In the mind-numbing, what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-awake early hours of January 12, 1942, Private First Class Narcisco Ortilano of the 2nd Battalion, 57th Infantry Regiment, United States Army Philippine Scouts scanned his eyes alertly through the darkness for any signs of movement. The heart-pumping surge of adrenaline brought forth from sounds of distant machine gun fire and unholy artillery shelling helped him fight eyelids that hadn’t seen sleep in a minor eternity. Cooking in the sweltering heat and humidity of an unseasonably warm Philippines dry season, this hardened warrior took a swig of tepid water from his canteen and double-checked the belt on his Browning Model 1917 heavy machine gun, ensuring that when the time came this death-spewing behemoth would be barfing out an apocalyptic typhoon of thirty-aught-six ammunition so intense that the entire extended Japanese Imperial Family would be picking shell fragments out of their miso soup for the next half-dozen generations or so.
Pfc. Ortilano was pissed. And not just the kind of pissed you get when the waiter brings out lukewarm adobo and then sneezes in your face when you ask him to send it back. This was the kind of pissed you get when the Japanese Imperial Navy bombs the fuck out of the entire United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, temporarily cripples the American naval war machine, then seizes the opportunity and proceeds to gun-hump every single island in the Pacific Ocean with high-yield explosives and tens of thousands of angry screaming warriors armed with bolt-action rifles and samurai swords… including your home town.
Dug into a trench on the beaches near the Philippines’ Bataan Peninsula, with Japanese amphibious transports deploying swarms of elite troops all around his position and his terrified family taking shelter just on the other side of Manila Bay, Private First Class Narcisco Ortilano cracked his knuckles, racked a round into the chamber, and nodded to his gunner’s assistant to keep his eyes open for anything that needed to be carved apart with 600 rounds per minute of 30.-06 water-cooled Fuck You.
The full-scale invasion had begun a few days earlier. A hundred and twenty thousand Japanese soldiers deployed by a huge naval fleet and supported by mortars, artillery, tanks, over six hundred aircraft, and anything else they could scrape together. They stormed the beaches, guns blazing, crashing into the defenses set up by the U.S. and Filipino defenders bayonets-out, hurling themselves into combat with all the grace and subtlety of a Hello Kitty mall kiosk. The Allies had fought their balls off, throwing back attack after attack, but the Japanese were hardcore motherfuckers – in one night attack the first wave of soldiers threw themselves down chest-first into barbed wire, holding it down with their bodies so their comrades could climb over and dive into the Allied trenches. Before long, the overwhelmed outer defenses started to waver and break under the non-stop onslaught of Imperial troops.
Ortilano had been in the shit with the 57th already, cranking off rounds into an a seemingly-endless horde of attackers for the past few days of almost non-stop combat, but he’d just lugged his hundred-pound portable murder machine back to the second line of defense and was now dug in waiting to hold off yet another attack.
He didn’t have to wait long. With a terrifying chorus of “Banzai” (meaning “ten thousand years” or, perhaps better translated as “long live the Emperor”) the sugarcane field across from him erupted with accurate covering fire from dozens of rifles and submachine guns, a large force of unseen Japanese infantry spraying bullets Ortilano’s direction.
The Philippine defenders responded immediately, the entire sector erupting as back-and-forth gunfire lit up the field with tracers, but in the initial barrage Ortilano’s gunner’s assistant – a vital part of his two-man weapon crew – took a round to the dome almost immediately, slumping over lifelessly in a pool of his own blood.
Ortilano barely had a chance to acknowledge the death of his friend and weapon loader before his eyes focused on an even more immediately-pressing threat – a Japanese infantry squad of battle-hardened warriors leaping forth from the treeline, bayonets and rifles held high, charging straight on at his position.
Is that guy on the left smiling?
There’s no smiling in war.
Come on guys, get it together.
With the shadowy shapes of eleven heavily-armed Japanese Regular Infantry warriors screaming towards him, rifles at the ready, their fixed bayonets menacingly glinting in the moonlight, Narcisco Ortilano made his initial barrage of machine gun fire count. A sweeping arc of non-stop automatic lead mutilation raked the open field, spinning four of the enemy to the ground with mortal injuries from a very large caliber crew-served heavy weapon being maniacally operated by one blood raging madman who would stop at nothing to defend his beloved homeland. With sounds of gunfire and mortar explosions erupting all around him, ripping up he jungle and beach throughout his sector, and hordes of the enemy racing towards him, Ortilano kept his thumb planted on the trigger, presumably shouting some amazing swear words or perhaps screaming incomprehensibly, shouting over the din of a massive barrage of high-octane bullet hell destruction.
It was around this time that Narcisco Ortilano’s machine gun jammed. And the only guy capable of helping him clear it was lying face down in the foxhole beside him.
So he improvised.
Covered in blood and soot, surrounded by gunsmoke, with bullets whizzing past him and seven screaming enemy soldiers sprinting towards his position, Narcisco Ortilano let go of the trigger of his machine gun, stood up straight, unholstered his .45 in ultra-badass slow motion, and then proceeded to blast the living fuck out of everything, everywhere. An expert-rated marksman with the pistol, Pfc. Ortilano made his seven-round magazine of .45-caliber count, steadying his hand despite the adrenaline and ripping off fucking deadly-accurate rounds into the darkness at moving targets with ungodly lights-out precision. One after the other, the Japanese infantry hit the deck, each one eating a bullet nearly every time he pulled the trigger.
Seven shots, five kills.
Except that now he was out of bullets and two super-pissed-off motherfuckers with bayonets were coming at him from different directions to skewer him like a goddamned voodoo doll.
The two Japanese dove into Ortilano’s foxhole on opposite sides. The Filipino, amped up from just fucking murdering the shit out of nine of their buddies in the span of about twenty seconds, wasn’t about to just sit there and let himself get impaled like a chump – he was going to fuck them up.
The first dude stabbed at Ortilano, but he sidestepped and grabbed for the weapon. The Imperial soldier jerked the rifle to the side to avoid Ortilano’s clutches, and in the process the razor-sharp edge of the bayonet sliced off our hero’s thumb at the knuckle, sending waves of searing pain through him and spurting blood all over the place. Screaming, Ortilano tried again, grabbing the end of the Japanese soldier’s barrel just as the other guy jammed his bayonet into Ortilano’s back.
This only made him angry.
Screaming in agony, stabbed in two places, missing a thumb, and surrounded by guys with weapons, Ortilano channeled his energy into full-on ultra death blood rage, ripped the gun right out of the dude’s hand, and stabbed him through the chest with his own fucking bayonet. The other Japanese dude, having just unsuccessfully shanked a one-thumbed Filipino berserker while he was in the process of fucking ripping apart ten guys with a machine gun, a pistol and a stolen bayonet, decided “yeah, that’s enough of that,” and ran for it.
He got about two steps before Ortilano returned the favor and planted a bayonet in his ass. Only he was a little better at it, because, oh yeah, he was also expert-rated in bayonet.
Standing in his foxhole, covered in the blood of his enemies, standing on top of a pile of a dozen corpses, Private First Class Narsisco Ortilano surveyed the land, saw the battle dying down, wrapped a tourniquet around his still-bleeding thumb-stump, and went back to his post to un-jam his machine gun. When his commanding officer came by the next morning and saw this dude sitting alone in a field of dead bodies, he asked Ortilano what the hell happened.
Ortilano’s response? “Oh, some Japanese tried to scare me.”
He became the first Filipino to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for kicking ass. He survived the 65-mile Bataan Death March and twelve months of brutal captivity in the most notorious Japanese prison camp of the war, and personally accepted the award in 1946.
The Philippine Scouts.
Dioso, Marconi M. The Times When Men Must Die. Dorrance, 2010.
Holbrok, Stewart H. None More Courageous. Read, 2007.
Young, Donald J. The Battle of Bataan: A Complete History. McFarland, 2009.