The Great Raid

They called it “The Great Raid.” It happened at Cabana­tuan Prison Camp in the Philippines on January 30, 1945. One journalist wrote, “The raid on Cabanatuan remains the most successful rescue mission in U.S. military history.”

For nearly three years, survivors of the Bataan death march had languished in Japanese POW camps. The healthy prisoners had been shipped off to do forced labor for the Japanese. Only the sick, weak and injured remained.

When General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philip­pines in 1944 and began his assault to free the nation, the occupying Japanese responded by executing POWs in one of their camps.   The American military leaders became concerned for other POWs, including long-suffering cap­tives from Bataan who were being held at Cabatuan. They hastily planned a daring rescue mission.

Colonel Henry Mucci led 121 Army Rangers, along with Alamo Scouts and 80 Filipino guerillas in a brilliantly executed covert march 30 miles behind the Japanese lines. The rescue force avoided thousands of nearby Japanese troops and surprised over 200 guards at the camp. Most of the enemy were quickly killed in the assault.

Here’s what happened next, as reported by witnesses: Removing the prisoners… was an unexpected obstacle. Conditioned by captivity, many POWs thought the raid was a trick to kill them as they fled. Few recognized the Ranger uniforms that had evolved from blue to khaki during their years in captivity. Prisoners hid in their shacks, latrines and irrigation ditches. When the Rangers yelled to the POWs to come out and be rescued, the captives resisted their rescuers. Rangers sometimes had to resort to physical force to remove the detainees, throwing or kicking them out.

In the end, 513 POWs, including a few civilians, were rescued. Only one POW died in camp during the battle—of a heart attack. All but one captive survived the ensuing race to safety. Most of them were carried on the backs of rescuers or rode oxcarts to safety. Not a single POW was left to their captors, although one deaf, British prisoner was missed at first. He awoke the next morning to find he was the only living person in the camp. After a leisurely shave, he walked out to freedom. It’s an amazing story.

Followers of Jesus are being fired upon from all sides. Atheists. Agnostics. Muslims. Philosophers. Politicians. Media. Schools. The entertainment industry. Even other believers. The question is whether to return fire. Many Christians do shoot back at their critics.  It happens all the time. Just check out the comment section of any religious or political blog. The culture wars are a bloody mess. It’s ugly on all sides.

Jesus, Peter and Paul taught their disciples how to respond when under attack by unbelievers. They all gave the same com­mand: Do not return fire! This won’t make sense to Christians in battle until we realize bullies are not enemies to be shot; they’re captives to be rescued. They may be conditioned to their prison and they may heap abuse on their would-be and often foolish rescuers, but they are not the enemy; they’re POWs. This changes everything. Rescue teams don’t waste time criticizing bullies; they attack the real enemy to win freedom for the captives.

We’ll talk about how to respond when fired upon by bullies this coming Sunday.