McMicking and the Battle of Manila Symposium

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Feb 27 2020 04:49 PM

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Manila, (February 3 – March 3, 1945) a whole day memorial symposium was held last February 11 in Intramuros, at the below-ground Teatrillo Hall of the Casa Manila complex.

Three organizations—the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, Philippine World War II Memorial Foundation, and Memorare Manila 1945—were the movers and organizers of the event which was jointly sponsored by the National Historical Commission and the Intramuros Administration.

Apart from this privately initiated event, I am not aware of any other organized commemoration of this historic juncture in the life of the nation. It was a nearly missed memorial, perhaps attesting to the seemingly dwindling interest and appreciation of the Filipino for his own story! Happily, the attendance was impressively to capacity of the Intramuros venue. They were mostly from the academe and some descendants of those who perished during the battle. There were a dozen dissertations and/or audio-visuals featured. 

One that struck a particular personal interest on my part was the participation of a young American historian and university instructor from the Arkansas State University because his paper dwelt upon the “Triumph and Tragedy: The Wartime Odyssey of Joseph R. McMicking.”

Longterm and regular followers of ABS-CBN’s Opinion section might recall that I have had a running series on Joseph R. McMicking who contemporary history will remember as the visionary and developer of Makati. He laid the post-war foundations of the 186-year-old Ayala noble house’s continued relevance and prominence in 21st century Philippines.
 
Mr. Will Edward Walker, too, had a personal interest. It was about World War II in the Philippines. His grandfather fought in Corregidor and was subsequently held prisoner by the Japanese, interned in the Cabanatuan concentration camp. This led him to the subject for his Master’s thesis, the Prisoners of War (POWs) in Cabanatuan. “Stemming the Tide of Death: American Prisoners of the Japanese at Cabanatuan#1 in the Philippines, 1942.”

His researches “uncovered the extent to which Filipino civilians risked their lives to provide life-saving aid to American POWS.” He came across entries from surviving POW diaries mentioning a certain “Mrs. McMicking” and an Alfred McMicking who were responsible for having been able to supply, aside from food, diphtheria antitoxins (“180,000 units of serum”) that helped control an epidemic ranging in the camp. He found these entries in the WW II Philippine Collection in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. 

”McMicking” an obviously non-Filipino surname was rather a curiosity and may have stuck to Mr. Walker’s memory to the point where he meets the name once more in further WW II readings, mainly about MacArthur, the USAFFE, the retaking of the Philippines, Liberation of Manila.

I surmise that to Will Walker, reading about Joseph R. McMicking as the only Filipino (and junior officer at that), who was included in the MacArthur staff who escaped from and evacuated Corregidor to regroup in Australia for the retaking of the Philippines, this was somewhat of an academic challenge. 

In the paper which he read during the Intramuros Symposium, he posited that Joseph R. McMicking’s “service in World War II has been overlooked by many historians, both American and Filipino.” After all, “McMicking became one of the most important officers of the Philippine Section of the …. Allied Intelligence Bureau” ….. acting “as liaison between MacArthur’s GHQ and Pres. Manuel Quezon’s government-in-exile.” He was also in the Leyte landing of Oct. 20, 1944, “but his triumph was soon mixed with tragedy.” “His mother and three siblings had all been slain within weeks of liberation.”

The “Mrs. McMicking” mentioned earlier was his mother, Angelina. Alfred, a younger brother, had survived the Bataan Death March and the Camp O’Donnell concentration camp, as a lieutenant in the Philippine Army. Together with sisters Consuelo (Mrs.Hall) and Helen, they also perished in the massacre.
 
Here is a quote from Will Walker’s paper that captures the agony of such excruciating loss. “It was sometime between February 12-16, 1945 that Col. McMicking learned that his beloved family had been executed. Warrant Officer Paul Rogers, stenographer for Gen. Sutherland and Gen. MacArthur, recalled that moment seeing McMicking’s eyes ‘red with tears that welled up and flowed down a face torn with anguish.’"

Among the reference materials researched by Will Walker was a very aptly titled memorial written by our eminent Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, who was himself with the MacArthur Leyte landing. His accolade bearing the title “The Anonymity of Great Performance,” was published in the Manila Chronicle weekend magazine of March 23, 1969, a special issue in honor of Joseph R. McMicking’s retirement from Ayala. 

Gen. Romulo wrote: “I was virtually at a loss on how to begin because McMicking’s work was done inconspicuously, selflessly, anonymously. Indeed, McMicking’s service in World War II has still to this day been overlooked by many historians. Yet he was among MacAthur’s chosen group to leave the island fortress of Corregidor in March 1942.” He did not speak much about his own experiences though he was a key participant in one of the most consequential commands of the Pacific War. 

From Major General Charles Willoughby’s “The Guerilla Resistance Movement in the Philippines,1941-1945, “the principal mission at hand for Maj. McMicking was to help organize and develop an intelligence section in G-2 for the Philippines. After the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, communication with the islands went silent. It was a situation where intelligence collection and operations would have to be rebuilt and rejuvenated. During the first months of the war in the Philippines, McMicking and others had recruited agents who could operate behind Japanese lines.” “It was McMicking’s intimate knowledge of the Philippines, his extensive contacts in both business and the Philippine Army Air Corps and his calm manner, which singled him out for selection to join MacArthur’s Staff in Australia.” (Willoughby was MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.)

If little has been known about Joseph R. McMicking’s service before and during WWII, it was less to do with neglecting the human need for recognition. There was no occasion for it. McMicking had to devote his whole self, and with his own personal resources, to reviving and rebuilding the vastly diminished financial fortunes of Ayala, the consequence of the Japanese occupation having rendered Ayala nearly bankrupt.

Towards his later years, McMicking was described as “a business maverick in three continents—his native Philippines, the United States and Spain,” an accolade no other “Manila Boy” would enjoy! 

Read Cyberbuddy's series on Joseph McMicking: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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