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New London - Richard Foye feels a debt of gratitude towards the people of Luzon, the island in the Philippines where his father ended up 70 years ago after bailing out of the Hellcat he was piloting, and he wants to do something meaningful to recognize the sacrifice of the Filipino guerrillas who helped save Navy Lt. William L. Foye's life.
"It's a great story, but the hook is to bring it full circle and to have some good come out of the terrible things that happened in war," Foye, 61, said of his five-year effort to research and write "The Bill Foye Story" to share with his seven siblings and their combined 19 children.
Foye has pieced together the story of the 23-year-old who was commissioned as a Navy pilot in 1943 and served aboard the USS Enterprise: the young lieutenant was shot down over Luzon on Oct. 18, 1944, and was protected, nursed and nourished by Philippine guerillas until he was rescued by American forces on Feb. 5, 1945. Now, his son is working on establishing a scholarship in his father's name for students in Luzon.
Bill Foye, who was awarded an Air Medal and a Purple Heart, settled in New London after World War II and worked as a teacher in the city and for a short time at Electric Boat before serving more than two decades as a popular principal at New London High School. He retired in 1981 and died in 1993.
Foye, who fractured his neck when he bailed out, would have been captured or killed by the enemy if not for the help of the Philippine resistance movement, whose members sympathized with the U.S. and fought alongside American forces during the Japanese occupation there, according to Richard Foye.
Among the memorabilia in his father's war trunk, a treasure trove given to Richard Foye by his mother after his father's death, was correspondence between Bill Foye and the Filipinos who helped him survive. They wrote to Bill Foye after the war, asking him to lobby on their behalf for the compensation they were promised and then denied.
"The guerillas who helped the Americans - President Roosevelt promised they would be compensated - but then came the Rescission Act and it didn't happen until 2009," said Richard Foye, who like his father is a retired school principal.
History books widely acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Filipino boys and men fought the Japanese in the Philippines and were told that, in exchange for their support, they would receive health and pension benefits identical to those received by the Americans they fought alongside.
But on Feb. 18, 1946, Congress passed and President Harry S. Truman signed the Rescission Act, which stated: The service of Filipinos "shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits."
Filipinos and many of the Americans with whom they served were stunned and outraged. Bill Foye wrote in support of those who helped and protected him and their survivors. Many Filipino guerrillas were captured, tortured and killed by the Japanese and in combat, including a 14-year-old named Siano, who was instrumental in Foye's survival and that of another American naval aviator, John Boyle, until the two were reunited with U.S. forces.
Siano and two other youths were the first to find Foye after his Hellcat was hit. They acted as "the eyes" of their guerrilla group, scouting for the enemy and providing local reconnaissance.
Lt. Foye later would write:
"Sometime near the end of my journey, I felt deeply grateful to Siano for the help and assistance he had given me and, although I had very little of any value to give him, I gave him my watch, my college ring, and my hunting knife, that was about a foot long, that my mother gave me before I left the States as a Christmas gift. I also gave him my flying goggles and my backpack, which Siano wore almost all the time."
A debt not paid
In October 1945, Foye received a letter from a lieutenant in the Philippine resistance movement who wrote: "Do you remember your boy Siano? He is now dead. He was killed in the thick of the fight in the battlefields of Santa Clara. You still remember the place? That was somewhere around April 16, 1945. Oh, most of our boys have been killed or wounded in the fight."
Richard Foye also found his father's account of a massacre that happened after he and the Philippine guerrillas stopped in a village while trying to elude the Japanese who were pursuing them:
"Not one of those brave people had portrayed our whereabouts or destination. The village paid a heavy price for their loyalty to America. They killed 14 people and flung the corpses into a dried-up creek bed. When the Japs left, the people found one girl in the pile still alive - a sister of one of the boys with me. A doctor's care pulled her through although she'd been stabbed several times with a bayonet."
Despite appeals from veterans like Bill Foye, the U.S. never fulfilled its promise until, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it authorized the release of a one-time, lump-sum payment to eligible World War II Philippine veterans.
But for Richard Foye, a former history teacher and school principal, that wasn't enough. He calls the U.S. decision to renege on its promise "a shameful chapter" in American history. Foye has been in touch with the Philippine embassy and the Peace Corps to ask about setting up an overseas scholarship to benefit descendents of the Filipino guerillas. And next year, he'd like to visit Luzon and possibly some of those descendents, or any of the boys who aided his father seven decades ago who might still be alive.
"I just started realizing how much all these people sacrificed, and I started thinking, what can be done to close the circle? Maybe we can give some scholarships," he said. "Maybe we can funnel some money back into that area."
'Excitement of a lifetime'
Richard Foye used the materials in his father's war trunk - his flight log, correspondence and old newspaper clippings - to begin his research. He asked the Navy's Personnel Records Center in St. Louis for his father's file and spent three days in the National Archives in College Park, Md., learning everything he could about his father's service.
His father rarely spoke about his stint in the Navy, he said, and when he did, it was only about flying, never combat.
Richard Foye started his research as a gift to his siblings, children and nieces and nephews and has now complied three separate booklets detailing various chapters of his father's story. He has plans for a fourth chapter, focusing on how his father, who finally was diagnosed and treated for his fractured neck, met and married his Navy nurse, Ensign Elizabeth Fetzer. She died in 2008.
"We owe a debt to this generation and one way to pay that debt is not to forget," said Richard Foye, who plans to keep researching and writing about his father's service to his country.
"At 25, my father had already lived half a life. He had all the excitement of a lifetime in his Navy days for sure."
Richard Foye knows there are many other remarkable stories of veterans, and he rattles off the names of several others from New London. But he's focused on his father's story.
"He's been dead 21 years," he said. "There are 19 grandkids, and I just thought they should know about this story because it's a great story, even outside the fact that he's your dad or grandfather."