(Fourth of a series)
121st Infantry Formation & Poker Game Tables
Ifugaos may be popularly known as witty with good sense of humour. Yet unknown to the rest of Cordillerans and lowlanders, mountain folks then of Kiangan, the seat of Ifugao civilization, can match westerners in their own games of poker. They may not be the best of actors for Hollywood films but can manage to masquerade poker faces before adversaries in war and in peace.
Months after the declaration of war between the United States and her allies with Japan, American military officers residing in Baguio City and neighboring mining towns of Benguet found themselves in the hinterlands of the Cordillera.
My father observed:
“The Japanese Army came and left without much ado after they found no army to engage them. They left sufficient force to hold Baguio. The rest of the Mountain Province was therefore, without any Japanese outposts.
“So during the later part of February 1942, several American officers came to Kiangan, led by Captain Joels. He came to organize A. Co. of the 121st Infantry which was under organization by Col. Horan with HQ at Bontoc ... other American officers were organizing companies in the sub-provinces of Bontoc, Kalinga and Apayao.
“With Captain Joels came Lt. Cloggy and Lt. Stern. Immediately all the soldiers including ex-service men were recalled by him with the assistance of local officials. Company A was fully completed about the middle of March with many more in the waiting lists and who were ordered to wait for further orders from Col. Horan.
“Many of the men were without arms and the rest were detailed as observers. Inspite the lack of arms and ammunitions, outposts were established toward the borders of Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya provinces and also toward Baguio.
“During the later part of March up to the last week of April, the men were given rigid training. Despite the crowded program of the officers they always had sufficient time of their own to forget the war in the poker table. In fact Captain Joels spent his leisure hours in the game that once he expressed his love of it, saying that he used to play poker among his friends in the past but never enjoyed one as he is having in Kiangan among new acquaintances. Asked why, he replied that the boys here are quite good in the game and are very hospitable and serviceable to give him his money’s worth.
“Captain Joels was probably 50 years old, a veteran of World War no. 1. Before the outbreak of the war, he was employed as one of the engineers in the mines in Baguio.
“Lt. Cloggy was also a veteran of the First World War and likewise employed in the lumbering business in Baguio before the outbreak of the present war. Lt. Cloggy was rather interesting to the men because of his beard, white as snow reached his chest and whenever he was commanding, his men were always attracted by the weaving or flying beards as the wind blows. He was about the same age with Captain Joels but much more robust and physically strong in appearance.
“Lt. Stern was a non-commission officer in the Philippine Scouts in Baguio before the outbreak of the war. He was therefore newly promoted by Col. Horan to officer... Lt. Stern was a fat stout man with his short neck, sticking on his square shoulders. He was probably above 45 years and therefore, younger than the first two. He was rather liked by the men because he spent most of the time with his men.
“By the middle of April all the different companies, composing the 121st Infantry were fully completed except the lack of arms and ammunitions, which were according to the officers were forthcoming with the American Aid.
Japanese Army re-enters Mountain Province
“The organization of the 121st Infantry, though for a short time, gave Col. Horan the opportunity to boast to his superior, that he had 30,000 men ready to meet the enemy. The enemy must have heard of it in the air that made them come back with 50,000 men after the fall of Bataan. It was learned later that the Japanese spent millions on their second entrance into the Mountain Province, besides delaying the movements of half a million men to the south. The Japanese were certainly disappointed in not finding any army nor any encounters in the Mountain Province.
“I gave credit to Col. Horan for this good piece of propaganda, because by the coming of 50,000 as was estimated, and the delay of their movements to the South gave our Allied Forces down there ample time to get ready.”
“The people of the Mountain Province were however disappointed of Col. Horan’s tactics. At the beginning of his work we placed every confidence in him, giving him every possible aid and support so as to make sure his army will at least harass the enemy. But he disbanded his command without giving the enemy any scratch.
We began to review his stand from Baguio during the first entrance of the enemy into the Mountain Province. Col. Horan ran away from Baguio to Nueva Vizcaya and then run back to Ifugao ... when he could not go through to Manila, and continued running from jungle to jungle while his men were giving the enemy whenever possible and unavoidable the best fights ever had.
“Captain Guitters deserved the highest praise from the people for he was the one that was loved by his fighting men, while Col. Horan, who run every time the enemy was reported nearing his HQ. And he was the “supreme Commander” of the United States Army in the Mountain Province.
“He surrendered to the Japanese as soon as they entered and that was the best of him. That was the last thing we heard of Col. Horan who ran without giving the enemy something lot to know and feel of his presence. His surrender naturally caused the disbandment of his men, each for himself or to follow anyone posing as officer or leader. Such was the fate of the 121st Infantry organized in the later part of February 1942, played poker during months of March and April, and disbanded on May 1, never to be heard of thereafter.” – (continue to next series)
(Note: The narrator is the youngest son of the late Luis I. Pawid of Kiangan, Ifugao and Angeline Laoyan of La Trinidad, Benguet. He is a journalist by profession, former town Mayor of La Trinidad, Benguet, and former Executive Director of the defunct Cordillera Executive Board, Cordillera Administrative Region. He now resides in New Jersey, USA)