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October 20, 2011

The Landing At Leyte: A Promise Made

October 20 is always a historic day for Filipinos. It marks the day when the American Forces, under the command of General Douglas McArthur, landed in Philippine soil years after they were expelled by the Japanese during World War II. When General McArthur retreated to Australia during the invasion of the Japanese in 1942, he told the Australian politicians and diplomats the famous line, "I shall return (to the Philippines)". Almost 3 years later, the feisty General indeed returned to the Philippines, keeping his promise to the Filipino people. But it wasn't an easy comeback. Days before the landing in Palo, Leyte, the biggest Naval Battle in human history occurred.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf included four major naval battles: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is also notable as the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks.[3][4] Also worth noting is the fact that Japan at this battle had fewer aircraft than the Allied Forces had sea vessels, a clear demonstration of the difference in power of the two sides at this point of the war. The first use of kamikaze aircraft took place following the Leyte landings. A kamikaze hit the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia on 21 October. Organized suicide attacks by the "Special Attack Force" began on 25 October during the closing phase of the Battle off Samar, causing the destruction of the escort carrier St. Lo.

Following four hours of heavy naval gunfire on A-day, 20 October, Sixth Army forces landed on assigned beaches at 10:00. The X Corps pushed across a 4 mi (6.4 km) stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. 15 mi (24 km) to the south, XXIV Corps units came ashore across a 3 mi (4.8 km) strand between San José and the Daguitan River. Troops found as much resistance from swampy terrain as from Japanese fire. Within an hour of landing, units in most sectors had secured beachheads deep enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supplies. Only in the 24th Division sector did enemy fire force a diversion of follow-up landing craft. But even that sector was secure enough by 13:30 to allow Gen. MacArthur to make a dramatic entrance through the surf and announce to the populace the beginning of their liberation: "People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

Today, a marker stands on the beach of Palo, Leyte, commemorating this historic event.

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