Jose Calugas receives the Medal of Honor on April 30, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 12/28/2014
  • Essay 10939
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On April 30, 1945, Major General Richard J. Marshall (1895-1973), an aide to General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), drapes the Medal of Honor on the neck of Jose Calugas (1907-1998) in a special ceremony. General MacArthur recommended Calugas for the Medal of Honor, which was awarded on February 24, 1942, but the actual award presentation had to wait until the Philippines were recaptured. On January 16, 1942, Mess Sergeant Jose Calugas left his kitchen duties in Bataan, Philippines, to run 1,000 yards across an open field while under heavy attack. He put an artillery gun back into service and halted the Japanese invasion column with his fire. His effective fire brought an intense enemy effort to locate his weapon and destroy it. Alternating firing and hiding in the woods, he avoided detection, and his effort stalled the Japanese movement. Despite a gallant resistance, Bataan and the Filipino and American forces would surrender. Sergeant Calugas would then survive the forced march of over 60,000 troops to prisoner-of-war camps, known as the Bataan Death March, during which thousands died and were killed. He would later make the army a career, and in 1957 he would retire to Tacoma.

Serving as a Philippine Scout

Jose Calugas was born in Leon, Iloilo, Philippines. His mother died when he was 10 years old. The family found itself struggling so he left high school early to help support the family, and worked as a farmer. On March 12, 1930, he joined the Philippine Scouts, an army of Filipino soldiers commanded by American army officers and equipped with American arms. He had his basic and artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Calugas returned to the Philippines to serve in the 24th Artillery Regiment, Philippine Scouts. In December 1941, he was a mess sergeant in B Battery, 88th Field Artillery Regiment, Philippine Scouts. Following the December 1941 Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the regiment was ordered to the Bataan peninsula.

Heroic Action at Bataan

The Philippine Scouts were assigned to the Bataan Peninsula as part of a fighting retreat. Units were ordered to establish strong defenses to challenge the Japanese attacks and allow other units to leapfrog behind them. The Filipino and American forces that passed through the lines would then create new defense lines and let the forward units leapfrog to yet new defense lines.

On January 16, 1942, Mess Sergeant Calugas established an 88th Field Artillery field kitchen near the village of Culis. After serving lunch to the Scout artillery unit, the mess crew was cleaning up. At this time the area came under heavy Japanese fighter and artillery attack. The 88th Field Artillery's 75-millimeter guns in the woods 1,000 yards north of the kitchen had the Japanese force located. The artillery fire was on target and causing deaths in the enemy column. By 2 p.m. that afternoon the Japanese were still attacking, but the Philippine guns had gone silent. Mess Sergeant Calugas found some soldiers to go with him to check out the guns. They had to cross some 1,000 yards of open space while under strafing attack by the enemy fighters. On the way, all the volunteers except Calugas were killed or just disappeared.

Calugas got to the gun site, but alone. He discovered that the gun had taken a bomb hit and was sitting next to its emplacement in a bomb crater. Sergeant Calugas was a mess sergeant, but had been trained in artillery. He worked together with an injured crewmember and gunners from other guns to upright the gun and make it serviceable.

Calugas and his crew fired the weapon at the Japanese forces crossing a wooden footbridge over a creek, and killed a number of soldiers, forcing the enemy to halt. The enemy then refocused their efforts on destroying the gun. Calugas and his crew fired several rounds and then hid in the adjacent woods. The Japanese forces were unable to locate or destroy Calugas's gun. The effective fire of this gun stalled the Japanese advance. While the Calugas artillery piece held up the enemy advance, the 88th Field Artillery withdrew. That evening, out of ammunition, Mess Sergeant Calugas found two trucks, one to load the gun and the other his field kitchen. He reached his unit late that evening and prepared them a meal of beans and rice.

The Bataan Death March

Following this heroic action, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur recommended Sergeant Calugas for the Medal of Honor. His actions led to the nickname "One Man Army." The orders for his medal were dated February 24, 1942. They were read before his unit at a unit review. The medal presentation however had to wait.

The Filipino and American forces continued their resistance and both sides suffered heavy casualties. While the Japanese received resupply, the Filipino and American forces were cut off. They ran extremely low on food but fought on. By April 8, 1942, it was evident that further Filipino and American resistance was not possible. The next day more than 60,000 Filipino and American troops were surrendered. It was the largest surrender of American forces at one time.

The Bataan Death March followed with a forced march of 45 miles to San Fernando, followed by freight cars to Camp O'Donnell. Some 5,000 to 10,000 died or were killed on the journey. Jose Calugas was held at Camp O'Donnell for nine months. He was beaten and suffered malaria. His release came in January 1943, when he was allowed to go to work in a Japanese-controlled rice mill. While working there he became an officer in a Philippine guerrilla unit. The guerrilla unit efforts included an attack on a Japanese garrison at Karangalan. When the Americans landed, Calugas fought in the recapture of the Philippines.

Medal of Honor

On April 30, 1945, Major General Richard J. Marshall, an aide to General Douglas MacArthur, draped the Medal of Honor on the neck of Jose Calugas in a special ceremony. Following the award ceremony, he was offered U.S. citizenship and a commission in the United States Army. He joined the army as a second lieutenant. He was the first Filipino in World War II to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

After the recapture of the Philippines, Calugas was assigned to the 44th Infantry Regiment and occupation duties in Okinawa. This duty was followed by an assignment to the Ruyuku Islands Command. He would be involved in the rebuilding of Okinawa. He had other assignments and then came to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1952, he went to Bataan for the 10th anniversary of the Battle of Bataan. In 1953, Captain Calugas was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Retiring to Tacoma

On May 6, 1957, Captain Jose Calugas retired from the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis. He had chosen the Puget Sound area as the place for his family. He moved to Tacoma and got a position at Boeing Airplane Company. Boeing encouraged him to continue his education, and he earned a degree in business from the University of Puget Sound.

He was also active in the Bataan-Corregidor Survivors Club as well as other Tacoma and Seattle veterans groups. In 1963, along with other Medal of Honor recipients, he attended a gathering on the White House lawn hosted by President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929-1994).

Remembering Jose Calugas

The Calugases had three children. One son made a career as an army soldier. The family shared a substantial portion of their income with relatives in the Philippines. They helped many obtain a formal education. In his later retirement, Jose Calugas had a vegetable farm in the Green River Valley, however four strokes forced him to stop work. His wife, Nora Calugas (1909-1990), died in 1990. Jose Calugas died in 1998 and was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, Tacoma.

In Fort Sam, Houston, Texas, a housing area is named Calugas Circle to honor him. The uniform he wore at retirement is in the museum Museo Iliolo in the Philippines, near his boyhood home. On April 6, 2006, a Seattle Housing Authority low-income apartment development at Highpoint was dedicated as the Sgt. Jose Calugas, Sr. Apartments.

Sources: Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Above and Beyond: A History of the Medal of Honor from the Civil War to Vietnam (Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985); Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Edward F. Murphy, Heroes of World War II (Novato, California: Presidio, 1990); "Medal of Honor Awarded to Filipino," The Oregonian, February 18, 1942, p. 4; "Filipino Given Bravery Award," Morning Olympian, February 18, 1942, p. 2; "Medal of Honor Winner in Bataan Retires," The Seattle Daily Times, May 6, 1957, p. 38; "Survivors Club Picks Ex-Soldier," Ibid., September 9, 1964, p. 12; "World War II Hero Returning to Philippines for Homecoming," Ibid., November 18, 1977, p. 6; "Veterans Day: A Long March from Bataan," Ibid., November 11, 1981, p. 1.

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