Set in our hometown of San Carlos in the province of Pangasinan in 1964, my grandparents hosted a homecoming for Edwin Ramsey.
A U.S. Army officer, Ed Ramsey, at 24 years of age, volunteered to be stationed in the Philippines during World War II. A lieutenant in the 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts, he was faced with a ruthless enemy and a war he could hardly imagine. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was followed by the subsequent invasion of the Philippines soon after.
The many critical decisions Ramsey made during the war showed his strength and razor-sharp intuition. A skilled horseman, Ramsey led the last cavalry charge in the history of the American military in a battle in the small coastal town of Morong, Bataan.
After the fall of Bataan, Ramsey refused to surrender to the Japanese and went on to lead an underground movement. Together with his comrades, he operated in the jungle and moved from town to town to avoid capture. A $100,000 bounty was put on his head by the Japanese invaders. But a determined man, he never gave up. Building the guerrilla resistance movement in the East Central Luzon Guerrilla Area (ECLGA) was a grueling task.
In 1943, while organizing the guerrillas in Bayambang, Pangasinan, Ramsey heard of a town judge named Juan Benitez from the neighboring town of San Carlos. Also in the area were two American soldiers, Capt. Charles Putman and a Lt. Darwin, who actively organized the local townsmen. The Benitez family hid Ramsey in their home. Their daughter, Alice Benitez, who was 12 then, remembers giving up her bedroom for their American guest. “This was to be our small family secret, I do recall. My parents made me promise not to tell anyone about our guest.”
The nipa hut behind the Benitez residence was transformed into a meeting place of the guerrillas, where inductions of recruits occurred. Capt. Putnam was appointed the commanding officer for the Pangasinan-Tarlac Military District (PTMD), a division of ECLGA, and Juan Benitez (a.k.a. “Johnny” to his American comrades) as deputy to the commanding Officer. Juan was later installed as commanding officer when the Japanese captured and beheaded Capt. Putnam.
Towards the end of the war, before Gen. MacArthur’s return, Ramsey was leading close to 40,000 Filipino guerillas.
Lieutenant Ramsey’s War, a book originally published in the U.S. in 1990, with its second edition newly released by the UST Publishing House in 2016, documents Ramsey’s courageous sacrifice. The American officer led this group of guerrillas, escaping death countless times, even as the Japanese occupiers put his name at the top of their death list. It is a memoir by a brave American hero who was instrumental in changing the course of history.
A million Filipino lives were lost in WWII. Fighting side by side with Filipinos, Ramsey formed intense bonds. “I was no longer merely with the Filipino people; I was of them. I was not simply organizing among them; I had grown organically to be a part of them. Their struggle had become my struggle, and their liberation, inevitably, would be mine as well. It was a vague reality and a foreign one, but somehow, through two years of shared suffering and danger, the professional and private faces of my war had become superimposed.”
Interest in Ramsey’s life story intensified when Vanilla Fire Productions Executive Producer Steven C. Barber and director Matthew Hausle were shooting material related to the Americans missing in action during WWII in the Philippines for a different project. It was here they “learned about the Philippine Scouts and the Filipinos’ stubborn allegiance to the U.S. in the face of torture and cruelty by the Japanese.
“We also focused on MacArthur’s return and spoke with Scouts who commented on the faith they placed on his spoken commitment,” Hausle explains. “During this trip, we learned about Col. Ramsey and the last Cavalry charge and upon our return (to Los Angeles), we were delighted to learn his widow, Raquel Ramsey, lived close by.”
Instrumental to the success of this 75-minute documentary film “Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story” is the determination of Raquel Ramsey to uphold her husband’s legacy. “I want the people watching the film to know the real Col. Ramsey. As Rabbi Abraham Cooper (associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre) mentioned, the film is a story of sacrifice, survival, heroism and reconciliation. I want the audience to know the man I knew, a loving, kind, compassionate man who loved me dearly, his mother, his sister and his family. He also loved the Filipino people, as he was more Filipino and proud to be than most Filipinos.”
“What an honor to be part of Col. Ramsey’s life”, Alice Benitez remarks, “I am humbled to represent the Filipino families in the documentary film who fought side by side with him.”
The film’s premiere was held at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on November 13, 2016, during the Veterans Day weekend. Narrated by actor Josh Brolin, the film is entered in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars) in three categories for Best Feature Documentary, Best Original Song (Edwin McCain), and Best Original Score (Jaime Dunlap).
Of significant note, the U.S. Congress officially granted national recognition to the Filipino soldiers who served under the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) during WWII on November 30, 2016. Actively involved in lobbying for the Filipino Veterans World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, Col. Ed Ramsey appeared three separate times in front of Congress to fight for his Filipino comrades’ benefits and recognition.
Looking back, the celebration in 1964 in my hometown of San Carlos was not an ordinary one. It was for an American hero and legend who was more than deserving of a grand homecoming.
* Videos follow
Sandie Gillis is based in Vancouver, Canada. She is the co-author of SYM: The Power of Struggle, a biography on Filipino-Canadian artist SYM Mendoza. She holds a degree in Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines at Diliman. Aside from writing, she enjoys traveling and has a passion for producing documentary short films.
More articles from Sandie Gillis