(Seventh of a series on Joe McMicking. Click here for other entries.)
Joe R. McMicking (JRM) was an avid aviator. A licensed pilot at 24. At 27, a reserve 2nd Lieutenant in the Philippine Army Air Corps, the air component of the Philippine Army created by the National Defense Act of the newly inaugurated Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. It was love of flying that got him into World War II. And standing on that history in-the-making stage, albeit without a speaking part, “Uncle” Joe was witness and active participant. He was on stage.
It was after their seven-month round-the-world honeymoon, following his nuptials with the Zobel heiress, Mercedes, that Joe took up flying lessons in Manila, soloing after several weeks. He never held a commercial pilot’s license but had logged some 4,000 hours long before he retired. He took pride in having held at one time an instrument rating as a pilot. (Very simply, I think this is a certification for acquiring technical ability to fly with limited and/or zero visibility.)
He owned a bi-plane, a few generations in advance of the Wright brothers’ first flight model, for sure. Much improved of course. It was not an open cock-pit job like what most of us are familiar with, when speaking of bi-planes, you know, like Snoopy’s bi-plane and his Red Baron nemesis! It was a Waco four-seater with a closed cabin-cockpit. (Nope. Not the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. Initials were for Weaver Aircraft Company of Ohio.)
There are quite a number human-interest vignettes of JRM’s exposure to and affinity for aviation that is indeed worth our leisure time. For ‘trivia’ history edification as well as smart “sosyal” knowledge. They include his stint as a pre-WW II “part time instructor,” assisting the American officer tasked with putting together the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) in 1936. William “Jerry” Lee who only had three full-time instructors for the initial flight training of our Air Force’s earliest recruits. Part of Joe McMicking’s military reserve duties included flight training for General Douglas MacArthur’s chief aide, then a Major. Dwight D. Eisenhower. All of them serving as President Manuel L. Quezon’s military advisers, by acquiescence and approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was with his official access to the newly organized Philippine Army Air Corps that Lt. Col. Eisenhower desired to understand more intimately what aviation was all about, as an element in warfare, by learning to fly himself. Among the several Filipino flight instructors given that task was Joe McMicking. Another was Col. Ramon Zosa, (a fellow Waray-waray, from an old Tacloban family and an Insular Life-FGU executive pilot, when I first knew him in 1958) also an Air Force shavetail at the time. The flight training was out of Zablan Field (our first military airstrip) in Camp Murphy, now renamed Camp Aguinaldo, along EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.) That airstrip was located at the eastern end of the encampment, with a north-south orientation, parallel to EDSA, almost where C-5 is now stretched out.
JRM remembered that he must have logged at some 20 hours with this officer who was to become the 34th President of the United States, after the war. Beyond flying instructions, there were of course Manila’s dining and entertainment engagements. Manila high society’s ‘de rigeuers’ of the era.
The McMickings were ever gracious hosts to the high echelons of the Commonwealth’s and the U.S. Military Advisory contingents. Among others, the Eisenhowers struck up a lasting friendship with the McMickings. As a consequence, (added to the fact that a younger McMiciking had also served in the MacArthur staff during the war) JRM enjoyed welcome entry into the White House during the Eisenhower presidency. He always referred to the U.S. President as “Col. Ike.”
Later, after the world war, this example of ‘networking’ ( a business concept JRM believed in and practiced) would be of great assistance to Col. McMicking when he was already creating for himself a niche in American business, after having revived the war-ravaged Ayala business interests in the Philippines.
McMicking flew almost every type of aircraft that the fledgling air force of the Philippine Commonwealth possessed. P-12/P-26. Keystone B-3 bomber and the Martin B-10. When I was already working for Ayala, I knew and saw that he flew the various corporate Beechcraft airplanes we had in the company hangar. In the late 60s, Joe McMicking even had time for a few introductory instructions on a two-seater Hughes 300 helicopter from Eddie Limjap. Eddie was then flying and selling for Bob Stewart’s company, a Hughes Aircraft Company agency in the Philippines. (Dictator Marcos dispossessed Bob Stewart of Channel 7, Republic Broadcasting System during Martial Law. Channel 7-TV was where I had my first experience appearing on television as the host of the weekly, Sunday noon panel show: “Meet the Jaycees.” RBS/7 is now the GMA TV network.)
When war clouds appeared and the world situation turned pretty grim, mid-1941, Joe was called to active military duty. Assigned to the PAAC’s Flying School, he had now become a full-time instructor, a First Lieutenant.
But how Joe McMicking ended up with the World War’s famed and respected “Allied Intelligence Bureau,” was a curious incident that I feel justified to personally claim that Kismet and Karma, Fate and Destiny would have ordained Joe McMcking’s stars to so align! And also, so aviation related!
Pearl Harbor had been devastated and Clark Field demolished, when Lt. McMicking was ordered to a reconnaissance mission on December 11, 1941. Let me quote from his journal (sourced from the MacArthur Archives in Norfolk Virginia): “On this mission….I took the unusual step of making a silouette drawing of a couple of destroyers which I encountered on my flight – and later, comparing my drawings with ships in “Jane’s Fighting Ships,” I made a contact report that not only described the location, speed and course of these ships, but announced them to be of the British “Javelin-type” destroyers.” (btw, JRM was good at drawing and was ambidextrous, too.)
Quite a coincidence that that same morning, “Admiral Hart, commanding the U.S. Fleet, had an inquiry from the Admiralty in London asking if two British type Javelin destroyers were in the area.”
That contact report allowed Admiral Hart to immediately reply to the Admiralty’s query. Furthermore, Admiral Hart “very generously took the step of calling General Brereton to compliment him on the report of one of his pilots.” Gen. Brereton was the head of the USAFFE’s Air Force, to which McMicking was now attached, a switch from flying with a promotion to Captain which followed shortly after.
Concerning the conduct of normal pre-WW II corporate business, let me bring up a project with which Joseph R. McMicking was directly and intimately connected. It is a project that he embarked upon in 1936, in behalf of Ayala y Compania, evidently as a business opportunity, firstly. And perhaps, if I might cheekily characterize it, also an opportunity to score more points with his father-in-law and with older fellow “managing partners,” brothers-in-law Jacobo and Alfonso, with whom he has worked since the beginning of 1932, after his marriage to Mercedes upon which Joe was invited by Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala to work for the family business and become one of its “managing partners.”
More than anything else, however, this “signature” JRM business project brought together the potential enhancement of the venerable company’s real estate holdings (the undeveloped Hacienda San Pedro Makati) under the leadership of his employer/father-in-law/partner, merging it with his sincere and serious personal avid avocation which is aviation.
In July 1937, the very heart of today’s Makati, the very Central Business District (CBD), the vicinity of Ayala Avenue, Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue, consisting of more or less 45 hectares, was inaugurated and opened for business as the Nielson Airport. At that time, would you believe, it was touted “as the biggest and best-equipped” in all of the Far East! It was to become the Manila International Air Terminal before the advent and transfer of the air terminal facilities to the Pasay-Paranaque corridor of the Metro. The structure is now designated as the Nielson Tower fronting Makati Avenue. It must deserve an updated and trued historic story on its own.
The country’s very first commercial airport terminal was on land leased by Ayala y Compania to L.R. Nielson & Co. Laurie Reuben Nielson was a New Zealander married to an American lady who came to the Philippines in the mid-30s in search of business opportunities. He engaged in the securities and stock brokerage business, along with some import trade and mining. He pursued his local business interests alongside Alistair “Shorty” Hall, his fellow securities and stock broker. We of course remember “Shorty” as Joe McMicking’s brother-in-law having married younger sister Consuelo McMicking in 1930. It was during their wedding ceremonies and reception when the Joseph McMicking-Mercedes Zobel romance blossomed.
L. R. Nielson was also an avid flying enthusiast, who believed in the potential of the aviation business for the newly inaugurated Commonwealth, now with a promise of independence.
It is now pretty obvious that there does not seem to be any puzzle at all to the story of Makati’s growth and development. Relevant and irreplaceable pieces of our story all fall together, neatly, to complete the portrait of modern Makati’s antecedents and that of 21st century Ayalas.
I embarked upon this series of anecdotes and vignettes embracing the sentiment that the McMicking/Makati story needed a more adequate retelling and deserving appropriateness of appreciation, remembrance and gratitude.
If the Ayala business organization, up to now, is still hard put at publicly honoring the memory of the person “responsible for making the Roxas-Zobel Ayala rich again,” presumably for want of a proper venue and occasion, a distinct possibility to achieve that wished for expression is to locate and create ample space for a prominent memorial around the Nielson Tower itself. There a statue or bust of Col. Joseph R. McMicking can be situated, erected with an apt historically-deserved accolade. Call it the McMicking Gateway!
Joseph R. McMicking is no longer just a personal, a private or a family interest matter. He erected and opened the “Gate” to the future of Makati. He made of Makati the vibrant symbol of the Nation’s capacity for growth, and of himself, to be remembered as relevant to the building of the Filipino nation, justly deserving of public respect and recognition.
Nota Bene: As a supplement to this blog, I asked permission from my Editor-in-Chief, to append a speech delivered by Col. Joseph R. McMicking in Tacloban City in 1956. It is a first-personal witness’ account of the events surrounding the Leyte Landing of October, 1944.
(Speech delivered by Col. Joseph R. McMicking in Tacloban City, Leyte ,October 19, 1956. The Lions Club honoring the City and Municipal Mayors Convention in a banquet hosted by the Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd.)
Tonight, with your permission, I will speak about two things that have been very important in my life: Leyte and Insurance.
Insurance, if you wish, has been the pattern of my life, my daily bread, my work and my achievement, such as it be.
Leyte was something else in my life, a climax, an unforgettable moment, a privilege---the rare privilege of being part of history in the making. I was not one of the principal actors in that moment, in fact, I didn’t even have a speaking part, but I can say with pride that while it happened, I was on the stage.
Leyte and Insurance. There is a connection between these two things for me---a valuable connection. This is what I want to tell you about. Let me begin with Insurance, then set the scene.
Insurance is an everyday thing. This is because hazards and dangers are also, unfortunately, everyday things. The wise man accepts both, and protects himself from one by the use of the other.
Insurance is not a luxury. It is a basic technique of business, just as much as banking. I’ll go even further, it is a tool of everyday life.
There are many types of insurance besides life --- marine, fire, third-Party liability. But all of them exist to accomplish a single purpose: to make the future---the mysterious, the unpredictable future---something that you can face with confidence and with a clear conscience.
Even though I hate to admit it, insurance does not answer every problem. It answers a lot of problems, but not all. Some risks are not insurable, and these unfortunately are the ones that have the greatest effect on the entire world. These are the risks of war and peace. This is the risk of the outcome of the battle. Such a battle was the battle for Leyte Gulf, the memory of which we celebrate today.
Within two hundred miles of this spot where I am standing, twelve years ago, a tremendous drama took place over a period of seven days. Let me tell you about it through the eyes of a staff officer present during much of the developing action.
The plans for the landings in the Philippines were grouped together under the code word “King.” King One was Sarangani Bay. King Two and Three --- Leyte Gulf. Four – Mindoro, Five -- Lingayen. Six---Nasugbu, Seven --- Subic. To undertake King One, Biak had to be taken because Biak would be the airfield for land based planes supporting Saangani which had to be taken to provide fighter cover for Leyte. By the same token, Mindoro was within fighter range of Central Luzon and Lingayen. This planning started energetically about March, 1944 on the dual assumption that war in Europe would still be on. And that full support would be given by the forces under Admiral Nimitz of the Central Pacific. It was possible to go ahead with these plans because Finshaven, Hollandia and Wadki had been successfully occupied.
In late 1944, I went to Washington to find out if the Philippine Government-in-Exile was as far along in its civil planning for the Philippine operations, as we were on the military side. A little prodding here and there, the polishing of the proclamations of the President, some details regarding the transfer from military to civil government, the availability of money and coinage (for instance, should there be more subsidiary silver coins percentage-wise than existed before the war? The answer to that was, “Yes,” we should double the percentage), the establishment of the PCAU units to feed the population. In what amounts should this food be provided? Should we use California rice which is very glutinous, or use Chilean rice because it was more palatable to the Filipinos?
The second week of July, I went up to Saranac Lake and called on the President. There I found delightful Dona Aurora, General Valdes, Fr. Ortiz and Manuel Nieto, who is now the Philippine Ambassador to Madrid. Mr. Quezon was in bed, but his mind was working brilliantly as usual, and he was in rare good form.
Reminiscing about old times, of school days with my father and my father-in-law. A couple of Martini cocktails before dinner, loosening his tongue to tell about his running battles with Secretary Harold Ickes. His dreams and plans, what he would do when he returned to these shores with the Army of Liberation. These were two very happy impressive days for me. I left President Quezon, bringing with me to Brisbane and Hollandia the different signed papers of what had been developed. Then, less than two weeks later, we received the shocking news of this patriot, this giant of a Filipino who had labored all his life for his people. His great heart had burst. He now lived in history.
The reins of government passed quickly to the hands of Don Sergio Osmena, gallant, distinguished, experienced, able. He and his staff, which included General Valdes and General Romulo, came to Hollandia in mid-September for the final phases of the planning of King One.
While all this was going on, the war on the Pacific continued at high pitch. In August, Admiral Raymond Spruance, who later became the American Ambassador in Manila, turned his command over to Admiral William Halsey.
During the first three weeks of September, Halsey’s fighter strikes up and down the Philippine Archipelago destroyed many Japanese planes and broke the back of the Japanese Air Force. Finding so little opposition, he sent a dispatch to Admiral Nimitz, who in turn passed it on to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommending that the landing be made in Central Philippines, in Leyte, abandoning the plans for Sarangani. This would be possible because of the little Japanese opposition in the air, the small CVEs, the baby carriers, could live the first ten days without having to depend on land-based aviation.
By good fortune, the Quadrant Conference was taking place in Quebec. Roosevelt, Churchill, and all their principals, including the Joint Chiefs were there. When Admiral King presented Halsey’s recommendation, the Quadrant conferees immediately decided that, if MacArthur accepted the suggestion of advancing the landing in Central Visayas by two months, it would be approved by the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff.
By a whim of fate, I was sitting in the office of General Sutherland, MacArthur’s Chief-of-Staff, when that urgent dispatch arrived. There was no rreason for me to hear about it, but because Sutherland knew of my deep interest in the Philippines, he handed me the message right after he read it. General Mac Arthur was away, on the cruiser Louiseville en route to Biak, under radio license. He could not communicate with GHQ, so Sutherland, capable soldier that he was, after consulting with the other senior commanders, accepted the change of schedule in MacArthur’s name. This decision was hastily approved by the Commander-in-Chief when he retuned. The machinery for the Operations were set in motion.
A general revision of plans had to be sent out. Concentration of forces from Hawaii, the Admiralties, New Guinea and the Solomons had to be arranged. About the 10th of October the most distant of the forces had to move. On the 17th, Frogmen and Rangers were landed on Dinagat Island. On the same day, I boarded the destroyer “Bush” at Hollandia, which provided part of the screen for the Louiseville, on which the Commander-in-Chief was sailing. Three uneventful, wonderful days at sea. Beautiful weather. On the second day we caught up and started passing the convoys, which covered the whole ocean area, as far as the eye could see, ships and more ships. Airplane cover above at all times from the Navy’s baby carriers.
Still with beautiful weather, at first light of the 20th, the bombardment by the six old battleships that had been raised from the mud at Pearl Harbor, commenced. About 7:00 o’clock, the first wave hit the beaches, and at 9:00 0’clock, on small landing barge, General MacArthur and President Osmena, with Sutherland, Kenney, Romulo, Valdes and a dozen more, myself included, waded ashore. Friendly heavy firing still going on, but neglible Japanese opposition. I could not resist falling on my knees upon touching the land of my birth, and that of my father before me. Close by, MacArthur made his now famous “I have returned” speech from a radio van set up among the coconut trees.
For the next three days, the sun continued to shine. The Japanese didn’t seem to exist. Something like a hundred and three thousand American troops, with their supplies and ammunition, were put ashore.
On the afternoon of the 24th, on the steps of the Capitol here in Tacloban, in a simple but dignified ceremony, General MacArthur turned the reins of government over to President Osmena. On those steps all the principal commanders were present, Kincaid, Krueger, Kenney, Kangleon---it is curious that all their names begin with “K.” Everything seemed serene and peaceful.
Immediately following this ceremony, I was delayed a few moments talking to friends like Ramon Zosa, missed my immediate boat transfer to the Bush, where I had been sleeping at night those first four days. But having been delayed, I saw the Bush weigh anchor and pull out with all my gear except the musette bag that I was carrying. I took temporary accomodations on board the PCE-218 that night at the in vitiation of my friend, General Aiken, the Chief Signal Officer.
But why had the Bush sailed away?
During the quiet ceremony on the Capitol steps, only about a dozen present knew of the impending naval battle that was to develop that night. It turned out to be one of the great naval battles of history: certainly the decisive battle of the Philippine campaign.
The enemy realized that, sooner or later, a major naval engagement with the American fleet was inevitable. It would have to be fought in the Philippine Seas or around Formosa, depending where the American forces were committed. This was the Sho Plan, “To Conquer.” It was bold and imaginative in concept. It was also a desperate last effort, to stem the tide of Allied victory.
It called for Admiral Osawa, the remaining carriers but with just a hundred planes ( the rest had been lost in combat) acting as a decoy, to come from Empire waters in the North. The main thrust, The First Division Attack Force, under Admiral Kurita would leave from Singapore, refuel at Brunei Bay in Borneo, arrive at Leyte Gulf at 0700m hours in the morning of the 25th. From the south and Formosa, two other forces – Admiral Nishimura and Admiral Shima would fight their way through Surigao Straits.
The Japanese plan was set in motion on the 17th October, the same date the Rangers landed on Dinagat. The different forces were tracked by submarines and by patrol planes, all, that is, except the forces of Admiral Osawa in the North. When Kurita was passing Palawan, he was attacked by the submarines Dace and Dart which compelled Kurita to leave his sinking flagship, the Atago. He moved to the Kishanani and later to the Yamato. With these transfers, he was separated from most of his communications personnel. This would have a very important bearing on the coming battle. In his force were the Yamato and the Musashi, the two biggest battleships in the world --- 68,000 tons and 18-inch guns. As Kurita entered the seas within the Archipelago, he was subjected to heavy attack by Halsey’s flyers of Task Force 38. He lost the Musashi, and more were severely damaged.
We were plotting these movements on a war map, here in Tacloban in the house of Mr. Price. Kurita turned west while we were having the ceremony on the Capitol steps and, this we did not know, shortly after dark, again made for San Bernardino Straits.
Nishimura and Shima had other problems to contend with. Shima was a senior but he had the smaller force. He and Nishimura were not on speaking terms nor in communications with each other. Futhermore, Nishimura, to preempt glory, did not enter Surigao together with Shima. He advanced his time and entered Surigao ahead of schedule. Admiral Ollendorf, the Officer in Tactical Command under Kincaid, was waiting for him. He classically cossed the T, and with the exception of one destroyer, completely demolished the Japanese force, Shima did not know of this disaster and followed an hour later. When he was caught, realizing that prudence is sometimes the better part of valor, he turned partially escaped, and his famer rests in oblivion. By 4:00 o’clock the morning of the 25th, we had knowledge of the great victory. Everything now seemed secure.
The night of the 24, a couple of hundred miles northeast of Tacloban, Admiral Halsey, with enormous the Third Fleet, the largest concentration of Naval power the world has ever seen, was evaluating the information that was coming in from contact reports. A dispatch came in from a contact made by a plane of the Enterprise that several Japanese carriers had been sighted of Cape Engano, near Aparri. They had a staff meeting and Halsey’s Chief-of-Staff (who later became Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Carney) and a good friend of mine, Capt. Mike Cheek, The Fleet Intelligence Officer (who, by the way used to be in the insurance business in Manila before the war) arrived at the conclusion and recommended to Halsey that the force in the North was the main force of the enemy, and that Kurita was in retreat towards the West. Halsey had given consideration to leave Admiral Lee with the fast new battleships to guard San Bernardino, and he passed this intended plan to his Fleet. These were temporary instructions and notification of intention, but they were also read by Nimitz in Pearl Harbor, and Kincaid on the Wasatch in Leyte Gulf. Halsey’s message was loosely worded, and led all to believe that that Lee was remaining behind. Actually, Halsey sailed North with everything he had, a force full five times bigger than the most that Osawa could put up against him, even if he had planes. On such misunderstanding and errors rest the course of history----and the fate of nations.
The following morning, shortly after day-break, a reconnaissance plane reported to Admiral Sprague, in command of the Seventh Fleet baby carriers, that an enemy task force of battleships was emerging from the San Bernardino Straits. This seemed improbable. He was asked to check again because it was felt those battleships must be Admiral Lee’s Task Force 34. The reply was conclusive: :Battleships have pagoda masts.” It did not take long for the Yamato, with Kurita’s cruisers and destroyers, to overtake the relatively slow baby carriers. In quick order, despite maneuvers, smoke screens and tremendously heroic action by American destroyers, two carriers were sunk and many of the remainder damaged. Those of you who were here on that morning will recall the arrival of many Navy planes on the still unfinished Tacloban strip, planes that could not return to their carriers because they were at the bottom of the sea. Admiral Sprague --- who is one of the negotiators for the bases agreement going on in Manila just now --- sailed South and East and hid out behind rain squalls. Halsey was 300 miles to the North, going North at break neck speed for Osawa’s decoy formation. The only part of the Third Fleet, detached the previous day to fuel and refurnish at Ulithi, the Task Force 38.4 under Admiral McCain.
Kurita was alone. Six old U.S. battleships inadequately armed because of the previous night’s battle, were in Leyte Gulf. The hawk could now swoop down the chickens and pick them off, one by one.
Here was a hundred of thin-skinned transports and supply ships. There, a few yards from the beach, the temporary headquarters of the Army commanders, and stock piles of food and ammunition supplies. Here was a whole purpose of Sho Plan to put Kurita in the position to destroy from the sea, the American landing. Here was the opportunity for a Naval Commander to each the pinnacle of fame.
But Kurita mills around. He gathers his force. He goes in this direction and then that, tying to estimate the naval force facing him. He is being hit by Sprague’s planes. You will recall that he lost the greater portion of his communications personnel, and now he did not have effective communications. He knew Nishimura had been defeated. He had no news of Shima. He did not know that Osawa had been sighted by Halsey. Were these planes hitting him from ask Force 38?
From 7:00 o’clock until 9:30, Kurita enjoyed the luxury of indecision. He finally decided on retreat, and turned back to San Bernardino. The crown of victory, which would have been his, was flung into the sea.
Halsey on the other hand, having made this tactical error in sailing North with all his force now within 40 miles of Osawa’s force in the North, turns around and comes running back because of the hurried pleadings of Kincaid in Leyte Gulf. Six hundred miles up and down the Eastern Coast of the Philippines, and not a shot was fired. Because of an incorrect decision, he risked the whole success of the landing in Leyte.
What could have happened if Kurita had entered Leyte Gulf? Let us speculate. All shipping and all supplies ashore would probably have been destroyed. The army troops that in November and December had such difficult trouble with the Japanese troops that Yamashita dribbled into Ormoc, would probably been pushed into the sea. Halsey would have lost his command. The pattern for the liberation of the Philippines would have been completely different. For one thing, we would not be here tonight because victories are celebrated, not defeats.
With the destruction of MacArthur’s force, the alternative plan, bypassing the Philippines to hit Formosa under Nimitz, would probably have been adopted. And until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the Philippines would have remained under Japan just as HongKong did.
The Japanese lost because of the irresolution and blundering ineptitude of three of their four principal commanders. Only Osawa, the bait, really carried out his mission. In his report, Admiral Sprague said that the Japanese failure to wipe out the Seventh Fleet was “a definite partiality of Almighty God.” We must remain forever thankful for that break.
It has been an honor to have been invited to address this distinguished group on the eve of so historic a date. I thank you all for the opportunity to live again those decisive moments of 1944.
Although many years have passed and many changes have taken place, I think it most worthwhile to pause a moment and remember the ideals that brought Kangleon and MacArthur to meet on these shores---to remember those ideals, and to keep them fresh in our daily life. To humbly thank the many thousands who paid for our future with their lives. And to thank the God Lord above for having been so kind to all of us at the moment of crisis.
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