Mr. Buddy Mendoza, son of one of Palawan’s heroic sons, H. Mendoza (after whom the city’s public amphitheater is named), built a museum for Palawan’s Special Battalion in World War 2.
Buddy doesn’t allow pictures so I can only describe it.
The museum is built around Buddy’s personal collection of military memorabilia. Buddy comes from one of Puerto Princesa’s original families so his collection is rich in objects that would have otherwise been difficult to come by. In some cases, his family’s history was part of Palawan’s very own history.
The collection has six theme rooms, i.e., each room is devoted to a theme. The first room lists the name of every member of the “special” battalion. Another room is devoted to the Americans who fought in the Pacific and, more specifically, in the Philippines, in Palawan.
Did you know that two American submarines, the USS Robalo (USS-273) and USS Flier (USS-250), were lost in minefields off the waters of Balabac? The SS Robalo sank in July and the following month, it was the SS Flier’s turn.
Balabac is the southernmost municipality of Palawan and one that I haven’t visited yet.
It departed Fremantle [Australia] 22 June 1944 on her third war patrol. She set a course for the South China Sea to conduct her patrol in the vicinity of the Natuna Islands. After transiting Makassar and Balabac Straits, she was scheduled to arrive on station about 6 July and remain until dark on 2 August 1944. On 2 July, a contact report stated that Robalo had sighted a Fuso-class Japanese battleship with air cover and two destroyers for escort. The ship was then just east of Borneo, no other messages were ever received from the submarine and when she did not return from patrol, she was presumed lost.
On 2 August a note was dropped from the window of a cell of Puerto Princesa Prison Camp on Palawan Island in the Philippines. It was picked up by an American soldier who was on a work detail nearby. The note was in turn given to H. D. Hough, Yeoman Second Class, who was also a prisoner at the camp. On 4 August he contacted Trinidad Mendosa [sic: the correct spelling is Mendoza], wife of guerrilla leader Dr. Mendosa who furnished further information on the survivors.
From these sources it was concluded that Robalo was sunk on 26 July 1944, 2 miles off the western coast of Palawan Island from an explosion in the vicinity of her after battery, probably caused by an enemy mine. Only four men swam ashore, and made their way through the jungles to a small barrier northwest of the Puerto Princesa Camp, where Japanese Military Police captured them and jailed them for guerrilla activities. On 15 August, they were evacuated by a Japanese destroyer and never heard from again. Robalo was struck from the Navy list on 16 September 1944.
At about 2200 on 12 August, as she transited Balabac Strait on the surface, she struck a naval mine. Traveling at 18 knots (33 km/h), she disintegrated and sank in less than a minute, but several of her crew managed to escape.
Treading water in the darkness, the survivors took muster by shouting out their names. Fourteen had survived, meaning that 72 officers and men had gone down with Flier.
Although they knew that they were only three miles from land, they could not orient themselves in the overcast night. Commander Crowley directed the survivors to tread water until they could determine direction.
Moonrise was five hours later. By the time it became light enough to see a small island, six more of the crew died and the sea had become choppy. Unable to keep the survivors together, Commander Crowley ordered Lieutenant Liddell, Ensign Jacobson, RTC Howell, FCR2 Tremaine, QM3 Russo, MoMM3 Baumgart, and MoMM3 Miller to each make their own way to the beach. At about 1600 on 13 August, eighteen hours after the explosion, seven survivors met on Mantangula Island; Miller was unaccounted for.
The Special Battalion museum (phone: 0999.656.2471) has a Facebook page. The museum is worth a visit. It’s open every day (except Wednesday) from 8 am to 5 pm.
I mentioned the no pictures rule earlier but there is one item you may take photos with however and that’s with a handsome jeep by the entrance. We went crazy with it!