I was compelled to write this article because in the course of putting together this site I had the opportunity to read many biographies of prominent members of Phi Delta Theta. There were several that stood out that I found personally interesting. However, in gathering information for the military section I was struck by the story of one Phi. His actions greatly stood out because no other Phi General has endured so much tragedy and defeat and whose actions are among the most notable in the history of modern warfare, yet today is virtually forgotten and was never recognized by the country he fought so hard to defend. This is the story of Major General Edward P. King.
The Story of a Forgotten General
By Jay-Raymond N. Abad, UC Irvine, 2002
Edward P. King nicknamed “Ned” was born in Atlanta, Georgia to parents who wished to have him follow a career in law. However, King would have different aspirations. He enrolled at the University of Georgia where he joined Phi Delta Theta, an organization where he would remain active for the rest of his life. He graduated in 1903 at the age of 20. He obtained his law degree but sought a more adventurous career. He joined the military and quickly rose through the ranks. He would make his membership in the armed forces a career. By the time World War I came he was a Major in artillery. He fought in the war with distinction and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
It wasn’t until World War II where his name was recognized throughout the world. King was stationed in the Philippines when war broke out with the Japanese and as such was one of the first Americans to see action. With the Japanese intent in conquering the Philippines, King's role as the commander of the artillery on the Bataan Peninsula was particularly crucial. He was the third highest ranking officer behind General Douglass MacArthur and General Jonathan Wainwright.
The combined U.S. and Filipino forces were ill equipped for the Japanese invasion which started in January 1942. The allied forces would hold on for four months waiting for relief from the U.S. mainland. However, with the Pacific Fleet nearly crippled at Pearl Harbor, help would never come. The allies were beaten all the way back to the tip of the Bataan Peninsula where they made a final stand.
The situation became so precarious that by the orders of President Roosevelt, MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines and go to Australia. Gen. Wainwright, who was at Corregidor Island which protected Manila Bay, became the new commander of all forces in the Philippines. Gen. King became the second in command and was specifically in charge of the forces on the Peninsula which numbered 70,000 men. Upon MacArthur's departure both he and Wainwright had ordered a counterattack, something King felt was an impossible order because they were not fully aware of the situation as the remaining troops could only be on the defensive. Regardless, King's men fought desperately taking high casualities. With his front lines nearly destroyed and both flanks severely weakened, King said of the situation "in two days an army vanished into air". The troops held out as long as they could but on April 8, King sent out an urgent and hopeless signal indicating, "We have no further means of organized resistance". The allied forces were low on ammunition, virtually no medical equipment, ill-equipped and food was all but gone. Men resorted to eating anything they could find. Of the 70,000 men, more than 20,000 of them were hospitalized. An additional 75 - 80% of the troops either had malaria or dysentery.
King was faced with the most difficult decision in his life. Realizing that he could be court-martialed and it would not be known how long his men would remain as prisoners of war, King offered the surrender of all forces on Bataan. King never informed Wainwright, a move which would cost him professionally. He wanted the responsibility all to himself saying: "You men remember this. You did not surrender ... you had no alternative but to obey my order". After months of bitter fighting, 70,000 troops surrendered on April 9, 1942. Wainwright and his 10,000 troops on Corregidor would hold out for another month, before they too surrendered.
The ethical dilemma King faced was particularly cruel. King surrendered to give his men a chance to live and survive the war rather than face inevitable annhilation. King said of the surrender, "If I do not surrender to the Japanese, Bataan will be known as the greatest slaughter in history." He and his officers could have never known what would happen to them and their men. King asked the Japanese specifically that his men be given fair treatment. He was assured by Colonel Motoo Nakayama, who he had surrendered to that "The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” However,this would not be the case. The allied forces were forced to endure the infamous Death March and spend years in prison camp where thousands more died. King spent years in a prison camp in Manchuria. Because of his high rank, he was often mistreated at a higher degree than others. Prior to being taken to a POW camp he tearfully told his men: "We were asked to lay down a bunt. We did just that. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
Though King did not receive any recognition, he was revered by his men and continued to be remembered by veterans groups years after. He commanded the respect and admiration of those who served under him. Many believe that it was a travesty that King was never given a promotion or any recognition by the United States. In 2002, Maj. Richard M. Gordon, a Bataan veteran said of King at a speech at the American Cemetery in Manila: "If General King did not have the courage to surrender, we survivors of Bataan who are here today, would not be here. Today, General King is an ignored figure in history. Had the General not surrendered, it would have been a blood bath on Bataan."
King would eventually retire from the Army after the war and became involved with the Red Cross. He was also active with Phi Delta Theta occasionaly becoming a guest speaker at various alumni events. In retrospect, no other Phi Delt General endured so much physically and emotionally only to be forgotten than General Edward King. It is up to future generations to remember one of the unsung heroes of World War II.