Down but Not Out

Against all odds, as Japan marched to one overwhelming triumph after another, the U.S. scored a memorable victory

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We're the battling bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No rifles, no planes or artillery pieces,

And nobody gives a damn.

When it dawned on MacArthur that he too was being abandoned, he spoke grandly of his destiny. "They will never take me alive," he said as he slipped a loaded pistol into his pocket. But MacArthur was just a pawn on an enormous political chessboard. Australia, threatened by the Japanese advances, demanded the return of three divisions sent to help Britain fight Germany. But the Australians said they would not insist if the U.S. promised troops and appointed an American supreme commander for the whole South Pacific. Churchill, unwilling to withdraw the Australians then battling Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in Libya, suggested to Roosevelt that a general of MacArthur's eminence might prove valuable. In his sweltering cave on Corregidor, MacArthur received by radio on Feb. 23 a presidential order to get to Australia to "assume command of all United States troops."

MacArthur knew that his men on Bataan would never forgive him -- the name "Dugout Doug" haunted him ever after. He talked of resigning his commission and transferring to Bataan as "a simple volunteer," even dictating a draft of that resignation. But he never sent it. Orders were orders.

MacArthur decided to leave by submarine at sundown on March 11. No sub could get through to Corregidor, so he used a flotilla of four dilapidated PT boats. With him he took his wife and son and the Chinese nurse and a dozen staff officers. To Major General Jonathan Wainwright, he made a promise: "I'm leaving over my repeated protests. If I get through to Australia, you know I'll come back as soon as I can with as much as I can. In the meantime you've got to hold."

"You'll get through," said Wainwright.

". . . and back," said MacArthur.

After a rough and perilous trip of nearly 600 miles in 35 hours, MacArthur landed at dawn near a Mindanao pineapple plantation, where a B-17 bomber picked him up and flew him to Australia. On landing, he asked the first American officer he saw about the U.S. reinforcements he thought were awaiting his arrival. "So far as I know, sir," said the officer, "there are very few troops here." Said MacArthur to an aide: "Surely he is wrong."

He was, of course, not wrong. The general's party was chuffing southward on a single-track railroad from Alice Springs to Adelaide when MacArthur got the official word. In all of Australia, there were fewer than 32,000 Allied troops, including many noncombatants -- far fewer than MacArthur had left behind on Bataan. "God have mercy on us," he said. He later called this his "greatest shock and surprise of the whole war."

MacArthur expected that there would be reporters awaiting his arrival in Adelaide, so he prepared a few words: "I came through, and I shall return." That made headlines, but Washington asked MacArthur to amend his prophecy to "We shall return." He ignored the request. And unlikely as it seemed in the far reaches of Australia, he would arise from the ignominy of flight and return in triumph to make his prophecy come true.

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