Excerpt from my third novel Dominion of Gold.
Luzon Island, Philippines
The next morning, Jon and George were being strapped into the back seat of two Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers. At 0300 hours, four dive bombers, plus the two the agents, took off to strike a convoy of Japanese heavy trucks traveling on the road from San Fabian to San Fernando City; the dive bombers were escorted by four Grumman F6F Hellcat night fighters.
Just before dawn, one of the Hellcat’s radar picked up the truck convoy crossing a bridge two miles south of Cabo. The fighters led the way and strafed the trucks; one truck exploded. The dive bombers then zeroed in and dropped four 500-pound bombs each.
After the bombers drop their bombs, the lead Hellcat turned east towards the mountains; the rest of the formation followed. The lead fighter put his Hellcat into a slow turn to the south and slowed to 130-knots airspeed, and followed the Ifugao River. When the river curved 180-degrees back to the north, the entire formation turned north following the river. Immediately, after rolling out over the river, the two dive bombers dropped to 500-feet and went inverted. Jon and George released their seatbelt and dropped from the aircraft. The fighters and bombers then turned west and made an additional strafing run on the trucks before heading out to sea.
In a fraction of a second, their speed went from 130-knot to 15-knots, as their black parachutes opened above the river basin. Twenty seconds later, the two agents were on the sandy riverbed gathering their chutes and running into the jungle where they buried them in the soft sandy soil. Afterwards, they moved north across the slow running Ifugao and came to a u-shaped depression in a large hillside where entered the jungle next to a huge boulder, took cover and waited.
After ten minutes, they heard a soft voice behind them. Neither agent was startled because General Whitney had briefed them about the Ilongots and their ability to glide through the jungle without making a sound; they were also known throughout the Philippines for their headhunting abilities.
A short man eased out of the thick jungle carrying a two-pronged spear. He was accompanied by a man in what used to be an army uniform. The pants legs were cut off above the knees and the sleeves were removed from his shirt.
“Captain Larry Peterson,” the man said.
“What’s the first capital of Ohio, Captain?” Jon asked. He held his submachine gun aimed at the captain’s chest.
“Chillicothe,” Peterson answered. “We need to leave. We went around the camp of a Japanese patrol two miles east of here. They probably heard the aircraft and the explosions. They’ll probably investigate as soon as the sun is up.”
An hour later, they joined up with a group of twelve Ilongots, each carried a Garand M-1 rifle. The terrain was rugged and steep as they wended their way through the thick mountainous jungle littered with huge boulders that were covered with thick, heavy vines. The boulders had been loosened from the rocky slopes and washed down the hillsides by typhoons and flash floods that had occurred over the eons.
For twelve days, the team climbed up and down densely covered hillsides, skirted Japanese patrols, and documented Japanese positions and armament emplacements. The group then moved eastward towards their next target, Aritao. After traveling another ten miles, they stopped on the western side of a mountain, at an outcrop of rock that provided moderate shelter, and camped.
“Do you want to radio your report to MacArthur’s headquarters?” Captain Peterson asked.
“No,” Jon replied. “The Japs have radio detection units. If we transmit it might give away our position and compromise the rest of the mission.”
Captain Peterson nodded his understanding and then motioned for Jon and George to come with him; the Ilongot chief followed. Peterson led them another hundred and fifty yards up a steep incline, and over the top of the mountain to the edge of a cliff that overlooked a valley below.
Peterson pointed west and said, “The large hill to the left of the valley is where the Japs are digging. There are close to a hundred soldiers and three hundred slave laborers. Twenty heavy duty trucks come in from the south each day, unloaded their cargo and returned south for another load.”
“How close have you gotten to the site?” George asked.
“The chief and I got to within a mile of the tunnels when it was first reported to us. Now, we avoid the area because of the Japanese activity.”
“Will you wait here for us?” Jon asked.
“For 48-hours only, but the Ilongot chief insists on going with you.”
“Does he speak English?”
“We’ll see you in 48-hours.”
The Ilongot chief led the way downhill, keeping to a well-hidden path beside a running creek that was masked by a heavy overhead canopy of vines and trees. The trail was littered with boulders, some as large as a house. After five hours, the chief stopped, pointed to the sky, and said, “We stay until night.”
Jon and George understood. They could go no farther until nightfall. They removed their backpacks and found a cozy location on the jungle floor. Both leaned against a large granite boulder and fell asleep.
Jon was awakened by a gentle shake from the chief. Jon opened his eyes and noticed the sky overhead had turned dark and grey. Drops of rain were beginning to fall on the canopy high overhead. He looked at his watch; it was only 1700 hours. The sun wouldn’t be below the horizon for another three hours.
Jon looked at the chief. The chief said, “We move. Flash flood.”
Jon woke George and they followed the chief as he moved higher into the forest to a large rock covered by heavy vines. The chief moved aside some of the vines and pointed. Jon and George followed him into a small cave-like depression in the rocky hillside. It was large enough for a dozen men. Rain fell in blasts of waves, as a tropical depression brought heavy wind and rain in from the west.
“How long?” Jon asked.
The chief shrugged his shoulders. He laid his two-pronged spear on the floor of the shelter and laid down next to it. Within minutes he was snoring.
“What do you think?” George asked.
“I think we wait for the chief to tell us to go,” Jon said. “Hungry?”
George nodded. Jon opened up his backpack and withdrew a two wrapped packages of boiled rice. He handed one to George along with several strips of dried beef.
When the wind and rain stopped it was nearly 2300 hours. The chief sat up and looked at Jon and George staring at him. He stood up and motioned for them to follow. Two hours later they were within a hundred yards of the hillside construction site. Jon noticed that the chief had taken them to the south and east, downwind of the site. The chief looked at Jon and motioned with his spear. “You go. I stay.”
Jon pulled two sticks of theatrical makeup from his backpack. Both agents darkened their faces with alternating stripes of the black and green grease. When Jon finished, he pulled a burlap wrapped package the size of a grapefruit from his pack. After removing the burlap, he placed a shrunken head that hung on a thin piece of deer hide, around his neck. The head was a gift from a Kachin headman in Burma that had made him an honorary member of his tribe in 1944, after a mission that blew up an ammunition train and killed nearly three thousand Japanese soldiers. The Ilongot chief looked at the head and grunted his approval.
George looked at the shrunken head and nodded. “I like the effect.”
Jon pulled a second burlap wrapped package from his backpack and handed it to George. George didn’t hesitate. He unwrapped the shrunken head and hung it around his neck.
“No Allied agents on this mission,” Jon said.
Jon led the way, quietly stepping through the maze of thick vines, rocks and puddles of water, and finally crawling the last twenty yards through the vines, mud and water to the rear of a Japanese heavy duty truck. Jon scanned the area and found what looked to be the main headquarters tent of the compound. They crawled to the back of the tent and listened. The only sound was someone snoring loudly.
While George kept watch, Jon withdrew his knife and sliced a six-foot tall opening in the canvas, then edged his body through the opening. Twenty feet to his right, Jon noticed the blouse of a high ranking Japanese officer hanging on a chair. The officer was sleeping soundly on a bamboo mat on the floor. Jon eased further into the tent to the large table. He was rifling through several stacks of papers and architectural drawing when he heard the faint draw of a steel sword being lifted from its scabbard.
Jon was prepared. He turned quickly and threw a stack of papers in the officer’s face. With his other hand Jon held up his bolo knife to block the downward blow from the officer’s sword. What Jon didn’t expect was to see the Ilongot chief flying through the opening of the tent. In one swift motion, the chief removed the officer’s head with a single blow from his double edged bolo knife. The officer’s sword was still in his right hand ready to strike when his head hit the floor.
Jon, nodded to the chief then turned back to the table, collected all of the documents, a large roll of drawings, and stuffed them in his backpack. Jon went to the radio that was set up on another table. It was a Type 94-3 C wireless radio with a hand-crank generator. Jon removed the crystal from the radio and took the generator with him as he withdrew from the tent. A mile into their retreat, Jon tossed the generator into a deep ravine.
Forty-eight hours after they left Captain Peterson, Jon, George and the Ilongot chief, with his new Japanese trophy, returned to the overlook where Captain Peterson and the Ilongot tribesmen waited.
“I take it your mission was a success,” Captain Peterson said to Jon and George. He turned and looked at the detached head that the chief was showing off to the other tribesmen, and then turned and stared at the shrunken heads around Jon and George’s necks.
“That’s a general officer’s head the chief is showing off and bragging about. It’s going to cause a lot of fallout when they find his body,” Jon said. “We need to put some miles between us and this place.”
“It’s eight days to Baler Bay,” Captain Peterson said.
“Then we better get started.”