The Orange Leader
WEST ORANGE —
Movies and books on the subject of the Great Raid do not capture the true experience like speaking with a man who was there.
The Great Raid was a rescue of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians from a Japanese camp near Cabanatuan City, in the Philippines. United States Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts, and Filipino guerrillas liberated more than 500 from the POW camp on January 30, 1945 during War World II.
One of the Rangers is Leon Griffith of West Orange.
Griffith enlisted in the Army when he was 20 years old in 1941. He served in the service until 1945.
Griffith said he thought the combat maneuvers training in Louisiana was tough until he went through the six months of training to become an Army Ranger with the 6th Rank Battalion.
“We were in New Guinea training with pack mules,” Griffith said. “The mules were the only animal able to pull the loads through the mountains. We were bombed at every night.”
Griffith recalls the Great Raid vividly.
Griffith said he still has dreams about it occasionally.
“There was about 100-150 of us to raid the Japanese prisoner camp to free the 500 POWs,” Griffith said. “We each had a job to do, mine was to shoot the lock off the gate.”
Griffith also said the Philippine guerillas helped guard the bridge so the men would have a way off the mainland after the rescue.
“The prisoners were scared of us at first and thought we were ghosts,” Griffith said. “They thought they were going to be moved to another camp.”
During the counting of the POWs, the Rangers discovered one was still missing and returned to locate him. The POW was sick in the latrine. The Rangers carried him out.
The entire time the Japanese were dropping mortar shells all around the Rangers location.
“We had a doctor with us, Dr. Fisher, he was told to stay back but he wanted to see the action,” Griffith said. “Shrapnel from one of the mortars hit him in the stomach.”
Dr. Fisher lived about a day with his wounds according to Griffith.
“We were a long way into Jap territory,” Griffith said. “We had to carry many of the prisoners until the Philippine guerillas brought carts to help carry the men.”
Griffith was awarded two Bronze stars for his bravery in the service.
“I was scared the whole time I was there,” Griffith said.
Griffith said there was hardship while in the service.
“”We did not have half enough to eat,” Griffith said. “We went five days one time with nothing but a biscuit and some beans to eat.”
The experience taught him to be conservative in life.
For young men and women joining the service today he suggests to be brave and stick with it.
“Things are different than when I was in the service,” Griffith said. “They did not have helicopters then and not enough to eat.”