The death of Silverio Cuaresma in Nevada at age 100 is a reminder that the World War 2 generation is nearly gone. He accepted a field commission as a guerrilla during the darkest days of the Japanese occupation. “According to a fragile, yellow document that his family keeps in a plastic sheath, Cuaresma was appointed second lieutenant on April 22, 1943, ‘in the field by order of Edwin P. Ramsey, major, U.S. Army commanding.'”
Ramsey was himself a storied figure. He led the last horse cavalry charge in US military history against against a Japanese infantry unit attempting to cut off the retreat to Bataan. The Japanese were pushing a flying column of hard-marching soldiers to seize the town of Morong, through which the men heading for Bataan had to pass to reach their positions.
In December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and then invaded the Philippines, the regiment was ordered north as part of the North Luzon Force to oppose the Japanese landings in Lingayan Gulf. Additional landings elsewhere forced the withdrawal of the outnumbered American and Filipino forces, whose retreat was covered by the 26th Cavalry into Bataan. Leading a 27-man Platoon, as advance guard for the 1st Regular Division of the Philippine Army, on January 1st, 1942, at the village of Morong, Bataan, Lieutenant Ramsey encountered a Japanese infantry force in the village and immediately ordered a charge. General Wainwright later awarded Ramsey the Silver star for gallantry in action for leading what became the last Horse Cavalry charge in U.S. history.
Escaping after the surrender of Bataan, Lieutenant Ramsey formed the guerrilla forces in Central Luzon. Then came three years of agonizing guerrilla warfare, waged by courageous Americans and Filipinos on Luzon Island, fighting both the imperial Japanese Army and communist Huk guerrillas to prepare the way for the return of General Douglas MacArthur. Ramsey also sent critical intelligence information to General Douglas MacArthur in preparation for the liberation of the Philippines. After his return, General MacArthur personally awarded Ramsey the Distinguished Service Cross for his guerrilla activities.
A book on Ramsey’s military career, Lieutenant Ramsey’s War: From Horse Soldier to Guerrilla Commander is available on Amazon.
Cuaresma himself fought in the Luzon campaign, which as described elsewhere, was by far the largest battlefield of the Pacific War. He was was cited for gallantry, in particular for leading a grenade attack on Japanese positions, but along with many others, his services were never officially recognized. He became a US citizen in 1989 and lived out his life as a semi-public spokesman for the forgotten guerrillas of his generation, “a cause that Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev vow to continue”.
But at this point, the last stragglers of the Luzon Campaign are so close to marching beyond our ken that it hardly matters in any practical sense what the bureaucrats can give them now. For at this stage these last survivors are closer to the beckoning call of their youthful friends than to our own fading voices.
They are the last glimpse of a vanishing army, the final sight of a line of men as they pass around a bend, and we cannot follow where they go. Until it is our turn. But as Richard Todd, himself part of the assault on Pegasus Bridge said before his own death, they shall never leave us. They survive in us for so long as we can summon something of their spirit inside ourselves.