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Corregidor’s guns fall silent

Some of the most dramatic announcements that came out of the Pacific War (1941-45) had to do with the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor. This year marks the 75th anniversary of those tragic and fateful events. For the benefit of younger generations, I wish to highlight those announcements.

On April 9, 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr., commander of Filipino and American troops on the Bataan peninsula, in a gesture of surrender, laid down his pistol on a table before representatives of the Japanese Army under Gen. Masaharu Homma. His sabre was not available.

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A few days later, the “Voice of Freedom” radio operating from the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor, broadcast the following message to the outside world:

“Bataan has fallen. The Philippine and American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy. The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the ragged coast of Bataan. . .

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“But the decision had to come. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of battle must come. Bataan has fallen but the spirit that made it stand—a beacon to all the liberty-loving people of the world—cannot fall.”

The message was composed by then Capt. Salvador P. Lopez and read out by 3rd Lt. Norman Ildefonso Reyes. Lopez, a former journalist, would later serve as secretary of foreign affairs under President Diosdado Macapagal, and president of the University of the Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos.

One month later, on May 6, Lt. Gen. Jonathan “Skinny” Wainwright who succeeded Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of US forces in the Philippines, would report in a message to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and MacArthur, his decision to surrender:

“With broken heart and head bowed in sadness, but not in shame, I report that today I must arrange the terms for the surrender of the fortified islands of Manila Bay. Please say to the nation that my troops and I have accomplished all that is humanly possible and that we have upheld the best traditions of the United States and its army. . . With profound regret and with continued pride in my gallant troops, I go to meet the Japanese commander.” (General Homma demanded that Wainwright surrender all US forces in the Philippines, not just the fortified islands of Manila Bay. He had no choice but to comply.)

Somewhere in Australia, Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued the following statement: “Corregidor needs no comment from me. It has sounded its own story at the mouth of its guns. It has scrawled its own epitaph on enemy tablets. But through the bloody haze of its last reverberating shot, I shall always seem to see a vision of grim, gaunt, ghastly men, still unafraid.”

Some notes on General Wainwright.

Wainwright would spend the rest of the war as a POW in Formosa and Manchuria. Already skinny before the war, he came out of captivity almost a skeleton.

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In his book “Killing the Rising Sun,” Bill O’Reilly, host of the “O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox Network (although recently fired on sexual harassment charges), had this story about Wainwright. In July 1942 Gen. George Marshall, the US Army chief of staff, nominated Wainwright for the Medal of Honor. MacArthur publicly objected on the grounds that Wainwright should never have
surrendered Corregidor.

In a letter to Marshall, MacArthur viewed the award to Wainwright as “a grave injustice to a number of general officers who held equally responsible positions” but “exhibited powers of leadership and inspiration superior to that of General Wainwright.” He called the proposed award “a grave mistake.”

Marshall held back the award. But upon Wainwright’s release from a POW camp at war’s end, he received a hero’s welcome and was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. On Sept. 10, 1945, Wainwright was finally awarded the Medal of Honor.

While MacArthur opposed the award, he honored Wainwright by assigning him a special place during the surrender ceremonies held onboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. After signing the documents of surrender using different fountain pens, he handed one to General Wainwright. Another ceremonial pen was given to Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival, the British general who surrendered Singapore. Both stood alongside General MacArthur, clearly visible to the Japanese surrender party led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu.

One last word on Bataan and Corregidor.

Some people, particularly MacArthur and his supporters, claimed that the defense of Bataan and Corregidor disrupted Japan’s offensive in the Far East thus saving Australia and eventually leading to victory.

Australian historian Gavin Long has disputed such assertion. He says that “Far from allowing operations in Bataan to impede their timetable, the Japanese withdrew troops from Homma’s command to stay on schedule elsewhere.” Stanley Karnow,
in his book “In Our Image,” cites the pullout of Homma’s best troops at a time when he could have easily crushed Filipino-American forces in Bataan. This action is consistent with Long’s observation.

In my view, what saved Australia was the Battle of the Coral Sea that took place on May 8, just two days after the Fall of Corregidor. While sustaining heavier losses, US and Australian forces scored a strategic victory by turning back a Japanese invasion fleet headed for Port Moresby. A successful Japanese occupation of Port Moresby would have seriously endangered Australia’s lifeline to the United States.

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