On December 8th, 1941 Maryknollers across the Philippines looked up to see Japanese planes zooming across the skies. Within a few days, many Maryknoll Sisters and Fathers would find themselves interned by the Japanese. This was the start of an over three year journey, which culminated in their stay in the Los Baños Internment Camp. By January of 1945, the conditions in the camp began to worsen as food became scarce and their treatment became harsh. Hungry and weak, the Maryknollers prayed for salvation from their internment. Their prayers were answered on February 23rd, 1945, when Angels began to fall from the skies, equipped with white parachutes and American uniforms.

What is known as the Raid on Los Baños would be one of the most successful raids executed by the U.S. military throughout World War 2. The raid liberated all 2,147 internees, including 47 Maryknoll Sisters and 1 Maryknoll Father. Join me as we explore the War Narratives and the Los Baños Internment Camp Collections, read accounts of the Maryknollers interned at Los Baños, and learn the full story of how “The Angels Came At Seven.”

The Los Baños Camp

The Los Baños Interment Camp was located near the local University and contained around 2,200 internees. The camp was initially set up due to overcrowding at other internment camps across the island of Luzon. Many Maryknollers were transferred to Los Baños from their residences in Quezon, Baguio, and the Santo Tomas camp.
Sisters in front of the Los Baños Chapel, 1945
Los Baños Camp Map, 1945
By late January of 1945, the situation in the camp started to become desperate. The Japanese guards cut down on food rations and anyone caught outside the Camp was dealt with harshly. Many of the internees began to develop beri beri, a disease caused by prolonged periods of malnutrition. More worryingly, rumors began to spread that the Japanese would rather destroy the camp and its inhabitants than let them be rescued. The situation in the camp laid on a knife’s edge, and the American Military knew it.
Finally, the Japanese stopped giving us even the lugoa ration. Instead, they doled out unhusked rice, something most people were too weak to even remove the grain from the hull. In spite of the doctor’s warning not to eat the whole kernel some did eat it. Death was the result… Even the weed patch was closed to us.
Sister Miriam Louise Kroeger, MM

Art of the Sister's Barracks at Los Baños, Barracks 20, Drawn in camp by Sister Miriam Thomas Thorton, 1945
[February] 21st – Apparently zero hour has approached. No more food in the camp. Tonight is our last meal unless something happens. At a Committee meeting the Japanese told them that there was starvation everywhere, US, Philippines, even in the US Army. The Japanese around this camp are certainly well fed.
Sister Eleanor Francis Andrews, MM

Countdown to Liberation

Emblem of the Eleventh Airborne, undated
On February 3rd, 1945 the Santo Tomas Internment Camp was liberated and its appalling conditions made aware to the U.S. military. A plan was immediately drawn up for the Eleventh Airborne to liberate the Los Baños Camp still behind Japanese lines. The plan would consist of a daring raid utilizing an airborne drop, an amphibious landing, and the aid of 300 local Filipino Guerillas. The plan required the utmost secrecy to make sure the Japanese did not prematurely destroy the camp. After weeks of planning, the date of liberation was set for February 23rd.
Friendly Filipinos brought eggs, fruit, and other food into the camp, but their most precious gift was a handful of shiny American dimes, dated 1945: These were more precious than any coins of gold or silver. A symbol of freedom, they meant that Filipino scouts had contact with American troops and that our liberation was only a matter of time.
Father William R. McCarthy, MM

U.S. Military plan for the Los Baños Raid, 1945

As the days ticked on, hope began to dwindle amongst the internees, including the Maryknollers and other Religious in the camp.  A public prayer was held leading up to the Feast of Lourdes on February 11th, but no answer came. Bishop Constant Jurgens of Tuguegarao, also interned at Los Baños, called for an Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on February 22nd. This included a constant recitation of the rosary, and Bishop Jurgens asked the Maryknoll Sisters to pray on the first day.

On Feb. 22, Bishop Jurgens [ordered] exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a Perpetual Rosary in a desperate Triduum. For the first day, we Maryknoll Sisters and the Good Shepherd religious [were] responsible for keeping the rosary going constantly.

Sister Maria del Rey Danforth, MM

Example of a Mission Rosary
After Benediction about 4:30 pm the planes started flying about and bombing over the hill back of the camp. The Sisters saw the bombs dropping, sorry I missed that. We all felt something big was happening and if that was an answer to the first [day’s] prayer, what would the end of the third day bring forth.
Sister Eleanor Francis Andrews, MM

Art of prayer at the Los Baños Chapel, Drawn in camp by Sister Miriam Thomas Thorton, 1945
Bishop [Jurgens] then directed that we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with public recitation of the rosary throughout the day. Personally, I was so weak that I couldn’t even move my fingers from one bead to the other, so I just wrapped the rosary around my wrist and sat out the time.
Sister Miriam Louise Kroeger, MM

The morning of Feb. 23, 1945, began like any other day in camp. The majority of the prisoners began to stir about 5:30. A few minutes before 7:00 we lined up for breakfast. As usual, the Japanese soldiers were taking their setting-up exercises at that hour. New guards were fastening their cartridge belts before replacing the men who had been on duty during the night.
Father William R. McCarthy, MM

On February 22nd, American bombers flew a campaign to soften Japanese positions around the camp. During the night, a platoon of Paratroopers snuck behind enemy lines to help lead the force of 300 Filipino Guerillas in the initial attack. On the runway of Nichols Field another company of paratroopers slept, ready to board their planes on a moment’s notice.
That afternoon our planes appeared, circling the camp a number of times, meantime bombing a Japanese camp near us and an important gun position. The planes flew so low over our roofs that we could see the pilots. Imagine the excitement.
Sister Miriam Louise Galligan, MM

The Angels Came At Seven

At 7:00 am on February 23rd, the men of Comapny B, 511th Paratroop Infantry jumped from their planes. The opening of their chutes prompted a simultaneous attack by Filipino Guerillas surrounding the camp. The attack was timed right when the Japanese garrison was changing their guard, information acquired from escaped internees. The fighting raged for about an hour, with almost the entire Japanese garrison being destroyed. Only two Filipino liberators were killed and only a few internees were injured during the fight, all of whom survived. The perfect execution of the attack and the extremely low casualties made this raid the most successful one executed during the war.
Artwork of the Los Baños Raid
Photograph of a Paratroop Drop, Eleventh Airborne Photobook, 1945
The next morning the signal for roll-call sounded as usual at 7 o’clock. I stepped out in front of the barracks just in time to hear planes a short distance from the camp. The next hour was a never-to-be-forgotten one. When I finally traced the sounds of the motors, my eyes, as I thought, began to play tricks. For the first time in my life I saw men dropping from the skies… They looked like angels below the white parachutes.
Sister Miriam Louise Galligan, MM

I remember so clearly saying to Our Lord – “Please – soon! But if not today, let me do your will all day long in patient waiting.” Then, instead of waiting until the gong rang for roll-call as I usually did, I went slowly to the road and took my place a half-minute or so early. I turned East to see the sunrise which we could study usually while waiting to be counted by the officials… As I turned, the gong rang for roll-call at 7:00 as usual and several Sisters came from the barracks, listlessly. Then nine beautiful planes flew across the sunrise and, marvelous sight! Tiny specks dropped like pellets – then the pellets bloomed into parachutes – 150 paratroops floated down!
Sister Maria del Rey Danforth, MM

That apparently was the signal for the guerillas as in a few minutes there was pandemonium. The American guards came and told all to get back into their barracks immediately. Then the shouting started. The flames from the tracer bullets kept licking by the windows and with our swali houses and open windows we didn’t know what moment would be our last. The next thing the guerillas were swarming over the grounds, then thank God our soldier boys.
Sister Eleanor Francis Andrews, MM

Several times we peeked over the window sill. Bullets flew past the window like rain, really. There was a lull and Sr. Antoinette said, pointing to our tin can of rice which she had been cooking, outside – “That rice is burning. Battle or no Battle, we can’t afford to lose it.” We pushed my bed back to share space and Sister ran out and brought in the tin can and native stove, complete. She was just inside the door when the battle broke out afresh and down we went again under our beds.
Sister Maria del Rey Danforth, MM

We heard the roar of nine C-47 airplanes just as the new guards began to leave their quarters. Then we saw the angels coming down from heaven.
Father William R. McCarthy, MM

Photograph of Amtracs heading into the camp, 1945
Sr. Frederica had a cup shot out of her hand and a young woman in the barracks was badly injured when a bullet passed through her thigh. Sr. Rose Genevieve saved her life (as doctors attested later) by administering first aid.
Sister Eleanor Francis Andrews, MM

To describe the meeting with our men is impossible. We thought each one of them an angel, and a giant of one at that. They were massive compared to our malnutritioned men in the camp.
Sister Miriam Louise Kroeger, MM

In the middle of it, the swinging doors on the front of the barracks swung open and there was a huge American. He was so big you couldn’t see the gang of Filipino guerillas behind him. And the expression on his face as he saw a place full of nuns! “Won’t my mother be proud when I tell her that I recused the Sisters” he said…
Sister Maria del Rey Danforth, MM

Journey to Freedom

With the camp liberated at long last, all that was left was getting everyone home. While the fight for the camp was ongoing, 60 Amphibious tractors made their way across Laguna de Bay and created a beachhead on the shore a few miles North of the camp. The plan was to drive South, take as many internees as they could, and have the rest march to the beachhead. It would take two trips in total, but all 2,147 internees would leave Los Baños alive and well.

I had always had an idea that we would leave Los Banos in a hurry, so early in the internment, I had put away my tampipi (a native box of woven busi palm like a suitcase), my habits, good shoes – that is, good after 3 ½ years… What was simpler then, than to hoist the tampipi to my shoulder and start immediately…

Sister Maria del Rey Danforth, MM

As soon as each barracks was vacated, it was set on fire to prevent the Japanese in the hills from coming down and using them. By the time we left the camp was a roaring furnace.

Sister Miriam Louise Galligan, MM

Sr. Mary Alphonsa speaking with a US Soldier, 1945
Internees and Soldiers walking together after Liberation, 1945

In our turn we started moving, and I could see the tops of the buildings we rolled along. About half way to the bay, bullets began whizzing overhead, so the tank stopped and a little battle ensued. They told us that they saw a [Japanese Soldier] in the trees some distance away. Everyone in the tank was down inside, the walls a couple feet higher than the tallest of us. We were told we were going to Laguna de Bay, so I had supposed that when the water was reached we would get out of the tanks and into boats. But, no: tank and all pushed right into the water.

Sister Rose Genevieve Koll, MM

Photograph of Amtracs departing the Beachhead, 1945
On the other side of Laguna de Bay we were invited into a Red Cross ambulance and had a comfortable ride to Bilibid Prison at Muntinlupa where we arrived a 4:15pm. That night I slept on a bed of boards in what had been a prison ward, but now became a hall of freedom under the Stars and Stripes.
Sister Agnes Teresa Schnettler, MM

Maryknoll Sister receiving Candy Bars from the Red Cross, 1945
After the tank had gotten into the water and it was safe, we climbed up and looked over the top. It was a pretty sight to see the tanks down the bay. Each tank turned up a spray of water which looked a little like a little white sail, so it looked like a little fleet of sail boats.
Sister Rose Genevieve Koll, MM

Amtracs dropping off inernees on the American Beach, 1945
Ambulances heading towards Bilibid Prison, 1945

Remembering the Angels

By May 1945, most of the Maryknollers in Philippines had returned to their home at Maryknoll, New York. Those interned at Los Baños were eternally grateful towards their liberators of the Eleventh Airborne. For many years the liberators and the liberated would gather on the anniversary of the raid, to celebrate and remember. Every account written by the Maryknollers at Los Baños mentions their gratitude for their liberation, and none can sum it up any better than Sister Miriam Louise Kroeger (quote below).
A Maryknoll Welcome to those returning from the Philippines, 1945
Los Baños reunion, 1977 Back row Left to Right: Bob Fletcher, Ed Siemer, Jim Holzem, John Cierech, Lee Davis, John Ringler, Grant Gentry Front Row Left to Right: Sr. Miriam Louise Kroeger, "Rinks", Sr. Maria del Rey Danforth, Sr. Rose Catherine Sullivan
After three and a quarter years of formal and semi-formal concentration, we found our new freedom more than we were able to fathom. Our appreciation of the boys’ heroism and utter selflessness is boundless. We are grateful, too, to all of those at home, our relatives and friends, whose vigil of prayer and sacrifice were the means of sustaining God’s constant, and in some instances miraculous, protection over us.
Sister Miriam Louise Kroeger, MM

Los Baños reunion, 1978 Identified: Sr. Patricia Marie Callan and Sr. Mary Aquinata Brennan