Monday, July 6, 2015

Our trips with Valor Tours over the years

All in all, we have taken part in twenty three tours with Valor Tours of San Francisco, the last twenty as tour hosts.  Without Valor Tours our lives would have turned out quite differently.  We consider ourselves very lucky to have met a number of veterans before they passed on and we're thankful for those who are still with us! and to have accompanied some who were making their final trips to the ports, battlefields, and prison camp sites.

Take a trip down memory lane with us as we review all of these trips, with an emphasis on veterans and their families.

May 2002

Steve and his sister Paula first went to the Philippines with Valor Tours in May of 2002 to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor.  Never in a million years would he have guessed that a little over six years later we would up and move to Corregidor, where we lived for six and a half years.  Steve's diary of that trip, along with transcription of his father Walter talking about his experiences in the war, were combined into HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH: A Corregidor Story, a book published in 2012, and is available from Amazon as an eBook or through Anvil Publishing as a paperback.  Anyone who might want to ponder a trip with Valor Tours should find the book quite nostalgic.
This first trip was before digital cameras were commonplace, so the number of photos (digitized since then) is rather small.  Unfortunately we cannot find a photo of the whole group or even of all the veterans who accompanied the tour.
We had seven veterans on the tour; two who survived the Bataan Death March (Dick Francies and Malcolm Amos), and five captured on Corregidor (Harry Hanson, Clinton Jennings, Everett Reamer, Henry Sublett, and John Wright).  There were many relatives as well, but since the tour was so long ago, Steve cannot recall very many names although he remembers that the son and grandson of the Philippine Army's 71st Division commander, General Clyde Selleck, were among the guests, and, to Steve's delight, the two daughters of Walter's commanding officer, Major William Massello.
Most of the 2002 group at Battery Hearn on Corregidor

At the Cabanatuan Prison Camp Memorial: John Wright, Dick Francies, Harry Hansen, Malcolm Amos, Everett Reamer, and Clinton Jennings.  Missing from the photo is Henry Sublett, who was wheel-chair bound.  Everett was the only one of the group who was taken straight to Japan; therefore he was never interned at Cabanatuan.

May 2003

Because Steve had such a good time in 2002, and especially because he fell in love with Corregidor, we joined a very small group for a 2003 "walking tour" of Corregidor, led by Valor Tours founder Bob Reynolds.

Bob Reynolds, Steve, John (who was born and raised on Corregidor before the war), Charlie, Kathy (Massello), and Marcia, watching a sunset from Battery Grubbs.

We include the photo of two - if you look closely - Cadillac Cabriolets, that had belonged to Philippine President Manuel Quezon and General Douglas MacArthur, and that were previously kept at "Cine Corregidor" on Topside.

Steve and Marcia by Mortar # 1, which they had believed was Walter's mortar.  This, they learned later in 2003, was based on faulty information, and that led to their return in 2006.

January 2006

We had planned to return to the Philippines for our wedding anniversary in February, 2005, but serious injuries to both of us delayed us until the next year.  Valor Tours held a tour in coordination with the dedication of the Hellships Memorial in Subic Bay.  We were accompanied by four veterans, including three that Steve already knew from 2002.

The tour leader was Duane Heisinger, whose father died on a Hellship.  Also in the group were multiple family members of men who died on Hellships.  The Oryoku Maru, which lies in one hundred feet of water just a few hundred yards from where the marker was installed, still holds the remains of over two hundred American prisoners of war.

Richard Francies, Everett Reamer, Malcolm Amos (who was rescued from Cabanatuan in the "Great Raid" and therefore never went to Japan on a Hellship) and Charles "Chuck" Towne, guests of honor at the memorial dedication.  Chuck Towne, an army corpsman, swam ashore from the sinking Oryoku Maru, assisting many others to shore on this very spot.

Duane Heisinger and Bob Reynolds as we boarded a "banca" so that family members could drop wreathes over the Oryoku Maru.  We cannot recall all of the names of the people who took part in the wreath-laying ceremony.

Banca on the way to the final resting place of the Oryoku Maru, that probably contains 200-250 bodies of American POWs.

Wreath laying rite

John Neiger, right, whose father is one of the POWs believed to be down below

Gerry Schurtz, right, whose father is also believed to be in the sunken ship.  Gerry's uncle survived the same hellacious journey to Japan.

Marcia, Linda McDavitt and Judy Masello, (both of whose fathers, along with Walter, survived Bataan, Corregidor, the Hellships, and the Japanese POW camps,) and Bonnie Schurtz

Jordan McDavitt and John Neiger, whose fathers were stationed at Fort Stotsenberg before the war, and who very l played together on the army camp playground they remember from early childhood days.

Steve and Marcia begin to serve as hosts for Valor Tours

In 2007 Bob Reynolds decided to cut back on his schedule, and since Steve had been on three of their tours in the previous five years, Valor Tours' Vicky Middagh asked Steve if he would be interested in leading that year's tour.  We have been doing it ever since.  Below are a few of our fondest moments, along with some of our memorable guests, in the twenty tours that cover the past eight years.  We couldn't include everyone, so please understand that some omissions are inevitable due to space and our aging memories.  The photos from our tours were culled from over 10,000 possibilities.

April 2007

Our first tour as leaders was understandably memorable.  Malcolm Amos, whom we knew from the 2002 and 2006 tours, as well as visiting with him at a POW convention in May, 2006, was once again on the tour.  He was accompanied by his daughter, Blythe, and John Shively, who met each other during the Hellships Memorial Tour and would eventually marry.  Esther Jennings, whom Steve had met in 2002, was also on the tour, as was Gerry Schurtz, who brought his three sons along.  And so was longtime acquaintance John Hogue, a frequent visitor to Corregidor, his boyhood home.

The following four pictures were taken on the restaurant veranda of the Corregidor Inn.

Blythe and John Shively
Malcolm Amos talking with Esther Jennings

John Clarke, whose brother died in the Pacific in WWII, John Hogue, and Miles Taguchi

This family group - Steve and Wesley Shoop, Wesley's daughter Kristen, and their friend Paulette were on a mission to find the grave of the men's maternal uncle.  Documentation indicates that he was killed in action and was buried on nearby Caballo Island (Fort Hughes).

Three and a half Shurtzes (Chris at left, and going clockwise, John, Gerry, and Paul)

Esther Jennings in Topside Barracks.  We got a kick out of the message written on the wall that says, "Entrance - Kitchen - Please fall in," and is located right next to the swimming pool.

Ambassador Kristie Kenney greeting Malcolm Amos at the annual Day of Valor Ceremony on Mount Samat, the first of nine in a row that we have attended.

This was another memorable moment on the 2007 tour.  No, that is not Geraldo Rivera on the carabao (water buffalo) but our own John Shively, who asked its owner if he could take a ride.

September 2007

By the middle of 2007 we were beginning to make plans to move to Corregidor, and it just so happened that Vicky had a couple who wanted to take a short tour.  Steve met them in Manila and gave Stuart Mills and his daughter Marisa a four day tour.  The Mills are from Brainerd, Minnesota, and Stuart was interested because he knew survivors of the 194th Tank Battalion, that originated in Brainerd.  Stuart is co-owner of the Mill Fleet Farm chain of stores that are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota.

It should be noted here that the Mills family had known Hortense McKay of Brainerd, one of the nurses who was evacuated from Corregidor (reportedly against her will) just before the surrender.  We were soon to meet some of Hortense's relatives.

Marisa and Stuart Mills in the Corregidor Inn restaurant

April 2008
This was our last time making the international flight to host a group for Valor.  We moved to Corregidor six months later.  Malcolm Amos was along once again, as were a collection of  relatives of Pacific Theater veterans and several history buffs.

Mike Catanzaro laying a wreath at his brother Cosimo's grave.  It is believed that this visit by Mike and his daughter Chris was the first time anyone from the family visited the grave site.

Wally McKay pointing to his sister Hortense's name on the American Nurses Memorial, Corregidor

Malcolm Amos at Death March Marker 110, which he dedicated to his fellow surviving POWs and to their fallen comrades

April 2009

Back again in 2009, now living on Corregidor.  That made us more familiar and, we hope, better hosts than before.  All of the following tours are documented on our website,, that you are encouraged to check out for more information.

For this tour, see:

Frank Kamlan is listening to his uncle John Hogue, who is explaining that he and Frank's mother once lived in a house just inside the jungle where they are standing at Middleside.  A large bomb crater appears to be in the old location.

For more on John Hogue, see:

Malcolm at his marker for what turned out to be the very last time

October 2009

This tour was memorable for a number of reasons.  It contained our first liberation veterans and our first female WWII veteran.  And it included our first of five trips (so far) to Tacloban, since this tour's emphasis was the 65th anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines in 1944.

Also memorable is that the tour originally was scheduled to go to Lingayen Gulf and Baguio, but the main roads had been badly damaged by recent typhoons, most notably Pepeng, so we had to improvise.  It was a disappointment to us as well as the guests, as we had never been to the Mile High City, and weren't sure if we ever would get there.  However, we have now visited three times thanks to special requests by subsequent guests.

Part 1 = Manila, Corregidor, and Bataan:

Part 2 - Subic Bay, Clark Field, and the prison camps:

Part 3 - Dulag Ceremony and Blue Beach:

Part 4 - Leyte Landing and San Juanico Bridge:

WW II veterans Violet Halverson, Tom Clark, Jack Duncan, Otha Jackson pose outside the Clark VFW

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney greet our veterans at the Leyte Landing Ceremony on October 20

February 2010

We hosted a private tour for Betsy Harris, her nephew, and his wife.

Betsy point at her father's name (he had been a captain on one of the Yangtze River Boats at the start of the war) on the wall that commemorates those who died at Cabanatuan.  This particular wall has been torn down and is being replaced with one that will be more accurate, based on the latest information.

April 2010

Once again we hosted the Ghost Soldiers of Bataan tour, that again contained relatives and history buffs.

Wally McKay and his daughter Patty Broback at Hortense McKay's marker along the Death March route

We have just learned that Wally McKay's wife and Patty's mother, Margaret, very recently passed awayWe have had the privilege and delight of visiting the McKays in Minnesota on several occasion. 

Patty, Wally, and Margaret at Patty's house in suburban Minneapolis

Karen Brady Smith with her husband Bob at Karen's father's marker along the Death March route

Jack and Sue Murphy at the Hellships Memorial in Subic Bay.  Sue's father died a couple days before his Hellship reached Japan in January, 1945.

Malcolm's marker again.  Malcolm skipped this year because the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor convention coincided with the tour.  He stayed home again the next year when his wife was ill, and passed away before he could return once again.

February 2011

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans hooked up with Valor Tours in early 2011.  We hosted for three days and met some interesting people as a result.

Former California Governor, U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Pete Wilson walks with Steve along the last kilometer of the Bataan Death March

Marcia walks into Camp O'Donnell with tour leader and historian Hugh Ambrose.  We were saddened to hear that Hugh passed away at the age of 48 just this past May.

Marcia with Richard Greer, one of the men interviewed in "The Pacific"

April 2011

This tour included a lot of enthusiasts, a couple of whom we feature below.

Oscar Leonard was on Corregidor pre-war and later captured on Mindanao.  When we walked up Malinta Hill, Oscar, who was over 90, made it up easier than some of the people half his age.

Grace Adams, whose brother died on the Oryoku Maru, that lies near here.

March 2012

2012 saw us do four tours in the span of a little over two months.  The March tour was different in that it included helicopter rides as one of our modes of travel.  Our first landing was on the "Concrete Battleship."

One of the 14-inch canons of Fort Drum

Our Helicopter sitting atop the Concrete Battleship

April 2012

As this tour was largely for the College of the Ozarks, we let the students do the blogging.  It was the last time that a sizable contingent of American WWII veterans of the Philippines will ever congregate there, so it was an honor to be a part of it.

To see the write-up done by the College of the Ozarks students, go to:

For our followup and trip to Davao with Ray Heimbuch:

Group shot with Ambassador Harry Thomas sitting front center
(photo by Jonathan Wahl)
Ambassador Thomas, Bob Earhardt (captured on Corregidor), Jim Collier (Corregidor), Ray Heimbuch (Mindanao), Lawrence Nelson and Ed Knight (liberators of 1945), Warren Jorgenson(Corregidor), and Wayne Carringer (Bataan)
(photo by Jonathan Wahl)

Ray Heimbuch talks about his experiences in the Davao Penal Colony, almost seventy years after being incarcerated there.  His memory of the camp layout was amazing.

May 2012

This tour encompassed the 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor and the Philippines.  Unlike Steve's first visit ten years earlier when seven veterans, including five captured on Corregidor, attended, this group included only one, Bill Sanchez who at age 97 still lives in California, very likely the last American defender of Corregidor to ever return.  (Steve's father Walter returned in 1980, eight years before his death.  That year Valor Tours had a huge group of returnees.)

Corregidor Foundation, Inc. (CFI) Executive Director Artemio Matibag and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III talk with American Defender Bill Sanchez

May-June 2012

But we weren't done with 2012 quite yet.  A group called the American World War II Orphans Network (AWON) came for Memorial Day.  Steve accompanied one of the group, Dr. Steve from the State of Washington, to see the area where his father had been killed late in the war.  Because the group was made up of adult children whose fathers died in the war, we made three trips to the American Cemetery, giving them time at the most tangible contact point with their fathers.

At the end of the regular tour we accompanied some of the guests on our third trip to Tacloban.

AWON at the American Cemetery in Manila

Dr. Steve in Malico, after a very scary ride through the mountains

This picture was taken at the Oriental Hotel on Palo Beach before Typhoon Yolanda.

Just to give you an idea of the destruction, here is the same building from a slightly different angle, taken in 2014, a year after Yolanda.

April 2013

Another interesting tour, as it included a liberation veteran, two Pacific Theater WWII Navy nurses, and the son of a native-American Bataan Death March survivor.

Fay Hendricks (left) describes guard duty at the mouth of the Pasig River, 1945.  He said the smell of dead bodies all over Manila was horrible and unforgettable.  In this photo he is telling how his detail collected body parts that were floating down the river, and when enough parts for a complete body were amassed (i.e. head, two arms, torso, and two legs), they were buried together no matter the sex, age, or nationality.

Former U.S. Navy nurses Jeanne Rubin and Elinor Kessel at Fort Mills Hospital

Michael Coon with CFI Director Art Matibag

June 2013

We had a special private tour with Michael Duncan of Tennessee.  Mike's father was with the troops in the Philippines at the end of the war, and it is Mike's hope to visit every place that his father mentioned in his letters home.

Mike Duncan in Baguio

The pine trees on the hill outside the Manor Hotel in Camp John Hay, Baguio

April 2014

Another tour with relatives of the POWs.

Marcia and Mike Downey searching tablets removed from the old wall, hoping to find the name of Mike's uncle, Philip Downey (unsuccessful).

Tom, Gurney (whose father is buried here), and American Cemetery Asst. Superintendent Bert Caloud

Family members of SSgt Karl Loesche with Bert Caloud at Karl's probable grave site.

October 2014

Two Leyte Landing veterans, and the daughter of a soldier who died in the subsequent fighting there, made this another very moving tour.

Our private extension to Baguio can be seen here:

Sally Moege (whose father died in Leyte), Bub Simmoms and Dwain Bell (both Leyte Landing veterans) talking to Ambassador Philip Goldberg

The table in the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Baguio where Japanese General Yamashita Tomohisa surrendered on Sept. 3, 1945, the day after the formal surrender in Tokyo Bay.

February 2015

Tom Morgan, U.S. Military Academy 1958, asked for a private tour earlier this year.  A highlight for him was spending a morning with our friend, Ret. Phil. Gen. Ray Ong, also a West Point graduate.  It was very interesting listening to the two men reminisce.

Ray and Tom at the American Cemetery in Manila

March 2015

In March Mike Duncan returned for part two of his adventure tracking down the places where his father trod while in the Philippines in 1945 and '46.  A highlight for us was seeing the Banaue Rice Terraces for the first time, a side trip on our way to the northern coast of Luzon.

Michael at the Paret River in far northern Luzon

The Banaue Rice Terrace in Batad

April 2015

Our last tour as resident retirees in the Philippines was one of our best.  Thinking this could possibly be our last time to visit these places that are so special to us, Steve documented all eleven days in pictures.

Day 1: Manila

Day 2: University of Santo Tomas and Corregidor

Day 3: Corregidor and Bataan

Day 4: Mount Samat and the Day of Valor

Day 5: Medal of Honor recipients

Day 6: Subic Bay

Day 7: Subic Bay to Capas

Day 8: Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp Memorial

Day 9: American Cemetery in Manila

Day 10: Leyte WWII Tour

Day 11: Santo Nino, San Juanico Bridge, and the Amazing Cody

Katherine Walters pointing to her father's name on the list of the civilian POWs interned at the University of Santo Tomas

Jasmine Hartsook and her mother Blythe Shively at the marker dedicated by grandfather/father Malcolm Amos

Marcia accompanying John McConnell, who is visiting the former site of Camp Cabanatuan, where John's brother Henry passed away as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Good news:  We will be back with Valor Tours in April, 2016.

Steve and Marcia