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1945: Rescue Mission at UST That Saved 3,000 People

1945: Rescue Mission at UST That Saved 3,000 People

Did you know that The Pontifical University of Santo Tomas (UST) is the oldest existing university in Asia? Because of this, UST has a very long history dating back as early as the late 16th century. Many greats have studied at the University, like Dr. Jose Rizal.

The buildings of the University houses a myriad of marvelous artifacts. The Dominican priest at UST printed the first book in the Philippines, Doctrina Christiana. But many historical events also happened in UST. One of which is the rescue mission that saved almost 3,000 Americans. And this is the story I would like to tell you.

Timeline of Events

Immediately after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December 1941. America declared war on the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. And the following day Japan invaded the Philippines which was at the time a commonwealth of America.

With the Japanese surprise attack on the island and lack of manpower, material, intelligence, and coordination by the defenders the Philippines fell. Many American failed to escape from the Philippines. In the end, the Japanese captured thousands of American civilians and soldiers. Because of this, the Japanese converted UST into an internment camp for the captured civilians.

Battle map during the Battle of Manila. Credit Photo: The Philippine Diary Project

Three years later on the 9th of January 1945, McArthur returned to Luzon at Lingayen. McArthur went on the offensive to capture Manila and rescue all of the captured American civilians and soldiers. Thus, He ordered Maj Gen. Mudge of the 1st Cavalry Division to “Go to Manila!”. Mudge’s forces with the assistance of Filipino guerrillas arrived at UST on the eve of the 3rd of February.

A battle ensues between them and the Japanese guards. By the morning of the 4th, they liberated most of UST and the internees. But the commander of the camp, Lt Cdr. Hayashi barricaded himself with his men and took some hostages at the Education Building. It took the following day for Hayashi to free the internees. Hayashi freed his hostages to allow him to leave UST unharmed with his men.

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Japanese soldiers during the hostage taking. Photo Credit: Manila Nostalgia
Japanese soldiers during the hostage taking. Photo Credit: Manila Nostalgia

By the 5th of February, Filipino and American forces fully liberated UST and freed about 3,000 people. But, the joyous tears of liberation became tears of sadness. Because the liberation of UST marked the start of the Battle of Manila, Asia’s Stalingrad. The Battle lasted 29 days which ended countless lives and razed the city to the ground.

Lest We Forget

After the war, the school cleaned the debris, fixed the bullet holes on the buildings, and mended everything else. UST rebuilt itself from the ground up. And again opened its door to its students. Now you will never know a battle once took place here. You will never know by just looking at the school that it was once an internment camp. To remember what had taken place historical markers littered around the campus. At the front gate of UST adjacent to España Blvd, you will find the marker of this story.

Historical marker at the front gate of UST. Photo Credit: The Urban Roamer
Historical marker at the front gate of UST. Photo Credit: The Urban Roamer

When traveling to Manila, I highly encourage you to visit UST. Visiting the school will enlighten you about the innumerable stories of its past.

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