NOEL KING, HOST:
Seventy-five years ago today, an armada of American warships was steaming toward the Philippines. World War II was underway. The Philippines were a U.S. colony, but Japan was occupying the archipelago. The U.S. landing sped up the end of World War II. And this weekend, Allies and former foes marked the date. NPR's Julie McCarthy was there in Leyte.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: One of the most iconic images of the war in the Pacific is General Douglas MacArthur striding in knee-deep water to the beach at Leyte Bay...
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)
MCCARTHY: ...And making good on his promise to the Philippines that, I shall return. MacArthur had been forced off the archipelago nearly three years earlier by invading Japanese forces. But Francisco Sionil Jose, one of the country's foremost writers, says the Philippines' faith in MacArthur bordered on devotion. Once back on their soil, Sionil says, MacArthur inspired hope that they would recapture their country.
FRANCISCO SIONIL JOSE: That return to Leyte was the beginning of our liberation from three years of brutal Japanese occupation.
MCCARTHY: At age 19, Ramon Modina (ph) met up with the advancing U.S. troops on Leyte. The 91-year-old veteran was part of the Philippine guerrillas, whom MacArthur had supplied with transmitters and trainers. From Leyte, the forces jabbed their way north to Manila, where MacArthur would take Japan's surrender in 1945. For Modina, to remember back to the landing that made that possible is to remind everyone of the horrors of war.
RAMON MODINA: We don't war anymore. Now because of what we strive for and work for, we are enjoying our freedom.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND MUSIC)
MCCARTHY: Along the shores of Leyte Bay, the landing that turned the tide of the war was marked with international dignitaries, wreath layings and parades.
UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Heaven watch the Philippines.
MCCARTHY: Confetti rained down from a helicopter, and a choir sang Irving Berlin's "Heaven Watch The Philippines."
UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Friendly with America.
MCCARTHY: The anniversary comes at a time of fraught relations between the Philippines and the United States, the old colonial power. Skepticism has surfaced about the dependability of the U.S. as an ally. For their part, Western governments and members of the U.S. Congress want an accounting of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. Duterte's envoy, however, read a message from the president that all but airbrushed out any tensions. Historian Xiao Chua says time and distance may have altered a long-held conviction about the liberation.
XIAO CHUA: We Filipinos are fixated with big men. So instead of giving our, shall we say, appreciation to guerillas, we wanted that liberation to have a face. And that face was Douglas MacArthur.
MCCARTHY: But Chua says with Filipinos now more mature in their viewpoint of history, there is an appreciation that Philippine fighters were every bit as heroic as the larger-than-life MacArthur and his American troops. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Leyte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.