The Last Charge

Examine the facade of Morong’s more than four centuries-old church and you’ll find it’s coral walls pockmarked with bullet scars. They were made by Japanese ammunition in WW2 and they are mute testimony to the last charge by a US Cavalry unit and the brave Filipinos who manned it. Yes, the last mounted charge by a US cavalry unit in history was carried out by Filipinos under an American officer, Lieutenant Edwin Price Ramsey of the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.

Among the American officers at Stotseberg was Illinois-born Lieutenant Edwin Price Ramsey. He was not there to go to war — he simply wanted to play Polo, which he’d learned at the Oklahoma Military Academy, which he left with a commission in the reserve. As Europe growled its way towards
war, Ramsey volunteered to join the 26th Cavalry in the Philippines because it had a good Polo team.

He arrived in Manila in June, 1941 and described the experience as “Overpowering .. . I didn’t even know where it was when Ifirst volunteered except that it was a warm country, it was tropical, it had a good polo team there. By the time I got there, my introduction to it really was as we were coming into the Straits you could just smell the flowers and you would see the fishermen around there, the floating bancas – little
fishing boats — lots of coconuts floating around there that had been harvested. It was a very exotic atmosphere.”

He soon made himself at home in the rarified, rather formal colonial atmosphere of Fort Stotsenburg, where weekly polo matches were played on the parade ground.

So it was that on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Ramsey played what would prove to be his last game for many years, with General Jonathan Wainwright refereeing the game. Following the game Ramsey partied in classic style, found his way back to his quarters and went to sleep.

At 2.30am a U.S. Navy radioman, in the Marsman building in Manila’s dockland, received news that Japanese forces had attacked Pearl Harbour and
informed the duty officer, Lt. Col. William T. Clement. While the news filtered through the Navy, it was not until 3.30am that Brigadier- General Richard Sutherland, Chief of Staff to General Douglas McArthur, commander of US forces in the islands, heard about the attack from a commercial radio broadcast.

Ramsey woke up with a hangover to find the United States at war and a Japanese attack on the Philippines expected at any moment. He recalls: “I didn’t know we were at war until I woke up the next morning. We had already been to war for several hours and I heard all the scrambling around. We had our mess together in the morning so I went over there. All of a sudden I hear everybody running around and I said, “Well what’s going on?” well, we are at war, I said, “You’re crazy, don’t bother me I got a hangover.” They said, “No, we are at war, they bombed Pearl Harbor.”

I didn’t even have a war backpack so I had to rush back to my quarters and throw some things together then get back over to the regiment and to my troop. So it was pretty hectic.”

As Ramsey and his company, Troop G, left Stotsenburg for Baler, on the east coast of Luzon, Japanese aircraft bombed the US Air Force planes at Clark Field, wiping them out.

Ramsey’s troop stayed at Baler, where it was dive-bombed by the Japanese, until just before Christmas. Unable to hold back the Japanese advance, on December 23, US and Filipino forces were ordered to withdraw into the Bataan peninsular and hold out until reinforcements arrived; Ramsey was instructed to rejoin his regiment.

On December 29 he returned to a regiment that had fought hard and suffered heavy losses in actions that set back the Japanese timetable by nine hours and forced them to begin deploying their main column. “By the time we had got back to that point, our regiment had already lost almost half of its officers and men, in the battles that had already taken place.” Recalled Ramsey.

General Wainwright later wrote of the Scouts, “This devoted little band of horsemen, weakened by detachments and by heavy casualties… maintained the best traditions of the American Cavalry. I speak of this from the point of view of an eyewitness.”

Ramsey was sent on a 48-hour reconnaissance mission towards Japanese-occupied Subic Bay and Olongapo. When he returned he found his troop commander, Captain John Wheeler struggling over useless gas station maps trying to figure out the terrain. Ramsey, who was due to be sent to the rear along with G troop volunteered to help Wheeler.

He was put in charged of the remnants of two troops, E and F, which became E/F Troop, “Twenty seven worn and weary Filipinos”. That night he bivouacked the troop and next morning supervised the feeding and watering of the horses before taking his own modest breakfast of rice gruel and coffee.

At midday came an angry visitor, General Jonathan Wainwright. The 1st Philippine Division under General Fidel Segundo had withdrawn from the town of Morong, which now lay between the American forces and advancing Japanese lines. He wanted the town retaken.

Wainwright recognized Ramsey from the Stotsenburg polo games and ordered him to take the advance guard into Morong. Wheeler suggested
a replacement but Wainwright simply snapped “Ramsey, move out”.

Ramsey took the first platoon and set off for Morong followed by two other platoons He formed his men into a column of twos and sent four men ahead as point guard.

The troop approached Morong from the east took the left-hand road at a crossroads and with pistols raised, entered the silent, abandoned town, now stripped bare of livestock by the retreating allied army. There was little more than the sound of the surrounding jungle and the padding of the horses.

Morong was a place of nipa huts on stilts surrounded by jungle, with a swamp and coconut groves towards the sea on one side and the Batolan River, crossed by a wooden bridge to the west.

Ramsey watched as the point men turned the corner of Morong’s ancient church, the only stone building and suddenly there was an explosion and the sound of gunfire. A private, streaming blood, his body stitched with wounds from automatic weapons raced back. They had run into the heavily armed Japanese advance guard recently landed from Subic Bay to occupy the town. Ramsey saw scores of Japanese infantry firing from the centre of the town and more wading the river behind.

It was vital to break up the body of the advance guard. Ramsey decided to charge.

Looking behind him he found the badly wounded Filipino private from the point with pistol in hand and ordered him to the rear to get medical attention. “I can’t, Sir”, said the man, “I’m still on guard”. Says Ramsey: “He was so brave, I thought he was dead”.

He ordered his men into a line of foragers and ordered the charge. Over the centuries the sight of several tons of horseflesh and shouting, whooping riders has had a powerful impact on an enemy and it did so this time. Some of the Japanese returned fire, most fled and ran
into the swamps. The charge passed through the Japanese and carried on to the swamp, where Ramsey dismounted, sent the horses
to the rear and laid down a skirmish line to delay any further advance from the river.

Then he led the rest of his men back into Morong itself to search for snipers. Unable to use hand grenades for fear of hurting his own men, the Scouts fired through the walls of the flimsy huts as they came under Japanese mortar fire.

Amid the fighting, Ramsey spotted an American officer near the church. “I used some very rough expletives when I saw the guy sort of cowering against the church. I didn’t know who he was; I didn’t know why he was there. I turned around to him and said, ‘Come on you yellow son- of-a-bitch get up here and help us’, thenI didn’t pay any more attention to him. It turned out that was the Chief of Staff for General Wainwright who had been sent in, who shouldn’t have been there to begin with. He had only been sent in to see what the situation was.”

Shortly afterwards the rest of the troops arrived and were able to hold the town until the First Infantry came in andtook over. Ramsey’s part in the battle was over.

He and John Wheeler were wounded. As for Wainwright’s Chief of Staff, he recommended Ramsey for a Silver Star.

Soon after, Ramsey fell ill with jaundice. While he was in hospital he learned the sad news that, with forage in short supply and food for the retreating troops running out, the cavalry horses had been slaughtered. In all some 250 horses were killed for food.

A few months later, Bataan and Corregidor fell and Ramsey took on a new and hazardous career as a guerrilla leader, which earned him the
Distinguished Service Cross. But, in an email interview, he admitted, “Probably the most beautiful medal I have is the Legion of Honor,
Degree of Commander, given to me by President Diosdado Macapagal of the Philippines”, in part awarded for his command of
the last cavalry charge in Morong.

In 1990, Ramsey wrote his account of the Last Charge, Lieutenant Ramsey’s War: From Horse Soldier to Guerrilla Commander and passed away in 2013.

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