Tonight (Sunday), HBO debuts the first segment of a 10-part mini-series about World War II in the Pacific. Unfortunately, I don’t subscribe to HBO because I’d like to see the show for at least two reasons.
First, the Pacific is where America truly fought the Second World War. Our entry into the war began in the Pacific and the war ended in the Pacific. The European theater was principally a war between Germany and Russia, which fought non-stop from June 1941 until the Red Army took Berlin in May 1945. (After Germany conquered western Europe, except for the United Kingdom, there was no land fighting on the Western Front until 1944, except for the slow campaign in Italy.)
But the most important reason for my interest in the Pacific theater is a personal one: I was born because of it. My father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force. He began with MacArthur in Australia and island hopped with him all the way to Angeles, home to Clark Air Base in the northern Philippines.
My father’s unit was the first one to enter my mother’s hometown after the Japanese evacuated it. A “liberation fiesta” was held to celebrate the fulfillment of MacArthur’s pledge to the Philippines after he escaped from Bataan to Australia: “I shall return.”
At the fiesta, my father, then 22, noticed my mother, who was a few years younger, and asked her to dance. They did and that was the beginning. Fortunately for my parents, my father’s unit logically remained at nearby Clark Air Base for the remainder of the war, allowing them to continue their relationship.
My mother’s family was not unfamiliar with the American military. Her stepfather was in the U.S. Cavalry, surrendered at Bataan, survived the notorious Bataan Death March and then three years in a POW camp.
At the end of the war, my father was a Captain. Rather than stay in the military or return to the U.S., he married my mother and stayed in the Philippines. Six years later, I was born at Manila’s University of Santo Tomas (UST) hospital. (During the war, UST was an internment camp for American and other Allied civilians.) Today, my father rests in Arlington National Cemetery follwing a full military ceremony complete with horse-drawn carriage, military band, 21-gun salute, flag folding and presentation. I’ve never seen anything like it before and probably never will again.
Although many Americans are somewhat familiar with the European theater, thanks to movies such as The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Patton, Saving Private Ryan, etc. I suspect there is little familiarity with the Pacific theater beyond Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Iwo Jima. Why not begin your education tonight….!