The phrase “I shall return” is as monumental as the monument of General Douglas MacArthur in the small park named after the American general at Villa Milagrosa, Bonuan Gueset, Dagupan City.

While there is a popular belief that Gen. MacArthur “returned” to the Philippines via Lingayen, his statue in Bonuan that was proudly erected by Dagupeños stands strong as a testament that the   American five-star general  actually first landed in Dagupan.

This was again reconfirmed during   the 73rd celebration of the landing of the Liberation Forces on January 9, 1945 when    Dagupeñan veterans, together with active members of the Philippine Army and Philippine Navy, Knights of Colombus, and the local government represented by City Administrator  Farah Decano and Zenaida Sinlao of the Dagupan City Culture and Arts Office converged at  the Mac Arthur Park in Bonuan Gueset on Tuesday (January 9) to commemorate the historic landing that eventually drove away the Japanese invaders.

World War II veteran Alejandro Balolong, who was turning 91 in less than a month, narrated his personal account of  the arrival of Gen. MacArthur  in Bonuan Gueset.

Nen January 9, 1945… ed oras ya manaalas-dose ed kaagewan…imuna ak ya nanalagey ed gilid na kalsada diman ed Catacdang, nen unlabas si General Douglas MacArthur ya akalugan ed military jeep. Et binabayabayan mi. Kasumpal to man, 4 months later, labin lima kami ya … taga diya ed Bonuan Gueset ya inrecruit ed US Navy,” Balolong said.

He is one of the four living veterans of the 15 navy recruits from Bonuan. The three other retirees now live in different parts of the United States, while Balolong opted to stay in his home in the seaside barangay of Dagupan.

Meanwhile, retired US Navy Roberto G. Macaraeg, who served the US military a few years after Balolong’s recruitment, is very positive that MacArthur returned to the Philippines in 1945 on Bonuan Blue Beach, and not in Lingayen.

 He said he has been exchanging letters with the United States government to get an answer to the enduring debate on where Mac Arthur really landed,.

“Sumulat ako sa America, gusto ko yung black and white proof ng official recognition. As soon as I receive that, I will give it to the Mayor,” Macaraeg said. “Sa barko mayroon [silang] mga record. They promised to send me the official records.”

Sir Knight Dionisio G. Bolor, Sr., who is a retired Senior Police Officer 4, further backed Balolong’s claims that MacArthur rode on a military jeep along the main road of Bonuan Gueset. It was also through Bolor’s efforts that the current MacArthur Park was renovated last 2007.

He said the Knights of Columbus plans to coordinate with the local government to redevelop the park in time for the 75th commemoration in 2020.

Meanwhile, Atty. Decano, who represented  City Mayor Belen T. Fernandez, said  that the city will not stop in claiming the honor of being the place where MacArthur landed on January 9, 1945 in order  to reunited with the Filipino and American soldiers he  left in Philippines  for Australia.

The war veterans nodded in affirmation. (Zarena Amado/CIO)