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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

MacArthur Returns To The Philippines, October 20, 1944

Today in 1944, US General Douglas MacArthur kept the promise he had made 2.5 years earlier to the people of the Philippines: he returned to the islands with an enormous invasion force and the largest assemblage of naval vessels in the history of mankind. For MacArthur, the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese was the culmination of the war.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, MacArthur was in charge of US and Filipino forces in the Philippines. On December 8th of that year, the Japanese invaded the islands. MacArthur’s allied army found itself on the defensive almost immediately and began a hasty retreat that ended on the Bataan Peninsula and the rocky fortress called Corregidor. The General was prepared to fight to the last man and when the order came from President Roosevelt for MacArthur and his family to make their escape to Australia, he almost demoted himself in order to stay. But MacArthur understood that his worth as a frontline commander would be greater than his worth as a prisoner of the Japanese. In March, 1942, the General and his family escaped the islands by making a harrowing journey aboard a PT boat to the southern islands of the Philippines, where they met a B-17 that flew them to Australia. Once there, MacArthur released a statement to the press in which he made his famous promise, “I shall return.” 90,000 American and Filipino troops were still holding out, waiting for rescue.

MacArthur expected to find an army waiting for him in Australia, an army that would be ready to take the fight to the Japanese right away. He found nothing of the kind. The decision had already been taken that the European front would be the focus of the allied effort in the war. Even when resources were diverted to his side of the world, they often went to Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was leading the island offensive in the Central Pacific. MacArthur made due with what he had and his forces were soon pushing their way up the coast of New Guinea, making seaborne landings one after another miles ahead of the front lines.

It was not until the fall of 1944 that General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz finally planned a joint operation: the invasion of the Philippines. The invasion would see the largest sea battle in history take place in Leyte Gulf. Kamikazes were also a problem and caused many deaths. But the Japanese were in a desperate situation and by March, 1945, the capital city of Manila was in allied hands.

After the war, MacArthur was placed in charge of the occupation of the Japanese home islands. He proved to be a very effective administrator and quickly earned the respect of the Japanese people. When war broke out on the Korean peninsula in June, 1950, the General once again went to war. But this war was different, and MacArthur’s aggressive ideas made President Truman uncomfortable. After a meeting with the President on Wake Island in 1951, the General was removed from his command.

MacArthur made an appearance before Congress on his return to the United States and was welcomed like a conquering hero. His speech is famous now, mainly for two lines: “In war there is no substitute for victory” and his goodbye line: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”

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