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Life: Carl Mydans Returning with MacArthur
General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Luzon in the Phillipines. 1945 photograph, by Carl Mydans © 1945 Time Inc., is courtesy The Life Gallery of Photography.
In 1944, I was in France when I got a coded message from Life magazine that spelled out in bright letters to me: MacArthur was returning to the Philippines. By the time I got to Leyte, though, the landing was over and a picture of MacArthur coming ashore there had already been made and published. While the last of the battle for Leyte was still being fought, MacArthur’s public information officer called us together and said, “MacArthur will go to the Luzon assault on the U.S.S. Boise.” I was the only still photographer, except for the military, on the U.S.S. Boise. I was loaded into the same landing craft with MacArthur, and I went ashore with him.
[It] not until we neared the shore could we see that the Seabees had … laid a series of square steel pontoons that were joined together to make a landing platform for MacArthur to walk ashore. When I saw that we were heading for the pontoons, I climbed up on the top of a landing-craft ramp to prepare to jump ashore and photograph him stepping onto the Philippines. I heard the motors reversing, but I was poised over the dock, so I jumped onto the pontoons. When I swung around, the LCVP was already backing out, away. Having spent a lot of time with MacArthur, it flashed on me what was happening. He was avoiding the pontoons and was going to land in the water further down the beach. So I ran up those pontoons with cameras hanging on me and saw the LCVP straighten out and proceed parallel with the shoreline. I followed it, running along the shoreline, until, as I expected, the boat turned and headed in, and there I was standing in my dry shoes waiting for MacArthur to come ashore wading in the knee-deep water. I photographed him, and that's my picture of MacArthur returning to the Philippines.
Anybody who asks, “How many times did General MacArthur do that for you?” doesn't know much about MacArthur's behavior toward photographers. One thing has been not to do what a photographer asks him to do. If the general was in a crowd, and photographers were desperately trying to photograph his face, and one of us called out, “Will you turn this way please, General?” He just would not turn. We've all got bugs, and one of his was never to give a photographer what he asks for. I've spent years with MacArthur, and he was very good to me in many things, but he always treated me as though it was up to me to photograph him without his help. Just as it was up to him to land on Luzon, it was up to me to photograph him coming ashore. He did it once, and that’s how I caught him.
(Interviewed on January 9, 1992. Excerpted from: John Loengard, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, Boston, A Bullfinch Press Book, 1998)