Soldiering This great Nation & Its People War

Clyde Childress: WWII Guerrilla in the Philippines

Papers of Colonel Clyde C. Childress, USA

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Papers of Colonel Clyde C. Childress, USA - Record Group 109 Opens in new window
Colonel Clyde C. Childress served as commander of the 107th Division, 10th Military District, during World War II. Serving in the prewar Philippines with the American 31st Infantry Regiment, Childress was chosen to help train the new Philippine Army when it was called into service under Douglas MacArthur’s new United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) command in July 1941.  Shipped to Panay, where he became a battalion commander in the 61st Philippine Infantry, Childress was there when war erupted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Clark Field on December 7-8, 1941.

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.

Clyde Childress’s rare 1909 Colt revolver that he carried in the guerrilla war on Mindanao Opens in new window
Physically destroyed by his jungle trek, Childress took refuge with American expatriates on the Zamboanga Coast and recuperated.  Like all the Americans that went into the jungle, Childress would not have survived had it not been for the hospitality and complete selflessness of the Filipinos and Americans that helped them.  Not all Filipinos, however, were friendly.  At one point during his recuperation Childress got word that the local Philippine Constabulary officer was going to come with his men and disarm him.  Childress was not one to wait for trouble and instead went looking for it.  He showed up at the Filipino’s headquarters.  As he approached he noticed the constabulary soldiers smiling at him and knew they were on his side.  Childress walked right up to the officer and basically told him to make a move.  The officer balked and Childress disarmed him.  He would have no trouble from anyone else.

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.

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A map Mindanao Island showing all the different regions of the island Opens in new window
The 110th Division encompassed a wide area of western Mindanao encompassing the Misamis Oriental, Agusan, Surigao and Davao regions.  It was populated with bands of guerrillas all acting on their own initiative and in many cases as bandits.  McLish and Childress, with the help of a host of unsurrendered Filipino and American fighters brought order to these areas by supporting legitimate guerrillas and suppressing the bandits.  By March 1943, most groups in the Misamis Oriental and Agusan regions were under the control of the 110th Division.  The question became, “What do we do now?” It didn’t take long to come up with an idea.

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.

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Major Clyde Childress sits with the Ozamis sisters and Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Chick” Parsons  Opens in new window
Parsons and Smith had not just come to Mindanao to bring supplies.  They had come to assess Fertig and his organization and to establish coast watcher stations on the islands of Mindanao and Leyte.  Lt. Colonel Charlie Smith knew Fertig fairly well, having hid in the jungles of Mindanao with him after the surrender, and he was convinced of his ability.  (See New Acquisitions, RG-106, Papers of Lt. Col. Charles M. Smith) MacArthur’s headquarters, however, was staffed with career U.S. Army soldiers who were disgusted at someone promoting himself to General.  They needed reassurance that Fertig was stable.  Parsons, like Smith, had no problem with Fertig and found him most capable.  That established they began the next leg of their journey.  Smith went to Davao, Mindanao to set up a coast watcher station and Parsons travelled to Leyte to do the same.  Childress and a few of his men acted as Parsons’ guide and muscle.

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Papers of Colonel Clyde C. Childress, USA Opens in new window
Up until June 1943, 10th Military District guerrillas roamed at will right out in the open.  Once the Philippines had surrendered, most of the Japanese forces moved on to the Southwest Pacific fighting in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.  Mindanao became a backwater and the Japanese did not have the forces to put large garrisons in the towns.  Once a submarine from Australia landed, however, that changed the whole dynamic and the Japanese decided to move against Fertig’s organization.  On June 30th they moved into the Misamis Occidental region in force and Fertig’s men scattered before the onslaught.  Fertig had to move his headquarters to the area of Lanao that was to the east of Misamis Occidental.  By November 1943, however, the Japanese pressure on Lanao was growing and Fertig again moved his headquarters.  This time he moved to the Agusan region of Mindanao, which was the area controlled by McLish and Childress.

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Papers of Colonel Clyde C. Childress, USA - USS Narwhal Opens in new window
After the success of the USS Tambor mission that brought Lt. Cmdr. Parsons and Captain Smith to Mindanao, submarine supply missions became more frequent to the Philippine islands.  Once the U.S. Navy saw the benefit of the coast watcher stations set up by Parsons and Smith, they were more than willing to provide more submarines for guerrilla supply.  Two of the biggest submarines in the U.S. Navy, the USS Narwhal and USS Nautilus, began regular missions to the Philippines and it was in the Agusan region of the 110th Division that they made most of their runs in late 1943 and early 1944.  McLish and Childress, therefore, became the supply quartermasters for Mindanao.  They would receive the supplies, store them in safety, and then make sure they got to the other guerrillas on the island.

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.

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Clyde Childress stands in the bow holding a rifle on “Admiral” Vincente Zapanta’s  banca Athena on t Opens in new window
In March 1944 the Japanese forces made a huge push into the Agusan region of Mindanao.  They had learned that supply submarines had been arriving there and also that Fertig had moved his headquarters to that area.  Pushing up the west bank of the Agusan River they were met by the forces of Major Khalil Khodr, a regimental commander of the 110th Division.  On March 17th, Lt. Col. Childress arrived with some forces of his 107th Division.  There at the battle of Vitos Hill, Childress singlehandedly manned a 37mm artillery piece and drove off the Japanese as his and Khodr’s men captured the hill.  Childress was awarded the Silver Star for this 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.

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Certificate of Membership In The American Guerrilas of Mindano Opens in new window
Clyde Childress was a long time friend of the MacArthur Memorial.  His death in 2007 was a great loss for the MacArthur Archives and America.  He was the last surviving officer of the prewar 31st United States Infantry.  We are proud to be the repository for his artifacts and papers from his time in the guerrilla war on Mindanao.

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