Sunday, Oct. 18
The day started with the most impressive buffet breakfast we have ever seen. Aside from the normal breakfast foods, they served sushi, pizza, and many kinds of fish and meat dishes usually seen as lunch or dinner. It was much more extensive than the Manila Hotel buffet, but their servers were not nearly as attentive.
One of our tourists was not feeling well and decided, for safety’s sake, to skip the Leyte portion of the trip. He has already been to Leyte and was going to assist Steve, who has not, with commentary. However, our Philippine guide Tommy is well versed enough that, with him, Phil’s documentation, and our local helpers, we will be okay. The flight to Leyte was uneventful, lasting just over an hour in the air. We were able to identify some of the islands by their shapes as we flew over, comparing the view with a map from Tommy.
We were greeted by a small entourage, including Department of Foreign Affairs personnel, a governor’s office representative, and a security team assigned to us for all group outings. Our WWII veterans posed for pictures – lots of pictures! Two of them landed here 65 years ago this week, and this is their first time to be in the Philippines since war-time. Then we boarded a bus and took a trip to Burauen to see a library paid for in part by the members of the 96th Infantry Division (US). Being Sunday, however, we could not go inside.
Monday, Oct. 19
Today was a very busy day, and would require writing for hours to fully cover. Since we are tired, and we are staying in a hotel with free wireless internet, we will hit the high points and invite you to go to our Picasa website for the majority of the pictures.
We began with an early breakfast at our hotel in Tacloban, Leyte. The view from the dining room is north over the swimming pool and across the Straight of San Juanico toward Samar, the fourth-largest island in the Philippines.
Then we boarded the bus and drove south to the town of Dulag to attend its annual Leyte Gulf celebration. The first thing we saw was a plaque honoring the soldier who raised the first American flag here in 1944. The plaque does not mention that Lt. Mills was killed only one or two days later.
After being introduced to a few of the local dignitaries including the mayor, we were ushered to seats in the front two rows, as a Catholic Mass was just beginning on the stage. Afterward, a long but well-planned program began. Part of the ceremony was raising the colors, and the two veterans who landed at Leyte were honored with an invitation to raise the American flag. There were several speakers, including Mayor Manuel Sia Que (pronounced shocky), a Chinese Filipino, Leyte Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla (both of whom can be seen pictured with Steve) and a Filipino veteran. We were also entertained by a couple of student groups, high school teachers who performed two native dances, and the most impressive SM Mall of Asia Marching Band, which danced while playing American patriotic and swing music. Two of our veterans even played God Bless America, unrehearsed, over the microphone, on their harmonicas.
An interesting guest showed up after Mass; General Douglas MacArthur. Actually it was a costumed man who portrayed the general, moving in slow motion to avoid interrupting the program, and he would freeze in classic “Mac” poses, similar to actors you see on the sidewalks in San Francisco.
Later we climbed Hill 120, named for its height. It was the scene of a small fight between Japanese and American troops, with the flag-raising by Lt. Mills signaling the American victory. There were several children on the hilltop, since it was a local holiday.
Mayor Sia Que invited us all to lunch at the Municipal Hall. The buffet included carabao (water buffalo) meat, which tastes like beef, but is tough like brisket. There were several Filipino vets in attendance, including one Death March and Camp O’Donnell survivor.
The “Blue Beach,” one of the Leyte landing sites, was only a few blocks away, so most of us walked there. A couple of our more senior citizens took tricycle rides, as much to aid the local economy as anything else. We had to pass between small houses, and got to see a woman hand pumping water, a young girl washing clothes the old-fashioned way, and several fishermen and women mending fishing nets. Children here are fascinated by having their pictures taken and then immediately seeing the results on the camera screen.
Finally we went to the Santo Nino Shrine near our hotel in Tacloban. It consists of a chapel, 13 guest rooms, a 20 seat dining room, and several other rooms on the main floor. Bedrooms built for the Marcos family are on the second floor, along with a massive ballroom and a dining room seating up to 30. Built between 1979 and 1981 at an undisclosed cost, it is essentially a museum of items given to President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda. Sadly, according to our guide, no one ever actually stayed there. Santo Nino refers to Baby Jesus, and the shrine was built here because this is the hometown of Mrs. Marcos.
In the evening the group was invited to a special dinner in Tacloban. It was attended by several dignitaries, and included Leyte Governor Petilla.
See the Picasa photo album on the web at: