This Week in Texas History: A column
by BARTEE HAILE
Before he boarded the PT boat on Mar. 11, 1942 that would carry him to Australia, Gen. Douglas MacArthur told the highest ranking Texas Aggie on Corregidor to “keep the flag flying.”
Col. George F. Moore was still a larger-than-life figure, when he returned to College Station nearly three decades after receiving his diploma and commission in 1908. The two-season letterman in football earned the nickname “Old Maud” with a mule-like kick said to have sent a pigskin spiraling over the spires atop a three-story structure.
While congress was kick-starting conscription and National Guard units were being activated in the fall of 1940, Moore got his orders for a third tour of the Philippines. From the Corps of Cadets, the A&M commandant handpicked 25 graduating Aggies to accompany him.
Moore arrived at Corregidor in January 1941 with the new rank of brigadier general, making him “the first graduate of Texas A&M to reach flag officer rank in the Regular Army” according to Henry C. Dethloff in Texas Aggies Go to War. As the man responsible for turning 1,735 acres in the middle of Manila Bay into an impregnable fortress, he had his work cut out for him.
Three weeks after the unforgettable “day of infamy” at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched their attack on the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor. The same military planners, who regarded “The Rock” as the epicenter of the U.S. presence in the Pacific, knew all too well that help would be a long time coming for anybody stuck on Corregidor.
Promoted to major general with expanded authority to strengthen “The Rock,” Moore welcomed MacArthur to Corregidor on Christmas Eve. The commander of all U.S. forces in the Philippines, his family and staff joined 11,000 Americans and Filipinos in a bomb-proof burrow.
Over 30 years, the Malinta tunnel complex had been dug out of solid rock. More than a quarter mile long and 35 feet wide with a 20-foot ceiling and two dozen offshoots, the catacomb contained a 300-bed hospital, ammunition and supply depots, sleeping quarters and a motor pool.
With their conquest of the Pacific almost complete, the Japanese turned their attention to Bataan and Corregidor in February 1942. Days of incessant bombing made electricity and drinking water increasingly precious commodities.
On Feb. 21, the day after the president of the Philippines went into wartime exile, FDR told Gen. MacArthur the time had come for him to get out too. He put off obeying the distasteful order for two weeks until leaving at last in the dead of night.
Maj. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright took MacArthur’s place and moved his headquarters from Bataan to Corregidor. The siege dragged on for another month exhausting the shrinking stockpiles of food, munitions and medicine as well as the troops, who took sick in mounting numbers due to their weakened condition.
The U.S. field commander on the peninsula finally faced the futility of further fighting and offered his unconditional surrender on Apr. 9. Enough American soldiers fled to the fly-speck island to double The Rock’s population, but the rest joined thousands of other prisoners for the infamous Bataan Death March, one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War.
As Apr. 21 (San Jacinto Day and the date of the annual Aggie “muster”) approached, Major Tom Dooley (class of 1935) had an idea. A&M alumni on Corregidor could collectively celebrate Texas independence and reminisce about their beloved alma mater, as they did every year, and a willing wire-service reporter would include their names in an article written just for the occasion.
That way the folks back home at least would know they were still alive.
Dooley, MacArthur’s aide-de-camp and a former yell leader at A&M, could not have imagined the positive impact of his plan on stateside morale, which was in bad need of a boost. In a glowing profile of Gen. Moore, the Dallas Morning News proudly predicted, “The Japs will play hell rooting old Maud out of Corregidor.”
But it was only a matter of time until the enemy did exactly that. The Japanese subjected The Rock to an unprecedented pounding on May 5 with one 500-pound artillery shell striking the crater-covered island every five seconds for five hellish hours.
The Japanese troops that landed on Corregidor at midnight were met head-on by determined defenders personally led by the Aggie general, George Moore. The Americans and their brave Filipino allies fought like demons in ferocious combat that was often hand-to-hand, but sheer numbers slowly drove them back to the tunnel entrance.
Eight hundred American soldiers gave their lives that last bloody morning on Corregidor before Wainwright and Moore decided more sacrifice would serve no purpose. After all weapons larger than handguns and classified documents were destroyed, they formally capitulated and submitted to a nightmarish captivity that lasted the rest of the war.
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