Thursday, December 31, 2009

Entertaining ourselves; the "blue moon"

People often ask us, “Just what do you do to entertain yourselves on that remote island of Corregidor?” Well, most of the time we write and/or edit, go exploring, take lots of pictures, and spend time relaxing in our “dirty kitchen” area with books, the occasional Sudoku (Steve) and music. We recently purchased a CD player in Manila, and we brought our CD collection with us from the U.S. in August. We enjoy visiting with some of the tourists, and some days there are tours to guide. Some evenings we head down the hill for videoke sessions, too, a Filipino favorite activity. At night we lay in bed reading (Marcia) or watching videos on the computer (Steve).

Just this morning Steve went to Battery Grubbs to watch the moonset. The pictures he took do not do justice to how great it was to watch the moon set over the town of Mariveles, Bataan. The full moon will officially occur at 19:15 GMT this evening. When two full moons occur within the same month, the second one is called a blue moon. Hence the expression, “Once in a blue moon,” meaning a seldom-occurring event. What makes this full moon extra special is that it will be a blue moon on December 31, 2009, for most of the world, but here in eastern Asia the full moon doesn’t occur until 3:15 AM. Hence the first full moon of 2010 in this part of the world is on January 1, and we will see our blue moon on January 30, 2010. That has to be the blue moon of blue moons, occurring not only in two different months but two different years!

We were recently exploring Morrison Hill when Marcia found a small, heavy piece of metal that looked like it was the tip of a bomb – see picture. We sent several photos taken from different angles to some friends who are informed about such things. The most specific response came from Shawn Walsh: “Looks like an M1907 powder train time fuse for 3-inch shells.” Ooh, that sounds dangerous. In a follow-up email we asked him if he thought the fuse might still go BOOM!!! Shawn replied, “Not certain...looks like the booster is gone...but the powder train may still be inside the fuse. I'd never throw it into a fire to find out!” Okay, Shawn, you have our word we are not going to try roasting the fuse any time soon.

And speaking of going boom, the other day we had beef soup for lunch and a pork soup supper. It was a bit more meat than we are used to in a day, along with lots of other, shall we say, gas-producing produce, such as munggo beans and malunggay (horseradish leaves). Add to that a couple glasses of Red Horse Beer and you have the potential for a very interesting evening.

Steve had the first reaction, a sudden gas release with a sound loud enough to wake up the neighbors - if we had any. But like many instances of loud gas-passing, it appeared to be odor free. However, it was soon following by a much quieter and much more noxious round, which sent Marcia scurrying out of the bedroom gasping, “The least you can do is go somewhere else!” Steve apologized, but explained that it happened too quickly to be able to evacuate ground zero. Now feeling relieved, Steve thought that his intestines were going to behave themselves, which they did until lights out. All of a sudden Steve felt another, lesser, passing of gas. He quickly said, “Air raid warning,” which was the family code phrase while our kids were young. At that point, Marcia began laughing uncontrollably. Steve could not believe that she was laughing at him, but then Marcia said that she was retaliating for his earlier attack, which then sent Steve into hysterics. Maybe our reenactment of the bean-eating scene from Blazing Saddles is one of the ways we stay sane on this minimal-entertainment island, especially given our choice to live without TV. “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Our New Year’s Eve plans are again low-key, a charcoal roasted chicken dinner with the few friends who are still on the island – most are with family off-island for at least a day or two. We are not late-night people, so there’s a good chance we will allow 2010 to sneak in while we sleep. We will, however, be wide awake when 2010 arrives in Minnesota and Michigan!

Once again, we wish you a very Happy New Year from Corregidor, Mariveles, Cabcaben, Bataan, Philippines!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tears in the Darkness

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, was a gift from our friend Eli the last time we visited Manila. Considering the facts that the book has attained “best seller” status, that it took 10 years to research, and that the authors are New York University professors, we expected this to be the best book on the subject of American POWs of the Japanese since Ghost Soldiers, and it might well be. The main subject was Ben Steele, a former POW whom we had the good fortune of meeting at the 2008 Convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

However, Steve immediately began to notice factual problems in the book, which tainted his reading from then on. He believes that when, for example, a map is included, the text should agree with the map. Statements that are “matter of fact” should indeed be factual. And the book should not contain contradictory factual statements unless clarified, as in two people having different memories of the same event. He noted exceptions to these standards. As you will see from the notes that follow, there are far too many factual errors that could have easily been spotted and corrected before publication.

We sent Steve’s initial comments to the married authors, Michael and Elizabeth Norman. Elizabeth replied with a “Thank you very much” email, but also said that since the paperback was scheduled for release in March, the errors which Steve pointed out could not be corrected. Since that time, Marcia has read the book and her comments are now incorporated.

Tears includes the memories and diary entries of several Japanese soldiers and officers, and from that standpoint, it is a necessary addition to a Death March collection. Steve considers the following to be a few of its superior predecessors:
• Stanley Falk: Bataan: The March of Death – First classic of the genre (and cited by the authors of Tears)
• Donald Knox: Death March: The Survivors of Bataan – Consists almost entirely of statements of the POWs themselves
• Gavan Daws: Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific – The best of the bunch for an overall understanding of the affects of being a POW
• Hampton Sides: Ghost Soldiers – Easy to read, fascinating story of the daring and miraculous rescue of the POWs from the Cabanatuan POW camp

Marcia, being less of a technical and numbers person (read “less of a nerd”) and more of a personal story reader, found the book more enjoyable. The authors used too many unnecessary obscure or archaic words which hindered the book’s flow. She enjoyed the post-war details of Ben’s life, but felt that the reader should not be left to wonder if he recovers from the end-of-book medical crisis.

The primary character is Ben Steele, but General Homma becomes a central character. Both are portrayed as men who were caught up in events beyond their control. We both can feel a certain amount of sympathy for Homma the man, because he was clearly not the typical Japanese military man. However, we found the apparent attempt to elicit equal sympathy levels for Homma and Steele demeaning to the suffering of Ben and all of the POWs. Homma, in his command position, was ultimately responsible for their suffering.

You may be wondering why Steve, especially, is so critical of Tears. The answer is because it has become a best-seller. He is not nearly so critical of the many first-hand accounts, written by men who are not professional writers, who do not have scores of people behind the scenes to assist in writing or proofing the text to ensure accuracy and consistency. Granted, Steve is critical, but to be fair, he also critically acclaims many portions of the book, saying that they are excellent, outstanding, or the best he has ever read on the subject. And he does recommend the book, noting that the interviews with certain Japanese add new insights into the plight of the POWs, which is his ultimate concern.

The following notes were sent to the Normans:

Tears in the Darkness had been recommended to us by several people in recent months. Living as we do on a remote island, and on a tight retirement budget, we are very selective about purchases here in the Philippines, and must be conscious of weight restrictions when returning from U.S. visits. We were delighted to receive your book in November as a gift from a Filipino friend.

We have not read any reviews of the book. The observations that we make are entirely our own. We understand that the book is a best-seller and therefore our criticisms are probably in the minority. However, the errors that we point out are just that, errors. As Steve often states, there are facts and there are opinions. Whether or not Douglas MacArthur was a great general is an opinion. Whether or not he was a coward, as implied by the nick-name “Dugout Doug,” is not an opinion. In fact, he was brave to the point of appearing suicidal, demonstrated by his standing in the open counting Japanese bombers passing over Corregidor, something reported by Steve’s father and many others. You wrongfully leave readers with the impression that he was a coward. We’d recommend Amea Willoughby’s book, I Was on Corregidor, for one eyewitness account of his prolonged stays outside the tunnel.

We are always glad when a book or movie brings the war in the Pacific and the plight of the POWs of the Japanese to the minds of the American public, and therefore we are very pleased that this book has become a best-seller. The English editing in the book is outstanding. We found only one gross grammatical error where the word “the” was missing from a sentence. One of Steve’s degrees is in English, the other in physics. Marcia majored in English and has an allied-health degree, and we are both very well read. Because of our intense interest in the subject matter, we read books like yours as if they were textbooks, and are disappointed when we encounter inaccuracies.

That Tears in the Darkness contains a number of errors distresses us, especially since you name a number of editors who should have pointed them out to you. Some of the items we have listed beneath the title “Errors” are just that, verifiable errors, while others are cases of conflicting information within the book.

We are currently staying on the island of Corregidor. We are very familiar with Corregidor and quite familiar with the Death March routes and the prison camps, having toured these areas and studied the subject for years. We are intimately acquainted with Col. Art Matibag, director of the Corregidor Foundation. Leslie Murray of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines is one of our best friends here. Both are referenced at the back of your book and can vouch for our veracity and knowledge of the subject matter.

General observations:
• The title of the book is “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.” This would lead the reader to expect the material to almost totally focus on the Death March and its aftermath. In fact the Death March is covered in 56 pages. There are more pages (174) about events which precede the Death March (seven of which are placed in the book after the story of the march) than the 168 pages that deal with aftermath. Thus the subtitle is misleading.
• “Tears in the Darkness” comes from a paragraph about Homma on page 113. It does not appear to refer in any way to the American POWs who suffered their own “tears in the darkness” – and tears in the daylight – for over three years.
• The map at the opening of the book does not include many places of significance to the story, even some that are frequently mentioned. One example would be Mt. Samat, but there are many. We’d suggest either a more comprehensive map or multiple maps.
• The chapter on the trial of Masaharu Homma is 43 pages long. We don’t see why more than 10% of the book covers that one side topic. Although interesting, a few pages would have been more than sufficient. The Homma trial could be its own book. Also, there is no mention of the U.S. failing to prosecute the foremost war criminal, the man at the top: Emperor Hirohito. This book seems at least as much an apologetic for MacArthur’s treatment of Homma as an attempt to describe the horrors that occurred under Homma’s command.
• The story of Masanobu Tsuji’s presence and actions on Bataan (pages 371-2, during the Homma defense) is interesting, but is left unresolved, since the only material on him appears to come from potentially-suspect Japanese sources even when contained in books by others. Tsuji’s behavior was introduced during the trial in an apparent attempt to exonerate Homma. The CIA refusal to confirm or deny information about Tsuji is also provocative. Homma himself, however, stated his personal moral responsibility for the actions of his men.
• The final chapter, especially the ending, left Steve flat. Having been privileged to sit down and talk with Ben Steele in 2008, he knew Ben had survived his recent health scare. The book does not say so. Steve just didn’t get any “warm and fuzzy” with this as the end of the book. On the other hand, Ben’s reunion with his family had him in tears. Marcia enjoyed the post-war material but also felt that the readers should not be left to wonder if Ben recovered.
• Your readers – even English majors – should not need to refer to their dictionaries so often. This does not present itself as a technical book, or one written for the super-educated elite. At least we hope not. We apparently are not alone. Steve ran several of the words past a 1957 University of Michigan graduate with a degree in English who was not familiar with a single one of them.
• Despite clear references to the POWs being used as slave laborers in coal mines, factories, and other venues that supported the Japanese war machine, there is no mention of these facts: the American POWs have never received one yen of reparations in the form of pay from the Japanese government or the companies which survived during and thrived after the war; neither have these POWs ever received an apology from the Japanese government. You must be aware of this, since the principal in the effort to obtain reparations and an apology is Lester Tenney, whom you interviewed and quoted on pages 173 and 191-2.
• The book seems to be unsure of its purpose. Is it Ben Steele’s story, as Peter Matthiessen claims on the back cover? If so, there is a lot of extraneous material (in particular, the Homma trial.) Is it, as stated, the story of the Death March and its aftermath? If so, why include so much preliminary material? Or is trying to gain sympathy for Homma – appearing to equate his suffering to Steele’s – a hidden agenda? We find it curious that Homma’s story consumes so many pages, yet he is not mentioned anywhere on the dust jacket.

Errors: the following should be corrected as soon as possible:
• p. XI – Location of Camp O’Donnell on map is the one currently in use, which is 20 to 25 miles west-northwest of Capas, Tarlac. Camp O’Donnell (the prison camp) and site of current Capas National Shrine is about three miles out of town, as correctly stated on p. 222.
• p. 3 – Very first sentence of book states that the Philippine Islands lie “in the warm tropical waters of the South China Sea.” That is like saying that the United States lies in the Pacific Ocean. In fact the South China Sea is only one of several seas that surround the Philippines, including the Philippine, Sulu, Celebes, and Mindanao Seas.
• p. 15 – “…the 31st Infantry, the only ‘All-American’ army regiment in the islands.” The 59th and 60th Coast Artillery Regiments were “All-American” and garrisoned on Corregidor.
• p. 25 – There is the misconception, repeated here, that the Philippines was to be attacked “roughly at the same moment” as Pearl Harbor, which lies “some five thousand miles [and at the time five and one half time zones] to the east.” “The same moment” would have been 2:00 AM in the Philippines. The earliest the Philippines could have been hit, i.e. sunrise, would have been roughly three hours after Pearl Harbor.
• p. 28 – “…high pressure sucking the low pressure from every recess around it…” High pressure doesn’t “suck,” low pressure does, producing a vacuum effect.
• p. 71 – The old National Road “began at Mariveles, the tip of the peninsula, and ran hard north by the bay forty-one miles…” The first nine miles is almost straight east to Cabcaben, as stated correctly on p. 168. The map on p. XI clearly shows this. Again on p. 146 the text states, “[the soldiers] were streaming south from Cabcaben down the Old National Road.” “South” would have put them into Manila Bay heading straight for Corregidor. This is also obvious on the map.
• p. 115 – “…MacArthur, who was holed up underground in a command tunnel on Corregidor…” and p. 121 – “For the most part [MacArthur] stayed holed up underground on the island of Corregidor…” In fact, MacArthur spent as much time as possible outside of the tunnel – too much to suit his aides. He, his wife and their son lived in a house a quarter mile east of the Malinta Tunnel entrance, staying there whenever possible, and only going inside the tunnel when the Japanese bombing was most intense, which wasn’t very often before he left for Australia. It is true that he only visited the men on Bataan once (not mentioned in the book if we remember correctly), and these are the men who gave him the nickname “Dugout Doug.” It was about as accurate a nickname as calling Wilt Chamberlain “Shorty.”
• p. 121 – Malinta Hill begins at sea level and is between 425 and 430 feet high, not 390. The tunnel is 24-feet wide, not 30. And most importantly, the tunnel’s main shaft is 836 feet long (less than one-sixth of a mile), not “almost a mile long,” as the book states. The entire tunnel complex is well over two miles in length.
• p. 123 – Washington’s Birthday is not February 23, it is the 22nd, unless it was changed without our knowledge.
• p. 167 states that the Death March began on April 10, while p. 361 says April 9. (Some men claim to have already started marching on the 9th. We’ve seen both dates, but not in the same book unless speaking of some of the men having started on one day and some on the other.)
• p. 233 – “…the island’s beach force of four thousand marines, sailors, and Filipino soldiers had been bombed and starved to the breaking point.” This totally disregards the largest contingent: the men of the U.S. Army. Further confusing the matter, on the next page you state that there were 9,000 Americans and 2,000 Filipinos who became prisoners of war. The exact numbers are impossible to determine for two reasons. The totals included the men from the other three fortified islands in Manila Bay, and also included the roughly 2,000 who came over from Bataan in early April. A better estimate of those surrendered on Corregidor would be 8,000 Americans and 3,000 Filipinos.
• pgs. 233-4 – “They fought the invaders fiercely, fought them for nearly a day.” H-Hour is considered to be 11:30 P.M. on May 5, when Battery Way began firing at the Japanese landing craft amassing at Cabcaben. The first craft reached Corregidor’s shore at 12:30 A.M. May 6. Tanks were brought ashore by 10:30 A.M., and at 11:05 A.M. the first surrender message was sent by radio. Therefore the fierce fighting lasted less than 12 hours, or half a day.
• p. 296 – “In July 1944, his name appeared…” Since the ship set sail on July 2, the name would have appeared on the list in June at Cabanatuan, prior to moving the men to Bilibid and then to the ship. Steve’s father was also on this list and they would have been transported together.
• p. 318 – “September 1, 1944…” According to every source I’ve seen, including the sworn testimony of Col. Guy Haines Stubbs, who was ranking officer on board, the trip took 62 days, beginning on July 2 and ending at Moji on September 2. The passage through Shimonoseki must therefore have occurred on or after September 2.

Questionable statements that should be considered for revision:

• p. 44 – “Luzon… a roughly rectangular tract of land...” Luzon is very irregular in shape. One might say the northern half of the island is “roughly rectangular,” but the southern half is a narrow and meandering strip.
• p. 72 – “…with the temperature often over a hundred degrees…” The actual temperature almost never hits 100 degrees, although the high is usually 95-98 with high humidity at that time of year. We also question that, “The humidity never dropped below 75%, even in the dry season….” It certainly does on Corregidor, three miles away.
• p. 88 – “magandang gabi” is not Tagalog for “good evening.” This is a technical point, but the phrase literally means “beautiful evening.” “Good” in Tagalog is mabuti, thus mabuting gabi, although the term is not used as a greeting.
• p. 188 – “…in all 76,000 captives passing through a staging and rest depot…” in Balanga. On page 414 it says 76,000 “in theory” started the Death March, and on page 199 the book says that Zoeth Skinner stopped counting at 1,000 bodies, “before or just after Balanga.” Obviously both numbers could not be the same 76,000. The note on page 414 also states, “Approximately 500 Americans and perhaps as many as 2,500 Filipinos” died on the Death March. Although estimates have been decreased over the years, we have never before read or heard anyone claim that less than 5,000 Filipinos died on the Death March, and the number is usually stated as between five and ten thousand. By the book’s math, all of the 76,000 soldiers made it to Balanga (roughly half the distance of the march) but that 15,000-17,000 Filipinos disappeared between Balanga and Camp O’Donnell. This is extremely unlikely. Certainly some Filipinos escaped at points along the entire route. These numbers, especially those of dead and missing Filipinos, need to be reconsidered, since they defy logic and vary radically from generally accepted figures.
• p. 230 – Vertigo is not best described as “severe disorientation.” “Severe dizziness” or “disequilibrium” would be better terms. Disorientation is usually used to describe a person’s mental status, being considered closer to dementia than to dizziness. Since this occurs in a list of medical terms and definitions, the clinically correct terminology would be preferable. (Marcia has suffered from severe vertigo, has done extensive research on the topic, and underwent a rare surgical procedure to remedy most of her symptoms.)

Questionable vocabulary: archaic usages, fancy language:
• p. 10 – “supernumeraries”
• p. 15 – “toft and croft” describing “Manila’s fabled Army and Navy club”
• p. 44 – “bight” and “debouched the defiles”
• p. 75 – “agitprop” and “hidebound” (same sentence) and “sybarites”
• p. 78 – “alembics” totally unnecessary word, since the description which follows is much more helpful and apparently defines alembics.
• p. 85 – “abattoir”
• p. 171 – “suppurate” Marcia does not recognize the word despite her wound-care experience. Could use a word such as “oozing.”
• p. 188 – “tatterdemalions,” meaning something like “ragamuffins,” but neither word does justice to their actual condition at the time.
• p. 189 – “helpless against the ‘exigencies’ of the disease…” “Effects”, “symptoms” or “realities” would all be better than “exigencies”.
• p. 190 – “dysphoric”
• p. 319 – “colliery” is not defined until the bottom of page 322, after being used again earlier on 322.
• p. 343 – “panjandrum”
• p. 354 – “atavistic”
• p. 356 – “… some ‘tony’ Manhattan law firm.” “Tony” might make sense to a New Yorker, but Midwesterners are not familiar with the term.
• p. 362 – “opprobrium”
• p. 373 – “pettifoggery”

Questionable phrasing and incorrect grammar:
• p. 43 – “…then he made the general commander…” “General” appears to be an adjective modifying the word “commander,” rather than what it actually is: a reference to General MacArthur.
• p. 75 – “And from this land of libertines…” This sentence begins a paragraph. The authors appear to be characterizing American soldiers as “unfit and immoral.” Is this the authors’ opinion? The rest of the paragraph clearly reflects Japanese thought on the subject.
• p. 162 – “…across the bay to Manila, Cavite, Bulacan.” This is confusing. These are three separate destinations (a city and two provinces), but it sounds like one location.
• p. 166 – The term “clown” is used for a Japanese soldier. This appears to be from a story told by Richard Gordon, but if so the “clown” comment should be in quotes. It looks like the authors’ word choice.
• p. 191 – “Suddenly, one of unconscious men…” missing “the”.
• p. 191 – “grotesques” is used to describe abandoned, unburied corpses of the POWs. The terminology seems inhumane, without dignity. Why not “corpses” or bodies?”
• p. 233 – “No daydreams, no ideas, but in things.” This is a confusing sentence, becoming clear in context only after several re-readings. It might be better phrased as “No daydreams, no ideas, but focusing on things.”
• p. 237 – “derelicts” is used to describe unburied corpses of the POWs. A very poor choice for these honorable men.
• p. 256 – “…they damn near died.” This is probably a quote but not cited as such, and could be better stated as “…they nearly died.”
• p. 262 – The lead sentences in the first two paragraphs (Steve Kramerich story) are out of sequence. The introductory line starts the second paragraph rather than the first. Second paragraph should start with, “Kramerich could not remember who he was,” and the descriptive clause should move to the first paragraph’s opening line.
• P; 269 – “falciparum malaria” Since you name varieties of malaria, an explanation of the differences would be helpful.
• p. 344 – “[MacArthur] … abandoned his men to the enemy’s tender mercies.” To which “tender mercies” of the Japanese is this referring?

Steve found the following statements and sections particularly insightful:

• p. 17 – In November, 1941, there were “nearly 31,000 troops (19,000 Americans, 12,000 Philippine Scouts)”
• p. 25 – Japan had no chance to defeat the U.S. “Japan’s only chance was to win as much as they could as quickly as they could, then sue for peace and the status quo.”
• p. 40 – The Filipinos “came into training camps speaking a hundred regional languages and dialects, and orders often had to be translated and retranslated three or four times before a man could understand them.”
• pgs. 64-65 – General Maeda’s plan to skip Manila and destroy USAFFE immediately, which might well have changed the outcome of the war. (This in addition to the fact that Bataan and Corregidor held out as long as they did are the keys to why Japan did not win the Pacific war, and cannot be stressed enough in a world history discussion.)
• p. 73 – General Homma loses his 48th Division, a major blow, and the reason he had to stop the pursuit into Bataan.
• pgs. 78-79ff. – Good explanation of why the Japanese soldiers were such brutal savages.
• p. 120 – “Bataan… was among the most fertile breeding grounds in the world for the mosquitoes that transport the malaria parasite.”
• p. 135 – Japanese father to his son – “Don’t come back anything but dead.”
• p. 154 – First surrender of “an entire army” in U.S. history.
• pgs. 188-191 – The description of the filth at the Balanga rest site is outstanding.
• pgs. 202-214 – The description of the Pantingan massacre is outstanding, the best summary we’ve ever read. Captivating.
• pgs. 298-305 – Good description of Canadian Inventor voyage.
• p. 305 – Hellship numbers; one in five transported by Hellship died or was killed aboard. This accounts for a very high percentage of allied POW deaths under the Japanese. Although we don’t remember seeing the statement in Tears, virtually every ex-POW with whom we have spoken has said that the Hellships were worse than the Death March.
• p. 306-308 – Arisan Maru description excellent
• p. 308-317 – Oryoku, Enoura, and Brazil Maru accounts; very well written, particularly the description of suffocation on p. 308.

Overall, we liked the book and will recommend it. It may not seem like it because we are so critical, but we are very meticulous readers and writers. Many of the descriptions are outstanding, as we indicate. Since the map and the very first sentence of the book contain errors, however, Steve especially started off frustrated and with a more heightened sensitivity for misinformation. We understand that our comments on the style of the book, particularly on the emphasis on General Homma, reflect our own perspective. But we do ask that you make every effort to correct the errors and questionable statements as soon as possible.

For reader comments on this review of Tears in the Darkness, see

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
Steve and Marcia on the Rock!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Basilio Brothers, "The Rocket", Christmas party

On Monday the “Basilio Brothers” invited us to join them for lunch at the MacArthur CafĂ©. Both in their early 50’s, their careers have been spent in advertising. Eros works as an advertising executive, with San Miguel Light as his primary client. Anlex left the corporate world and now teaches business at De La Salle University in Manila. Eros and Anlex were accompanied by their friend Aries, who also teaches business at De La Salle. They come fairly often to Corregidor, and said they always look forward to seeing us and reading our newsletters. They treated us like celebrities, and even though they paid for lunch, sent us text messages thanking us for joining them! We all enjoyed lively conversation about life and politics in the Philippines and the US, and the meal was a nice “advance Christmas” gift.

On Tuesday Sun Cruises invited us to participate in the inauguration of a new attraction for Corregidor. It is called a “Zip Line,” and this particular one was christened “The Rocket,” a rather clever name for something on “The Rock.” The Rocket is basically a 200-meter downhill cable ride, with the rider being suspended in a harness, beginning at the Corregidor Inn and ending on the south beach.

An orientation and ribbon cutting ceremony were attended by Sun Cruises personnel, representatives from the media and tour companies, and the two of us. Then free rides were given to those brave enough to give it a try. Steve was about the 10th to take a turn, and he enjoyed his ride. He thought that the best part was the end. About 20 feet from the landing zone, which consists of an elevated platform and a rubber backstop, it seemed like he was going to smash into the backstop. He was thinking, “Maybe they didn’t account for my size.” All of a sudden, the two-stage braking system kicked in and he made a fairly quick – though not too abrupt – stop. Some will find The Rocket too scary to attempt, while serious adventure seekers might find it too tame. But for the rest of us, it promises a good time. The regular cost for a ride will be 150 pesos, or just over $3.00.

We expect that some people who love Corregidor will have a hard time accepting something like this, intended for entertainment purposes only, on the consecrated island. We appreciate this concern. At the same time, we acknowledge the fact that the ride takes place over the former Barrio San Jose, which, as a civilian settlement, was not an intrinsic part of the Corregidor “war zone.” In other words, although the ride does not add to the island’s historical significance, neither does it detract from it. We know that some potential visitors are not initially interested in The Rock’s rich history, but we do hope that those attracted to the island for other reasons will then be drawn to explore its many ruins, trails, and tunnels. For this reason, we encourage suggestions and efforts to make Corregidor better known. If it takes expanded entertainment offerings - as long as they do not detract from the history or desecrate the hallowed ground - then so be it. The publicity from the major print media alone is highly significant, as is the expected and appreciated word of mouth exposure.

In a similar vein, Sun Cruises has been encouraging team-building activities here. These include options similar to scavenger or treasure hunts. On Monday and Tuesday, for example, Corregidor hosted the Coca-Cola Philippine professional basketball team. By pure chance, we decided to watch Monday’s sunset and the Coke team was there as well. This gave us the chance to meet some of the players, along with an assistant coach, a team physical therapist, and a physician on site “just in case.” Height-wise, most of the players looked like a rural high school team from Michigan or Minnesota. Only one, a player from America, was taller than Steve’s 6’ 5” height. In talking with several of them, we were able to tell that their Corregidor experience would go far beyond a simple team-building adventure; they seemed genuinely moved by what they saw and learned here.

The Corregidor Foundation’s all-island Christmas party was held Tuesday evening. Last year’s party was cancelled due to potentially threatening storms - which failed to materialize. On the other hand, we wouldn’t mind if every day had weather like Tuesday’s; sunny with a high of about 85 and a nice breeze off Manila Bay. Sure beats “back home!” Steve’s mom reported northern Minnesota’s Monday daytime temperature was unable to reach zero, with a wind chill of 17 below!

The party was held at the “Stockade Level,” which is halfway from Bottomside to Middleside, now the residence area for Corregidor Foundation staff. Picnic tables were brought from the south beach area, and temporary lighting was installed. A stage was set up for announcements and the semi-live band. The party was scheduled to begin at 5:00 PM, but those of you who have been paying attention know about “Filipino time.” At 5:00 the only people present were a few of the organizers and the sound-system technicians. As 6:00 approached, we were wondering how many of the 15 cases of beer that we contributed might go unopened. Shortly thereafter, folks began arriving in droves. Many wonderful Filipino foods were laid out, drinks passed around, the blessing offered, opening introductions and announcements made, and the party was on.

The semi-live band consisted of a karaoke machine, a male guitar player who sang occasionally, and two female vocalists. Once in awhile someone got up and sang with the band-members, who seemed happy to share the stage. The band appeared to prefer slower songs, which the Filipinos call “sweet songs” meant for couples, while the crowd was more into the high-energy rock and group participation songs. All the while, young children were chasing each other around the tables and across the dance floor. Nobody seemed to notice or care, all were enjoying the evening.

At 7:30 someone informed Steve that the 15 cases of Red Horse beer (approximately 24 gallons) were all gone. We have no idea how many cans of San Miguel Light and other alcoholic beverages were consumed, to say nothing of juice and juice-type drinks. We stayed until after 9:00, much later than our usual evening, and then quietly slipped away. We’re told that the party lasted until 1:00 or 1:30 in the morning, but by then we were into dreamland.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lynn Lafever returns, Conquer Corregidor

Last week Lynn Lafever returned to Corregidor for his annual Santa Claus visit. You can read what we said about this interesting gentleman last December at:

Steve visited with Lynn at the Corregidor Inn. Once again, he had gifts for us, including two CDs with many old photos of Corregidor. One contains pictures of pre-war and wartime Corregidor, while the other has post-war pictures from before the island was developed as a war memorial and tourist attraction.

Lynn and Steve watched a Japanese video, which was named as the 4th best Japanese documentary of 1984. Lynn, who once lived in Japan, played a major role in its production, accompanying the film and production crews throughout its shooting. In fact, the only English within the film is an occasional interjection of Lynn’s. The movie focuses on an expedition to locate and document the “Navy Tunnel,” which is the southern section of the Malinta Tunnel complex.

Before we started watching, Lynn pointed out that the film has a Hollywood aspect: strict accuracy was not considered as important as the story itself. Steve noticed this early and often, since several scenes were obviously shot in other tunnels, most notably the Navy Intercept Tunnel near Monkey Point, with these scenes woven in as if they were all shot within Malinta. Steve learned a lot while watching the film. For example, the crew did a lot of digging in the Navy Tunnel – as noted, a part of Malinta Tunnel, not to be confused with the Navy Intercept Tunnel on Tailside. At the time of the expedition, the Navy side was blocked and the crew had to dig their way through cave-ins. In the process, they discovered the remains of 23 Japanese soldiers complete with skulls, along with the rusted remains of their rifles. They also found dynamite that had to be carefully extracted by a demolition crew; the American-made dynamite was still found in drill holes but never detonated, as if the original blast crews were suddenly stopped. Near the end of the film they came face to face with a Philippine cobra, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Although they are common here, they are also quite shy. (Steve has seen two cobras so far, and they both quickly slithered away from him.)

Lynn promises to get a copy of the video to us in the near future. We look forward to staying in touch with Lynn and seeing him next year, and we’d be glad to accompany him into the Navy Tunnel, assuming he is still physically able and that the tunnel remains accessible.

On Sunday the island hosted the “Conquer Corregidor” 10-mile road race. The run was scheduled to begin at 8:00 AM at the east entrance of Malinta Tunnel, so we were there in plenty of time. However, “Filipino time” prevailed, probably because there were so many runners – perhaps as many as 800 – some of whom came from Manila in the early morning. Some had come the day before, filling all available rooms on the island including the seldom-used beach resort on Tailside. Delaying the race for about 45 minutes meant it was run in hotter conditions, but it was mercifully cloudy for the early part of the run. The slower runners and walkers encountered plenty of sun before they finished.

The runners began by going west through the tunnel, and continued on a gradual downhill, leveling off near the MacArthur statue at Bottomside, and then heading toward Corregidor’s tail. The route suddenly turns nasty as it climbs along Malinta Hill’s north side, which we call “The Hill” because it rises from 15 to 175 feet above sea level in less than 1000 feet, an average grade of about 16%! They then ran down to the beach resort, turning around to go back along the same route down The Hill. It took its toll both up and down, with downhill being very hard on the ankles, shins, and knees. The fastest runners were heading down The Hill while others were still going up, but they were spread out enough that there didn’t seem to be any problems with congestion. The route proceeded through Bottomside once again, then up to Middleside and Topside along the main road. From there they continued back down to Middleside, and then Bottomside, all along the one main road. Finally, they were directed to run back up The Hill, then around on the Malinta Hill south access road, the only unpaved section of the race, returning to Bottomside, with the finish line at the south dock.

The first runner was followed closely by the second, then there was a gap until the third, and slowly the runners trickled in, often with gaps of a minute or more between early finishers. As it turned out, the second and third-place finishers were disqualified. Along the route there were stations with crew handing out different colored ribbons, a way to show that the participants had run the entire route and not gotten lost or cheated by doubling back early. We are not sure if there was intentional cheating, since we were told by one of the first female finishers that the route was confusing, needing more marshals or signs to direct the runners. We hope that this will be corrected if and when there is another road race here.

Although most of the participants were young Filipinos, there were quite a number of Filipinas as well. We were pleasantly surprised to not only see a number of older runners but also a number of non-Filipinos. Having been runners ourselves, we were happy to find out that there is usually one race a weekend available to the local enthusiasts.

This will probably be the most difficult race many of these runners will ever attempt. Only a few sections of the race are run on level or near-level terrain. The course takes the runners over the steepest stretch of paved road on the island, twice going up and once down The Hill, with the second uphill coming near the end of the race. The course also climbs over 600 feet in less than two miles, as it goes from Bottomside to Topside, then takes the runners back down again. The hills are so steep, and in one case so long, that many participants walked downhill, a sure sign of fatigue. It took more than an hour for the winner to finish the ten-mile race, another indicator of the course’s difficulty. It was several more minutes before the official second-place finisher appeared. Many runners limped across the finish line with sore knees or ankles, and some with leg cramps.

We were runners for years, especially while living in Michigan. 25 years ago – feels like another lifetime – we both completed the Detroit Free Press International Marathon. Marcia especially misses running, Steve not so much, but we have plenty of walking and jungle trekking to take its place.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New granddaughter, Rep. Bob Filner

We received the happy news on November 24th that our son Nick and his wife Carrie just made us grandparents for the sixth time. Their new daughter, Lily, weighed in at 8#10 oz., and was 20.5" long. Carrie, Lily, and the family are doing well. We rejoice with them and pray for their health and protection.

Last Friday we were asked to accompany U.S. Representative Bob Filner, (D-Cal), on a tour of Corregidor Island. Filner is very popular in the Philippines since he is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Recently, the U.S. Congress voted to give each living Filipino who could prove he fought against the Japanese in WWII a long-overdue payment of $9000. To date, 10,000 have been paid out of 38,000 applications, about 20,000 more applications than had been anticipated. There is much verification needed for each claimant, which can prove difficult due to lost records, poor record-keeping at the time, and the deaths of some who can attest to service records for others. After Steve led the tour, Filner gave us an official U.S. House of Representatives crystal snowflake Christmas ornament, our first here on snowy Corregidor. The photo shows the ornament in its box because the red background makes a much better picture. We now have it hanging on our front door.

In our Veterans Day newsletter we mentioned and printed a picture of Carlos Inigo, Jr., familiarly known as Jun, the nickname for almost every Filipino son named after his father. Col. Ed Ramsey, who served in the Philippines and later married a daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, read the newsletter and asked us about Jun. Col. Ramsey knew Carlos Sr. as well as Jun, who was only a teenager when he served during the war. As a result of our newsletter, we managed to put the two men in contact with each other.

On the story of Motts Tonelli’s ring, we received this email from another one of our readers, John Lukacs, a sports and history writer and Notre Dame graduate:

I can't believe you'd cheat one of your friends and loyal readers out of credit for the story of my friend Motts Tonelli! I was the first to tell his story to a national audience; Sports Ill. saw my story and copied it. In fact, they even had the audacity to contact me for help while writing it. Motts and I got a kick out of that.

It was Motts' ND class ring; the Irish didn't win the nat. championship that year. Tonelli's late heroics secured a mediocre 6-2-1 record, but that record was good enough for a top 10 finish...I lust after that kind of mediocrity now...

I found the Dial ring story fascinating -- thanks for sharing! I hope the grandson gets it back. I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled. After reading all those stories about guys on the Death March losing their fingers along with their rings, I often wondered what became of those rings...does anyone in Japan have them and if so, are they too embarrassed to try to return them to the rings' rightful owners? Jack Hawkins, the last surviving character of my book, somehow kept his Annapolis ring throughout captivity. He sewed a secret compartment in the hemlines of his trousers before the Rock surrendered and managed to keep the ring, as well as several hundred dollars, inside.

While on a recent hike we saw a cool snake. It was basking in a little sunny spot in the jungle road by our house, lying very still. The length was 18-20 inches, and it was fairly narrow – less than ¾ inch wide. After we spent a few seconds looking at it, and before Steve could take its picture, it suddenly curled its tail up over its body toward its head, nearly making a circle. Then it combined the typical 'serpentine' motion with rolling like a wheel to very quickly head across the road and into the vegetation. We have never seen anything like it before, really amazing. It literally rolled or cart-wheeled away! One of the tour guides we know well said he's heard of this type of snake, and thinks they are called spinners or some variation of that, but did not think they were found in the Philippines. This one was a milk-chocolate brown color, with skin that sparkled in the sun, and it had a very narrow head—not the triangular head you see on many snakes. It was almost more as if the body-width just continued thru the head and then tapered toward its mouth. The snake’s behavior was not at all aggressive; it just wanted to hide as quickly as it could. If anyone knows the correct name for this snake, please let us know.

And finally, we’ve taken quite a few pictures of walking sticks on the kalamansi trees by our house. As you can see, they are quite photogenic. One seems very proud of his new false teeth, and the other we simply called, “Lawrence Welkingstick.” For those of you too young or otherwise unfamiliar with Lawrence Welk, he was seen on television for many years. The show featured professional singers and dancers performing to his Lawrence Welk Orchestra. He always lead the orchestra into its next piece with “a one and a two and.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Steve Hawkins, The Rings

Our wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of our friends in the United States and those everywhere who celebrate the holiday.

On Friday Steve had the honor of giving a private tour to Steve Hawkins, the director of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. Hawkins (to distinguish one Steve from the other) is a native of Idaho and graduated from Utah State with an engineering degree. He is a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, and had many interesting experiences to share, some of which we can highlight. While on active duty, Hawkins was the man responsible for first getting the lights back on in Baghdad – Operation Fajr, “Arabic for “first light” – which he accomplished in 12 days, and then he continued through all of Iraq, restoring power to 17 of the 18 areas in only eight months.

Hawkins was the personal military escort for then First Lady Hilary Clinton when she went to Bosnia, and said of her, “She is the smartest person I ever met in my life.” His position at the ABMC, which previously included all of the U.S. monuments and cemeteries in the Western Hemisphere (primarily Europe), has now been expanded to include responsibility for all sites not on U.S. soil. Thus his job expanded to include the cemeteries in Manila, Panama, and Mexico City, as well as monuments in Saipan and Guadalcanal. In this position, he hosted President Obama on his June 6 D-Day visit to France, and had a one-on-one chat with then President Bush for a whole hour during Bush’s D-Day visit last year. Hawkins currently resides in Paris with his wife of 35 years. They have one son who lives in the United States.

The Steves had several interesting conversations. They hold similar views on Douglas MacArthur, feeling that he was a great general who also made his share of serious mistakes. Hawkins did express concern that MacArthur left his men on the battlefield, something that just isn’t done, but then agreed that Mac had to obey the direct order from the President. It left MacArthur in a bad position if he in fact wanted to fight with his men to the death.

Steve also asked him why so many families left their deceased sons overseas, laid to rest in military cemeteries, when they had the choice to have them brought back home at government expense. He said that it is customary to do so, and that families who have brought their sons home and then later visited an overseas cemetery often express regret, since the military cemeteries are kept in such pristine condition. By the way, the American Cemetery in Manila is the largest American cemetery anywhere in the world outside of the United States, and is the burial place of more men killed in World War Two than any other cemetery anywhere. Hawkins enjoyed his tour and is looking forward to a return trip in a few months, bringing some of his staff and possibly staying overnight.

We love interesting and heartwarming stories, and were very recently reminded of one of our favorites. Mario “Motts” Tonelli, Notre Dame football star and Death March survivor, had his Notre Dame National Championship ring taken from him by a Japanese guard at the start of the march. (The guards took everything of value, sometimes cutting off fingers and knocking out gold teeth in the process, severely beating or killing any who resisted.) The ring was given back to Motts by a Japanese officer who had witnessed the incident. The man, who spoke perfect English, had been a University of Southern California student. He was in the stands and had seen Tonelli play in the Notre Dame-USC game four years earlier, watching as Tonelli scored the winning touchdown. Warned by the officer to hide his ring, Tonelli managed to successfully do so in spite of repeated searches during captivity, returning home with the ring after 40 months in prison camps. The story was featured a few years ago in Sports Illustrated, upon Tonelli’s death in Chicago.

The previous story was brought to mind by the following one. Some of you may remember that last January we had a family stranded on Corregidor, having to hire a helicopter to travel from the island to Manila in order to catch their return flight to France. In our newsletter we wrote about Minter Dial’s grandfather, in part saying, “He also entrusted the man with his Naval Academy class ring to give to his wife, which the man lost before the war was over. Through an amazing set of circumstances, the ring eventually ended up with Minter’s father, but he had it stolen from a French hotel room five years later.” Minter has written this amazing story and posted it on the web at: We encourage you to read this story and pass it along to anyone who might be interested. Minter is offering a very generous reward to the person who manages to find and return the ring.

Gilbert, the on-island photographer, captured pictures of a rare, early morning rainbow over Bataan, taken from Corregidor’s Bottomside. We include one for your viewing pleasure.

Concerning the basketball tournament, postponed indefinitely due to lack of funds, Tess from Houston wrote: Sorry to know that there will be no basketball league this year. It must be a letdown for the players and everybody involved. How about next year? I would love to make a monetary donation to the league. How many friendly readers do you have on this blog? I would like to challenge them to donate and make the basketball league possible.

Yes, Tess, it is quite a letdown for everyone involved. We appreciate your offer to donate and your challenge to our readers to consider doing the same. We would ask anyone interested in helping to email us, and we will send the mailing information. Donations for this would not be tax deductable, but rest assured that they would be very much appreciated by the players and their spectators. If we reach our goal we will make plans for next year’s basketball league and tournament. Remember that a uniform is only about $10. We (Marcia and Steve) also plan a donation to help the league.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The search for searchlights

Many of you enjoyed reading about the Corregidor Basketball League games last November and December. It appears that there will be no league this year. With the past year’s budget cuts, there just is not enough money to pay for uniforms, referees, and trophies. We noticed that many of the men on the island wore their basketball shirts and shorts as regular attire after the season ended last year, an indication not only of their pride in having uniforms, but also that any extra money goes home to wives and children, or to parents to help with siblings. Past sponsors are unable to contribute, and most of the players cannot afford the $10 to buy a uniform. We know that this is something eagerly anticipated by players and spectators, but it looks like the league will not be possible this year.

This weekend our friends Karl and John returned for more exploring. As usual, they invited us to join them. The first excursion was to Wheeler Point, which houses the remains of Battery Monja and Searchlight No. 4. Since we have never been to either emplacement, because the point is remote and easiest to reach by banca, and since Karl had already arranged for the banca, we jumped at the chance.

There are actually eight searchlight locations on the Corregidor maps, and we had previously only been to numbers 2 and 8. Steve’s father was in the searchlight battery of his regiment, so it is almost certain that he was at one or more of these locations before war broke out. Surprisingly, he never spoke of them, but did speak of the ones they set up on Bataan. Steve’s goal is to eventually visit all eight sites. According to John, this particular location is probably the hardest one to reach. We figured we’d give it a try, and if successful, we should be able to get to the others over time. As it turned out, we made it, but we cannot find the words to describe just exactly how difficult that this turned out to be, given the steepness of the slopes and the thickness of the overgrowth that we encountered along the way. Certainly without a guide or two we would have given up before reaching our destinations.

The banca ride around the island was smooth, so we sat back and enjoyed the raw beauty of the island. We sailed around Wheeler Point, and the bancero found the best place to put us ashore. The beach there was typical of 90% or more of Corregidor’s ten or so miles of shoreline: rocky. Wearing water shoes, we got off into 12-18 inch deep water and stepped rock-to-rock to reach shore, being very careful not to slip on the algae-covered boulders. Some were barnacle crusted, a huge help. Once ashore we changed into socks and hiking shoes. The ascent to Battery Monja is steep, and in one place we used a rope to safely climb. There is a fresh water stream running down the hill, which is historically significant. Twenty Japanese soldiers hid out in this area after the U.S. recaptured Corregidor. They decided to surrender voluntarily on January 1, 1946, having survived for 10 months on this fresh water and whatever food they could scrounge.
Battery Monja actually consisted of two 155 mm (6 inch) guns, one on a Panama Mount, which allowed it to turn at least 180 degrees. The other gun was hidden in a tunnel nearby, brought out on rails for use. This second gun site, not shown on the maps, has an extensive tunnel which actually Y-splits into two branches. The idea of getting all of the necessary concrete and metal up those hills is mind-boggling.

We next proceeded to the searchlight, which is right out on the point. This part of the trek was most challenging. Whatever road existed is gone, and the clearest “route” was along the side of the hill, angled at about 45 degrees. John did a little vegetation cutting with his trusty snippers, but it mostly involved working our way carefully along, looking for footholds to prevent sudden downhill slides. The surface soil is loose, like fine gravel, with much leaf and small-branch debris. It also includes the ever-present vines seeking to trip you if you are not extremely watchful. Steve had the most difficulty, becoming severely winded and having to stop several times for rest. It turns out that he was in the early stage of a bad cold but didn’t yet know it, and that is probably what sapped all of his energy. The return downhill descent was equally interesting, and at times we opted to sit down for a controlled slide rather than trying to stay on our feet.

We took the banca around another point, and John, Karl, and Marcia went up to Searchlight No. 5, with Steve staying in the banca to rest. It turned out to be less difficult and shorter than the previous hill, with areas of thick grass providing surprisingly good handholds. There is far more outer concrete remaining at this location, although less actual searchlight shelter.

The following day the four of us took a trip to Carabao Island, which is a small island about eight miles south of Corregidor. It was known as Ft. Frank when the U.S. Army occupied it, and sits quite near the Cavite shoreline. The island rises from the water with shear cliffs, except for three steep ravines. Where there were slopes leading down to the water, the Army put in large concrete walls in two of the locations, the other being naturally too difficult to scale. In this way, its shore was unassailable, and Fr. Frank only surrendered under orders when the Japanese demanded that General Wainwright surrender all of the Philippines rather than just Corregidor. It had two huge (14 inch) guns pointed out to sea, along with several 12-inch mortars and 155’s.

At low tide on a calm day, one wall is fairly easy to duck or crawl under. Unfortunately, we arrived closer to high tide, and the waves were fairly significant. As a result, we, along with John, decided it was wisest - and safer for cameras, cell phones, and GPS units - to pass up this opportunity to get on the island. Karl, braver and crazier than the rest of us, jumped off the banca and managed to get under the wall, although he had to time his passage between waves high enough to fill the gap and potentially smash him. We patiently waited for two hours, enjoying the view and conversation. Then Karl returned, only to be walloped by waves while making his way back to the banca. We then took a leisurely ride around the island, with Karl and John orienting us to the various emplacements, before heading back to Corregidor. We include one picture of Carabao that may remind some of you of the Wisconsin Dells.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We meet FVR at Veteran's Day ceremony

On Monday we went to Manila on the Sun Cruises ferry, which left at 5:00 PM instead of the usual 2:30. As a result, we witnessed a stunning sunset between Corregidor’s head (west end) and the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula. It has been months since we have seen the sun appear to sink into the ocean as we did on Monday. This should be a fairly regular phenomenon now that rainy season has departed, and something we never get tired of seeing, usually from Battery Grubbs.

We checked into the 1632 Hostel, a less expensive alternative to other hotels. We knew the manager, Agnes, because she used to manage the Corregidor Inn. The hotel is located in Malate, a part of the city of Manila, which as we have explained before is a small part of Metro Manila (MM), which consists of Manila, Makati, and 15 other municipalities. The hotel is situated in a much poorer part of MM than Makati, but despite that, we feel relatively safer there than we would in, say, Detroit or Chicago. There are a few beggars and some hustlers trying to sell fake watches and Viagra, but they are not really a problem. The hotel is only a block from a huge mall called Robinson’s Place, which almost makes you feel like you are in America when you look around inside.

On Tuesday Marcia had her hair cut. The barber spent close to half an hour making sure that every hair was cut evenly all around, just the way she likes it. The total cost? Seventy pesos (P70), or just over $1.40! Then Steve went to have his teeth cleaned at a dentist whose office is only yards from the hotel entrance. This is the first time that he had a female dentist. Besides the cleaning, she also took care of two teeth that had cavities in the making. The cleaning and two fillings cost P1600. Marcia then had her teeth cleaned for another P400, so our total dentist bill was just over $40. That would probably not have covered our co-pays in the States. It is not unusual for foreigners to come here for medical and dental procedures, which, including transportation, as well as room and board costs, are often much cheaper than having them done in the United States and other more developed countries. “Medical Tourism” is the name used in advertising such services.

Our friend Eli came met us again for a most enjoyable lunch. He brought us a few gifts, including the latest book about the Bataan Death March, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman. He was unable to find it in Manila-area bookstores, but located a copy while in Singapore visiting his daughter. We were thrilled, as we have been looking forward to reading it after having read many great reviews. We’ll let you know what we think of it when we are finished.

Wednesday we once again went to the American Cemetery in Manila to commemorate Veteran’s Day by attending the ceremony organized by the U.S. Embassy. Last month when we were in our insurance company office, one of the co-owners came out to meet us. Mr. Carlos (Jun) Inigo had heard about us living on Corregidor. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was a golfing buddy of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, known here as FVR. Since we knew FVR to be a strong supported of Corregidor, we asked Jun if he would arrange an introduction. It turns out that FVR was to be the keynote speaker at the Veteran’s Day ceremony. Jun contacted FVR, who said that he had heard about us and that he would be happy to meet us after the ceremony.
We met Jun at his office and had a few minutes to get to know him a bit better. He is four months younger than FVR, and eight days older than Steve’s mother Mary Anne. He once was a basketball star, and noted how much better he would have been at Steve’s height. He drove us to the cemetery, where we got to talk with some of our friends. One of them is Jim Litton, a retired attorney. Both Jun and Jim lived along Manila Bay before the war, and their fathers were POWs together at Fort Santiago – another interesting story in its own right. Jun can remember seeing the guns of Corregidor firing at the Japanese on Bataan, while Jim can remember the newly-captured American soldiers from Corregidor being paraded down Dewey Boulevard, now called Roxas.

At 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month, we heard the traditional ringing of 11 bells to mark the agreement to end “the war to end all wars.” Then United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney introduced FVR. After the ceremony, we spent a few minutes with FVR. He gave us his assurance that he would continue to do everything in his power to protect Corregidor from those who would deemphasize the war memorial aspect. He told us that he was a part of the original Corregidor Foundation, Inc. He also invited us to spend more time with him in the future, which will be our pleasure.

We wonder how many of our readers, especially in America, are as amazed as we are at the access to current and past political figures. In March we sat in the same small room with former first lady Imelda Marcos. In October we met President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. And Wednesday we met former President Ramos. In addition, we have met Ambassador Kenney enough times that we are on a first name basis, and she even calls us her unofficial ambassadors to Corregidor. How different than in the United States, where access to politicians is so much more difficult. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is spending two days here this week, and the security is literally 100 times tighter than it is around their own president.

Jun took us out to lunch at The Banana Leaf in Greenbelt 3. Before our entrees were served, banana leaves were placed in front of us, and we soon realized that they were in fact our plates. It is not the norm here to serve all of the people at the same table at the same time, but rather, each one’s particular meal is served when ready. Marcia, who was served last, could have had her choice of several different entrees, since we had a rather confused waiter who kept bringing her dishes that were ordered by other diners. The restaurant had a Southeast-Asian theme, and all of our food choices were excellent.

After lunch, we said our good-byes and thanks to Jun, and then used the rest of the afternoon to finish the last little bit of shopping. Marcia bought a pair of slacks in Robinson’s Department Store. To give you an idea of comparative sizing, she needed XXL, whereas in the U.S. she would have looked for either small or medium. Thursday morning we returned to our island home, ready to be away from the city again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

MNiddleside Barracks, Mt. Himmelbjerg, moonset and monkeys

In our last newsletter we said that Typhoon Santi caused only minor tree damage on the island. That was true for the trees around our house. Once we made a drive down to Bottomside, however, we realized that Santi was more destructive to Corregidor than Typhoon Ondoy, which had caused so much flooding in Manila. Santi snapped quite a few trees at 6-12 feet above the ground, broke many major branches, and some trees were uprooted by the winds which came in unobstructed from Manila Bay.

Now that the northeast monsoon has returned, heralding the end of rainy season, we can once again think about trekking through the jungle to do more exploring. The first two buildings that we chose were essentially in line with Middleside Barracks. The only remains are the foundations of the two large buildings, easily found by walking a couple hundred yards northwest from the north end of Middleside Barracks. We have attached a picture from our maps to show you these buildings. All four are marked with 7’s, which indicates barracks.

Signs in front of the two Middleside Barracks buildings indicate that the southeastern one was used by the 60th Coast Artillery and the northwestern one by the 91st Philippine Scouts. However, Everett Reamer of the 60th CAC emailed us the following: “After basic training, we were assigned as Battery "F" and we remained at the north end section of Middleside Barracks. Adjacent to Battery "F" was Headquarters Battery 60th CA. [Note: This is the wider section in the middle of the northwestern building, labeled 107.] Middleside Barracks housed only Americans before the start of WWII. I noticed on my visit to Corregidor in 1992, that [signs by the] Battery "F" areas indicated that the 92nd Philippine unit was housed there.” Everett told Steve, when they first met on tour in 2002, that Battery E, Steve’s father’s unit, was quartered in the south end of that same northwestern barracks building.

We believe that, despite the signage, those two buildings were both used for Americans. Besides Everett Reamer’s assertion, Ray Makepeace, who served with Steve’s father in Battery E of the 60th CAC, identified a catwalk in one of our tour photographs, saying that it led to their quarters. The catwalk, which Ray said he and Steve’s father slept upon during extremely hot nights, is attached to the northwestern building, the one currently identified as quartering the Philippine Scouts. Since Topside Barracks, which were occupied by the smaller 59th CAC, were slightly larger than Middleside Barracks, it is reasonable to assume that the larger 60th CAC occupied all of Middleside Barracks. Add to that the fact of the troop separation that existed in the U.S. Army at the time, and we are fairly confident in our conclusions. We thus surmise that the two buildings which we explored, and which we have identified in the attached photo as “additional barracks buildings,” were actually assigned to the 91st Philippine Scouts. They are clearly separated by a steep hill from officers’ and field officers’ quarters (indicated on the map by 3’s and 2’s).

As you probably all know, at the beginning of World War II, segregation was the norm, not only in public life but also in the Army. Race was not the only reason, however, that American and Filipino soldiers were kept apart. Filipino troops came from all over the Philippine Islands. Unlike today, with most Filipinos having two common languages, Tagalog (now often called “Filipino”) and English, people from the many different regional groups usually could not communicate with each other. Tagalog, Ilocano, Ilongo, and Cebuano, for example, are distinct languages with unique accents and few words in common. Therefore, the Philippine Scout Units were also separated into language groups. Their commanding officers were typically American, and had to communicate with troops using interpreters.

Monday, November 2nd, was All Souls Day, a major Holy Day and a work and school holiday here in the Philippines. Sun Cruises asked Steve to guide for members of an extended Danish family who are in the Philippines for a wedding. While on Topside, Steve asked one of them who spoke fluent English if he knew the highest point in Denmark. The man replied, “I think it is Mt. Himmelbjerg, only 172 meters (564 feet) above sea level.” He explained that Himmelbjerg, pronounced roughly HIM-el-byow, literally translates to “Sky Mountain.” He was not surprised to learn that we were standing on higher ground, at Topside’s 628 feet above sea level, than anywhere in his country. Sky Mountain, at less than 600 feet, sounds to us like Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where the only changes in elevation appear to be the freeway overpasses.

We want to emphasize that Steve only guides for Sun Cruises upon special request, or on days when they are short of guides, as was the case Monday. So, if you plan to come to Corregidor on the Sun Cruises Ferry from Manila and you would like Steve as your guide, this must be arranged with him and the Sun Cruises office at least one week in advance.

On Tuesday Steve awoke early and decided that he would try to photograph the moonset from Battery Grubbs. The moon was just past full, so it was setting at almost the same time as sunrise. He was able to witness the moonset over the southern tip of Bataan, with colorful clouds being lighted by the sun rising behind him. Sun and moonsets typically offer better viewing here than sun and moonrises, the reason being that Metro Manila lies to our east, and its smog and haze tend to obscure the horizon. To the west we overlook the South China Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean, giving a clearer view.

As we’ve said, the monkeys are back around our house in abundance. We are always amazed at how they can jump from tree to tree and never miss. Well, that is, until Tuesday morning. Steve was working on the computer while sitting in our “dirty kitchen” area, and was hearing normal monkey chatter. Marcia had just come outside, and saw monkeys jumping branch-to-branch in a tree. All of a sudden Steve heard a screech followed immediately by a thud. At the same time, Marcia saw a smaller monkey jump for his next branch. He either missed it or lost his grip. Splat! She saw him hit the ground – amazingly, he landed feet first - after a drop of about 20 feet. Then he ran off, maybe embarrassed!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

We survive Typhoon Santi

We are writing this short notice to assure you that we are safe and sound after having the Typhoon Mirinae (Santi in the Philippines) pass just north of Metro Manila, which is 25 miles northeast of Corregidor. It was calm all day Friday – clearly the calm before the storm – until evening. The rains began at 9:45 PM and continued off and on for about 13 hours, totaling 2.75 inches. (Our friend Fatty Arbuckle in Lake Havasu, Arizona tells us that they have received just 2.34 inches of rain so far this year.)

We are guessing that the winds here at Middleside never exceeded 40-50 MPH. We are including two pictures of a tree in our front yard to show the wind affects. This particular eucalyptus tree normally leans a great deal, but you can see how much the top was bending in the wind.

Fortunately, there is only minor tree damage on Corregidor. We are awaiting word, hoping that the affects were minimal in Manila and the rest of Central Luzon.

Once again bad weather hit on the weekend, this time cancelling Sun Cruises’ planned Halloween outing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eli, Taxi drivers in Metro Manila, Back on the Rock

While in Leyte for the 65th Anniversary celebrations, twice Marcia heard Filipinos refer to her in reference to Ambassador Kristie Kenney. The first was after the events on the morning of the 20th. Two security men were speaking together in rapid Tagalog, so she couldn’t tell if they were saying she resembles the ambassador, or wondering if she might be related to her. On Wednesday, as we were exiting the bus at the airport for our return to Manila, she heard several Filipinas call out, “Safe flight, Ambassador Kenney!” It certainly seemed that they were sincere, although Marcia did not stop to ask them. With Marcia’s hair cut in a similar style, and having similar height and facial bone structure, it’s not surprising that some Filipinos make the mistaken connection. We’ve included a group picture which contains the two of them for your comparison.

We had made plans to spend Thursday and Friday in Makati following the tour, to renew our medical insurance and visas for the next year. It was much speedier than the initial application routines a year ago, with both completed by lunchtime Thursday. That left time for some other lower priority errands in the afternoon, and a relaxed day Friday. We discovered a free wireless internet station right across the street from our hotel, so we took advantage of it for software upgrades, a bit of browsing, and email at a much higher speed than on Corregidor.

An email friend had wanted to meet us when we were in Metro Manila, so we arranged to have lunch together Friday. Eli was already at the restaurant when we approached, and came to greet us. Since we have sent photos of ourselves with our emails, he had the advantage of knowing our faces – and Steve’s height, which really stands out here. It was a pleasure to visit face-to-face, and learn a little more about one another. He was so excited to meet us that we told him he might be our #1 fan! He presented us with several gifts, including books and cell phone reload cards. Eli often sends us comments about our newsletters, and has shared many travel experiences of his own, some of which we included in one of our newsletters recently. Other candidates for #1 fan are Rafaelito and Fidencio in Saudi Arabia and Linda in Belgium. If only we heard from our kids half as often.

Because we wanted to go to several places in a short time, we decided to take taxis. The drivers usually rent their cars by the day for a set fee. After paying that and their gas expenses, they get to keep the rest. More than one driver said that they can expect to net about 300 pesos (a bit over $6) a day, less than the 385 minimum wage they would make if they could find regular day jobs. They often drive 12 and even 24-hour shifts.

Our first of four drivers said that when he returned to his home during Typhoon Ondoy three weeks ago, he found his 55-year old mother dead in their house which had been temporarily under water. The second driver found his family safe, but on the roof of their submerged house. The third driver is from Samar (south near Leyte) so his family had no problems, but the fourth driver also returned to a submerged house. He described having his family live in a shelter while they waited to return to their home, only to find everything they had owned destroyed by the muddy water. Our hearts go out to the Metro Manila drivers.

We stayed two nights in the BSA Towers opposite Makati’s Greenbelt 5, as posh a shopping area as we have seen except possibly in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The gap between the haves and have-nots is incredible. BSA is 38 stories, and not luxurious by any standard, much less Makati’s, but more than adequate for us. Its cost of about $52 a night is a mere fraction of what one would pay at the nearby 5-star hotels such as the Shangri-La or Peninsula. It is mostly owner-residential, but they keep a few rooms open to rent out as needed.

On Saturday we arose early and took another taxi to the Sun Cruises departure point. This driver, an older gentleman, told us that his house was completely washed away, and that when he wasn’t in his taxi he was living on the street. He admitted to being a squatter along the Bulacan River. We wonder how many taxi drivers are reduced to living as squatters due to inadequate income. The fact that so many of our drivers said they were victims of the flood made us wonder if one or more were simply saying this to gain sympathy in hopes of a larger tip. On the other hand, none of them brought up the subject, and certainly large numbers were affected in greater Manila. There is just no way for us to be sure.

We knew we were home when, after our unpacking, a monkey started serenading us by banging a loose pipe in the metal fence on the nearby underground water reservoir. After several months of seeing and hearing very few monkeys near our house, they are clearly back in our neighborhood. It almost certainly has to do with their food supply. As vegetarians, they are always looking for ripe fruit or vegetables, and the new-growth leaves of many trees are part of their diet as well – not just those from our little papayas.

The wind appears to have shifted back to the northeast, or summer, monsoon. It has been sunny here for the past week. We are happy to have laundry dry in a few hours on the clothes line again. Another typhoon is headed our way, and we wonder if the prevailing winds will push it our direction rather than send it north as has been the case with the last few which came from the Marianas. We should know by this weekend.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock – comment and see our previous newsletters at:

PS We received this email from Linda Lupton, one of our loyal readers:

Steve and Marcia,

The statues of MacArthur and his party landing at the beach was by my uncle, Anastacio T. Caedo, now deceased.