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Chapter 15: "Hard Landing"
San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines
PFC. Peter McCain
April 16th, 1942
Nearly everyone of Peter's platoon that had survived the march now knew Peter's plan for returning to American forces with Japanese attack plans. They were all gathered together, tired and afraid, as men before them were herded onto rail cars to be sent to Japanese prison camps. Thankfully, the generous officer, Saburo Masaki, had given the soldiers enough sustenance to stage their plan.
To Peter's left were Isko, the Filipino gunner who acquired the documents in the first place, and Hilario, a technician from Isko's squad with a knack for flying and operating military equipment. To his right was Private Anton Johnson, fearful for Peter's suicidal proposition.
“You really think this is going to work? After your last plan?”
“We got fed didn't we? Trust me, this is our only shot at getting these plans out of here. And once we are back with American forces, we will come find you guys.”
“Three men against the whole fuckin' IJA?”
“If our plan goes through smoothly, they won't even notice we've left.”
“Yeah, if. I can't see the future, but we have no other choice. Don't worry about me. I've got Isko and his buddy Hilario. They say he's the best pilot on this island, and with a name like Hilario, I'm sure we'll be well entertained.”
Hilario glanced at Peter, somewhat confused by the mention of his name.
Ahead at the train station, a man is high-ranking officer fatigues sat atop his horse, conversing with Saburo. The officer was guiding some men from the march into a line towards the train car furthest in the back, while a majority stayed in the straight path towards the front-most car. The men the officer chose to send to the rear car seemed almost random, and while the front cars were packed tightly, shoulder-to-shoulder, the rear car was sparse and open for the few men on board. Unlike the other gray cars, it was painted a dark shade of red, and the side marked with more Japanese symbols than the others. In Roman numbers, however, it was written '731'.
Peter could see Anton was nervous and unsure of himself, his hands clenching and eyes blinking rapidly.
“Hey, stop worrying about me. I can handle myself. You know that better than anyone.”
“Oh, please, worried about you Pete? I'm just worried how the Corporal is going to take it when you actually succeed. He's gonna flip.”
Ahead in the line, the officer atop the horse was barking orders at an American being sent to the rear car who was begging to be sent with the others.
“Silence! Go, now!”
“Please! They'll kill me, you're killing me!”
The officer motioned towards two Japanese foot soldiers to force the American into the rail car. They grabbed his arms and wrestled with him to stay calm.
“They're gonna tear us apart! You can't do this!”
He was now on the ground, as one of the soldiers held him down with a boot to his back, the other took hold of his forearm, and yanked it backwards, breaking bone. The American's head was in the dirt, his face of suffering towards Peter's group. He recognized him now: First Lieutenant Gentiles. They had never seen a man so stoic and respected reduced to this. The two soldiers now dragged Gentiles towards the train, tossing him into the car where he was attended to by the other Americans on board, his eyes red and spirit destroyed.
Nearby the officer who gave the orders, sat Saburo atop his horse, eyes shut and face to his lap. He rode the horse trotting towards his previous position in the line near Peter's squad, ashamed and silent.
“They won't get away with this, Saburo.”
Saburo chose to remain silent.
“I know this isn't what you want, but you have the power to do something.”
“Unfortunately, that is not true.”
“While you were watching that, that guy, behind us? He was smacking around one of the prisoners. Even though you ordered them not to.”
Saburo was visibly incensed, and meditated for a moment to calm himself.
“For once American, stow your tongue.”
Saburo looked to the group of young soldiers watching over the prisoners in the back, then to the officer and the gathering of other soldiers ahead. He put his fingers to his lips, and whistled to the soldiers in the back, motioning them towards him, as he rode his horse nearer to the front. He rallied a majority of his men towards the other officer, and raised his voice as he began speaking to them. The line towards the train had stopped, and the other officer seemed annoyed. One Japanese soldier was ordered to stay behind with the rear to ensure there was no trouble.
Anton put the back of his hand to Peter's chest as he prepared himself to run.
“Good luck, Pete. We're counting on you.”
“Counting on me? Don't tell me that!”
The singular Japanese soldier stood facing forward where Peter, Isko, and Hilario were, before having his attention drawn towards a Filipino man in the back asking in Japanese what was happening. With him far enough, Isko barked in a hushed tone, “Now!”
Isko, Hilario, and Peter darted out of line, the crowd filling in the gap as they left. They ran through dirt onto concrete before meeting the wall of the station, away from the view of the Japanese.
Out of breath, Peter took a moment to rest. “Holy... shit.... that... fucking worked!”
Isko leaned on the wall, positioning himself towards the edge to look out on the rest of the station. There was a building that the tracks went through with an open door that was spacious enough to hold plenty of vehicles.
“We're not through yet, Peter! Hilario, see that building?”
Hilario joined him at the edge.
“I see. It could have weapons, armored cars, everything we need.”
Peter now crouched alongside them.
“I thought the idea was we get out of here quietly?”
Isko replied, “That is ideal. But we should prepare for the worst. If we are caught, we need protection.”
“If Hilario can operate whatever we find in there... “
“I can.” Hilario stood up, ensuring he saw no Japanese surrounding the large, open doorway, and sprinted with Isko and Peter in tow. Now crouched, they turned the corner into the spacious building, the size of a large barn.
The walls were mounted with vehicle parts and there was a massive crate filled with ammunition boxes straight from the factory. Around the edges were rows of tanks, and on the tracks in the center was a vehicle that looked like a tank, but it sat firmly attached to the rails.
The trio moved inside the dimly lit building, the majority of light coming from the open doors and a singular window at the highest point on the wall.
Hilario approached the tank nearest to the door, being sure he saw no one inside the building. He laid his hand upon its dark green finish, the armor complete unscathed. He raised himself up on top, chuckling to himself.
Isko spoke quietly to him, “A tank escape is not an option. We need something fast to get to the airfield before they notice we left.”
Peter looked around the room, then to Isko.
“These are all tanks! Nothing with tires by the looks of it.”
Hilario jumped down, walking towards the vehicle on the track.
“Not all tanks.”
By all appearances, the vehicle looked like a tank, with treads, thick armor, and a hatch at the top for the crew.
Isko approached it, ducking his head underneath to see it attached to the tracks. “What is it, Hilario?”
“So-Ki armored car. Not many made. Used for reconnaissance and armored transport. It has no weapons, but can move, I believe, near 70 kilometers per hour while on track. Can also be taken off of track at slower speed.”
Peter climbed atop the railroad car, looking inside the hatch at the spacious interior. “Fast on the track is fine. Can you get it moving?”
Hilario replied, “Of course.”
Peter looked to Isko, “I like this guy's attitude, Izzy. He's a keeper.”
Isko grinned before patting Hilario on the back.
“Let us get moving. We won't have much time soon. Hilario, get acquainted with it. Peter and I will find weapons.”
Hilario located the hatch to enter the So-Ki as Peter and Isko approached the crate filled with ammunition. Inside were a set of pristine Nambu sidearms as well as a gun the pair had not seen before. The new Japanese weapon was roughly the size of a Thompson, with some similar components.
“Looks like the Tojos have submachine guns now.”
“May be useful. Take a Nambu for Hilario with magazines and what-”
Isko stopped speaking as the sound of boot steps on concrete grew louder. The duo whipped their heads back to a lone Japanese mechanic, unarmed and frightened of the armed prisoners. He yelled out, “Tasukete!” Peter dropped the gun, and bolted towards him, tackling him to the ground as he tried to run. He wrapped his arms around the man, holding him tight as Isko rushed to shut the large doors on either side of the building, keeping them shut with a piece of piping. Peter held down on the man's neck as hard as he could until he stopped struggling, face blue. Peter let him go, adrenaline pumping, before feeling the man's chest for a heartbeat. He was alive, but unconscious.
Peter rose to his feet, the room now much darker as the doors were closed to the sunny outdoors, with only the singular window's light shining onto the tank in the middle of the room. There was a loud banging and shouting from Japanese soldiers outside, attempting to enter the building.
Peter sprinted to the So-Ki which Hilario had managed to get running. Isko was now with them, the weapons loaded on board. Peter entered the car from the back, jumping in then swinging himself inside. It was much louder on the inside than on the outside. There was not any wasted space around the interior walls, which were covered in connective wires and components for the engine and control system. There was only a single seat, now occupied by Hilario. The view port at the front of the vehicle was so minuscule, Peter could not properly view the front facing action.
“What's Isko doing?”
“Unbarring the doors. You will want to hold on to something!”
Peter grabbed a hold of the Japanese submachine gun with one hand, while holding on to a grip on the ceiling. The banging from the rear doors of the building was getting louder before Isko finally arrived, pulling the door shut behind him.
“Go Hilario! Go!”
The engine roared even louder, like the sound of a jet engine. The vehicle lurched forward, nearly knocking Peter and Isko to the ground as it impacted the wooden doors to the building, breathing in sunlight through the tiny viewports.
Through the engine's gaining intensity, yelling from the Japanese could be heard. Following this came the pinging of small-arms fire on the outer armor of the tank. As it picked up speed, the number of bullets depreciated to nothing. For a moment, there was peace and tranquility in the deafening interior. It was short-lived, as a hail of bullets pinged off the left side of the vehicle, leaving impressions in the metal near the viewport.
Hilario jerked his body to a port on the left side, informing the others.
“There is a car! Two men, one driving! They are trying to hit the engine through the viewports!”
Isko took Peter's shoulder, directing him to the hatch at the top of the vehicle.
“Wait for a gap in their fire!”
Peter reading himself, locating the handle for the upper hatch, and ensuring his weapon was ready to be fired. As a hail of bullets pinged off the treads and abruptly ended, Peter shoved the hatch aside, raising himself up into the direct sunlight on the tropical landscape. The station was directly ahead, but more pressing was the re-purposed civilian car, with a passenger reloading the same submachine gun Peter was wielding. The driver called out to his passenger, alerting him to Peter's impending attack.
Peter laid the barrel on the hatch's rim, took aim, and held the trigger. The kickback from the foreign weapon shifted its barrel to the side, which unintentionally increased its effectiveness in throwing bullets in a wide arc. Several whizzed past the truck, until one shattered the windshield and several others hit the passenger, who dropped his weapon and keeled over. The driver panicked, now blood soaked and cut by glass, shifting the wheel swiftly causing the truck that was going at top speed to spin out of control, flipping on its side.
Peter lifted the weapon into the air, shouting as he looked back, “Ooh-rah! Hell yeah!”
He felt a tugging at his pants from inside the car. “What? What is-”
Peter had shifted his view to the front face of the car, quickly approaching the airfield, and saw an even quicker Japanese Zero whizzing directly towards them. He dropped like rock inside, heavy machine gun bullets sending dirt flying into the cabin from outside, two bullets even piercing the hull and directly impacting a fuel valve, spurting gasoline onto every surface.
The engine screeched and hissed as Hilario attempted to slow the vehicle, now within range of the airfield.
“When we stop, we run to the nearest hangar!”
Peter nodded to red-faced Hilario, then to Isko, his clothes drenched in gasoline. Peter hoped there would be no open flames to ignite the trio as they tried to escape.
The speeding armored car slowed continuously, eventually derailing from the chaotic halt, and veering into a row of transport trucks parked outside a hangar bay.
Isko wasted no time in pushing open the hatch and assisting the dizzied Peter and Hilario from the crashed vehicle. Rising to his feet, Peter felt the sun nuzzling his skin and heard the sound of a boisterous, irritating siren. They would be coming for them, soon.
Isko held his Nambu in his right hand, using his left to shield his eyes from the sun and see in the distance.
“Foot soldiers on the tracks! They are following the rails.”
Hilario had opened a door into the hangar bay, motioning that it was clear to enter.
“Isko, let's go!”
“They will block our escape. We will be cornered inside the hangar.”
Peter tugged at Isko's sleeve, “We're pretty well fucked out here too! Now come on!”
Isko stood in place, looking around the corner of the crashed car to see the men running down the rail line.
“There won't be time. I will take one of these trucks, and they will believe the rest of us are in the back.”
Isko approached the driver side of one of the trucks, opening the door and pulling open a compartment beneath the steering wheel, revealing the innards of the vehicle.
“Once I start the vehicle, you two start the plane and leave, fast!”
Hilario took Isko by the shoulder, shoving him into the side of the car, “That is not happening!”
Peter approached them, “What about me? I can stay behind, divert their attention. I'll find some other plane.”
“No. Peter McCain, you will return home to your daughter. You are a fighter, and you will stop this war.”
Isko took the stolen documents from his pocket and shoved them into Peter's, returning to the truck. Peter was taken aback by the mention of his daughter, his pride, his reason for living in this cruel world. He had only mentioned her in passing during conversation during the march, and only now did he realize the respect Isko had for him in choosing to take him along for the mission.
“You care for your comrades and for your family. You and Hilario must leave this place.”
Hilario begged with him, “Please, let me stay behind. You can go.”
“You must fly the plane. Go home... tell mama I love her.”
Hilario's face was beet red, not just from the strain of their recent escape, but from holding back the emotion of this sacrifice. “Mahal kita kuya...”
“You too, brother. Now go, hurry!”
Isko had managed to start the engine of the truck, entering the driver's seat, and hitting the gas, heading directly towards the soldiers heading directly towards them.
Hilario and Peter ran for the hangar, precious cargo now in possession, and as they shut the door, the sound of gunshots and the truck now turning another direction could be heard.
Within the lit hangar bay was an array of small attack fighters and bombers. The plane Hilario had set his sights on was near the center, a twin-engined light bomber. From what he could remember in his training, the plane resembled the bombers designated by the Navy as “Lily”.
They wasted no time walking up the ramp of the plane, seemingly prepared for an approaching bombing run. Hilario located the cockpit, strapping himself in and fiddling with controls.
“You take the front gunner position. If any of them are waiting outside, give them Hell.”
Lights began to spring to life throughout the interior, where Peter was assessing the machine gun mounted at the nose of the plane, surrounded by a thick set of glass panes to look out of the front of the plane.
The propellors of the plane began to spin, and the plane was in motion towards the front gate of the hangar, where it came to a stop.
“Peter, get the doors open! We will make my brother proud!”
Peter took to the ramp, sprinting to the center, pushing with all his might the left door. The sunlight illuinated the gray bomber, armor painted with the Japanese Empire's flag. Peter then took to the right door, pushing it open enough to reveal the runway to Hilario. There were no soldiers to be seen. He bolted up the ramp of the plane, which Hilario had set in motion before Peter could arrive at the turret. Now fully exposed, Hilario turned the plane's direction right, away from San Fernando towards Corregidor.
“Do you know the way there?”
“I don't know why I even ask.”
The plane began to pick up speed on the runway, but had attracted the attention of soldiers laying dormant near the other hangar bays. Men began to run out, unable to keep pace with the aircraft, as two transport trucks parked near the end of the runway, a dozen Japanese men exiting and pointing their rifles to the rogue plane.
In response, Peter took aim with the turret, firing at the rapidly approaching targets. Due to the unexpected gunfire, the soldiers at the trucks began to scatter, firing back as they did so, bullets bouncing off of the wings and hull of the armored plane before one bullet impacted the glass in front of Peter's chest. It had luckily been thick enough to stop it from penetrating. Peter did not cease fire, however, as the nose began to raise into the air. The sudden rise in altitude sent Peter tumbling backwards.
“You may hold on to something!”
Peter grabbed a hold of a ladder rung leading up to the cockpit, using the other hand to grip his chest as he grew sick.
The plane eventually leveled out, allowing Peter to traverse the plane on his wobbly legs.
“I feel ill... “
“No worries, we will be there quite soon. The Ki-48 is a very fast bomber.”
“I can tell... I'm sorry about your brother. He's a hero.”
“Do not be sorry. Be a better man. My brother came to respect you in the three days we have known you. I find you unbearable.”
“A lot of people do. If I'm sorry about anything, it would probably be that.”
“In any case, Francisco Reyes will live on in our memory.”
Peter took a seat, allowing Hilario time to mourn. To take his mind away from the altitude sickness, he took a look at the documents stolen from Saburo. They were folded and crumpled as they were shoved in pockets and passed on during inspections in the march from Bataan. The original document shown to him by Isko regarding attack plans was at the top, and only now with time could he assess the crucial nature of this information. Though writing was in Japanese, the letter to Saburo came attached with a detailed map of the Pacific with areas marked for varied levels of attack.
The next in the pile was, surprisingly, a letter written in English. The intricate cursive handwriting was nigh-impossible to read with the shaking of the plane, but the letter was written to Saburo and mentioned practising English writing for a mission. The rest was two crumpled or smeared, but at the bottom, the letter was marked by its writer, Takeo Masaki. This must be the son Saburo mentioned whom he trained as a Samurai. Saburo would never know what his actions had done for the greater good on this day.
The last was completely in Japanese, but was adorned with a plethora of seals, and was typed on a typewriter. The seals were unknown to Peter, but two in particular caught his eye as they contained numbers. The two symbols were circular and highly intricate, with one simply having a large number 9, and the other the number 935.
Peter was shaken from his concentration at the sound of bullets whizzing past coming from the back of the plane.
“Zeroes! Get on the rear gun!”
Peter jolted up, pressing his hand on both sides of the plane to keep balanced as he made his way to the rear gun, the same type as that on the front. Hilario began to dip the plane downward to dodge the now-visible twin Japanese Zeroes, firing their guns at the wing of the plane.
Peter pointed the gun, pulling the trigger and missing as the plane veered to his right, out of view. He swiveled to the second, letting loose and barrage, causing the plane to spin and attempt to dodge the fire. One bullet had apparently hit, as the Zero began to dive, smoke emanating from its engine. It dipped below the clouds, unseen.
The previous plane, however, was still unaccounted for, and Peter searched the horizon in search of it.
Peter called out to the cockpit, “I can't see him! Do you have eyes on him?!”
“No, I can't... he's high!”
Peter swiveled the gun skyward, setting his sights on the plan as it was now diving at high velocity towards the bomber, firing on all cylinders.
Peter returned fire, failing to hit the significantly smaller target, but the Zero's bullets had penetrated the left-most engine.
“We are hit, badly!”
“How long do we have?!”
“I can make it to the island. We are close!”
Peter searched the skies once more in search of the pursuer, spotting him in the distance. He waited, anticipating the plane making another attack. Instead, it slowed down, dipping out of view through the clouds.
He continued waiting, palms sweating and clenching the gun so tightly it began to hurt. From the cockpit, Peter could hear the sound of radio static then a distinctly Southern, and American, voice.
“Attention, this is restricted air space. Turn around or you will be shot down!”
Peter had made his way to the cockpit, climbing the ladder and taking control of the radio while Hilario attended the flight controls of the damaged plane.
The voice returned, speaking in Japanes for one final warning, “Anata wa gekitsui sa remasu!”
Peter replied, “I speak English, damn it! This is Peter McCain, member of the United States Marines. We are survivors from Bataan! We have crucial documents on Japanes war plans. We need to land on the island!”
The plane began to dip left, as the engine began to give out.
“Peter, this plane isn't landing on a runway.”
The radio replied back, “Copy that, your craft is FUBARed, you need to divert to an open field or you risk damaging the base. You need to pull up, now!”
Peter held Hilario's shoulder tightly, “You've got this!”
“Get down and strap in, we are coming in hot!” Hilario picked up the radio, “We copy, we are going down at the beach south of the base. Send rescue immediately!”
Peter located a seat under the cockpit away from the glass front and rear of the plane, and he strapped himself in and ensured the documents were held safely on his person. He only hoped that if they die, the precious cargo would not burn up in an explosion.
He rattled in his seat, taking his mind elsewhere as a wing of the plan began to crumple and fall. He closed his eyes and prayed for God's protection as they plummeted to Earth.
No more than a few seconds later, Peter felt the hard crack as the hull impacted the tropical beach, nearly crumpling under its own weight as its was shot like bullet through the sand. Glass shot from the front of the plane to the back, cutting his knees as he jostled in his seat. Peter could feel the plane's fueselage beginning to twist, the wings now completely gone. The last thing he could remember was a loud crunch of the front of the plane as it slowed and came to a sudden stop at a large rock near the tree line.
When he awoke, Peter was being dragged through the sand, his view being of the wrecked, burning hunk of metal that was once a plane. He gazed downward at his legs, bleeding profusely, and he felt and sharp pain in his temple, where he head must have impacted the interior of the plane and knocked him cold. He could not bear to move his head enough to view who was dragging him. He placed his hand in his pocket, to find the documents, safe and sound. He placed them back, trying to speak with his bloodied mouth.
“Where is... Hilario... did he...”
He felt woozy, and close to blacking out again, before he was picked up by two men and put into the bed of a truck. He tilted his head slightly as the truck began to move, and now saw the bloodied, bruised, but alive Hilario Reyes.
“You... you did it.”
“Hngh... Of course I did.”