Waves of Japanese troop s assaulted the Philippine Islands at the outset of World War II, steadily overpowering Filipino and American defenders. The U.S. forces commanded by General Douglas MacArthur fought back but were short on supplies and vastly outnumbered. Surrender was inevitable.
MacArthur received personal instructions to proceed to Australia without his soldiers, where he could organize a counterattack. He refused to leave his hungry, desperate men behind until President Roosevelt issued an order he could not ignore. The heartbroken general slipped past the Japanese navy by boat and plane to reach Australia. Once there, on March 20, 1942, he made a solemn pledge to his men back in the Philippines: “I shall return.”
In April, unable to hold out any longer, some 75,000 American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered to the Japanese – the largest mass surrender in American history. The captors beat and murdered many POWs during the infamous 65-mile Bataan Death March to prison camps. American and Filipino soldiers on nearby Corregidor Island fared no better. The Japanese also imprisoned thousands of American and other Allied civilians living in the Philippines, and for months assumed no responsibility for feeding them.
By the summer of 1942, the United States had launched a counteroffensive. For two and a half years, Allied forces fought their way across the Pacific, island by island. On October 20, 1944, MacArthur finally waded back onto the Philippines’ shores to make good on his pledge and liberate the islands.