Charles Smith was a civilian mining engineer on the Philippine Island of Masbate when war broke out in December 1941. Making his way to the islands of Panay and then Mindanao, Smith put himself at the service of the USAFFE (United States Army Forces Far East) forces defending the islands before their capitulation in May 1942. Evading capture rather than surrendering, Smith hid in the mountainous jungles of Mindanao with future guerrilla leader of Mindanao, Lt. Colonel Wendell Fertig. While Fertig dreamed of creating a guerrilla organization to fight the Japanese, Smith dreamed of outfitting a sailboat and sailing to Australia.
In December 1942, Smith along with fellow mining engineers Jordan Hamner, A. Y. “Chic” Smith, and a few Moro compatriots outfitted a sailboat and began the two thousand mile journey to Australia with only a few charts and Smith’s Brunton compass. Arriving off Darwin, Australia on 4 January 1943, Smith and party where whisked away to MacArthur’s Headquarters in Brisbane where they were debriefed on the trip and the fledgling guerrilla movement under Fertig.
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MacArthur needed information about what was going on in the Philippines and wanted to set up an intelligence network there. He thus asked Smith to make a return trip, but this time with the rank as a Captain in the United States Army. Smith agreed and in February 1943, made the trip back to Mindanao aboard the USS Tambor accompanied by U.S. Naval Reserve Officer and old Philippine hand, Lt. Commander Charles “Chick” Parsons, USN. Smith and Parsons arrived back in Mindanao on 5 March 1943 and began their task of assessing Fertig’s organization, investigating guerrilla organizations on other islands, and setting up a system of coast watchers.
Captain Smith’s main mission was to establish a coast watching station near Davao. This was one of the main Japanese naval bases during World War II with its large, natural harbor. On 18 March, Smith left on a 32 foot boat and sailed around the south coast of Mindanao to Davao with Lt. William Johnson and Lt. Robert Ball. Johnson was a veteran of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 and had made the run with the four PT boats that brought MacArthur, his family and staff to Mindanao in March 1942. Ball served as a radio operator with the 5th Air Base Squadron at Del Monte. Both had escaped from Dansalan Prison Camp in July 1942. Working with Fertig’s radio unit in Misamis, Johnson was chosen by Smith to man the coast watching station in Davao. Ball, as the top radio expert in 10th Military District, went along to help set up the station.
The station set up by Smith, Johnson, and Ball was a key element in the fostering of the guerrilla movement in the Philippines. Up until that time the U.S. Navy could not see the benefits of using submarines for supply missions when they could be hunting Japanese ships. After the first sinking of Japanese ships coming out of Davao, thanks to Johnson’s reports, the navy saw the benefits of coast watching stations all over the Philippines and became eager to help the effort.
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The trip of Parsons and Smith proved to be a great success, but was also most harrowing and eventful. In April 1943, ten American prisoners of war held at the Japanese POW camp in Davao escaped. They made their way through the jungles and joined up with forces working under Fertig’s control on Mindanao. Radio messages were sent to Australia informing GHQ of the escape and MacArthur wanted three of the POWs brought back to Australia with Smith and Parsons, who were destined to return in July.
Just before their retrieval by submarine, the Japanese invaded Fertig’s guerrilla area in force. Guerrillas scattered to the jungle and the submarine pick up location was shifted to another area of the island. Smith, Parsons, and the three POWs had to make an overland journey through unknown territory to meet their submarine. The only thing the party had to guide them was, once again, Smith’s Brunton Compass. After a harrowing journey, Smith and Parsons’ party made it to the submarine in time and were returned to Australia.
Smith returned to the Philippines on the USS Narwhal in December 1943 with the mission of setting up a radio station and organizing the guerrillas on the Philippine Island of Samar. He stayed there until MacArthur’s return to the Philippine Island of Leyte in October, 1944.
In January, 1945 MacArthur’s forces were ready for the return to the main island of Luzon and the capital city of Manila. The General wanted all “old Manila hands” to accompany the forces and help in any way possible. Smith was one of those chosen to accompany the forces into Manila and was with the 1st Cavalry Division when it liberated Santo Tomas Internment Camp in February 1945. Smith’s adventures were not over, however, as he made the parachute drop with the 11th Airborne Division during its liberation of Los Banos Internment Camp on 23 February 1945. Smith spent the remainder of the war working with the the G-2 Section of MacArthur’s headquarters.
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After the war Lt. Col. Smith returned to his vocation as a mining engineer and worked all over the world. He died on his ranch in Nacogdoches, TX, in 1981. The MacArthur Memorial Archives is proud to be the repository of this valuable set of papers and artifacts donated by Lt. Col. Smith’s son, Bruce Smith.