Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV was born into a military family on August 23, 1883 at Fort Walla Walla, Washington. His father, Robert Powell Page Wainwright, was a United States Army officer who was killed in 1902 while serving in the Philippines. His grandfather, Jonathan M. Wainwright II, was a United States Navy officer killed in action during the American Civil War’s Battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863.
His military service began after graduating from high school in 1901 when he began studies at the United States Military Academy, West Point. He graduated with the class of 1906. Wainwright served in combat in France during World War I with the then-82nd Infantry Division.
Like his father before him, he was dispatched to the Philippines where he arrived in September 1940. He held the temporary rank of Major General as the commander of the Philippine Department and was the senior field commander of American and Filipino forces defending the islands under General Douglas MacArthur. When MacArthur withdrew from the Philippines in March 1942, Wainwright remained as the commander.
Ultimately, the defense of the Philippines was futile. The Japanese invaders were too numerous and too well equipped. Wainwright commanded the defense from the fortress island of Corregidor at the mouth of Manila Bay. The troops defending the Bataan Peninsula surrendered on April 9, 1942. The survivors in captivity then had to endure the torment of the Bataan Death March and the horrors of Japanese captivity.
The Japanese had to take Corregidor, otherwise the vital port provided by Manila Bay would be denied to them. They landed on the island on May 5, 1942. The next day, in the face of insurmountable odds and crushing casualties, General Wainwright ordered a surrender. Throughout the entire battle for the Philippines, Jonathan Wainwright IV was a stalwart presence amongst his men. The fight would have been lost much sooner were it not for his leadership and courage. In defeat, he was still nonetheless judged worthy of our Nation’s highest honor.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):
WAINWRIGHT, JONATHAN M.
Rank and organization: General, Commanding U.S. Army Forces in the Philippines. Place and date: Philippine Islands, 12 March to 7 May 1942. Entered service at: Skaneateles, N.Y. Birth: Walla Walla, Wash. G.O. No.: 80, 19 September 1945. Citation: Distinguished himself by intrepid and determined leadership against greatly superior enemy forces. At the repeated risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in his position, he frequented the firing line of his troops where his presence provided the example and incentive that helped make the gallant efforts of these men possible. The final stand on beleaguered Corregidor, for which he was in an important measure personally responsible, commanded the admiration of the Nation’s allies. It reflected the high morale of American arms in the face of overwhelming odds. His courage and resolution were a vitally needed inspiration to the then sorely pressed freedom-loving peoples of the world.
In addition to his Medal of Honor, Wainwright also received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in defending the Philippines from December 21, 1941 to January 1, 1942 and was also a two-time recipient of the Army Distinguished Service Medal.
Wainwright was held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war until August 1945. He was the most senior officer taken prisoner during the war and despite his rank, was kept in deplorable conditions and regularly mistreated by his Japanese captors.
General Wainwright survived captivity and ended the war with his presence at the final victory. He stood next to General MacArthur on the foredeck of the USS Missouri (BB-63) on September 2, 1945 for the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay. He then returned to the Philippines to accept the surrender of the last remaining Japanese occupiers there.
Wainwright passed away on September 2, 1953 at age 70. He rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery. In the early 1960s, the United States Army ensured that Wainwright’s service to our Nation would be remembered in an enduring fashion. On January 1, 1961 the United States Air Force transferred Ladd Field outside Fairbanks, Alaska to the Army. The Army renamed the post Fort Wainwright. Today, Fort Wainwright is a key post hosting much of US Army Alaska.