Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mulling over MacArthur's Memories

Having seen enough of the former First Lady's excesses in a matter of hours, I asked my hosts to take me to the more relevant historical attractions in Tacloban, particularly those related to its involvement in World War II.

During that time, the city, along with the towns of Palo and Dulag, gained worldwide prominence because of the so-called Leyte Landings, which signaled the liberation of the Philippines from the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army.

On October 20, 1944, American assault troops under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur, together with Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña and General Carlos Romulo, landed on the beaches of these towns. MacArthur's return eventually led to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered as the greatest maritime engagement of all time, in which American naval forces, with the help of Filipinos, destroyed the Japanese fleet. 

In commemoration of this historical feat, a memorial was erected, unfortunately, not in Tacloban but at Red Beach in Palo, which is barely a ten-minute ride from the heart of the city. It was my last few hours in town so I didn't pass up the chance to visit MacArthur's Park. 

It used to be called Imelda Park but after the Marcoses left Malacañang, it was rightfully restored to its original name. Today, it stands as a memorial to peace and valor rather than a symbol of war. On its still grounds, I noticed some townspeople strolling, conversing, bonding with each other. I've seen this landmark only on TV so the sight of the real thing amazed me. 

From where I stood, the sheer beauty of the scenery was awesome. Spread out before me were the azure waters of San Pedro Bay under the sky, highlighted by the rugged contours of Samar's mountains at the distant horizon.

The serenity of the seascape, however, failed to steal my attention away from the main attractions that I've wanted to see—the  statues of the liberators led by the American general. Cast in larger-than-life bronze, MacArthur, along with Osmeña, Romulo and other high-ranking officials, walks ashore, head held up high, so conscious of his pivotal role in one of the most unforgettable moments in world history.

Watching this depiction of the fulfillment of MacArthur's "I shall return" pledge, I couldn't help but feel some regret over the landings and the subsequent bloodbaths that claimed countless Filipino lives. Were they worth it all? What if the US just reneged on its promise and launched its offensive elsewhere or directly towards Japan? Perhaps that could have spared us from so much misery and death.

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