In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides tells the story of a dramatic mission during World War II. On January 28th, 1945, 121 hand-selected Army Rangers slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POW’s who had spent three years in a hellish prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan.
Sides describes the first effects of liberation as chaos and fear. The prisoners were too mentally brittle to understand what was taking place. Some even scurried away from their liberators.
One particular prisoner, Bert Bank, refused to budge, even when a Ranger walked right up to him and tugged his arm.
“C’mon, we’re here to save you,” he said. “Run for the gate.”
Bank still would not move. The Ranger looked into his eyes and saw they were vacant, registering nothing.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Don’t you want to be free?”
A smile formed on Bank’s lips as the meaning of the words became clear, and he reached up to the outstretched hand of the Ranger.
The Rangers searched all the barracks for additional prisoners, then shouted, “The Americans are leaving. Is there anybody here?” Hearing no answer, they left.
But there was one more POW—Edwin Rose. Edwin had been on latrine duty and somehow missed all the shooting and explosions. When he wandered back to his barracks, he failed to notice the room was empty and lay down on his straw mat and fell asleep. Edwin had missed the liberation. But there was a reason. Edwin was deaf.
Four Americans died in the rescue; two Rangers in the firefight and two prisoners who perished for reasons of poor health. The freed prisoners marched 25 miles and boarded their ship home. With each step, their stunned disbelief gave way to soaring optimism. Even Edwin Rose made it. He finally woke up and realized liberation had come.
(SOURCE: Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers Doubleday, 2001. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, "Breaking Free".)
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