THE TRUTH can be more compelling and amazing than fiction. This is something that best-selling author Bruce Henderson knows very well.
The American author of over 20 books—all nonfiction titles—has written about extraordinary human events all of the world, among them the conquest of the North Pole, the tension of the Cold War, the shock of true crime and the daring-do of the space program. His newest book from William Morrow, “Rescue at Los Baños,” recalls the 1945 raid by American and Filipino forces that liberated over 2,000 Allied internees at the Los Baños Internment Camp.
In the book, Henderson details the suffering of the internees at the cruel hands of the Japanese and the courage of the rescuers in carrying out the mission. Henderson had pored through unit histories, action reports and war diaries while also interviewing internees and veterans who were there at Los Baños.
A former US Navy man, investigative journalist and teacher, he is now hard at work on his next book, another book about World War II. Henderson shared his thoughts about “Rescue at Los Baños” with the Inquirer through e-mail. Here are excerpts:
Have you ever considered writing fiction instead?
My background is journalism—newspaper and magazines—so when I started writing books full-time in the mid-1980s, I naturally gravitated to nonfiction. Today, I am still much more interested in telling real stories about real people.
How did your tour of duty as a Navy weatherman impact your writing?
Interestingly, my Navy experiences played a role in all three of my military books. While in the Navy, I had spent time on Luzon; in Subic Bay, Manila, and in the mountains. This helped me with descriptions of people and places for “Rescue at Los Baños.”
“Hero Found” was about a Navy pilot I served with who was shot down over Laos and escaped after six months of captivity. “Down to the Sea” was about Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet being hit by a typhoon off the Philippines, something I experienced myself as a 7th Fleet sailor.
Of all the missions you could write about, why did you choose to write “Rescue at Los Baños?” What made the mission special?
Many people are familiar with the brutal treatment of military POWs in the Pacific during World War II by the Japanese, thanks to best-selling books and films like “Unbroken.”
We have heard less about the plight of American and Allied civilians who were living and working in the Philippines when war broke out. Within weeks of their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, and rounded up these innocents—men, women and children—and placed them in internment camps for the duration of the war. I wanted to tell this story of the courageous people who endured captivity and of the US soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who risked their lives to rescue them.
What do you think Filipino readers will take with them when they read “Rescue at Los Baños”?
I hope Filipino readers will take away a large measure of national pride for what their own Greatest Generation did to help defeat the Japanese some 70 years ago. The rescue of more than 2,000 American and Allied civilians at Los Baños was made possible with the assistance of a number of resistance groups, who coordinated with the US Army to make the operation a success. Among the casualties in the raid were two Filipino fighters killed, whose names are today on a plaque honoring their sacrifice near where the prisoner camp once stood.
It certainly reads like it would make a fantastic movie. Would you be open to that possibility?
Of course, and I agree it would make a great movie with an ensemble cast of characters; both men and women, civilian and military. I would certainly like to see the movie filmed in the Philippines.
What did you consider the greatest challenge working on “Rescue at Los Baños”?
After some 70 years since the event took place, the greatest challenge was finding people who are still around; people who were either held at Los Baños or military personnel (Americans and Filipinos) who took part in the raid. Very quickly we will be reaching the point of no return for authors of World War II books who will sadly no longer be able to personally interview these folks. That will be a real loss.
“Rescue at Los Baños” is available in hardcover from National Book Store.