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Real heroes spurn a hero’s welcome

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

A combat veteran of World War I, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright was posted to the Philippines in 1941, just as World War II broke out in the Pacific.

Wainwright led his troops in the battle for Bataan Peninsula until they were overwhelmed by Japanese forces and retreated to Corregidor Island, where they fought for another month. Forced to surrender, Wainwright sent a message to the president:

“With broken heart and head bowed in sadness, but not in shame, I report to Your Excellency that today, I must arrange terms for the surrender of the fortified islands of Manila Bay. If you agree, please say to the nation that my troops and I accomplished all that is humanly possible and that we have upheld the best traditions of the United States Army.”

After more than three years in captivity, which took him from the Philippines to Japan, Korea and Manchuria, Wainwright could scarcely believe it when a six-man team of U.S. commandos found him.

He anxiously asked the commandos what had been on his mind for three years: Was he considered a disgrace?

To his relief, Wainwright heard that he, instead, was considered a hero … but he didn’t believe it.

It wasn’t until a Russian convoy appeared that the emaciated U.S. general reverted to his leadership role and organized the liberated POWs to arrange their transportation for the first leg home.

Lesson: Do everything you can to support your troops and uphold your honor, but don’t assume that your failures will be forgiven. If they are, you’ll be happily surprised.

-- Adapted from “The OSS Cardinal Mission located Gen. Jonathan Wainwright at a Japanese prison camp in Manchuria,” John Mancini, WWII History.

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