The World at War

Biography

General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright

Born: Walla Walla, Washington - August 23, 1883
Died: San Antonio, Texas - September 3, 1953

Jonathan Wainwright was born the son of a cavalry officer at Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory in 1883. His father, Robert, commanded a squadron in the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish American War and died in 1901 while serving in the suppression of the Philippine Insurrection. A year later, Jonathan was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
     Wainwright received his commission in 1906 and began his career with the 1st Cavalry Regiment in Texas. The 1st was sent to the Philippines in 1908 as part of an expedition sent to quell the Moro uprising on the island of Jolo. Wainwright participated in the St.Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives towards the end of World War I. Following the Armistice, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff with the Army of Occupation in Koblenz, Germany and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his work in that capacity. The years between the wars were spent in postgraduate studies and training commands. Wainwright rose to the rank of major general by 1940 when he sailed to the Philippines.
     Wainwright had little inkling of what future held. The war in Europe was already raging and he feared "that something might break over here and there he would be stuck in the Philippines missing everything." He was commanding American and Filipino troops in northern Luzon when the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941. Wainwright commanded from the front and his skillful series of holding actions helped to make the American stand on Bataan possible. On February 7, 1942 General MacArthur decorated him with the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.
     MacArthur was ordered to leave for Australia on March 11, 1942. Wainwright succeeded him as commander of all American and Filipino forces on Bataan and was promoted to lieutenant general. The Japanese high command issued an ultimatum on March 22nd urging the defenders of Bataan to surrender in the name of humanity. Continuous air bombardment was followed by two human wave assaults which were repulsed but the defenders were running low on supplies and morale.
     Bataan fell on April 9, 1942. President Roosevelt authorized Wainwright to continue the fight or make terms as he saw fit. Wainwright chose to continue the battle from Corregidor despite the urgings of some that he leave. "I have been one of the battling bastards of Bataan and Iíll play the same role on the rock as long as it is humanly possible. I have been with my men from the start, and if captured I will share their lot. We have been through so much together that my conscience would not let me leave before the final curtain."
     Wainwright and 11,000 survivors held on in the tunnels beneath the rock for another month deprived of food, sleep or hope of relief. On May 5th Wainwright wrote MacArthur, "As I write this we are being subjected to terrific air and artillery bombardment and it is unreasonable to expect that we can hold out for long. We have done our best, both here and on Bataan, and although we are beaten we are still unashamed." The Japanese began landing on the island that night and at noon the next day Wainwright called for terms. General Homma insisted that Wainwright surrender all remaining American and Filipino forces or risk the annihilation of his troops on Corregidor. Wainwright complied. MacArthur countermanded the order but was ignored. MacArthur was livid and later refused to sign General Marshallís recommendation of Wainwright for a Medal of Honor.
     Wainwright spent the next three years in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines, China and Formosa (Taiwan). The man who was known to his friends as Skinny emerged from captivity little more than a skeleton. He was liberated on August 25, 1945 in time to attend the surrender ceremonies aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Wainwright was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to General. He retired from the army in 1947 and died on September 3, 1953.

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