Tag Archives: Philippines

Anniversary of the Surrender of the Philippines – May 6, 1942

Last night, the History Channel showed the second episode of “Lost Gold of World War II” and today is the anniversary of the fall of the Philippine Island, the United States territory, to the Japanese. It set up the brutal Bataan Death March but more importantly it set in motion the Japanese plan to bury gold and other treasures in that territory.

General Douglas MacArthur had been recalled to active duty earlier in the year to command the United States Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific region. He believed he was under explicit orders not to initiate hostilities against the Japanese. Thus, giving the Japanese the upper hand in taking the territory. On February 22, 1942, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to move his headquarters to Australia.

As the first troops defending the Philippines began to surrender on the Bataan Peninsula in April, others resisted until May 6. The Japanese army decided to teach the U. S. soldiers and the loyal Filipinos a lesson for their resistance. This decision was made because of the influence of Colonel Tsuji. Most of the 80,000 prisoners of war, including 15,000 Americans, captured by the Japanese at Bataan were forced to undertake the infamous “Death March” to a prison camp 105 kilometers (65 miles) to the north. The Japanese had only made provisions for capturing 25,000 soldiers, they were unprepared for the significantly larger numbers.

The Bataan Death March evolved into a conflict between the Japanese soldiers and officers. Those officers who had served under General Honma were civil to the prisoners of war. Not so for the soldiers who served with Tsuji’s men. They were ruthless, from stealing wedding bands and watches to bayoneting or shooting prisoners. Tsuji even went so far as to threaten his own officers, warning them that he had orders from Tôkyô to treat these prisoners of war this way, and if they did not comply, their careers may be at risk. American and Filipino prisoners of war were bound, beaten, or killed by their Japanese captors. When they fell from exhaustion, some were bayoneted on the spot. Some were forced to dig their own graves and were buried alive. It is estimated as many as 10,000 men, weakened by disease and malnutrition and treated harshly by their captors, died before reaching their destination. Only 54,000 prisoners reached camp alive. Thousands later died from malnutrition and disease.

During the early phases of the Pacific War, most of the Gold, currency and treasures extracted from Southeast Asia by the imperial Golden Lily Group was sent to Japan to the Nagona Bullion bunker to finance the war effort. By mid-1942, when U. S. Navy ships and submarines made the shipping lanes too risky to move Gold and treasures to Japan, another shipping point had to be determined. Chichibu met with Hirohito, and they decided it would be best to ship the Gold to the Philippines. On July 7, 1942, Tojo met with camp commandants from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. He told them short of becoming inhuman; they were not to permit idleness among the prison work detail in the Philippines. This specifically included those digging caves that were ultimately used by the Golden Lily Group to bury Gold. To circumvent Allied air and naval attacks, Prince Chichibu had a fleet of four ships painted as Red Cross ships, which could move without incident throughout the Japanese territories with Gold and treasures.

Hirohito believed even in defeat, he could negotiate a reasonable peace with Roosevelt. His worse case scenario was the United States would let them remove their captured Gold and treasures. The resulting peace would allow Japan to keep Manchuria, Foremosa and the Philippines.

In March 1944, MacArthur’s forces landed in the Philippines to begin their liberation, the Japanese still had a tremendous amount of Gold and treasures to be buried or moved. On March 7, Manila was liberated. Therefore, the Golden Lily team had to take the Gold and treasures with them into the mountains of northern Philippines and other areas during their retreat, where it was buried at many different locations. This required a huge labor operation.

"The President's Gold" and "Gold of the Spirits"

The President’s Gold and Gold of the Spirits, books by Don Kesterson

Prince Chichibu realized they were going to lose.  Unlike Hirohito, he did not believe they could defend the Philippines. Moreover, he did not share the opinion that they could negotiate to keep the Philippines in defeat. Thus, keep the stored Gold. Chichibu ordered the construction of deep underground storage areas, so deep the Gold, currency and other treasures could not be accidentally detected.

Hirohito decided to recall Yamashita Tomoyuki from Manchuria, where he had been sidelined since conquering Singapore. After a week of briefings, he was promoted to full general and sent to the Philippines to oversee the 250,000 men defending that territory. When Yamashita left, he told his chief of staff that it was his turn to die. On October 6, 1944 Yamashita arrived in the Philippines and established his headquarters in Manila. His original army, so successful just thirty months earlier in Malaysia and Singapore, no longer existed as a cohesive unit. Yamashita knew the “beginning of the end” would occur in the Philippines, and it was up to him and his commanders to stop or at least slow down the U.S. troops.

United States Marines continued to advance in the south on Luzon. There were small pockets of resistance, while the Japanese under Yamashita continued to elude the U.S. forces. In April, he moved 50 miles farther inland to the area of Bangbang. As Yamashita continued to retreat over the balance of the Luzon Campaign, he continued to use Guerrilla tactics such as “hit and run” into the Cordillera Mountains. In a rather ironic twist of fate, Gold had been moving to the Philippines for some time before Yamashita’s arrival, yet the Gold found there would ultimately be called Yamashita’s Gold. Yamashita had nothing to do with the Golden Lily Group, although he was aware of their presence. At the last burial site before surrendering his army, he gathered enough gold and silver to pay his own men.

When Hitler surrendered Germany, Hirohito finally realized for the first time his surrender would be unconditional. His only real remaining hope lay it drawing out the war long enough to have the fragile alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union crumble, which might cause either to ask for Japanese help. With the dropping of the two atomic bombs that request never came.

History Channel Series – Lost Gold of World War II

On Tuesday, March 19, at 10 p.m. EDT, The History Channel is starting a new series on the gold the Japanese stole during World War II and buried in the Philippines. The series, Lost Gold of World War II, is about a Filipino family who believes gold is buried on their property and wants answers.

In October 2018, a Filipino here in the U.S. working with the team in the Philippines contacted me to unlock some of the unknowns or correct some of the inaccuracies of the story behind the gold. The first thing I asked was how they found me—and why me? They had seen the documentary a London production team put together for Myth Hunter’s regarding “Yamashita’s gold,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZU_xHCA4j4, which focused on the plight of Rogelio Roxas and the Golden Buddha. I learned several of the other experts regarding this “Lost Gold” have since passed away. Which leaves me as one of the few experts of the overall story still alive and willing to participate in their series.

On December 3 of last year, the young Filipino and the History Channel film team showed up at my residence to get to the bottom of these stories. We spent most of the day in a question and answer session regarding from what countries the gold was stolen, who was in charge of burying and documenting the gold, and why it was brought to the Philippines. The next round of questions revolved around whether any of the gold had been recovered.

When the filming was completed, the production team informed me the series would likely start in March of this year. A couple of weeks ago, a friend called and asked if I knew anything about a series called Lost Gold of World War II. Naturally, I replied yes, I’m in it. The next morning, I sent an email to the producer, who confirmed the series was starting on March 19, and I would show up in episode 7 or 8. Here is a preview of the series: https://www.history.com/shows/lost-gold-of-world-war-ii.

I was surprised to learn no one in the production team or the Filipino knew anything about my novels, The President’s Gold (https://donkesterson.com/the-presidents-gold/) or Gold of the Spirits (https://donkesterson.com/gold-of-the-spirits/). They said they would read them to fill in more detail than I was able to give them in their one-day visit. I cautioned them the Filipino family to be very careful, as pursuit of this buried gold was very dangerous. They left wishing they had more time for questions and answers, as some of my answers led them toward questions they had not even pondered for their Gold series.

Be sure to watch this series and let me know what you think.

The President's Gold

Writing about Gold in the Philippines

In 1996, I was asked to appraise and discover the history of a gold certificate. This led me into a ten-year research project mostly centered in the Philippines, but also in Southeast Asia. The research became so fascinating I decided to write a book centered on the subject of gold.

During World War II, the Japanese had a recovery team, the Golden Lily, named for Emperor Hirohito’s favorite poem growing up. The Golden Lily group was composed of a team led by Hirohito’s brother Prince Chichibu, and it included Prince Takeda, Prince Mikasa, Colonel Taisho, Major Nakasone, Rear Admiral Yoshio Kodama and Rear Admiral Ryoichi Sasakawa.

The Golden Lily’s recovery began in China, first taking gold from Manchuria, then NanJing. As the Japanese continued to conquer territories throughout Asia, they removed that country’s gold, taking it to Nagano Bullion Bunker at the Emperor’s palace. Later in World War II, as the United States Navy began to rule the seas of the Pacific, the Japanese changed their tactics and started taking the gold to the Philippines. At the beginning of World War II, the Philippines was a United States territory and was one of the first territories conquered by the Japanese. Hirohito and the Japanese military staff believed that, even if they lost the War to the United States, they could negotiate to keep the territory of the Philippines. However, when Germany surrendered before them in 1945, their plans fell apart. By the time Japan surrendered in September 1945, they had buried extensive amounts of gold throughout the Philippines. The Japanese didn’t just bury the gold; they buried the soldiers and slaves (POWs) who assisted with the burial. Additionally, they booby-trapped the burial sites. The Golden Lily team prepared encrypted maps to document how to recover the gold. Only two sets of maps were made, so that, in theory, only the Japanese could recover that gold.

Japan was forced to unconditionally surrender, thus no Philippines. Almost immediately, the Japanese began to locate and recover gold in the Philippines. Yoshio was the first of the Japanese to return to the Philippines to recover gold. Two years after World War II, President Truman started the CIA, but the United States was experiencing a poor post-war economy, so their budget was very small and incapable of competing with the British MI-6 and the Soviet spy network. The CIA need funds to operate, so they turned to Captain Edward Lansdale, who had run a underground network in the Philippines toward the end of World War II, to use his organization to recover gold in the Philippines. Lansdale turned his recovery operation over to Santa Romana, also known as Father Jose Antonio Diaz, who was in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II as a Catholic priest. Very little information is available on Santa Romana, one of the most critical men in the funding of the CIA. Most people have never heard of this very important individual in the fight against communism, as he operated as far into the background as he possibly could.

Fast forward to the late 1960’s, when President Ferdinand Marcos was elected. Marcos served in the military during World War II, and when the War was over, he got into politics and made connections with many influential diplomats. These connections led Marcos to gold recovery operations never seen in the history of the world. By the mid-1970’s, Ferdinand Marcos was by far the richest man in the world, and his security team was led by the evil Colonel Fabian Ver, who prevented anybody else from recovering gold in the country.Silhouette fedora

This and more was what I uncovered during my ten-year research of the gold certificate. So I wrote a 1000-page history book about Southeast Asia including my findings. My editors were reviewing the history book; they believe the part about Marcos and the gold made a good work of fiction. Thus, I created several fictional characters, dropped them into the Philippines and the history regarding the recovery of gold in the Philippines and called it The President’s Gold. I had so much fun writing that novel that I went back and wrote the prequel to it, Gold of the Spirits, for which I am currently seeking agent representation. I also have planned a sequel to The President’s Gold, picking up where The President’s Gold left off.

 

Story Immersion: When the Heart Becomes Involved

by Don Kesterson

I’ve never been to the Philippines. For many years, I researched the country, their government, the lay of the land and the culture. I immersed myself in studies of the Filipino way of life, of popular music, clothing styles and food choices. I read about their country’s devout religious faith and was impressed. I even searched for recipes of Filipino dishes I could make at home, so I could cook and eat as a native Filipina might. As best as I could from a distance of over eight thousand miles away, I enjoyed the Philippines.

You can understand, then, why my heart sank when I read of the devastation caused there by Typhoon Haiyan. Tacloban wasn’t my hometown, though the tiny island of Leyte was the subject of some of my research. Yet just as an author doesn’t have to live in an area to write about it, anyone with the tiniest grain of compassion in their heart doesn’t have to experience first-hand storm destruction to feel empathy and sympathy for those who have lost homes, jobs and loved ones in such a disaster.

The death toll sits near two thousand. It is expected to top ten thousand. Over two hundred thousand are now homeless. Over 200,000! I can’t wrap my mind around a figure like that.

I think of what I have learned about Leyte when researching the area for my novel. I picture the tropical foliage surrounded by blue water. I visualize the bustling city with high-rises, busy freeways, packed sidewalks. I imagine shoppers strolling the malls and mega-stores and mom-and-pop convenience marts.

I can’t imagine it gone.

The United Nations is sending $25M in aid. The US Government is sending $20M more. We are told it won’t arrive fast enough to save many of the lives of those in immediate need of medicine, clean water and food. And we are told that when it does arrive, it won’t be nearly enough.

The Philippines isn’t my home. My home is—and I pray always will be—on American soil. But for those who call Tacloban, Leyte and the Philippines home, I am touched by your pain.

Would you like to help those affected by this catastrophic disaster? Doctors Without Borders and The International Committee of the Red Cross are accepting contributions by check, credit card or PayPal, earmarked for Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts. Just as you don’t have to live in an area to write about it, you don’t have to be hurt to feel the need to ease the suffering of another. Please do what you can to help someone in need today.