The old man held a shadow box of World War II memorabilia on the couch beside him at his home on the Island of Venice. There were first lieutenant silver bars, dog tags, a picture of a serious-looking young officer, and a gold medal with a yellow ribbon and two attached bronze battle stars signifying he had fought in two major battles — the New Guinea and Philippine invasions.
George McLean is an 87-year-old former first lieutenant in the 10th Company, 3168 Signal Service Battalion. On Jan. 15, 1945, his unit was attached to the XIV Army Corps during the invasion of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.
“We came ashore on the second day of the invasion with all our equipment to set up a communications center in Manila. We put our equipment in trucks and moved out,” he said. “We hadn’t gone far down the two-lane, paved road toward Manila when we ran into Japanese resistance. It took us two or three days of sporadic fighting to reach the capital.
“I was told to take 100 men and establish a communications center in a badly damaged three-story hotel along Dewey Boulevard in downtown Manila. We set up our Teletype machines, shortwave radios and phone system on the first floor,” McLean said.
It wasn’t long afterward that he received a message from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of all Allied forces in the South Pacific. The general had made his historic landing at Leyte and immediately broadcast to the Filipino people, “I have returned.”
“I received a ‘Top Secret’ Teletype from MacArthur for ‘Eyes Only,'” McLean said. “I remember almost every word of it, even though it was nearly 65 years ago. It read:
“‘I, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, will arrive in Manila at 0800:
“‘You will turn out the guard.
“‘You will fire a 21-gun salute.
“‘You will declare a holiday.'”
He personally delivered MacArthur’s message to the commanding American general in Manila. McLean and his men had three or four days to prepare for the arrival of the supreme allied commander.
It was McLean ‘s responsibility to make sure the general’s arrival was captured on still and movie film and provide MacArthur with a place to stay at the hotel where he had set up the communications center.
“The public turned out in droves to meet the general when he arrived on the appointed morning at 0800. He showed up in a jeep, his corncob pipe clenched in his teeth, wearing brown Ray-Ban glasses and a crushed officer’s hat covered with gold ‘scrambled eggs,'” he said.
MacArthur climbed out of the jeep in front of the palace. The 21-gun salute was firing in the background and a color guard was standing at attention, just like the general commanded. Cameramen were filming the general’s every action.
The lieutenant’s next encounter with MacArthur came a few weeks later, after V-E Day (Victory in Europe), when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander in Europe, arrived in Manila to discuss moving Allied forces in Europe to the Pacific to fight the Japanese.
“I received an ‘Eyes-Only’ message from MacArthur that I personally delivered to Eisenhower. It just happened we were taking a pounding from a typhoon at the time. Dewey Boulevard looked like a moonscape from the shell holes caused by the artillery.
“My driver and I were going down Dewey Boulevard toward Eisenhower’s headquarters when our jeep dropped into one of the water-filled holes in the road. The jeep submerged. I left my driver to figure it out and went on by foot,” McLean said.
“I was ushered in to see Gen. Eisenhower. I looked like a drowned rat as I handed him the top-secret communication from Gen. MacArthur.
“‘What happened to you, lieutenant?’ Eisenhower inquired.
“I told him and he said to one of his aides, ‘Get this officer some dry clothes. And bring that driver and jeep in here.’
“Then he opened his top-secret message. He was more concerned about me than he was the message. I never forgot that. That was the difference between Eisenhower and MacArthur. Eisenhower was warm and cuddly. MacArthur wasn’t.”
When Eisenhower ran for president in the 1950s, McLean was his Republican campaign chairman in the county where he lived in Massachusetts.
After McLean ‘s retirement as chief executive officer of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maine, he and his wife, Valerie, moved to Venice, more than 20 years ago.
George McLean , a former lieutenant in the Signal Corps, saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines. He received the Army Commendation Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two battle stars, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the Philippines Independence Medal.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, April 9, 2009. Republished with permission.