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Saturday, January 24, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jose Calugas, Medal Of Honor Winner, `Death March' Survivor

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Jose Calugas of Tacoma was a hero in his native Philippines as well as in his adopted United States.

He was the only Filipino to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II, presented to him in 1945 by the late Gen. George Marshall. He also survived World War II's infamous Bataan "Death March" and a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp before carving out a military and business career in the Pacific Northwest.

Mr. Calugas was equally heroic in personal matters. He spent his earnings as a Boeing employee in the 1960s and as a pensioner on educating his children in Tacoma and his nieces and nephews in the Philippines.

All his choices came from being a modest man who did whatever the situation required, leaving the ultimate outcome to God, says his son. He and his wife read the Bible and prayed for peace twice daily.

"God lengthened my life for a reason," he said in a 1981 Seattle Times story on Mr. Calugas' wartime exploits as well as his later success earning a degree at the University of Puget Sound in his 50s.

Mr. Calugas died Sunday (Jan. 18) from a series of strokes. He was 90.

He earned the Medal of Honor as a mess sergeant with the 88th Field Artillery in the Philippine Scouts, who were helping United States troops in Bataan Province. During a battle on Jan. 16, 1942, he persuaded 16 buddies to run and crawl more than a half-mile under severe fire to try to fix a jammed U.S. gun. Many turned back. But he and another man fixed the gun and fired it several hours, holding off the Japanese as U.S. troops dug in. That night he returned to the mess hall to feed the famished soldiers.

Six months later, U.S. forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese. Mr. Calugas was captured and sent on the two-month Death March where a slowed step meant a bayonet in the ribs. He spent another nine months in a prison camp. Then he worked in a Japanese-controlled rice mill where he set up a spy network for Philippine guerrillas. When U.S. troops returned to the Philippines, Mr. Calugas fought with them.

When he received the Medal of Honor, he was offered American citizenship and the chance to become an officer.

"I feared for my lack of education," he said. But he passed a test and was assigned to Fort Lewis. He could not bring his family from the Philippines until after 1957, when he retired as a captain.

He went to work for Boeing, which encouraged him to attend UPS and earn a business degree in 1961.

"He is my hero and I followed in his footsteps," said his son Jose Calugas Jr. of Tacoma. "I was in the service also, six years active duty, 16 years in the Army reserve. I worked for Boeing 27 years and also earned my degree in business at UPS with Boeing's blessing."

Mr. Calugas rarely talked of his war experiences, said his son. But sometimes he had nightmares and woke up screaming. In 1977 he revisited the battle site in the Philippines and was honored at ceremonies there.

Born in the town of Leon in the Philippines, he left high school early to work in several businesses to support his family. His mother had died when he was 10. He joined the Philippine Scouts in 1930 for more adventure, responsibility and independence, said his son.

"His approach (to life) is, when it gets to be a situation, he will just do it," said Calugas. "Like going to school in his 50s because he felt education was important."

Other survivors include his children Noel Calugas of Phoenix; Jorge Calugas of Federal Way; and Minerva Javier, Tacoma; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife of 52 years, Nora Cababa-an, died in 1991.

Services with military honors are at 10 a.m. today at St. Leo's Catholic Church, 710 S. 13th St., Tacoma, WA, 98405. Remembrances may go to St. Leo's Food Connection at that address.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: cbee-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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