I'm hoping to explore the Damortis (La Union) area in search of the 26th Cavalry's hasty defensive positions when they met the Japanese invasion coming from Agoo on Dec 22nd 1941.
I'm posting some initial "online reconnaisance" info that I will hopefully be able to update with boots-on-the-ground photos later on.
An excerpt from the book, Twilight Riders:
The big picture
Based on several books and accounts, this is the best guess of disposition I could put together. I'm very iffy on the Troop F positions though.
This is Lt. Arthur Whitehead's rough sketch and description. Of course the sketch was rough and drawn from memory - and of course not to scale. Lt. Whitehead got separated from the regiment later that night of the 22nd and was never able rejoin the unit. Over the course of a year and a half he was able to work his way down the archipelago and sailed to Australia in an incredible journey as detailed in his memoirs in the book, "Odyssey of a Philippine Scout"
I found a group of hills that approximate the description by Whitehead and in the same rough distance north of Damortis that was described in accounts.
A slightly 3D angle via Google Earth
I found a random picture posted online by someone facing inland from a jetty directly across from the hill that I think the 26th Cavalry were.
Lt. Whitehead also described a stream bed where they hid many of the horses. In zooming in, I found a possible stream bed in the valley behind the hills.
Another sketch of positions by Maj. Trapnell. This one looks quite different from Whitehead's.
I was able to make the trip to Damortis with my friend on August 8. Karl was not able to come along this time.
On the way
The main road as it turned north, within Damortis proper
This is Mang Loretto, the farmer who tilled the land in front of the hill thought we were looking to purchase the land. He graciously accompanied us and acted as our guide. We were very thankful to him. His main concern was we would get ourselves muddy and wanted to steer us away from muddy parts
The hill that ran north-south parallel to the road that Lt. Whitehead described. We went up another hill to the north of it first because there was an easy paved road we could follow, but decided that wasn't the hill because it was too far away and obscured from the main road. However this one had a commanding view of the road and is approximately 600 yards north of Damortis town.
Going up the hill with Mang Loretto.
Halfway up the hill we came to a clearing/plateau. Even at a relatively low elevation, the view had dramatically gotten interesting. Goats grazed on the plateau. The view from halfway up was already giving credence to the veterans' accounts of having a vantage point seeing the Japanese fleet landing troops.
Mang Loretto told us that he had dug up an artillery round on that hill side. He showed us where he left it beside a tree right on that plateau. It's a big caliber one. It looked like it may have been a dud. I'm not familiar with identifying artillery shells but our guess was that it was from a naval gun. If so, it was possible that it came from a Japanese ship that could have shelled the position in support of their troops who were attacking south and trying to break through. And if so, then we were on the right hill.
We had more climbing to do, we were only halfway up the hill.
You can see how the hill had a commanding view of the road. Our car is the maroon one on the right, parked on the side of the road below.
The trail that ran along the top of the ridge
The view from the top. I was a bit concerned that we weren't on the correct hill. The foliage and trees didn't offer a clear view and fields of fire for defenders. Mang Loretto said that he lived in Damortis all his life. He's in my estimate in his 60's. He said that he remembers the area not very overgrown at all. He said they were mostly grassy and low shrubs with occasional trees, and the lowlands didn't have any buildings at all and were mostly agricultural fields. If so, then it offered clear fields of fires for defenders.
On the way down the hill. We gave Mang Loretto a little gift for his time and willingness to help us out. Along the way we told him what history we know of and the significance on that hill so he could pass it along to his family and friends. This little anonymous hill we stood on, men had made a stand on, on Dec 22nd, 1941.
The clearing we were able to reach, as seen from below
Some pictures on the way to Damortis. Crossing the Bued river approaching the town of Rosario.
The Rosario town square. The huge ancient acacia tree would have been already there during the fighting. F Troop was pushed all the way back to the town square trying to hold off the Japanese so the rest of the regiment could fall back past behind them, along the road.