Thursday, January 29, 2009

Going bananas; Tom and Remi; bombs

On Sunday, famed Corregidor explorer Tom and his wife Remi came to the island, Remi for a day, and Tom for a week. We had the privilege of meeting Remi for the first time, while we knew Tom from meeting him here in 2006. Tom and Remi met as a result of his volunteering for the Peace Corps in the 1970’s, and Remi being one of the local Peace Corps instructors. They currently reside in Dallas, TX, but plan to relocate to Tagaytay in a couple more years after their daughter is finished with college.

We began Monday morning with our usual routine of fresh fruit, if we have some on hand. We walked down the hill eating bananas, and then spent a couple of hours walking with Tom and Remi. When we were done, they suggested that we stop at MacArthur café for merienda, which is a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. They ordered turron, cooking bananas wrapped in a filo-like dough and deep fried. They are similar to lumpia, meats and/or vegetables wrapped and deep fried. Of course, like anything cooked that way, they are dangerously delicious. Lumpia is also served fresh rather than fried, but we have not eaten it that way yet.

A couple weeks ago, we had an over-abundance of ripe bananas on hand, so Marcia peeled, mashed, and froze them. Last time we were in Manila we found Hershey’s chocolate syrup at a store, and of course we bought a bottle. Our late lunch Monday was slushy bananas with chocolate, almost like an ice cream sundae. We would have quite a challenge to get frozen foods back to Corregidor, so the only ice cream we’ve eaten has been during our Manila trips. We do plan to get a cooler, and dry ice can be gotten from a few businesses, but it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

On Tuesday Steve joined Armando’s tour group to become more acquainted with leading tours, since he has been asked to lead his first official Sun Cruises tour on Saturday. Included were ten Baptist Missionaries who are from the United States but who are serving missions in the Far East. One man had a University of Michigan cap on. Steve found out that he is a missionary in Sydney, Australia, but had grown up in Toledo, OH, and Grand Rapids, MI. When Steve asked him if he had heard of Eaton Rapids, where we lived for the past two years, and where Marcia worked for almost ten, he said that he had an uncle who used to own the restaurant a mile south of town. We assume that this is now Robin’s Nest. How about that? Also on the tour was a Filipina whose father fought on Corregidor. She has his journal from the war and says she will send it to Steve so that it can be placed in the proper museum.

Marcia took the morning to gather bloodstones, which are rocks that look like they have dried blood on them. Most people who come to the island never notice them, since they are mostly found along the south beach, and day tourists don’t walk there. Bloodstones, according to tradition, contain the blood of fallen Corregidor soldiers, although of course the blood is actually an indication of iron. Since they are considered relics and thus part of the island they are not supposed to be taken away. We will use them to decorate around the yard.

Just like Karl has a knack for walking right to things in a dense jungle, Tom has the knack for finding artifacts. Tom, the dean of discovery, found a couple of WWII bombs that had washed up on the enlisted men’s beach. One had pretty much rusted away, and he gave it to us. The other, however, was whole although covered in barnacles. We reported this to the Coast Guard, who took pictures and made it a restricted area. Since we didn’t have our camera we have no pictures. But it was about 15 inches long and looked like a mortar shell about 3 inches in diameter, give or take the barnacles. Chances are the bomb, more than 60 years old, is harmless, having sat in saltwater for all these years, but better safe than sorry.

We do not get to see a newspaper very often, so when Tom gave us a couple of ones from earlier this week we were surprised to see that a partial eclipse of the sun happened over Manila Bay on Monday at sunset. This would certainly make an interesting discussion in science class. The downside of being away from media is that we can miss exciting events such as this, which would have been easily observed from very near our house. We have attached a couple of pictures that were in the Philippine Star Tuesday edition. Notice that the photographer, Jojo Vincencio of Reuters, even managed to get a boat in the picture.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First thunderstorm; Gilbert's new printer

We have been here on Corregidor for just over three months, and although we arrived during the end of rainy season, we never experienced a thunderstorm here. During our first few weeks we witnessed many thunderstorms over Bataan and Cavite. In fact, there always seem to be clouds over the mountains of both provinces. Many of our first evenings here, we would sit by the bay and watch beautiful lightening in the clouds, too distant to hear any thunder.

On Friday we had a perfectly clear day here. The temperature was about 90 at midday. However, very large clouds dominated the provinces on either side all day. It should be noted that Corregidor lies at the mouth of Manila Bay, which is shaped like an inverted C opening to the southeast. Gilbert was busy with work and Ronilo is still on vacation, so we decided to have dinner at MacArthur Café.

Since it gets dark here around 6:00, the surrounding area was pitch black while Marcia ate her bowl of soup and Steve had the Karlos special, which is named after our German explorer friend Karl. It consists of two or three fried eggs, pork and beans, and rice. A couple of times we noticed flashes against the mountainside. We were pretty sure it was lightning but conceded it could be someone with a powerful flash on his camera. As we went to our jeep we noticed the bright star to the west, probably the planet Mars, since it was kind of orange. We could see it again as we got home.

We played some gin rummy and then went to bed, staying up reading until the rather late hour for us of 10:30. Just as we turned out the lights and were about to go to sleep, a bright flash was followed ten seconds later by a loud rumbling boom, and our first thunderstorm on Corregidor was underway. Up until now the only rains we have had here have been relatively minor. The evening rains have sometimes been so light that there was no water in the stone bird baths in the former aviary.

During the night it often sounds like rain when it is only the wind. We are still not 100% sure when it’s a light rain or the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. On Friday night there was no mistaking: it was raining cats and dogs, as they say. The wind never got violent, but the lightning, thunder, and heavy rain continued for at least an hour. We just lay in each other’s arms, as it was entirely too loud to sleep. Eventually the rain subsided and the thunder was gone, and we got to sleep. That is, until the second round hit around 4:00 AM. Once again it was too loud to sleep, and this continued at least another 30 minutes. We’re sure we will become accustomed to sleeping through the rain eventually, but the thunder will be another story.

Since it had not rained enough here to wet the ground recently, the soil had become very hard and the grass very yellow in sunny areas. It will be interesting to see if this was enough rain – it was at least three inches – to green things up for a while. Many of the young trees and bushes in the yard look very happy today. Rainy season doesn’t begin until mid-May, so it’s possible we won’t see another serious rain until then.

Speaking of Gilbert, he is very busy with his new printer. Bert, as he is known, is employed as a free lance photographer by Sun Cruises. Bert and his coworker Sylvia take pictures of tourists each day in hopes of selling a picture to each one. They ride along with the tramvias until noon, when the guests go to lunch. Then Bert has to develop all of the pictures and get them mounted and ready to sell by the time the guests leave on the 2:30 ferry. Usually Sylvia sells the pictures during the ferry ride, and Bert stays on Corregidor. Occasionally Bert would take the ferry back to sell pictures or to buy materials for their darkroom.

Sylvia and Bert are just now starting to take pictures with digital rather than film cameras. So Bert is busy trying to master the process: getting the images captured on their cameras into the digital printer, printed, and mounted in the same amount of time as he had before. He and presumably Sylvia are paid a standard rate per day, but they are eligible for bonuses if they exceed a certain amount in sales for the day. We think the pictures with cardboard frames cost 100 pesos, or about 2 dollars, so they are quite reasonable. The biggest obstacle is that everyone has a digital camera these days, so they have to be convinced that the picture being offered isn’t one that they’ve already taken, or that the framed picture is souvenir enough.

One thing about Bert, though, and it is typical of so many Filipinos. No matter how things are going, he is always smiling. There are times when it is impossible for him to make his commission quota, since there are days when there are only 40 or so guests. We are now heading into peak tourist season, so we hope that fact and the new digital prints will enable Sylvia and Bert to hit their quotas.

Steve and Marcia

From Marcia’s sister Mary, who has lived in the Bahamas for her adult life:

Your sweeper story reminded me of this - A couple months ago I helped [our daughter] Anne Marie set up a party for a family that had a young Filipina nanny. The mother took the children somewhere to get them out of the way and left the nanny to tidy up inside the house while Anne Marie and I worked around the pool outside. The nanny had a short (like half the usual height) natural straw broom, not typical in the Bahamas, with which she was sweeping what had proven to be a very impractical dark hardwood floor while at the same time having one foot in a disposable duster from a Swiffer dust mop with which she was polishing the area she had just swept. She worked her way across the floor in a very graceful and rhythmic fashion as I stood in awe. The floor looked brand new when she finished. At first I thought the duster was designed to be used on a foot but she laughed and told me what it was. Quite clever, I thought.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Burning leaves

Trees on Corregidor are not like the maples, oaks, and elms that we are used to in Michigan. Since it never freezes here, leaves are not a once a year project but an every day one. About the only time that leaves may not be falling is in April, when it is the hottest, driest, and calmest. Because of the ongoing leaf shedding, many job positions here are known as sweepers.

The brooms used are definitely different as well. The bristle end is a collection of hard thin sticks, bound tightly at the bottom of the handle, but then splaying out widely at the business end. Known as “stick brooms,” they are effective in the hands of skilled sweepers, somewhat difficult to get the hang of for the inexperienced. You almost have to push the leaves rather than sweep them, with a slight lifting motion to get the leaves off the ground.

Leaves are gathered into piles and then burned. Along the roads there are often drainage ditches to use, but in open areas, such as our yard, they are burned in multiple small piles, leaving a circle of ashes. Most leaves, and for that matter, branches, do not burn well. The leaves smolder if you can get them to light at all, and branches have to be stacked just right to maximize air flow or they also go out.

One year when we were here in April it was extremely dry. The grass was yellow, but the forest still looked green, although somewhat wilted. We were afraid that one careless person, throwing out a lit cigarette, could burn down the whole island. We remember a few leaf piles burning with minimal supervision, so it was obvious that the sweeper in charge was not concerned. We have since learned that wildfires only are possible here in areas of heavy dry grass, and they burn out as soon as the grass supply is consumed.

We had our own piles of branches along the edge of our forest, put there before we moved in. Steve suggested to Ronilo that when they burn the pile of wood from the trees that had to be cut in our yard, they haul the branches up and burn them as well. He said that this was a waste of time and effort, since you could light the piles of branches where they were. Steve protested that this risked setting the forest on fire. Ron assured him that the forest was safe, and in the meantime he has been proven right. Despite the branches being very dry, when a flame was put to them they tended to burn until the leaves were gone and then just go out, leaving a pile of scorched branches which then had to be collected, stacked carefully, and burned in piles.

Many leaves would not rather burn at all. We have one particular tree, possibly a type of fig, which drops leaves that are big as sheets of paper. When they are piled it is very difficult to get them to burn. Gilbert showed us that dried banana palm leaves, which we have in abundance across the road, are a good way to start the pile on fire. You just have to be careful when cutting the branches off the trunk that you don’t get attacked by ants whose domain you just disturbed. But ants are another story.

Three quick notes:

1. We are trying to use Outlook Express to manage our email. As a result, we have had to copy our address books, and it is possible that we have missed some duplicates. If you are receiving more than one copy or wish to be removed from our mailing list let us know.

2. Due to our super-slow email service, please don’t send us large attachments. It can take an hour to receive one email with a large photo. We love to get photos but try to make them internet size, 640x480 or smaller.

3. A number of you have suggested that rather than send emails we start a blog. This sounds like a great idea except that we are totally inexperienced, and, once again due to our slow internet, starting and then managing a blog on a regular basis might be difficult and frustrating. However, if someone with a lot of know-how wants to try to help us get started, we welcome your suggestions and help.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mass on the island; Bill and Bruce; the quilt

Earlier in the week, while the “four explorers” were here, we were visited by Fr. Victor, who works at a Catholic seminary in Makati. He brought along a number of his seminarians and some staff members, for a total of about 20 men and women, for an overnight stay. The evening of the night they stayed here Fr. Victor celebrated Mass on the altar that is part of the WWII Memorial, located under the symbolic parachute. A number of island workers also attended the Mass. We accompanied their group after Mass to watch the sunset from Battery Grubbs. The next morning another Mass was celebrated at San Jose Church at Bottomside. Despite having a church on the island, these are the first two masses we were able to attend here, having gone to Cabcaben for Christmas Mass.

This past weekend we were pleased to again welcome Bill Kirwan, whom we met last fall when he was here with his wife Midge. Bill has been to the island more times that he can count. He was accompanied by Bruce, whose last name we never got. Both are psychologists, and they periodically come to the Philippines to teach graduate students at a Manila seminary. Bill turned 71 while here, and other than bad knees, he is in great shape. He played lacrosse much of his life, including at Johns Hopkins, a premier lacrosse school, and he still swims competitively.

They arrived Friday morning, and in the afternoon we accompanied them for a hike to the top of Malinta Hill. We invited them to join us for a Filipino dinner but they both said that they have not developed a taste for the local foods. (We have had no trouble adapting to most dishes, and have not had bad reactions either.) The next morning we took them to see two of the most impressive tunnels on the island. The first, located just below battery Wheeler, is lined with concrete and is in very good condition, not looking at all like its more than 65 year age. Even the steps look relatively new. The next tunnel we went into is nicknamed “The Bat Cave.” It certainly lived up to its reputation, with hundreds of very sleepy bats hanging from the ceiling. Most of them were content to just hang around, although some did drop down and fly away.

On Sunday we accompanied them to Battery Hanna, which overlooks little Conchita Island as well as the South China Sea. There is a tunnel beneath it which Steve and Bill entered, beginning with a 10 foot descent down a ladder. It has multiple passages, one of which leads to the side of the cliff, once again looking out over Conchita. On the return trip we were going to go through the Smith tunnel, which is a major shortcut. However, a couple hundred bats flew out as we began to walk in, so Marcia, Bill, and Bruce decided to take the “longcut.” As it turns out, Steve did not see another bat, but he did see two swallows in one of the inner cavities.

We were going to include pictures of Bill, Bruce, and bats, which were on Bill’s camera. Then he realized the cable and the card reader for his new Sony camera were not in the case. Those pictures may come later, when he sends them by email. However, Steve did go back to the bat cave and retake some of those shots. While he was in the cave Steve saw his first live snake since settling here three months ago. It disappeared into the rocks before he could get a picture. However the snake was about three feet long and an apricot-beige color, if anyone familiar with Philippine snakes can help identify it. The bats, by the way, are about the size of big mice, and again if someone knows their real name we would like to know. We have seen very large fruit bats at sunset, but do not know where they spend the day.

On Saturday Marcia was pleasantly surprised to receive a beautiful, brightly colored quilt from her coworkers and friends from Eaton Rapids Medical Center. It has many personal handwritten messages, and brings back lots of happy memories. We hung it in our living room, where we will see it many times a day. It will serve as a smile and a hug from each friend every time we see it, and stop to read a note or two.

We just found out that Bob Prince, who planned and executed “The Great Raid” at Cabanatuan prison camp, passed away on Sunday. We have asked permission to send you an obituary that was written by one his friends and one of our readers. We will send it along if it’s okay with him.

Also, we’d like to pass along a happy birthday to Steve’s lifelong friend, Joe Stepan, who turns 57 today, exactly four months before Steve does. Joe is planning to retire this year after 32 years service to the Federal Government. Thanks for your service.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Four explorers

This past week four men came to the island, all of whom have spent a good deal of time studying Corregidor. We met John Moffett, the first to arrive, on Friday afternoon. He has a long-time girlfriend here in the Philippines and is living in Laguna, which is an hour or so south of Manila. We first heard of John, who is Canadian and a fellow recent retiree to the Philippines, when someone sent us a link to aerial pictures that he took of Corregidor. The pictures are amazing, and he was lucky to have blue skies the day he went up. He said that the plane can be rented with pilot for $125 per hour, which makes us want to do the same thing some time.

After John settled in at the Corregidor Inn, we went looking at tunnels together. The first two that we entered were at one time connected to the huge Malinta Tunnel, but cave-ins have closed the passages. There were originally four tunnels on the southeast wall of Malinta Hill, nicknamed Queen, Roger, Sugar, and Tare from right to left. Roger was concrete lined with a round roof, and quite large. It had numerous hermit crabs ranging in size from golf balls to almost baseball-sized. Sugar was unlined but still it obviously had been a large tunnel. We then proceeded east on the newly opened South Road and found the old south entrance to the Malinta Tunnel. Unfortunately rockslides have almost closed the entrance, and John was only able to go in 10 yards or so.

Next we went to the area near the old power and cooling plants, which is now called “The Barrio,” and houses many of the contract workers. On the east slope opposite the plants are two tunnels that were called the Engineer’s Tunnels. One was easy to enter, and had beautiful ferns growing at the entrance. The other, a little further south, had a very narrow opening on a steep incline, but once inside was again quite large. This one, concrete lined, went back maybe 50 yards. From there a hole had been dug on the right wall, and another tunnel, more like a cave, went for about another 50 yards, then turned right and went another 25 or so yards but did not come back out; the digging was obviously abandoned. We saw a couple of land crabs, about six inches wide, who scooted into their holes when we got too close.

On Saturday Paul Whitman, who manages the biggest website on Corregidor – – and Karl Welteke, who lives in Olongapo, came across the North Channel and joined us. Paul’s daughter Elle and her boyfriend Trent came on the Sun Cruises (SCI) boat from Manila. We ventured into the area where MacArthur had a house for the 77 days he lived on Corregidor in late ’41 and early ’42. We also visited some bunkers and the site of Battery Kysor, which are on Infantry Point. Then we went into a large tunnel called RJ43, which is near the Road Junction of that name. There is still evidence that a small gauge rail line was in the tunnel: you can still see impressions of the ties, along with a few ties and very large nails that must have been the spikes.

On Sunday Marcia accompanied most of the guys who were doing GPS readings of major and minor buildings and other points of interest. This day John joined us, as well as Martyn Keene, another Aussie who has been working at getting as many GPS points as possible on the island. Steve took the first part of the day to show Elle and Trent around Topside Barracks, the hospital, and Batteries Way and Hearn. Later we all met up and went through Wheeler Tunnel, a concrete-lined underground tunnel that is quite impressive. Since some of the guys wanted to take tunnel measurements, we walked with Elle and Trent to our house, where we had a very interesting conversation on a number of topics. They are much more mature than their ages, each 19, would indicate, and despite the generational difference, we got along wonderfully.

Later everyone was invited to Ron’s for dinner, but most of the guys were tired and decided to drink San Mig’s and eat dinner early. Elle and Trent joined us for pork adobo, fried pork, salted green mangoes, and of course, beer. After Ron went to bed the four of us, along with Gilbert, went down to Bambi’s store on the Bay Walk and enjoy a little Karaoke. All in all we had a fun and educational day.

On Monday Trent was sick from malaria medicine, so he and Elle didn’t do much until they boarded the SCI boat to depart at 2:30. The four explorers measured the laterals in Malinta Tunnel in the morning and did some more exploring in the afternoon. We laid low, since the temperature was rather chilly and the wind, which has been very high all year with the exception of one day, persisted. Except for Martyn we all got together at Mac’s Café for dinner.

Tuesday was supposed to bring the solar engineer to our house for installation of a gauge to let us know the charge level of the batteries, but he didn’t make it. So we missed going with the guys in the morning. Then in the afternoon Steve was asked to guide four couples who live in Olongapo. The husbands are Swedish and the wives are Filipinas. Their English was limited but they could follow as long as Steve spoke slowly. Two of the couples had little boys with them. They are bilingual Swedish/Tagalog, with almost no English understanding yet. One of the men was constantly asking Steve, “Is this where the kamikazes were?” Steve would try to explain that there were no kamikazes on Corregidor, but he kept asking at every stop. By the end Steve wasn’t sure if the man just didn’t understand or if he was just kidding after a while.

On Wednesday the solar guy came and installed a meter on our system so that we know when the system is running low. We then have to run the generator to charge the batteries to avoid losing power overnight. With installation and system testing, it took up most of the day. We did have dinner at the MacArthur Café with the four explorers, who mostly spent more time discussing and figuring out Malinta Tunnel. They will produce a much more accurate map than is currently used in all the books, which is clearly wrong to anyone who has explored the tunnel.

Also on Wednesday, Ronilo went home to spend two weeks with his family. Ron, the island manager, goes home twice a year, once in January and once in June, to visit his wife, two daughters who are in college, and son who is in high school. He has been here since starting as a guard in 1987. Since the day we arrived he has talked about going home in January to be with his family. He called a couple nights ago to tell us he was very happy being with his family. We miss him, but are also happy he can be at home.

On Thursday we did some exploring on our own, finding some buildings and a large tunnel that Karl told us about, although he did have to lend some assistance. Also the Military Historical Tours group arrived, so we spent a little time with them at the hospital and the sunset viewing. Later Jamie of MHT joined us for beers at MacArthur Café, and we got to know him a little better. He even brought us a few supplies from the States, most notably OxyClean Fragrance Free, which is not available here. Filipinos like their detergents fragrant and their foods sweet.

One of the men on the tour with Jamie mentioned Tony Bilek, a Bataan Death March survivor. Steve said that he had Tony’s book, courtesy of Tony and one of last year’s tourists who brought the book to Steve as a gift. They all live in central Illinois. Steve has never met Tony but has talked with him by phone. Steve highly recommends his book, “No Uncle Sam,” which contains a description of driving a loaded fuel truck from Clark Field to Mariveles, up and down some steep hills, with no brakes!

Karl and Paul left for home by banca on Friday morning, while John and Martyn left on the Sun Cruises boat in the afternoon. Martyn does not expect to be back until his youngest daughter graduates from high school in four years, while the others plan to be back as early as February to commemorate the retaking of Corregidor by American troops in 1945. We really enjoy their visits, both for the hiking company and the animated and educational discussions in the evenings.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Peter Parsons

We received this email about the letter we sent out concerning Bubi Krohn. In that letter we mentioned a recent documentary, which is entitled “Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities,” produced by Peter Parsons. The video is available from the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment for P700. Contact us if you would like a copy.

Hi, Steve,

One thing I would like to point out, and which is continually being pointed out by Bubi (and John Rocha too--both of them members of Memorare), is that the destruction by the Americans during that battle for Manila was not being caused by "bombs" but rather by artillery and tank fire. Another thing I always point out is that there was "shelling" by the Japanese as well as Americans. Many "historians" (and I do not consider myself an historian, by a long shot) of this time use "shelling" as a knee jerk word to indicate destruction by Americans. There was a lot of Japanese shelling too, and it was equally destructive. Another thing, and to date, I think I am the only one to report this obscure item, is that the Japanese had some kind of "noise making machine" which imitated artillery fire. They would mount these things near places like the Philippine General Hospital. Occasionally this would elicit return fire of devastating proportions. Rocha points out that the bombs being dropped by American planes during the battle for Manila were being dropped on Japanese shipping in Manila Bay. The planes would begin their low runs while still over the city. Rocha says that occasionally a bomb would land on or near the Boulevard.

Before the Americans engaged in the battle for Manila, they did bomb targets in the city of Manila. These targets were largely provided by guerrilla intelligence. The people I interviewed mentioned that these bombs were being dropped on "some of us too!”

To answer your question about how many Filipinos remember what went on in those Malate/Ermita areas 65 years ago?--the answer is NONE. I have asked hundreds of them along the streets there. None. Not a single one. When we showed our documentary to the college kids they were transfixed, and yet believing. We told them to go talk to their lolos! (grandfathers)

Say hi to Bubi when you see him.

Peter Parsons

We thank Peter for allowing us to share his thoughts with you. As far as talking to their lolos, we strongly encourage this for who still have living relatives who experienced the war. One reason Americans are ill-informed about things like the Bataan Death March, the prison camps, and the horrors of war in general is that the soldiers who returned from the war were reluctant to talk about it. In many cases they refused to mention it at all. Some have spoken of being more or less ordered to keep quiet on these subjects by their government.

Near the end of his life 20 years ago, Steve’s father Walter opened up and told his story. Many others have finally gone public, writing books and demanding reparations for their slave labor. Fifty years passed before much was said by the POWs themselves, so is it any wonder that few care any more, and that their stories seem a bit fantastic? Presumably the same can be said for the citizens of old Manila, whose descendants are unaware of their recent past. If the people who were involved didn’t want to talk about it, why should anyone else care to?

So if the lolos have stories to tell of which their grandchildren are unaware, it is not only the fault of the uncurious but also of those who failed to tell their stories, however understandable that is. In the case of the American POWs of the Japanese such as Walter, the government did their best to fatten them up before they were seen in public, and clearly warned them not to talk of their experiences. Ultimately the governments of the U.S., the Philippines, and Japan bear the ultimate responsibility for suppressing the story, since none of the countries teach this history in their schools.

We have attached three pictures to show you how little time it took for a starved man to appear normal. The first shows Walter in 1941 before the war began. The second shows 26 POWs at the Manila pier, before they boarded a boat for transport to Japan. Note how skinny they are, and remember that this is before the further starvation they were to endure in POW camps in Japan. We suspect that the tall man standing third from the right in the back row may be Walter, who was 6’6” tall. If we are correct, the picture would have been taken in July of 1944. The third picture was taken to accompany a Duluth, Minnesota newspaper article in November of 1945. Would anyone guess what he would have looked like only three months earlier? Pictures of the American POWs at their liberation looked very much like those taken of Jews upon liberation from Nazi prison camps in Germany and Poland.

Steve and Marcia

Note: Peter, whom we have yet to meet, will be coming to Corregidor in March with James Zobel, the curator of the MacArthur Museum in Richmond, Va.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bubi Krohn; mailing address

Late last year on one of our excursions to Makati, our host Leslie introduced us to local historian Edgar Krohn, who is called Bubi by his friends. It is one thing to read and be told about history, as is the case for most of us. Bubi is a “having lived it” historian.

Recently we returned to Makati, which is the business district of Manila, as you may recall. We asked Leslie if it would be possible to sit down with Bubi again. He was not available on Tuesday, since it was the first meeting of the year for the Rotary Club, in which he is active. Bubi still works, at age 80. On Wednesday afternoon we were able to sit down with him at the Pancake House, and talk over sodas and ice cream.

Although a Philippine citizen, Bubi is of German extraction, with his grandfather moving here over 100 years ago to set up an import business. His father’s brother was one of the first members of the Nazi party, despite being married to a Jew. Later when he realized his awful mistake, life became very difficult indeed, but he managed to escape and live to 101. Bubi’s grandfather was not so lucky, having gone to the Mayo Clinic just before the war broke out and dying in America before he could return to his family.

Bubi’s sister, three years his elder, was in a private school in Switzerland before the war. Their father was given assurances by the headmaster that she would be safe, but that headmaster died. His sister ultimately ended up having no choice but to serve in the German army, despite Philippine citizenship. Fortunately, she survived the war.

Because Germany and Japan were allies, the Germans in the Philippines were held under suspicion by the U.S. Army. But less than a month after the war broke out, the Americans declared Manila an “open city” – uncontested, leave the civilian population alone – and got the heck out of Dodge, so to speak, leaving the Germans now in the hands of the newly occupying Japanese. Most European and American civilians like Leslie were interned. The Germans, while not interned, weren’t treated particularly well by their Axis allies. Interestingly, Bubi and his parents and other Germans were interned by the Americans at Bilibid, the Manila City Jail, for several months after the liberation. They were finally released in September, more than a month after the war was over.

As the Americans returned to Manila in February, 1945, the Japanese began a campaign of killing civilians. The worst massacre was in the German Club, where 500 innocents were murdered. According to a recent documentary depicting the atrocities of the Japanese in Manila in 1945, they were under orders from Tokyo to kill all civilians, and they may very well have succeeded had the Americans not intervened. As in all conflicts, American bombs killed some civilians in its liberation effort, truly unfortunate, but the alternative is unthinkable.

Bubi, about 16 at the time, moved from building to building trying to avoid the fires that were deliberately being set by the Japanese, as well as the bullets and bombs that were flying all over the place. During our first 10 days here we stayed at the Lotus Garden Hotel, which is near the corner of Mabini and Padre Faura. That neighborhood, home to Bubi at that time, was totally destroyed. We wonder how many Filipinos who travel those streets every day realize or even care what happened there less than 65 years ago.

Bubi has co-authored two books about the German Club of Manila. We think that a book about his life would be fascinating. He told us that he has piles of papers with his notes on them. Maybe someday he’ll let us look at them and write his biography. A mutual friend told us that this would be better because if Bubi wrote an autobiography it would be 10 volumes.

On a side note, thanks to those of you who asked for our address to send us bottle openers, but we are happy with the status quo.

By the way, should you want to send us something via snail mail, our address is:

Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski
c/o Artemio Matibag
Corregidor Foundation, Inc
2nd Floor, Room 212, Dept of Tourism Bldg
T M Kalaw St, Ermita, Manila 1000 Philippines

We tried having things sent to Corregidor via the Cabcaben post office but have so far received nothing. Marcia’s stepmother sent us a Christmas card from Minneapolis on December 11. The postmark for arrival in Manila is December 24. Because that is holiday time here, it was not delivered to the CFI office until the day before yesterday, January 8. It was a nice surprise. Unlike in America, apparently the post office here also gets a long holiday vacation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bottle openers

Imagine that you’re living your dream of relaxing on a tropical island in the Pacific. The sun shining, the breeze off the ocean, the abundant pineapples, coconuts, and mangoes growing all around you. You’ve got lots of cold beer. What could be better? Then you discover that you’ve got no bottle opener. Horror of horrors! What do you do?

The bottle caps that we see here are the old fashioned non-twist off variety. You need a bottle opener. Well, not necessarily a bottle opener, since our friends have shown us a number of ways to open a bottle when no opener is present, which up to now has been 100 percent of the time. They have come up with novel and ingenious ways to remove the caps.

One of the easiest ways to open a bottle is with your teeth, or so we’ve been told. One of the regular tour guides named Bobby, or “EveryBobby” as he refers to himself, used to be especially adept at opening beer bottles; here most bottles are beer bottles. Unfortunately for EveryBobby, who is semi-retired due to poor health, his molars aren’t so good anymore – we can’t imagine why – so he has not personally been able to demonstrate this particular method. Bottle caps are simply left where they land, and if the particular method results in the cap being held in the hand, it is simply discarded with a flick of the wrist. In EveryBobby’s case, we imagine he probably spit out the cap. Thus the drinking area is decorated – or littered, if you prefer – with bottle caps.

A simple way to remove a bottle cap is with your everyday machete, or bolo as it is called here. The method requires grabbing the bottle around the neck with one hand. Then you take your bolo, prop it –blade out- across your thumb and forefinger on the opposite side of the bottle from your hand, and pry off the cap using your stabilizing forefinger for resistance. With practice you can get the cap off in one move. You must take care not to aim the bottle cap at a human being, however, because it can fly off at the speed of a 22 caliber bullet. Similar items can be used, such as spoons, knives, and forks. You had better use a fairly solid utensil, however, or it’s going to end up in need of a chiropractor and not be of much use for anything after that. Even the base of a cigarette lighter can be used, carefully, of course. And the top of a plastic bottle can also work as Armando recently showed us.

Another way to remove the cap is to place the neck of the bottle and the cap at the end of a wooden bench. The wood has to be such that it will grab the cap as you push down on the bottle. The cap should bite into the wood and off it will come. Understand that eventually you will have eaten away at the entire top edge of your bench, like it is at Ronilo’s, thus making it unusable for opening more bottles. You have to set your priority, nice bench or beer.

We have seen a man who simply grabs the top of the bottle and in an instant the top is in his hand, ready to be added to the collection strewn around the table. It looks pretty amazing until he reveals that he is opening the bottle by jamming his ring, in his case on his index finger, under the cap and simply prying it off. Obviously he has this method perfected.

The most fascinating way that we have seen to open a bottle is one that Jhun (pronounced June), the island plumber, uses. Jhun by the way is shorter for junior, or someone named after his dad, and Jhun is a very common nickname in the Philippines. Anyway, Jhun can open a bottle with another bottle. He sets the bottle he is going to open on the table, turns another upside down, and hooks the two caps together. You would think that the odds are 50-50 that the upside-down bottle would open, thus losing its precious contents. But no, the bottle that is standing is always the bottle that Jhun opens. The trick is that he actually uses the side of the cap on the inverted bottle, and wedges it under the lip of the other cap, ensuring only the upright bottle will open. He also has the advantage of very strong hands, like some other plumbers we know. Magnificent!

And what if you have no bolo, knife, lighter, bench or any other solid object? All you really need is another bottle cap. That is, if you’ve got fingers as strong as Jhun the plumber’s.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wind; Dial family

For the first few days of 2009 we are being hit with heavy winds as a result of a tropical depression southeast of here. The wind has broken some trees and left the beach area on the north part of Bottomside a real mess. The trash from the Pasig River into Manila Bay is a constant source of frustration for the management here, since wind and current carry it to Corregidor. It is a never-ending source of garbage along the beach. But when it gets windy, like it has been the past few days, the trash flies over the breakwater, and even over a new fence intended to keep it off the shore. Coupled with the fact that many from the maintenance crew were on vacation, there is a lot of trash everywhere you look.

We have a four panel room divider that we usually place between the front windows and our bed, but it kept getting blown over in the middle of the night. With the high wind this week, we tried setting a chair against it to keep it upright, but a strong gust of wind was enough to force the divider to slide the chair and then knock it over, causing a bang which woke us. We have even closed some of the windows in our bedroom, which are normally always open, just to keep things from blowing around in the house.

We are keeping track of the storm, a “low pressure area, or LPA,” at the Coast Guard station on the island. So far what they have plotted makes it look like it will come close to us, but these storms have a mind of their own, so it’s anyone’s guess at this point. It is not strong enough to be a tropical storm or typhoon, which would be unusual indeed this time of year. The CG determines whether boats under certain sizes should be allowed to traverse the bay.

As a result of this weather, a family that we met on New Year’s Day was presented with a problem. Minter Dial and his family came to the island from Bataan by banca. Since Minter is the grandson of a WWII boat captain (Minter Dial as well) who served here and was captured on Corregidor, we were given a heads-up that they were coming. We met them for dinner and told our mutual stories. They were planning to take the normal Sun Cruises ferry back to Manila and then head to the airport on January 2nd. However, winds were such that the CG advised against travel and the ferry trip was cancelled. They were on non-refundable tickets, and the next available flight was nine days later, on the 11th.

Minter and Yendi, who is French, currently live in Paris. If we understood her correctly, her grandmother had six boys and two girls. Two of the sons were killed fighting Germans in WWI, and three more were killed by the Germans in WWII. Understandably, she seemed to have as much love for Germans as Steve’s father had for the Japanese. Their son, Oscar, who is in sixth grade, goes to a boarding school in England. Both he and his younger sister Alexandra are bilingual. When we met them they confidently and politely looked us in the eyes, shook our hands and introduced themselves.

On the morning of the 2nd they decided to tour the island while waiting to hear if it was feasible to get a helicopter to take them to Manila. We decided to accompany them on the tour, since we had struck up a friendship the night before. The first stop we made was at the former three million gallon water reservoir near our house. Fortunately for the children a couple of monkeys came to take a look. We finished with the Sound and Light Show in Malinta Tunnel. Later we found out that they were evacuated two at a time.

Minter’s grandfather died in Subic Bay on December 15, 1944. He was a passenger aboard the Hell Ship Oryoku Maru, notorious because it was sunk in Subic Bay Harbor by American planes, not knowing that it was being used by the Japanese as a prison carrier. Many American soldiers, mostly officers, died on board and are buried in the hull only 500 feet from shore. The remaining passengers including Minter’s grandfather, tried to swim to shore. Of those, some may have been strafed by the planes. Minter’s grandfather died in the arms of another man on the nearby tennis court where the survivors were herded. He had two bullet wounds which could have been caused by either side. His dying words were a request to the man holding him, to find his wife after the war and tell her he loved her. He also entrusted the man with his Naval Academy class ring to give to her, 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.

Days of the week mean little to most workers on the island, since cruises are scheduled every day. Sun Cruises personnel wear a special shirt on Fridays, but other than that it would be virtually impossible to know what day of the week it was if you lost track. We have fallen into a weekly pattern ourselves. Every Saturday we count out pills and vitamins for the week ahead. On Sundays we get up and go down to the old church to say a rosary and read the day’s Bible passages. Come to think of it, at this point that’s about all we schedule ourselves to do each week.
The tropical storm took a turn south and away from here, and Saturday was calmer, although this Sunday morning it is very windy again. It was windy enough for Sun Cruises to cancel their trips on Friday and Saturday, and today was still in question until this morning. They are not only responsible for their passenger’s safety, but in the event that the CG cancels travel, they have to house and feed the guests until travel can be resumed, so it is best to err on the side of caution.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years wishes; clouds and wind

We woke up to a windy new year. Actually it was quite windy yesterday and through the night as well, so noisy that it was hard to hear the ever-present crickets and geckos. Ronilo says that there is a storm in Mindanao a thousand miles south of here, but the worst of the weather is not expected to hit us. This could of course account for the wind and clouds, but we can’t verify it on the internet because the one time we went to,com we waited half an hour for the interactive weather page to load and never got a full map, much less the series in motion. We hope to get some sun for our solar panels, since we have had to run the generator an hour or so a day to make up for the amount of clouds recently.

It’s strange to think that it’s still 2008 in America, and won’t be this year there until 1:00 PM in Michigan, 2:00 PM in Minnesota, and 4:00 PM (all Philippine times, of course) in California. Traveling across the International Dateline really messes with your head until you’re used to it. For instance, the normal San Francisco to Manila trip lands two days after it takes off, while the return trip lands four hours before it takes off!

This year we are looking forward to having some visitors this year. A group of guys is coming for a week of exploring in January. A man from the Military History Tours wants us to spend some time with his group when they spend an overnight here later this month. In March we are being visited by the man who runs the MacArthur Museum in Richmond Virginia, his first visit to The Rock. In April we have our annual nine-day tour of the WWII areas of interest in Manila, Corregidor, Bataan, and Luzon. Then in October we might be leading a two-week tour that includes the 65th anniversary of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. It includes stops in Cebu, which is supposed to be a beautiful area in central Philippines (Visayas), and Baguio City, which is in the mountains north of Manila, making it a highly desirable place to be during hot weather.

The day before yesterday we met four Catholic priests, almost by accident. We were taking pictures of one of the gun batteries which will soon undergo some significant brush clearing. Their tour guide, Ramon, who can look like Jimmy Carter, introduced us. We had a short but warm conversation. A couple of them live in Makati and work at a Catholic School in Fort Bonifacio. They are interested in coming out to the island for a day of hiking. We hope they can make it out on a day we can accompany them.

We wish you all a Happy New Year.