Tuesday, February 17, 2009

64th Anniversary of retaking of Corregidor; Japanese heroism

Yesterday marked the 64th anniversary of the recapturing of Corregidor from the Japanese by the United States Army and Navy. The following quote from a once confidential document called “Impact,” published in April of 1945, and quoted on www.corregidor.org, summarizes the events surrounding this historic date:

“Then 16 February came, and after a sunrise attack by B-24s and an hour of low-altitude bombings and strafings by A-20s, the 503rd Parachute regiment began dropping out of C-47s of troop carrier units of FEAF (Far East Air Force). They came down on the western heights known as "Topside", while a beachhead was being established by elements of the 24th Infantry Division at San Jose on the east end of the island.

“Three hours after leaving their Mindoro base, the 503rd Regiment paratroops were in possession of "Topside". They had a hard landing at the two tiny "go-point" areas, for a 16-18 knot wind sprang up as the planes came along, necessitating a change of timing in the jumpmasters’ counts.

“The grueling air and naval softening up of the Rock had left the defending Japs dazed and scattered but they rallied, and for nearly two weeks isolated groups of them fought on with a suicidal frenzy. But several days before 1 March our forces were in possession of Corregidor, opening the finest harbor in the East to Allied shipping. More than 4,000 Japs were killed at Corregidor, and many more drowned while swimming away from the Rock. Others, estimated to be thousands, sealed themselves in the subterranean passages, and those who destroyed themselves made the island reverberate with underground explosions for many days afterward.”

Several of our new friends came to remember February 16 here, as they have done for a number of years. At 8:00 A.M. we went up to Topside to raise the flag at the old Spanish Mast. However, the rope broke due to age and disuse. The good news is that we now are aware of the problem and will have it fixed before the March 2 ceremony in memory of General Douglas MacArthur raising the flag there. So we relocated to the flagpole at the Pacific War Memorial Museum.

Next year, being the 65th anniversary, we hope that many more people will attend, maybe even a surviving parachutist or two. The drop was from 350 feet onto small landing zones, and the number of killed at 19 and injured at 200 was considered almost miraculous. The Japanese were taken by surprise, expecting the initial assault to be by sea, as they had done slightly less than three years earlier.

Ultimately only around two dozen Japanese soldiers were captured, those that were too injured to kill themselves. On the following January 1, 20 soldiers surrendered to an American sentry, taking him completely by surprise. Others were found in the Philippines hiding out as late as 1974, almost 30 years after the war was over.

Ironically in a way, I was one of six guides asked to lead a tour group of boys, mostly Chinese-Filipino students, last Friday. They came from Xavier, a private boys’ Catholic high school in Metro Manila. Many come from very rich families and have body guards accompany them most places, including to and from school, to prevent their being kidnapped. We guides were told to emphasize the heroism of the Japanese soldiers, since “they had already received the American and Filipino sides many times,” as one of their teachers told me on the boat from Manila to Corregidor.

I found this political correctness doubly ironic, since not only did the Japanese treat the Filipinos terribly, but it was their unprovoked war on China, where they killed millions of innocent Chinese, that really started World War II. Look up “The Rape of Nanking” to get an idea of the atrocities that the Japanese committed against the Chinese. To this day many older Chinese loathe the Japanese as much as much as the former American POW’s such as my father did.

That’s not to say that the present day Japanese are responsible for the sins of their fathers, of course, but I think it is an injustice to indoctrinate the young people into equating the fanaticism of the Japanese empire with heroism. Sealing themselves in subterranean passages and blowing up themselves and others for their Emperor may have been considered heroism in the Japanese culture, but it is eerily similar to what is being perpetrated today by religious fanatics in the name of Allah.

Fortunately, the boys had a questionnaire that they had to have filled out, and the questions were not slanted in any way. I gave the normal tour, making sure that I answered all of their questions. Afterwards they expressed their appreciation, and I hope that they were able to satisfy their requirements. They were very polite and for the most part paid attention while I was speaking.

By the way, we are looking forward to having several of our Japanese friends visit us in the next couple of months. They are aware of what happened in WWII and are working to make the Japanese people aware of it also, since this has never been acknowledged or taught in their schools. We will be accompanying some of them on a tour which will be conducted in Japanese, and we look forward to them telling us what the Japanese tour guide says.

On Saturday I lead another tour, this time for a group of tourists who had already spent the night, and therefore had been to most of the places that we were going to see. This is, of course, not the best way to lead a tour, as some of them seemed bored most of the time. I did my best to keep them entertained.

On Sunday I was called to lead a “walk-on” group of 20 young adults from Orion, a city in Bataan that was on the route of the Death March. They were therefore already familiar with some of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Filipinos and Americans. Ironically, about half of the group were of Japanese descent and spoke no English. One of the young men was able to act as an interpreter, although his English was limited and I often had to repeat myself.

This was my first time to work with an interpreter. For those of you who have never done this before, it is not as easy as it may at first appear. You are constantly wondering how much to say before you stop to let the interpreter give his rendition. Also you have to make sure that he understands what you are saying. In the case of the tour here, many of the facts are hard numbers, such as the lengths of buildings, the capacities of water tanks, and the firing distances of guns. All in all it went rather well, I think, as they gave me a round of applause at the end of the two hour tour.

I am the son of an American POW who was beaten, tortured, and nearly starved by his Japanese captors for over three years, for which he and his fellow prisoners have never received an apology. During his last year of captivity in Japan he was forced to do slave labor. The companies for which he worked are now some of the biggest and richest companies in the world, but not one of them has ever offered the POW’s one penny in compensation. Obviously my father died with a justifiable indignation. If any of you would like to know more, I highly recommend “Unjust Enrichment” by Linda Goetz Holmes.

So whenever I encounter Japanese I try to be as understanding as possible, knowing, as I said earlier, that they are not responsible for the past. At the same time, I cannot forget that what their countrymen did was inhumane and inexcusable to the extreme, and when the situation calls for it, I can’t hide the truth. I suppose I would prefer to not be put into such as position, but the reality is that many Japanese visit the island every day, and on occasion I am going to have to deal with it. I hope that I’m doing justice to both sides.


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