Landing the Bataan Death March rescuers

A PBS special called the raid to liberate the survivors of the Bataan Death March the “most daring rescue of World War II.

And Joe Frontera had a hand in it.

Early in the Pacific War, the US had a strong presence in the Philippine Islands as well as other locations in the Pacific. While Pearl Harbor is the most notorious attack launched by the Japanese, a host of islands throughout the Pacific were attacked at approximately the same time.

The Philippines were attacked then, too.

While they held out for about four months, reinforcements never came to the 75,000 American and Filipino troops that had retreated to the island of Bataan. They had no option but to surrender.

The Japanese then forced the men to march 65 miles to prison camps. Subjected to intense heat and brutal treatment by the Japanese, thousands died.

Flash forward to 1945.

The Allies have commenced the invasion of the Philippines and know that the survivors of the death march are at a prisoner camp 30 miles away behind enemy lines near Cabanatuan.

A group of U.S. Army Rangers was selected for the task.

They needed to get on the ground somehow.

Into that scenario comes Frontera and LSM 168.

“(We) brought in the Rangers to rescue the guys,” he said. “We didn’t know where the hell we were and what we were doing. It was too secret…. Our officers didn’t know any more than we did. They kept us in the dark.”

So secret that he didn’t know about the significance of that troop transport until years later reading a book.

“(We) took the guys in to rescue them and then we left.”

The mission, also known as “The Great Raid,” was a success, and the survivors returned to American lines.

“I was proud of being part of rescuing those guys,” Frontera said.