07 January 2009

RIP: Robert Prince

Robert Prince
1919 - 1 Jan 2009

ZUI this blog post from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Robert Prince, the Seattle native and Army Ranger who, as a captain in World War II was the assault force commander of the daring mission to liberate Allied prisoners of war that became known as "The Great Raid," passed away New Years Day in Port Townsend, his family confirmed.

"He died at home," Prince's son, Jim, a commercial fisherman from Port Townsend, confirmed Monday.

At Robert Prince's request, no services were held. Remembrances are suggested to the Children's Orthopedic Hospital or a charity of ones choice.


Prince was only 25 when he was hand-picked by a man he deeply admired, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, to lead 120 Rangers of the 6th Ranger Battalion, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas to rescue POWs from a Japanese prison camp near the town of Cabanatuan.

The raid was fraught with urgency. It had to be quickly and stealthily carried out behind enemy lines, because the Japanese War Ministry had issued a "kill all policy" to cover up war crimes by executing witnesses, in this case prisoners.

They had to get in and get out, and did. The highly successful Jan. 30, 1945 mission, portrayed in a 2005 film "The Great Raid," was quickly heralded across the U.S. Mucci, Prince, nine other Rangers and their wives were sent on war bonds campaigns, and to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt.


Mucci and Prince both received the Army's highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which next only to the Medal of Honor is the nation's second highest award for valor. The two also were named to the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Prince, originally from Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, returned home to Seattle and his wife Barbara, leaving the Army as a major in February 1946.


In addition to his son, Jim, Prince is survived by daughter-in-law Mardee Stadshaug, grandchildren Amy Murray and Andrew Prince, and a brother, John, of Seattle. He was preceded in death by brothers Ken and Dick of Seattle [and a son, Sp4c Stephen Robert Prince, who was killed in action in Vietnam].

ZUI also this article, dated 25 Aug 05, from the P-I:
The "Great Raid," the subject of a new movie, was cloaked in secrecy and draped with urgency. The POWs included many who endured three years of starvation, disease and torture after the battle for Corregidor and the Bataan Death March. In August 1944, with defeat imminent, the Japanese War Ministry issued a "kill all policy" to cover up war crimes by executing the witnesses. Before the Cabanatuan raid was carried out, prisoners in a camp near Palawan had been drenched with aviation fuel and burned alive.


The story, with embellishments that Prince says don't diminish the truth, is in the film "The Great Raid," which is playing in area theaters. The movie draws its story from the best-selling books "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan" by William B. Breuer and "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides.


"Let's set something straight," Prince says, leveling a gaze as intense as the one in his old photo.

"We all worked together. I had no bigger impact than Colonel Mucci. The only reason the story has any legs at all is because we saved people in addition to beating up on the Japanese," he says. "The heroes of the thing are the POWs."


Intelligence was gathered from Alamo Scouts working behind enemy lines and Filipino guerrillas protecting the unit's flanks. Civilian spies risked lives gathering information -- though the film's love interest was one of the Hollywood embellishments but based on a real woman spy.

Odds seemed overwhelming. The prison had more than 200 guards and sat 30 miles inside enemy territory. A Japanese battalion was a mile from it. The nearby town of Cabanatuan was a transit hub with up to 8,000 Japanese troops.

Surprise was key. Yet the biggest obstacle was 300 yards of open ground through a dry, stubbled rice paddy. Rangers, laden with ammunition, rifles, machine guns and bazookas, crawled on their bellies.

To divert attention, a P-61 "Black Widow" night-fighter flew over. "While we were crawling across the open field, he was flying 500 feet above the camp, cutting his motor, doing every crazy thing he could to attract attention," Prince recalls. It worked.


The fighting was over in 35 minutes. "It was pretty one-sided," Prince says. He checked each building himself before firing the flare that ended the assault, then met up with Mucci and began a long trek to freedom. Filipino guerrillas held off pursuing Japanese soldiers as the group made its escape.

In the end, Allied casualties counted two Rangers dead and several wounded. No Filipinos died. More than 500 Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded. All 512 prisoners survived.


One former prisoner told reporters: "I think I was the first American out of the prison camp. First thing I knew I was standing outside with a big Yank. His name was Capt. Prince of Seattle, Wash. The first thing I did was to grab the captain and hug and kiss him right there."

James Franco played Prince in The Great Raid.

More about the Alamo Scouts can be found here. A US Army News Service article on the Cabanatuan raid can be found here, and Wikipedia's article is here. Rangers: Selected Combat Operations in World War II*, by Dr Michael J King, can be found here; the chapter on Cabanatuan begins on page 58 of the PDF file.

* Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, June 1985

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