Bilibid Prison, a POW camp during World War II
By George Morris
Nobody could say Pfc. James Carrington wasn’t resourceful.
A Marine who was one of those captured when the Philippine island of Corregidor surrendered on May 9, 1942, he soon realized that survival would require his wits. At one point in his prison odyssey, he took two cans of spoiled milk, poured it into his shirt, squeezed it and left it to dry in the sun and make cheese.
On April 14, 1944, he would do something else remarkable. He would escape from Manila’s notorious Bilibid Prison — not only escape, but become a thorn in the enemy’s side.
Escaping Bilibid seemed impossible, with its high walls, electric fences and barbed wire. Even if someone got outside the perimeter, where would he go? There were about 50,000 Japanese soldiers in Manila.
Carrington figured out a way. As part of a work party, Carrington befriended a civilian who risked his life to pass notes to his Filipino wife, who promised to help Carrington and a fellow prisoner, Cpl. Ray Parker, escape.
On a night when the Japanese were showing a film, Carrington and Parker made their break. Carrington successfully got under the electric fence. Parker however, touched a live wire. He would be caught and executed.
“He set the alarm off and he went unconscious,” Carrington said. “It smelled like his shirt was burning.”
There was pandemonium inside the prison. Carrington had four fences to climb, one of them made of barbed wire. But the Japanese guards had to get the electricity turned off before they could follow him. He jumped into a parked, horse-drawn buggy and hid.
“I had about a block head start on them,” Carrington said. “I couldn’t contact the people I was supposed to contact. I had to take cover right away.”
He stayed in the buggy and hid out with the family of the driver until arrangements could be made for guerrillas to come in and pick him up.
Carrington became part of a force that harassed the Japanese, ambushing convoys and attacking patrols in east central Luzon. He won the Distinguished Service Cross for his exploits. When several hundred Japanese soldiers attacked guerrilla headquarters, Carrington and five other men repelled the attacks, which lasted eight days. Carrington was credited with rescuing men and recovering necessary equipment behind enemy lines.
Carrington finally rejoined Americans, who had invaded Luzon, in February 1945, and returned to the United States.
On Nov. 24, 2008, Carrington had a reunion with Jesus Gonzales, who was 11 when his family hid Carrington and helped him reach the guerrillas. Carrington died eight days later.
Carrington’s son, James Carrington Jr., told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that his father fought hard to stay alive for the reunion.
“It took every bit of strength he had,” the son said. “It kept him alive, in my opinion. That’s all he was looking forward to.”
And when Carrington set his mind on doing something, he tended to find a way.