Vicente P. Lim was born in February 1888 in the Philippine city of Calamba. He was attending the Philippine Normal School in Manila during the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. An American teacher at the school noticed Lim’s excellent academic and athletic ability and recommended that he apply for a scholarship to West Point. Following his teacher’s advice, Lim applied and was admitted in 1910.
After arriving in the United States, Lim faced a different social environment than what he had experienced in the Philippines. The Philippines had only come under American control in 1898, and Lim faced discrimination at the Academy due to his ethnic background. Despite the hardship, he refused to be intimidated by other cadets and eventually earned their respect by excelling in his combat training and academics. In 1914, he became the first Filipino-American to graduate from West Point.
Upon completing additional training in Europe, Lim was sent to the Philippines when World War I commenced. He was then assigned to join the Philippine Scouts: a unit consisting of mostly Filipino-Americans. Lim spent much of his Army career training and establishing the Philippine Scouts in order to develop them into a formidable fighting force. As he rose through the ranks, he attended further military education classes across the United States and focused his studies on a hypothetical war with Japan. Lim also spent his time in the United States advocating for Filipino-American soldiers, putting himself at odds with other American officers.
Following the creation of the semi-autonomous Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, Lim opted to become a brigadier general in the Philippine Army. This newly formed unit was still part of the United States military at the time, but it was forced to operate on a modest budget. Lim campaigned fiercely for better equipment and training for his soldiers, while seeking to foster unique Philippine military traditions. As war loomed in the Pacific in 1941, Lim left his desk job to take field command of the Philippine 41st Division. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 41st was deployed to the Bataan Peninsula in anticipation of a Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
Japanese forces arrived at Bataan in January 1942 and met fierce American and Filipino resistance. Lim’s 41st Division repelled Japanese assaults and prevented them from encircling neighboring American forces. Carlos Romulo, an aide of Gen. MacArthur, wrote to Lim: “[You are] the embodiment of the Philippine Army in Bataan: ragged, starved, sick unto death, beaten back hour after hour – but invincible!” After months of brutal fighting, the joint American-Filipino force was defeated, and Lim became a Japanese prisoner of war in April 1942.
Lim survived the infamous Bataan Death March and after promising to not resist the Japanese military government, he was released. As a prominent figure in the Philippine nationalist movement, the Japanese-backed puppet government made several attempts to convince Lim to publicly support Japanese control of the Philippines. Lim enraged the Japanese officials by informing them that he would rather die than betray his country. To avoid attention, Lim feigned illness and was admitted to the Philippine Cancer Institute where he remained confined for months.
From his hospital room, Lim steadily built, financed and led several cells of resistance fighters against the Japanese. Lim coordinated rebel attacks on Japanese facilities and contacted Allied forces to provide vital intelligence on Japanese troop movements. In 1944, American military planners created an operation to evacuate top Philippine resistance leaders – including Lim. While on his way to an American submarine, Lim was captured by Japanese forces who charged him with being a resistance leader. After a brief trial, Lim was executed in Bilibid Prison along with 50 other Filipino resistance fighters.
Lim was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by the American military and multiple honors by the Philippine military. He is remembered as a national hero in the Philippines and is featured on the Philippines’s 1,000 peso note. Besides his military service, Lim is known for founding the Filipino Boy Scouts Association and for being a lifetime advocate for Philippine independence.
We honor his service.
Writer: Michael Rattner
Editors: Jacob Reis, Julia Pack
Fact Checker: Ormina Naveed
Graphic Designer: Katie Rahill