Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Bruce Gordon Elliott



Bruce Gordon Elliott was born on May 18, 1923 in southwest Kansas. He joined the Navy at the age of 16. Elliott was stationed at Cavite Naval Base when World War II broke out. He saw three groups of Japanese bombers coming toward him on December 10, 1941, and he hid inside a large coil of wire as the bombs were being dropped. His ship, the USS Bittern, was burning, so he reported for duty on the USS Tanager and was set to work sweeping the channel for mines. Because the Tanager did not have air defense, she was a stationary target for Japanese bombers, and she put in anchor at Corregidor when Manila was declared an open city. She sank on May 4.

Elliott was discharged from duty aboard the Tanager in late March and reported to an Army Captain on Corregidor. He was then taken to Mariveles and ultimately to Cabcaben Point, where he was told to be on the alert for Japanese troops. Less than two weeks later, the Captain informed him that the Japanese were coming and asked him if he would like to return to Mariveles, but Elliott thought that he would be safer on Corregidor so that afternoon he began swimming there. He swam for six hours, until a Navy launch picked him up and took him to Queens Tunnel, where he was given a change of clothes.

Elliott, along with nine others, was then assigned to a machine gun nest at Monkey Point. Late in the night on May 5, 1942, the Japanese landed on Monkey Point, facing Bataan. They were driven off, but they returned, and this time Elliott opened fire on three barges near him. However, Elliott, along with the other troops on Corregidor, did not stand a chance against the Japanese. He was only days away from being 19 when he became a prisoner of war upon the surrender of Corregidor. He and the other men were put on work details on Middleside in the 92nd Garage area; they spent the rest of their time sitting unsheltered under the oppressive sun.

On May 23, the prisoners were loaded onto a freighter bound for Manila. When they drew near to the city, they were forced to swim the rest of the way. They were then marched to Bilibid Prison, a walk that would come to be called the March of Shame. Two weeks later, they were placed into stifling railcars and taken to the city of Cabanatuan, where Elliott spent the night under a schoolhouse. The next morning the prisoners were marched to Camp #3, arriving on May 26.

Elliott was selected to return to Bilibid at the end of July. There he and the other selected prisoners loaded a freighter, which they themselves were also placed upon and taken to Culion, a leper colony on the island of Palawan. The men were forced to prepare an area for the construction of an airstrip at Puerto Princesa. Elliott made a daring venture one night, climbing a twelve-foot pole to get over the wall and then seeking aid from a priest, who gave him a map, a compass, and an alarm clock. On August 10, he and five other prisoners made their escape, appropriating a banca which had to be bailed out continuously and heading toward Australia. They arrived at Brooke's Point on their third night at sea, and Ben Aroose, a native, took them to the home of Mr. Edwards, a schoolteacher.

One month later, the group met Damon "Rocky" Gause. Elliott suffered from malaria and was given quinine by Edwards. The escaped prisoners obtained some rifles and decided to locate Moros in the hopes of getting home to the U.S. They sailed south and met Datu Jo Kiple, a Muslim who hated the Japanese, near San Antonio Bay. Datu sent two of his men with the group, providing instructions on getting them to safety. They sailed back to Brooke's Point and decided to attack the Japanese troops stationed there. Elliott and one of the Moros killed the Japanese guards, and when the Japanese began to assemble the next morning, the group attacked, killing around 20 Japanese.

A few weeks later, Elliott and some of the other men went south to Balabac. Learning that there were Japanese soldiers in nearby Kudat, Elliott's group concocted another plan of attack, and in mid-October they were successful. In August of 1943, they headed to Tawi-Tawi, killing a small group of Japanese on Cagayan Island along the way. At Tawi-Tawi they met Captain Hamner--who contacted MacArthur--along with an American officer named Lieutenant Cane. The men were told to go to Mindanao, and the two Moros went home to Palawan.

Along the way, they ran into a Japanese convoy, which fortunately didn't notice them. When the men arrived at Dipolog, they were told to travel over Mount Malindang to Panquil Bay. A Filipino Major and his family joined them. From Panquil Bay they had to flee to stay ahead of arriving Japanese troops. On Mindanao, the group met with some guerrillas, and some of the men decided to stay with them. The rest, including Elliott, were placed aboard the USS Narwhal in early March, 1944. The submarine survived a Japanese attack at Tawi-Tawi and delivered Elliott to Australia, where he received medical care before being flown to Brisbane and then to Pearl Harbor. The men were ordered not to talk to anyone and were taken to the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. for debriefing, after which they were released to go home.

Elliott went to Deep Sea Diving School in 1946 and made Chief Boatswain's Mate. He remained in the Navy and retired in October 1959. He then attended Long Beach City College and received an Associate of the Arts degree in mechanical engineering. He worked for General Electric in the mechanical-nuclear division, installing and servicing engineering for land and sea-based power plants. He served as president of the American Guerrillas of Mindanao.