MACARTHUR’S SPIES: THE SOLDIER, THE SINGER AND THE SPYMASTER WHO DEFIED THE JAPANESE IN WORLD WAR II
By Peter Eisner
Viking, $28, 368 pages
The Bataan Death March in the Philippines in World War II that was orchestrated by the occupying Imperial Japanese Army is well documented.
The forced march of Americans and Filipinos who surrendered to the Japanese caused the death of thousands. The prisoners were denied proper food and water and stragglers were shot or bayoneted to death. Those who survived the death march were placed in military camps under inhuman conditions.
In Australia, Gen. Douglas MacArthur announced that he had been ordered by President Roosevelt to break through the Japanese blockade of the Philippines and travel to Australia in order to mount a campaign against the Japanese.
“I came through,” the general famously told the crowd that greeted him. “And I shall return.”
But before he was able to return triumphantly to the Philippines, the general required intelligence and an organized resistance to the Japanese occupiers.
Not as well known as the Bataan Death March and Gen. MacArthur’s departure and return to the Philippines, is the story of the Americans and Filipinos who refused to surrender to the Japanese and headed to the hills to form guerrilla bands. These guerrillas and intelligence operatives defied the Japanese and performed acts of sabotage and espionage. Despite the brutal efforts of the Japanese army and the dreaded Kempeitai, the Gestapo-like Japanese military police, they were able to provide crucial intelligence to Gen. MacArthur. These brave and resourceful men and women played an important role in the war.
In Peter Eisner’s “MacArthur’s Spies: The Soldier, the Singer and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II” we learn about the guerrillas and spies, with an emphasis on three of them. The soldier in the title is John Boone, an American Army corporal who started a guerrilla band in the jungle and later infiltrated Filipino partisans into Manila as workers and servants. He was given a battlefield commission as a major.
The singer is Claire Phillips, whose nom de guerre was “High Pockets.” She was an American nightclub performer with a dubious background. Pretending to be an Italian (an Axis ally), the torch singer established a nightclub in Manila that attracted Japanese soldiers and sailors. The Japanese military men, enamored by Claire Phillips and the attractive Filipina performers and sufficiently intoxicated, often gave up military information to the women, which was then passed on to John Boone. The nightclub also served as a cover for Ms. Phillips’ efforts in supplying food, clothes and medical supplies to the guerrillas and the American and Filipino prisoners.
Claire Phillips was the only woman nominated personally by Gen. MacArthur for a Medal of Freedom.
The spymaster of the title is Commander “Chick” Parsons, an expatriate in Manila prior to the Japanese invasion, as well as a naval reserve intelligence officer. He was able to get out of the Philippines with his wife and son by convincing the Japanese he was the Panamanian consul. As he was knowledgeable about the Philippines and had numerous contacts, he convinced Gen. MacArthur to allow him to return to the Philippines via an American submarine. Commander Parsons made several trips to and from the Philippines in submarines and brought in supplies and coordinated guerrilla efforts for Gen. MacArthur.
Although Mr. Eisner chronicles the courageous efforts of Chick Parson, John Boone and others, the primary focus of the book is on Claire Philips.
“What emerges is the story of a valiant though not angelic American woman who brought unique skills in deception to the war, skills well suited to an underground fighter that helped her serve the war effort and survive,” Mr. Eisner writes in the preface of the book. “Her story also revives a little-known chapter of time when American guerrillas were the marauders in the hills. Moreover, in the course of researching the story of High Pockets, I learned about the role of the tens of thousands of Filipinos who fought and died alongside their American allies. More than 500,000 Filipinos died in World War II, most of them civilians; 100,000 of those deaths occurred during the one-month Battle of Manila, February 3 to March 3, 1945. I dedicate this book to them all.”
Mr. Eisner wrote this book in part because his father served in the Navy and accompanied Gen. MacArthur back to the Philippines. Like Mr. Eisner, my late father also served in the Navy and as an Underwater Demolition Team frogman he, too, accompanied the general back to the Philippines.
The book is also of particular interest to me as I was a frequent visitor to the Philippines in the early 1970s while serving on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.
“MacArthur’s Spies” is well-written and well-researched and offers the reader an exciting and suspenseful true spy story.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.