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    Today in History: 79th Anniversary of MacArthur’s return to Northern Mindanao in June 5, 1945

    By Mike Baños

    During the 75th Anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s arrival in Cagayan de Oro on March 13, 1942 on the first leg of his famous Breakout from Corregidor, I joined a group of reenactors who traced the route of the convoy he took from the Macabalan Port to Del Monte Airfield in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon.

    At the time on March 13, 2017, the convoy was intended to reenact his short trip from port to airstrip, the only difference being that grade school children from most public schools along the route from Puntod to Manolo Fortich lined the streets waving Philippine, American and Japanese flags, thanks to the support of the Department of Education.

    When we got to the MacArthur Memorial at Damilag, Manolo Fortich, however, we were surprised that the local government which was celebrating its centennial as a municipality had prepared a convoy of vintage jeeps and trucks to take us around the town. Unbeknownst to us, we had inadvertently reenacted an event in history that happened three years after the Breakout.

    Mac2

    Originally, MacArthur’s escape from Corregidor was considered top secret and high risk since at that time, the ill-equipped, malaria-stricken troops of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) were on their last legs and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to escape to Australia to lead the Allied counterattack against the Japanese Empire.

    Just recently, however, I found out that there was indeed a historical basis for the two latter events with the children welcoming MacArthur along the roads to Malaybalay and going around the capital town of Bukidnon, thanks to James Zobel, archivist of the MacArthur Memorial in Cagayan de Oro’s sister city of Norfolk, Virginia.

    X Corps MGen Franklin C. Sibert, Lt Gen Robert L. Eichelbeger and Gen. MacArthur

    Grand Tour

    On June 3, 1945, US Eight Army Commander Lt Gen Robert L Eichelberger reported to General MacArthur aboard the cruiser USS Boise in Manila.

    Earlier General MacArthur had told him he wanted to see the places where Eighth Army had been fighting.

    “He talked about the desperation of those last days in Luzon. He told me about President Roosevelt’s personal communication which ordered him to Australia, and of his unwillingness to leave General “Skinny” Wainwright there on Bataan to struggle to the inevitable end,” Eichelberger relates in his book “Our Jungle Road to Tokyo.”

    General-Robert-L-Eichelberger-and-General-Douglas-MacArthur

    The cruiser’s first stop was to be in Mindoro, and the second at Macajalar Bay. They were following the route by which General MacArthur and his family had escaped from the Philippines. They had traveled by PT boat and by night from Luzon.

    At the first dawn they headed into Mindoro and slept the day. When darkness came again they were hurried through uncertain and rough water to Macajalar Bay. There, General MacArthur told me, he lived for several days with his wife and infant son and a few staff officers at Del Monte (a few miles inland) until airlift was provided from Australia.

    On June 5, 1945, the Boise dropped anchor in Macajalar Bay off Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan in Cagayan, where the 108th Regimental Combat Team (108th RCT) landed on May 10, 1945 and drove up the Sayre Highway in Bukidnon, cutting the defending Japanese Forces in two, and effectively ending the enemy’s organized resistance in Mindanao later the same month.

    As noted in the foregoing entry in the USS Boise’s ship’s log for 5 June 1945, General MacArthur and his inspection party disembarked at 0755 HRS aboard an LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel also known as Higgins Boats after its inventor Adrew Higgins) which was escorted by PT Boats for its landing in Barrio Agusan, Cagayan.

    On the drive from Cagayan going South to Malaybalay (MacArthur Memorial).

    After the initial landing in Parang on Mindanao and the rapid push to Davao City and the south end of the Malaybalay Plain area, it became evident that the Japanese were withdrawing to the high ground in the central Bukidnon Davao Province area.

    The 108th RCT reinforced landed at Agusan on 10 May 1945 and by rapid movement completely disrupted the Japanese in this area and gave them no time to occupy a highly prepared defensive position designed to protect the northern entrance to Del Monte.

    MacArhtur with 31st Infantry MGen. John C. Persons and X Corps MGen. Franklin Sibert.

    The 108th RCT pushed down into the Del Monte area against moderate resistance mainly at the Mangima River Canyon, broke out into the plain from Malaybalay and made a juncture with the 31st Infantry Division north of that town (on 23 May). At that time the 108th RCT passed to control of the 31st Division.

    Originally, Eichelberger planned to tour MacArthur overland to Del Monte, where they would take a plane to Malaybalay.

    Following is the original itinerary:

    CAGAYAN

    5 June 1945

    Arrive 0800

    Depart 1900

    ITINERARY:

    Land at Cagayan or Agusan.

    Proceed overland to Del Monte, passing Japanese positions designed to prevent our movement into the Malaybalay area from the north.

    Inspect troops and installations at Del Monte.

    Present decorations.

    Fly from Del Monte to Malaybalay, viewing combat area en route.

    Visit Headquarters 31st Division.

    Lunch at 31st Division Headquarters.

    Return by plane to Del Monte.

    Motor transport to Agusan; embark on cruiser.

    COMMANDERS:

    X Corps: Major General Franklin Sibert.

    31st Infantry Division: Major General Clarence A. Martin.

    108th Task Force: Brigadier General Robert Shoe.

    108th Infantry: Lieutenant Colonel Maurice D. Stratta.

    (From Record Group 41, Eichelberger Papers, Official Correspondence, June 1945, courtesy of James Zobel, Archivist, MacArthur Memorial, Norfolk, Virginia)

    “I had suggested that we go to Malaybalay by air, but General MacArthur wanted to make the overland trip. All the bridges over the gorges were now replaced, but I am sure the Allied commander got a very clear picture of the dreadful terrain with which the 108th RCT and the 31st Division had wrestled.”

    “The road was still a rambling wreck, and-Malaybalay and return-it was a pounding and spine-cracking ride. There were turnabouts and roundabouts and all sorts of detours,” Eichelberger recalled.

    In Del Monte, MacArthur made a side trip to the Del Monte Country Club where his family and general staff had laid over from March 13-17, 1942.

    However, after an extensive search, they found that bombs had demolished the building; only the foundations, now overgrown by vegetation, remained to remind one that there once had been riches and luxury in Northern Mindanao.

    And that, though man has only a short memory, nature has none.

    “On the return trip to Agusan the rains, which had taken a holiday, started in again. On several occasions bulldozers pulled out of deep mudholes the jeep in which General MacArthur and I were riding.”

    “Traveling time for the hundred-and-twenty-mile trip was then about eight hours, but General MacArthur never once acknowledged physical discomfort. My own teeth were clicking like castanets and my sacroiliac was in painful revolt. There were occasions on makeshift bridges when I put more stock in prayer than in the timbers which supported us. However, nothing happened,” Eichelberger recollected.

    “General MacArthur and I are both lucky,” he wrote his wife, “that we are not this moment looking up at the Sayre Highway-with the rain in our faces-from the ground floor of a canyon. What a road!”

    The Boise sailed that night, and during the next two days visited Cebu, Negros, and Panay. It was to be the last time that the “Liberator of the Philippines” would ever visit Mindanao.

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