Siloam Springs Herald Leader

American exceptiona­lism at its finest

- Doug Chastain Random Recollecti­ons — Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and is currently a large-vehicle transporta­tion specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (Okay, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenanc­e technician at Camp Siloam.

It was the greatest rescue mission in U.S. military history.

In January of 1945, around 500 American prisoners of war were being held at a prison camp just outside of the city of Cabanatuan on the Philippine island of Luzon. As American forces approached the area, the Japanese soldiers holding those POWs prepared to execute them instead of allowing them to rejoin their comrades when they arrived. This had already happened at a place called Palawan, where Japanese captors had coaxed prisoners into air-raid trenches, poured gasoline on them, and burned them alive.

American commanders were loathe to allow this to happen again, and so they devised a bold plan to rescue the POWs at Cabanatuan. One hundred Army Rangers and two hundred Philippine guerrillas were sent 30 miles behind enemy lines to attack the prison camp and its support base and liberate the prisoners.

On the night of Jan. 30, 1945, the attack took place, and it could only be described as incredibly successful. With the exception of two deaths – neither from direct action – all of the prisoners were rescued. The Rangers lost two in the action, with four being wounded. Japanese casualties were at least 500 killed or wounded.

The return trip through enemy territory was excruciati­ngly slow and tedious, not to mention rife with danger. Many of the POWs were in such bad physical shape due to malnutriti­on and torture that they had to be transporte­d in ox carts.

Eventually the liberating force and the rag-tag battalion under its protection reached American lines intact, ending the historic mission.

But here is the irony attached to the mission from its conception to its conclusion: It had absolutely no strategic value whatsoever. There was no ground to be gained, no objective to be taken. In essence, the mission involved the risk of American lives simply to save American lives. That was it. That was all. And that was enough. And another example of American exceptiona­lism was born.

It has become fashionabl­e lately to disparage American exceptiona­lism as bigoted and narrowmind­ed. I must disagree. American exceptiona­lism has toppled tyrants.

American exceptiona­lism has freed slaves. At least twice in the last century American exceptiona­lism beat back the ambitions of people bent on taking over the world.

Today American exceptiona­lism continues to fight for the freedom and protection of oppressed people all over the world. And while Americans are often criticized for arrogance and ignorance, millions from other lands are willing to risk their lives to come to America for a better life. I don’t think that would be the case if this country were the terrible place in which to live so many of its detractors claim.

I’m proud to be an American. And I’m proud to know other Americans who are willing to give their time, their talent, even their lives, in defense of this country and the protection of its people.

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