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A Promise Kept: The Return of General Douglas MacArthur


The devastating Japanese attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941 was just the beginning of an aggressive onslaught intended to carve out a sprawling empire across the Pacific Ocean. Among Japan’s next targets was the Philippine Islands, which were defended by American and Filipino troops under the command of the legendary General Douglas MacArthur. On December 8, the Japanese unleashed their power and hit the Philippines. Despite the dogged defense offered by MacArthur’s fighters, the strength of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy at the time was simply overwhelming.

With the military situation extremely vulnerable and continuing to grow more dire, General MacArthur was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to leave the Philippines in March 1942. One of the most revered soldiers of his day, MacArthur left his men and the place that had become his adopted home with a heavy heart, but he obeyed the instructions of his commander-in-chief. After a dangerous journey, MacArthur arrived in Australia, where he made a vow to the Filipino people: “I came through, and I shall return.” It was a promise that would drive him over the next two and a half years and one that he very much intended to keep.

MacArthur (left) and his chief of staff in U.S. underground headquarters on Corregidor Island, Philippines. For his defense of the Philippines, General MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States military's highest decoration for valor under fire. By receiving this distinction, MacArthur joined his father, Arthur MacArthur, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge during the American Civil War. They are one of only two father and son pairs to each receive the Medal of Honor. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Philippines Islands completely fell to the Japanese in May 1942, but by September 1944, the Allies had battled back. With MacArthur in command of forces in the Southwest Pacific and Admiral Chester Nimitz leading the Pacific Fleet, Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen had turned the tide by fighting the enemy island by bloody island across the Pacific. After conducting a brilliant campaign in New Guinea and obtaining support from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, MacArthur was entrusted with leading the charge to take back the Philippines.

On Friday, October 20, 1944, MacArthur’s invasion to liberate the Philippines began when American troops successfully landed on the island of Leyte. Although his troops had cleared the initial barriers of Japanese resistance, it was still an active battlefield when MacArthur and his staff waded ashore. Undeterred by the dangers, he pressed on until he once again stood on Philippine soil.

The return of General MacArthur to the Philippines. (Video Credit: Critical Past)

Once settled ashore, MacArthur delivered a prepared speech and announced the words that so many had been dreaming to hear. To those reduced to a soul-crushing existence under a brutal Japanese occupation, MacArthur proclaimed, “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.” Facing an enemy that fought with a fanatical determination, demonstrated a fierce willingness to die for their emperor rather than surrender, and that committed unspeakable acts of murder and violence against the Filipino people, the fight to liberate the Philippines was a bloody and brutal struggle. It was war at its worst, but the horrors had to be confronted. As MacArthur knew, democracy must be saved by “destroying evil forces that have sought to suppress it by the brutality of the sword.” His troops proved themselves valiant knights committed to that cause, overtaking most of the Philippines by the spring of 1945. Although Japanese resistance would continue in the islands until the end of the war later that August, because General MacArthur dared to return and so many others bravely did their duty, the Allies ultimately marched on to victory in the Second World War.


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: "I Have Returned!" - General MacArthur and FDR.

The National Interest: Rising Sun, Descending Darkness: How the Philippines Fell to Japan in World War II.

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