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History's Happenings for October 20

MacArthur Returns To Philippines
1944

General Douglas MacArthur and staff wade ashore in the Philippines

Fulfilling a famous promise made as the Philippines fell to the Japanese onslaught in 1942, General Douglas MacArthur returned to liberate the Islands on October 20, 1944.

MacArthur had assumed command of U.S. forces on the Philippine Islands in June, 1941, a job with which he was familiar from earlier in his stellar military career. At that time war clouds were looming and it was no secret that the U.S. possession was threatened by the Japanese Empire.

The war plan called for an orderly retreat to Bataan in the case of an invasion, because the geography of the isolated province and the preparations already made there made its defense more practical. Despite an inclination to fight the enemy on the beaches instead, when war came to the Philippines on December 8, 1941, MacArthur's army was overwhelmed and they fell back to the Bataan Peninsula as originally planned. Isolated, besieged and pounded constantly by Japanese planes and artillery, there was little hope of breaking out.

Sizing up the situation, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave, an order he followed with the greatest reluctance on March 11, 1942, when he bundled his family onto PT boats and set out for Australia.

Bataan fell on April 9. General Jonathan Wainwright, left in command by MacArthur, had moved his staff to the small offshore fortification of Corregidor the day before, and was receiving the same pounding he had left behind on the Peninsula. Short of everything, on May 6 Corregidor fell as well. The Japanese marched the thousands of surviving Americans off to distant prison camps under generally miserable conditions in what became known as the "Death March".

MacArthur assumed that, having been ordered to Australia in the midst of a losing fight, he would be permitted to return expeditiously with a reinforcing army. As he arrived in Darwin, Australia, he announced:

"The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand, of organizing an American offensive against Japan, a primary purpose of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through, and I shall return."

He was wrong. The path back to the Philippines was long and arduous, and it was never clear until the last that the Islands would be a prime objective as the war closed in on Japan.

For the ensuing two years, MacArthur commanded the Allied forces in the southwest Pacific, battling from island to island up the Solomons chain and into the East Indies, skipping and isolating enemy strongpoints. As the Central Pacific Command simultaneously pressed in from the east under Admiral Nimitz, strategic arguments developed over whether the Philippines should be taken, or the main thrust should be through Formosa, bypassing the Philippines strongpoint. Mac Arthur argued fervently that his solemn promise be fulfilled. The Philippines it would be -- but due to the ability to be ready to go earlier than Formosa.

On October 20, 1944, the General fulfilled his promise by leading the largest amphibious landing yet seen in the Pacific onto the central Philippine island of Leyte. Four Army divisions landed abreast and pushed inland while the U.S. Navy protected its backside in the critical and decisive Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was at Leyte that the Japanese Kamikaze first appeared over the American fleet.

The Japanese did not give away the Islands easily. Fighting dragged on into the following June, though an almost destroyed Manila had finally been taken in early February.

MacArthur was promoted to the new rank of General of the Army -- five stars -- during the Philippine campaign.

Birth of Architect Sir Christopher Wren
1632

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

A man of varied and extraordinary talents as well as England's most famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren was born on October 20, 1632 in Wiltshire. As a boy he displayed a remarkable gift for science, eventually studying mathematics at Oxford, where he excelled.

Until his late twenties, he had had no evident interest in architecture. Handed a minor position involving the upkeep of public buildings, he dove into the field, studying the masters and designing a few minor buildings.

In 1666, the Great Fire swept London, destroying most of the Old City. The next year, Wren submitted a plan to rebuild the city which was far ahead of his time, but it was rejected. Nonetheless he was appointed to oversee the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral, and various other churches, which had been destroyed in the fire. Shortly thereafter, he was moved up into oversight for all royal and public building in England, a position he held for fifty years.

Wren spent thirty-five years superintending the rebuilding of St. Paul's according to designs he submitted in 1675. Since its completion in 1710, the building ranks as one of the world's finest domed cathedrals and reflects Wren's penchant for mathematical precision.

During the same period, Wren also designed more than fifty other buildings, including the Observatory at Greenwich. He is also credited with several inventions, including a process which led eventually to successful blood transfusions, and was a member of Parliament for many years.

Wren was knighted in 1673 and died in February,1723. His body lies in St. Paul's, surrounded by his monument.

Senate Ratifies Louisiana Purchase
1803

President Thomas Jefferson

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Columbian Exposition Opens in Chicago
1892

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House Un-American Activities Committee Opens Hearings
1947

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Nixon Fires Watergate Prosecutor
1973

President Richard M. Nixon -- a little c.y.a.

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