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A Tale of Two Generals

 


Conclusion


Douglas MacArthur & Jonathan Wainwright

From the devastating attack that destroyed Clark Air Field eight hours after Pearl Harbor until March 11th, General Douglas MacArthur had encouraged the valiant defenders that if they could just hold on, reinforcements would be coming from the United States.  For 90 days Philippine Scouts and American soldiers, despite disease, a shortage of food, lack of ammunition, obsolete and malfunctioning military hardware, and hostile jungle terrain had battled the well supplied invading Japanese.  Manila had been sacrificed and 68,000 Filipinos, supported by nearly 12,000 American soldiers, had fallen back to the peninsula of Bataan to stall the Japanese war plans to break and enslave the Philippine Islands.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that, despite the promises of the American President, there would be no relief force for the Philippine Islands.  They were expendable.   The idea was further fostered by Japanese propaganda radio whose theme song taunted the defenders.  The song was titled:

I'm Waiting for Ships that Never Come In

We're the battling bastards of Bataan.
No Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles,
     no nephews, no nieces.
No rifles, no planes,
     or artillery pieces.

And nobody gives a damn.

American War Correspondent Frank Hewlett

 

March 11, 1942

"Jonathan, I want you to make it known throughout your command that I'm leaving over my repeated protests."  General MacArthur said as he looked up at General Jonathan Wainwright.  The tall, emaciated General the defenders of Bataan called "Skinny" promised that he would do just that.  Douglas MacArthur had chosen his replacement in the Philippines.  His Academy brother would assume command of all the Philippine troops upon MacArthur's departure.  Wainwright would command from the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor, while Major General Edward King would replace him as commander of the American Forces and Philippine Scouts defending Bataan.  "Goodbye Jonathan," MacArthur continued.  "When I get back, if you're still on Bataan, I'll make you a lieutenant general."

"I'll be on Bataan....if I'm still alive," Wainwright replied.

As darkness fell over the South China Sea, Lieutenant Bulkeley slipped out of Corregidor in PT-41 to make the dangerous journey through waters controlled by the Japanese.  It was a daring mission to ferry an American legend and hero out of harm's way.  Through 560 miles of dangerous ocean and a near brush with a Japanese destroyer, General MacArthur arrived safely on the southern island of Mindanao on the morning of Friday, the 13th of March.  Four days later the General arrived in Australia.  It was there that he issued the statement that contained one of his two most famous lines:

"The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines.   I came through...and...

I Shall Return."

To the Filipino people, MacArthur was a hero.   Through the dark years ahead they believed that, as he had promised, he would return.  But the enemy powers sought to portray MacArthur differently.  From Germany and Italy to Japan he was labeled in the media as a coward, a deserter, and the "fleeing general".  MacArthur had been ordered out of Corregidor because the President was concerned about the negative impact his death or capture would have on the American public during the critical first year of the war.  To counter the propaganda of the enemy, General George C. Marshall suggested awarding MacArthur the Medal of Honor.  The President agreed, and the same award his father had received 80 years earlier was presented to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia on June 30, 1942.  (Arthur and Douglas MacArthur became the only father and son in history to both receive the Medal of Honor.)

It is difficult to argue with those who point out that Douglas MacArthur's Medal of Honor was a political move.  It is far less difficult to argue the point that it was not deserved.  Since his first engagement with Philippine Outlaws after graduating from West Point, MacArthur had proved himself a man of courage.  Acts of personal valor in both the Mexican Campaign (Vera Cruz) and during World War I could easily have resulted in a Medal of Honor award.  Those historians who would negate his World War II award because it was a political award must also realize that the fact he had not previously been awarded the Medal for other actions was, in MacArthur's mind, political as well.


Back on the Philippine Island of Luzon, the situation continued to deteriorate.  The Japanese, despite isolated pockets of resistance by Philippine Scouts scattered throughout the jungles, controlled the island.   Their massive army, consisting  of two full divisions of well trained combat soldiers supported by two tank regiments, three engineer regiments and several powerful artillery and anti-aircraft batteries, were virtually invincible.  The Philippine defenders at Bataan were surrounded and without any support other than artillery fire from Corregidor.  General King and his men were combat weary, demoralized by broken promises of resupply, and weakened by malnutrition and disease.  Food was so short that the soldiers were reduced to one-fourth the recommended combat ration.   Malnutrition made the soldiers even more susceptible to disease, and General King's medical units had virtually no medicines to treat the dying.  Disease, exhaustion and malnutrition were beginning to accomplish what tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers had tried for 90 days to achieve.  The soldiers on Bataan had survived and resisted far beyond any expectation of human endurance.

The situation at Corregidor was no better.   Here too, the soldiers were weary, wounded, malnourished and diseased.  From the Malinta Tunnel General Wainwright did his best to direct the tactical aspects of the resistance.  Unlike MacArthur, who had only once left the tunnel to visit troops on Bataan, "Skinny" made frequent visits to the peninsula to check on the status of his men...and to fight Japanese.  In the months preceding his promotion to command of all forces in the Philippines, Wainwright had not only commanded the Philippine Scouts in I Corps, he had fought with them.  On more than one occasion he had come under direct fire from enemy soldiers, watched men next to him die, and returned fire on the enemy.  He was a unique kind of commander, perhaps indeed, the "Last of the Fighting Generals".

On April 9, 1942 the Japanese landed 50,000 fresh combat troops on the Island.  Wainwright issued orders to General King to resist by all means.  General King responded that he and his staff had determined his force was reduced to 30% of their efficiency.  General Wainwright continued to order not only resistance, but ordered a counter-attack to repel the new Japanese offensive.   It was not to be.  With less than two days rations remaining, his troops paralyzed by exhaustion and disease, further resistance to the fresh Japanese offensive would have resulted in the slaughter of his beleaguered command.  On April 9th General King surrendered, and Bataan fell to the Japanese.

The Bataan Death March

Most of the Philippine defenders were located near the southern Bataan city of Mariveles.  Here the Japanese assembled their prisoners for the 55-mile march from Mariveles to the rail town of San Fernando.  Here as many as 100 prisoners were loaded into box cars measuring 8 x 40 feet, and taken 24 miles to Capas, Tarlac.  The deadly trip culminated with the 6-mile march to the infamous Camp O'Donnell.

The Bataan Death March

Hands bound, wounds untreated, sick and malnourished to the point where many could not even stand, the trek became known as the "Bataan Death March".  More than 76,000 Philippine defenders, including 12,000 American soldiers, became prisoners with the surrender on April 9th.  On the death march to Camp O'Donnell the Japanese beheaded many who became too weak to continue the trip.  Other prisoners were used for bayonet practice, or pushed to their deaths from cliffs to amuse their captors with their screams.  Young Philippine girls were pulled to the side of the road and repeatedly raped.  Heartbroken mothers were known to spread human feces on their daughter's faces to make them less desirable to the enemy.

Actually, there was not one Death March, but a series of death marches that began with the surrender on April 9th and continued until April 24th.  During the period there was a steady stream of American and Philippine P.O.W.s making the 5-10 day trip to Camp O'Donnell.  Of the 80,000 defenders of Bataan, it is estimated that as many as 20,000...one in four...died on the infamous death march.  (In the two months that followed it is estimated that as many as 1,500 Americans and 25,000 more Filipinos died at Camp O'Donnell.)

With Bataan now under Japanese control, the enemy turned their full attention to "The Rock".  General Wainwright and his 26,000 troops at Corregidor were the last organized resistance on Luzon.  In all, more than 400 fighter plane and bombing attacks were launched against the 2 square mile island.  For almost a month, while the Japanese continued their wholesale slaughter of Bataan's valiant defenders during their infamous death march, Corregidor held.  By May 6th the Philippine defenders had continued to fight the delaying action called for in Orange No. 3 for the full six month period determined necessary for resupply and reinforcement.  The defenders had done their part, but now they knew there would be no resupply or reinforcement. 

For long days and lonely nights, General Jonathan Wainwright had struggled to determine in his mind the best course of action.   He was proud of his men and they had come to love, admire, and obey him.   Finally, on the morning of May 6th he notified them of his decision.   "With broken heart and with head bowed in sadness, but not in shame," he told his soldiers, today I must arrange terms for the surrender."  At 10:15 A.M. he sent the last message from Corregidor to President Roosevelt.  He told the President:

"There is a limit of human endurance and that limit has long since been passed.  With out prospect of relief, I feel it is my duty to my Country, and to my gallant troops, to end this useless effusion of blood and human sacrifice.  With profound regret and continued pride in my gallant troops, I go to meet the Japanese commander.

Goodbye, Mr. President."

At exactly noon on May 6, 1942, General Jonathan M. Wainwright surrendered to Japanese General Homma.  A historian of the Civil War, Wainwright later said of that moment, "Suddenly, I knew how Lee felt after Appomattox.


The defenders from Corregidor were not marched north through Bataan.  Instead the Japanese shipped them across the bay to Manila where they were paraded in disgrace as a display of the Japanese superiority.  As a final humiliation for General Wainwright, he was forced to march through his defeated soldiers.  Despite their wounds, their illness, their broken spirit and shattered bodies,  as the General passed among their ranks they struggled to their feet.   It was their last show of respect for the last of the fighting generals.

In Australia, General MacArthur was furious.   In his own mind he had initially resolved to die fighting to defend the Philippines.  The man he had selected to complete that mission when he had been ordered to leave Corregidor had let him down.  On July 30, 1942 General George C. Marshall proposed that a Medal of Honor be awarded to the last of the fighting generals.   It prompted an act of resistance to a Medal of Honor award, unprecedented in the Medal's history.  General MacArthur wrote, in part:

The citation proposed does not represent the truth....As a relative matter award of the Medal of Honor to General Wainwright would be a grave injustice to a number of general officers of practically equally responsible positions who not only distinguished themselves by fully as great personal gallantry thereby earning the DSC but exhibited powers of leadership and inspiration to a degree greatly superior to that of General Wainwright thereby contributing much more to the stability of the command and to the successful conduct of the campaign.  It would be a grave mistake which later on might well lead to embarrassing repercussions to make this award.

MacArthur's vehement opposition to Wainwright's proposed award both surprised and stunned General Marshall.  He withdrew the recommendation, and while General MacArthur prepared to keep his promise to return to the Philippines, General Wainwright was left to suffer alone in a Japanese prison camp.

During his more than three years of captivity, General Wainwright suffered deprivation, humiliation, abuse and torture at the hands of the Japanese.  In his own mind he feared the moment of his return, sure that he would be considered a coward and a traitor for his surrender at Corregidor.  He knew nothing of the award that had been proposed, then shelved because of MacArthur's scathing objections.  Throughout the period he struggled to survive.  General Jonathan Mayhew Wainright was the highest ranking American prisoner of war in World War II, and celebrating his 60th birthday in a POW camp in Manchuria, he was also one of the oldest.

On October 25, 1944 General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte to announce, "People of the Philippines, I have returned."  Almost a year of bitter fighting remained for Allied forces in the Pacific.  Then, on August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.   On August 14 the Japanese announced that they would surrender.  The final documents of surrender would be signed in Tokyo Harbor on September 2nd.  General MacArthur would preside over the historic event and sign on behalf of the President of the United States.

On August 19 General Wainwright learned that the war had ended.  He would finally be going home.   He was flown first to Yokohama, where he arrived looking tired and gaunt on August 31st.  Despite his earlier disappointment at the surrender at Corregidor, it was General Douglas MacArthur who met him.  The two embraced as cameras caught the historic moment.  (The photo at the top of this page is one that was taken that day.

On September 2nd General MacArthur boarded the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor to meet the Japanese.  On the table before him were the documents of surrender and several fountain pens with which he would sign.  As he approached the table he spoke into the microphone, "Will General Wainwright and General Percival step forward and accompany me while I sign."   It was a special tribute by MacArthur to the last of the fighting generals.   Looking gaunt and weak, Wainwright proudly stood at rigid attention next to the British general Percival.

When the moment arrived to sign counter-sign the historic documents, MacArthur picked up the first fountain pen and scribbled his signature.  Then he turned and handed that first pen to General Jonathan Wainwright.  Skinny later said it was a "wholly unexpected and very great gift." 

generals_missouri.jpg (90084 bytes)

Click on the Thumbnail Above for a Larger Image of this historic Occasion.


Promoted to Lieutenant General, Jonathan Wainwright returned home not to the shame he expected as the commander who had surrendered at Corregidor.  Instead he was welcomed with cheers, ticker-tape parades, and an outpouring of love an affection.  President Truman sent word that he wanted to meet with the general.

Wainwright and his wife flew into Washington, DC on the morning of September 10th.  They were met by General Marshall to escorted them to the White House.  There they visited briefly with President Truman in the Oval Office.  Suddenly, as if it were an afterthought, the President told General Wainwright, "Let's step outside in the Rose Garden to continue this conversation."  The two stood and the President took the General by the arm to escort him outside.  General Wainwright was surprised to find the Rose Garden filled with military officials, press reporters, and spectators.  His first thought was that the President wanted him to give a speech.

The speech that day, was to be the Presidents, however.  As President stepped to the microphone and began to read, it dawned on General Wainwright what was about to happen.  When the President had read the citation he turned to the last of the fighting generals and placed the Medal of Honor around his neck.  On September 5, General Marshall had revived his recommendation, and the President quickly approved the award.  This time there were no objections.

 


bn_green.gif (852 bytes) Read General Wainwright's MOH Citation
bn_green.gif (852 bytes) Read General MacArthur's MOH Citation
bn_green.gif (852 bytes) Read Lieutenant Bulkeley's MOH Citation

The Story of the Fall of Bataan and the subsequent Death March is far more than we could include here.  We highly recommend the following web site for a true, first-hand account of this sad event in history.
TWELVE HUNDRED DAYS
by Russell A. Grokett, Sr.

 

 

Sources:
Above and Beyond, Boston Publishing Company
Heroes of World War II,  by Edward F. Murphy
American Caesar, by William Manchester

 

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