Ed Ramsey never aspired to be a hero. He was only 12 years old when his father committed suicide. He was a natural-born hell-raiser; bootleg whiskey and fighting were his passions. His mother thought the Oklahoma Military Academy might salvage him. He loved horses and all things martial. The academy had both.
Ramsey thrived at OMA, becoming a bold and daring rider. He and his horse performed stunts that could have earned him a part in a Western. He also became enamored with the history and romance of the U.S. cavalry. By his second year at the academy, he was playing on the polo team—excellent training for swinging a saber or shooting a pistol from horseback.
In 1938, Ramsey was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army reserve and admitted to law school at the University of Oklahoma. He studied enough to earn passing grades but spent most of his time “playing polo and chasing women.” When his older sister was severely injured and nearly died, Ramsey dropped out of school to nurse her back to health.
With war now looming, instead of returning to law school, Ramsey applied for active duty. He quickly found himself posted to the 11th Cavalry Regiment in the mountains above San Diego. With riding breeches, high boots, and a campaign cover tilted at a rakish angle with leather chinstrap, Ramsey thought of himself as a Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn. He spent weekends at El Cortez Hotel, where beautiful girls filled the dance floor of the Sky Room. Life was good, but winters were cold in the mountains, and there were rumors that the 11th would soon trade its horses for mechanized vehicles. When he heard there was a polo-playing Army outfit in the Philippines, where the temperature never dropped below warm and pretty girls were abundant, he volunteered for transfer.
During June 1941, Ramsey reported for duty with the 26th Cavalry at Fort Stotsenberg, some 75 miles northwest of Manila. “We had servants who lived in the back of the house and acted as our cooks and cleaners,” says Ramsey, “and each officer was assigned an orderly who attended to his horse. Our commanding general enforced the imperial image strictly.” Training was intense, especially practicing the cavalry charge with .45’s blazing. Weekends were spent in Manila, and “being cavalrymen,” Ramsey confesses, “we sought out the sin, and there was no shortage of it.” Nor was there a shortage of Japanese spies. They came in many forms: prostitutes, merchants, farmers, students, teachers. Some were U.S. citizens.
In December, while celebrating his promotion to first lieutenant over drinks with an intelligence officer, Ramsey was surprised when the officer asked him if he was religious. “Not particularly,” Ramsey replied. “Why?”
“Well,” the officer drawled, “you’d better give your soul to God, lieutenant, because your ass belongs to the Japs.”
A week later, the Japanese began bombing the Philippines. Two weeks later, the Japanese landed, as MacArthur had predicted, at Lingayen Gulf. The Japanese soon made a second landing at Lamon Bay. Fighting was intense. MacArthur declared Manila an open city and ordered all American and Filipino troops to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula. Not respecting MacArthur’s declaration, the Japanese raped and looted throughout Manila, which experienced more devastation than any Allied city except Warsaw, Poland. The Japanese killed more than a million Filipinos—more than five percent of the population.
By the middle of January 1942, Ramsey had been in combat and on reconnaissance missions almost without respite for three weeks when General Wainwright ordered him to hold Morong against the advancing Japanese. Ramsey arrived at the village on January 16, 1945, to find it swarming with dozens of Japanese infantrymen and hundreds more wading across a nearby river. Like something out of a John Ford Western, Lt. Ed Ramsey threw his right arm forward, .45 in hand, and yelled “Charge!” His troopers unholstered their sidearms, kicked their horses into a gallop, and swept down upon the Japanese. Stunned, they broke and retreated to the river, leaving behind dozens dead or wounded. Ramsey’s action at Morong was the last mounted cavalry charge in American history.
Ramsey’s heroics were just beginning. Instead of surrendering at Bataan, he went into the bush. For the next three years, he fought a guerilla war against the Japanese and eventually developed and commanded a 40,000-man force. Most of his troops were Filipinos who demonstrated a devotion to Ramsey that bordered on worship. The Japanese put a price on Ramsey’s head that would amount to several million in today’s dollars, yet no Filipino, many suffering unspeakable torture at the hands of the Japanese, ever betrayed him. Ramsey not only wreaked havoc on the Japanese but supplied MacArthur with invaluable intelligence. By war’s end, Ramsey had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. Wounded and riddled with disease, he weighed 93 pounds.
In the Philippines, Ramsey is second only to MacArthur as an American hero. In America, one may search in vain for mention of him in our politically correct textbooks.