Book Review: “Foye and the Filipinos – Bailout, Escape, and Rescue of a Navy Fighter Pilot in World War Two Luzon” Richard P. Foye
You will have to be making this up!
But then, only if you were a skilled and imaginative fictionist. Well, here is a script that Hollywood missed. It is a true, fascinating story!
A young American Navy fighter pilot engaging and downing a couple of enemy aircraft, Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros, in dogfights, is himself hit. Japanese anti-aircraft gun from ground emplacements. His Grumman F6F Hellcat’s “right wing tip shot off, tail surface damaged, smoke in cockpit, hood open, instruments out, radio out.” “….no place to make a forced landing.” The plane nearly out of control but careening to a certain fiery, deathly crash. Still 300 feet above sea level, however, the pilot is able to bail out, timely tugging at his parachute rip cord, and unto uncertain but hopeful safety.
He lands on wet, rained upon ground dense with tall grass and thickets, quite close to mountainous forests but not too far from a populated area. Hurt and lying on his back, badly bruised, wounded, his shoulders, back and neck in pain, he was found by three young farm boys and who were immediately followed by elders who turned out to be guerillas. He was helped to his feet, carried off and hidden in safer havens, wounds dressed, cared for and nourished, moved from secure location after location, in order to avoid pursuing Japanese soldiers, aided by ‘Makapilis’ or Filipino traitors in cahoots with the Japanese. Through the ensuing saga, local folks who were suspected of harboring and hiding the pilot, then already known to have survived the crash, were investigated, arrested, jailed and some even executed. Consequences all, for the risks taken by new-found friends in saving and securing the life of an American pilot.
A couple of months after, being under the care and protection of guerillas, clandestinely moving from secret haven to another, from town to town, the pilot with shoulders, back and neck pain unabating, is rescued via sea plane. He is flown out of the war zone unto military hospitals back in the U.S. for critical cure and convalescence. He had a broken neck and damaged spine, requiring a series of surgical attention. His care was assigned to a young and pretty Navy nurse. Hospital bedside romance buds and blossoms. They date. They wed. The pilot becomes a public school teacher, eventually a Principal. His nurse/wife stayed home to be a housewife and mother to eight children, five boys and three girls.
One of the boys, also becoming a public school teacher, having come to know of his father’s odyssey, vowed to trace the path of his father’s dramatic rescue, perilous odyssey and survival. He wrote: “We went to the Philippines to better understand what happened to young Ensign Foye …. to understand more about the Philippines during World War II, and to understand the Philippine culture that led to such sacrifice on their part to save” a downed Navy pilot.
Navy Ensign William Foye, not quite 24, began this fateful day before dawn, flying out from the deck of the USS Enterprise, the celebrated WW II aircraft carrier, then afloat way out east of Polillo island in Quezon province. This was all prelude and part of the unfolding war drama, the retaking of the Philippines.
October 18, 2019, Friday next, marks the 75th anniversary of that Hellcat flame out and its pilot parachuting towards the unknowable.
Author/son, Richard P. Foye captured in his book the events that followed, highlighted by the results of that avowed visit to Luzon to trace his father’s trek. The narrative drew support from official war records, personal accounts, meetings and interviews with surviving witnesses and descendants of participants in the rescue and care of Ensign Foye. They are all named and acknowledged in the book. In 2015, Richard with his wife, Delia, visited all the areas that figured in the perilous war adventure of their father. Sister Kathleen (Foye MacLennan) joined the visit of goodwill and gratitude.
The legendary PQOG (President Quezon’s Own Guerillas) of Philippine war history figured prominently in the Foye story. The book’s appendices listed the guerillas and local folks involved and reconstructed a timeline of Ensign Foye’s Philippine experience.
October 18, 1944 was just two days before the Leyte Landing. Skies over Manila Bay and parts north and south had become arenas of dogfights between American fighter planes and those of Japan. Targets were Clark Field, Nichols and Neilson airfields.
I was nine years old in wartime Manila, an excited and impressionable witness to airborne spectacles that had commenced with increasing frequency in those days. I was to became familiar with names like P-38 and Grumman on the US side and the Mitsubishi Zeros and Oscars of Japan’s then vaunted military might. Who knows, it may have been also on that October 18 when I witnessed another such dogfight!
And so, Ensign Foye’s fighter plane was critically hit. “Overflying Manila, he found Laguna de Bay in his view.” This was after realizing that he could not make it back to the aircraft carrier, and as well already abandoning the other possibility of ditching out in Subic Bay where lifeguard submarines were supposed to be in wait. But in a flash, Foye remembered his Air Command Information briefing: “….. the Philippine people were known to be friendly to downed pilots.”
The crash site was a vicinity in Los Baños, Laguna called Putho/Tuntungin. Just about a mile away was the internment camp for US prisoners of war. The trek to safety and rescue, over the ensuing 108 days, covered the backwoods of Los Baños, Santa Rosa, Alaminos and Tanauan. Lastly in Pulo, Taal. That was the islet in Lake Taal. It was rendezvous point from where the rescue via a PBY Catalina seaplane was successfully airborne. February 5, 1945. (Also rescued was another Navy Pilot Lt. John Boyle, from yet another aircraft carrier, likewise sheltered by the PQOG from another rescue incident.). The PBY first flew them to Mindoro and thence to Tacloban. The bloody liberation of Manila had just began the day before.
In a few days, Bill Foye was on his way to a Honolulu hospital and eventually to St. Alban’s Navy Hospital, at Queens in New York City. After his war ordeal, Ensign Foye, now a Lieutenant (junior grade)t. jg” was by fate, rewarded. Pretty nurse, Navy Ensign Elizabeth Fetzer on caring for Bill “knew he was the one.” Betty Fetzer was to become Mrs. Foye and mother to eight Foyes.
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Richard P. Foye and his charming wife Delia, a Peruvian mestiza, during a recent WW II Symposium. The affair was sponsored by the Bataan Legacy Historical Society and hosted by the University of San Francisco where Mr. Foye was one of the featured speakers.
The book is a worthy addition to any WW II Filipiniana, especially as it is yet another paean to the Filipino-American love affair. It is available through Amazon. com. Proceeds of the sales go to support the Bill Foye Philippine Scholarship Fund which is administered by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut for the benefit of selected children in the areas of Ensign Foye’s rescue and survival.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.