Aside from the accounts of military historians and members of his staff who traveled with him from Corregidor to Cagayan, Misamis on his famous Breakout, here are two extant eyewitness accounts of civilians who had first hand encounters with General Douglas MacArthur during his arrival in Mindanao and layover at Tankulan, Bukidnon from March 13-17, 1942.
Upon his arrival at the Macabalan wharf in Cagayan around 7:00 o’clock in the morning of Friday, 13 March 1942, a Kagay-anon Boy Scout met the famous general at the pier.
As recounted by Ann Gorra in her anthology City of Gold: People Who Made Their Home and History in Cagayan de Oro, Abelardo “Loloy” Neri Queppet was one of the scouts of Baden-Powell Troop (named after the founder of the Scouting movement Lord Baden-Powell) in charge of enforcing the mandatory blackout in Cagayan during the early months of 1942.
He was a member of Troop 1 at the City Central School among whom were Jaime Tiano, Victor Roa, Terencio Gadrinab, Hugo Balase, Antonio Zacharies, Vic Itchon, Jose Apolinario and Cristobal Nagac.
The Philippines was tottering on the brink of defeat, with US and Filipino soldiers of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) boxed in at Bataan and Corregidor by the seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Army(IJA). So it was strictly lights out after 5PM for everyone lest they become targets of a Japanese aerial attack.
“As soon as dusk gave way to night, I rode my bike (bought from a Japanese Bazaar) and rode around Del Mar, Mindanao and to the pier, blowing my whistle to warn residents that it was time to shut their lights off,” the late scout Queppet recalls.
Loloy was assigned to do this task by his Scout Master Epifanio Balase since he was a native-born Kagay-anon and knew his way around.
Even if he was just 14 years old at the time, Loloy went about his routine like a professional: waking up at 6AM, clean the house, eat breakfast, and report to HQ in his Boy Scout Uniform: shorts, knee socks, red and blue neckerchief, brown shirt and Boy Scout cap.
Another of Loloy’s responsibilities was to direct traffic at Plaza Divisoria to expedite the passage of US military convoys to avoid strafing by Japanese planes.
On the evening of Thursday, March 12, 1942, his friend, one Sergeant Hunter, charged with the security of Macabalan port in those days, asked Loloy to be at the parola (lighthouse) in Macabalan at 7PM. Upon his arrival, Sgt. Hunter told him they were expecting General Douglas MacArthur to arrive between midnight and dawn.
Sure enough, at 7AM of Friday, March 13, 1942, MacArthur and his party disembarked from two PT Boats at Macabalan Pier and rode a convoy of military vehicles to the Del Monte airfield in nearby Tankulan (now Manolo Fortich), Bukidnon.
But not before the General noticed the Boy Scout and his bike (who saluted him with the three fingered Boy Scout salute), standing by the gangplank where they were disembarking (now the site of the flagpole for the Cagayan de Oro Port Management Office of the Philippine Ports Authority).
Asked what the Boy Scout was doing there, one of the soldiers replied he was a community volunteer.
“Send him home,” MacArthur said. “The war is inevitable.” (Gorra, 2010)
Guerrilla Padre meets MacArthur in Del Monte
Later that same morning, Fr. Edward James Haggerty, SJ, Rector of the Ateneo de Cagayan, was tipped off by Major Joe Webb, commander of the 103rd Regiment at Cagayan, to “expect something big”, and “a chance of a lifetime” if he could come down to the Macabalan wharf in 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, Fr Haggerty was just vesting for mass and could not go to the wharf in time. However, he noticed the sound of many planes flying low over the bay which later died out but saw no planes. He later learned that two P.T. boats had dock in Macabalan around 7:00AM.
Around 10 o’clock of the same morning, Fr Haggerty went to Del Monte for an appointment with Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp, commander of the USAFFE’s Mindanao Force.
Del Monte was the last remaining airfield in the USAFFE’s hands after Clark and Nichols Field had been overrun by the Japanese Imperial Army (IJA). B-17 Flying Fortresses from Australia still stole in under cover of darkness to bring in much needed supplies and evacuate important personnel on their return trips.
After making it to the reception room without being challenged by the unusually alert guards, Fr Haggerty noted the presence of many high ranking USAFFE officers who were strangers to him.
Some of MacArthur’s staff that Fr Haggerty probably saw during his visit to Del Monte on March 13, 1942. These were taken at Del Monte on March 13-17, 1942. (Terri Wadsworth Warne Collection via the MacArthur Memorial, Norfolk, Va.)
“General Sharp was nervous and preoccupied, and seemed willing to have me gone. So I became bolder and asked authorization after authorization to help me in a project we had discussed of preparing an evacuation place for American civilians. All requests were quickly granted,” Fr Haggerty recounted in his memoirs Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao.
However, as an air raid alert sounded just as he was about to leave, he was amazed when a handsome four-star general strode in from the bedroom, inquired about the alert, walked straight across the wide room, shook hands without introduction and called him “Father.”
The flustered priest could only mutter a few words of praise for the USAFFE stand in Bataan and Corregidor as he realized it was MacArthur!
As shared in his memoirs, MacArthur apologized, went back to his room and escorted his wife, his son, their Chinese amah to a dugout and returned. He walked over and asked Haggerty if he wanted to move to a bomb shelter.
“No,” Haggerty chattered, “your calmness makes me feel brave.”
Following is an excerpt from Fr Haggerty’s book about his brief conversation with MacArthur:
“He sat down beside me and we were absolutely alone. I noticed his worn, unpressed khaki, his tired eyes, unshaven face. But he looked vital, young. Somehow he was both aloof and personal. Without a question from me, he took me into his confidence in a way that made me his firm admirer, impervious thereafter to any criticism against him.”
“Bataan cannot be taken if food holds out. We have food for less than two months…The men on Bataan are splendid…they have proven their valor far beyond my expectations – beyond the expectations of friend, and especially, of the enemy.”
As he talked, I saw Bataan. I felt how this leader could inspire heroism as he painted the picture in chiseled yet glowing words,.
“…and I have been ordered by President Roosevelt to Australia to begin the offensive…If the Jap (sic) does not take Mindanao by Easter, all he will receive is bullets…”
The All Clear sounded. I had been hypnotized for five minutes-fortified in spirit for the two discouraging months that followed.
Sharp returned and MacArthur went for his wife and boy without a word about secrecy. General Sharp took me to the door:
“Padre,” he smiled, “I think you’ve scooped a few of us. Please consider everything secret – even his presence here.
It was a request hard to keep; it meant living tens of thousands sliding into hopelessness. MacArthur’s words would have pulled them up – at least for a time.
On March 17, two B-17 Flying Fortresses flew MacArthur and his family to Australia, with another taking off the following day with the remainder of his staff. (Read the details of that journey here).
In order to save weight for additional stranded pilots to fly south, the General’s party left with only small musette bags-paltry remains of American empire-building in the East.
Interested readers can still purchase copies of Ann Gorra’s City of Gold: People Who Made Their Home and History in Cagayan de Oro from Amazon.com through the ff. link: https://www.amazon.com/City-Gold-People-History-Cagayan/dp/1897435444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1488598770&sr=1-1&keywords=city+of+gold%3A+people+who+made+their+home+and+history
Fr Haggerty’s book Guerilla Padre in Mindanao can likewise be purchased from Amazon through this link: https://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-padre-Mindanao-Edward-Haggerty/dp/B0007ITWWM