Was the famous Leyte Landing of 1944 reenacted?

Today our country commemorates the anniversary of the famous Leyte Landing. That historic event from World War II features the landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf to begin his campaign of recapturing and liberating our country from Japanese occupation, as well as to fulfill his now iconic “I shall return” promise. Together with him were President-in-exile Sergio Osmeña, Lieutenant General Richard Sutherland, Major General Charles A. Willoughby, Brigadier General Carlos P. Rómulo, and the rest of the Sixth Army forces. From his book The Fooling of America: The Untold Story of Carlos P. Rómulo, the late chemist-turned-historian Pío Andrade writes:

On October 20, 1944, following preliminary landings in Sulúan, Homonhón, and Dinagat islands between October 17-19, American soldiers landed in Leyte to begin liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese. After several waves of troops had landed, MacArthur landed at Red Beach, Palo, Leyte. It was a historic moment for MacArthur and the Philippines.

The above photo, now regarded as one of the most memorable images from World War II, is what the whole world knows about the Leyte Landing. However, in the same book, Andrade has more to reveal:

MacArthur’s Leyte landing has been firmly etched in the mind of the public thus: the general wading in knee-deep water with Philippine President Osmeña and Carlos P. Rómulo. Actually, there are doubts whether that picture is the real first Leyte landing of MacArthur. A daughter of one of President Quezon’s military aides told this writer that the picture was a reenactment. There were three shots of the Leyte landing picture taken from different angles thereby giving the impression that the landing was rehearsed. The New York Times reported that President Osmeña came ashore in Leyte on October 21, meaning that the famous Leyte landing picture was not taken the day MacArthur first stepped on Red Beach. MacArthur, himself, signed and dated a different Leyte landing picture which showed neither Osmeña nor Rómulo.

And what could that photo Andrade was referring to? Here it is:

La imagen puede contener: una o varias personas, personas de pie y exterior

Photo from Andrade’s book.

Real or reenacted, Rómulo was flamboyantly dressed in the Leyte landing picture. While professional soldiers Generals MacArthur, Sutherland, and Willoughby wore military caps, paper soldier Rómulo wore a steel helmet, the better to show his brigadier general’s star. Though he knew he would be in the rear headquarters, Rómulo dressed as if he was going to the combat zone. He had a pair of leggings and his revolver hang on a shoulder holster like an FBI agent instead of on a belt holster required by military regulations. Rómulo was trying hard to project himself as a real soldier.

But Rómulo’s alleged KSP attitude, of course, is another story. Today, the Leyte Landing is immortalized by the MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park at Red Beach, on the same site where MacArthur and his party landed. Which now leads me to a heritage crime that happened in 2014: the unceremonious removal of the Simón de Anda Monument from Bonifacio Drive in Manila to make way for a much larger highway to ease traffic. On deciding of removing the monument, then DPWH-National Capital Region head Reynaldo Tagudando said that the de Anda Monument has “no historical value”. Tagudando thus revealed his complete ignorance of who Simón de Anda y Salazar was.

De Anda was an oidor or member judge of the Audiencia Real (Spain’s appellate court in its colonies/overseas provinces) when the British, on account of the Seven Years’ War, invaded Filipinas in 1762. While many high-ranking government officials, including then interim governor-general and Archbishop Manuel Rojo del Río, already surrendered to the invaders, de Anda and his followers refused to do so. Instead, he established a new Spanish base in Bacolor, Pampanga and from there launched the country’s first ever guerrilla resistance against the British. He thus proved to be a big thorn on the side of the British until the latter left two years later.

During those tumultuous two years under the British, de Anda made no promises and neither did he leave Filipinas. He stuck it out with Filipinos through thick and thin and gave the enemy an armed resistance that they more than deserved. But “Dugout Doug” was all drama when he said “I shall return”, leaving the Filipinos to fend for themselves against the Japs. And when he did return, it was a disaster: the death of Intramuros, the heart and soul of the country.

If there was anything good that came out from 2013’s destructive Typhoon Yolanda, it was the damage done to that memorial park at Red Beach. When it comes to WWII commemorations, even the forces of nature know which monument has no historical value.