Peter S. Wainwright

 

'Memorial Address of November 11, 1996'

 

You, as Citizens of Walla Walla, by your magnificent efforts culminating in today's celebration of his Walla Walla origins, and most important, the values that he stood for, have earned every right to claim him as your General.

Others with even more claim than either family or Walla Wallans, are those who fought so bravely under his command and suffered the hopelessness and ignominy and and brutality of Japanese captivity along with him.

As unassuming and modest a general as he was, his troops of all ranks, and fellow captives, virtually worshipped his leadership, bravery, sense of duty, patriotism, care for his troops, and willingness to share their dangers and privation.  An example of his caring is illustrated at the death bed of fellow POW, Col. Paul D. Bunker, USA, artillery officer from his General's command on Corregidor.  In "Skinny's" own words:


"I sat with him for a part of the last two hours of his life.  He had moist beriberi.  His legs, feet, arms, and hand swollen incredibly from the water with which he had tried to assuage his hunger.  He did not know me.  Colonel Bunker died and was cremated in the rags in which he had carefully sewn a bit of the American flag he had had to pull down from Corregidor."
 

The first such individual who expressed to me, in 1950, his affection for this extraordinary leader was retired Dutch Major General Schilling, captured while defending Java and who shared freezing prison quarters during the harsh Manchurian winter with "Our" General. His natural reserve was abandoned when he heard my surname, Wainwright, and he poured out fond memories of, and admiration for a fellow captive, his senior Allied general.

In New Mexico of the economically depressed 1930's, virtually every town had family members who were National Guardsmen.  After winning and all-Army anti-aircraft contest, these weekend warriors were Federalized and almost 2,000 of their state's tiny male population were sent to serve in the 200th, and its spun off 515th, AA Battalions at Clark Field, Manila, and finally Bataan, where almost all but the three who had died in battle were captured.  They had been the first to fire on attacking Japanese aircraft and among the most cohesive units to surrender on Bataan.  Only half returned alive to the US 31/2 years later.  Many more died shortly after repatriation from the aftermath of malnutrition and gratuitous maltreatment.  Regardless of their horrible ordeals, all survivors and families I met after moving to the state in 1955 until Veteran's Day over 50 years later when hugging seven of his few remaining troops, the name Wainwright was almost magic.  New Mexicans' universal affection for their General had encouraged us to name our youngest son Jonathan Mayhew, born in New Mexico in December 1961, 20 years after the Battle of Bataan began.

The late Col. Henry Peck, commanding the New Mexico Guard's 515th, stated that his General was "a wonderful fellow...a right down-to-earth officer and considerate of everyone under him.  He was always thinking of the welfare of the men, even in [POW] camp."

One very emotional moment came during February, 1987 at a Rotary luncheon in the Manila Hotel.  Upon my introduction as a visiting Rotarian, the name Wainwright brought over 200, mostly Philippine, business and professional leaders to their feet and a thunderous applause for the memory of their general.  After all, the bulk of his army consisted of their people and he had shared the same dangers and privations leading the Philippine Scouts, Constabulary, and raw recruits from the Lingayan Gulf to the Bataan battle front, and Corregidor and POW hell-holes to follow.

Only two weeks ago, I talked again with retired Army Col. Tom Dooley in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, his General's long time military aide-de-camp.  On December 8, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day in the Philippines, Major General Wainwright awarded 1st Lt. Dooley WWII's first Silver Star.  Col. Dooley stated, "My time with him was marvelous, except of course, the POW camp years.  He was a great person!"  This from an officer who stuck by his horse-loving Cavalry general even though, as Col. Dooley confessed to me, "I hated horses!"  Dooley well remembered his General telling the officers your hometown joke about being so proud of the town's name you say it twice.  Isn't it amazing that with all they went through together, such a simple bit of humor was memorable?  "Skinny," though a general, was an unpretentious guy.  He autographed a group picture to Dooley as one of the "Battling Bastards of Bataan."  This sad poem, composed by his men, goes as follows:
 

We're the battling bastards of Bataan,
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam
No, uncles, no aunts, no nephews, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn.

Their General was just another "Battling Bastard" - with pride.

Both he and his wife, Adele, were "Army brats" of modest financial resources, but in spite of that, in the late 1930's Col. Wainwright was Commandant of Fort Myers, Virginia, right outside of that other Washington, the District of Columbia.  This was considered a most prestigious assignment for your "Gentleman General," but the social obligations were extensive, extremely expensive, and beyond their income.   Because of this drain, he eventually asked for reassignment.  In January, 1939 he was promoted to Brigadier and in September, 1940 he was transferred to Fort Stotsenburg, Luzon, P.I. as a Major General assisting Philippine Marshal Douglas MacArthur, retired U.S. Army Chief-of-Staff, in training that soon-to-be fully independent country's army.

Skinny's wealthy replacement with a wealthier wife was none other than that furious Col. George S. Patton who pictured himself stuck with a white glove social assignment while Wainwright and other peers would soon be off to glory in the impending war.  How mistaken he was!

Another survivor/admirer is former Naval Aide-de-Camp, Lt. Malcolm Champlin, now a retired judge in Oak; and, California.  His General gave him an M1 rifle under most hazardous circumstances during the Bataan fighting.  Let me read you a poignant story from Duane Schultz's Hero of Bataan: The Story of General Jonathan M. Wainwright:

"Champlin slipped on his dark glasses to shield his eyes from the dazzling glare of the sun.  He looked up at the sky and saw, "directly in front of the sun, a black speck was hurtling down in a direct line towards us and as I looked, the speck grew larger, second by second, and it grew wings, and the wings were dipping from side to side."

"Get the hell out of this car!" Champlin yelled.  "Everybody get out!   Quickly!"

Wainwright, Dooley, and Pugh turned to look at him in surprise.  Champ shouted at them again and leaned over to release the catch on Wainwright's safety belt.  He leaped out of the car, carbine in hand, and ran for the cover of the trees just beyond the road.   The others were right behind him.  The stream of bullets from the Japanese plane sliced up the road, tearing into the scout car.

"Bastard!" Champlin yelled. He fired the carbine until the clip was empty.

When the plane was gone, the others raised their heads and came out from behind the bushes.  Tom Dooley went to examine the riddled scout car and counted seventy-two bullet holes in it.  "Jesus," he said, "that was a close one."

Champlain glanced at Wainwright.  The general had "an amused expression on his face and the twinkle in his eyes that could not be mistaken."

"Well, you let off some steam, didn't you son," Skinny said.  "You kind of like that gun, don't you?"

"Yes, General, I guess I do."

"It's yours son.  Take it and thanks for spotting that plane.  He'd have gotten us if you hadn't spotted him coming out of the sun."

"But General," Champlin said.  "This is ordinance issue."
"Who's fighting this war?" Skinny said.  "The pencil pushers in Washington or you and I?  Keep it son.  It's yours."

Champlin asked the General why he continuously exposed himself on the front line with his troops...the answer from Wainwright"

"A General is supposed to see that his men get plenty of food, ammunition, and rest.  We are very short on all three.  The one thing I can give them is morale."

When I talked with Judge Champlin last week, this former Naval Officer's loyalty and admiration for his General had not dimmed over the 55 intervening years since that incident.  The rifle and note of authorization from the General hang on his wall. 

General Wainwright faced battles and POW camps courageously.  However, one fear weighed heavily on his mind during the 3-1/2 years from the fall of Bataan and Corregidor until the liberation from the Japanese POW camp at Sian, Manchuria, and that was, to him, the most horror of professional disgrace.

Cut off from hope of re-supply, with food, medicine, and heavy weapons all but non- existent, Army nurses and civilians in his special care, and they, along with all his troops, facing extermination, he disobeyed absent Macarthur's impossible orders and surrendered, after advising President Roosevelt as follows:

"With broken heart and head bowed in sadness but not in shame I report to Your Excellency that today I must arrange terms for surrender of the fortified islands of Manila Bay. 

With many guns and anti-aircraft fire control equipment destroyed we are no longer able to prevent accurate bombardment from the air.  With numerous batteries of of heavy caliber emplaced on the shores of Bataan and Cavite the enemy now brings devastating crossfire to bear on us, outranging our remaining guns.

Most of my batteries, seacoast, anti-aircraft and field, have been put out of action by the enemy.  I have ordered the others destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.  In addition, we are now overwhelmingly assaulted by Japanese troops on Corregidor.

There is a limit of human endurance and that limit has long since been past.  Without prospect of relief I feel it is my duty to my country and to my gallant troops to end this useless effusion of blood and human sacrifice. 

If you agree, Mr. President, please say to the nation that my troops and I have accomplished all that is humanly possible and that we have upheld the best traditions of the United States and the Army.

May God bless and preserve you and guide you and the nation in the effort to ultimate victory.

With profound regret and with continued pride in my gallant troops I go to meet the Japanese commander.  Good-by Mr. President."

That wire was first recited to me by the lovely Philippine guide on Corregidor.  She felt it in her heart and mind.  I cried.

Wainwright feared that he had let his country and its army down, though in truth, the opposite was the case.  Only after his rescue from Sian, Manchuria, 26 year old Sgt. Harold B. Leith, first told him that he was "considered a hero there," after General Wedemeyer in Chunking received him with great joy as a "genuine hero;" after he stood behind MacArthur on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and then was assigned to preside over the Japanese surrender of the Philippines; only after President Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor in a simple White House Rose Garden ceremony and he had addressed both houses of Congress; and after literally millions of Americans cheered him in the streets all over the country and his beloved Army gave him a fourth star and a Corps to command; finally then did he put those false fears behind him and he could, for a time, be at relative peace with himself.

As noted, your literature describes him as a "Gentleman General" and that was surprisingly true enough for a once hard riding, hard drinking cavalry officer of the old school.  He was First Captain of Cadets of his West Point class of 1906, showing promise early in his career, but his roots tell us something more.

We all here know that then Cavalry Lt. Wainwright, his father, was posted to Fort Walla Walla in the 1880's as a protection against Indian raids.  Captain Wainwright fought in Cuba in the late 1890's and Major Wainwright dies during the Moro uprising in the Philippines in 1902.  His father's brother, Ensign Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, USN, of the U.S.S. Mohican, was killed June 19, 1870 while boarding a pirate ship in Mexican waters.  Grandfather Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright, USN, died at the hands of the Confederates who boarded his warship the USS Harriet Lane, January 1, 1863 in Galveston Texas during a Civil War battle.  Great-grandfather, Episcopal Bishop of New York, Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright was our first ancestor in common.

The Bishop's father, Peter Wainwright, married Elizabeth Mayhew, whose father, Jonathan Mayhew D.D., of Boston and Martha's Vineyard, in the mid-1700's delivered a number of sermons against "arbitrary authority" which were described by the signers of the Declaration of Independence as the "warning gun of the revolution".  That cleric, the first Jonathan Mayhew, is to this day credited with "the first definitive suggestion of a union of the colonies."

"Our General", your communities General, his family's, his troops', and all Americans' General, bearing the weight of such an intellectual military legacy, lived to the fullest extent the following admonition of his mentor, his deceased father's first cousin, my Great Uncle Mayhew:

"Virtues and achievements of forebears alone yield little claim to superior regard.  A good pedigree has true value only so far as it affords stimulus to credible and blameless living.  To prove one's self worthy in one's own right - to be some one on one's own, rather than assume to shine by reflected glory which one had no part in creating - is what really counts.   Not so much to be proud of one's ancestors as to be one of whom one's ancestors might be proud!"

That philosophy was equally well expressed by President Theodore Roosevelt:

"I have no use whatever for the man the best part of whom is underground.  I believe in pride of ancestry, but only if it makes the man or woman try to carry himself or herself was as regards the duties of the day.  The thing to do is to feel that if you had ancestors who did their duty, it is doubly incumbent on you to do your duty."

By this celebration we affirm that "the best part" of our General clearly is not "underground".  Your beautiful monument stand for high bravery and leadership and, as he would wish, a reminder of what can happen to our nation and its troops when we fail to remain prepared and vigilant.  Thoughts for all of us to ponder, as he certainly did - these ideals by which he lived and led his troops, one of whom said:

"We like him.  We admire him.  He's a real man.  We'd do it again, and die for him."

Many thanks from our family to you who have been so kind enough to honor Walla Walla's and all America's General, and to listen to what we believe he stood for.