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The Battles of Leyte and Luzon, 1944-1945

When the New Year arrives, thoughts often turn to what the coming year might bring. During wartime, service members inevitably wonder if the next year will be the year: the long-anticipated time when peace is declared and they can reunite with their families after so many months spent apart.

Sepia photo of man with dark hair in uniform.

Captain David Baker (AFC2001/001/75692), Veterans History Project.

For soldiers fighting in the Pacific Theater at the end of 1944, peacetime seemed very far off. War-weariness abounded for soldiers and their loved ones alike. My maternal grandfather, Captain David Baker, served with the 25th Infantry Division in the South Pacific. In a letter sent to his family in Iowa at the end of December, 1944, he wrote, “‘When I get home’—that sounds like more of a phrase of magic.”

Shortly after writing this letter, Captain Baker found himself taking part in the battle of Luzon, one of two important battles that ultimately yielded control of the Philippines to the Allied forces. Under Japanese control since 1942, when General Douglas MacArthur was forced to retreat from the Bataan Peninsula, the Philippines stood as a critical part of winning the Pacific war. While MacArthur’s triumphant return to the Philippines in 1944 looms large in the popular understanding of the war, the stories of the soldiers involved in the battles of Leyte and Luzon may be less well-known.

Sketch of soldier in knee-deep water in a jungle holding a gun.

“Mud on Leyte Island.” Carl Hall Collection (AFC2001/001/27180), Veterans History Project.

The liberation of the Philippines began with the island of Leyte; landings commenced on October 20, 1944.  While the Army encountered little resistance from the enemy along the beach, once they ventured further inland, their progress was slowed by the jungle conditions as well as a lack of supplies. In his memoir, Infantry Corporal Carl Hall recalls the intense mud in the swamps: “Never shall I forget that march. It took us three days to go less than 2 miles. The weather was hell, rain every night, hot sun during the day, muddy clothes, lack of food and water…”

Another VHP memoirist, Army Sergeant Richard Foss, states, “The day of October 20th, 1944, was probably the most memorable day I spent in World War II.” Part of the First Cavalry Division, he offers a vivid description of the difficult landing on Leyte, concluding, “I don’t understand how any of us survived that ordeal.” Foss went on to spend 90 straight days in combat, including taking part in the invasion of Luzon. In his VHP interview, Staff Sergeant Richard Johnson recalls the lack of supplies that characterized his time spent in combat on Leyte, fighting with the 96th Division: “Those of us who were inland… we lived on three things… one was coconuts, one was Indian corn, and the third was sugarcane. And I lost about 30 pounds on that diet.” As Johnson describes, disease posed yet another threat: “We lost more to sickness than to Japanese bullets on Leyte. I had things like ringworm and hookworm and strongyloidiasis and yellow jaundice and dengue fever and so on… and those were normal kinds of things.” By December 31, 1944, Allied forces had captured the island, at a cost of about 3,500 American casualties.

For those in the Navy, the invasion of Leyte also involved participating in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered to be one of the greatest sea battles in history. It brought about tremendous loss of life on both sides, due in part to the Japanese use of kamikaze pilots. Serving aboard the USS St. Lo, Ship’s Serviceman Third Class Jerome Keith was forced overboard when the St. Lo was struck; while he survived, over 1500 of his shipmates were casualties of the battle.

Black and white photo of men in helmets and full uniforms behind a wooden barricade in a tropical location with palm trees.

Luzon, Philippines. Charles Restifo Collection (AFC2001/001/5849), Veterans History Project.

Once Leyte was secured, U.S. forces proceeded to Luzon, landing on January 9, 1945. Charles Restifo, a combat photographer with the Army Signal Corps serving aboard the USS Mt. Olympus, was part of the fourth wave to hit the beaches during the landing; he then proceeded to Manila, where he witnessed the liberation of American prisoners of war who had spent the last three years in captivity. Richard Foss called encountering these POWs, including civilians and soldiers forced to take part in the infamous Bataan Death March, a “once in a lifetime historical experience”: “You could feel what they had been through by looking into their eyes.” Despite intense fighting, Luzon was under Allied control by late spring 1945.

And as for Captain David Baker? Along with the rest of the 25th Infantry, he landed on Luzon on January 11, 1945, and spent six months engaging with the enemy until his division was relieved in late June. Though he and his comrades fighting in the Pacific theater might not have believed it possible, thanks in part to their efforts during the battles of Leyte and Luzon, 1945 was indeed the year that saw an end to nearly four years of warfare. Click here to view more stories of veterans who served in the Philippines.

 

30 Comments

  1. Mike Margiotta
    June 23, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    My father fought at Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, Bataan and New Guinea. Anthony Joseph Margiotta. He was with the infantry, don’t know which division. He was a field Corporal I believe with a Howitzer crew.

  2. Leon Wood
    August 6, 2017 at 9:33 am

    My uncle Leon died on Leyte .He was a volunteer in the army from Charlotte Mi.
    I was named after him but don’t remember meeting him as I was born in 1944 . My curiosity leads me to search for news about him. He was tall at 6’4″ dark hair and thin but athletic.. This article gives me a look into how he might have died on Leyte.

  3. PHILIP ARENA
    December 23, 2017 at 8:21 am

    My uncle Pfc. Harry P. Arena died in Leyte on Christmas day, I assume it was 1944.
    Other than he was an Infantryman in the Army I have no other information. My family always said that he was bayoneted by Japanese soldiers while he was sleeping. Sounds like it was quite a pivotal battle of the war.

  4. Russell O’Dell
    February 2, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    My uncle Cpl.Eugene Cohoon died in the battle of Leyte somewhere. He was in the 21st Infantry Regiment. I do not know what unit. He died on November 10, 1944. Is there any way that I could find out any more info. My mom, his sister (last living sibling) and I would like to find out more about him and his death. My mom’s health is failing and would like to know more info if possible.

    • Megan Harris
      February 2, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      Mr. O’Dell, thanks for reading and for your comment. Our archive does not have comprehensive service records for all veterans who have served, rather, only those who have participated in our project. We recommend that you start researching your uncle’s service by contacting the National Archives. Military records for service personnel enlisted after 1916 usually are held at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Instructions for ordering military records are available on the National Archives web site at http://www.archives.gov/research_room/obtain_copies/veterans_service_records.html. This brochure may be of interest to you in your search for information: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/ww2-participation.pdf. We wish you the best of luck researching your uncle’s service and his death.

  5. Dave R.
    April 24, 2018 at 12:30 am

    My father, an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy, was assigned to Leyte posing as an Army Captain, where he worked with the guerrillas. He had been on Leyte for about a year when MacArthur made is triumphant return, and said he watched as they filmed his wading ashore several times to get it right for the newsreels of the day. At that point, he said all he wanted was to go aboard the LST and get a peanut butter sandwich, as he’d had neither white bread nor peanut butter in all those months he’d been in the jungle! He stayed in the Navy, finally retiring in 1966. He received the Army Commendation Medal for his duty on Leyte – but it wasn’t delivered until 1963! He served in WW II, the Korean War, and was in Vietnam in 1965. He passed in 1995, and is buried in the National Cemetery in Pensacola, FL. Thank you, Megan for your efforts with the Veterans History Project.

    • Megan Harris
      April 24, 2018 at 9:14 am

      Dave, thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m so pleased that this blog post resonates with readers, even a few years after it was published. Thanks for sharing your father’s experiences; I love the anecdote about his wanting nothing but a peanut butter sandwich! Reminds me of my grandfather’s letters in which he expresses a craving for milk. Anyway, thank you again for your comment.

  6. Bryan Lantroop
    July 18, 2018 at 6:52 am

    My Grandfather served in the the battle of Leyte . He was part of the 163th attached to the 41st but in his words he served in the 34th in 44 and 45 ! No were can I find any info on him or any one else in the 34th .Some info says the 34th was there but who is in it 44 and 45 ? The info on the 34th says they were there 41 and 42 . I know that this sounds weird but a little help would be nice . Thank you for your time.

    • Megan Harris
      July 18, 2018 at 9:48 am

      Dear Mr. Lantroop, thanks for reading and for your comment. I have a couple of suggestions for tracking your grandfather’s service history, and will email you directly. Thanks again!–Megan Harris

  7. Rick Roelle.
    August 6, 2018 at 1:39 am

    How can I find out how my Great Uncle Frank Hurley Jr was killed on Feb 20 1945 during battle of Luzon. He was in 33rd Div 36 Infantry. Thank you!

    Rick Roelle
    Apple Valley Ca.

  8. timothy corr
    September 4, 2018 at 12:50 am

    Ms. Harris, thank you for this page on the importance on the Battle of Luzon. My father, 1st Sgt. Edward d. Corr, 25th Infantry-161st Regiment (also forward scout) was with General Dalton showing him Balete Pass.The next morning Dalton wanted go back,(with other scouts)and was killed by a Japanese sniper. The largest Army group of Japanese was entrench on Luzon. Thanks for giving some importance to the 25th Div. 165 days of fighting. Best Regards, Timothy Corr

  9. Starla Ryer
    September 11, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    My dad was wounded Christmas Day 1944 on Leyte – he never talked much about it until he lay dying and then I learned of the atrocities he experienced….it was then I was able to piece his life together.

  10. Carley King
    June 18, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Is there any way to track troop movements for 169th Infantry during April 1945?

  11. Paul J. SULLIVAN
    June 22, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    My uncle Jim C. Sullivan BAR carrier in Company K, 161 IR was K.I.A. at Balete Pass on Apr. 28, 1945

  12. Barry Johnson
    August 9, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Trying to track the 147 infantry on Luzon island, any help would be appreciated!

  13. Rhetta Daniel
    March 16, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    My father, Capt. Vaughan P. Moore served with Company I, 1st Filipino Infantry, from 1944 through December 1945.

    How can I get information on what they did on Leyte, and Southern Phillipines?

    I have many of his letters and am writing a book about his service in the US Army from 1942 – 1946.

  14. Dennis Kettinger
    May 9, 2020 at 12:52 am

    My father,Daniel Kettinger ,Wisconsin , fought at New Guiane(sic) Luzon and Leyte. He was a machine gunner. He and only 6 others in his company survived the ear.

  15. Spencer
    May 30, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    I hope that this is still a site to find help. I am looking for info about my grandfather. He was part of the Philippines battles and the battle of Luzon. He was part of the amphibious landing crafts crews.

  16. charles allen
    November 5, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    My uncle, charles e. allen, was killed in action on March 27th, 1945 at Luzon. Though I never met him, I bear his name. My grandmother had his body returned to the U.S. and he is buried at Long Island National Cemetery. My father never go over the loss of his older brother. He was wounded twice as a platoon leader in Europe. God Bless all of the men who fought in that war.

  17. Hilton Haines
    January 8, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    My father, Col. Hilton D Haines, MC, was the CO of the 144th Station Hospital in the Pacific from Guadalcanal through Luzon. He rarely spoke of his experiences and only briefly when we would ask. There is very little information specific to the 144th on the net. What I have learned is via an audio account at the National Archive Veterans Project made by Sgt Lyn Sturdevant. It drives me to want to know more.

  18. Cynthia E Crispin
    January 17, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    My uncle PFC William E. Rose of the 24th Division was a forward scout on Luzon. He was killed on January 30, 1945, while attempting to rescue a fellow soldier who fell wounded in an exposed position ahead of US lines under heavy machine gun fire. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. My dad was contemporaneously serving in Europe in a Combat Engineer Battalion. My dad never talked much about the war, but both his Army experiences and the death of his brother had a tremendous impact on his life. For a couple of farm boys from Indiana, they were both my true American heroes.

  19. Dale M Glading
    February 17, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    My dad was a Staff Sergeant who drove a half-track and saw action in Finschhafen and Hollandia in New Guinea. He also participated in the invasions of Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines, earning four battle stars along the way. He never wanted to talk about his experiences, but I am so very proud of him.

  20. Rob Summers
    May 20, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    My Father Robert L Summers was in the 1st Calvary and fought at Leyte and Luzon. After WW II he went back to school, graduated and entered the Air Force for another 23 years.
    He passed away in 2009, and I tried to get more specific information on his Army days in the Philippines but apparently the records of many soldiers was lost in a flood at the West Virginia archival facility. Is there any other resource one could contact for more information? I was really shocked that so many records were lost in a flood??? Especially WW II era soldiers

  21. George W Gray
    May 30, 2021 at 2:26 am

    My uncle Arthur H Gray 35th Infantry 25th Division
    Left the USA February 1944 to fight in Leyte then in northern Luzon he had honorable citation but since they had a fire in St Louise the documents had been destroyed by the fire. He passed away in 1963 from heart attack.

  22. Linda A. Lawrence
    September 30, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    I sent for my father, Arbie (RB) Hathcock’s military records after he died. He never talked about the war. He was a Rifleman 745, Combat Infantryman, in Company A,
    21st Infantry, 24th Division, U.S. Army, Australia Component. He fought in New Guinea, Luzon, and Leyte.
    My mother, brother, and I never knew he had medals until I requested his records. He had a good conduct, WW II Victory Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon GO 23 Hq. USAF 45 AP Theater, 3 Bronzed Service Stars, and 1 Bronze Star. I thank him for his service.

  23. Randall L. Williams
    October 2, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    My father John B. Williams from Water Valley Ms. was on Leyte as part of the amphibious troops. He spoke little of the war. How can I learn more about the unit he was in and so on.

  24. Bret Stagg
    October 20, 2021 at 2:08 pm

    My father Bret Stagg AKA Bert Stagg, served in 11 Airborne 511PIR was wounded Dec 17 1944 at Mahonag, Leyte. There are good records on the 11AB PIR for the Leyte campaign. Just google 11th Airborn and follow the breadcrums

  25. Shannon LaFrance
    November 13, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    I’m doing a little research from military papers of my Grandfather, George E. Proffitt. He was with Company A 35th Infantry as an auto rifleman 746.

    He received a combat infantry badge on February 10,1945. His Discharge papers also state Purple Heart GO #39 25th INF DIV 28 March 45 WW2 Victory Metal.
    South Philippines Luzon GO 33 WD45

    He was given an Honorable Discharge on November 11, 1945

    I asked my mom for his Discharge papers so I could join the American Legion. Would like to learn more about his time in the service. Ironically, both my sons served in the Armed Forces one was an MP and the other in the INF with USMC. Both never knew their Grandfather.

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