Filipino WWII Vet Hid Under Woman's Skirt to Escape

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A Filipino war veteran has told a United States court that he escaped the Bataan Death March more than six decades ago by crawling under the wide skirt of an elderly woman.

Bienvenido Arcilla, a World War II veteran now based in California, made this declaration in documents he submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C., to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to pay his benefits as a war veteran.

Arcilla has been filing claims with the DVA since 1950, which have been all dismissed due in part to his missing dog tags, the only proof that he was recruited to be part of the U.S. military personnel in the Philippines.

In his personal account, Arcilla said he was a third year student at Tarlac High School and had just turned 16 when Japan attacked Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Air Base in Pampanga. When his hometown Bamban came under fire, he was forced to seek refuge in the nearby 26th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army headquarters at Fort Stotsenberg.

While there, a certain Private Martinez recruited him as a soldier in the presence of Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Maj. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, Arcilla narrated. Passing himself off as an 18-year-old recruit, Arcilla said he was inducted on Dec. 11, 1941 as a member of the Old Philippine Scouts of the U.S. Army and assigned as an orderly of Lt. Col. Joshua A. Stansell.

It was Stansell, Arcilla recalled, who issued him the G.I. dog tags that consisted of two aluminum plates. 

When the U.S. Forces surrendered on April 9, 1942, Arcilla was one of the thousands who were ordered to walk to Mariveles in Bataan in the infamous Bataan Death March. The death march, now considered a Japanese war crime, was a 97-kilometer march of roughly 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers captured by the Japanese troops from Bataan to prison camps. The death toll on the march is estimated to be between 6,000 and 11,000 soldiers.

On the sixth day of the march, when the group was in Lubao, Pampanga, the captive soldiers were told to squat on a pavement of a narrow road beside a big house bearing the signage “Lubao Iron Works."

With Japanese guards looking the other way and “large crowds of curious civilians" partially hiding him, Arcilla’s heart pounded fast in what he saw as a “great possibility of escape".

A group of bystanders taunted Arcilla, who was then “merely a boy." When he told them he was Kapampangan (a native of Pampanga), the group called forward an old woman standing a few paces away from Arcilla. The woman. later identified as Victorina Manalese Lugue by her husband, asked Arcilla to crawl under her skirt and escape with her.

When Arcilla saw a Japanese guard scanning his location, he darted from the marchers’ columns and crawled quickly under the old woman’s skirt.