I shall return.”

These three simple words by the son of American Civil War hero General Douglas MacArthur had a profound impact not only on Philippine history books but also on Filipino hearts. It was a promise that prisoners in Corridor and the Bataan Peninsula held onto for more than two years after the Japanese invasion—the hope these men clung to get through the hell they were going through.

The Japanese Invasion of 1942

General MacArthur was placed in command at the last minute following Japan’s invasion of the Philippines in late 1941. Despite his valiant efforts, the former US military chief adviser was forced to flee the Philippine island of Corregidor in March 1942 on orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Still suffering from the major loss of the Pearl Harbor bombing, Roosevelt realized the hopelessness of the situation and opted to withdraw temporarily to recompose his remaining troops in the Pacific, including the repatriation of General MacArthur and his family, among many others.

MacArthur left for Australia, where he’d fly home to the stateside. With his departure, however, he left behind around 90,000 American and Filipino troops in Corregidor and on the Bataan Peninsula, who, lacking food and ammo supplies, would soon fall into the hands of the Japanese offensive. Unfortunately, only one-third of these men lived to see the return and fulfillment of his promise.

MacArthur Fulfilled His Promise

As the venerable General assumed a new role commanding the defensive in Australia, the abandoned American and Filipino soldiers faced a torturous tread towards its prison camp near Cabanatuan soon after the defeat in April 1942.

bataan death march
An eerie photo of American and Filipino prisoners of war carrying comrades using improvised litter as they march toward Bataan. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Infamously dubbed the Bataan Death March, thousands of prisoners were forced to march “about 85 miles in six days with only one meal of rice during the entire journey.” Upon reaching the camp, at least 7,000 perished out of the 70,000 captured, and those who survived the agonizing trek had to brace themselves for months to come of suffering within the confines of the Japanese prison camp until the General’s return.

People of the Philippines, I have returned,” MacArthur announced via radio broadcast upon arriving ashore on the Philippine island of Leyte in mid-October 1944. “I’m a little late, but we finally came.”