General Douglas MacArthur and photographer Carl Mydans both experienced jarring twists of fate in World War II’s Pacific Theater before arriving at this moment. MacArthur was driven from the Philippines by the Japanese in March 1942, declaring emphatically, “I shall return.” Two months earlier, Mydans, covering the war for LIFE, had been taken prisoner in Manila; he was held for nearly two years before being repatriated in a POW exchange.
MacArthur made good on his pledge in October of ’44. Above photo, taken during American landings at Luzon-Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines, is invariably used to commemorate “the return.” Many insisted that the picture was staged–an allegation Mydans disputed through his life. He would point out that MacArthur was usually uncooperative with photographers and insist that the general only did the walk once.
The picture was not posed but it was actually taken three months later, at a different beach than that of the original landing side at Leyte. Mydans was on the landing craft with MacArthur, and he rushed ashore on the pontoons army engineers put out so that MacArthur would not get his feet wet. But then he saw MacArthur’s landing craft turn away parallel to the shore. Mydans ran along the sand until the craft headed inwards, and as he had expected: “I was standing in my dry shoes waiting.” His photograph showed MacArthur sloshing towards the camera in his open-necked uniform and signature dark glasses, accompanied by staff officers and helmeted troops.
See MacArthur’s various landings here.