FIGHTING MEN ARE POWERLESS WITHOUT PLANES
By HONORABLE FRANCIS B. SAYRE, U. S. High Commissioner to the Philippine Islands
At the dinner of the American Newspaper Publishers Association,Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, April 23, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 467-469.
BEFORE speaking of Corregidor, as you have asked me to do, I should like to pay a tribute to your own men, the correspondents who have covered the story of the war in the Philippines. They have done a magnificent job. They have written history as it exploded before their eyes. They have carried out the supreme duty
of the good reporter under the supreme test: they got the story and they got it in the face of death.
It is still difficult for me to realize that, under the President's direction, I am really back in America and not dreaming on my rough cot in the tunnel on Corregidor,
War against Japan was a cloud on our horizon at Manilawhich for months we had been watching and planning for. In the summer of 1941 we had mined Manila Harbor; for a long time our army intelligence officers had been preparing lists of suspects to be arrested upon the outbreak of war; the movements of American merchant ships had been put under Navy control. Finally, on December first we received a message from Washington warning us of the possibility of attack, as a result of which Admiral Hart, General MacArthur and I met in my office to confer and outline plans. Even then the reality of war seemed hard to believe.
At 4:00 A.M. on the morning of our December 8 (corresponding to December 7 on the other side of the International Date Line) I was awakened by the sound of bare feet running down the corridor. Claude Buss, my executive assistant, burst into my bedroom and breathlessly told me of the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor. Rousing my staff, we went at once to work. Commonwealth officials had to be notified, press releases given out, constabulary guards posted around the Residence compound, and our gates closed to all except those holding passes. I ordered the closing of the Japanese banks. In accordance with carefully worked out plans some of our staff I put to work filling and piling sandbags to protect our building; others were detailed to procure food and water storage cans in case of siege; still others were set to work gathering first-aid materials in our splinter-proof shelter in the basement. At the end of that memorable day I went down to General MacArthur's headquarters to confer with him over the situation. He told me of the gravity of our position—of the ships that had been lost that morning at Pearl Harbor and of the flying fortresses and planes that had been lost that noon at Clark Field and Iba Field, north of Manila.
The days that followed were crowded with activity. We worked against time, never knowing when Japanese bombs would wipe us out. We slept in our clothes, up and down those first few nights three or four times a night because of air-raid warnings. All of our staff who were not living with their families gathered at the Residence every evening before dark; we improvised a men's and a women's dormitory of mattresses spread out on the passageway around the court and protected by sandbags; and here we caught what sleep we could against the coming day. Nerves were taut and ears always strained against every noise; exaggerated rumors were rife; yet never have I seen a group of men and women working in more splendid self-control and fine cooperation. It helped one over rough places and was a constant inspiration to work with a staff like that.
Through those crowded days and nights amid a few hopeful and many disheartening reports, one fact became increasingly clear. Japanese troops had landed in large numbers on Lingayen Gulf to the North and also in large numbers to the South; both forces were advancing upon Manila with the evident intention of cracking us. With the Japanese in complete control of the air our own troops were proving unable to check the double advance.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, General MacArthur decided Manila could not be held. He called me on the telephone and said that I, together with President Quezon, must leave within four hours for Corregidor, there to set up a temporary seat of government. He agreed to join us on that island fortress the same evening.
That morning the Japanese commenced bombing the port area of Manila, and in between two bombing raids we made our getaway, President Quezon and I together with our families and staffs, putting off in two small launches from the Presidential pier and boarding the Mayon, an inter-island steamer waiting for us outside the breakwater.
We went to sleep that Christmas Eve in cots jammed 1 end to end along the side of the Corregidor tunnel, with all our possessions in suitcases under our cots. There we lived during the next two months, sharing with our American and Filipino troops a memorable life.
It is a privilege to be one of a company of men like that. I have never seen their equal. We had our tunnel to run to when the bombs began to fall or the shells came our way. But the majority of them just had to stand by their guns and take it. They never flinched and they never complained. I've watched them going out to dangerous posts night after night, some of them whistling as if it were all in the day's work. I've seen them carried, torn and bleeding, into the hospital to the operating tables, gritting their teeth and still taking it. Their spirit is magnificent. They cannot be beaten.
A few get medals; the great majority, just as brave, go out in the dark and are never heard of again.
Now as I step into the dazzling sunlight of America with its gay, soft life—a life that I have loved and still love—I think of those boys over in the Philippines—Americans and Filipinos, living next to death. Corregidor and America are two different worlds and the contrast is almost shocking.
Yet I know I speak truly when I say that the American people are not indifferent or apathetic. They care and they care tremendously. But what can they do? I believe all America is asking that question. What can we who are not in uniform do?
First, we must realize that the war is being fought on two separate fronts,—the battle front on the other side of the world and the production front back home. Each is of equal importance. No matter how magnificent their spirit, men can't win without planes and guns and ships and war supplies. Because we lacked sufficient planes and fighting material in the war areas our best fighters were powerless to stop the Japanese sweeping Southward from Lingayen Gulf to Manila. The hardest thing our men had to face was not savage hand-to-hand fighting with fanatical Japanese, not even planned mass attacks at critical points, but the helpless feeling of watching oncoming waves of Japanese bombers in the sky with no American planes to oppose them,—having to stand by one's guns and just take it, utterly unable to fight back.
One of the most tragic sights I have even witnessed was the bombing of Cavite a few days after the outbreak of the war. Cavite was the old Spanish naval base which America had taken over in 1898 and had converted into a modern naval base with repair shops, ammunition stores, and oil supplies, a very vital link in our naval defense in the Far East. From the terrace of our Residence one noontime we watched the Japanese planes come sweeping over Manila above us and then on across the bay to Cavite. Shining in the sun, in perfect V formation, with slow deliberation they circled over Cavite and then dropped their bombs. Following the roar of explosions, great clouds of smoke and later leaping flame rose over the inferno. Cavite was wiped off the map. That afternoon small boatloads of mutilated human bodies came across the bay and landed their dreadful cargoes to be taken to Sternberg Hospital in Manila. All night flames lit up the sky above Cavite and even next day the fires still raged. Because of our lack of planes, Cavite was left a shambles and a gaping ruin.
Wars these days are won or lost by what happens on the production front quite as much as by what happens on the battle front. Fighting on the production front is probably the more difficult job of the two. It is less romantic and requires even more tenacity and ingenuity and brains andgrit. Upon victory or defeat on the production front will ultimately hang the winning or losing of the war.
The wheels of war production are turning in America, but we must get them turning faster. Time is of the essence. A plane today may be worth ten planes next year. We must drive production more furiously.
Surely, America will not fail her boys at the front. We are engaged today in a grim struggle, far more difficult than any previous war in which we have taken part. It will not be an easy victory. The power of evil arrayed against us is stupendous. Never before in our history have we had to fight on so many fronts at once and so far away from home. It will demand sacrifices such as America has not yet even begun to make.
America must awake to the grimness of the struggle. We must learn to forget our differences,—to unite all our forces in the great common cause.
I remember at Corregidor, as we hung over the radio at the tunnel entrance, hungry to hear encouraging news from home that would mean the sending of help,—I remember more than once how heartsick we were over news of this plant or that falling down in its production. We were not pro-capital or pro-labor, closed shop or open shop men. We were but soldiers at the front trying to defend our countrymen, with our lives at stake and forfeit if our countrymen failed us.
If we, back home, win on the production front, there is not the slightest question about ultimate victory. We shall have discouragements. We shall have reverses. But final victory will be sure. I know whereof I speak. I have seen our boys fighting. Given anything like equal chances they outfight the Japanese at every turn.
In the second place, we must remember that we are fighting not merely to win a struggle, but to establish a world where our children can live in peace and security under law. The real objective for which we are fighting is a world offreedom and democracy. We can have such a world only if we find the way to build a peace that will be lasting.
That is as difficult a job as the winning of the war. And it is also as necessary if we are to obtain the objectives for which we are fighting. If we lose the peace our military victory will turn to dust and ashes.
To find the way will demand months of hard work and study and planning—before the making of the peace treaty. For instance, after we have won the war, are we going to allow individual nations at will again to build up gigantic armaments, and thus compel other nations against their desire to divert money vitally necessary for economic development and other peaceful needs into competitive armament building? Are we going to leave every small nation to the mercy of the gunmen and the freebooters? If not, how practically can the world be made safe for the peace loving? How practically are we going to make the earth's raw materials accessible to peoples who need them? How practically can we keep open and unchoked the avenues of international trade upon which the standards of living of every industrial people vitally and inescapably depend? How practically can we prevent unfair commercial practices and trade discriminations which lead the way directly to the final crash of war?
We cannot successfully build a peace that will be lasting until these and a host of similar knotty problems have been studied and thought through by competent experts and economists. But this is not enough. The solutions reached by experts will be valueless unless backed by a true understanding of the real issues by an informed public opinion.
You have probably a more vital part than any other group in the making and informing of that opinion. This will take time. The issues are complex and obscured by much emotional prejudice. If we wait until after the war is won it will be too late. That work must begin now. And yours in large part is that responsibility.