Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finding MacArthur's house

This week we decided to try to find and photograph General Douglas MacArthur’s house on Corregidor’s Tailside. You may be thinking, didn’t you guys clear a path there a few months ago so that James Zobel, the curator of the MacArthur Museum, could see it? The answer is yes and no. At the time we were under the impression that the house was one of the last three of six houses on the northeast side of an old sidewalk. That is where we took James. However, further investigation has convinced us that it almost certainly could not have been any of those six houses.

We have maps of pre-war Corregidor which show not only those six houses running from southeast to northwest (609-614 on the 1935 map) all identified as officer’s quarters, but an additional three houses plus a larger structures on the southwest side of the path, also running from southeast to northwest. Building 604 is labeled as NCO officer’s quarters, and 605, 607, and 608 are identified as officer’s quarters. We now strongly believe that MacArthur’s was either 605 or 607.

Please refer to the attached section from the 1935 map while reading this. This section of map was digitally enhanced by our Aussie friend, Martyn Keen. If you look closely you will see that building 606 is at the bottom of the picture. It is listed as a “dope shed,” a term with which we are unfamiliar. If anyone can enlighten us we would appreciate it.

The map shows a road running between the two sets of buildings. We also discovered a mostly ruined sidewalk that we did our best to follow to find the second row of houses. Both old sidewalks are between the rows of houses, and not far apart, but hard to spot in the overgrowth. The newly explored sidewalk has extensive bomb damage, with one crater between houses 607 & 608 that is easily six feet deep and 30 feet across. It was made by a 2000 or 3000 pound bomb. The first path may have been maintained as a hiking trail, since it passes not only the six houses but also leads to Battery Kysor on Infantry Point.

We referenced three publications to arrive at our conclusions. The first is a book called “I Was on Corregidor,” by Amea Willoughby and published in 1943. Her husband “Woody” Willoughby was Executive Assistant to Francis Sayre, High Commissioner of the Philippines at the time. On page 113 Amea says, “An evacuated officer’s house a few minutes walk away [from Malinta Tunnel] was assigned to the H[igh] C[ommissioner] for his use. The two adjacent houses were occupied by General and Mrs. MacArthur and President and Mrs. Quezon.” On the following page she says, “All along the northern side of the dwelling a steep terrace sloped down to an open field in which stood two magnificent trees. A half mile away one could see the channel between Bataan and Corregidor…” It was this second quote that originally led us to believe that the house was one of the six rather than the four, since Willoughby does not mention looking past other houses to see the bay.

Our second source is an article on Corregidor in the July 1986 issue of National Geographic. In it Sayre’s stepson, William Graves, states on page 131: “With Jim [Black]’s help I located the site of our former house near Malinta Tunnel together with that of the MacArthur house next door. All that remain of either building are crumbled concrete steps and the reinforced concrete posts on which the structure rested.” This in itself was no help to us, since that basically describes any of the nine houses in question. However, an accompanying map on page 121 clearly indicates, we’re assuming via Graves, that they were in the row of four, with arrows pointing to 607 as the Sayre house and 605 as MacArthur’s.

The third source complicates (or clarifies) matters. We recently read “General Wainwright’s Story” written by the general himself and published in 1946. On page 3 he says, “So Sutherland took me out the east end of the [Malinta T]unnel to the little slate-gray house a quarter of a mile away, The island had taken two sharp air raids at the start of things, three torturous months before, but MacArthur’s house and the two other small ones near it were not touched. Those raids had continued sporadically, but now it seemed quiet and peaceful there as we walked up to the porch.” This was March 10, 1942, the day before MacArthur left for Australia, from where he promised. “I shall return.” It should be noted that MacArthur still lived in a house with his family, not hiding out in the tunnels like his nickname “Dugout Doug” implied. In reality, that was one of the least descriptive nicknames ever, like calling an NBA center “Shorty.”

A few days later Wainwright moved to the Rock from Bataan, and said on page 74, “The new intensity of the shelling of Corregidor from Cavite made our little houses – Generals [George] Moore and [Lewis] Beebe had the other two houses near mine – unfit as quarters. Atop the shelling, we were heavily bombed on March 24 by fifty-four Jap bombers of a new type. I picked up the light walking stick which MacArthur had left for me and walked down to Malinta Tunnel, to live there the rest of my time on Corregidor. Our houses were knocked down shortly thereafter.” Once again there is a map. On page 117 Wainwright depicts MacArthur’s former and subsequently his house as 607 with Beebe’s as 608, implying that Moore lived in 605.

So what do you believe? If Willoughby’s description is accurate, the views of Manila Bay were not blocked, leading one to believe the houses were in the longer, northeastern row. It was written only two years after her time on the island, lending credibility. Possibly she just didn’t think it relevant to mention the intervening houses. There is some difference in elevation, with the four buildings higher than the six, so one might have had a minimally obstructed view. She also seems to indicate that the Sayre house was the middle of the three, since she refers to the other two as “adjacent,” but her meaning is not entirely clear.

Both Graves and Wainwright place the houses in the shorter, southwestern row. However, the arrows indicating the exact locations don’t match, with Graves pointing to the second from the west – and middle of the three – as his (Sayre’s) house, thus seemingly agreeing on this point with Willoughby. Wainwright said the middle house was first MacArthur’s and later became his. Sayre’s memory could be called into question since the article appeared 45 years after he lived there as a boy. Wainwright wrote his book only five years afterwards.

The best we can do is to give an opinion here. Almost certainly the three houses of High Commission Sayre, General MacArthur, and President Quezon – and subsequently Beebe, Wainwright, and Moore – were in the southwestern, shorter row. Marcia slightly leans toward the combined testimonies of Willoughby and Graves, therefore putting the MacArthur house at 605. Steve believes that Wainwright, having lived there only five years before, would be the most believable and he certainly would have remembered that his house was between Beebe and Moore. This would put the MacArthur/Wainwright house at 607.

Being reliable and accurate is important to us. On occasion we have printed a clarification or correction. We like to say that there is fact and there is opinion. That MacArthur was brave – he was the most decorated American soldier in World War I – is a fact. That he was arrogant is fact. Whether or not he was one of America’s greatest generals is a matter of opinion, and no matter how much scholarship is applied it will always be just that: opinion.

In an upcoming email we will discuss how easily sloppy research can find its way into our history books. One thing is certain. Steve turned 57 on Wednesday. Thanks to those of you who remembered to wish him Happy Birthday.

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