When Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in Australia after parting Corregidor on March 11, 1942, and pledged, "I shall return," Francis J. Salveron, like many Filipinos, wept.
He longed for the day when the "American Caesar" would help liberate his country from Japanese occupation. But in the midst of his gloom, Salveron recalled recently, he never expected to be at the general's side when that day arrived.
Later in 1942, the tumultuous circumstances of war thrust Salveron, who was conscripted into the U.S. Army and assigned to the USS Don Isidro, into an assignment as MacArthur's personal aide. He remained at the general's side for three years and was with him for MacArthur's celebrated return to Leyte on Oct. 20, 1944.
Salveron met MacArthur after the Isidro, which ferried ammunition to the besieged defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, was sunk during the battle of the Java Sea.
The crew, cast adrift on Timor Island, was later rescued by an Australian destroyer and brought to the Brisbane Army Medical Center, where MacArthur visited the recuperating sailors.
"I was being treated for a shoulder wound when the general came in to greet the men. And he asked if I wanted to be his personal aide," said Salveron, now 74 and living in Bladensburg.
For three years, seven days a week, Salveron woke the general, cooked his breakfast, prepared his uniforms and loaded his carbines.
"At 4 a.m. he woke for his breakfast of two eggs, sunny side up, pure orange juice, two strips of bacon and tea," Salveron recalled.
He said that in his three years of service to MacArthur, the general was not ill once.
And although he liked Gregory Peck's performance, Salveron said the movie "MacArthur" was wrong in depicting the general in later years as discarding his cane.
"That's nonsense," said Salveron, who often refers to the late MacArthur in the present tense. "He loves that cane because it brings him good luck. Whenever we go somewhere he carries his cane at his side."
Salveron, who remained in the military for 22 years, went on to serve presidents Truman and Eisenhower as a steward, and he was stationed with the Air Force in Washington as a master sergeant.
For the past 39 years, Salveron and his wife of 53 years, Anastacia, have lived in Prince George's County. Anastacia was part of the reason the Salverons moved from Manila after the Japanese surrender in 1945.
"Conditions were terrible and my wife was undernourished and near a nervous breakdown," Salveron said. "We had two children at the time, and MacArthur said we should move to the United States because of its good medical facilities."
After a brief stay in San Francisco for Anastacia's treatment at a hospital there, the Salverons moved to Bladensburg and had three more children, including a son who died in 1971 at 18 of polyarteriosclerosis.
Reminders of the war are effusive in Salveron's life. His walls are lined with pictures of former secretaries of state and war and of MacArthur. There are also honorary plaques from the Jaycees and from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organization for which his house is an official post.
Outside, flags of the United States and the VFW fly near a plaque that reads, "General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, Memorial Post No. 983."
The hardest thing for MacArthur was "to see his boys die," Salveron said, as, near tears, he showed a visitor the plaque. "Any time bombs are dropped, the first words from his mouth are, 'Are any of my boys hurt?' "
As one of MacArthur's most ardent followers, Salveron continues to attend VFW and Filipino functions and collects war memorabilia, which offer occasions to exchange remembrances with former comrades-in-arms.
As a preserver of the MacArthur legend, Salveron still tries to set the record straight on matters involving MacArthur, including the general's eventual downfall.
Salveron said that while he was serving Truman for a brief period in 1951 as a plane steward, the president told him that relieving MacArthur of his duty in Korea had taken place at the insistence of Dean Acheson, Truman's secretary of state, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
"He came back to me while we were flying from Little Rock and said that it was Acheson and Churchill that wanted MacArthur out of there Korea ," Salveron said.
Truman, in his memoirs, noted that he did consult with Acheson as well as other top officials, including Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Gen. George C. Marshall, the joint chiefs of staff and Averell Harriman, ambassador to Russia.
However, he wrote that "my mind was made up before April 5," one day before he consulted those top officials about MacArthur's fate.
"And though I gave this difficulty with MacArthur much wearisome thought," Truman wrote, "I realized that I would have no other choice myself than to relieve the nation's top field commander."
"Maybe he just felt sorry about it because he knew how I felt about MacArthur," Salveron speculated.