With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor having been on Dec. 7, marking the entry of the United States into World War II, there were a host of books and films about the war to remind us of what this country owes the 16 million who served and those who supported the war effort at home.
One documentary set in the Pacific Theater is “Never Surrender—The Ed Ramsey Story” about the late Edwin Ramsey’s experiences as a guerrilla leader in the Philippines adapted from his book, “Lieutenant Ramsey’s War.” I’d read the book and was invited to the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary.
|Raquel Ramsey and I at the documentary premiere in Los Angeles.|
Ramsey was born in Carlye, Ill., grew up in Kansas and went to the Oklahoma Military Academy. With a bachelor’s degree and a reserve officer’s commission, he enrolled in law school at Oklahoma University. In his last year of law school in 1940, his sister, Nadine, a pilot who had moved to California, was in a plane crash that left her seriously injured. When she was released from the hospital after a few weeks, Ramsey dropped out of school and went to California to care for her.
By Christmas 1940 she was walking again, and by January 1941 she was able to care for herself. And she was making plans to fly again—which she started doing in February.
Broke and with the academic year in law school half over, Ramsey was at loose ends and wasn’t sure what to do. But with a reserve commission, the war already raging in Europe and prospects of the United States being drawn into it, he believed it wouldn’t be long before he’d be called to serve. So he applied for active duty, and with his experience as a polo player and a love for horses, he ended up in the Army’s 26th Cavalry stationed at Fort Stotsenburg near Clark Air Base when the Japanese attacked the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941.
Like many American military personnel and Filipino soldiers, Ramsey refused to surrender and evaded the Japanese in the jungles of the Philippines until they were able to become organized and provide resistance as a guerrilla force. While many of the Americans and Filipino fighters, were caught, tortured and executed—some even beheaded, Ramsey eventually became the leader of about 40,000 guerrillas throughout the Philippines.
Most of the resistance was providing intelligence to the allied forces and helping prepare for the eventual battle for the Philippines. Before the end of the war, and because of Ramsey’s leadership, the Japanese looked long and hard for him and placed a $100,000 bounty on him. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur finally returned to the Philippines, as he had promised he would in his famous “I shall return” speech after President Roosevelt ordered him to leave the Philippines and go to Australia in early 1942, Ramsey had led the guerrillas through three and a half years of resistance and provided information that helped make MacArthur’s return successful.
When the American forces did arrive, Ramsey was emaciated and weighed less than 100 pounds. He’d even had his appendix removed without being anesthetized because the drug, which had been purchased on the black market, turned out to be water and there was no time to try and find more. Ramsey drank a bottle of rum and was held down during the operation. The appendix burst as soon as the doctor removed it.
For his service, Ramsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second highest award to the Medal of Honor. There has been a movement to raise it to the Medal of Honor. But until he died in 2013, Ramsey wasn’t concerned about that happening.
“I didn’t do what I did for a medal,” he said.
The documentary included interviews with Ramsey during his lifetime, as well as clips and narratives about the Philippine resistance movement from the war years. It was a moving film about the experiences of one man and the leadership he provided among hundreds of stories of heroism during the war.
Ramsey’s widow, Dr. Raquel R. Ramsey, a Filipina 29 years his junior who was married to him for 30 years and was one of the producers of the film, said, “It was a war story, but more a love story as (actress) Jackie Bisset posed to me. It also showed that no matter how many challenges he faced in war or peace, he never surrendered.”
Nor did Ramsey hold grudges. He lived in Japan for five years after the war and worked for Hughes Aircraft. (Ramsey also worked at Hughes Aircraft with former Urbana, Ill., resident John Britton, a Marine Iwo Jima veteran and graduate of Urbana High School and the University of Illinois.)
The premiere was held at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and longtime friend of Ramsey, said, “This is a story of sacrifice, survival, heroism and reconciliation and that is why the Museum of Tolerance was a perfect venue.”
Some 300 people, many of them friends of Ramsey, attended the premiere. The documentary will be available after the Oscars where it is entered in three categories at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: documentary, original score and original song.