By Rudy Arizala
Posted Sept. 20, 2004
Half a century and a decade ago, Gen. Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his pledge to the Filipino people when he, with American "liberation forces," accompanied by Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña, Sr. and Carlos P. Romulo, landed on the beach of Leyte. on 20 October 1944.
Shortly after "beachhead" or landing Gen. MacArthur, amidst the whirring of Japanese snipers bullets overhead, announced over a handheld megaphone:
"People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil &endash; soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. . At my side is your President, Sergio Osmeña, a worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon.... The seat of your government is now, therefore, firmly reestablished on Philippine soil. The hour of your redemption is here. . . Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. . . . The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory."
The landing of U.S. troops supported by Filipino guerrillas on land was a success. It was the "golden hour" of Fil-American cooperation and friendly relations.
Aside from the successful landing in Leyte was the famous "Battle of Leyte Gulf" between the U.S. and Japanese Naval Forces which caught the attention of the world. The Japanese, in order to retake Leyte where Gen MacArthur landed his troops, thought of a plan called "Sho Operation." Under said ´plan Admiral Soemu Toyoda, to destroy the American fleet under Admiral Halsey, sent three naval forces to converge on Leyte Gulf: the Northern Force under Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa coming from Japan down to the eastern coast of Luzon, and on to Leyte Gulf; the Central Force under Admiral Takeo Kurita; to steam through San Bernardino Strait and on to Leyte Gulf; and the Southern Force, divided into two groups, one under Vice Admiral Nishima and the other under Admiral Shima, coming from Singapore to reach Leyte Gulf through the Surigao Strait.
Admiral Ozawa´s fleet steaming from Japan was used as a "decoy" to lure away Admiral William F. Halsey´s Fleet , (Task Force 34), from San Bernardino Strait. And Admiral Halsey took the bait by pursuing Ozawa´s fleet up North not knowing that the remaining U.S. ships were left practically exposed to the coming superior Japanese Southern and Central Naval Forces.
Luckily, the Japanese Southern Force was spotted by U.S. submarines which sunk two destroyers of the Japanese Southern Force and alerted the U.S. naval force. Admiral Olendorf engaged the Japanese Southern Force into battle at Surigao Strait and the Japanese fleet was almost all wiped out. Meanwhile, the Central Force under Admiral Kurita was steaming through San Bernardino Strait toward Leyte Gulf. The frantic calls of U.S. Admiral Kinkaid for Admiral Halsey´s fleet to return immediately to Leyte Gulf reached Halsey and he sent posthaste his eight fastest battleships to San Bernardino Strait. Admiral Kurita could have proceeded to Leyte Gulf without difficulty and attack the almost defenseless U.S. Naval forces off Leyte Gulf. But Kurita decided to steam away thinking that the main bulk of Halsey´s fleet have arrived in the area. That saved the day for the American naval forces in Leyte Gulf.
The cunning and deceptions used in the Naval Battle of Leyte Gulf was reminiscent of a "Lord High Admiral" in the Mediterranean named "Barbarossa", a former ruthless pirate appointed by Sultan Suleiman, "The Magnificent", as Chief of the Royal Navy during the Ottoman Empire. Barbarossa through cunning and deception raided the coasts of Africa and Europe &endash; Italy, Spain, Sardinia and even the Adriatic coast. He practically ruled the Mediterranean Sea.
The landing of the U.S. forces on Leyte beach in October 1944, was the "Golden Era" of Philippine-American Relations, while the "Battle of Leyte Gulf" was considered the "last great battleship engagement in history" wherein a total of 285 warships participated. In said battle the U.S. lost 1 light cruiser, 2 escort carriers, 3 destroyers, and around 2,000 sailors. The Japanese lost 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, 8 destroyers, and several thousands soldiers more than what the Americans lost.
I was then a young lad of fifteen years old when I first heard those stirring and inspiring words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur upon landing at Leyte Beach which steeled and inspired the hearts of the Filipino people to rally behind the flag of democracy and liberty in pursuit of "the Holy Grail of righteous victory".
I am now in the twilight of my years. And I wonder if in the twilight years of my contemporaries and at the dawn of the new generation of Filipinos, those stirring words of MacArthur uttered sixty years ago today amidst the thunder of bombs and gunfires, have now lost in time of peace, after victory has been achieved, their validity and meaning and faded away with the passing of years.
Today, we even hear disturbing voices saying that the once "right arm" of America in Southeast Asia is now the "weakest link" in the chain of liberty in this part of the world.
As we commemorate today the "Landing at Leyte" of the forces of liberty, let us pose and ponder over those words which have guided us to victory and achieved our peace and redemption.