Originally established as a ribbon by the Republic of the Philippines in 1944, The Philippine Defense Ribbon is the highest-ranking Non-U.S. Service Award authorized for wear by members of the Armed Forces of the United States. While the eligibility regulations vary somewhat between the various branches of the military, all of them specify that the recipient must have served in the defense of the Philippines from December 8, 1941 until June 15, 1942.
What makes the award even more poignant is that, in hindsight, any realistic hopes of successfully repelling the Japanese assault were hugely diminished on the very first day of action. Nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese 11th Air Fleet located the front-line squadrons of General Douglas MacArthur’s Far East Air Force—35 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 107 P-40 Warhawks—inexplicably parked alongside their runways. The results were distressingly similar to those of the Pearl Harbor attack: nearly all the B-17s and P-40s were lost, leaving the defenders with obsolete aircraft that were no match for the Japanese planes.
Still, the resistance put up by the defenders following the amphibious landings of December 22 stunned the Japanese, who had expected a quick conquest following MacArthur’s decision to withdraw some 80,000 Filipino and American troops to the Bataan Peninsula. In one instance, an ad hoc force of American “regulars”—Servicemen hastily assembled regardless of their specialties and wielding only small arms—managed to utterly destroy a Japanese landing force (roughly the size or a regiment) when it attempted to gain a foothold on the western coast of the peninsula.
But a lack of basic necessities (rations had been reduced to just a thousand calories a day by the end of March) and the harsh reality that no reinforcements were on the way meant that defeat was inevitable. The defenders on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered on April 9, while the forces that had evacuated to the island fortress of Corregidor held out for nearly another month before General Jonathan Wainwright sent word to the Japanese he was surrendering (the fragmented positions of the U.S. forces meant all units did not surrender until early June).
While the outcome of the fighting was certainly disheartening, the truth is that the Japanese had invested far more time, effort, and men in conquering the Philippines than they’d originally planned. Keep in mind most of this action took place when Japanese offensives were successfully unfolding with amazing rapidity; if not for the boundless heroism of the U.S. and Filipino military personnel, the Japanese could have shifted forces to locations such as Australia or New Zealand much sooner in the war, with a very strong likelihood of gaining operational control of these key areas. In short, the valiant efforts in defense of the Philippines dramatically impacted the course of the way and unquestionably saved a great many lives over the coming months and years.
A bronze service star indicating campaign participation is authorized for wear of the ribbon by U.S. Army personnel.