The Last Living Paratrooper Who Returned With MacArthur Revisits the Philippines
In commemoration of the 75th year of World War II in the Philippines, one of its heroes returned. Richard “Dick” Adams visited Corregidor once again, but this time, he did not parachute out of a C-47 plane to land on the towering trees of the Rock. The 98-year-old understandably opted to ride a ferry.
He was recently, poignantly, at the MacArthur Suite of the Manila Hotel, in a room dedicated to General Douglas MacArthur, who led the American and Filipino troops in liberating the country from Japanese occupation. MacArthur actually stayed in that suite for six years, as Manila Hotel's honorary general manager.
It was a time of fear across the country as Japanese forces ravaged Manila and the countryside. People clung to MacArthur’s words, “I shall return,” which he said after he was forced to abandon the Philippine island fortress of Corregidor under orders from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in March 1942. Left behind at Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula were 90,000 American and Filipino soldiers, who, lacking food, supplies, and support, would soon succumb to the Japanese offensive.
A close call and a miracle
It was at this battered battleground that Adams, as a young paratrooper assigned to the HQ Company 3rd Bn in an 81 mm mortar platoon, arrived on February 16, 1945. He is the last surviving paratrooper of the group and he shares his memories of the wartime experience.
What he remembers the most about his Corregidor landing is the wind. “It was a beautiful day when we came in at about a thousand feet above the water and then the island came up 500 feet so we jumped in about four to five hundred feet," he says. "And the wind was a little too hard so they dropped it down and once they came after us we were pretty close to the ground.”
The landing itself was over pretty quickly, but the wind blew him toward a cliff and not the golf course that he was aiming for. Luckily, he says, he landed on a tree and that kept him from going down further.
He thinks something else saved him that day. “I wear a Miraculous Medal that my mother gave me. The second day after my jump, I noticed that the medal was gone, it was torn off," he says. "About a week after we went to Corregidor, we went up to the hill and there were so many flies. You couldn’t open a can and put it in your mouth. The flies were terrible because the battlefield was kind of a mess that encourages the flies. I went back down to the jump field to get a parachute to protect me from the flies and came back towards the hill. Of my hands and when I picked it up, I saw it. There was my medal, in the middle of the field. So that was kind of a Miraculous Medal.”
Holding the fort
Adams spent a good part of the first day getting injured troopers to the first aid station. He was in Corregidor until early March, when General MacArthur returned. He was part of the border patrol, spending most of his time on the hills and further down, he recalls.
Although a young recruit at the time, having joined the troops only a few months prior to his assignment, he understood the significance of that tiny island. “It was kind of a guard in Manila Bay. It has a kind of control on any ship that came in through there. It was mainly a field with a fortress where they control it," he shares. "Also, it was the last place where the phrase 'I shall return' became significant because that’s where General MacArthur left from going to Australia and then he came back. It was important in a sense that it controls the Manila Bay, but it is also significant just because it was the last place that the Americans surrendered from.”
“It was a pretty scary place,” he says of wartime Philippines. “I joined a few months earlier, so I was kind of new in the game at that time. We were in Mindoro and I ended up in the hospital. After Corregidor, we ran in Negros, so we got around a little bit. We spent most of our time up in the woods.”
He has vivid memories of MacArthur. “We did meet once in a while. I was at the dock when he came in and, as a matter of fact, the first time I was back in Corregidor I was in the museum and I found a picture of myself that was standing on the dock where he and I met. So, I welcomed him, but I don’t think he knows. He was quite a guy.”
After the Negros campaign and occupation duty in Japan, Adams returned home and joined the National Guard as operations sergeant in the 165th Infantry and left 20 years after as a master sergeant. He obtained a law degree from St. John University and is retired from General Motors. He has two daughters, one of whom is an Air Force Captain.
His own return
His first trip back to Corregidor was in 2012 and he described it as an emotional trip. “I like going back to Corregidor. It’s really an honor to be here. It’s a little embarrassing when there are people standing around taking pictures—the people you should be taking pictures of, they are not here. Some might be still in Corregidor. My whole climb to fame is that I was there and I’m still here,” he says.
Of his visit, he shares, “I’m doing these to honor those people, the Filipinos and Americans that defended the island and also those who on the 16th came back to Corregidor. I think we are honoring those not only who came back on the 16th but everyone who was left.”