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.

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