On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
On December 8, 1941, the Japanese launched their invasion of the Philippines. It took less than a month for them to capture the capital city of Manilla, located on the main island of Luzon.
By the end of January, 1942, the Japanese had driven the 75,000 American and Filipino troops out onto the Bataan peninsula, located across Manilla Bay from the capital. For three months the American and Filipino forces tried to hold off the Japanese, but they had no air or naval support. They had run out of most of their supplies and many of the men were sick and/or starving.
On April 9, 1942, Major General Edward King went against his orders from General Douglas MacArthur and surrendered his troops to the Japanese, knowing they could no longer hold out and resist.
Days later, the Japanese began marching the American and Filipino prisoners through the jungle to a train depot where they would be taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. Thousands of US soldiers died along the Bataan Death March from starvation, disease and at the hands of the Japanese. Many more died while in the prisoner-of-war camp.
After the surrender on Bataan, the Japanese turned their attention to the American forces on Corregidor, located in the mouth of Manilla Bay and some smaller scattered forces on other locations in the Philippines. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright was in charge of the more than 12,000 Americans on the island. Just before General King surrendered Bataan to the Japanese, he had all of the female nurses ferried out to Corregidor.
The island was laced with underground tunnels that provided some protection for the soldiers from the constant barrage of shelling and air strikes. Like Bataan, he was running low on food and supplies. Disease and fatigue was also taking a toll on the American troops.
Wainwright’s orders had been to continue to resist as long as possible, but after the fall of Bataan, President Franklin Roosevelt sent word to Wainwright that he was free to make whatever decision he felt necessary. Roosevelt expressed complete faith in Wainwright to do what was right. At first, General MacArthur, who had slipped away from the Philippines to Australia, blocked Roosevelt’s new orders, but word of the orders reached Wainwright and after several days of pressuring MacArthur, the orders were finally confirmed by MacArthur and given to Wainwright.
By April 5, 1942, Wainwright had lost 800 men to the Japanese attacks. Not only were the Americans still under constant shelling, but a sizeable Japanese force had landed on the Corregidor and was advancing on the Americans.
On this day, April 6, 1942, Wainwright felt that his position was no longer defendable and they were facing overwhelming strength and power. He made the decision to surrender, but only the four islands in Manilla Bay. He gave the order for all of his troops to destroy all weapons larger than their .45 caliber handguns. They also destroyed everything else of value including over two million Philippine pesos.
At 10:30am, General Lewis Beebe, began broadcasting a radio message over the Voice of Freedom in English and Japanese that Wainwright was prepared to discuss terms of surrender with Japan’s General Masahara Homma. However, there was no response from the Japanese who continued their assault on Corregidor.
At the same time, American radio operators began signaling coded messages to General William Sharp, commander of the American forces on Mindanao. In the message, Wainwright gave Sharp command of all American forces in the Philippines except those on Corregidor and three other smaller nearby islands. In doing so, he hoped that he would only have to surrender his troops and not all of the remaining American forces in country.
Beebe re-broadcast the message of surrender again at 11:00am and 11:45am, but still there was no reply or let up of the assault by the Japanese. At noon, Wainwright had a white flag hoisted up on the tallest point on the island, but it also seemed to go unnoticed by the Japanese. At 12:30pm, Wainwright tried one last time to contact Homma via radio, but again the attempt was unanswered.
Just before 1:00pm, there was a lull in the Japanese assault. Wainwright tapped Marine Captain Golland Clark, Jr., along with a flag bearer carrying a white flag of truce, a musician and a Japanese interpreter to go out to the Japanese line to carry Wainwright’s desire to meet with Homma to discuss surrender. Fortunately, the Japanese honored the white flag and Clark delivered his message to a Japanese officer. After consulting with Bataan, the officer told Clark that if he brought Wainwright to him that he would transport him to Bataan to meet with Homma. What Clark and Wainwright didn’t know at the time was the Japanese officer Clark spoke to was Colonel Nakayama, Homma’s senior operations officer and the man who accepted General King’s surrender of Bataan a month earlier.
Wainwright, Clark and several others met with Nakayama and began driving to the dock where a boat was waiting. On the way, they came under Japanese fire and Nakayama turned around and took them to a different dock and radioed for a boat. The Americans finally arrived at Cabcaben, across Manilla Bay from Corregidor. They waited until 5:00pm before Homma arrived in a US made Cadillac that he mostly likely confiscated from someone in the Philippines.
When the surrender negotiations began, Wainwright offered to surrender up only the American forces on Corregidor and the three other smaller islands, but Homma insisted on the unconditional surrender of all American forces in the Philippines. It wasn’t until late in the night that Wainwright realized he had no alternative and agreed to the unconditional surrender of all American forces throughout the Philippines.
Shortly thereafter, the 11,500 Americans on Corregidor were transported to the harsh and cruel prisoner-of-war camp.
Before surrendering, MacArthur had advised Wainwright to slip away from Corregidor and join him in Australia, but Wainwright replied that his place was with his men. He was also held in a prisoner-of-war camp until 1945. Possibly due to his ordeal and surrender, Wainwright was present when the Japanese officially surrender to the Americans on board the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. President Harry Truman awarded Wainwright the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On September 13, 1945, Wainwright was promoted to General (4 stars) and continued to serve in a number of command positions.
In 1948, Wainwright was poised to make the nominating speech at the Republican National Convention had General MacArthur received the nomination.
On September 2, 1953, exactly 8 years after witnessing the Japanese surrender, General Jonathan Wainwright died due to a stroke at the age of 70.
Sources for the above includes: The Fall of the Philippines; The Surrender of Corregidor; All American Forces in the Philippines Surrender Unconditionally; The Fall of Bataan and Corregidor; Fall of Corregidor; Corregidor: The last battle in the fall of the Philippines; Jonathan Wainwright.