Papers of Colonel Clyde C. Childress, USA
Though still green and untrained, the 61st infantry was shipped to the southernmost island of the Philippines; Mindanao. Positioned on the south coast of the island, the unit was to guard the air field and coastal region near the town of Malabang. The 61st was quickly overrun with the Japanese invasion of the Cotabato region in April of 1942. Childress was cut off from his command being on the right wing of the defenses when the Japanese routed the 61st. Along with his men Childress retreated by jungle trail to the north coast of Mindanao. During their eight day trek north, the Philippines were surrendered. Childress and his men were now unsurrendered fugitives. Most of his men came from Panay Island and that is where they were headed. Childress, on the other hand, needed to hide.
After four months, the “bamboo telegraph” brought word that an American General had arrived in Mindanao by submarine. Childress made the trek by foot along the north coast of Mindanao from Zamboanga to Misamis Occidental. Upon arrival in Jimenez, Childress found the “General.” It was a reserve U.S. Army engineer officer, Lt. Colonel Wendell W. Fertig. Fertig made up the ruse of being a general to gain the support of the local populace and set up his own guerrilla kingdom. Looking like the “wild man from Borneo,” Childress was taken in and cleaned up by the Ozamis sisters of Jimenez, women who risked everything to give support to the guerrillas of Mindanao. Given a shave, bath, and a new uniform, Childress met in conference with Fertig on 20 November 1942.
Much to Childress’s surprise, he was meeting with Fertig and Major Ernest McLish, who had been a fellow battalion commander in the 61st regiment. Childress and McLish had not seen each other since being overrun at Malabang in May 1942. At Jimenez the agreement was made with Fertig that McLish and Childress would go east and organize the eastern areas of Mindanao. McLish, who had already started a guerrilla in the Bukidnon region, was designated as commander of the 110th Division of Fertig’s 10th Military District command on Mindanao with Childress as his Chief of Staff. Fertig felt he could use the two to further his end of being the top guerrilla of not only Mindanao by all the Philippine Islands. He thought Childress the stronger of the two, and would never see eye to eye with McLish. McLish and Childress left by sailboat for the two day trip to Balingasag and the Misamis Oriental region of Mindanao. They wondered “what was the story” with the guy who was calling himself a General.
In March 1943, Major Luis Morgan, Chief of Staff of the 10th Military District and the real muscle behind the establishment of Fertig’s guerrilla organization, arrived in the 110th Division area. At odds with Fertig, Morgan had been sent on a tour of Mindanao and the Visayan Islands trying to bring all guerrillas together in purpose. Morgan was a former constabulary officer from the Lanao region of Mindanao. After the American surrender, Moslem bandits began raiding the Christian coastal areas of Lanao. In a brutal campaign of bloodletting, Morgan put a stop to it. He liberated the north coast of Mindanao for Fertig, and was always up for a fight. Going into conference with McLish and Childress, who were just itching for some payback against the Japanese, they came up with a plan to attack the Japanese garrison at Butuan at the head of the Agusan River.
The attack on Butuan was a lesson in working with untrained guerrilla fighters, most of who were unarmed and ran at the first shot. Initially the town was taken, but the Japanese garrison took defensive positions in a concrete schoolhouse. Lacking any heavy weapons to assault the schoolhouse, the attack became a stand off and the guerrillas had to retreat before Japanese reinforcements could arrive. The guerrillas captured a number of ocean going boats and freed future Leyte guerrilla leader Ruperto Kangleon from the Butuan prison, and though they could not take the town, the Japanese garrison was removed a short time later.
March 1943 was when everything changed in the guerrilla war on Mindanao, for this is when the first submarine from Australia arrived on the south coast of Mindanao. Carrying Lt. Commander Charles “Chick” Parsons and Captain Charles M. Smith, a dozen radio sets with generators and a few tons of supplies, the arrival of the submarine USS Tambor on 5 March was the first sign to Filipinos and Americans on Mindanao that they had not been forgotten and “the Aid” was finally going to come. The “bamboo telegraph” was again active and it didn’t take long for word to reach the 110th Division. Childress set out for Fertig’s headquarters at Jimenez to find out what was going on and what supplies might be available for the 110th. Childress arrived only to be volunteered to accompany Parsons on his trip across Mindanao and up to the island of Leyte.
By early 1944 the area controlled by the 110th Division became too great and it was decided to create a new command to oversee the southern regions of Mindanao surrounding Davao. The new command was to be the 107th Division and Clyde Childress, now a Lt. Colonel, was given command. His main objective was the protection of Fertig’s new headquarters deep in the interior of Mindanao at the town of Waloe on the Agusan River. It was in this pursuit that Clyde Childress won the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action.
Throughout the guerrilla war on Mindanao, Colonel Wendell Fertig leaned heavily upon the talents of Childress and McLish, but as the war progressed he developed a deep distrust of them. It was a process he would repeat with many of the men he led on Mindanao. His reports on the two men were always glowing, yet in his diary he would gripe or demean things they did. Face to face, Fertig was friendly, but behind their backs he “bad mouthed” them to headquarters and other guerrillas. After MacArthur’s return to the Philippines with the landing on the island of Leyte in October, 1944, many of the guerrillas wanted to rejoin the American forces and leave the stress filled life of a guerrilla; always looking over your shoulder, eating next to nothing, and always suffering from some tropical ailment. McLish and Childress both opted to leave Mindanao shortly after the return of the Americans. In December 1944, both Childress and McLish left Mindanao by PT boat for American headquarters at Leyte. Both arrived on Leyte to find that Fertig had stabbed them in the back. He had sent reports saying they were disloyal, incompetent, and had done little for the effort in Mindanao. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the two men who had done more for the guerrilla effort on Mindanao than perhaps any other soldiers.