Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The incredible Bob Reynolds

My number one hero is my father, the late Walter Kwiecinski. It is because of him that we currently live on the island of Corregidor. Our mission is to increase awareness of the joint forces who fought on Bataan and Corregidor, so that Filipinos and Americans alike will appreciate their sacrifices. We hope this awareness leads to more tourist traffic to Corregidor, and we have already seen results, with many more promising to visit as time goes by.

My second hero would have to be the late William Massello. He was dad’s commanding officer, and was highly decorated for his performances on Bataan and Corregidor. He was the then US Army Major and West Point graduate responsible for reviving Battery Way, the only large gun battery that was still in action and thus opposed the Japanese landing on the night of May 5 and early morning of May 6, 1942. My dad told me of “Wild Bill” Massello when I was a boy. I had the pleasure of meeting his two daughters on my first trip to the Philippines and they told me of their father’s admiration for my dad as well.

I want to introduce you to my hero number three: Bob Reynolds. I first heard of Bob when my parents returned from a trip that they made to the Philippines in 1980 with Valor Tours of San Francisco. At the time there was no Corregidor Inn, so they were only able to spend a few hours there. Nevertheless, the return trip to the Philippines seemed to change dad’s life. His nightmares stopped, and he began to open up about his war experiences, which included his 39 months as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Corregidor was the one thing my dad would talk about when I was a boy. When I finally set foot on Corregidor’s Engineering Dock on my first visit in May, 2002, I was barely able to stand up, I was so overcome by emotions. A few days later, when we were at a resort in Bataan, I called my wife Marcia and told her how great Corregidor was. A sense of relief came over me as Marcia said she would like to see it the following year, since I was already depressed at the thought of never returning. I told Bob Reynolds right then that we would be the first two to sign up for the 2003 tour.

Bob, who turned 88 in June, flew bombers for the British in World War II, targeting German war assets. After the war he never flew again. Instead, he began to lead tour groups to European Battle sites. Then he developed an interest in the Pacific Theatre.

One of the sites he visited on his own was Corregidor. He was impressed at the potential, but also in the fact that nobody had thought to develop the island. He managed to set up a meeting with some top people in the Philippine government. In his own words he says, "They seemed amazed at my suggestion that Corregidor be reopened as a shrine. They all had this look on their faces of, ‘Who is this nut?' Then I saw their feet resting on the table and realized they'd already made up their minds." Reynolds quickly figured out the reason for their reluctance: "Corregidor's batteries still had guns, which they planned to scavenge."

This was 1968. Bob was able to meet with then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Bob was able to persuade him that there was much more long term potential in opening up Corregidor as a WWII battle site than in the short term gain of scrapping the magnificent guns that were still on the island. As a result, the guns were saved and Corregidor is now, in Bob’s words, “the best preserved battle field of World War II.”

I can only imagine how my life would have been changed had Bob not been able to help save Corregidor. Without him, who knows if it would be a tourist attraction at all? Chances are I would have never gone to Corregidor in the first place, and certainly we would not have the great privilege of being allowed to live there to promote tourism to the island.

Bob began leading tours from the United States over 30 years ago. Others, such as my friends Jamie Wiedhahn of “Military Historical Tours” and Sascha Jean Weinzheimer Jansen of “Return to the Philippines” have followed suit, and we have written about each of them in earlier newsletters. Bob still leads tours, but he has relegated the April “Ghost Soldiers of Bataan and Corregidor” tour to me. I remember him telling me once that he had been to Corregidor 65 times!

We had the great fortune to have lunch with Bob this week in Battle Creek, Michigan. Bob lives with his new bride, Betty, in Kalamazoo. They met on previous tours before Bob became a widower. Although we have met and love Betty, she was not able to join us for lunch.


No comments:

Post a Comment