World Coins

This Day in History: March 20

Gen. Douglas MacArthur vowed on March 20, 1942, to make a victorious return to the Philippines, a promise he kept with the Oct. 20, 1944, invasion of Leyte Gulf.

Coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

One of the most famous promises of wartime was made on March 20, 1942.

On that day, during World War II: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, at Terowie, South Australia, made his famous speech regarding the fall of the Philippines, in which he says: “I came out of Bataan and I shall return.”

It was a promise he would keep, two-and-a-half-years later when he made a triumphant return during the Oct. 20, 1944, invasion of Leyte. 

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After the war, Gen. MacArthur returned to the Philippines, thanks to two silver coins, a .750 fine 50-centavo piece and .900  fine peso issued in 1947 commemorating his importance as commander of the forces that defended and liberated the islands.  

The two coins were not issued by the United States, but they were struck at the San Francisco Mint and bear a design by famed sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser.  

These were the first coins struck for the new Republic of the Philippines. Although released after the U.S. obligation had officially concluded, the two coins are nonetheless of major U.S. interest. 

The Philippine Islands were a U.S. commonwealth for part of the 20th century. During this time, the Manila Mint was a Branch Mint of the U.S. Treasury Department. It was not uncommon, though, for Philippine coins to be struck at other U.S. Mint facilities, chiefly the San Francisco plant. 

The coins were little noted in contemporaneous hobby literature, as Richard Giedroyc found when exploring the topic for Coin World (Dec. 22, 1997, issue), in which he notes that these low-relief coins were weakly struck.  

The Numismatist lists the coins in new coin issues without comment in 1948. 

The entry on Page 52 of Annual Report of the Director of the Mint for 1948 merely acknowledges 100,000 1-peso and 200,000 50-centavo coins struck for the Philippines without mentioning the coins were commemorative or were struck at the San Francisco Mint. 

Two additional Filipino commemoratives show Gen. MacArthur, a 25-piso coin from 1980 and a 5-piso coin from 1994, both commemorating the Leyte landing.  

The Gen. Douglas MacArthur Foundation sells examples of the 50-centavo coin from 1947 (as well as 3.125-inch diameter bronze duplicates of the 1962 congressional gold medal presented to MacArthur) through its gift shop. World and U.S. coin dealers often have the 1947 coins for sale, with the 1-peso coin available for about $30 and the 50-centavo coin for about $20. 

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