifle platoon within E Company, and a company officer ordered to liaison with the 31st Philippine Army Division.
One Marine remembered, “The supply corporal brought us clips of five rounds each for our rifles; a few hours later he brought us even more ammunition, and then a few hours after that he was passing out bandoliers of ammo … we looked like a bunch of Mexican bandits.”
The Japanese did attack the Philippines, but rather than initially targeting the facilities at Cavite, the Imperial Japanese Army focused its attention on US airfields and the capital of Manila. The Japanese did eventually find Cavite, however … nor did it take them very long. Three Marine anti-aircraft positions were located outside of the Navy Yard: Battery A was set in on the tip of Sangley Point, Battery B about one mile south of that, at Binacayan, and Battery D reinforced these with additional .50 machineguns.
Two Japanese combat teams came ashore in northern Luzon (Philippine Islands map left by E. A. Villar), securing airfields for Japanese aircraft to support additional amphibious landings. There was no alarm at Cavite, however. Workers came to the base as they normally did and the only sign of war was a detachment of Filipinos digging air-raid trenches near the Commandancia. Then, at a little past noon on 10 December, the droning of numerous aircraft engines were hard and an air raid siren activated. Marines rushed to their stations and observed 54 aircraft in three “V” formations approach Cavite, and not long after that, the bombs began to fall.
The first two sticks of bombs fell into the water, but the rest of the bombs landed inside the Naval Station; small fires began to spread. Marines began firing, but soon learned that the aircraft were flying at 23,000 feet … far above the 15,000 foot ceiling of the Marine weapons. One Marine lieutenant noted, “We knew we were outmatched.” The first Marine to lose his life in defense of the Philippine Islands was PFC Thomas L. Wetherington, killed by bomb fragments.
Some Marines were assigned to man machineguns, in anticipation of Japanese aircraft staffing the Navy Yard —others took on fire-fighting duties. The next day, several dump trucks arrived at the Naval Station filled with the bodies of 250 civilians killed by Japanese bombs. As the trucks unceremoniously dumped these bodies into a trench, Marines shoveled dirt on top of them.
Continued next week