Shadow Commander...

...The Epic Story of Donald D. Blackburn - Guerrilla Leader and Special Forces Hero, from Casemate Books

Title:  Shadow Commander

Author: Mike Guardia

Publisher:  Casemate Books

ISBN:  978-1-61200-653-6

This is a new paperback edition of a book first published back in 2011. It gives us the true story of Don Blackburn, who started out as a junior Lieutenant posted to the Philippines just prior to the Japanese invasion. Thanks to records that include Don Blackburn's own diary. He took part in the defence operations but found himself in command of ill equipped Filipino troops amidst a background of confusion. He managed to evade capture and make his way into the jungle and hills of Northern Luzon where he met up with other US officers who had avoided capture and to link up with local tribes and Filipino troops who had managed to retain their weapons.

It tells us in detail how he moved around and avoided capture while their own forces were still weak. He learnt to understand the local tribespeople and how to get them to work with him. To gather strength, establish communication systems and acquire intelligence on the enemy. In time they not only managed to escape capture by an enemy that would have shown little mercy but to carry out operations against well armed Japanese garrisons.

Towards the end of the War the guerrillas were able to not only defeat Japanese garrisons and avoid their counter operations but even to establish a landing ground for US liaison aircraft and radio communication that could summon US air support for their own ground operations. By the end of the war he was promoted to Colonel having learnt his craft in action, not from a classroom. After the end of WW2 he remained in the army.  In the late 1950s he spent a year in Laos, at a time when US troops were not supposed to be in the country, learning more about the establishment of the Ho Chi Minh trail being used by the forces of North Vietnam. Amidst other postings, he went back again to Vietnam in following years, first to train South Vietnamese Special Forces (which he did successfully) and later as part of SOG (Studies and Observation Group) when he was directly involved with the raid to try and free US POWs from a prison at Son Tay. As it turned out the prisoners had all been moved out beforehand, but the raid was carried out without loss to the raiders and it sent a message to the North Vietnamese that the US was not afraid to undertake offensive operations inside North Vietnam itself.

The author was able to meet Don Blackburn before he passed away, though sadly he had developed Alzheimer's disease by then, but he was granted access to his records (diary, reports, photos etc).  He also mentions a film made about his exploits in the Philippines after the war, called 'Surrender - Hell' and his efforts to track it down. Strangely enough, while I was reading the book, I discovered it was shown on TV here in 2019. A very interesting story and there are useful lessons to be learnt from the story.

Published by Casemate Books, who kindly provided my review copy.

Robin