Two sides to Leyte liberation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 1994, 12:00am

THE 50th anniversary of the Leyte liberation landing in the Philippines by General Douglas MacArthur has, like the man it glorifies, developed a split personality.

The four-day commemoration programme has been divided into seemingly conflicting areas of solemn remembrance and unabashed partying, one remembering the Allied invasion, the other celebrating the spin-off invasion it has fostered today.

The solemn remembrance side of the occasion is epitomised by Simone Kempis, who was 15 and living in Dulag the day the liberation broke on his front doorstep.

'We woke up in the morning to find a line of battleships stretching across the horizon,' he said.

'Then the shelling started. The beach, the sky, the water, everything was boiling red.

'There were no individual sounds, just one enormous roar,' Mr Kempis recalled.

The lighter side comes from island old-timer Hernandez Villas, who said: 'We Leytinos invite you to join us to relive the euphoria that followed the liberation of our island from the Japanese occupation.' Leyte is expecting about 15,000 local and overseas visitors, the largest group of people to flock to the island since the landing.

An example of the abiding ambivalence may be seen tomorrow morning when a small group of Americans and Filipinos will go ashore on isolated Dinagat Island near Leyte to commemorate the historic day on October 17, 1944, when the Allies began their counter-attack on the Philippines.

Survivors from the elite US Sixth Ranger Infantry Battalion will celebrate and commemorate their landfall at Campintac town, which happened three days ahead of General MacArthur's landing to set the marker beacons for the Allied armada of about 750 ships and 175,000 men.

The battalion encountered only one small pocket of Japanese resistance, and they judge their initial radio message to the main convoy as more treasured than General MacArthur's more famous pronouncement 72 hours later: 'I have returned.' The message, sent by battalion commanding officer Colonel Henry Mucci, said simply: 'Here we are with all these goddam bullets and no Japs.' This time the more politically correct appellation 'Japanese' will be there. Two large tour groups of Japanese veterans will arrive in Leyte to take part in the remembrance. About 80,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors lost their lives in the subsequent Battle of Leyte.