History and Culture
It's Not Just About MacArthur: Stories Behind the Leyte Landings
Bernard Supetran | Nov 06, 2014
This postcard-pretty tableau memorializes the landing of more than 100,000 troops of the Allied Forces to liberate the Philippines from Japan during World War II.
To many, this is a fulfillment of MacArthur's popular "I Shall Return" promise he made in 1942 as he fled to Australia from the pursuing Japanese forces sounds so vividly as it did more than 70 years ago.
Seven decades later, the country relived this momentous occasion which changed the course of history. Led by the Provincial Government of Leyte, the commemorative program cast the spotlight on lesser-known historic events which make up the "Leyte Gulf Landings."
The three-day observance kicked off with Signal Day in Tolosa town, which relived the bravery of boy scout Valeriano Abello. He helped US warships redirect their artillery to Japanese troops with his semaphore skills.
Along with friends Antero Zunia and Vicente Tiston, he paddled to the nearest Allied ship amidst Japanese artillery shelling. Using white cloth diapers as semaphore flags, the 20-year old scout signaled the message, “Don’t bomb beaches. There are civilians. If possible, let me direct shelling.”
Tolosa was saved from destructive bombing with Abello's valiant act, and at the same time softened the Japanese position. A monument at the seaside village of Telegrafo marks the spot where he launched his boat and earned his place in history.
Another historic recollection is the first hoisting of the American flag at Hill 120 in Dulag town where Lt. Clifford Mills of the US Army seized the victorious moment as he climbed a coconut tree and placed the Stars and Stripes.
This was the first time the US flag was flown in Philippine soil after the Americans surrendered in Bataan and Corregidor two years earlier.
The tree has been preserved and a statue of Mills attaching the flag has been fastened to recreate this pivotal war-time scene. Damaged by storm surges last year, the tableau has been restored to its former glory.
Atop the 120-meter hill is a memorial park dedicated to the 96th Infantry Division of the US Army which landed at Blue Beach.
In a nearby coastal village is Liberation Park where the first batch of Allied Forces belonging to the US 7th Division landed at about 10 AM on Oct. 20.
This sparked a long-standing rumor that it was here where MacArthur and his troops waded ashore, and not in the officially recognized spot.
The locus of the commemorative events was the 70th Leyte Gulf Landings anniversary program which was attended by World War 2 veterans and their descendants, Department of National Defense officials, and diplomats from the countries which figured in the epic battle -- the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Japan.
President Benigno Aquino III, the event's guest of honor, paid tribute to the heroism of the combatants and the resistance fighters and communities in providing support for the liberation forces.
The annual event, he said, is a constant reminder to the participants of the Pacific War to pursue peace and renounce war to ensure stability and prosperity in the the Asia-Pacific region.
The war veterans, now in their twilight years, and their descendants, were honored as they reminisced their moments of uncommon valor.
Leyte governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla lauded the resiliency of the Leyteños in bringing back their lives to normalcy despite the hardships brought about by Yolanda which struck a vast portion of the province.
He said that World War II-related spots form core of Leyte's tourism circuit which continues to attract both domestic and foreign visitors.
An interesting historic place in the provincial capital Tacloban City is Hotel Alejandro, ancestral house of the prominent Montejo family which housed American correspondents during the liberation.
A favorite venue for social gatherings, the mansion-turned-hotel boasts of a compendium of photo exhibits depicting the Leyte Gulf landings and post-war scenes.
The Provincial Capitol Building in Tacloban became the site where MacArthur reestablished the Commonwealth Government and Vice President Sergio Osmeña, who landed with him, was installed President.
The Roman architecture-inspired American-era edifice later became Osmeña's presidential office until February 27, 1945 after the liberation of Manila has been completed.
The stately Price Mansion served as MacArthur’s residence for several weeks while planning the invasion of the rest of the country. Within the compound is a monument depicting Osmeña's oath-taking.
A few blocks away is Redoña Residence, an all-wood, house which hosted the president.
Seventy years later, Leyte is a place worth returning to, not only by MacArthur, but by all freedom-loving citizens of the world because of Leyteños resiliency and ability to rise above adversity.