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Medal of Honor Monday: Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright

Sept. 2, 2019 | BY Katie Lange

On Sept. 2, 1945, Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, a Medal of Honor recipient, was among the few U.S. military leaders aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the surrender documents ending World War II.

A soldier poses for a photo wearing his dress uniform and a decorated cap.
Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright
Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright
Photo By: Library of Congress photo
VIRIN: 420507-A-ZZ999-889

Wainwright is lauded for defending the Philippines when they were overtaken by the Japanese and earned the nickname  "Hero of Bataan." 

Born in 1883 in Walla Walla, Washington, Wainwright was from a long line of military officers. He followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Army and graduated from West Point in 1906.

More than 30 years later, Wainwright was the 4th Army's commander in the Philippines when the U.S. entered World War II. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur — who was in charge of Pacific forces — was forced to flee the Philippine capital of Manila ahead of a Japanese invasion. So, in 1942, Wainwright became senior field commander of U.S. and Philippine forces and was tasked with defending the islands. 

Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright,  thin and wearing a button-down shirt and khaki pants, sits at a small table in front of a microphone as he broadcasts a message surrendering to the Japanese. A Japanese man sits beside him, looking at papers on the table.
Surrender Message
Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright broadcasts his surrender message following the capture of Corregidor by the Japanese in May 1942.
Photo By: Naval History and Heritage Command
VIRIN: 420506-N-ZZ999-989C

The battle for the Philippines was hard-fought and spanned several months. U.S. troops faced starvation, disease and rough jungle conditions after being cut off from supplies. Despite being advised to leave, Wainwright was authorized to continue the fight from the Bataan Peninsula. He fought alongside his men and often visited the front lines of battle.

The Philippines fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, but Wainwright and thousands of others survived and escaped to Corregidor, the last Allied stronghold in the island chain. There, they hid and dodged air bombardments for another month. 

Wainwright finally surrendered the island to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. He and the remaining Allied troops were forced to join the Bataan Death March to prison camps in the Philippines and on other Japanese-held islands. 

A soldier sitting in a chair at a table, signs the Japanese surrender document that ended World War II. Two other service members in dress uniform stand behind him near a microphone, and others stand off to the side.
Tokyo Bay
Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur signs the Instrument of Peace as the supreme allied commander during formal Japanese surrender ceremonies on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Sept. 2, 1945. Standing behind MacArthur are Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, left; and British Lt. Gen. A. E. Percival, commander of Singapore.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 420507-D-ZZ999-444D

Three years and three months later, in August 1945, Wainwright was released from a liberated prisoner-of-war camp. Two weeks later, he stood behind MacArthur on the USS Missouri when the general signed the Japanese surrender documents. 

After that, Wainwright returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the local Japanese commander. 

Wainwright considered himself a failure because he had surrendered, but in September 1945, he was promoted to four-star general and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received a hero's welcome when he returned to the United States.

A woman wearing a hat shakes a man’s hand behind a table with several tea kettles on it. A second man in uniform stands between them.
Ending Celebration
Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and his wife attend a gathering celebrating the end of World War II.
Photo By: Naval History and Heritage Command
VIRIN: 450915-N-ZZ999-098C

After the war, Wainwright commanded the 4th Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before retiring from active duty in August 1947. He died in 1953 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was 70 years old. 

In 1961, Alaska's Ladd Air Force Base, which had been an Army base during World War II, was returned to the Army and renamed Fort Wainwright.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.