You are the owner of this article.

George Fisher received Purple Heart after liberating Japanese-held internees

From the Stories from Frederick County's World War II veterans series
  • 2
  • 4 min to read
11117vet-Fisher then

Courtesy photo

George Fisher, right, stands next to his tank named Georgia Peach during World War II.

The situation was tense in the winter of 1945, a little-known chapter of the second World War. On the Filipino island of Manila, an estimated 3,800 civilian internees were being kept on the grounds of the University of Santo Tomas by Japanese guards. Food supply was running perilously scarce, and U.S. troops were hearing rumors that the Japanese planned to kill thousands of prisoners. In February of that year, under orders from General Douglas MacArthur, a small battalion of American troops rushed to liberate the camp, hoping to save civilians from anticipated death.

George Fisher, now a resident of Montevue Assisted Living in Frederick, was one of the roughly 700 soldiers involved in the attack. Being in one of the first five tanks to roll through the gates of Santo Tomas, he could remember the chaos at the university and the sight of the starving internees.

“I was in the bottom of the tank looking through a periscope, and I looked at them,” Fisher said. “It was a sight you don’t soon forget.”

It was also a surreal situation for a soldier who had started his military career as a drummer in an Army marching band. Fisher, now 97, had repeatedly requested to be transferred to a combat unit for the first year and a half of his service. He had little idea that he’d end up a member of the 44th Tank Battalion in New Guinea and the Philippines, battling the Japanese from the bottom of a military vehicle.

The liberation at Santo Tomas also earned him a Purple Heart, an award that Fisher called “kind of a stupid thing.” In the days after the initial attack, he said, his unit continued to fight Japanese troops in a sports arena on the ground. They’d been in the area for nearly 24 hours and the exchange of fire had seemed to cease, so Fisher stepped out of the tank to wash his face and get some water. As he turned around, he suddenly felt a hard blow to his back. “It was a piece of shrapnel — a smaller piece of steel,” Fisher said. “It was red hot, and that’s why it hurt so much, but it was a clean cut. So, they just put a bandage on it with something to keep it from getting infected. And I told them, ‘This is OK. I’ll be OK.’ That was that.”

The war also gave Fisher the chance to see Japan, something he never would have imagined before, he said. While his battalion was slated to invade Japan in November of 1945, plans changed after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs and the nation officially surrendered in September. Instead, they ended up visiting Okinawa and Tokyo on their way back to the United States, one of the most memorable parts of his service.

“The only things standing were the smokestacks,” Fisher said. “And when we got to Okinawa, about 100 Japanese people took two hours to clear out an old bicycle factory so we would have a place to stay. And it was just like heaven, to tell you the truth.”

The experience, he said, was as fitting an end to his service as the beginning of his initial journey to the Philippines. “That took 31 days,” he said. “And one time after we went over the equator, the engine went out, and we were there about — I guess part of the day. And you could look over the side to see all the fish and whales.”

The situation was tense in the winter of 1945, in a little-known chapter of the Second World War. In Manila, capital of the Philippines, an estimated 3,800 civilian internees were being kept on the grounds of the University of Santo Tomas by Japanese guards. Food was perilously scarce, and U.S. troops were hearing rumors that the Japanese planned to kill thousands of prisoners. In February of that year, under orders from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a small battalion of American troops rushed to liberate the camp, hoping to save civilians from anticipated death.

George Fisher, now a resident of Montevue Assisted Living in Frederick, was one of the roughly 700 soldiers involved in the attack. Being in one of the first five tanks to roll through the gates of Santo Tomas, he could remember the chaos at the university and the sight of the starving internees.

“I was in the bottom of the tank looking through a periscope, and I looked at them,” Fisher said. “It was a sight you don’t soon forget.”

It was also a surreal situation for a soldier who had started his military career as a drummer in an Army marching band. Fisher, now 96, had repeatedly requested to be transferred to a combat unit for the first year and a half of his service. He had little idea that he’d end up a member of the 44th Tank Battalion in New Guinea and the Philippines, battling the Japanese from the bottom of a military vehicle.

The liberation at Santo Tomas also earned him a Purple Heart, an award that Fisher called “kind of a stupid thing.” In the days after the initial attack, he said, his unit continued to fight Japanese troops in a sports arena. They’d been in the area for nearly 24 hours and the exchange of fire had seemed to cease, so Fisher stepped out of the tank to wash his face and get some water. As he turned around, he felt a hard blow to his back. “It was a piece of shrapnel — a smaller piece of steel,” Fisher said. “It was red-hot, and that’s why it hurt so much, but it was a clean cut. So they just put a bandage on it with something to keep it from getting infected. And I told them, ‘This is OK. I’ll be OK.’ That was that.”

The war also gave Fisher the chance to see Japan, something he had never imagined, he said. While his battalion was slated to invade Japan in November 1945, plans changed after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs and Japan surrendered in September. Instead, they ended up visiting Okinawa and Tokyo on their way back to the United States, one of the most memorable parts of his service.

“The only things standing were the smokestacks,” Fisher said. “And when we got to Okinawa, about 100 Japanese people took two hours to clear out an old bicycle factory so we would have a place to stay. And it was just like heaven, to tell you the truth.”

The experience, he said, was as fitting an end to his service as the beginning of his initial journey to the Philippines. “That took 31 days,” he said. “And one time after we went over the equator, the engine went out, and we were there about — I guess part of the day. And you could look over the side to see all the fish and whales.”

Follow Kate Masters on Twitter: @kamamasters.

Kate Masters is the features and food reporter for The Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at kmasters@newspost.com.

(2) comments

Paul K

I am a volunteer visitor, and have been talking with Mr. Fisher for awhile. It's real world heroes like him that makes us all proud to be Americans. God bless him and their generation. paulkellywh@gmail.com

gmarkfisher

This article is about my father, as I'm his son, George Jr., 61 years old and always amazed by the stories my Dad told me during his service in WWII and The Korean War. I never experienced that high of an honor as when I graduated from Walkersville HS in 1974, the world was at peace. There was no draft, no motivation to join the armed forces especially as my Education took me on a Business Management path. Even though I had many successe's in a computer Network Sales Career. I never felt I could ever reach my father's level of Honor and pride for our great country. I know he wanted me to follow his steps, but it wasn't to be. I look at it now as a retired son living in Sarasota Florida, with trying to help others less fortunate than myself or just being an honest caring person. That effort helps me honor a great man whom I'm proud to say was my father.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.