Wednesday, November 6, 2013 12:00 AM
With darkness fast approaching on Feb. 3, 1945, a Filipino guerrilla, Captain Manuel Colayco, guided the first column of the First Cavalry down Manila's Rizal Avenue toward the gates of Santo Tomas Internment Center on Espana Street.
Amid the frenzied shouts of the excited Japanese, some of the captives distinctly heard the mechanical rumbling on the cobblestone streets.
Within minutes, about 8:30 p.m., a loud clamor rang out, and the Battlin Basic, the tank of Captain Jesse Walters, commander of Company B, drove the iron gates of the university into the ground.
With tears streaming and screaming in jubilation, internees ran to the plaza to greet their conquering heroes, quickly surrounding the men and the tanks of the 44th Tank Battalion under the command of Major William V. Barksdale.
Many fell to the ground, folded their hands and prayed, while others touched the American flags painted on the iron hulks of the tanks.
Cheers erupted when the hatches opened on top of the other fighting machines that carried inscriptions on the gun turrets such as Georgia Peach, Block Buster, San Antone, Crusader, Klankin Koffin and the Ole Miss.
Within minutes, the crowd began singing "God Bless America," then "America" and lastly, "The Star Spangled Banner."
One nurse remembered that "the men in the tanks looked like giants to us because we were so emaciated and thin."
Second Lieutenant Robert E. Lee of the Bond Community in Neshoba County led the Third Platoon of Company B of the 44thBattalion in his command tank, Ole Miss, along with the four other tanks of his unit.
Exiting the Ole Miss in front of the main administration building, the almost 6' 1" Bob Lee, with combat boots, steel pot and goggles, had to tower 6'3"or 6'4" in the air.
Neshoba County nurse, Lieutenant Jean Kennedy* was in an upstairs floor of one of the buildings when an excited friend rushed in the room and said, "Jean, there's someone from your hometown downstairs and wants to see you."
"I ran downstairs as fast as I could," recalled Lieutenant Kennedy, "and saw Robert Lee, standing next to the Ole Miss."
Approaching the lanky, reddish-brown haired, well-tanned 28-year-old tank commander, Kennedy said, "You look like you're from Mars."
Lee replied in his slow, Southern drawl, "Yes, Ma'am, my name is Robert E. Lee, and I worked for Mars Wholesale Company, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, before I came here."
Later she noted that, "I was struck with disbelief that here was a fellow Philadelphian rescuing us. It is indeed a small world."
On March 12, 1945, Chairman Earl Carroll and Vice-Chairman S. L. Lloyd, from the Camp Administrative Office of Santo Tomas, wrote to Major Barksdale: "On behalf of the 3,768 American and Allied civilians interned at Santo Tomas, we express to you, your officers and men, our sincerest appreciation for the gallant and heroic entry into the City of Manila and the dramatic liberation of our camp on the glorious night of 3 February 1945. Mere words cannot adequately express our deepest feelings, but we assure you that the night of our liberation shall be an undying memory for all of us."
Two years later, Sept. 2, 1947, the anniversary of the formal surrender of the Imperial Japanese Army, the Philippines Historical Committee erected a historical marker just outside the Santo Tomas University's reception hall.
The inscription reads, "University of Santo Tomas Compound used as a concentration camp for American and Allied civilians during World War II/ Liberated February 3, 1945 at 8:30 p.m. by the 44th Tank Battalion attached to the 1st Cav Div/ Capt Jesse L. Walters in his tank Battlin Basic broke through iron fence right side gate Espana St supported by the 3rd platoon under 2nd Lt. Robert E. Lee/ liberating force guided by Capt. Manuel Colayco who lost his life in action." (Concluding episode: March 5, 2014.)
Civil War Veterans
Burnside, Leonidas W. - Private; enlisted April 24,1861 at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age eighteen; farmer; nick-named "Lee;" received $50.00 bounty for re-enlistment at Camp Fisher, near Dumfries, Virginia, February 7, 1862.
Hospitalized with laryngitis at Chimborazo Hospital #9 at Richmond, Virginia, May 11, 1862; mortally wounded at Gaines' Mill, June 27, 1862; died at Richmond, July 11, 1862; record remark: "Died from wound received June 27 1862;" death claim settled for $45.90; paid to his father, John Burnside, March 31, 1863.
World War II Veterans
Kennedy, Nelson Guy* - Private to Staff Sergeant; enlisted on February 9, 1942 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-five; college student; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at an aircraft mechanic's school at Keesler Field, Mississippi, with the Army Air Corps, July 1942.
Stationed as an instructor in engine operations with Section C at the 1264th Base Unit; stationed again at Keesler Field, January 1943, and at Maxwell Field, Alabama, May 1944.
Served also in the European Theatre of Operations, August 1944 to December 1945; stationed at Cairo, Egypt, February 1945 to August 1945.
Awarded the American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Discharged at Camp Shelby, January 5, 1946, demobilization; described as five feet eight inches tall, weighing 128 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
Note*: Lieutenant Imogene Kennedy, Technician First Class Charles Kenneth Kennedy, Staff Sergeant Glendon Woodrow Kennedy, Seaman First Class James Truman Kennedy and Staff Sergeant Nelson Guy Kennedy, all veterans of World War II, were children of Roy J. and Mittie Walton Kennedy.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday