Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Steve Hawkins, The Rings

Our wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of our friends in the United States and those everywhere who celebrate the holiday.

On Friday Steve had the honor of giving a private tour to Steve Hawkins, the director of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. Hawkins (to distinguish one Steve from the other) is a native of Idaho and graduated from Utah State with an engineering degree. He is a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, and had many interesting experiences to share, some of which we can highlight. While on active duty, Hawkins was the man responsible for first getting the lights back on in Baghdad – Operation Fajr, “Arabic for “first light” – which he accomplished in 12 days, and then he continued through all of Iraq, restoring power to 17 of the 18 areas in only eight months.

Hawkins was the personal military escort for then First Lady Hilary Clinton when she went to Bosnia, and said of her, “She is the smartest person I ever met in my life.” His position at the ABMC, which previously included all of the U.S. monuments and cemeteries in the Western Hemisphere (primarily Europe), has now been expanded to include responsibility for all sites not on U.S. soil. Thus his job expanded to include the cemeteries in Manila, Panama, and Mexico City, as well as monuments in Saipan and Guadalcanal. In this position, he hosted President Obama on his June 6 D-Day visit to France, and had a one-on-one chat with then President Bush for a whole hour during Bush’s D-Day visit last year. Hawkins currently resides in Paris with his wife of 35 years. They have one son who lives in the United States.

The Steves had several interesting conversations. They hold similar views on Douglas MacArthur, feeling that he was a great general who also made his share of serious mistakes. Hawkins did express concern that MacArthur left his men on the battlefield, something that just isn’t done, but then agreed that Mac had to obey the direct order from the President. It left MacArthur in a bad position if he in fact wanted to fight with his men to the death.

Steve also asked him why so many families left their deceased sons overseas, laid to rest in military cemeteries, when they had the choice to have them brought back home at government expense. He said that it is customary to do so, and that families who have brought their sons home and then later visited an overseas cemetery often express regret, since the military cemeteries are kept in such pristine condition. By the way, the American Cemetery in Manila is the largest American cemetery anywhere in the world outside of the United States, and is the burial place of more men killed in World War Two than any other cemetery anywhere. Hawkins enjoyed his tour and is looking forward to a return trip in a few months, bringing some of his staff and possibly staying overnight.

We love interesting and heartwarming stories, and were very recently reminded of one of our favorites. Mario “Motts” Tonelli, Notre Dame football star and Death March survivor, had his Notre Dame National Championship ring taken from him by a Japanese guard at the start of the march. (The guards took everything of value, sometimes cutting off fingers and knocking out gold teeth in the process, severely beating or killing any who resisted.) The ring was given back to Motts by a Japanese officer who had witnessed the incident. The man, who spoke perfect English, had been a University of Southern California student. He was in the stands and had seen Tonelli play in the Notre Dame-USC game four years earlier, watching as Tonelli scored the winning touchdown. Warned by the officer to hide his ring, Tonelli managed to successfully do so in spite of repeated searches during captivity, returning home with the ring after 40 months in prison camps. The story was featured a few years ago in Sports Illustrated, upon Tonelli’s death in Chicago.

The previous story was brought to mind by the following one. Some of you may remember that last January we had a family stranded on Corregidor, having to hire a helicopter to travel from the island to Manila in order to catch their return flight to France. In our newsletter we wrote about Minter Dial’s grandfather, in part saying, “He also entrusted the man with his Naval Academy class ring to give to his wife, which the man lost before the war was over. Through an amazing set of circumstances, the ring eventually ended up with Minter’s father, but he had it stolen from a French hotel room five years later.” Minter has written this amazing story and posted it on the web at: We encourage you to read this story and pass it along to anyone who might be interested. Minter is offering a very generous reward to the person who manages to find and return the ring.

Gilbert, the on-island photographer, captured pictures of a rare, early morning rainbow over Bataan, taken from Corregidor’s Bottomside. We include one for your viewing pleasure.

Concerning the basketball tournament, postponed indefinitely due to lack of funds, Tess from Houston wrote: Sorry to know that there will be no basketball league this year. It must be a letdown for the players and everybody involved. How about next year? I would love to make a monetary donation to the league. How many friendly readers do you have on this blog? I would like to challenge them to donate and make the basketball league possible.

Yes, Tess, it is quite a letdown for everyone involved. We appreciate your offer to donate and your challenge to our readers to consider doing the same. We would ask anyone interested in helping to email us, and we will send the mailing information. Donations for this would not be tax deductable, but rest assured that they would be very much appreciated by the players and their spectators. If we reach our goal we will make plans for next year’s basketball league and tournament. Remember that a uniform is only about $10. We (Marcia and Steve) also plan a donation to help the league.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The search for searchlights

Many of you enjoyed reading about the Corregidor Basketball League games last November and December. It appears that there will be no league this year. With the past year’s budget cuts, there just is not enough money to pay for uniforms, referees, and trophies. We noticed that many of the men on the island wore their basketball shirts and shorts as regular attire after the season ended last year, an indication not only of their pride in having uniforms, but also that any extra money goes home to wives and children, or to parents to help with siblings. Past sponsors are unable to contribute, and most of the players cannot afford the $10 to buy a uniform. We know that this is something eagerly anticipated by players and spectators, but it looks like the league will not be possible this year.

This weekend our friends Karl and John returned for more exploring. As usual, they invited us to join them. The first excursion was to Wheeler Point, which houses the remains of Battery Monja and Searchlight No. 4. Since we have never been to either emplacement, because the point is remote and easiest to reach by banca, and since Karl had already arranged for the banca, we jumped at the chance.

There are actually eight searchlight locations on the Corregidor maps, and we had previously only been to numbers 2 and 8. Steve’s father was in the searchlight battery of his regiment, so it is almost certain that he was at one or more of these locations before war broke out. Surprisingly, he never spoke of them, but did speak of the ones they set up on Bataan. Steve’s goal is to eventually visit all eight sites. According to John, this particular location is probably the hardest one to reach. We figured we’d give it a try, and if successful, we should be able to get to the others over time. As it turned out, we made it, but we cannot find the words to describe just exactly how difficult that this turned out to be, given the steepness of the slopes and the thickness of the overgrowth that we encountered along the way. Certainly without a guide or two we would have given up before reaching our destinations.

The banca ride around the island was smooth, so we sat back and enjoyed the raw beauty of the island. We sailed around Wheeler Point, and the bancero found the best place to put us ashore. The beach there was typical of 90% or more of Corregidor’s ten or so miles of shoreline: rocky. Wearing water shoes, we got off into 12-18 inch deep water and stepped rock-to-rock to reach shore, being very careful not to slip on the algae-covered boulders. Some were barnacle crusted, a huge help. Once ashore we changed into socks and hiking shoes. The ascent to Battery Monja is steep, and in one place we used a rope to safely climb. There is a fresh water stream running down the hill, which is historically significant. Twenty Japanese soldiers hid out in this area after the U.S. recaptured Corregidor. They decided to surrender voluntarily on January 1, 1946, having survived for 10 months on this fresh water and whatever food they could scrounge.
Battery Monja actually consisted of two 155 mm (6 inch) guns, one on a Panama Mount, which allowed it to turn at least 180 degrees. The other gun was hidden in a tunnel nearby, brought out on rails for use. This second gun site, not shown on the maps, has an extensive tunnel which actually Y-splits into two branches. The idea of getting all of the necessary concrete and metal up those hills is mind-boggling.

We next proceeded to the searchlight, which is right out on the point. This part of the trek was most challenging. Whatever road existed is gone, and the clearest “route” was along the side of the hill, angled at about 45 degrees. John did a little vegetation cutting with his trusty snippers, but it mostly involved working our way carefully along, looking for footholds to prevent sudden downhill slides. The surface soil is loose, like fine gravel, with much leaf and small-branch debris. It also includes the ever-present vines seeking to trip you if you are not extremely watchful. Steve had the most difficulty, becoming severely winded and having to stop several times for rest. It turns out that he was in the early stage of a bad cold but didn’t yet know it, and that is probably what sapped all of his energy. The return downhill descent was equally interesting, and at times we opted to sit down for a controlled slide rather than trying to stay on our feet.

We took the banca around another point, and John, Karl, and Marcia went up to Searchlight No. 5, with Steve staying in the banca to rest. It turned out to be less difficult and shorter than the previous hill, with areas of thick grass providing surprisingly good handholds. There is far more outer concrete remaining at this location, although less actual searchlight shelter.

The following day the four of us took a trip to Carabao Island, which is a small island about eight miles south of Corregidor. It was known as Ft. Frank when the U.S. Army occupied it, and sits quite near the Cavite shoreline. The island rises from the water with shear cliffs, except for three steep ravines. Where there were slopes leading down to the water, the Army put in large concrete walls in two of the locations, the other being naturally too difficult to scale. In this way, its shore was unassailable, and Fr. Frank only surrendered under orders when the Japanese demanded that General Wainwright surrender all of the Philippines rather than just Corregidor. It had two huge (14 inch) guns pointed out to sea, along with several 12-inch mortars and 155’s.

At low tide on a calm day, one wall is fairly easy to duck or crawl under. Unfortunately, we arrived closer to high tide, and the waves were fairly significant. As a result, we, along with John, decided it was wisest - and safer for cameras, cell phones, and GPS units - to pass up this opportunity to get on the island. Karl, braver and crazier than the rest of us, jumped off the banca and managed to get under the wall, although he had to time his passage between waves high enough to fill the gap and potentially smash him. We patiently waited for two hours, enjoying the view and conversation. Then Karl returned, only to be walloped by waves while making his way back to the banca. We then took a leisurely ride around the island, with Karl and John orienting us to the various emplacements, before heading back to Corregidor. We include one picture of Carabao that may remind some of you of the Wisconsin Dells.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We meet FVR at Veteran's Day ceremony

On Monday we went to Manila on the Sun Cruises ferry, which left at 5:00 PM instead of the usual 2:30. As a result, we witnessed a stunning sunset between Corregidor’s head (west end) and the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula. It has been months since we have seen the sun appear to sink into the ocean as we did on Monday. This should be a fairly regular phenomenon now that rainy season has departed, and something we never get tired of seeing, usually from Battery Grubbs.

We checked into the 1632 Hostel, a less expensive alternative to other hotels. We knew the manager, Agnes, because she used to manage the Corregidor Inn. The hotel is located in Malate, a part of the city of Manila, which as we have explained before is a small part of Metro Manila (MM), which consists of Manila, Makati, and 15 other municipalities. The hotel is situated in a much poorer part of MM than Makati, but despite that, we feel relatively safer there than we would in, say, Detroit or Chicago. There are a few beggars and some hustlers trying to sell fake watches and Viagra, but they are not really a problem. The hotel is only a block from a huge mall called Robinson’s Place, which almost makes you feel like you are in America when you look around inside.

On Tuesday Marcia had her hair cut. The barber spent close to half an hour making sure that every hair was cut evenly all around, just the way she likes it. The total cost? Seventy pesos (P70), or just over $1.40! Then Steve went to have his teeth cleaned at a dentist whose office is only yards from the hotel entrance. This is the first time that he had a female dentist. Besides the cleaning, she also took care of two teeth that had cavities in the making. The cleaning and two fillings cost P1600. Marcia then had her teeth cleaned for another P400, so our total dentist bill was just over $40. That would probably not have covered our co-pays in the States. It is not unusual for foreigners to come here for medical and dental procedures, which, including transportation, as well as room and board costs, are often much cheaper than having them done in the United States and other more developed countries. “Medical Tourism” is the name used in advertising such services.

Our friend Eli came met us again for a most enjoyable lunch. He brought us a few gifts, including the latest book about the Bataan Death March, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman. He was unable to find it in Manila-area bookstores, but located a copy while in Singapore visiting his daughter. We were thrilled, as we have been looking forward to reading it after having read many great reviews. We’ll let you know what we think of it when we are finished.

Wednesday we once again went to the American Cemetery in Manila to commemorate Veteran’s Day by attending the ceremony organized by the U.S. Embassy. Last month when we were in our insurance company office, one of the co-owners came out to meet us. Mr. Carlos (Jun) Inigo had heard about us living on Corregidor. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was a golfing buddy of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, known here as FVR. Since we knew FVR to be a strong supported of Corregidor, we asked Jun if he would arrange an introduction. It turns out that FVR was to be the keynote speaker at the Veteran’s Day ceremony. Jun contacted FVR, who said that he had heard about us and that he would be happy to meet us after the ceremony.
We met Jun at his office and had a few minutes to get to know him a bit better. He is four months younger than FVR, and eight days older than Steve’s mother Mary Anne. He once was a basketball star, and noted how much better he would have been at Steve’s height. He drove us to the cemetery, where we got to talk with some of our friends. One of them is Jim Litton, a retired attorney. Both Jun and Jim lived along Manila Bay before the war, and their fathers were POWs together at Fort Santiago – another interesting story in its own right. Jun can remember seeing the guns of Corregidor firing at the Japanese on Bataan, while Jim can remember the newly-captured American soldiers from Corregidor being paraded down Dewey Boulevard, now called Roxas.

At 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month, we heard the traditional ringing of 11 bells to mark the agreement to end “the war to end all wars.” Then United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney introduced FVR. After the ceremony, we spent a few minutes with FVR. He gave us his assurance that he would continue to do everything in his power to protect Corregidor from those who would deemphasize the war memorial aspect. He told us that he was a part of the original Corregidor Foundation, Inc. He also invited us to spend more time with him in the future, which will be our pleasure.

We wonder how many of our readers, especially in America, are as amazed as we are at the access to current and past political figures. In March we sat in the same small room with former first lady Imelda Marcos. In October we met President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. And Wednesday we met former President Ramos. In addition, we have met Ambassador Kenney enough times that we are on a first name basis, and she even calls us her unofficial ambassadors to Corregidor. How different than in the United States, where access to politicians is so much more difficult. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is spending two days here this week, and the security is literally 100 times tighter than it is around their own president.

Jun took us out to lunch at The Banana Leaf in Greenbelt 3. Before our entrees were served, banana leaves were placed in front of us, and we soon realized that they were in fact our plates. It is not the norm here to serve all of the people at the same table at the same time, but rather, each one’s particular meal is served when ready. Marcia, who was served last, could have had her choice of several different entrees, since we had a rather confused waiter who kept bringing her dishes that were ordered by other diners. The restaurant had a Southeast-Asian theme, and all of our food choices were excellent.

After lunch, we said our good-byes and thanks to Jun, and then used the rest of the afternoon to finish the last little bit of shopping. Marcia bought a pair of slacks in Robinson’s Department Store. To give you an idea of comparative sizing, she needed XXL, whereas in the U.S. she would have looked for either small or medium. Thursday morning we returned to our island home, ready to be away from the city again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

MNiddleside Barracks, Mt. Himmelbjerg, moonset and monkeys

In our last newsletter we said that Typhoon Santi caused only minor tree damage on the island. That was true for the trees around our house. Once we made a drive down to Bottomside, however, we realized that Santi was more destructive to Corregidor than Typhoon Ondoy, which had caused so much flooding in Manila. Santi snapped quite a few trees at 6-12 feet above the ground, broke many major branches, and some trees were uprooted by the winds which came in unobstructed from Manila Bay.

Now that the northeast monsoon has returned, heralding the end of rainy season, we can once again think about trekking through the jungle to do more exploring. The first two buildings that we chose were essentially in line with Middleside Barracks. The only remains are the foundations of the two large buildings, easily found by walking a couple hundred yards northwest from the north end of Middleside Barracks. We have attached a picture from our maps to show you these buildings. All four are marked with 7’s, which indicates barracks.

Signs in front of the two Middleside Barracks buildings indicate that the southeastern one was used by the 60th Coast Artillery and the northwestern one by the 91st Philippine Scouts. However, Everett Reamer of the 60th CAC emailed us the following: “After basic training, we were assigned as Battery "F" and we remained at the north end section of Middleside Barracks. Adjacent to Battery "F" was Headquarters Battery 60th CA. [Note: This is the wider section in the middle of the northwestern building, labeled 107.] Middleside Barracks housed only Americans before the start of WWII. I noticed on my visit to Corregidor in 1992, that [signs by the] Battery "F" areas indicated that the 92nd Philippine unit was housed there.” Everett told Steve, when they first met on tour in 2002, that Battery E, Steve’s father’s unit, was quartered in the south end of that same northwestern barracks building.

We believe that, despite the signage, those two buildings were both used for Americans. Besides Everett Reamer’s assertion, Ray Makepeace, who served with Steve’s father in Battery E of the 60th CAC, identified a catwalk in one of our tour photographs, saying that it led to their quarters. The catwalk, which Ray said he and Steve’s father slept upon during extremely hot nights, is attached to the northwestern building, the one currently identified as quartering the Philippine Scouts. Since Topside Barracks, which were occupied by the smaller 59th CAC, were slightly larger than Middleside Barracks, it is reasonable to assume that the larger 60th CAC occupied all of Middleside Barracks. Add to that the fact of the troop separation that existed in the U.S. Army at the time, and we are fairly confident in our conclusions. We thus surmise that the two buildings which we explored, and which we have identified in the attached photo as “additional barracks buildings,” were actually assigned to the 91st Philippine Scouts. They are clearly separated by a steep hill from officers’ and field officers’ quarters (indicated on the map by 3’s and 2’s).

As you probably all know, at the beginning of World War II, segregation was the norm, not only in public life but also in the Army. Race was not the only reason, however, that American and Filipino soldiers were kept apart. Filipino troops came from all over the Philippine Islands. Unlike today, with most Filipinos having two common languages, Tagalog (now often called “Filipino”) and English, people from the many different regional groups usually could not communicate with each other. Tagalog, Ilocano, Ilongo, and Cebuano, for example, are distinct languages with unique accents and few words in common. Therefore, the Philippine Scout Units were also separated into language groups. Their commanding officers were typically American, and had to communicate with troops using interpreters.

Monday, November 2nd, was All Souls Day, a major Holy Day and a work and school holiday here in the Philippines. Sun Cruises asked Steve to guide for members of an extended Danish family who are in the Philippines for a wedding. While on Topside, Steve asked one of them who spoke fluent English if he knew the highest point in Denmark. The man replied, “I think it is Mt. Himmelbjerg, only 172 meters (564 feet) above sea level.” He explained that Himmelbjerg, pronounced roughly HIM-el-byow, literally translates to “Sky Mountain.” He was not surprised to learn that we were standing on higher ground, at Topside’s 628 feet above sea level, than anywhere in his country. Sky Mountain, at less than 600 feet, sounds to us like Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where the only changes in elevation appear to be the freeway overpasses.

We want to emphasize that Steve only guides for Sun Cruises upon special request, or on days when they are short of guides, as was the case Monday. So, if you plan to come to Corregidor on the Sun Cruises Ferry from Manila and you would like Steve as your guide, this must be arranged with him and the Sun Cruises office at least one week in advance.

On Tuesday Steve awoke early and decided that he would try to photograph the moonset from Battery Grubbs. The moon was just past full, so it was setting at almost the same time as sunrise. He was able to witness the moonset over the southern tip of Bataan, with colorful clouds being lighted by the sun rising behind him. Sun and moonsets typically offer better viewing here than sun and moonrises, the reason being that Metro Manila lies to our east, and its smog and haze tend to obscure the horizon. To the west we overlook the South China Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean, giving a clearer view.

As we’ve said, the monkeys are back around our house in abundance. We are always amazed at how they can jump from tree to tree and never miss. Well, that is, until Tuesday morning. Steve was working on the computer while sitting in our “dirty kitchen” area, and was hearing normal monkey chatter. Marcia had just come outside, and saw monkeys jumping branch-to-branch in a tree. All of a sudden Steve heard a screech followed immediately by a thud. At the same time, Marcia saw a smaller monkey jump for his next branch. He either missed it or lost his grip. Splat! She saw him hit the ground – amazingly, he landed feet first - after a drop of about 20 feet. Then he ran off, maybe embarrassed!