October 20, 1944 was a day of redemption for Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as he waded ashore on the Philippine island of Leyte, together with President Sergio Osmeña, General Basilio Valdes, and Resident Commissioner Carlos P. Romulo. It was a complete turnaround from the last time he had seen the islands. The Japanese army had chased MacArthur out of the islands in March 1942. He had barely escaped Corregidor Island via a Navy PT boat. As he left the Philippines, he vowed, “I shall return.”
But it wasn’t easy. By May of that year, the Japanese controlled everything, from Burma to the Aleutians, and threatened Australia. American forces were fighting a desperate fight on land, sea and air. Then in quick succession, came the Battle of Coral Sea and the astounding U.S. Navy victory at Midway. The U.S. Marines began the long road back fighting in the Tropical Hell of Guadalcanal. U.S. Army and Australian forces forced their way through the jungles of New Guinea.
Each month, American might grew, and they took on the Japanese at Tarawa, Peleliu, Biak, Saipan, Guam, and finally America was ready to redeem MacArthur’s pledge to the people of the Philippines. With U.S. army troops still fighting, MacArthur landed at Red Beach on Leyte, and, via radio, he addressed the Philippine people: “I have returned. By the grace of God our forces stand again on Philippine soil – soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.”
Much fighting remained, but the landing in Leyte began the liberation of a people. Over a Signal Corps microphone, President Osmeña addressed the Filipino people notifying them of the return of the legitimate government.