Most of the men assigned to Company A ended up fighting the Japanese on their own initiative during the night of 5/6 May 1942. Lieutenant Harris was forced to withdraw from Cavalry Point once Mercurio’s position was overrun. PFC Nixon got into a bayonet dual with one Japanese soldier, and after wounding him, continued moving toward the sound of gunfire.
Most of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry came ashore within fifteen minutes; within 30 minutes, Japanese infantry were moving toward Marine positions. The plan concocted by Colonel Gempachi Sato (pictured right conferring with his staff) seemed to be working, but the 785 men of the reinforced 2nd Battalion were not quite as successful. The current worked against them, and when the landing force neared North Point, where all defensive positions were intact, within ten minutes of the first assault, the Marines were ready and waiting. This fight raged for 35 minutes; Japanese lost 9 of their 10 landing craft. Most of the Japanese officers were killed within a few moments and the soldiers that did make it ashore were trapped behind rocks that were nestled into the beach sand. One machine gunner declared, “It’s like shooting ducks in a rain barrel.” He no doubt experienced adrenalin-induced euphoria. It wouldn’t last.
Once the Marines realized the extent of the Japanese Army successes, they initiated a counterattack designed to eject them from the area of Denver Battery. This was the location of the heaviest fighting; it was where Imperial Japanese soldiers came face to face with the American defenders. A few reinforcements did make their way to the frontline of the 4th Marines, but the battle became a duel of obsolete World War I weapons against accurate Japanese knee mortars. The defenders were outmatched.
Colonel Howard committed his last reserves at 0430 … some 500 Marines, sailors, and soldiers of a provisional fourth battalion. Movement forward was very costly because Japanese snipers took positions of great advantage to themselves. An additional force of 900 Japanese soldiers arrived at 0530. The Marine regiment was able to hold its position at some locations, while losing ground in others. The Japanese, running short of ammunition, resorted to bayonet charges; the Marines were happy to accommodate them, but any successes were strictly temporary.
The battle raged for several hours, a final blow coming around 0930 when three Japanese tanks landed and went into action. The defenders of Denver Battery withdrew to the ruins of a concrete trench just as Japanese artillery delivered a massive barrage. Fearful of the consequences should the Japanese be forced to take the Malinta tunnel, especially owing to the fact that the tunnel contained 1,000 sick and wounded men, and realizing that the defenders outside the tunnel were unable to hold back the Japanese assault for much longer, Lieutenant General Wainwright decided to surrender his men as a means of saving their lives.
General Wainwright sent a radio message to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.”
Colonel Howard dutifully burned the National Ensign and the Battle Color of the 4th Marine Regiment. He then led his men into captivity.
In the defense of the Philippine Islands, the 4th Marine Regiment gave up 72 killed in action, 17 who died of wounds, 167 wounded in action, and 474 died in captivity. The regiment would remain decommissioned until 1 February 1944.
End of series; next week, a miracle.