Jonathan Mayhew “Skinny” Wainwright IV was born August 23, 1883 at Fort Walla Walla, an army post in the state of Washington.
His father was a U.S. Army officer that served in the Spanish-American War.
Upon graduating from high school in 1901, Wainwright enrolled at West Point.
Then in 1902 his father was killed in action in the Philippines.
Wainwright went on to serve at West Point as First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, graduated West Point in 1906, and was commissioned in the U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment in Texas.
Ironically, in 1908, just 6 years after his father was killed in action in the Philippines, he was sent to the Philippines and saw combat on Jolo during the Moro Rebellion.
By 1916, Wainright had graduated from the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kansas and been promoted to Captain.
The next year he joined the staff of the first officer training camp at Plattsburgh, New York.
World War I
In February 1918, Wainright was ordered to France.
By June, he had become the Assistant Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. 82nd Infantry Division, with which he took part in the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.
Then, as a temporary Lieutenant Colonel, Wainright was assigned to occupation duty in Germany with the 3rd Army at Koblenz, Germany, from October 1918 until 1920.
Having reverted to the rank of Captain, he was then promoted to Major.
After the war, Wainright spent a year as an instructor at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley.
From 1921 – 1923, he served with the General Staff before being assigned to the U.S. 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Fort Myer, Virginia in 1923.
In 1929, Wainright was again promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, this time permanently.
In 1931 he then graduated from the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and from the Army War College in 1934.
Wainwright was then promoted to Colonel in 1935, and served as commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment until 1938, when he was promoted to Brigadier General in command of the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Fort Clark, Texas.
World War II
In September 1940, Wainwright was promoted to Major General (temporary) and again sent to the Philippines as commander of the Philippine Department.
As the senior field commander of Filipino and U.S. forces under General Douglas MacArthur, Wainwright was responsible for resisting the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, which began in December 1941.
Retreating from the Japanese beachhead of Lingayen Gulf, Allied forces had withdrawn onto the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor by January 1942, where they defended the entrance to Manila Bay.
Following the relocation of MacArthur to Australia in March, to serve as Allied Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Area, Wainwright inherited the unenviable position of Allied commander in the Philippines.
Also that March, Wainwright was promoted to Lieutenant General (temporarily).
Then on April 9, 1942, the 70,000 troops on Bataan surrendered under the command of Major General Edward P. King.
On May 5, the Japanese attacked Corregidor and on May 6, in the interest of minimizing casualties, Wainwright also surrendered.
By June 9, all Allied forces in the Philippines had surrendered.
Wainwright was held in prison camps in northern Luzon, Formosa, and Liaoyuan (then called Xi’an and was a county within Manchukuo) until his liberation by the Red Army in August 1945.
He was the highest-ranking American POW, and despite his rank, his treatment at the hands of the Japanese was not pleasant.
Dubbed by his men a “fighting” general who was willing to get down in the foxholes, Wainwright won the respect of all who were imprisoned with him. He agonized over his decision to surrender Corregidor throughout his captivity, feeling that he had let his country down. Upon release, the first question he asked was how people back in the U.S. thought of him, and he was amazed when told he was considered a hero.
Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright witnessed the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Wainright returned to the Philippines to receive the surrender of the local Japanese commander, Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita.
On September 5, 1945, shortly after the Japanese surrender, Wainwright received his fourth star.
On September 13, a ticker-tape parade in New York City was held in his honor, as well as a later parade in his hometown of Walla Walla, Washington.
Then on September 19, 1945, Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright received the Medal of Honor, an honor which had first been proposed early in his captivity, but was rejected due to the vehement opposition of General MacArthur, who felt that Corregidor should not have been surrendered.
Macarthur did not oppose the renewed Medal of Honor proposal in 1945.
Medal of Honor citation
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.
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.
General Wainright was assigned a corps command as commander of Second Service Corps and the Eastern Defense Command at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York.
In January 1946, he became the commander of the Fourth Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he retired in August 1947.
Wainwright served on the board of directors for several corporations after his retirement.
He made himself available to speak before veterans’ groups and filled almost every request to do so.
He never felt any bitterness toward MacArthur for his actions in the Philippines or MacArthur’s attempt to deny him the Medal of Honor.
In fact, when it appeared that MacArthur might be nominated for president at the 1948 Republican National Convention, Wainwright stood ready to make the nominating speech.
Jonathan Mayhew “Skinny” Wainwright IV died of a stroke at San Antonio, Texas on September 2, 1953.
He was buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery with a Masonic service and is one of the few people to have had their funeral held in the lower level of the Memorial Amphitheater. He is buried next to his wife and near his father.
Today, the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center is located on an 88-acre campus on the site of historic cavalry fort, Fort Walla Walla.
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