I enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard to shoot on the rifle team and actual military duties were the furthest thing from my mind. Assigned to Company C, First Battalion, 169th Infantry based in Middletown, Connecticut, a unit of the 43rd Brigade, part of the fabled 26th Yankee Division, I drew my gear and rarely saw the armory after that. With Viet Nam in the rearview mirror the Guard was hemorrhaging personnel as the enlistments of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots expired. To fill out its meager muster roll the rifle team was assigned to “Middletown Charlie” whose troops never saw us but enjoyed the extra rations they drew on our names.
The 169th has a long and storied history. It began as a militia unit in 1672 during the early days of the Connecticut colony, it fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish–American War, chased Villa on the Mexican border, World War I, the Pacific in World War II, occupied Japan, and was activated and served in Germany during the Korean Police Action.
While I was in there was another unit in the 26th YD’s Connecticut Table of Organization with a shorter but, perhaps, a more colorful and interesting history. It was C Troop, 26th Cavalry Regiment, the linear descendant of the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) (26th CAV (PS)).
During the withdrawal to Corregidor, in the waning days of the Philippine Campaign, the 26th’s First Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey led the last mounted cavalry charge in American military history on January 16, 1942.
The action brought a rare smile to the dour visage of Major General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV, commander of the Philippine Department. The successful horse action was a brief reprieve for ‘Skinny’ Wainwright, an old cavalryman, who had little to smile about as he stubbornly resisted the advancing Japanese in a futile attempt hold the Philippines.
The Philippine Scouts were part of the United States Army from 1901 until the end of World War II. Fierce fighters, many refused to surrender and became the core of the guerilla resistance to the Japanese. The Scouts were disbanded in 1948, when the Philippines became an independent nation, and many Scouts elected to remain in the US Army eventually serving in Korea and Viet Nam.
One such Scout was Dominador ‘Don’ Figuracion who claims a trio of trivia tidbits, two involving shooting. As a 21 year old private he had been soldiering less than a year, following in the footsteps of his father, Juan, who served in the Scouts at the same time.
When the first Japanese landing parties stormed ashore in the Philippines on December 8, 1941 they were met by the 26th Cavalry. The Scouts, the first Filipino unit to be issued the new M1 Garand rifle, which mounted troops stowed in saddle scabbards, were one of the first United States Army ground forces to be involved in combat during World War II. Even though the Army was fully equipped with the M1 early in 1941 this engagement marked the first time it was used in combat and Figuracion was there and claims he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the rifle in anger.
He was aboard his mount Santango when Ramsey had his men draw their .45s before ordering that final wild cavalry charge against an advancing Japanese infantry unit. Surprised by the boldness of the charge and the thundering of the fast moving horses, the Japanese troops broke and ran.
All the hard fighting and privation was to no avail and Figuracion became a prisoner when Bataan surrendered and suffered the horrors of the infamous “Bataan Death March.” Figuracion spent a year behind the wire in Camp O’Donnell before escaping into the jungle and joining a Philippine guerilla group. While with the guerillas he met his wife of 72 years, Ely.
Figuracion survived the war and remained in the Army where he was awarded the Aircraft Crewman Badge which topped his ribbon rack replete with a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Ribbon, Prisoner of War Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Asia Pacific Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary medal, Viet Nam Service Medal, Philippine Defense Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
In the years following he became a United States citizen and served in Viet Nam before retiring a sergeant first class.
To occupy some of his time he took up pistol shooting while in the Army and in 1960 earned his Distinguished Pistol Badge.
So, other than the remarkable fact that he was married to the same women for 72 years, what are his three claims to trivia fame? First, he rode in the last cavalry charge in US Army history. Second, he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the M1 rifle in anger. Third, he is the only survivor of the Bataan Death March to hold the Distinguished Pistol Badge.