The American general envisioned in the President’s order was none other than General Douglas MacArthur, who at the time was the military advisor to the Philippine government and Field Marshall of the Philippine Army under Philippine President Manuel Quezon. The General had a cleared eyed view of the Japanese threat and was under no illusion as to the difficulty of his orders to defend the Philippines against the inevitable Japanese invasion.
General MacArthur had for some time prior to his appointment wanted to return to the US Army from which he retired in order to take up his post in the Philippines. The presidential order returned him to the US Army and command of thousands of troops in a war zone. His command was designated the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). President Quezon was delighted for it was the first tangible proof that the Americans were serious about defending the Philippines. Quezon in a radio broadcast soon after said “We owe loyalty to American and we are bound to her by bonds of everlasting gratitude. Should the United States enter the war, the Philippines would follow her and fight side by side”.
The task facing MacArthur seemed impossible. He had in the Philippines about twenty- two thousand US soldiers and Philippine Scouts. These troops combined with the Philippine Commonwealth Army was about 80,000 soldiers. The Philippine forces were organized into two regular divisions and ten reserve divisions that were poorly trained and equipped. Although, they were led by many competent Filipino officers, a number of whom were West Point graduates, the Army’s preparedness for battle was abysmal given the lack of equipment and ammunition to train. How could they expect to defeat the Japanese army, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands and who had by 1941 had honed their fighting skills in four years of combat in China and elsewhere in Asia?
The presidential order mobilizing the Philippine Army under US command did not mention any resources. The Philippines, as subsequent events proved, was to be on its own. General MacArthur’s new command would have to made do with what they had. It was a come as you are war for them. General MacArthur constantly begged Washington for help. That help was not forthcoming in the quantities necessary to win on the battlefield.
General MacArthur together with a combined staff of American and Filipino officers proceeded to plan and command as true professionals. The General and his commanders fully appreciated the direness of the situation. Some weapons, supplies and aircraft arrived along with a few thousand American reinforcements in the run up to the Japanese invasion. It was not known at the time that the Roosevelt administration had already consigned the Philippines to its fate by making the fateful decision to concentrate on winning the war in Europe first.
The Philippines at the time of the Presidential order was a commonwealth of the United States. That meant that the Philippines was self-governing both politically and economically. President Manuel Quezon was the first elected Filipino president. However, the commonwealth status also meant that the US was responsible for the defense of the Philippines, but that the Philippines was expected and encouraged to raise and maintain forces for its internal and external defense. Still, the American flag flew over the Philippines. Many commonwealth army units were led by American officers.
USAFFE soldiers fought in defense of sovereign American territory. The second world war in the Philippines was the bloodiest event ever to take place on American soil. Much of that blood was spilled by Filipinos.
The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, community-based, all-volunteer national initiative whose mission is to obtain national recognition of Filipino and American WW11 soldiers across the United States and the Philippines for their wartime service to the U.S. and the Philippines from July 26, 1941 to December 31, 1946. For more information about Filipino WWII veterans and how to get involved, visit our website at www.filvetrep.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.