They Fought Alone
By Bonnie Wayne McGuire

John Keat's story about Colonel Wendell Fertig's adventure in the Japanese-occupied Philippine island of Mindanao at the close of World War II is one of the best war stories ever written. It's no wonder "They Fought Alone" was considered for a movie scripted by William Nicholson, directed by David Fincher with Brad Pitt playing the leading role.

When the American forces in the Philippines surrendered in May, 1942, a middle-aged mining engineer named Wendell Fertig chose to take his chances in the jungle. What happened to him during nearly three years behind enemy lines is something else.

Col. Fertig 1945-1963
Fertig, with the aid of a handful of Americans refused to surrender, led thousands of Filipinos in a seemingly hopeless war against the Japanese. They made bullets from curtain rods; telegraph wires from iron fence. They fought off sickness, despair and rebellion within their own forces. Their home-made communications became MacArthur's eyes and ears in the Philippines. When the Americans finally returned to Mindanao, they found Fertig virtually in control of one of the worlds largest islands, commanding an army of 35,000 men, and at the head of a civil government with its own law courts, currency, factories and hospitals. The guy was a real leader.

From the beginning to end, this is basically the story and the work by Colonel Wendell  W. Fertig. He lived through the experience, and provided diaries, memoirs, an official military history of the Mindanao guerrilla, and a 600 page rough draft of a manuscript of his own. In 1959, Fertig and his wife Mary accompanied John Keats on a three-month journey to the Philippine Islands, where they visited his old command post on Mindanao. Parts of the book are based on the diaries and manuscripts of several other Americans who served in the guerrilla army, and on conversations with Filipine guerrilleros on Mindanao.

We wouldn't have known about the barefoot guerrilla  (dubbed by one author), if it hadn't been for Mel's cousin Ray who became acquainted with Colonel Fertig and told us his story. We're convinced he's related to Mel and Ray's family. (Mel's mother Marie was a Fertig.) In 1981 Ray's brother Calvin Fertig wrote Wendell Fertig's brother Claude. He received this reply:
"My brother Wendell had what little information that was available on our family. Since his death all his papers are packed away at his daughters house, and when they will ever make these papers available is an unknown. My father was born Welly Lee Fertig in Hampshire county W. Virginia. 22 March 1864 and died July 23, 1924. I understood he was orphaned at birth and lived with a brother John, until he headed west at an early age. His wife was Olive Florence Baxter who was born in  Old Granada Colorado. 14 Oct 1874  There home was LaJunta Colorado, where they both died. My father died 23 July 1924 and my mother died 26 May 1959. I lived in the Philippines from 1937 to 1970 so lost track of all the relatives."
Mel's mother told me that originally, some Fertigs were put on the wrong ship (that went to Mexico) by an unscrupulous man during their emigration to America. He'd taken all their money and left them to fend for themselves. Some became sick and died. The survivors eventually made it to America. Besides their unusual name the Fertigs have strong personalities, and distinguishing physical features.

Here's cousin Ray Fertig's book autographed
by the Colonel in '63.

...And Ray during September 2001 when we visited him on his ranch near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

But let's return to Colonel Fertig's story...His accomplishments didn't end with World War II. In 1960 he went to work for Colorado School of Mining where he helped initiate a number of new ideas and disciplines into the office. ROTC   had been at Mines since 1919, when it became one of the first four colleges in the United States to be offered this opportunity. As alumni association secretary, he lost no time in offering assistance and cooperation to the program's officers and began a relationship of mutual assistance that continues today. During his fifteen years with the Alumni Association, he significantly altered some of the ideas of the "men-only" adherents and was able to change the practice of stag alumni events. He had a strong connection with the students and it was during this time that the Alumni Association office began a long association with the Blue Key national honor fraternity. Colonel Fertig died in 1975.


Much has been written about him on the Internet. Even Star Trek Fans named their international correspondence  chapter "Camp Wendell Fertig ." We hope the movie will become a reality because Fertig's story demonstrates how a simple man's perseverance overcame terrible odds under almost unbearable conditions.


On November 11, 2006 I received this email from Vincent Vicente regarding his grandfather who  fought with Colonel Fertig. On October 2, 2009, Thomas R. Fasulo, a University of Florida entomologist who has been editing on Wikipedia for a couple of years, contacted me regarding my photos on this page. He used Ray's photo of Wendell in the Wikipedia story about him. Here's a link to his website.