Thursday, 6 May 2010
LTG Jonathan M. Wainwright
On 6 May 1942, the U.S. Army endured another “date that will live in infamy” when LTG Jonathan M. Wainwright, Class of 1906, marshalling what was left of his forces on the fortified island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay, surrendered all U.S. forces in the Philippines to Japanese General Homma. Recently promoted to lieutenant general and designated overall commander of the Philippines upon the withdrawal of GEN Douglas MacArthur, Class of 1903, to Australia under the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wainwright had survived the desperate battle for Bataan and relocated to the fortress of Corregidor.
There he had lost over 800 men in defense of the island but had sunk numerous barges ferrying Japanese troops across the bay. Under heavy artillery and air attack, he had seen his artillery and heavy mortars systematically destroyed by counter battery fire, his ammunition and food supplies dwindle to nothing, and the number sick and wounded grow by the hour. Although he offered to surrender Corregidor unconditionally, the Japanese commander insisted on the surrender of all U.S. forces in the Philippines, thus making all Americans who had escaped to the hills to fight alongside Filipino soldiers and civilian guerrillas into potential criminals.
After atomic bombs dropped by the Army Air Forces destroyed most of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 and forced the unconditional surrender of Japan, LTG Wainwright was brought from the prisoner of war camp where he had been incarcerated for over three years to witness the signing of the formal surrender documents aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri on 2 September 1945. LTG Wainwright subsequently was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. He died eight years to the day after the surrender of Japan.
An Army brat, the son of a West Point graduate of the Class of 1875 and a career Army officer, “Skinny” Wainwright followed his father from station to station across the western United States. He often claimed that he came to West Point because he didn’t know any better, but he knew quite enough to be selected as First Captain of the Corps of Cadets. He also was chosen as senior hop manager, played polo, and branched Cavalry. Assigned to the Philippines in 1908, he was deployed against a Moro uprising. As a captain and Cavalry troop commander prior to World War I, he marched his troop 72 miles in 24 hours chasing bandits along the Mexican border. As a member of the general staff of the 82nd Division in France, he participated in the St. Mihiel and Meusse-Argonne Offensives, joined the Third Army staff following the Armistice and remained with the occupation forces at Coblenz, Germany, until late 1920. After a number of student, staff and Cavalry assignments in the United States, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1938 and commanded a Cavalry brigade until September 1940. Sailing to Manila, he was promoted to major general and assumed command of the Philippine Division.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he commanded the defense of Northern Luzon and Bataan, counterattacking skillfully against Japanese ground forces in a calculated withdrawal to the prepared defenses on the Bataan peninsula. There he attempted to maintain the morale of the “Battlin’ Bastards of Bataan. No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam” as they faced shortages of everything except enemy soldiers and artillery fire. For his leadership in this impossible yet valorous bid for time, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Moving to Corregidor when MacArthur was ordered away, he prepared for the defense of the island as the Japanese overran Bataan by sheer numbers and perpetrated the continuing war crime known at the Bataan Death March.
Since 1993, this death march is remembered by an annual Bataan Memorial Death March in the searing desert around White Sands, NM, near Las Cruces. This year, the 26.2 mile marathon started at 6:00 am on 21 March 2010. In the Philippines it is remembered by the Bataan 102 (kilometer) Ultramarathon, or Bataan Death March Ultramarathon, which started this year shortly before midnight on 6 March. Even as an ultramarathon of 102 kilometers (63.4 miles), it only covers about two-thirds of the actual death march route of 159 kilometers (98.8 miles) traveled by thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war. In the 2010 BDM 102, only 104 of 140 runners completed the distance.
After his release from imprisonment and witnessing of the unconditional surrender of his enemy, LTG Wainwright returned to national acclaim in cities across the United States and addressed Congress. After some rest and a short assignment heading the Eastern Defense Command, he assumed command of the Fourth Army at San Antonio, TX, in 1946. Retired for disability on 31 August 1947, he became president of Armed Forces Mutual Life Insurance Company and later Chairman of the Board of Time-Life Insurance Company, both companies specializing in insuring military personnel. He served in these capacities until shortly before his death in 1953.
LTG Wainwright would be the first to challenge anyone who referred to him as the “hero of Bataan or Corregidor.” Those titles he reserved for the Soldiers who served under him during an especially demanding time, when American Soldiers and their Philippine allies were required to hold out to the ultimate extent of their endurance with no hope of immediate victory, only death or ignominious surrender to a brutal foe who viewed such as a sign of military weakness and treated his prisoners of war with the utmost disdain. But Wainwright and many of our prisoners of war did survive starvation and the brutality of their captors to witness our ultimate victory, a victory won, in part, by them and the thousands of their comrades present in spirit only.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
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