Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leyte Tour part 4 - Leyte Landing, San Juanico Bridge

Tuesday, Oct. 20

We received an interesting email which we want to share. Steve had been asked to take pictures of the Hill 120 Monument in Dulag by Don Dencker, who in turn will send them to the grandson of Lt. Mills. Here is Don’s email after he received the photos:

Thank you for the wonderful pictures of Hill 120 - 96th Infantry Division Veterans Memorial Park on Leyte. I see the Park is being well kept up by the City of Dulag. I will send the pictures of the Lt. Mills Memorial to his grandson.

It is now 65 years since I landed on Blue Beach 1 at 10AM October 20th, 700 yards east of Hill 120. Until about 7 years ago, the land from Hill 120 to the waterline was vacant and one could walk down to Leyte Gulf.

As I had heard, in repainting the various concrete components of the Memorial Park, many of the proper colors have been changed. For example, the 96th Infantry Division p
atch has a white diamond on the left (Not red) and its 6 sided background is olive drab (not white). The blue diamond is correct.

A comment on your Report #!. About 1987 the group of 96th Infantry Division veterans got permission from the Philippine National Railroad to restore the deteriorated Capas Railroad Station and make it a Death March Memorial Library. The original roof had fallen in and the walls were in poor shape. The building was completely restored at a cost of abou
t $35,000 in donations, and stocked with books. I and quite a number of other 96th veterans attended the dedication two years later. If I remember the year right it was 1991 I led a tour group there and found that it was no longer a library, but empty. The story we got was that the National Railway had come and taken all the books away. About two years later when I let another group there, the building had become a Death March museum. I hope it is being kept up and gets more visitors that what appeared to be little use by you.

Thank you again for the photos.

Don Dencker

Don, we thank you for the informative email. As we stated, our April group was the last one with signatures in the Capas Train Station guest book, so we imagine that it is very infrequently visited. Whenever we go there, Tommy goes to find the lady with the keys, presumably the caretaker, so we wonder if other visitors ever get inside to see the small museum.

This was another busy day. Again, it will be easier to let pictures tell most of the story. We attended the 65th Anniversary of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. The marker commemorating the event is in Palo, 20 minute’s drive from our hotel in Tacloban. This landing area was designated as Red Beach. One of the most famous photos of MacArthur is of him wading ashore alongside several other high-ranking Americans and Filipinos, including then-President Osmena.

Once again we were treated royally, having covered seats near, though behind, the stage. We were in place by 8:45, but knew that it would be a couple of hours, if we were lucky, before the program began. At first the weather was good, but thunderstorms were in the area. Because we had extra time, we got to talk with other guests, especially the Filipino veterans and American military personnel attached to the US Embassy. We were highly honored when the American Ambassador to the Philippines, Kristie Kenney, personally introduced the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to each member of our group soon after both arrived for the event.

It began to rain soon after the program actually started. The speakers included the Japanese and US Ambassadors, representatives from the embassies of Australia and Canada, and the Philippine President. All gave short speeches, so the ceremony lasted less than an hour. Afterward, Ambassador Kenney posed for photos with our group and our special veterans.

We were then transported to the “Price Mansion” in Tacloban, used as headquarters by General MacArthur upon his return. A string orchestra performed outside for lesser VIPs (IPs ??), while inside the mansion we were serenaded by choirs and entertained by highly skilled and somewhat daring native dancers. Some pranced between clacking bamboo sticks, while others danced with lit candles balanced on their heads. We had a great buffet lunch, maybe the best we’ve ever had in the Philippines. We were once again treated like royalty, with the Vice Governor Maria Mimietta Bagulaya and Remedios Petilla, a former Governor of Leyte and mother to current Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla.

After lunch we took a bus ride across the San Juanico Bridge, which connects Leyte and Samar which are separated by the San Juanico Strait. This strait claims the fastest currents of any strait in the world. The bridge is the longest bridge in the Philippines, technically a compression arch bridge, whatever that is. The design can look like an “S” as you approach Samar and an “L” as you approach Leyte. The traffic was light enough that the bus driver was given permission to stop at a couple of places to allow us to get out and take pictures. Of course our security personnel were very watchful for our safety.

Earlier our group was informed of the closing ceremony in Palo, and urged to attend by the organizer. Eight of us, including the two veterans who had been part of the Leyte landings, went back to the Red Beach. One of our veterans spoke of his experiences, and we also heard from local Filipinos who want to keep alive the memories of the sacrifices made by their forefathers and mothers. Lastly, we took part in the annual candle-lighting ceremony. The candles are then floated on bamboo rafts to illuminate the famous MacArthur landing statues which stand in a shallow reflecting pool to simulate the famous photo.

Tomorrow we will fly back to Manila. Most of our guests will continue on to San Francisco. We will be staying in Makati for a couple of days for business. We hope to be back on The Rock on Saturday.

See the Picasa photo album on the web at:

In the photos you will see, among others, Gilbert C. Teodoro, Jr., Secretary of the Department of National Defense and candidate for President wearing a white barong, Ambassador Kenney in a black dress, Captain Vic Jones, Defense Attaché for the Embassy of Australia in Navy dress whites, President Arroyo in a light-aqua pant suit, and our two Leyte landing veterans, and Otha D. Jackson (left) and Thomas Clark standing in front of the MacArthur landing memorial.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this blog about your recent tour to the Phillipines. My grandfather is Otha D Jackson and I look forward to hearing about his experiance from him this evening, but I'm sure post will help to fill in any holes. Once again thank you for posting. He had a wonderful time on the tour and appreciated everyone.