Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

John Wheeler

Captain John Wheeler, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was a cadet captain of the ROTC at the University of Minnesota before entering into military service. He was a member of the 26th Cavalry Regiment, Philippine Scouts. On Luzon, Wheeler and the rest of the 26th Regiment were assigned as the rear guard, with the purpose of securing the southward withdrawal of the infantry following the battle of Damortis around Christmastime 1941. Only five of the requested sixteen tanks had arrived at Damortis, leaving the 26th outnumbered by the Japanese, who also had the advantage of planes, and as a result 150 men were lost.

After the 26th Regiment's tanks had withdrawn, two more tanks appeared, and they were Japanese. Major J.J.H. Trapnell was determined to defend the bridge, and when Lieutenant Clayton Michelson of the Veterinary Corps approached in a truck, he and Wheeler pushed the vehicle down and used gasoline to ignite it along with the bridge, halting the enemy's advance in the nick of time.

The regiment proceeded quickly through Damortis, which was now under Japanese patrol, on December 22, 1941. The next day, the Japanese launched an attack, and the 26th withdrew to Pozzorubio and then to Binalonan. The Japanese again attacked, and the men responded by firing their .30 calibers. The 26th then withdrew to Tayug and to Umingan; these withdrawals continued until December 28, at which time they had to take to the mountains. After several days, Wheeler and Lieutenant Hendricks, along with a patrol, made it to Bagac near the South China Sea.

In mid-January, the cavalry was ordered to serve as the advance guard for the Philippine Army, which planned to move against the Japanese forces heading for Moron. Lieutenant Ramsey led the cavalry, with Wheeler riding at the head. It was shortly necessary to dismount, and the men advanced along the road. Lieutenant Ramsey fell prey to an ambush, and Private First Class Pedro Euperio scouted ahead, directing the rest of the men where to go despite being wounded himself. The men headed for the beach and then formed an attack around Lt. Ramsey, causing 20 of the Japanese to flee. They reached Ramsey, and then a battalion engaged them in combat.

Wheeler and a Sergeant named Tolentino headed straight into the gunfire, each going after a flank. Wheeler was shot in the leg, and Tolentino was also wounded. The fighting continued throughout the day, and by nightfall the town was captured and maintained. Wheeler returned to the reserve. Moron was held for a full day after the 26th's withdrawal.

Wheeler and the 26th Cavalry's actions gave General Douglas MacArthur the time necessary to pull the Filipino-American forces together at defensive positions on the Bataan Peninsula. Wheeler received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. He died when the hellship he was on sank  near the end of the war.