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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.

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.

“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.

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.

 

16 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

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

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

  14. Megan Harris
    June 19, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Dear Ms. King, thanks for reading and for your comment. Because VHP does not collect comprehensive military records, we’re not the best source for tracking troop movements. I would suggest consulting the National Archives or the Army’s Center for Military History if you have not already. These volumes look like they may have pertinent information regarding the history of the 169th Infantry: http://web.ccsu.edu/vhp/Higgins_John/History_of_first_CT_regiment.pdf and https://history.army.mil/html/books/072/72-10/CMH_Pub_72-10.pdf. Again, please keep in mind that we’re not an authoritative source of unit histories, so these links are simply possible sources that could be a place to start. Thanks again and best of luck with your research.

  15. 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

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

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

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