Friday, April 24, 2009

John Hogue

Steve’s first trip to the Philippines was in 2002 when he was accompanied by his sister Paula on a Valor Tours trip. They met many interesting people such as Malcolm Amos, a Death March survivor who has been with us on five tours already. One of the other fascinating “characters” who became a friend was John Hogue.

John was born on Corregidor, as were his mother and siblings. He looks a lot like the late Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid series, and therefore John is often mistaken as half Filipino. Actually he is the son of an American Army officer, and his mother, the daughter of an American serviceman, had blue eyes and reddish hair. John attributes his oriental look to the fact that his father had some Chickasaw Indian ancestry.

John, who will be 80 in July, was 12 when the war broke out, and he and his mother and siblings were eventually interned at Santo Tomas University in metro Manila for the remainder of the war. As a result of growing up here, plus the fact that he later took a one-year course in conversational Tagalog, John speaks to the Filipinos in their language whenever he gets the chance.

John’s father spent the war in POW camps, ending up on the island of Honshu, Japan, before being reunited with his family in San Francisco four months after his wife and children had arrived there. San Francisco became their home. His uncle Roy, actually his mother’s sister’s husband, died on the Hell Ship Arisan Maru, an unmarked Japanese prison ship sunk by Americans and resulting in all but eight of the approximately 1800 POW’s on board being killed.

In 2003 Marcia came for her first time on Steve’s second visit. This time there were only six including John and tour leader Bob Reynolds. The schedule was to spend one day seeing the WW II sites in Manila and then spend four days walking the trails of Corregidor. On the first evening while we were walking to a restaurant near our Manila hotel, a few beggar children approached us. John said, in Tagalog, “Go away. What do we look like, TOURISTS?” Surprised, the kids ran off looking for easier marks.

John also toured with us in 2007. During that visit two years ago his roommate was a single Japanese-American named Myles. They have kept in touch, and Myles recently married a Filipina, so we’re hoping to see him and his new bride sometime as well.

Because John spent his childhood here on the island, when he comes he always wants to stay here longer than the one or two days allowed by the tour. This year he came with his nephew Frank to spend an additional week here after a three-day excursion to the air-conditioned city of Baguio.

John was able to point out the exact spot in Barrio San Jose on Bottomside where their first house was, and where Frank’s mother was born. Their second house, on Middleside, was less than 150 yards from our front door. It was one of the first houses destroyed by Japanese airplanes, and all that is left is a giant bomb crater. Their third house was near the first and is currently being used for a maintenance area and short term dump, which has John understandably upset. He also showed us where his school was, near the hospital building, and some of the road and business establishment locations at Bottomside.

John likes to tell the story of Frank’s mother at Sto. Tomas. She had a tropical ulcer in her foot that wouldn’t heal. The Japanese “doctor” wanted to amputate the leg. John’s mother would not let him do it, screaming at him in such a way that she was successful. When the American liberation came the first thing they wanted to do was amputate as well, but she insisted that they try drugs and as a result the leg was saved. To this day the foot bothers his sister, but John always reminds her that she could have gone through life without a leg if not for her strong and devoted mother.

John has a sharp wit. One night at the MacArthur CafĂ© in 2003 we were trying to drink beers in peace, only to be serenaded by some of the worst Karaoke singing you have ever heard in your life. John kept saying, “If I give them 50 pesos do you think they’d sit down and shut up?” When he was kept awake by hotel guests’ loud music until at least midnight on this most recent stay, he told a staff member of the Corregidor Inn, “Let me know the next time there’s going to be singing like that so I can go to Bataan and get some sleep.”

One day during this trip we were eating at Pirate’s Cove on the south beach when karaoke broke out. John told us that this reminded him that he once had taken voice lessons. He wanted to sing baritone, but his teacher said, “You ought to sing tenor. Ten or twenty miles away from here.” She also told him, “With your voice, you ought to be on stage. The one that leaves Dodge City at midnight.”

John and Frank left on Thursday, and we hope to see them again. John has his doubts whether he’ll ever be able to make the trip again, although he says that if we can talk Judy M into coming he’ll be back. Are you seeing this, Judy? Frank says that he hopes to come back some day with his children. We are going to miss them.

People who have a connection with Corregidor often get the blues when they leave here. Here’s hoping and guessing that they will both be back some day soon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Trail to Nowhere

Recently we spotted a set of steps going up from the road between Middleside Barracks and Battery Way. We walked up them, found we were on an overgrown sidewalk, walked up another set of steps, then another, and found that the sidewalk kept going. We ran into some rather serious overgrowth, much of which was very thorny. Since we did not have our bolos with us, we decided to come back some day with them and leather gloves and maybe carve out a new trail. Since we could see what appeared to be a clearing in the distance, we hoped that it would lead to the hospital.

A couple of weeks later, when we were looking for something to do, we decided to take our bolos and start clearing out the trail. We began by cutting a tree root that had grown across one of the stairs, causing dirt to pile up and making that particular step unsafe. After clearing the root and dirt away, we kept going up, whacking small branches that were hanging down over the trail, and small trees that were growing on it. Quite often we had to cut another root or vine growing over the trail, since they act as trip wires.

Soon we came upon a rather pretty palm, but knew from experience that looks were deceiving. According to Ronilo it is a rattan palm. Each branch has very sharp spikes running up the spine. In addition, the palm is loaded with thin vines that are almost like razor wire, and which grab onto anything they can, human flesh included. The good news is that it is one way only, so that if you run your fingers with the fine thorns it’s like feeling dental floss. Reverse direction, however, and it is extremely sharp. We simply call it razor wire for lack of the real name: razor wire is appropriate enough.

Another thing: ants apparently love rattan palms. These are tiny ants, ones that Steve would never see due to his weaker eyesight. However, if you walk under a rattan branch and take a bolo to it, the branch detaches easily, but so do the ants. Steve knew immediately he was in trouble because he could feel the little buggers all over his face and shoulders. Before he knew it he was being bitten under his shirt on his chest, and also all over his right (whacking) arm. He immediately flicked his ear with his hand, sending both ants and glasses flying. Then he tore off his shirt and began smacking it on the ground to clear it of ants while Marcia was trying to smash the ones she could get that were running all over him. The bites really stung! When most of the ants were knocked off, Marcia dabbed the obvious bite spots with cortisone cream. (That and Neosporin spray go in her pocket whenever we go trekking.) The stinging only lasted 5-10 minutes, and didn’t bother him again.

So we continued boloing and making good progress. Because of the underlying concrete sidewalk, often we could progress 50 or 100 feet before we’d come to another clump of bamboo or rattan. At one particularly thick bunch of rattan, with Steve being extremely careful not to walk underneath while he was whacking, all of a sudden he began hollering about having something under his shirt. To him it felt as if there were a big something-or-other running up his belly. He was pretty freaked out, wondering what kind of a bite he might end up with from it. So Marcia, further up the trail working on some simpler clearing, was treated to hearing Steve yelling, “Help, spider, snake, tarantula!”

When he finally stopped jumping around and screaming bloody murder, he realized that he had a double strand of razor wire that had somehow gotten inside his shirt. One piece ran from lower left to upper right and out his neckline, and the other was down his right shirt sleeve. How it managed to get all the way in there he has no idea, and it took Marcia a couple of minutes of careful extraction to get it out, but actually, other than the scare, very minor scratches, and a few more ants to murder, no harm was done.

We could see off in the distance that a couple of big trees were blocking the trail, but not so big that they couldn’t be walked over. We figured that once the trail was done everyone would want to walk it and someone would chainsaw the trees off the path. At about the same time we realized that the opening was not the opening for the hospital at all, but rather just the main road as it wrapped to the left before heading back right toward Battery Way. Also, smack dab in the middle of where the sidewalk appeared to go was a bomb crater the size of a large swimming pool. At that point we decided to call it a day and headed back, thinking that someday we would try to find where the trail comes out on the other side of the bomb crater, and hoping it still leads somewhere interesting. In the meantime we are calling it “Steve and Marcia’s Trail to Nowhere, Number One.”

On a sadder and happier note both, we had a pair of Palawan Blue Flycatchers fly into our plate glass front door yesterday. According to our bird guide they don’t even belong here, but we are sure that’s what they were, maybe escapees from the aviary which used to be here. One died instantly, while the other appeared at first to have a broken wing. Marcia gave it some water and set it on a sheltered perch and then we left it alone. When we came back after a walk an hour later it was still standing on the perch. However, as soon as we approached it the bird flew into the nearest palm tree, so we believe it’s going to be alright.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tour wrap-up

For the past nine days we hosted a World War II tour for Valor Tours of San Francisco. Tommy Soria of Rajah Tours was our local guide. Normally we start by touring Manila for two days, but since this tour coincided with Holy Week we had to rearrange the schedule and move the Manila portion of the tour to the end.

We got up at 3:00 A.M. to meet our 11 guests arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on a flight scheduled to land at 3:30. It was close to 5:30 by the time they deplaned, got their bags, went through passport clearance, and exchanged dollars for pesos. We all went straight to the Manila Hotel for breakfast and then to the ferry terminal to board for Corregidor. Steve led the standard Sun Cruises tour in the morning and early afternoon. Later we watched the sunset and some went on the Malinta Tunnel night-time tour.

The next morning most of the men took a banca ride around Corregidor and Ft. Drum, the “concrete battleship.” It turned out to be windier than expected and all got wet, but we enjoyed the ride nonetheless. In the afternoon Steve led a tour to the Middleside Tunnel known as the “bat cave,” and Battery Wheeler’s tunnel. Others went with Tommy and Marcia and spent more time at the Pacific War Memorial and the museum.

On Monday we took a boat to Bataan to begin the Death March route. There are two traditional starting points, one being Mariveles, where we began our bus trip with a Jollibee (MacDonald-like) meal. We visited other spots along the way, including Little Baguio, where a field hospital had been set up, and which provides a great view of Corregidor. We went to the Balanga Elementary School, where a monument recalls the surrender of Bataan by General King to the Japanese. We spent the next two evenings at the Montemar Beach Resort, which is located on the western shoreline of Bataan facing the beautiful South China Sea.

Tuesday, April 7, was the official celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan, “The Day of Valor.” It was moved this year from the traditional surrender date of April 9 because it fell on Holy Thursday. Malcolm Amos was the sole American Death March survivor present, and he was given a prominent seat on the stage. He sat only a few feet from the U.S. and Japanese ambassadors to the Philippines, as well as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Philippines. Ambassador Kinney gave a very good, non-political speech, and the Japanese ambassador offered a personal apology, similar to last year, for atrocities committed by Japan against Filipinos and Americans in WW II. While there we met the Assistant Secretary of Philippine Veterans Affairs, “Jerry” Adevoso, whose office is in Malacanang Palace, the Philippine White House, with whom we have been in email contact.

On Wednesday we drove to Subic Bay. We toured the city, seeing the Olongapo Museum, the Hell Ships Memorial, and JEST, the Jungle Environmental Survival Training school. There we were given a demonstration on how to use bamboo to make eating utensils, a cup and dish, and rice and meat cookers. The man showed how to get safe drinking water from a length of one type of bamboo, and also how to use bamboo to start a fire in less than five minutes. The only tool he used for the demonstration was his bolo (machete).

We spent Thursday back on the Death March trail. One stop we always make is San Guillermo (St. William) Catholic Church in Bacolor. It was originally 20 feet taller, but has been re-floored on top of the ash that has accumulated throughout the area during the 18 years since Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Then we visited railway stations at the start and end of a 20-mile stretch where prisoners were packed so tightly into railway cars that many suffocated or went mad. After the second station we drove to Camp O’Donnell, now know as the Capas National Shrine. Several people walked the final kilometer. The shrine includes the names of over 2000 Americans who died at the hands of the Japanese in the few weeks before their transfer to Cabanatuan Prison Camp, and the names of over 29,000 Filipinos who died there in the months before the Japanese released the survivors in the hope that this “kindness” would bring support for their Asian campaign.

Then we drove to Cabanatuan City to spend the night. The next morning we visited the site of Camp Cabanatuan No. 1, where Steve’s father lived for 16 months, and from which Malcolm was rescued in what has become known as “The Great Raid,” days before the Japanese planned to “annihilate” the 517 remaining prisoners of war. The book, “The Ghost Soldiers,” by Hampton Sides tells the story. We then rode for about three hours, back to Manila.

On Saturday we toured Manila, seeing the walled city of Intramuros and Ft. Santiago, which is inside the 24-30 foot thick walls built by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. It was also one site of fierce fighting at the end of WW II, so fierce that over 100,000 civilians were killed in the crossfire between the Japanese and the Americans. Almost all of the city’s buildings were severely damaged or destroyed, putting Manila in the same category as Dresden, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw.

We also visited the American Cemetery in Manila, the largest American cemetery outside the United States, with its 17,206 graves, along with the names of over 36,000 missing in action. Normally the city tour takes two days, but because of the very light traffic on “Black Saturday,” plus the fact that Santo Tomas University was closed – we did stop there – we were able to see everything in one day. So Sunday became a rest-up-for-the-flight day. We went to Easter Mass at the Manila Cathedral with three of our Catholic guests.

Part of touring Manila was trying to find streets so that one of our guests could see where his parents lived and he spent his very earliest days. Many of the streets have been renamed and the addresses renumbered, but at least the driver was able to get him into the neighborhoods, and he could get photos of street signs where names remain unchanged.

During the tour, we saw something which we had never witnessed before. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we saw people, mostly young men, walking along the road reenacting The Way of the Cross. In each group one was carrying a cross while others were beating him. Still others were flagellating themselves, using whips with wood at the tips. By Friday their backs were raw. Tommy explained that this is common in the Pampanga and Tarlac provinces, discouraged by the bishops, but seen as a sign of faith and repentance by the practitioners.

On Easter, everyone prepared to travel, with six returning to San Francisco, two going on to India, one to Vietnam, and two to Baguio. We moved to The Heritage Hotel for the night, ready for our return to Corregidor.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On tour

Greetings one and all. We met our group from Valor Tours at Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday morning, after their 3:30 A.M. landing. Tommy from Rajah Tours picked us up at our hotel, we went to their office near the airport for a small bus (20 seats), and then waited for a call from Archie alerting us that the guests were through customs. After breakfast at the Manila we took the Sun Cruises boat to Corregidor and Steve led a tour of the island.

Today most of the men are taking a banca ride around Corregidor and Ft. Drum, the “concrete battleship.” Then we will take the guests wherever they want to go the rest of the day. Tomorrow we head to Bataan for two days. After that we will go to Subic Bay, Clark Field, Camps O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, and finally spend two days in Manila.

If you would like us to take any pictures for you along the way, such as specific Death March kilometer markers or names on walls at the prison camps or the American Cemetery in Manila, now is the time to let us know. We will be checking our email whenever we can, but will not be writing another newsletter for at least a week.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Steve's tribute to Marcia on her birthday

Today is Marcia’s 56th birthday. She doesn’t know writing this I am so if grammar mistakes I make or speling mistakes i mayk then my fault it is.

That’s right, Marcia’s birthday is April 1. April Fool’s Day doesn’t mean anything here in the Philippines, so she misses out on those practical jokes, unless I do something today just to keep her on her toes. One of her high school friends was born on the same day, and our neighbor of 19 years in Lansing was exactly 24 years older, so Happy 80th, Peg.

I fell in love with Marcia the first day we spent any time together. Actually we had met once before, when she and another girl came through my college dormitory selling candy or something. I was a freshman at St. John’s U. and she was a senior as St. Ben’s Prep in Minnesota. I just remember I was wearing only a bathrobe because I was heading to the showers, so it was semi-embarrassing when I answered the door. I had known a couple of her brothers – she has six – from St. John’s Prep, and also sort of knew her sister – she has four – who is one year older (my age) but I didn’t know Marcia. She says that she was already aware of me, though. Must have been my height and good looks. ;-)

The next time we met was at a picnic at a mutual friend’s house. We took a walk through the woods in their back yard and I was lovesick. Did she like me? What excuse could I make to meet her again?

Marcia was at St. Ben’s because her original girl’s Catholic boarding school, Villa Maria Academy, was closed permanently when its four story school building was struck by lightening and burned to the ground during a snow storm in March, 1969. And it was snow that got us together again after the picnic. The last day of my first year of college was May 18, 1971. I was supposed to drive home the next morning. However, about a foot of very heavy snow fell, making it impossible to travel north, so I decided to try to slog over to St. Ben’s and maybe run into some girls that might also be stranded. As it turns out I met Marcia who was waiting for her brother to pick her up. By the time David arrived at least two hours had passed and I had an invitation to Marcia’s commencement ceremony.

When I arrived at graduation I found out that Marcia was the valedictorian. This was in a class where at least half the girls would have been at the top of any other class in any other school in the state. This was one smart bunch of girls. One sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Now I’m no dummy, but this kid was out of my league. Then I drove to her house (I can’t remember how I finagled that one) only to find out that the Blaylocks had a house the size of a small hotel, complete with tennis court and horses. I was from a much different social strata. So I figured it was fun while it lasted, which wouldn’t be very much longer.

Needless to say, Marcia must have seen something in me because we dated off and on for the next year, then got engaged and were married on February 24, 1973 at the ages of 20 and 19. Odds were not in our favor. Marcia immediately got pregnant with our daughter Jean, and we decided that I would join the Air Force to get medical insurance. So off we went to Texas, and then back to Minnesota. The war in Vietnam ended and I got an early discharge, so I was able to finish college in 1976. Shortly thereafter our first son, Nick, was born.

Despite Marcia’s brains, we had committed to her being home to raise the kids, so I went from computer job to computer job for the next several years, eventually moving to Lansing, Michigan in 1981. We arrived on our 8th anniversary, and it was already our 7th cross-state move. However, we settled in Lansing, and after a few years with Burroughs I worked the next 13 years for EDS at General Motors. We had two more sons, Tony and Al, in the 80’s. In 2000 I went to work for the State of Michigan in their computer department.

When Al was in the last years of grade school Marcia went back to college and received a two year degree as a physical therapist assistant. She was one of two out of 30 or so students who finished on top in the program. Marcia was the oldest and the other the youngest, just out of high school. She worked for a private Lansing company mostly at the Eaton Rapids Hospital for the next ten years. It was obvious at her retirement party that she was well respected and loved by co-workers and patients alike. And she truly loved her job. I believe that at even at 56 Marcia could go back to medical school and graduate with honors, that’s how smart she is.

But as most of you know, fate led us in another direction. In 2007 we were offered the opportunity to live on Corregidor Island where my father had fought in WW II. It didn’t take us long to make the decision, but it did take a year and a half to make it happen. In the meantime Marcia’s father passed away, and at his age (almost 91) and health (failing kidneys and three times a week dialysis treatments) it was a blessing.

I often wonder how many other women I could have married that 1) would have put up with me so long, and 2) would be happy to live on a remote island 8000 miles from home and family? Although we live comfortably by Filipino standards, we were living in a 3000 square foot home with 12 acres and an in-ground swimming pool, with modern conveniences like a microwave and a 52-inch television. We had two good-paying jobs with excellent insurance coverage. We didn’t have the ants and scorpions and lizards and snakes that we do here. Yet she was willing to leave all the comfort and security to help me honor my father and the thousands of other men and women who served and in many cases died here.

I absolutely adore Marcia. I would die for her and I would die without her. Do I always act that way? Of course not, I’m human. But I am constantly reminded of what an exceptional person she is, and how blessed I am to have her as my wife and companion for these past 36 years. She has made me a much better man. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, and she loves me.


Send Marcia a Happy Birthday greeting at