Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: September 22, 2005

Sgt. Terry Santos Lead Scout, 11th Airborne Division Recon Platoon

Speaker Photo

Served in United States Military 1942-1945. Graduate of ASTC, 4th Class. O.S.S. Sp. Warfare - Jump Qualified. Graduate of Alamo Scouts Training Center. Requalified for jump status in 1944. Made two combat jumps and Amphibious Assault. Served in United States Military 1942-1945.
Graduate of ASTC, 4th Class.
O.S.S. Sp. Warfare - Jump Qualified. Graduate of Alamo Scouts Training Center.
Requalified for jump status in 1944.
Made two combat jumps and Amphibious Assault.
Major Awards: Two Silver Stars, Two Bronze Stars with "V" device for valor, Purple Heart, Two Presidential Unit Citations, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantry Badge, Special Forces Tab, Parachute Wings w/two stars, Four Campaign Stars and Bronze Arrowhead.

Leading the Raid on Los Baños


In February, 1945 U.S. Marines invaded the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, and in a much-publicized event, raised an American Flag on top of Mount Suribachi.  The same month, in a less known surprise attack on Luzon, the Philippines, U.S. Army troops wiped out a Japanese garrison to liberate an internment camp near the town of Los Baños.

Since January 1945, the U.S. Sixth Army had been pushing south from its beachhead at Lingayen Gulf, while the Eighth Army was moving north from Nasugbu. General MacArthur became concerned the Japanese might kill Allied POWs and civilians in a host of prison camps in the Philippine interior.

Among those held in the Los Baños camp were eleven Navy nurses serving in the Philippines, who became prisoners of war shortly after American and Filipino resistance ended in Manila. They spent the remainder of the war, along with another 2,136 civilians, in a former agricultural school fenced in with barbed wire, near Laguna De Bay, a large lake about 35 miles south of Manila. 

The raid was conducted by B Company of the 11th Airborne Division, and led by a Provisional Reconnaissance Platoon.  Terry Santos, a member of that honored unit, was the Golden Gate Wing's guest speaker for the month of September.


Born in Hawaii in 1921, Terry Santos lost both of his parents to a fire in a sugar cane field when he was one year old. His aunt and uncle in San Francisco took him in, and young Terry grew up in the City by the Bay, until he volunteered for the Army in 1942.

Terry applied for the ski troops, the 11th Mountain Division, but  was not accepted. From there he turned to the Office of Strategic Services, (OSS) which brought him to train in Quantico, Virginia, where Terry trained for the OSS.  From there he was sent to the South Pacific.  General Douglas MacArthur chose to give the OSS-trained Santos an opportunity to join his newly developing "Alamo Scouts", an elite U.S. Army infantry unit, trained in its own special center.

"Most of our work was clandestine," says Santos. "We worked behind the lines, although it depended on the mission. Sometimes we were used as assault troops, and those times we kind of enjoyed it, for the simple reason that you get tired of sneaking around behind enemy lines, and not getting engaged in a fire fight.

"Today they call them LRRPs, long range reconnaissance patrols."

Santos says for soldiers even to be considered for the special Alamo Scout training, they had to complete a grueling series of requirements.

"In order just to qualify, every applicant had to be a marksman or better, in all handheld infantry weapons. That would include a .45 caliber semiautomatic, M-1 carbine, M-1 Garand, .45 caliber M-3 submachine gun, on up to a light machine gun.

"The next prerequisite was you had to carry 150 pounds  through ten miles of jungle. And trust me, I weighted 140 pounds. Someone asked me how in the hell I put up with it. And I told them I just wanted to qualify.

"You also had to swim a mile with your clothes on, in open water."

Those were the qualifications, and didn't mean you were accepted. Santos recalls the psychological examination he took after meeting the physical criteria.

"They wanted to know why you wanted to volunteer for something like this. When they asked me this I said, 'Because I'm nuts.' " 

Santos says the representative from G-2, 6th Army, said "Okay, that's a good enough reason."

Even more intensive training then followed, three rigorous months which washed out as much as sixty percent of those who had qualified at that point, says Santos.

Santos became part of the Recon Platoon - - as he describes it, a small, well-trained group of men conditionally assigned to various units within the 11th Airborne Division.   The unit's liaison was Lt. Col. Muller, the Division G-2. According to Santos, there were to be 30 enlisted men in the platoon, three of them noncommissioned officers,  and one officer. For the Los Baños Raid, the recon Platoon was comprised of 22 men.



The Los Baños Raid

The February 23, 1945 raid to rescue the POWs at the Los Baños camp was planned at dawn, 7:00 a.m., to be exact.  The operation would begin with reconnaissance about 36 hours before a coordinated assault.

A small assault team would attack camp guards, timing their action to a nearby paratrooper drop.  Then, Amtracs from the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion would come ashore to transport the camp internees back across Laguna De Bay.

"The reason 7 a.m. was picked was because prisoners of war who has escaped knew that, except for the guards on duty at that hour, the prison garrison stacked their rifles for calisthenics."

Santos' first mission to Los Baños was with Lt. George Skau to provide reconnaissance - - pick out a possible drop zone and a beach landing zone. They returned to the camp a second time to confirm the Japanese garrison's habits of early morning calisthenics.

"The narrator (in the History Channel documentary The Los Baños Raid ) said there were twenty-two to twenty-four of us each time, but on the first two missions there were only two of us, Lt. Skau and yours truly, because I was able to speak the language.

The full assault team for the mission included Santos, Botkin, Call, McFadden, and a squad of twelve Filipino guerrillas. The team carried one Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Santos says their assignment was to knock out two Japanese pillboxes, each of which contained a machine gun.

"On the night of the 21st, twenty-two of us from the recon platoon boarded three bancas to cross Laguna De Bay. That was my third crossing.

"The largest banca, that held the extra ammunition, the grenades and rations broke a rudder. This was the night of the 21st, two days before the attack, and they had to go back and get the rudder fixed.

"We knew that the Japanese had patrol boats stationed on the island of Calamba. We made a circuitous trip around the island, and sure enough, we were challenged. We were the only ones that were. But maybe it was a godsend, because I was able to tell the helmsman in Tagalog to say 'we were fishing, late getting back and now we're on our way back."

"They wanted to know where we were going and we said 'Barrio Nanhaya.'  We were prepared to sink that patrol boat if they decided to board us. But fortunately, they did not. They challenged us, then let us go. Thank god."

"The first shot that was fired could have alerted the garrison at Los Baños. And that was the last thing in the world we wanted.

"We landed at Nanhaya, which was on the opposite shore, about ten miles from Los Baños. Late the next afternoon, the third banca showed up. Had it not arrived, we had a plan B. That was, instead of  four man teams, each man would lead a group of guerillas to mark the drop zone, the beach landing zone, the rest of us breaking up into assault groups."

From Nanhaya, Santos says the assault team marched through ten miles of jungle and flooded rice paddies. If it weren't for rough terrain and the necessity of  stealth, Terry says they could have made the trek in as few as three hours. Instead, it took ten hours.

"Those of us in the recon platoon were assigned the task of knocking out all the strong points --  the machine gun nests - - killing all the posted guards, shooting the guards up in the towers. That's the reason I carried an M-1 instead of a .45 caliber submachine gun, because I wanted to make sure I could reach up into the tower.

There were three types of ammunition for a rifle, tracer, ball and armor piercing. Terry says he always carried armor piercing, because it allowed him to shoot through a tree if necessary to hit his target.

"In those days, I used to be able to see a leaf move at 100 yards. Today, I can't even see the leaf. But I was a very good shot.   When I aimed at something and fired, I seldom missed. That's one of the reasons I was accepted into the Alamo Scouts."

Santos says just as his group crested the bank of Boot Creek, enemy fire erupted at 3 minutes before 7:00 a.m.  This alerted the gunners in the pillboxes, and forced the recon troops to charge the two pillboxes.

Bursts from the machine guns wounded troopers Vince Call and Larry Botkin, and one Filipino guide, but the pillboxes were successfully knocked out.  Santos says then a third machine gun, on a knoll near a large tree overlooking their exposed position opened fire. They kept it under fire until B Company troopers arrived, and then it was eliminated.

"One of the groups from the recon platoon was to get to the arms rack before the Japanese could.  The group was going to the stacked arms, and the Japanese were racing there. The minute they were fired upon, they all turned and ran. The ones who were not killed, the guerillas tracked them down and killed many of them."

Santos says he believes anywhere from fifty to one hundred Japanese escaped.  Among those who fled was Warrant Officer Sadaaki Konishi, the camp's second-in-command. Largely because Konishi had ordered the withholding of food, the liberators found many starving internees. Some weighed as little as 100 pounds.

The killing was over by the time the paratroopers arrived at the camp. 

"Many people think, to this day, the paratroopers from B Company dropped into the confines of the camp. That's not true. The landing zone was a good 900 yards from the camp, a little over a half of a mile. So we knew it would take them 15 to 20 minutes to  gather their equipment, organize and get to the camp.  

"B Company suffered no casualties. Whereas my assault team suffered two. Botkin was hit in the nose by a ricochet and Call was hit in the shoulder.

"We were successful. We wiped all of the guards, approximately fifty were posted on duty. There was also a listening post, a shack with a guard sound asleep at a telephone.

"I said to myself, I could kill him very easily. But if I did, they could call him and if he did not respond, they were liable to send out a patrol, and that's the last thing we needed."

The only snag in the Los Baños operation apparently involved convincing internees the rescue was real.  Instead of going to the Amtrac loading area, most internees stayed in their shacks and barracks.

When some internees near the guards barracks and camp headquarters ran from fires that started during the firefight, Amtrac crews were told to torch barracks on the camp's south side.  That got the Amtracs filled quickly.

By 11:30 a.m.,  the camp was in flames, but the evacuation was complete. Santos says he and the recon platoon provided rear cover to the beach, and he got into the final Amtrac crossing the lake.

The fifty-four Amtracs crossed the lake to land near the camp to deliver the POWs safely to the American-held town of Mamatid on the other shore.

Santos says, "The Los Baños Raid was an unqualified success. There were no POWs who were killed. I think one was slightly wounded. There were eleven Navy nurses. Out of the total of 2,147 in the camp, 2,136 were civilians, plus these eleven Navy nurses, who were truly gallant ladies."

Among Terry Santos' awards for military service are two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars with "V" for valor, the Purple Heart, two Presidential Unit Citations, the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Special Forces Tab, Parachute Wings with two stars, and Four Campaign Stars and Bronze Arrowhead.

In 1988, the US Army granted the Alamo Scouts the birthright as the first Special Forces unit.




(SIDEBAR)  Santos on "Heroes"


I appreciate this opportunity to explain in succinct terms, the birth and existence of the Recon Platoon.  We, the liberators, have in the past, sometimes been referred to as "Heroes." I disagree. The true heroes/heroines were the internees and the 12 POWs, the U.S. Navy nurses. These courageous people did not give up. They survived almost 1,200 days of incarceration, which emphasizes the invincibility of their spirit. Their faith in the United States and it's Armed Forces remained unshaken. This, to me, is true heroism.