Alamo Scouts - do or die

Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, U.S. Sixth Army commanding general, congratulates Harry D. Weiland, an Alamo Scout, after awarding him the him the Bronze Star for Valor for a mission on Pegun Island in the Philippines. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, U.S. Sixth Army commanding general, congratulates Harry D. Weiland, an Alamo Scout, after awarding him the him the Bronze Star for Valor for a mission on Pegun Island in the Philippines. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Before the Green Beret, Special Forces, and Navy SEALs, there were the Alamo Scouts. Executors of "do or die missions", these men completed top secret reconnaissance missions in the Japanese controlled Philippines during World War II.

These heroes' exploits were classified during and after WWII, going unnoticed and unrecognized. Regarded as an expendable asset because they could die during their next mission, they established a perfect record of 106 missions without losing a single man and were awarded 118 military decorations in less than a year.

Origin and Training

Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, who's Sixth Army was then called the Alamo Force, personally orchestrated the creation of this elite group of scouts bearing the name of his hometown shrine, The Alamo. The events leading to the creation of the Alamo Scouts occurred at the island of Kiska. The air reconnaissance failed to see the Japanese had pulled out of Kiska and left traps for the Americans resulting in the deaths of 28 Americans. Krueger needed timely, reliable intelligence. The scouts conducted reconnaissance behind enemy lines and reported their findings directly to him- an activity, which meant torture and death if captured. Commanders hand-picked the Alamo Scouts for their intelligence, spirit and physical stamina.

The Alamo Scouts had Caucasian, Native American, Filipino and Hispanic soldiers.
The Alamo Scouts Training Center was established before 1944 at a secret camp near Ferguson Island, off the southeastern tip of New Guinea. Six-week training focused on guerrilla tactics, hand to hand combat and jungle survival as well as being stealthy, overwhelming and cohesive. Twenty four specially selected graduates were grouped into six man teams designated Alamo Scouts. A total of 138 scouts were chosen out of thousands of volunteers.

Early Exploits

The scouts' first reconnaissance mission led by Lt. John R. C. McGowan occurred in February 1944. They carried six pounds of gear: a Thompson machine gun or M1A1 Carbine, compass, notebook, grenades, .45 caliber M1911 A1 side arm and combat knife. The team was dropped off by a PBY Catalina, flying boat, and they made their way ashore by rubber boat on the southeast tip of Los Negros Island in the Admiralty group. Air reconnaissance during the previous two weeks had detected no activity on the island, and the Army Air Corps had concluded that the Japanese had evacuated. Undetected, McGowan's team found Japanese troops and discovered they were Japanese special Marines. McGowan reported his unit's findings to Krueger, who ordered reinforcements for the reconnaissance in force of the island being conducted by the dismounted 1st Cavalry Division. On Feb. 29, a successful troop landing was made on the northeast coast of Los Negros. This operation established a pattern that came to be almost routine for the Alamo Scouts. Before each landing of U.S. and allied troops, an Alamo Scout team would be put ashore to conduct reconnaissance or execute line-crossing operations to establish the strength and disposition of the enemy forces.

Cabanatuan

In Jan. 1945 the Sixth Army learned through information gathered from Philippine guerrillas that 513 POWs were being held at a secret Prisoner of War camp named Cabanatuan on the Island of Luzon. For four years these POWs had been tortured and beaten by their captors, and had all but given up hope for rescue. The 6th Ranger Battalion and two Alamo Scout teams were sent to liberate them. The Alamo Scouts spent two days scouting the camp and learned it was guarded by two hundred guards and the city of Cabanatuan had eight hundred more on reserve. The Scouts enlisted the aid of the local Philippine guerrilla forces to intercept and ambush the 800 Japanese reinforcements while the Rangers and Scouts rescued their imprisoned brethren. The Rangers and Scouts had to crawl 800 yards on an open field to make it to the rolling spot from where they would attack. A P61 air to ground fighter was used as a distraction so the assault force could make it across this open terrain. Once ready, they assaulted the camp and liberated 511 prisoners, losing two Rangers to mortar fire and no Scouts. It was considered a perfect assault.

The Alamo Scouts

The Alamo Scouts provided information allowing commanders to make changes that saved lives. The Scouts made two successful prisoner-rescue raids and brought in 60 Japanese prisoners for questioning. Disbanded after WWII, they were not recognized until 1986 when the Alamo Scouts initiative was declassified. In 1988 the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School awarded the Alamo Scouts the Special Forces tab, and formally acknowledged them as a forerunner of the Special Forces.