2nd Lt Apollo Bacarrisas Tiano | The Forgotten Kagay-anon Hero in the ‘Forgotten War’

FEATURE
By Mike Baños
June 24, 2021

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It wasn’t their war, but when one country threatens the freedom of another, Filipinos did not hesitate to answer to answer the call to arms.

When the Republic of Korea (ROK) was created in 15 August 1948, the Philippines became the first Asian state to open diplomatic relations with the ROK, and the fifth overall in the world.

Thus, when the ROK was attacked by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 25 June 1950, President Elpidio Quirino immediately answered the United Nations summons for assistance in opposing the North Korean invasion by deciding on 07 August 1950 to send Filipino combat troops to fight in the Korean War.

The Korean War is often called the “Forgotten War” because the 1950-53 conflict happened between World War II and the Vietnam War. Although the main protagonists were North and South Korea, it was actually more a “proxy war”  between the communist Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China on one side, and the United Nations (UN) of democratic allies on the other led by the United States.

The Philippine Congress passed Republic Act 573 (the Philippine Military Aid to the UN Act) on 25 August 1950 authorizing the deployment of Filipino combat troops to defend South Korea under the umbrella of the United Nations Command (UNC).

President Quirino signed RA 573 into law on 07 September 1950 and immediately dispatched the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) to Korea, the first of five BCTs collectively named the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) becoming the first Asian country and only the third UN member state to send combat troops to the area.

Five Philippine BCTs with a total strength of 7,420 officers and men served in Korea from 1950 to 1955 as PEFTOK. Collectively, these BCTs constituted the Regimental Combat Team promised by the Philippines in August 1950 to the United Nations war effort. 

“They were actually Armed Forces of the Philippines BCTs since PEFTOK had an air (Philippine Air Force) and naval (Philippine Navy) personnel and units embedded,” said CDR Mark R Condeno, Naval Historian and Museum Curator of the PEFTOK Korean War Memorial Hall Museum.

PEFTOK consisted of the 10th Battalion Combat Team (Motorized); 20th Battalion Combat Team (Motorized); 19th Battalion Combat Team (Motorized); 14th Battalion Combat Team, and 2nd Battalion Combat Team.

All the PEFTOK BCTs were combat experienced units, with veterans who had fought against the Imperial Japanese Army as soldiers and guerrillas from 1942 to 1945. They suffered 112 killed in action, 299 wounded,16 missing, and 41 repatriated during POW exchanges. The last of the Philippine troops left Korea on 13 May 1955.

The PEFTOK comes to Korea

On 19 September 1950, the Philippines’ 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) with about 1,400 men landed at the port of Busan as the first of the five BCTs that would serve under the UNC in Korea for the period 1950-1955. It was the eighth UNC ground combat unit to enter the Korean War.
The 10th BCT immediately made an impact by defeating two battalions of North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) in the Battle of Miudong on 11 November 1950.

However, two weeks later the Korean War escalated when the PROC threw its Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) into the fray on 19 October 1950 and nearly overwhelmed the UN Force, throwing it back deep into South Korea.

The (ChinesePeople's Volunteer Army (PVA) was the armed forces deployed by the PROC during the Korean War. Although all units in the PVA were actually transferred from the People's Liberation Army (the official name of the Chinese armed forces) under orders of Mao Zedong, the PVA was separately constituted in order to prevent an official war with the United States.

Again, the 10th BCT proved its mettle when it stood firm with only 900 men against a 40,000-strong Chinese Army at the Battle of Yuldong in North Korea, denying the communists a decisive victory.

On 05 September 1951, the 20th BCT relieved the 10th BCT, which returned to the Philippines covered in glory as “The Fighting Tenth.”

In late April 1952, the first contingent  of the 19th BCT deployed to Korea and arrived in force two months later. Like the other Filipino battalions who fought in the Korean War, the Bloodhounds was a veteran unit composed of soldiers who earned their stripes in the Huk anti-insurgency campaign.

According to Cesar Pobre’s “Filipinos in the Korean War,” the 19th BCT “operated in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Rizal and Bulacan.”

The 19th BCT was mainly tasked to hold a sector of the main defense line along the Chorwon-Sibyon-yi corridor, which is in the west central sector of the Korean peninsula.

Eleven days later, it successfully defended Hill 191 and Hill Eerie in the Battle for Combat Outpost No. 8, a fierce four-day engagement (17-21 June 1952) which brings us to our story.

The 20th BCT recaptured Hill Eerie on 21 May 1952, a strategic observation post was invaluable to PEFTOK its future encounters with the PVA. Then 1Lt Fidel V. Ramos, who would eventually become President of the Philippines (1992-1998), led one of the assaults.

The Tiano Brothers

Perhaps the most remarkable family of Kagay-anon patriots were the Tiano siblings, for whom the Tiano Brothers street in Cagayan de Oro is named after. No less than six of the family’s eight siblings, five males and one female, served with the guerrillas under Maj. Angeles Limena in the 120th Infantry Regiment, 108th Division based at Pangayawan, Alubijid, Misamis Oriental, with the exception of the second eldest Nestor, who was killed in action at the young age of 24 while repelling a Japanese attack at Aglaloma Point, Bataan on Jan. 23, 1942.

The eldest Ronaldo served as a 1st Lt. in the nascent Philippine Army Air Force (PAAC), survived the Bataan Death March, but was released by the Japanese from the POW Camp in Capas, Tarlac, then found his way home to join the 120th Infantry Regiment. After the war he joined the newly organized Philippine Air Force (PAF) but left after 18 months to join Philippine Airlines (PAL) and died in a plane crash on Jan. 24, 1950.

Uriel became a sergeant of “A” Company, 1st Battalion, 120th Regiment, and ended the war in the Signal Corps.

The youngest brother Jaime was a private first class at only 15 years of age, and served as a medical aide of the 120th Regimental Hospital at Talacogon, Lugait, Misamis Oriental, together with his sister 1st Lt. Fe B. Tiano (RN), who was the unit’s sole regimental nurse.

As Cpl. Jesus B. Ilogon relates in his unpublished manuscript, Memoirs of a Guerrilla: The Barefoot Army, “This is the story of the Tianos-brave and courageous, their battles are now part of history. While they went to war, their parents Emilia Bacarrisas and Leocadio Tiano, and two sisters Ruth and Emily were left in Lapad (Alubijid, now part of Laguindingan), to stoke the home fires burning,” Ilogon noted.

The only surviving sibling Ruth Tiano-Pañares, had an outstanding career as a teacher and Scouter, and celebrated her 100th birthday recently on 08 June 2021 with family and friends. 

Apollo Bacarrisas Tiano

However, this particular story is about the third eldest sibling Apollo, who served as a 2nd Lt. and platoon leader of “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 120th Regiment, 108th Division based in Initao, Misamis Oriental during World War II and later, the Korean War.

Apollo was born on February 19, 1923, in Cagayan de Oro city, the third of eight siblings.

He finished his elementary school at the City Central School and was a high school senior at the Misamis Oriental High School when World War II broke out on December 8, 1941. In 1942, he joined the guerillas with his four other siblings.  

Pol, as he was known to family and friends, was promoted to Second Lieutenant and was part of the expeditionary battalion composed of troops from various guerrilla units  that conducted mopping up operations against Japanese stragglers during the Liberation period in 1945.

As the commanding officer of the E Company, Apollo helped liberate Malabang, Lanao, in Cotabato and Davao together with the 24th Division, 10th Corps of the US 8th Army.

After his honorable discharge, he took up Civil Engineering at Far East University, but later shifted to a nautical course and graduated with honors at the Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) in 1950.

Although he could have chosen another profession after his service as a guerrilla during the Second World War, Pol chose to enroll at the  AFP Service School in Fort McKinley where he became a Second Lieutenant and an instructor of the school.

A year later, he volunteered for combat duty in Korea where he was given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and became a platoon leader for the 1st Platoon, Reconnaissance Company, 19th BCT of the PEFTOK. The first contingent of the 19th arrived in Korea late April 1952 with the last contingent rotating to Korea two months later.

We chose this week to recall his ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom being the 69th Anniversary of the Rizal Day Battle for Combat Outpost No. 8 from June 17-21, 1952 where he distinguished himself with uncommon valor that inspired his men to turn the tide of battle and saved his unit from annihilation.

The Rizal Day Battle for Combat Outpost No. 8 (June 17 – 21, 1952).

As related recently by CDR Mark R. Condeno in a post on the social media page Defense of the Republic of the Philippines, this action dubbed the Battle for Combat Outpost Number 8, and also as the Defense of Arsenal Hill, Hill 191 and Hill Eerie by the the PEFTOK's 19th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) known as the Bloodhounds that fought a gory four-day battle against the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) 349th and 117th Regiments attempting to overrun their positions in Combat Outpost No. 8, a tactically important segment which comprised Hill 191 (also known as Arsenal Hill) and Hill Eerie.

The 19th held a segment of the main line of resistance in the Chorwon-Siboni corridor in the west central sector of Korea. It was first attached operationally to the US I Corps and then to the US 45th Infantry Division. Armistice negotiations to end the war were being discussed when the 19th went into action against the PVA.

On June 16-17, the 19th BCT under the command of Col Ramon Z Aguirre, relieved the 2nd Battalion of the US Army's 179th Infantry Division on T-Bone Ridge, Hill 477 (Chondoksan), Combat Outpost 7 (Yoke and Uncle) and Combat Outpost 8 (Eerie and Hill 191) upon orders of Major General David L. Ruffner, Commanding General, US 45th Infantry Division. The hills dominating the Chorwon-Siboni area was considered the most vulnerable sector of the UNC’s front line.

The 19th BCT was complemented by the following US units in defense of the assigned area: K Coy, 179th Infantry; 2nd Battalion, 279th Infantry (support); Tank Platoon, 245th Tank Battalion, and the 158th Field Artillery Battalion (with the 19ths FA Battery attached).

Overall control of the supporting weapons was delegated to the 19th Heavy Weapons Coy, with 75mm Recoilless Rifles, 3 Half-tracks equipped with Quad 50s, a reinforced Mortar Platoon with 7 Mortars and 2 US Army tanks from the 179th Infantry.

The Chinese PVA units commenced the attack on June 18th with an artillery bombardment of the UNC positions in which the BCT lost 2 KIA and 4 WIA.  Fortunately, the artillerymen of the 20th BCT were still on hand and quickly responded with counter battery fire, reducing the impact of the enemy barrage, and allowed most of the Filipino defensive positions to survive relatively unscathed.

USAF B-29 Superfortesses supported the defense by obliterating Chinese artillery and mortar positions at T-Bone Ridge which were firing on the Filipinos in Hill 191. 

When Chinese snipers began taking potshots at the Filipinos, the Sniper Platoon of Lt Prudencio Regis PA killed 2 Chinese Snipers and neutralized the others.

The artillery duel between the two sides continued on 19 June followed by a night probing  mission of the West of Hill 191 which was repulsed by the Filipinos, though 2Lt Cosme Acosta of the 20th BCT was KIA and eight other personnel wounded. By dusk, the heavy guns of the Chinese fell silent.

The Filipino defenders immediately went on heightened alert since based on the experience of the 10th and 20th BCTs, the Chinese were wont to launch their vaunted human wave attacks under cover of darkness.

The Chinese troops attacked and flares shot up into the sky to light up the battlefield. The Filipino-manned 105mm howitzers directed by the 20th BCT fire observers rained shells on the exposed Chinese troops, forcing them to retreat, but that wasn’t the end of it.

On 20 June 1952, Lt. Tiano’s 36-man platoon was ordered to reinforce the 19th BCT defenders of Hill Eerie. About 90 minutes to midnight, the Chinese again unleashed a barrage of artillery and mortar fire on the Filipino's with 80 rounds per minute, followed by a battalion sized human wave attack which flares from the 19th   showed were converging on all sectors towards Hills Eerie and 191.

This was met by a heavy firewall thrown by the 19th Field Artillery and Heavy Weapons, further supported by US Army tank and artillery fire which destroyed many of the PVA artillery and mortars. 

However, the following day 21 June, an even heavier attack followed on the US Army’s MLR and Combat Outpost Number 8. At some points along the Filipino line, the battle looked like the siege of a medieval castle with the Chinese clambering up ladders and the Filipinos shooting them down or pushing them off. 

This time, the Chinese troops supported by two T-34/85 tanks (supplied by the Soviet Union), made a frontal assault on Hill Eerie occupied by the Recon Coy of the 19th BCT under Capt. Alejo Costales resulting in the destruction of the two enemy tanks. 

Around 0105H a savage hand-to-hand fighting erupted between the Filipinos and Chinese in the perimeter of the 1st Platoon Reconnaissance Company under 1Lt Apollo B Tiano, which lasted until 0340H.

Despite the enemy artillery bombardment, Lt Tiano ordered his men to “fix bayonets!” with the cry, “Laban tayo mga bata!” (Let’s fight boys!), and led a  bayonet charge against an incoming enemy platoon. Although he was struck in his shoulder by a bayonet from a Chinese soldier, he managed to kill his assailant, but would expire later from loss of blood when was again hit on his left shoulder by shrapnel from a mortar shell. 

Lt Tiano’s courageous stand inspired the rest of his men to finish off the remaining Chinese squad which eventually led to their retreat although exchange by both sides’ artillery, mortar and rifle fire continued until 0500H. 

With the coming of daylight, allied fighters and bombers finished off the rest of the attackers.

Although the Filipinos suffered 8 KIA and 6 WIA, they accounted for over 500 of the enemy. It was estimated that troops from two Chinese regiments had attacked the lone Filipino battalion. With three battalions per regiment, the lone Filipino battalion had stood up and defeated an attack launched by six Chinese battalions over four days.

Besides Tiano, nine other Filipinos lost their lives. Among them, Lt. Cosme Acosta, a forward observer of the 20thBCT’s artillery unit that had stayed in Korea. Acosta was scheduled to return to the Philippines once he had completed training the 19th BCT’s forward observers.

Following the end of this gory, four-day battle, a group of Filipino soldiers ascended Hill 191 and, in full view of the Chinese, planted the Filipino flag on its summit. It was a heroic act of defiance that told the Chinese they had lost this battle.

The Filipino battalion was later relieved by the US 2nd Infantry Division  on 18 July 1952.

The 19th BCT’s stand during this battle did not go unnoticed and it became the first PEFTOK unit to be awarded South Korea's Presidential Unit Citation and a Battle Citation from the US X Corps. 

President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea awarded the 19th BCT the ROK Presidential Unit Citation Medal on July 1952. The medal is awarded to ROK and Foreign Military Units for exceptional meritorious service during the Korean War.

In Memoriam

For his gallantry in action, Lt. Tiano was posthumously awarded the Gold Cross Medal and Purple Heart, and his name is among those written on the Monument to the Philippines at Kyonggi-do near Seoul dedicated to Filipino soldiers who died in the Korean War.

The men of the 19th BCT would later name their main encampment as “Camp Tiano” in honor of the slain lieutenant. On 18 September 1952, a monument was erected in Camp Tiano, Simpo-ri, Korea,  in memory of 2Lt Apollo B. Tiano  of the 19th Battalion Combat Team, PEFTOK, of Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, who was killed in action on Hill Eerie, Karhwun-Gol, Korea on 21 June 1952.

The dedication ceremony was attended by Brig. Gen. Jesus Vargas, Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, during his visit to the camp during an inspection tour, and witnessed by Maj. Gen. David L. Ruffner, commanding general, 45th Infantry Division (AUS); Brig. Gen. P.D. Ginder, assistant division commander, 45th ID (AUS), and Col. Stewart Yco, chief of staff, 45th ID (AUS) with  Col. Ramon Z. Aguirre, commanding officer of the 19th BCT, PEFTOK.

The Philippine Navy also honored the hero by naming one of its Conrado Yap class fast attack craft as BRP Apollo Tiano (PG-851), one of four fast patrol craft donated by the ROK to the Philippine Government on June 23, 1994. The vessels were received by then Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, who was a 1Lt and led one of the units that relieved Lt Tiano’s platoon on Hill Eerie.

Pres Ramos recalled the valor of Lt. Tiano to his youngest sister, Ruth Tiano-Pañares. “I can never forget Pol, because of him, I am now your president.” Pres Ramos said because of Lt. Tiano’s astute planning and tactics, it gave Ramos and his men time to regroup and save their position.

BRP Apollo Tiano was subsequently decommissioned on April 8, 2016.

The remains of Pol, and his brothers Nestor and Ronaldo are interred together in Forest Lake Memorial Park (formerly Divine Shepherd Memorial Gardens) in Barangay Bulua, Cagayan de Oro City.

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