Wednesday, October 20, 2004

MacArthur's account of Leyte landing

MacArthur's account of Leyte landing

Updated 10:40pm (Mla time) Oct 19, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 20, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

SIXTY years ago today, Douglas MacArthur waded to shore on Leyte province and was quoted as saying, "I have returned." The remark was said matter-of-factly, so plainly that it was not recorded, unlike his radio broadcast afterwards that is quoted in full in a number of books I read for this column.

Since we do not want to spoil the fun in Leyte this morning, we won't give space to assertions that the historic photograph of MacArthur returning to the Philippines, with Sergio Osmeña at his side, is not the record of the actual event but of a reenactment. We leave that for another time.

There have been many commemorations at Leyte in the past, the most memorable of which was a recent re-enactment of the MacArthur landing where the actor slipped and fell on his face.

MacArthur relates the Leyte Landing in his "Reminiscences" as follows:

"We came to Leyte just before midnight of a dark and moonless night. The stygian waters below and the black sky above seemed to conspire in wrapping us in an invisible cloak, as we lay to and waited for dawn before entering Leyte Gulf ... Now and then a ghostly ship would slide quietly by us, looming out of the night and disappearing into the gloom almost before its outlines could be depicted. I knew that on every ship nervous men lined the rails or paced the decks, peering into the darkness and wondering what stood out there beyond the night waiting for the dawn to come. There is a universal sameness in the emotions of men, whether they be admiral or sailor, general or private, at such a time as this...Late that evening I went back to my cabin and read again those passages from the Bible from which I have always gained inspiration and hope. And I prayed that a merciful God would preserve each one of those men on the morrow."

Reading this made me realize how complicated it must be to be God. Here was MacArthur praying for victory when the Japanese were surely praying for the same thing from the opposite side of the fence.

Getting back to MacArthur, few people know that he had visited Leyte before 1944 when the US military built the docks there. MacArthur said: "And then just as the sun rose clear of the horizon, there was Tacloban. It had changed little since I had known it forty-one years before on my first assignment after leaving West Point. It was a full moment for me."

Then the event we remember today follows:

"... At Red Beach our troops secured a landing and began moving inland. I decided to go in with the third assault wave. President Osmeña, accompanied by General Basilio Valdez, the Philippine Army Chief of Staff, and General Carlos Romulo, my old aide, who had joined me in Bataan in 1942, had sailed with the convoy on one of the nearby transports. I took them into my landing barge and we started for the beach. Romulo, an old stalwart of the Quezon camp, was the resident commissioner for the Philippines in Washington. Noted for his oratorical ability, this popular patriot served on Bataan, and had been the radio 'Voice of Freedom' from Corregidor.

"As we slowly bucked the waves toward Red Beach, the sound of war grew louder. We could now hear the whining roar of airplane engines as they dove over our heads to strafe and bomb enemy positions inland from the beach. Then came the steady crump, crump, crump of exploding naval shells. As we came closer, we could pick up the shouts of our soldiers as they gave and acknowledged orders. Then, unmistakably, in the near distance came the steady rattle of small-arms fire. I could easily pick up the peculiar fuzzy gurgle of a Japanese machine gun seemingly not more than 100 yards from the shoreline. The smoke from the burning palm trees was in our nostrils, and we could hear the continual snapping and crackling of flames. The coxswain dropped the ramp about 50 yards from shore, and we waded in. It took me only 30 or 40 long strides to reach dry land, but that was one of the most meaningful walks I ever took. When it was done, and I stood on the sand, I knew I was back again -- against my old enemies of Bataan, for there, shining on the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, I saw the insignia of the 16th Division, General Homma's ace unit."

On shore he stood before a broadcasting unit and in the rain said:

"People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil-soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people."

When read in a book today, the words seem melodramatic or even corny, but one cannot deny the hope these same words inspired among Filipinos tired of the Japanese and wishing for freedom once more.

MacArthur ended his speech by saying:

"Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on ... Strike at every available opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The Guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory."

It is not enough to remember the end of the war. Let us hope that we never have to endure war again.


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