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Oct. 20, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the landing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the US armada at Red Beach in Palo, Leyte and the start of the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese occupation forces. June 6 this year also marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy and the start of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

Both invasions were pivotal in the annals of World War II. The D-Day commemoration had no less than Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles leading the roster of world dignitaries, including US President Donald Trump, who honored the affair with their presence.

At Juno Beach in Courseulles-Sur-Mer, France, other dignitaries stood before commemorative wreaths to also honor the event. Present were US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Secretary of Defense Penny Mordaunt, and Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld.

The old battlefronts were also visited by droves of aging veterans and their families from the US and other allied countries. Indeed, there was a compelling reason for these old warriors to return to the scenes of their heroism. In the invasion of Normandy alone, out of 160,000 soldiers and 13,000 paratroopers — 73,000 of them Americans — 5,000 died on the beaches, most of them in the first hours of combat.

It was a sentimental journey for the survivors of the European theater. At the risk of seeming crassly commercial, it was also a bonanza for the tourist trade.

Indeed, old soldiers love to revisit the old battlefronts and recall long-lost buddies, both banished by time and killed in battle. In July 1962, General MacArthur himself made what he described as a “sentimental journey” to the Philippines and visited the spot where he had proclaimed, “I have returned!”

I would think that the 75th anniversary of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines has as much significance as the allied invasion of Normandy. According to records, 1,250,00 US troops and 260,715 Filipino fighting men faced nearly half a million Japanese defenders in the Philippine campaign,

In the battle of Leyte Gulf, triggered by the landing at Red Beach, the US and allied casualties were relatively light at 2,800 compared to the 12,500 Japanese troopers killed. Still, like D-Day, the Philippine campaign highlighted by the Oct. 20 MacArthur landing should have as much emotional significance to the soldiers who fought in it. At the American cemetery inside Bonifacio Global City, there are 17,058 plus 36,286 reasons for such an emotional attachment, for those who fought in the war against Japan, and especially for the families of those whose names are inscribed on tablets in the cemetery.

The 17,058 are buried in this American cemetery, while 36,286 are MIA — missing in action. All are appropriately honored with their names inscribed.

The 75th anniversary of the start of the dismantling of the Japanese war machine that ended in Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be a good reason for making a sentimental journey to the battlefronts — just as much as the annual commemoration of D-Day has been a magnet to veterans and the families of those who died in the battlefields of Europe.

I hope the Department of Tourism has noted the rich opportunities presented by the Oct. 20 commemoration. I also hope that the new tourism secretary and her attaches in the various consular posts in the US have been busy preparing for the bonanza of visitors coming for a sentimental journey

I don’t believe I have seen any promotional efforts towards this end, but then I was away from the US for almost two months. I may simply have missed the tourism promotions. I was actually in Manila during that time, but I must confess, I did not notice any promotional activities either, except those mounted by my home province of Leyte.

Actually, it was a relative, retired Philippine Navy officer Winston Arpon, who called my attention to these activities being planned for most of October by the province of Leyte, led by Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla.

What caught my attention is the plan to honor surviving veterans of the conflict. I may simply have missed this detail, but I don’t recall any mention of the conferment of the Congressional Gold Medal on Filipino World War II veterans, living and dead. The old Leyteño warriors would certainly deserve the medal, which happens to be the highest civilian honor that the United States Congress can confer (the very first recipient was George Washington himself).

At any rate, I hope that the 75th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the Leyte landing is given as much prominence as the 50th anniversary (Golden Jubilee). The latter was a major happening in 1994 during the incumbency of President Fidel V. Ramos, complete with a reenactment of the beachhead made by US troops at Red Beach.

US Defense Secretary William J. Perry and General John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined dignitaries from 10 countries, as well as Ramos, in the commemoration,

A Hollywood star, Ken Metcalfe (Apocalypse Now, TNT Jackson, Sunugin ang Samar) played the role of General MacArthur.

It was a spectacular affair spoiled, slightly by “General MacArthur” Metcalfe unceremoniously falling from a landing craft. It took some effort to recover his ruffled dignity before he waded heroically ashore. Mercifully, the actor who portrayed Carlos P. Romulo did not drown during the reenactment.

I personally have an emotional attachment to the landing at Red Beach. I had just turned five and was old enough to vividly remember events, although too young to appreciate their significance.

I wrote about my recollections in my book, Confusions of a Communications Man: “I remember the first wave of P-38s hovering over Tacloban. Japanese soldiers rushing out from the garrison across the street from our house on Calle Burgos, cheering, ‘Banzai!,’ thinking that the planes were reinforcements. And then scampering for cover as the Americans strafed the airport by Cancabato Bay at the mouth of the San Juanico Straits.

“I remember dogfights. Searchlights and tracer bullets lighting up the night sky. Bullets slamming into the headboard of our parents’ bed while my brothers and I were playing on it. A lone Japanese officer, pistol in hand, staring at our family, huddled in the air raid shelter under the house. Looking as scared as we were. And then running off wordlessly.

“I remember American troops marching into town, following General MacArthur’s landing at Red Beach in nearby Palo. GIs boozing in the bar that my parents had made out of the living room of our house. Children holding up two fingers in a V sign and calling out, ‘Victory Joe! Give me chocolate.’The liberation songs: ‘Pistol Packing Mama,’ ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and ‘Drinking Rum and Coca-Cola,’ with naughty lyrics:

‘American boys are very nice,

They kiss me once and they kiss me twice.

They give me food and they give me drink.

And after that, what do you think.’

“I remember the term, ‘pam-pam,’ which was what the GIs called the whores prowling the streets. And I remember a badly mauled and drunken GI dumped in the house by his buddies, wailing the whole night, ‘I will no more see my mama. I will no more see my papa. I am going to Okinawa.’”

Yes, even for someone who was very young then, Oct. 20 has much meaning. How much more for those who fought in it, lost comrades in it and lost loved ones in it?

I hope that the young bureaucrats at the Department of Tourism can appreciate that.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.