May 12, 1945, is cited in history as the liberation of Cagayan de Oro from the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
Unfortunately, for all the 71-odd years after it has enjoyed freedom from oppression, this occasion has never been recognized nor celebrated by the local government.
The History of the Mindanao Guerrillas shared with us by the late president of the American Guerrillas of Mindanao Virginia Hansen Holmes and some declassified documents from NARA, Cagayan de Oro was wrested from the Japanese by Filipino guerrillas under Col. Wendell W. Fertig, CO, 10th Military District, US Forces in the Philippines.
The liberation of Cagayan de Oro was as part of a bigger military operation to split the Japanese forces in Mindanao and put an early end to the Battle of Mindanao. A regimental combat team would land in Brown Beach in Tin-ao, Barangay Agusan then proceed up to Bukidnon via the Sayre Highway and link up with other US forces fighting up the Sayre Highway from Cotabato.
Fertig was ordered to secure the beachhead in Macajalar Bay and protect the right flank of the US forces as they fought their way up Sayre Highway.
In addition, the guerrillas from the west coast of Cagayan were ordered to launch a general offensive to tie down the Japanese and prevent them from going to the aid of their comrades in the Tagoloan-Bugo area. As a result of this operation, Cagayan was liberated by the all-guerrilla force.
Prelude to Liberation: The Tagoloan-Bugo Operations
Maj. Rosauro Dongallo, CO, 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division was ordered to undertake the mission of clearing a beachhead in the Tagoloan-Bugo area, and secure the flank of the Americans. The regiment’s officers included 1st Lt Othelo Emano -1st battalion commander, 1Lt Emeterio Moreno – S1 & Hq Co; 1Lt Pablo Borja- S4; 1Lt Crispin Joaquin, S2 & S3;1Lt Gerardo Sabal medical Co; 2Lt company commanders were Vicente Genzola, Co. A ; Romulo Kionisala, Co. B ; , Co. C ; Francisco Abbarientos, Co. D ; & S1; Abundio Dimaano, Combat Co.
2nd Battalion was commanded by 1Lt. Antonio Mortis. The company commanders were 1Lt Quintin Bardilas, 1Lt Agapito Nadel, 1Lt Bartolome Pajamapan, 1Lt Monico Clemena. 2nd Lts were Aladino Blando; Marcos Cacho; Eleuterio Collado; Teodoro Iballe; Vicente Lucas; Agripino Nanundo, Alejandrino Prado; Emilio Valde; and Leonardo Tiro.
From 27 April 1945 till the eve of the Macajalar Bay landing on 09 May 1945, guerrillas fought a see-saw battle with Japanese garrison troops in Tagoloan-Bugo, with air support from American planes.
09 May 1945 guerrilla patrols made a three-pronged attack on the Japanese in Bugo to establish the beachhead but Japanese reinforcements which arrived by truck from Alae, Bukidnon, forced the guerrillas to withdraw to Baluarte.
On the same day, all guerrillas were ordered to withdraw further north of the Tagoloan River to avoid the scheduled air and naval bombardment of the area to clear the way for the American landing at Agusan.
The Americans return
The Attack Group Task Force 78.3 was a 67 ship-strong flotilla under Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble.
0830, 10 May, the 108th Regt Combat Team commanded by Col. Maurice D. Stratta, made an unopposed landing and found the beachhead of Agusan already secured by the guerrillas.
Records show there were actually about 650 well-entrenched Japanese soldiers scattered in various military installations and garrisons all over the town.
In the van of the general offensive was Capt. Andres D. Bacal, 1st Bn; Capt. Alberto Chaves, 2nd Bn; and Capt. Marcelino Maagad, 3rd Bn. from the 109th Regiment, 109th Division.
Three battalions from 111th Regt, 109th Div. covered the right flank led by Capt. Purito Rubio, 1st Bn; Capt. Felix Arcaña, 2nd Bn; and Capt. Ramon M. Onahon, 3rd Bn.
Capt. Leopold Blanco, CO of 120th regiment, 108th Division, secured the left flank with 300 enlisted men.
Major Pedro Aquino was the Liaison Officer between the 108th and 109th Divisions. Capt. Eugenio S. Vaquero, G-3, of 108th Division served as supervisor of the operation and representative of the Division Headquarters.
The Iponan-Cagayan Operation
The guerrillas started attacking Iponan at 0906 Hrs. on the morning of May 9, 1945. They encountered slight resistance except at Iponan bridge where some 100 Japanese soldiers, possibly coming from Carmen or Calinogan, arrived around 10 am and vigorously opposed the advance.
Patag Airstrip Captured
11 am of the same day, the 1st Bn of the 109th Regiment under Capt. Bacal captured the strip at Patag and the enemy was reported to have withdrawn to Carmen Hills.
Fighting continued at the Iponan River from the early morning of 10 May till 10 AM. At 2 PM of the same day, the entire 120th Infantry Regiment was moved out West of Iponan River, per instruction of higher headquarters, leaving the three battalions of the 109th Inf Regt across the river without support from the left rear of the enemy. CO of the 109th Inf Regt was ordered to pull out his troops west of Iponan River and fighting continued.
By this time, guerrillas of the 120th Regiment started pushing forward to areas held by the enemy in Bulua, Patag, Carmen, Bayabas, Bonbon. The fighting continued up to the next day.
11 May 1945, the 109th Inf Regt was ordered to push toward the west side of Cagayan road. Route of approach was made at three points: 2nd Battalion from the beach to highway, 3rd Battalion and Combat Co. in National Highway, and 1st Battalion from the highway to Patag.
The 109th regiment met up with the 111th regiment in Carmen while the 120th regiment held Kauswagan. The Japanese numbered 300 at the west bank of the Cagayan River, stationed at Balulang, Carmen Hill, Carmen, Patag, Bulua, and Iponan. 200 of them immediately moved east of the Cagayan River. They withdrew passing Balulang, Indahag, Kili-og, Libona, proceeding to Santa Fe.
On the morning of 12 May, the 109th regiment was ordered to occupy Cagayan. At 9:00 in the morning, three battalions crossed Cagayan river at three points: 2nd Battalion at Julao-Julao (present-day Consolacion, present-day Maharlika Bridge), 3rd Battalion at the Japanese wooden bridge (linking Yacapin street to Lirio Street in Carmen), and the 1st Battalion at the vicinity of the steel bridge (present-day Ysalina Bridge at Carmen) which was earlier destroyed by retreating USAFEE forces in 1942.
.The Japanese suffered 21 killed in action, one wounded, with another 80 probable casualties (killed or wounded), while only Corporal Bonifacio Jabonan from the guerrillas was wounded.
By 9:30 AM of May 12th, the whole town was occupied by guerrilla forces.