The U.S. Cavalry’s Last Charge
By David Sears
Originally published by World War II, March and April 2015
With obsolescence looming and the Philippines in peril, American horse soldiers rode in an unlikely but successful fight.
“Skinny” Wainwright was fighting mad. With the Japanese poised to cross the Batalan River unopposed, he hastened to Bagac, a village on the west coast of the Bataan Peninsula on southern Luzon in the Philippines. It was January 16, 1942. After five weeks on half-rations, Major General Jonathan Wainwright looked even more gaunt than usual as he climbed from his green Packard scout car to confront Brigadier General Fidel Segundo, commander of the Philippine 1st Division.
Wainwright had earlier dispatched some of Segundo’s infantry to Morong, a village about four miles up the coastal road on the Batalan’s south bank. The American had hoped to delay the Japanese at Morong, but Segundo had withdrawn. The Batalan was the only natural obstacle to a Japanese advance against the Mauban Line, which defended the western half of Bataan. Wainwright ordered the Filipinos back to Morong; an advance guard would reconnoiter, then hold the village until reinforcements arrived.
Also in Bagac were the remnants of the U.S. Army 26th Cavalry Regiment, a Filipino Scouts unit commanded by American officers. The skeletal men and horses of the depleted regiment’s E and F Troops had consolidated into one understrength unit. Wainwright, a cavalry veteran, recognized one of the officers.
“Ramsey, isn’t it?” Wainwright barked. “You played in the polo match at Stotsenburg? You take the advance guard. Move out!”
Army Captain John Wheeler, E and F Troops’ commander, happened to be standing beside First Lieutenant Edwin Ramsey. Intervening, Wheeler explained that Ramsey was with G troop, which had just been sent to the rear after a grueling reconnaissance. Ramsey was only on hand because he knew the area and had volunteered to help, Wheeler said.
“Never mind!” said Wainwright. “Ramsey, move out!”
Sixty years later, Ramsey recalled that moment. “You know the old saying in the Army, ‘Keep your bowels open, your mouth shut, and never volunteer’?” he said. “Well, I violated all three.”