From Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1944–1946
During the months after the United States entered World War II, Japanese forces quickly surrounded and captured strategic locations in and around the Philippines. On March 11, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, abandoned the American headquarters on Corregidor Island (at the entrance of Manila Bay) and, with his family and selected staff members on four PT boats, broke through the Japanese blockade and escaped to Australia. It was there he gave a brief speech which ended in the famous phrase, “I shall return.”
Thirty-one months would pass before MacArthur was able to fulfill his promise. On October 17, 1944, a force of over two hundred American warships appeared off the Philippines; in response, the Japanese readied sixty-four ships—virtually its entire fleet. The U.S. began its invasion on October 20 with a landing on Leyte, an island in the center of the Philippine archipelago. Over the next week forces prepared for and waged the complex series of air, submarine, and surface engagements known collectively as the Battle of Leyte Gulf (or the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea). Japanese losses were heavy—at least 12,000 dead and twenty-five vessels—while the American forces lost six ships and suffered nearly 3,000 casualties. During this battle, on October 25, the Japanese employed for the first time mass suicide attacks (“kamikaze”) by aircraft, a lethal but ultimately futile tactic that continued in the months ahead.
“The Battle of Leyte Gulf drove a stake into the empire, splitting off Tokyo’s Southeast Asian holdings from Japan proper,” concludes the writer of a recent magazine article. “And it furnished U.S. commanders a launching pad for sea and air assaults against the Ryukyu Islands and the Japanese home islands.” Not only was the multi-day engagement one of the last major naval battles of the war, but it is universally regarded as the largest naval battle in history.
One of the American ships sunk during the battle was the aircraft carrier USS Princeton; 108 men aboard lost their lives, and the secondary explosions killed another 233 on the nearby Birmingham, which had been putting out the fires. Peggy Hull Deuell interviewed survivors and filed her story on the tragedy from an unidentified naval base.
Deuell was a veteran journalist whose first war report, nearly three decades earlier, detailed the pursuit of Pancho Villa by U.S. troops in Mexico. She went to France to cover World War I, but was forced to leave when the United States refused to accredit her—or any other woman—as a war correspondent. Upon returning to Washington, she persisted, using connections from her days in Mexico, and was allowed to report on American military intervention in Siberia in 1918. Fourteen years later she filed eyewitness accounts of the brutal Japanese attack on Shanghai. She returned to Asia in 1943 to cover the Pacific theater of the war for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Her dispatches were celebrated for featuring the heroic and tragic stories of individual soldiers and officers. “You will never realize what those yarns of yours did to this gang,” wrote one G.I. at the time. “You made them know they weren't forgotten.”
* * *FROM A NAVAL BASE—They may be home now—the several hundred survivors of the light carrier Princeton sunk in the second battle of the Philippine Sea. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!
This selection is used by permission. To photocopy and distribute this selection for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center.