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On 30 January 1945, the United States Army frees the prisoners being held by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan camp in the Philippines. The groundwork for that liberation began years earlier when Colonel Joe Madden, an American army officer who possesses a strong bond to the Philippine people and a commitment to maintain their independence, is assigned to organize a band of guerrillas to resist the encroaching Japanese army. Before leaving his troops, Madden puts Captain Andreas Bonifacio, the grandson of a venerated Philippine leader, in charge. Bonifacio is despondent because his former sweetheart, Dalisay Delgado, now works as a spokesperson for the Japanese and advocates Philippine surrender. As Madden assembles his guerrilla army in the jungle, the Japanese overrun a nearby village and close its school. When a Japanese captain orders Buenaventura Bello, the principal, to haul down the American flag, Bello refuses and is hung from the flag pole for his insubordination. Miss Barnes, the schoolteacher, flees into the jungle with Maximo and the other students and there meets Madden. Her words of inspiration and defiance inspire the guerrillas in their mission to blow up a gasoline dump at a Japanese airfield. Later, word comes of the fall of Bataan and capture of Bonifacio. Madden finds and frees the wounded Bonifacio, however, and Miss Barnes nurses him back to health. Madden and his men then liberate Maximo's village, and after executing the Japanese captain, they place an epitaph on Bello's grave. Although Bonifacio recovers from his wounds, his faith in the Philippine cause is not restored. Madden, aware that Dalisay is working undercover as a messenger in the Philippine independence movement, sends Bonifacio to Manila with a message. There, Bonifacio is surprised to discover that his contact is Dalisay. After she lectures him about the importance of resisting Japanese aggression, Bonifacio returns to the jungle and reluctantly agrees to rejoin the fight until he can leave the country with Dalisay. As Madden and his machete-wielding army recapture Japanese-held villages, Colonel Kuroki decides to mollify the Philippine people by staging an elaborate ceremony to declare their independence. Madden and his men plan to sabotage the ceremony, and Maximo begs to join them in the attack. Madden refuses but, after giving the boy his colonel's eagle as consolation, orders him to take charge of the other children. As the Japanese begin to broadcast the ceremony, Madden and his men attack and Dalisay denounces the Japanese invaders. After Bonifacio rescues her from the stage, they all retreat into the jungle. Maximo prepares to flee, but is captured by Japanese soldiers and beaten until he agrees to lead them to the guerrilla headquarters. As the boy and his captors drive along a mountain road, Maximo grabs the steering wheel and sends the vehicle plunging from a cliff. Witnessing the accident, Madden and his men rush to the truck, and Maximo dies in the arms of Miss Barnes. Ordered to forge ahead, Madden puts Bonifacio in charge of the guerrillas and departs. In the passing months, the guerrillas are bouyed by word that the "Yanks" are landing. After making their way to the beach at Leyte, Bonifacio, who still lacks faith, is amazed to find the beach filled with people awaiting the arrival of an American submarine delivering guns. The appearance of the submarine restores Bonifacio's conviction, and he vows to fight until the end. The submarine also brings Madden and Lt. Commander Waite of the United States Navy, who announces that General MacArthur plans to land American troops on the beach at Leyte. Assigned to block the road from Japanese troops until the beachhead is secured, Madden and his men hide underneath the water in a rice paddy near Japanese headquarters, using reeds to breath. At the proper moment, they spring to the surface to attack. As the guerrillas battle the oncoming Japanese tanks, the Americans arrive with reinforcements. With the defeat of the Japanese, the American flag is hoisted back up the flagpole, and the Philippine people achieve their hard-won freedom.