On 7 December 1941 the attack on Pearl Harbor was accompanied by attacks on all American bases in the Pacific including Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces in the Philippines. After months of fighting, almost entirely a losing defense, MacArthur was holed up in his last redoubt on the fortified island of Corregidor. He was ordered by Roosevelt to escape by submarine to Australia to avoid his capture by the Japanese. On 11 March 1942, MacArthur complied, leaving his few remaining troops to certain capture or death, including the horrors of the Bataan Death March. His final words to them, and to all the Philippine patriots, were: "I shall return!" The entire American campaign in the Pacific Theatre of Operations was dedicated to making good on that promise and then extending the victories to the ultimate unconditional surrender of the Japanese.
At a few minutes after ten o'clock in the morning on A-Day, 20 October 1944, the first soldiers of MacArthur's liberation forces landed on Leyte, Philippine Islands. Following four hours of heavy naval gunfire, Sixth Army forces landed on assigned beaches at 1000 hours. Troops from X Corps pushed across a four-mile stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. Fifteen miles to the south, XXIV Corps units came ashore across a three-mile beach between San José and the Daguitan River. By 1330 the Red Beach sector was secure enough to allow General MacArthur to make a dramatic entrance through the surf.
This photo was taken by a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer as MacArthur and members of his staff and entourage waded ashore about four hours after the landings. With him were key figures of the exiled Philippine government, Philippine President Sergio Osmeña and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo. MacArthur announced upon reaching land: "People of the Philippines; I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil consecrated in the blood of our two people. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your people. The hour of your redemption is here."
This photo is one of the most famous from World War II, showing MacArthur striding confidently through the surf toward the beach, looking like the epitome of a resolute leader. The actual plans at the time were for the General to land at a dock, but they could not find one that had survived the landing assault. While still 50 yards off shore, MacArthur's landing craft ran aground. MacArthur grew impatient and ordered the ramp lowered, stepped knee deep into the water, and strode toward the beach. Others in the party, of course, followed. His facial expression had more to do with irritation over the situation than the historic import of the occasion. It is rumored that MacArthur was so pleased with the photo that he reenacted the event to try to improve it.