Philippines, December 8, 1941: Mere hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes launch an attack on Clark Airbase outside Manila, destroying almost all of the U.S. Army’s fighter planes and bombers. War has come to the Philippines. News of the Japanese attacks reach Louise and Cyril “Spence” Spencer and Laverne and Claude Fertig – American mining engineers and their wives on Masbate island, south of Manila. Masbate is home to some of the world’s largest gold and iron ore mines – materials the Japanese desperately need. On Panay Island, a group of American Baptist missionary doctors, nurses and educators also hear the shocking news of the attacks. The missionaries are led by Dr. Meyer, who is in charge of Emmanuel Hospital in Capiz, and his wife Ruth.
The Japanese quickly rack up victory after victory in the Philippines. Manila falls shortly after New Years. General MacArthur is evacuated to Australia. The Philippines, and tens of thousands of American and Filipino troops left behind, are completely on their own. The American missionaries and miners are faced with a choice: surrender to the Japanese and live, but risk surviving in brutal prison camps, or run and hide in the interior to live a free life, but face possible torture and certain execution as “rebels” or “spies” if captured by the Japanese troops.
The Spencers and Fertigs know that Masbate will be invaded soon – the mines are too tempting for the Japanese. They evacuate to Panay Island, and meet the group of thirteen American Baptist missionaries who have decided to stay so they could continue their work as doctors, nurses and educators for the local Filipinos. When the Japanese invade Panay with their bombs, the Americans must flee. With the help of a local Filipino pastor and the Guerilla movement led by Filipino hero Colonel Peralta, the group moves and sets up camp in a remote area in the interior where they believe it will be nearly impossible to find. The missionaries dub the location “Hopevale”.