Digging up Fort Stotsenberg

When one happens to pass by the Parade Grounds in Clark, you will never fail to notice two white gateposts at the center of the vast field.  They read "Fort Stotsenberg 1902." But in fact, they used to be somewhere else.  Named after, Colonel John Miller Stotsenberg of the First Nebraska Volunteers, who was killed while leading his regiment in action near Quingua (now Plaridel), Bulacan on April 23, 1899, Fort Stotsenberg used to be what we know today as Clark.

Before Fort Stotsenberg however, the American Army had already established itself near the Angeles Railroad Station in an area known as Talimundoc (now part of Lourdes Sur) after forcing the Philippine Revolutionary Army northward.  The battle for Angeles, in fact, began on August 13, 1899 and lasted for three days.  This saw a conflict between the revolutionary troops lead by General Maximino Hizon among others, and the troops of Major General Arthur MacArthur.  It was a fierce and bloody battle, but the rest was history.  Angeles was a lost cause and soon after, the American troops began to occupy it.

Despite the fact that the Talimundoc Camp was more or less permanent, rumors of a better site were circulating.  A much fertile field was indeed discovered north of the said quarters.  So plans were made to relocate in the barrio of Sapang Bato.  After the preliminary survey in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt promulgated an executive order the following year, creating Fort Stotsenberg.

Fort Stotsenberg did not have an airfield until March 1912 when Lieutenant Frank Lahm established the Philippine Air School.   In 1919, the construction of a runway began.  This eventually became Clark Field, the only American airdome west of Hawaii.  It was named after Major Harold M. Clark, an early American aviator who had been klled in a seaplane accident in Panama.  Clark in fact, although born in Minnesota, was reared in Manila and received his high school diploma there.

For many years, Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Field co-existed.  Majority of Fort Stotsenberg remained to be the home of the American Cavalry, particularly in order of assignment: the 5th, the 10th, the 1st, the 14th the famous 7th Cavalry of General George A. Custer, the 9th Cavalry - an all-African American unit that had won distinction at the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, and the 26th Cavalry, the (in)famous Philippine Scouts, previously known as the Macabebes. 

But shortly after the end of World War II, Fort Stosenberg and Clark Field were combined into the Clark Air Force Base, and became home to the Thirteenth Air Force, which was organized in New Caledonia in 1943 as the "Jungle Air Force."

Today, the gateposts thus serve as the only reminder that there was such a place called Stotsenberg.  So whatever happened to the pillars?  The Fort Stotsenberg entrance pillars used to be on a road called Bong Highway, now M. L. Quezon Avenue.   During the Japanese occupation of Clark from 1942-1945, the Japanese Imperial Army used the pillars as fill materials for their repair of the runway.

It was only in 1965 that the posts were unearthed, intact at that.  Following the great discovery, the posts were relocated to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (Building 6003), on what is now J. Villamor Street.  They currently stand in the middle of the parade grounds, reminding us that Clark is now one hundred years old.

Please send your comments or suggestions to ivanhenares@yahoo.com.

We would like to request those who will be using the information above, especially for publication, to properly cite the author and the Kapampangan Homepage.  The above column was published in Sun*Star Pampanga.