Corregidor visit

Trip Start Jun 06, 2006
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Trip End Aug 22, 2006


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Flag of Philippines  ,
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday we made our expedition to Corregidor Island. This island off the tip of the Bataan peninsula was the scene of horrific fighting and a courageous defense at the start of WWII. Corregidor is at the mouth of Manila Bay and guards its entrance. The US used it as one of its main bases during the protectorate period, and had heavily fortified it to protect the metropolis of Manila. A few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese began an attack on the Philippines. Douglas MacArthur fought a defensive battle all the way down the Bataan peninsula from where he retrenched on Corregidor. The Japanese General Homma was ordered to, and said he could, take the Philippines in 5 weeks. It ended up taking 5 months, which slowed the Japanese advance, and possibly saved Australia from invasion. Finally though, it was clear that the American and Filipino troops could not hold out long enough for relief to arrive. MacArthur was ordered by President Roosevelt to go to Australia to reorganize the allied war effort in the Pacific. He left on a PT boat at night, to an airbase where he boarded a B-17 bomber. It was on arrival in Australia that that he uttered his famous "I shall return" phrase. This story explains why we were eager to see the site.

We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30. We quickly discovered that Fiona had had a bad night and didn't feel well enough to go. The GI problems were back with a vengeance. I was particularly sad for her because she enjoys history. She has read quite a bit of 20th century history including Stephen Ambrose's excellent books on WWII; books like D-Day and Band of Brothers. Fiona stayed in her room to rest during the day.

As for the rest of us, after a quick but delicious breakfast at 6:00 we were ready to roll at 6:30. We took two taxis to the boat terminal where the Sun Cruises boat to Corregidor docks. We were there by 7:00, and got checked in for the 8:00 departure. At this time of year, the monsoon season, the water can be so rough that such day trips are canceled to avoid having a boatload of nauseous passengers. Though the sky was overcast, and visibility quite limited, the water of Manila Bay was fairly calm.

It took about an hour to reach Corregidor, a polliwog-shaped island sometimes called "the rock" due to its composition and the strength of its fortifications. The boat was not too full, though there was a fairly large group of Japanese tourists present. Upon landing we split into three tour trolleys, two with English-speaking guides and one with a Japanese speaking guide. The tour groups were rather eclectic. The English-speaking contingent included a Muslim family with one woman wearing a burqa, the sack-like covering that some Muslim women wear so that the shape of their bodies will not be visible to men. Only her eyes showed. We thought at first they must have been quite a devout Muslim family. Then later we saw the father and son enjoying several San Miguel pilsners. Apparently they pick and choose in their religion as do a lot of Christians and Jews.

We landed not far from what is left of the Lorcha docks the place from where MacArthur left on the PT boat. Nearby there is a large statue of the General, pipe in hand, and right arm raised in a wave. It stands next to a rock on which a plaque is fixed bearing the inscription "I shall return." We had our photo taken in front of the statue.

The visit included the Filipino Heroes Memorial, dedicated to the men and women who fought against foreign occupiers (including for a while the USA).

We also visited the site of the Japanese cemetery where several thousand Japanese soldiers were buried (when the Americans retook the island thousands of Japanese soldiers fought to the death or committed suicide - only about 50 out of 7000 or so survived). Our guide explained to us that the Japanese involved in the creation of the memorial wanted to call it the "garden of peace", but then decorated it not only with a Buddha, but with machine guns and artillery. This was a touchy point for the Filipinos who had suffered terribly under the brutal Japanese occupation. Finally the Filipino government gave them a choice, they could keep the word "peace" in the title or they could keep the guns. Interestingly, they kept the guns. I wondered what the Japanese tourists thought as they made the visit, not only here but throughout the island.

From there we visited the Malinta tunnel, which connects the two halves of the island. The tunnel was dug as a fortification. It served as General MacArthur's HQ as well as the seat of the Philippine government for several months during the Japanese advance. There is a sound and light show that gives an idea of what happened in and around the tunnel during the combat during both the initial Japanese offensive and three years later the American offensive to retake the island.

After the tunnel we stopped at the Corregidor Hotel for a buffet lunch. Then it was on the "topside" the plateau on the head of the pollywog to see some of the big gun batteries. Most of the large artillery on the island predated WWI. It was with such outdated weapons that the US troops on the island fought the Japanese. Signs of battle were etched in the concrete fortifications around the guns.  There were traces of bomb blasts and artillery hits all around the bunkers and guns. It's hard to imagine the intensity of the violence that would have left such signs. The whole experience is most impressive.

The last part of the visit was the Pacific War Memorial near Mile-Long barracks, the largest US barrack in the world at that time. The memorial is built around a sort of round alter on which is inscribed a charged and inspired text: "Sleep, my sons, your duty done, for Freedom's light has come; sleep in the silent depths of the sea or in your bed of hallowed sod; until you hear, at dawn, the low clear reveille of God." My eyes grow misty every time I see or think of that text.

We also saw the old Spanish flagpole nearby. It was originally the mast of a Spanish ship of war captured by Admiral Dewey during the battle of Manila Bay in 1898. When the American army surrendered to the Japanese the American flag was lowered on May 6, 1942. On March 2, 1945 MacArthur was back. He said "I see the old flagpole still stands. Have your troops hoist the colors to its peak, and let no enemy ever haul them down." He obviously had a gift for inspiring words....

We then headed back down to the boat dock for the return trip. The sun had come out and we had a clear view of Bataan across the water as we headed back across the bay to Manila.

We were all dog tired when we reached the hotel. Fiona was feeling a little better, but still didn't want to eat. Richard Pinelli and Lyle Welty had to leave at 3:00 the next morning for their flights back to the States, so they ate early and went to bed. Marjolaine, Tatiana and I joined David Baker and Jeff Caudle for dinner in the hotel restaurant called the Champagne Room. Its ornate decoration is a throwback to the early 1900s and the glory days of the hotel. The cuisine is fine and the service exceptional. David and Jeff were traveling on to Singapore early the next day, so this was our parting meal and we deeply enjoyed the occasion. David, Jeff and I all worked in refugee camps in Thailand at the same time when we were Ambassador College students, and we've remained great friends ever since. It's always a pleasure to spend time with either of them.

Thursday night, Tatiana was sick during the night, possibly from something she ate, but if so it was aggravated by fatigue. I decided we needed to rest before continuing our journey. We had planned to go to Baguio for the Sabbath. There had been landslides because of the typhoon that went through the previous week and roads to Baguio had been cut. Though at least one was repaired and open it would have required a 7-hour road trip to get there, and then to get back again, and I felt the girls just weren't up to it. So I canceled that and decided to take the family for a few days of complete rest over the weekend. David Baker had mentioned a pleasant island a few minutes from Manila by plane. I decided to give it a try, so Friday we headed, earlier than we would have liked, to the airport, where we bought tickets to a little paradise called Boracay Island.
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Corregidor hotel

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