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The Brotherhood of Soldiers at War

"Family Feud"

A Tale of Two Generals

Douglas MacArthur & Jonathan Wainwright

 

It has been said that "If you have ONE child you are a PARENT...TWO (or more) and you are a REFEREE."   Sibling rivalries are common in any family, and the family of America's veterans is no different.  The term "Brotherhood" does not indicate that all is peaceful and calm or that there is an absence of disagreement.  Brothers have been known to argue, feud, even fight each other.   But brotherhood is a bond that is greater than the "family feuds" that erupt from time to time, and sooner or later brothers make up and get on with being brothers.

General George Armstrong Custer was so envious of his younger brother's TWO Medals of Honor, earned during the Civil War, that it caused some real tension.  There are even reports that on at least one occasion when the younger showed up at a social event wearing BOTH medals, the two went outside and engaged in fisticuffs.  But the sense of brotherhood between the two was stronger than their sibling rivalry.  Thomas Custer always loved the older brother and the two served together through several campaigns in the West.   Eventually, the two brothers died together at the infamous Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Douglas MacArthur and Jonathan Wainwright were as similar, yet individually different, as any two "flesh and blood" brothers.  Both were the sons of military families.  MacArthur's father Arthur was the hero who received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.   Wainwright's father also was a career officer who had at one point even served under Arthur MacArthur's command.

Douglas MacArthur graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point at the head of his class in 1903.   Three years later Jonathan Wainwright graduated from the same school with its highest honor, first captain of cadets.  Both served in World War I, MacArthur leading the 84th Infantry Brigade and earning the Distinguished Service Medal and SIX Silver Stars.  Wainwright saw less combat as a staff officer, though he became known for his frequent visits to the troops on the front lines.  Wainwright also received the Distinguished Service Medal.

Both men were generals in the US Army and serving in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.  The months that followed and the differences in personality between the two would strain their brotherhood.  Both would emerge historic figures, Douglas MacArthur characterized by historian/author William Manchester as the "American Caesar", Jonathan Wainwright remembered by his troops as "The Last of the Fighting Generals".

 

 

General MacArthur looked up from his desk at the tall, hard-bitten Cavalry general.  The latter had always looked thin, hence the nickname "Skinny", first used when he had been a West Point cadet.  The moniker had followed him through a 40 year military career.  General Wainwright looked especially skinny now, after months of reduced rations.  General Wainwright was commander of the North Luzon force in the Philippine Islands.  General MacArthur had summoned him to the island fortress at Corregidor for an important meeting.  The battle was not going well on the most important of the Philippine Islands.  And things were about to get worse. 

 


The Philippine Islands consisted of more than 7000 small islands in the South China Sea.  Only a third of the islands were inhabited.  The Island of Luzon in the north is the largest of the islands.  Measuring a little over 40,000 square miles, it is about the same size as our state of Ohio.  Manila Bay in the south-west part of the island is one of the world's finest harbors, bordered on the east by Manila, the Philippine Capitol City.   Luzon had been "home" to General MacArthur off and on for many years, dating back to the days when his father had been military governor.  As a promising West Point graduate, Douglas MacArthur's first assignment had been with an engineer unit in the Philippines, and it was here during that tour of duty he had first tasted combat.

As the Japanese began their aggression for control of the Pacific, the Philippine Islands were key to their plans.  Eight hours after the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they attacked and virtually destroyed the American Air Force at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.  Two days later they began landing troops on beaches in the northern part of the Island.

War Plan "Orange No. 3"

The Japanese threat to the Philippines had been recognized twenty years earlier, and a war plan for the defense of the Philippines was written in 1928.  Known as "Orange No. 3" or "WPO-3", the defense of the islands called for a "tactical delay" of the invading enemy.   Rather than battling the enemy throughout the island, if they could not defeat the invaders at their point of landing, the army would pull back to the peninsula of Bataan at the opening of Manila Bay.  There they would delay the enemy for up to six months until reinforcements could be brought in to end the siege.

Mid-way in the opening of Manila Bay is the tadpole-shaped, rocky island of Corregidor.  Less than 2 square miles in size, the island had been a fortress for many years.  At the beginning of World War II it garrisoned soldiers to man artillery that could support the defense of Bataan should it ever be necessary to implement Orange No. 3.  Initially, General MacArthur attempted to have his American soldiers and Philippine Scouts meet and defeat the invading Japanese as they landed on the island's northern beaches.  Most of these were soldiers under the command of General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, at the age of 59 one of the oldest active generals in the United States army.

General Wainwright's Philippine Scouts fought courageously, but on December 22nd hope began to vanish.  Japanese Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma waded ashore at Lingayen Gulf, just north of the Bataan Peninsula (indicated by the red starburst in the map above).  Supported by 80 ships of the Japanese navy and 43,000 fresh troops, the Philippine Scouts were doomed.  General MacArthur implemented Orange No. 3 and on December 26 he declared the Capitol of Manila to be an open city and abandoned it to the Japanese.  As the American and Philippine forces began their withdrawal to Bataan, MacArthur set up his command post on the island of Corregidor.  MacArthur moved his tactical operations into the quarter-mile long Malinta Tunnel.  It was from there he began to direct the "delaying action" that would keep the enemy at bay until supplies and reinforcements could arrive from the United States.  It was a wasted effort, for reinforcement of the valiant defenders wasn't even a part of the military war plan. 

War Plan "ABC-1"

Ten months before the attack at Pearl Harbor, British and American military tacticians had established a war plan known as "ABC-1".  The agreement between the two nations specified that, in the event that there would be hostilities on two fronts involving both the Germans and the Japanese, both Allied powers would concentrate  most of their military resources on defending Europe.  Of course, the brave men fighting hunger, disease and starvation in the dense jungles of the Philippines were not aware of ABC-1.  For this reason they believed President Roosevelt when he gave his year-end speech promising "the entire resources of the United States" would be committed to defending the Philippine Islands. 

Two days later the Japanese took control of Manila.  Meanwhile, more than 80,000 American and Filipino soldiers had withdrawn to the 500 square mile Bataan peninsula to maintain the delaying defense called for in Orange No. 3.  Across the island the Philippine Scouts, many of whom were not aware of Orange No. 1, continued to battle the enemy.  It was a brave effort, many of them fighting with outdated World War I British Enfield rifles.  Ammunition began to run out, food was in short supply, and disease depleted their ranks.  But they, along with their brothers at Bataan stubbornly held out, anxiously awaiting the resources of the United States that had been promised by the President.  Amazingly the soldiers stopped the Japanese advance at the Abucay line, and held it for 12 days.  Then, on February 8th, General Homma received an infusion of fresh troops from Tokyo.  For the Americans and Filipinos there were no fresh troops, no resupply.  When Singapore fell on February 15, 1942 it was becoming apparent to the Philippine defenders that the United States would be sending no reinforcements.  They were expendable.

Meanwhile, General MacArthur had received word from Washington that he should hold out against the Japanese as long as possible, then capitulation was permissible.  MacArthur was livid.  He had no intention of surrendering to the Japanese, had resolved himself to die in the defense of the Philippines.  On February 22, General MacArthur said goodbye to Philippine President Manuel Quezon.  As the popular President reluctantly boarded the submarine Swordfish to be evacuated to Australia, he removed his signet ring and placed it on MacArthur's finger.  "When they find your body," he told his old friend, "I want them to know that you fought for my country."  Remaining on the island with the General was his wife and 3-year old son.  In the hold of the Swordfish were their personal effects with instructions for them to be held until claimed by the   MacArthur's legal heirs.

Even as the Swordfish slipped out of Manila Bay to preserve the Philippine Presidency, President Roosevelt was pondering the impact on the National morale should the most decorated hero of World War One be killed or captured by the Japanese.  The following day the Commander In Chief ordered General MacArthur to escape to the southern island of Mindanao, then from there to find asylum in Australia.  As a United States Army officer, it was an order he could not refuse.   As a patriot who loved the Philippine Islands, it was also an order that went against everything in which he believed.  Finally the 62-year old, 4-star general decided to resign.  He would leave Corregidor, but not as a retreating general going to Australia.  Instead, as a civilian, he would make the brief boat ride from "The Rock" to Bataan and enlist as a volunteer in its defense.

In the days that followed, MacArthur's chief of staff, Major General Richard K. Sutherland convinced the General that the President was right.  He argued that there were rumors that a Philippine relief force was being established in Australia, and that the President had ordered MacArthur to Australia to build and lead that force back to the Islands to defeat the Japanese.  The concept was reinforced by a telegram from Washington urging the General that "The situation in Australia indicates desirability of your early arrival there."  MacArthur responded that he would, reluctantly, depart Corregidor on March 15th.

Meanwhile, the Japanese suspected that an attempt would be made to evacuate the Philippine commander from the area, and they too realized the propaganda potential for his death or capture.  They increased their patrols in the South China Sea, virtually unopposed for the US Pacific Fleet was still rebuilding from the devastation at Pearl Harbor.  A full Japanese destroyer division was dispatched towards Manila Bay to prevent any evacuation of the general.  The time table had to be accelerated, and the only craft available to transport MacArthur and his family from Corregidor were four aging PT boats under the leadership of Lieutenant John Bulkeley.  (Lieutenant Bulkeley would later receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic defense of the Philippines from December 7, 1941 to April 10, 1942.)  Bulkeley and his PT boats would break out of Luzon as the sun went down on March 11th, taking with them General MacArthur.  The Naval officers at Corregidor who were aware of the plan believed the General had about 1 chance in 5 of getting out successfully, and alive.


 

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