Fil-Am 'leper spy' subject of biography by Pulitzer finalist
Small and anonymous, Joey Leauxmax was known by friends as an usher at a theater and a lover of music who seemingly had no past beyond the 1970's.
Leauxmax, in truth, was Josefina Guerrero, a decorated Filipino-American former spy who used her leprosy to carry information and supplies safely through enemy lines during World War II.
Guerrero is the subject of "The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero of World War II" by Ben Montgomery, a Tampa Bay Times reporter and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
Montgomery told Chicago Review Press that Guerrero's story, told as part of a radio program, fascinated him as there was little written about her despite her role in the war and her voluntary disappearance from the public eye.
"She was a big deal, a cause célèbre. But then she just disappeared. It struck me as a mystery worth exploring," he said.
According to Montgomery's account, Guerrero mapped Japanese gun emplacements along Manila Bay, carrying these maps in secret, and stowing away explosives used to blow up Japanese munitions and ships in her home.
An article on Marianas Variety in 2013 said part of Guerrero's success was due to her leprosy, a condition the Japanese historically feared and the female spy exploited by wearing revealing clothing to ward off questions.
Her defining mission came in 1944, when she volunteered to transport a map of land mines placed by the Japanese to hinder American troops through enemy lines.
"She walked some 35 miles, was nearly seized by pirates on the Pampanga River, and finally reached the American outpost. For this she is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers," Montgomery said.
Guerrero was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that can be bestowed by the US President, and had her leprosy treated at Carville, Louisiana, after the government waived regulations barring lepers from the country.
The spy, who left a child behind in Pampanga, chose to drop off the grid and retire in Washington, DC afterwards. She passed away on June 18, 1996, with none of her friends knowing who she was until a man from Louisiana told her story. —KBK, GMA News