“B” Co. Collecting Company, 101st Medical Battalion, 101st Infantry Division, Philippine Army, USAFFE & 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 10th Military District, USFIP

The annals of the Second World War in the Pacific Theatre are full of tales of heroism and sacrifice by patriots and martyrs who put their  lives at risk or paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of their fellow men. However, less common are tales relating the uncommon valor of ordinary mortals who dared tread on the fields of battle without lifting a weapon in anger against the enemy.

Most prominent perhaps is the tale of Private First Class Desmond Doss who was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his bravery and heroism in Guam and the Philippines.  However, he is best known for being awarded the Medal of Honor when he single-handedly saved 75 wounded soldiers over several days in May 25, 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.  

Closer to home is the case of Chaplain Thomas Aquinas T. Colgan, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross when he lost his life ministering to the wounded and dying men of the 31st Infantry Division near Lake Pinamaloy, Don Carlos, Bukidnon on 7 May 1945 during what eventually came to be known as The Battle of Colgan Woods.

Local Hero

It’s ironic how so few now remember another such local hero, a lumad Kagay-anon and son of the famous Kagay-anon patriot and civil servant Apolinar Velez y Ramos.

Born April 19, 1906 to “Señor Cayong” (as his illustrious Father was addressed) and Leona Chaves, the young Blas graduated from the University of Santo Tomas College of Medicine in 1937.

Dr Blas C. Velez as a fresh graduate from the UST College of Medicine in 1937 (Velez Family Collection)

When war clouds with Japan were gathering on the horizon, he was appointed into the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) on 30 September 1939 as 1st Lt, Medical Corps (Reserve) and trained at Camp Murphy and Fort William McKinley for field medical service (war footing). 

Later, he was assigned with the “B” Co. Collecting Company, 101st Medical Battalion, 101st Infantry Division, Philippine Army, in the front lines of the Digos, Davao-Cotabato Sector.

When the USAFFE Mindanao Force surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army on May 10, 1942, he was held as a prisoner-of-war from August 5, 1942 to Sept 8 1944, first at Camp Casisang, Malaybalay, Bukidnon and later at the Japanese Imperial Army Headquarters, Ateneo de Cagayan, during which he was recruited as an Intelligence Agent by the 109th Infantry Division to which he furnished valuable information about the enemy’s movements, strength and disposition of troops; their supplies and defenses.

Beyond the Call of Duty

It takes a brave man to deliberately surrender to the enemy to gain access to intelligence information from his headquarters, but that’s what Velez did when asked by his colleagues in the 109th Division.

Major Angeles L. Limena asked Dr. Blas C. Velez to surrender to the Japanese Garrison at the Ateneo de Cagayan to spy on their situation. (photo courtesy of Alice Limena-Lacson, artwork courtesy of Philip Garcia)

“Soon after the surrender of the USAFFE Forces to the Japanese Imperial Army, Dr. Blas C. Velez was under our instructions, directed to surrender at the Japanese Imperial Army Headquarters at the Ateneo de Cagayan, where he became a prisoner of war from August 5, 1942 to September 8, 1944,” attested Maj. Angeles L. Limena in a post-war sworn affidavit.

Capt. Primitivo P. Quiem, the former assistant chief of staff (G-2) of the 109th Division, who was given the task of getting military information and organizing an intelligence network covering the 109th Division area of operations, and in particular, the Japanese Garrison at Cagayan , Misamis Oriental, stated in a post war affidavit he chose Dr. Velez as a member of the intelligence network inside Cagayan “because of his military training, his quality of observation, sharp memory and his reserved demeanor and fortitude in withstanding possible torture should he be caught spying by the enemy.”

“Dr. Blas Velez was able to give out vital information regarding the strength of the Japanese, the Japanese units that were under the command of the Ateneo Garrison; supply situation; patrol activities; types of weapons available; supply dumps; disposition of Japanese troops; morale and others,” Quiem attested.

Dr. Blas C. Velez escaped imminent execution by the Japanese Kempetei from their headquarters at Ateneo de Cagayan when American planes bombed it on September 9-10, 1944.
(photo courtesy of the XU Yearbook Office)

Although scheduled for execution by the Japanese Kempeitai, he escaped from the Japanese Garrison at Ateneo de Cagayan on Sept. 9, 1944, during the USAAF bombing of Cagayan) and volunteered at the Headquarters of the 109th Infantry Division under Col. James Grinsted (AUS) and assigned as Medical Officer of the 111th Regiment, on October 24, 1944, and later promoted to Regimental Surgeon.

The Valor of Compassion

Like the famous Desmond Doss of Hacksaw Ridge fame, Velez also saw action in several frontal clashes against the enemy, but rather than taking lives in combat, he sought to save as many of his wounded compatriots as he could by putting his Aid Station near the line of combat, thereby minimizing losses among guerrilla casualties.

But it wasn’t only his personal bravery in taking putting his person at risk to save his wounded comrades that distinguished his brand of service.

His organizational acumen in limiting combat casualties is evident in his personal report “Medical Company supporting the 111th Infantry Regiment from Oct 1944 to Aug 5, 1945″ when his unit, the 111th Infantry, 109th Division attacked the Japanese garrison and quartermaster depot at Carmen and Sitio Kalinogan on 8 May 1945.

His Regimental Combat Unit was ordered to be mobile but give first priority to Carmen Hill, and establish an Aid Station at Lumbia, and a supply point at Lumbia Junction.

But Velez went beyond what was required, and established a “Chain of Evacuation” detailed in his Medical Co. Operations Plan, placing a four-phase aid station starting with an advance aid station at Km. 7 to serve as a collecting point for expected casualties from 1st and 2nd Battalions and Regimental Combat Unit where tagging and sorting were to be conducted.

Next, a Residential Aid Station was set up at the L-junction to serve as a “Shock Station” since he considered Lumbia proper too far which made evacuation of casualties and the availability of water more difficult.

Further on was a Field Station behind Macahambus Pass where patient past the Shock Stage were evacuated for more elaborate treatment, like emergency surgical operation. The location was ideal since it was woded and defiladed, fresh and cool with potable water.

Finally, a Rear Station at Mambuaya junction was established for the wounded to convalescence.

For transporting the wounded to the various aid stations, Velez supervised the fabrication of native bamboo litters and commandeered horses for non-ambulatory patients. He also requested additional litter bearers from each combat company as medical corpsmen were limited in number and had to focus on medical aid work.

Dr Blas C. Velez at the operating room of the 33rd Sta Ana Hospital at Del Monte on December 15, 1945 (Velez Family Collection)

He details how in an earlier encounter with the enemy at Talakag, Bukidnon on March 27, 1945, he treated at the advanced aid station  2nd  Lt. Leopoldo Pol, ASN O-37711, USAFFE, of “D”Co., 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment,  who was wounded in action, the bullet hitting and entering his right cheek, its exit over the upper thirds of the left side of neck (Sternocleidomastoid muscle):

“I treated him as soon as he was brought to the aid station until he was fit for evacuation to the Field Hospital where he was further treated until he was fit to be discharged for duty,” Velez recounted in a post-war affidavit.

“Lt. Velez has the best military medical education of any medical officer of this Division, and is one of the few medical officers who are fully competent to handle combat casualties. In November of 1944, and again in March, 1945, he demonstrated a very high degree of efficiency in setting up his dressing stations and evacuating the wounded from the two engagements,” said Lt. Col. James Grinsted, commanding officer of the 109th Infantry Division, when he recommended the promotion of 1st Lt. Blas C. Velez, MC to the grade of Captain, MC.

 “Although I realize that in doing this, this officer has merely shown competence normally to be expected of an officer of his grade and experience, nevertheless, it is so uncommon to find a medical officer who will not run away and leave patients to die without care, that I feel that this officer deserves a special consideration,” Grinsted stressed.

And it wasn’t only military personnel who benefitted from the activities of the Medical Company headed by Velez but civilians living near the regimental areas as well.

In a report dated 22 July 1945, Velez details how his unit extended medical and humanitarian aid to civilians living near the regimental area, as well as those living in a hand to mouth existence in the hills, who did not even have decent clothes and were sick with malaria and other tropical maladies.

Bronze Star (Military Merit) and Philippine Medal of Merit

For his services as combat surgeon during the Liberation, Velez was awarded the Bronze Star (Military Merit) by the US Army, and the Philippine Medal of Merit (with First Oak Leaf Cluster) by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for “exceptionally meritorious and valuable services rendered during the liberation of the Philippines.”

1st Lt BLAS C. VELEZ wearing his US Army Bronze Star Medal and Philippine Medal of Merit (Artwork by Philip Garcia from a painting by Nene Uy)

His citation for the Philippine Medal of Merit reads:

“While assigned as combat surgeon of the 111th Infantry Regiment, 109th Division, 10th Military District, United States Forces in the Philippines, in 1944 and 1945, First Lieutenant Velez showed rare courage and bravery in faithfully dispensing his duties in the midst of heavy enemy firing.”

“Risking personal safety and sacrificing family interests, he attended solicitously to wounded soldiers and kept his vigil until they were out of danger, thereby minimizing greatly the percentage of battle casualties. On certain occasions, he disregarded orders to put his station in the rear of the regiment but brought it nearest to the front line, which act saved the lives of one officer and enlisted men.”

“Through his clever management, he established a chain of evacuation centers so precise that their operations became smooth. Between battle encounters, he conducted intensive field training for his medical company. When confronted with the lack of equipment and supplies, he ingeniously improvised native materials, using bamboo for litters and subsequently carrying out the work without delays.”

“His rigid adherence to duty, not to mention his stern self-discipline, coolness, and quick response to stimulus, gained for himself the confidence and respect of his men, who rivaled each other in volunteering to assist in his operations. He raised the morale of his command, setting a worthy example of the true Filipino soldier, a noble and honorable asset to this military profession.”

A Man of Distinction

In addition, the Kagay-anon hero was also awarded the following medals, ribbons and citations: Philippine Defense Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Philippine Independence Ribbon, American Defense Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Victory Medal, Medical Combat Campaign Ribbon, World War II Badge, Distinguished Emblem with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and Presidential Unit Badge.

Some of the Military Medals awarded to Major Blas C. Velez during the course of his military career.
(photo by Mike Baños)

Deactivated from active duty on 30 April 1946, he was nevertheless later promoted to Captain as a Reserve Officer (Inactive) on 18 March 1948; and later to Major on 1 July 1962.

As a layman, he was awarded the Dr. J. Salcedo Medal in 1957 as the Most Outstanding Medical Pioneer Physician in Misamis Oriental, the Brig. Gen. Ramon Aguirre Medal as the Most Outstanding Military Surgeon in Mindanao during World War II, the Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon Medal by the Red Cross, and a diploma of honor by the Philippine Medical Association in 1958.

Truly, Blas C. Velez was a true Angel of Mercy in the Battlefield, and was the living embodiment of the Hippocratic Oath to “to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, and to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation.”

Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea would have approved.

-30-

Sources:

  1. Martin, Kali. Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss Medal of Honor. Nationalww2museum.org, retrieved 25 May 2022.
  2. Stadler, T., Men of Mount Carmel: Remembering Those Who Died in World War II, https://www.tracesofwar.com/persons/90920/Colgan-Aquinas-T.htm
  3. Arellano, Lieutenant General, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Chief of Staff. General Orders Number 546 dated 17 June 1957.
  4. Velez, Blas Cresencio Chaves Velez. Application for National Services Life Insurance, Miral, Sta. Cruz, Davao, P.I., 8 February 1942.
  5. Quiem, Primitive P., Captain (Ina), Secretary, Municipal Board, City of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, Sworn Affidavit dated 29 April 1954
  6. Limena, Angeles L., Major (Inf) AFP, Sworn Affidavit dated 1 September 1955.
  7. Velez, Blas C.,  1st Lt. Medical Corps, Regimental Surgeon, 111th Infantry Regiment, Operations Plan dated 8 May 1945
  8. Velez, Blas C., 1st Lt. Medical Corps, Regimental Surgeon, 111th Infantry Regiment, Chain of Evacuation (Medical Company Operations Plan) dated 8 May 1945
  9. Velez, Blas C. 1st Lt. Medical Corps, Regimental Surgeon, 111th Infantry Regiment, Troop Movements, Logistics, Medical Company, 111th Infantry, 16 May 1945 to 25 July 1945
  10. Velez, Blas C. 1st Lt. Medical Corps, Regimental Surgeon, 111th Infantry Regiment, Medical Installations and Personnel, 21 July 1945
  11. Velez, Blas C. 1st Lt. Medical Corps, Regimental Surgeon, 111th Infantry Regiment, Activities of the Medical Company, 111th Regiment for July, dated 22 July 1945
  12. Grinsted, James R., Lt. Col., Commanding, 109th Division, USFIP; Recommending that 1st Lt. Blas C. Velez, MC be promoted to the grade of Captain, MC. Dated 7 June 1945.
  13. Cabal, Manuel F., Lt. General, AFP, Chief of Staff, General Orders Number 368 (Extract) dated 30 January 1939, Promotion of the following named Reserve Officers (Inactive), AFP, to the permanent ranks indicated, is announced effective 18 March 1948,
  14. Santos, Alfredo M., General, AFP, Chief of Staff, General Orders Number 157 dated 26 October 1964, Promotion of the following officers (Inactive) in the ranks to be Major in the ranks and effective dates indicated is announced.
  15. Lee, R.V., Major General, The Adjutant General,  Office of the Adjutant General, US Army Records Center, Department of the Army Letter Orders, dated 12 January 1960, Letter Orders – Bronze Star Medal to Mr. Blas C. Velez, AGCC-FG-A 201 Velez, Blas C., O37 542 (8 Dec 59)
  16. Cabal, Manuel F., Lieutenant General, AFP, Chief of Staff, General Orders Number 134 dated 8 October 1959 Award of the Military Merit Medal to First Lieutenant Blas C Velez O-37542 Medical Corps (Inactive)
  17. Cabal, Manuel F., Lieutenant General, AFP, Chief of Staff, General Orders Number 10 dated 6 July 1960 Award of the Military Merit Medal (First Bronze Anahaw Leaf) (Equivalent) to First Lieutenant Blas C Velez O-37542 Medical Corps (Inactive)

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