The Baytown Sun from Baytown, Texas on August 23, 1987 · Page 22
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The Baytown Sun from Baytown, Texas · Page 22

Baytown, Texas
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 23, 1987
Page 22
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Page 22 article text (OCR)

§•€ THE BAYTOWN SUN Sunday, August 23, HH7 THE BRONZE Star It awarded to Staff Sflt. Morton P. Stewart, right, by U. Qm. Walter Krueger, commanding general of the Mb Army, for his participation in the daring raid by the «th Ranfwiwbo readied more than 900 allied prtaonert of war from the Japanese concentration camp at Cabanatuan, LUMO. The arrow point* to Stewart In the photo of the react* party at left. Ranger raid Baytonian had part in daring rescue On Jan. 27,1945, Company C and the 2nd platoon from T Company of the 6th Army Ranger Battalion were given the mission of liberating some 500 allied prlsoners-of-war. The prisoners were Interned in a stockade,'near Cabanatuan, on Luzon Island in the Philippines, some 25 miles behind Japanese lines. Thus began the most daring raid and rescue in the story of World War II. To do the job of the Impossible there were 121 hand-picked Army Rangers, one of them being Manton Stewart of Baytown, The story of the raid has somewhat faded with the 42 years that have passed, but in 1945 It was featured in magazines and movie theater newsreels across the nation and around the world, And in all of these, Baytonlans easily can spot their hometown hero, Manton Stewart. In 1945 Stewart was a 25-year-old staff sergeant. Today, at 67, he still remembers the joy and relief on the faces of the men they freed. After walking the Bataan Death March in 1942, they were tortured and had watched hundreds of their buddies die. Stewart remembers taking an oath to get these men out of that "stockade of hell," or die trying. Manton Stewart remembers taking an oath to get these men out of that "stockade of hell," ordie trying. All that remains arc his memories and a musty- old scrapbook that has been closed for decades. The story and the bravery of the Rangers who accomplished the impossible come alive once Stewart's scrapbook is opened. Three years had passed since the Japanese subjected the U.S. Army men they had taken on Bataan and Corregidor and forced them on the infamous Death March. Some 500 of these survivors were imprisoned at a camp called Cabanatun, some GO miles from Manila. They were starved, tortured and stood by helplessly to see their friends in arms maimed and sometimes beaten to death. To these men, the war was to never end and they were to finish a life sentence of hell on earth. Only a flicker of hope of ever seeing their loved ones again kept them alive. That flicker turned into reality at dusk on Jan. 30, 1945. The Rangers left on their mission Jan. 28 under the cover of darkness. Unable to make a straight march, the orders were: "Do two marches of 25 miles and assemble five miles from the prison camp and strike at 1729 hours. (5:29 p.m.) The Rangers traveled light and fast. They were mostly pistol-packing farm boys, hand-picked for just such a job as this. Manton Stewart, who had lettered in three sports at Robert E. Lee High School, was a mild- mannered, well-disciplined Army Ranger. He more than met the qualifications of this special group. They wore no helmets, but each man carried two pistols, a knife, one canteen and two days' rations. "You're not to eat your rations or drink the water," was the order. "They're for the men you release." They would have to overcome some 150 Japanese there. "You are 121 Rangers," they were told. "Youcan doit." The Hangers picked up their food along the way. One Ranger said the Filipinos had a thing called bamboo wireless. He didn't know how it worked, but the Filipinos knew they were coming. The natives met them along the way. Even though the Rangers moved fast, on three different occasions they were fed bananas. One time they even had roasted chicken wrapped in banana leaves. When H-hour came, the Rangers lay by the road ready to strike. The Japanese moved a full division past them as the Rangers crouched in complete silence and out of sight. The operation was delayed 24 hours. Then on Jan. 30, the Rangers struck. The signal was the firing of shots at the main gate. Each Ranger had a specific job. A sergeant from Dallas was the lead man'at the gate. His first pistol shot was the signal for another sergeant whose target was a Japanese sentry on the tower. One shot and the sentry stood for a split second, then crumpled backward, head over feet, his rifle tossed wide. Throwing grenades ahead of them and carrying their knives in their hands, the Rangers went in. Their orders: "Get inside and do a knifing job! We want no Americans in that camp killed." The surprise attack and swiftness of this elite band of fighting men silenced the 150 Japanese guards in short order, The Rangers shouted to the prisoners: "The Yanks are here! Assemble at the main gate." Finally, the ghostly figures of the horrified prisoners started coming to life. The men who were lifting them to their feet wore strange new army gear like they had never seen. Uniforms of splotched jungle green'with funny- looking hats. Not in three years had these victims of the Bataan Death March heard a kind word. And now their shouts were joining those of the soldiers. "They are Americans! They're here! God. they've come! Christ, arc we glad to sec you!" The Rangers were told to bring out every man. Bring them back even if every Ranger had to carry a man on his back. Half of the job of rescue was done, but the half coming up wouldn't be easy. The prisoners were weak but their liberty and freedom was like a blood transfusion. With their newly found strength many of them asked to be let down from the back of a Ranger. As one said, it felt good to walk like a man again. When the Rangers and the Ghosts of Bataan arrived at the American lines, they had left behind 27 dead and three wounded comrades. But not in vain. They had killed nearly 500 enemy soldiers and knocked out 12 Japanese tanks. They were all acclaimed heroes around the free world. Manton Stewart was awarded a Bronze Star for his part in the operation. His scrapbook will be closed and returned to a trunk or attic to maybe stay for generations to come. Every American of those coming generations should be reminded of men like Manlon Stewart and what being an American is really all about. Stewart retired from refinery after 35 years Manton Stewart is an Exxon annuitant, having been employed at the Baytown Refinery 35 years. He retired as a machinist in 1980 and lives with his wife, the former Menna Maria Balke, who also graduated from Robert E. Lee High School. They reside in West Baytown. Stewart was a star athlete at REL, having lettered in football, baseball and basketball. He entered the U.S. Army in 1941 after graduating from REL and attending Lee College, where he was a star basketball player. At the age of 67, Stewart can still wear his Army khaki uniform he came home In after World War II. The Stewarts have two sons, Manton and Sherwood. Manton works for Mobay and Sherwood Is a world-class professional tennis player who a few yean ago was ranked first In men's doubles. The Stewarts have been members of First Baptist Church in Baytown for nearly 00 years. SOT. RAY B. Smith, rtfM, was one of the prtaonen of war reacued by hit former Robert E. Lee High School claaamata, Sgt. Manton Stewart, left. Friend from home prisoner of war When Manton Stewart went Into the Army in 1W2, he lived In what was then Goose Creek. Stewart had been a Robert E. Lee High School buddy of Ray Smith fromPelly. Smith was making the Death March in Bataan the same year that Stewart was training to become an Army Ranger. When the Rangers freed the Americans at Cabanatun in 1945, Stewart was there as a Ranger, and Smith was one of the some 500 Americans rescued by the 6th Ranger Battalion. Tears of joy streamed from the eyes of Smith when he embraced his former schoolmate. Manton Stewart crammed all the news from home in a short period of time as possible to the longtime Japanese prisoner who a few years earlier had watched Stewart as a star athlete at Robert E. Lee. No doubt, nothing came any closer to Stewart in a starring role as the day he liberated him from that prison in the Philippine jungle.

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