During World War II, in order to prevent the rescue of prisoners of war by the advancing Allies, on 14 December 1944, units of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army (under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita) brought the POWs back to their camp and when an air raid warning was called the remaining 150 prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa dove into three covered trenches for refuge which were then set on fire using barrels of gasoline.
Prisoners who tried to escape the flames were shot down by machine gun fire. Others attempted to escape by climbing over a cliff that ran along one side of the trenches, but were later hunted down and killed. Only 11 men escaped the slaughter and between 133 and 141 were killed.
The massacre is the basis for the book Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II by Bob Wilbanks, and the opening scenes of the 2005 Miramax film, The Great Raid. A memorial has been erected on the site and McDole, in his eighties, was able to attend the dedication.
Evidence of the episode has been recorded by two of the eleven survivors: Glenn McDole and Rufus Willie Smith from the 4th US Marines Bones from the victims were discovered in early 1945. 16 Japanese soldiers were put on trial for the massacre in Yokohama in August 1948.
A trial of Japanese personnel involved in the massacre initially sentenced the men to death, but later, they were released in the general amnesty.
The incident sparked a series POW rescue campaigns by the US, such as the raid at Cabanatuan on January 30, 1945, the raid at Santo Tomas Internment Camp on February 3, 1945, the raid of Bilibid Prison on February 4, 1945, and raid at Los Baños on February 23, 1945.
It was testimony of survivor, Pfc. Eugene Nielsen, US Army, was able to convince the military to embark on a campaign to save the POWs in the Philippines back in 1945. In 2006, Nielsen was interviewed again by Geoffrey Panos on the behalf of the University of Utah.
- Mariano Villarin, We remember Bataan and Corregidor: the story of the American & Filipino defenders of Bataan and Corregidor and their captivity (Gateway Press, 1990), 181.
- Villarin, 181.
- Canberra Times March 5, 1945 p. 1
- Canberra Times August 3, 1948 p. 4.
- Utah World War II stories