Thursday, January 28, 2010

We meet some interesting people

Living on Corregidor has given us opportunities to meet some interesting folks. While having lunch recently at the Corregidor Inn, Armando the tour guide introduced us to one of his guests. Paul Phillips then joined us at our table, and told us a little about his father who had been at Clark Field when war broke out and was captured in Mindanao five months later. As with most POWs captured in the Philippines, he was eventually transported out of the country by means of unmarked Japanese ships. When we asked him which Hellship transported his father, Paul said he didn’t know for sure but it was one that had been sunk by the Americans. Steve asked him if it was possibly the Oryoku Maru, to which Paul replied, “I’m not really sure, I’ll ask him.” Paul pulled out his Blackberry, sent an email to his father in Denver, Colorado, and minutes later, he received the response that his father had indeed been on that notorious ship. We commented to Paul how amazing it is that his father survived the voyage and that Paul had ever been born, and encouraged him to learn more about the Oryoku Maru story. We recommended the book Father Found by the late Duane Heisinger, which tells about Duane’s search for information about his own father who died days before reaching Japan. He’d been one of the 1,609 POWs who left Manila on the Oryoku Maru. Fewer than 500 of them reached Japan alive, and about half of those men died before liberation eight months later. We are only guessing, but feel that Paul’s father is probably one of no more that 10 or 20 men still living from that group.

Another interesting man is Harvey Dean. Harvey’s father had been captured on Bataan and began the Death March. However, on the second day he slipped away from the march – not uncommon since there were so many captives and relatively few guards – and managed to get to the shore at Cabcaben. After dark on April 10, he swam the six miles to Corregidor and was then assigned to Ft. Frank/Carabao Island which is also in Manila Bay, just off the coast of Cavite. He was captured there and brought back to Corregidor after the surrender of the Philippines about a month later. Before his death, he returned to the Philippines with Harvey, and showed him the spot from which he’d begun his swim.

Later Harvey repeated his father’s feat, and this year did it once again. We discourage swimming across the North Channel of Manila Bay, but if - like Harvey - you ever feel compelled to do it, please make arrangements with the Philippine Coast Guard to be accompanied by a boat the entire way. Harvey had the privilege of spending some time on Corregidor with his father, and he wanted to return to some of the places they’d gone together. So Steve and Harvey, who are less than a year apart in age, spent a day wandering around to some of the island’s gun batteries and tunnels. As we have reported before, Carabao Island is very difficult to access, and scrappers have removed all of the guns that were there. However, Harvey managed to get onto the island years ago to see it for himself. See if you agree that Harvey might be able to pass for Steve’s slightly older and shorter brother.

Bill and Midge Kirwan, regular visitors to the Rock, came back to spend a week. Their son Jason and his wife Jill joined them for a few days. On Thursday the six of us took a trip to Bataan to visit the Death March marker that Bill and Midge sponsored a year or so ago. We took a banca across the bay, then took a hired van to the marker, which lies on the road from Bagac to Balanga, considered the secondary route of the beginning of the march. A couple of miles from their marker is the Pantingan Bridge. The Pantingan massacre – where 400 mostly Filipino officers were beheaded at the whim of the Japanese – occurred within a few hundred yards of that bridge. We then headed up to the National Shrine on nearby Mt. Samat, which is located along the last line of defense in Bataan, and which is home to the 300-foot tall cross. Unfortunately the elevator in the cross was out of order so we were not able to go up inside the cross structure, but the view from the foot of the cross on this crystal clear day was still great. One of the panels on the base of the cross bears several images from Corregidor, including a two guns and the landing of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team. Later we went to Balanga where we visited the site of General King’s surrender and then had lunch at Jollibee.

After returning to Corregidor, Steve took Jason and Jill on a couple-hour excursion around Battery Wheeler, an area where he has taken several guests in the past couple weeks. All of a sudden, Jill, who was walking behind Steve, stopped and asked, “What’s this?” She bent over and picked up a small black and red object that she’d heard emitting a very high-pitched squeal, something Steve had not heard. It was some sort of ultrasonic insect repeller, something that another guest had lost about 10 days ago during a trek - still squealing away. The previous guest was quite upset about losing it, since his wife had just given it to him as a gift. We never thought we’d see it again, since the guest had searched the area diligently. We are hoping to return it.

While inside Wheeler Tunnel, Jill spotted a weird bug on a wall. Steve took a picture and has including it. It sort of looks like a spider but we don’t think that’s what it is. Surely one of our readers should be able to tell us what it is, or refer our question to an entomologist. It is rather large, at least three to four inches across its leg span.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

P.S. We have just passed the 700 mark on our reader list. Some people pass it on and some people probably just chuck it in the trash, so who knows how many people actually read it each week?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lou and the Loppers

The Philippines lie on a major fault line. There have been several times in the past 15 months where we have suspected that we felt very minor tremors, but there is really no way of knowing for sure. However, a week ago Tuesday, we believe that we felt a very brief and mild earthquake a little after 6 o’clock in the afternoon. To Marcia, who was outside at the time, it sounded and felt like something jumped or fell onto the dirty kitchen roof above her, shaking the whole structure. It was similar to having someone jump on the floor in a room above you. Steve was lying in bed using his computer, and for a second it felt as if he were on a waterbed. The next day, a visitor told us that there had in fact been a minor quake reported at that time.

Since Corregidor is susceptible to major quakes – the last one was almost 20 years ago – we wonder just how strong a quake would have to be to inflict substantial damage to the remaining ruins here, especially Middleside Barracks and the many buildings around Topside. The other thing we wonder is whether the quake we felt on Tuesday was in any way related to the one that devastated Haiti around the same time. Since Haiti is on the other side of the world, you wouldn’t think so, but maybe one of our readers knows if this is in fact possible, and could let us know.

The temperatures have been cool enough at night that we’ve actually been a bit chilly in bed. It’s hard to believe that 72 degrees can almost feel cold, but with the high winds, that is indeed the case. It has been so windy for the past two weeks that the Coast Guard has restricted some travel on Manila Bay, especially with the smaller bancas, the double outriggers that are so common here. So far our ability to get supplies from the mainland has been unhindered, but if the winds get any higher that may not continue to be the case. On the other hand, yesterday seemed to be a bit less windy, so maybe it’s finally calming down.

By the way, for those of you thinking of some day coming to Corregidor to spend a part of your vacation, this is a great time of year in our opinion. It is not too hot or humid, seldom rains, there’s almost always a breeze, and it’s a great time to get away from the cold of the Upper Midwestern US and other wintery spots for a bit.

One man who seemed to have fallen in love with the place is Lou Fielack. Lou owns Fielack Electric Corp on Long Island in New York. Lou’s wife Terry grew up in Mariveles, Bataan, which is only five miles off the western shore of Corregidor. They, along with some of Terry’s relatives, came by banca one day last week, and we enjoyed a walk with them on Tailside and the Malinta Hill trail. Lou offered to come back and work for a couple of days.

So this week Lou came back with three of Terry’s brothers, an uncle, and a close family friend. They set up tents on the south beach – a very economical way to stay – and began to work around the MacArthur House on Tailside. If you remember, Benny and the Bolos cleared out that area, which includes the houses used by General Douglas MacArthur, High Commissioner Sayre, and President Manuel Quezon in late 1941 and early ’42. When Benny was done, it was still not possible to see the MacArthur House from the road, so the first thing that “Lou and the Loppers” did was to clear the brush between the house and the road, making it visible from the tranvias used on the day tours. They also excavated a staircase just feet from the main road, and the sidewalk that led to MacArthur’s House. In addition, they cleared out Battery Kysor itself, which is at the tip of Infantry Point. While there, they found many shell casings and bullets, along with assorted buckles and other items that have been buried for at least 67 years. Lou readily agreed to the standing policy that any artifacts uncovered by the group would be given to the Corregidor Foundation for possible display in the Pacific War Museum on Topside.

Soon a road sign will be installed, identifying the three houses as well as the nearby 92nd Philippine Scouts Headquarters. Our hope is that the tour guides will make a brief stop here to explain the significance of these recently excavated buildings to their guests.

We are very grateful to Lou and the Loppers for volunteering their time and efforts to make this possible. This is a wonderful way to contribute to Corregidor, and we encourage any individual or group wanting to participate in a project like this to inquire. Last year a group of Boy Scouts spent a morning clearing Battery Morrison, for example.

For the second time in less than a year, Steve has been chosen to write the cover story for the AmCham Journal, the monthly magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, Inc. Last March they featured Steve’s story of our climb up Mt. Pinatubo. This year he was asked to write an article about Corregidor for their annual tourism issue. All photos, including the cover, will be Steve’s. As usual, Marcia’s editing was necessary and appreciated. We hope that this article will lead many more people to see The Rock as the exciting tourist attraction that it is.

P.S. Several readers have pointed out that the area in the Philippines known for its spicy hot food is Bicol, not Bohol. We knew that, but had a memory lapse while putting the newsletter together. We apologize for any indigestion this may have caused you. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that some readers paying close attention.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Red Hot Chili Peppers of Jurassic Park

A part of the former Corregidor Aviary lies a few hundred yards behind our house – the former aviary caretaker’s residence – and down a steep hill. The very large flying-cage frames and some of the netting remain. We’re not sure how long it was in use or why it was closed – probably due to damage from a typhoon – but it looks like a scene from one of the Jurassic Park sequels in which they go back and see the remains, so we call it Jurassic Park. The aviary was still open in 2002 when Steve and his sister Paula, and then the two of us in 2003, visited the island, but had been shut down before we returned in 2006.

When we walked down the pathway soon after arriving here in 2008, we discovered some small red pepper plants. The peppers are no more than an inch long when ripe and really pack a punch. Because of our fondness for spicy-hot foods, we transplanted a couple of plants behind our house.

Most Filipino food is not served spicy hot, although there is one area south of here called Bicol where the people enjoy that type of food. These particular peppers, sili labuyo (wild chili peppers), are killers if you try to eat them alone and raw. However, they add a very nice heat to many foods. Another way to use the peppers is preserving them in a jar of vinegar. You can then sprinkle the spiced vinegar on your foods, or remove a few and add them to your vittles.

We want to caution any of you who might happen upon sili labuyo that the juice is very potent. The first thing you absolutely must do after handling is to scrub your hands with soap at least twice. Anyone who has forgotten to immediately wash his hands, and has subsequently touched his eyes or nose, knows exactly what we are talking about. Picking peppers has even caused Steve to walk with a temporary limp on occasion.

Whenever Steve thinks of hot foods he recalls his first encounter, which was in his mother’s home town of Virginia, Minnesota, at his grandparents’ house. Steve’s family moved into this house in 1968 after his grandmother died. There was a bar/restaurant one block up the hill on 13th St North called Chuck-Els. They sold something called “South Americans.” As best Steve can remember, it was a jar of spicy tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and hot peppers. He thinks it was even served on Fridays, meaning it was meatless. It seemed incredibly hot, and it’s possible it was, but it’s also possible that it only seemed so at the time because he was not used to spicy food. The only way he recalls it being served was as a sauce over bread, essentially a semi-wet sandwich.

What seems so odd about this is that Steve never met anyone in Virginia who liked hot food. Virginia, in the heart of the Mesabi Iron Range, is less than 45 miles as the crow flies from Canada, and is in the coldest area in the 48 States, located between International (aka Frostbite) Falls and Embarrass, one or the other of which makes the national weather news for being the coldest spot in the Lower 48 at least 30 times a year. Virginia was once a sawmill and mining town. The largest white pine forest in the country is lone since gone, but Minntac, one of the largest iron ore mines in the world, is in Mt. Iron, just few miles west of Virginia. The people who settled the area to work the logging camps and iron ore mines were ethnically Scandinavians, Italians, and Slavs, especially Slovenians and Croatians, none of whom are known for their love of spicy foods.

Steve’s mother Mary Anne used to be in a couple of bowling leagues, and he would sometimes go down to watch. Often the gals would bring finger foods for everyone to munch on. Someone once brought nacho chips and mild salsa to the bowling alley. The salsa was so mild, in fact, that Steve, still not a spicy food lover, thought it no hotter than ketchup. He can remember one of his mom’s teammates taking a bite, and then begin to jump up and down while waving both hands at her tongue, her mouth apparently emitting invisible flames, and gasping, “Water, water, WATERRRRRRRRR!” Suffice it to say that if the average Iron Ranger so much as licked one of these hot peppers he would die, or maybe only wish he had.

Steve’s father, originally from Duluth which is 60 miles south of Virginia, disliked ketchup and mustard, and used margarine for his condiment of choice. He ate salad with plain oil-and-vinegar dressing, seasoned with salt and a little black pepper.

Steve’s mother, Mary Anne, still lives in that same house in which she was born and has lived for most of her life. Any weather over 75 degrees Fahrenheit and she is miserable. It is not unheard of for overnight temperatures in Virginia to drop to 40 below zero in the winter, Fahrenheit or Celsius, take your pick. Spit can freeze before it hits the ground. We sometimes hear island folk complain how cold it is here at a breezy 82 degrees. There is no way to explain to Filipinos or others who have never in their lives felt temperatures below 70 degrees what cold weather really feels like.

This particular winter is especially cold and snowy, and we can’t say we miss it in the least.

Mary Anne sent the following poem to us:


It's winter in Minnesota
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At thirty-five below.

Oh, how I love Minnesota
When the snow's up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.

Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around
I could never leave Minnesota
I'm frozen to the ground!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Readers' comments on 'Tears in the Darkness'

Steve is always looking for photo opportunities. A couple of mornings ago he hoped to improve on the photo of the moon setting over Mariveles. Unfortunately the moon was already too high in the sky to take the picture he wanted. On his way back he noticed that the moon was in a good position to be photographed with Topside (Milelong) Barracks. He was able to get one photo that he really liked and is passing it along.


Our newsletter review of Michael and Elizabeth Norman’s Tears in the Darkness has resulted in many people writing to thank us for the effort. Some say that they will not read the book, while others have had their curiosities piqued and are anxious to give it a go. Historian J. Michael Houlahan posted our review on his listserv, receiving the following response which he then forwarded to us. With the Norman’s permission, we include it in total and verbatim.

If you run the Kwiecinskis comments on your listserv, we'd appreciate your posting this as our answer….

Michael and Beth.

We have received, and acknowledged, the emails from the Kwiecinskis. As we replied each time, we appreciate hearing from readers. Readers should sound off, as it were, and offer their opinions. Writers speak, readers speak back: Its a tradition that dates back to the first days of American publishing. Whenever readers point out what they believe to be errors of fact, we add those comments to a file we call "corrections." (We started this file as soon as we read the final galleys; as every writer of non-fiction knows, there are going to be errors in the work.) When we are given the opportunity to revise the text, we will go through our corrections file, vet each comment, and make the necessary revisions. To date, however, neither the hard-cover publisher -- Farrar, Straus and Giroux -- nor the paperback publisher, Picador, has given us that opportunity (The first Picador edition will appear March 1.). FSG ran one printing on the heels of another; and Picador has decided to move up the printing of the paperback to March 1 and use the original text for their first one. Picador asked us to hold our corrections until -- if, really -- there is a second paper-back printing. These decisions are beyond our control.

Meanwhile, again, we appreciate readers feedback. As Mike Houlahan can tell you (having pointed out to us some numbers he wanted us to recheck in the first-pass galleys), we take the feedback to heart and act on it as soon as we are able. We also happily accept the criticisms about emphasis, balance, theme, selection of characters and so on. They are quite proper and indicate an engaged reader, something we prize. So we respect those opinions. We may disagree with some of them, but we've already had our say in the book and feel it's the readers turn now to have their say in full and unfettered. Most of the criticism we've received has been offered in the spirit of generosity and good will. We make it a practice to personally thank every single correspondent. Given our volume of correspondence, however, we simply do have the time to sit down and answer each point in each email and letter, but, as we said, we are grateful to get those missives. It gives us the opportunity to thank the people most important to us as writers -- our readers.

We'd again like to thank everyone for their support and interest in our work.

Michael Norman
Elizabeth M. Norman

We are very disappointed that the paperback is coming out using the original, uncorrected text. We have never been in the position of having to pass along a manuscript that contains known errors. If we were, we would do everything in our power to say, “Stop the presses!” Furthermore, we believe that careful editing by the right person(s) would have resulted in a more accurate account; i.e., the errors should not have been published in the first place. We realize that the Normans are not subject matter experts, and as such, the errors, although their responsibility, are not entirely their fault.

The Normans acknowledged our emails graciously, and we want them to know that the remarks we sent were made in order to improve the book, and with the best of intentions. As we noted to them, we wish that we had had a chance to give input before publication. We may have had no influence on the book’s occasional use of questionable vocabulary and the equal treatment given Ben Steele and General Homma; that is the authors’ prerogative. However, we believe that the Normans would have made every effort to correct the factual errors and contradictions that we noted.

Following are excerpts from some emails we have received. Note that the first two are from former POWs of the Japanese. The first was on the same Hellship as Ben Steele (and Steve’s father), the second is a past commander of the ADBC (American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor).

I just read your comments on Tears in the Darkness. I have not, or do I intend to, read the book! I lived it, except for the death march. I was on that ship, the Canadian Inventor, and it did take us exactly 62 days from Manila to Moji, but my group had started from the Davao Penal Colony, DaPeCol, on 3 June, so our trip took 92 days! Most of it on board a ship, except for a couple of days at Cebu, and about a week at Bilibid - all of it outdoors, or in the hold of a ship. I lost over 45 lbs in those 92 days! As you will see in my book, I did NOT bathe, wash my hands or my mess kit, brush my teeth, shave or change my clothes for that entire time! Water was used only for drinking, there was none to waste on cleanliness.


This is a very good review of the above-named book. I have not read the book and do not intend to read it. Most of us do not want to recall the distasteful events of the defense of the Philippines and horrible mistreatment we received after the surrender. I did not make the Death March, however, I have spoken with many my friends who have. I probably would not be here if I had been on the march. I was on Bataan from December 24 to the 29th and then transferred by the S.S Mayon to Mindanao. Another distasteful event---I suffered through the bombing of Clark Field on December 8, 1941 and then assigned infantry duties on Mindanao. Was a POW for three years and four months at Tokyo Area POW camp #2 where I worked at several different Japanese industries as a slave laborer. Enjoyed your review.


The following two responses were the only one we received from people who have read the book. The first is from the man who gave it to us, the second from someone who is very familiar with the treatment of POWs by the Japanese.

That was a very thorough and enlightening review of the book 'The Tears..." which made me realize how much had escaped my eyes when I read the book and the many things I actually didn't know about the events written in it. It takes two analytic and well-informed minds to see the inaccuracies.


I'm familiar with at least 90% of all their "references" and the typical crap such professors produce... the more "citations", the more prestige they have amongst their peers. God spare me from having to wade through such academic sewage. The reviews presented in the NY Times, etc., all appear to have been written by the friendly suck-up class of slobbering fools who wish to believe in global warming and that the "masses" need to be instructed on what to believe.


And now some of the other responses, which run the gamut, so to speak:

What with your perspicacious eyes, you have rendered excellent service with your review of "Tears of Darkness". I am flabbergasted at the errors… I shall print out your review in order to keep it in the pages of "Tears of Darkness" (if and when someone sends me the book!)


That was a terrific book review. I enjoyed reading it. You tell it like it is and pull no punches. Most of all, you say what you like and what you don't. Now I must get the book -- it does look interesting.


BRAVO! What A great review!


As for me, I think I'll stay away from this book as I'm sure [the treatment of Homma] would make me puke!


Thanks for the review. As a history geek myself, anything new is looked at with awe. It is very disappointing when factual errors are made, especially when they are numerous. The grammar and "big words" can be overlooked by a bumpkin like me, but facts,,,,,,,,? With the so many participants fading to history, the facts are the only things that keep the memory alive. In other words, the truth is easier to dilute, then deny altogether. Don't feel bad about giving it an average review if it turns the truth. Thanks for the great work and hope that you two have a great holiday season.


Congratulations on a most thorough and scholarly review of "Tears in the Darkness ..."


I agree 100% on the necessity of historical accuracy (albeit "qualified" where required), when documenting the events of the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor. This is of particular importance when any book claiming to tell the story becomes a "Best Seller", thus potentially helping to establish the public perception of "accepted" historical events.


I have not read the book. I have great differences with the Normans myself. I find them very tony. Very self assured that they are the only ones who can write on the subject they choose. Their arrogance is appalling.


I hope they give the works to Homma. He was horrible. At one point he was living grandly very near the camps and he KNEW what was going on there. Clothing and supplies were given him (by US nurses) to help out the POWs at the camp but these were never delivered.

And, yes, the #1 war criminal in the Pacific was the Emperor himself. He even had his own personal spies in the battle zones, so he also knew everything that was going on, not to mention that a member of his own family was behind the infamous Medical Unit 731. And it was his own personal OK that executed a couple of the Doolittle flyers.


Thank you for sharing this interesting review. Your attention to the detail is truly impressive. We will definitely buy the book and look at some of the sites mentioned.


I was rather shocked to read your comments about the book and all its inaccuracies and errors, especially as you say, by two authors who are supposed to be so renown. It gave me some ideas for my own upcoming book and also supported some of the things I am trying to do and not to do with mine. Fancy big words and obscure references do not belong in a book like this in my opinion either. I have been writing for over 30 years and my style tends to be more simple and easy to read without using such words or terms that people need a dictionary or thesaurus to understand. Also, the other technical and factual mistakes are quite inexcusable, in my opinion as well, especially by such so-called "professional" writers and their editors.


Thanks for the thorough analysis. I just received this book for Christmas but will tuck your notes inside the cover for reference. It's always tough to know if I'm reading the truth. So much sloppy writing out there on the POW experience makes it tough to glean the facts from the rest. My loose grasp of the facts is inadequate and the perspectives you share are helpful.


Thank you for those excellent review notes. It's not likely that I'll buy that book, but if I do, or if I learn of someone that I know having bought the book, I'll keep your notes so that they can be used as an errata reference.


WOW… as if I have already read the book.. that makes me want to grab a copy.


The Normans spent weeks being squired and hosted by the Homma family on their island in Japan, hence the reprehensible polishing of Homma's tarnished war atrocities and history. I have mixed feelings and emotions on this. However, I agree whole heartedly with your review. I am so glad you posted this for all to read and ponder.


In an interview with a Death March survivor, I mentioned to the survivor that Homma claimed that he did not notice anything unusual when he drove by and saw the men marching on the East Road, as Homma stated on the witness stand. The survivor laughed out loud and told me, "That is impossible. We were quite a spectacle on that road."

The Hommas are a very wealthy clan. We know they have been active in trying to vindicate Homma and lobby Washington in an attempt to get a US President to either pardon Homma or overturn his guilty verdict. I can not prove anything, but I do have my suspicions.


The final two letters contain serious accusations, the penultimate being written by a civilian internee at Sto. Tomas University, and the final one being written by the son of a Death March survivor. If true, they may indicate that the book in fact was not so much a tribute to Ben Steele and the other POWs as an attempt to put Homma in the best light. This also explains why the Homma trial, which, in our opinion, merits at most a page or two in a book about the Death March, makes up more than 10% of the book.

The Norman’s make clear that General Homma’s trial was rushed and he was given limited defense. But no matter what the circumstances of the trail, General Homma was responsible for his men’s actions. During the Death March, between 5-12,000 soldiers were needlessly murdered. He was accountable for the initial treatment of the POWs at Camp O’Donnell, where as many as 300 Filipino and American prisoners were dying each day. We feel that any attempt to make Homma look good, or to ultimately exonerate him, is nauseating. He was a war criminal who got his just desserts.

For our original review of Tears in the Darkness, see