ROYAL C. REYNOLDS JR.

Brigadier General | Infantry

 

After the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, the 57th Infantry was deployed just outside of Fort McKinley in the event the Japanese parachuted on Nielson airport, then to central Luzon after another report of enemy paratroopers.  These attacks never came and on January 1, 1942 the Scouts deployed to their initial defensive positions on Bataan.  The battalion straddled East Road, the only road leading into Bataan – defense of this entry was crucial to keeping the Japanese off the island.  They lived briefly in a barrio by the name of Mabatang, which Roy felt would be debilitating to the Scouts if it was shelled and burned.  He pressed to burn the village immediately to preserve their position.  Roy also ordered that all tracer ammunition be abandoned, presuming that its use in combat would give away all defensive emplacements.

 

To the front of the 57th Infantry lay generally flat land and sugar cane fields that the Japanese could slink through quietly, though it was assumed that artillery would cut them down if this infiltration came to fruition.  Behind the Scouts was low swamp land of the east coast, predominantly used for rice farming.  To the east and west, the dirt road gave way to thicker vegetation before the coast and Mount Natib, an inactive volcano in the west.  The weather was typical of the Pacific, always sweltering and lately quite dry causing a huge amount of dust that seemed to constantly float along the main road up to one’s knees.  If men were fortunate enough to have goggles, they wore them.

 

Reynolds first reported to the 57th Infantry at Fort McKinley in October 1939 as the Regimental Communications Officer, having just taken the commo course at Benning, and after a year he was given command of Headquarters Company. As a regiment of the Philippine Scouts, the 57th Infantry fulfilled Reynolds’ choice of assignment because of their outstanding reputation and connection to the islands.  The Philippines was in Reynolds’ blood.  His father Royal Sr. was a Brigadier General in the Army Medical Corps and his Uncle, Major General Charles R. Reynolds, the Army Surgeon General.  Both men served extensively in the Philippines during their careers and Royal Jr.  lived in the Philippines twice as a dependent, first beginning in 1911 and second in the early 1920s.

He served for two years overseas before the war and in the entire time never had a court martial, article 15, or section 8 under his command, something he felt was quite remarkable among any group of soldiers.  In September 1941, while on the brink of war, Roy assumed command of the 1st Battalion.

EAST ROAD

Reynolds continued pressing to have Mabatang burned, and finally headquarters allowed the request and the 1st Battalion torched the village.  Shortly after returning to their position in the barrio, the Japanese attacked on January 11.  Crossing through the cane field in front of 3d Battalion first, they charged through their lines throwing themselves on barbed wire entanglements and ferociously cutting through heavy fire from the Scouts.  Reynolds ordered his C Company commander, Tony Anthony to reform his company perpendicular to the rest of the battalion, anticipating infiltrators from the battalion to their left.  He watched the 2d Battalion, preceded by artillery barrage, come out of reserve and counter-attack the Japanese advance.  The attack on 3d Battalion continued through the night and at daybreak, the 1st Battalion began to route infiltrators on their left flank.  Sandy Nininger organized a counter attack from A Company with sniper parties and demolition engineers.  This initial defense of Mabatang showed Reynolds just how his Scouts behaved in combat – he had not doubted them in the peaceful years prior, but witnessing their tenacity and firm defense elevated his opinion of his men.

 

While still under a fair amount of Japanese fire, Roy was surprised to see General MacArthur enter his command post.  He impressed with his typical image in a soft cap and with swagger stick, always keeping cool under fire.  An occasional sniper or artillery round did nothing to phase the general who acted as though no bullet or shell could touch him.  Roy felt that the stories he had heard of MacArthur emerging from Malinta Tunnel to count bombers of Corregidor were entirely accurate based on his composure and interest in the frontline situation at Mabatang.

 

The Japanese continued to put pressure on the 57th Infantry, but the regiment persisted in pushing back all attempts to break the line.   These fights continued for days, with hours of artillery fire breaking only for counter attacks.  After four days the Japanese had gained very little for the blood they spilled, but slowly chipped away at the Scouts’ numbers.  They again stopped the Japanese at Abucay where the Japanese turned west and were able to penetrate the Philippine Army positions, forcing the Scouts to withdraw south to the Pilar-Bagac road that ran like a belt across the southern part of the peninsula.  On January 23, Reynolds’ battalion had barely arrived at their second defensive position here when he was told that the Japanese had made amphibious landings to their rear, on points that stretched into the South China Sea like bony fingers.

THE POINTS

The 1st Battalion was ordered to Silaiim, with the other battalions of the regiment to eliminate the Japanese threat on the other points.  If the Japanese were to move inland and cut supply routes, that would surely be the end of fight for Bataan – so while Reynolds felt as though he was abandoning the front line, a new one had formed in the opposite direction that threatened entirely the survival of the American and Filipino forces.

 

The Points were truly jungle terrain, with enormous trees enveloping anyone within them and preventing any destruction by mortars that would not make it beyond the jungle canopy.  Reynolds’ best friend and classmate, Harold K. Johnson, had moved to command 3d Battalion, and for a brief period assumed command of the regiment while Reynolds filled his former post as S-3.  He felt he had a huge responsibility to fill, as he admired how well Johnny had run the regiment as operations officer, but more so was unhappy about switching responsibilities at such a critical point with no experience as an S-3 or at issuing orders from regimental level.  For fifteen days, the 57th defended with the same ferocity as before, though their supplies were dwindling and the men were becoming weak.  Their khaki uniforms were worn and soiled and food was becoming a major issue.  Rations had been cut severely and most had only a little rice to survive on.  With air support from what was perhaps the only two remaining P-40s, the American and Filipino forces pushed the Japanese back enough at times that Reynolds watched with some delight as the Japanese were forced to jump from cliffs on the points.  By the end of January, his own health at deteriorated and he came down with a bought of dysentery that sent him to the hospital.  The rest of the 57th Infantry moved to reserve positions at Signal Hill to rest and recuperate as much as possible given their dwindling supplies.

FALL OF BATAAN

Eddie finally proposed that they be proactive and gather any former Scouts they could find into a provisional unit.  He felt they would be motivated to continue the fight against the Japanese and help the Americans return to the island.  They had back pay, insurance, and the opportunity to become a part of the States again.  It was a difficult task without proper methods of communication and supplying arms and ammunition was another challenge.  In time, they formed a small band of guerilla fighters, one of many scattered throughout the Philippines.  The leaders of these bands gathered frequently to discuss campaigns only to retreat back to their humble dwellings where they could remain mobile and avoid the threat of any significant damage from Japanese forces.  Over time, their belongings had deteriorated severely and they mended their shoes with animal hide and used gunny sacks to mend their clothes.  Roy grew long, curly whiskers, hair hanging to his shoulders, and had a gaping hole where his two front teeth broke off from eating corn.  The other officers fared no better and were a startling sight when Margaret Utinsky found them in the steep hills. 

 

Another individual who found Roy and his group in the Zambales mountains was a British soldier by the name of Charlie Saylr, whose story was most astonishing.  As part of the British Expeditionary Force, he made it out of Dunkirk only to be posted to Singapore for the Japanese invasion and subsequent fall.  He was taken prisoner and jumped camps from Singapore to Malaya and Burma where he worked on the bridge over the river Kwai.  He was eventually transferred again and placed on a prison ship to journey to Indonesia to fetch Dutch prisoners to head to Japan.  Off of Luzon, the ship was sunk and Charlie swam ashore where he was rescued by Filipinos who offered to turn him into the Japanese or smuggle him away to the mountains.

 

“Well, I’ve tried this Jap deal and I would just as soon go up to the mountains,” he decided, cheerful to be out of the clutches of the Japanese.  He was amazed that the Filipinos were so helpful, as the native people of Singapore, Malaya or Burma would not think twice about turning an escaped prisoner back to the Japanese.  Roy attributed this to the generous American occupation of the Philippines – that the Americans took care of them and contributed to their lives and infrastructure and in turn the Filipino people felt compelled to aid in combating against Japanese occupation.

 

Almost unrecognizable in new uniforms and off helmets, a pair of Army soldiers discovered Reynolds’ group in October 1944.  The two-man team – a radio operator and intelligence man – had been landed by submarine as part of a battalion delivered to the Philippines by submarine and were among the first Americans to return to the islands.  The radio operator offered Reynolds the opportunity to send his name back to the United States as he had been carried as missing in action since 1942.  Because it was nearly two and a half years later and as far as Roy could assume there was still plenty of action to occur, he decided not to send his name out.  He felt that if his family was already mourning his death and received word that he was alive only to have tragedy take his life, it would be an even greater emotional loss.

 

The group linked up quickly with the advance parties of the 11th Corps near Olongopo and met with the Chief of Staff.  Despite his haggard state, Roy had not lost any drive to fight the Japanese and requested to go on to Manila with the 11th Corps.

 

“If we can’t win this war without you,” he said examining the group of balaguered men, “we’re really in a hell of a fix.”

 

The corps utilized him for a few days to gather information and plan some amphibious landings as well as providing other known guerilla units with arms and equipment.  But soon his war was over, and along with Eddie Wright, who had been with him since the fall of Bataan, the two were ushered on to a plane and evacuated to Leyte.  After six years, the recent ones seemingly longer than the first, Roy was leaving the Philippines.

Sources:

Valdez, Glicerio V. “With the U.S. 57th Infantry Regiment.” War Memoirs of the Alcala Veterans, by Alberto T. Marquez, New Day Publishers, 1992.

Morton, Louis. The Fall of the Philippines. Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1953.

Patterson, John A. “Transcript of Interview With Royal Reynolds and Richard Rosen.” Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, 2 Aug. 1997.

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