“I Shall Return”: General MacArthur’s Promise

By Karen Harris

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (C) and Gen. Richard Sutherland (L) and Col. Lloyd Lehrbas wading ashore during Amer. landing at Lingayen Gulf. Source: (Photo by Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

During World War II’s Pacific Campaign, General Douglas MacArthur, along with his family, were located on the island of Corregidor where he oversaw more than 90,000 American and Filipino troops in the battle against the Japanese military. As neighboring strongholds fell to the Japanese, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, grew concerned that Corregidor would also fall and MacArthur, a well-respected leader, would be captured or killed. General MacArthur balked at the President’s request to leave the island, but when he was ordered to do so, he had to oblige. When he left, MacArthur vowed, “I Shall Return.” 

General MacArthur, his son Arthur and his wife Jean. Source: (pinterest.com)

MacArthur Wanted to Stay with the Troops

Despite the dangers to him and his family—his wife, Jean and son, Arthur—General Douglas MacArthur was determined to say with his troops. When Roosevelt first advised MacArthur to leave the island, the General responded by saying that he planned to share the same fate as the troops. A few days later, George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, also urged MacArthur to leave. Again, MacArthur refused. It took a direct order from the President of the United States to force MacArthur to leave. 

MacArthur fled the Philippines in a PT boat. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)

MacArthur’s Escape was Treacherous

MacArthur, his family, and several other top-ranking military members fled Corregidor on a PT boat. They traveled through hostile seas, dodging the Japanese army, sea mines, and stormy weather, to reach the Philippines more than 550 miles away. The journey took 35 hours, but it wasn’t over yet. MacArthur then traveled by B-17 plane to the coast of Northern Australia, then another plane and a train to reach Melbourne. 

Australian army. Source: (ww2places.qld.gov.au)

The General Hoped to Find Allied Troops in Australia

When General MacArthur left Corregidor, there were roughly 90,000 American and Filipino troops still on the island and on the nearby Bataan Peninsula. He knew that without support and supplies, they could not hold off the Japanese for very long. It was MacArthur’s hope that Allied Troops stationed in Australia would be able to help him get the troops out. He was frustrated to find that there were far less Allied troops in Australia than he thought. 

Source: (nobility.org)

MacArthur Releases a Statement to the Media

General MacArthur was determined to return to his troops, continue the fight, and lead as many of his men as possible to safety. In Melbourne, he issued a statement to the press. In it, he issued his promise of “I shall return” to his men and the Philippine people. He repeated his goal of “I shall return” numerous times over the next two years. In fact, it was a reoccurring theme in most of his public speeches. 

MacArthur left the Philippines to defend Australia. Source: (blogs.shu.edu)

MacArthur’s New Command was to Defend Australia

After being forced to leave Corregidor, MacArthur was assigned to command the Allied forces on the Southwestern Pacific in the defense of Australia. He was saddened to hear that the Japanese had taken Bataan. More than 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers were captured. They were forced on a death march, which killed about 7,000 of them. A few months later, Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese, and another 15,000 Allied men were captured. 

Scene from the Battle of Midway. Source: (stripes.com)

No Plans were Being Made for Their Release

The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff were focused on other targets; they were not preparing a campaign to release the captured American troops. Admiral Nimitz, after his victory at the Battle of Midway, was planning to go on to Japan. But MacArthur had a plan. He had won a series of smaller battles with his limited forces, including a victory in New Guinea. He was preparing to launch an assault on the Philippines, but he needed more support. He needed Nimitz to divert his forces from Japan to the Philippines. 

Admiral Chester Nimitz. Source: (military.com)

MacArthur Gains Support for his Plan

General MacArthur was able to sway the Joint Chiefs to support his plan to invade the Philippines. With the inclusion of Nimitz’s forces, he set plans in place to land in the Philippines to liberate the country and his men from the Japanese forces. The invasion began on October 20, 1944, two and a half years since MacArthur was forced to leave the country. 

MacArthur's return to the Philippines. Source: (historynet.com)

“I Have Returned”

Since “I Shall Return” had been MacArthur’s rallying cry for the past two years, it was only fitting that he did a radio broadcast just hours after setting foot back in the Philippines in which he announced, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!” For the next ten months, the Allied forces worked to drive out the Japanese. By the time the war was over, only a third of MacArthur’s original soldiers were still alive. He told them, “I’m a little late, but we finally came.” 

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.