Friday, February 12, 2010

The Harris Tour

On Tuesday Betsy Harris, her nephew Scott, and his wife Melba came to Corregidor for the first of three days with us. Steve was assigned as their Corregidor tour guide, so he was waiting to meet them on his tour bus. When everyone appeared to be aboard, Steve said, “Hi. I bet you didn’t expect to have an American tour guide today.” Many of the guests, including some from Wales and Poland, nodded. Then Steve said, “I’m a bit of a psychic. Is there anyone by the name of ‘Harris’ aboard?” A couple in the front row raised their hands. Since Steve did not yet know Scott’s name, he asked the man for his name. Then he turned to the wife and asked, “And you are Betsy?” The lady nodded yes. Steve asked them, “Where’s Melba?” They both looked confused and said, “We don’t know any Melba.” All of a sudden Steve was real confused. Something was terribly wrong. How could this be the Harris’s without Melba? It was then that Steve realized that his “joke” had backfired. These people were indeed named Harris, but not the ones he was expecting!

It turns out that Betsy, Scott, and Melba decided to use the CR (Filipino for comfort room, or what we Americans call a restroom) just as the other guests were getting off the ferry, so they were still on the ferry while all of this was going on. After getting a couple of rows of people to ‘skootch’ over to make room, they got on the bus and we were on our way to tour the Rock.

Betsy’s father was one of the Yangtze River Boat captains. His boat was the smallest of them, the Guam. (The movie, “The Sand Pebbles” features one of these boats, the San Pablo. They have an interesting story, but we will let those who are curious do their own investigating.) Her father sailed to the Philippines on the Luzon and was one of the POWs captured on Corregidor. He died at Cabanatuan on September 1, 1942. Since Betsy was born in 1939, she cannot remember her father. She says that he can be seen in a picture inside Malinta Tunnel which includes MacArthur and other men. Her cousin (her father’s nephew) Bill Harris was also on the Rock. He escaped with Ed Whitcomb, one-time governor of Indiana and the author of “Escape from Corregidor.” The two had a disagreed whether it was best to travel by day or by night to avoid the Japanese, and went their separate ways. Ed was able to evade the Japanese, but Bill was captured and spent the rest of the war in prison camps. He continued his military career after being liberated, and died a few years later while leading a charge up a hill in Korea.

On Wednesday the five of us took a banca to Bataan and drove along the first section of the Death March route. After visiting such places as Mount Samat and the Balanga Elementary School, site of the General King surrender, we spent the night at Subic Bay. While we were checking into the Subic International Hotel, Steve had a little fun with Tagalog. They asked us if we wanted “two big beds.” Steve said quietly, “Water beds.” Melba, a Filipina who thus speaks Tagalog, heard Steve and said to the receptionist, “Steve likes waterbeds.” Steve gave Melba a quizzical look, the receptionist repeated, “We have a room with two big beds,” and Steve mumbled, “Waterbeds.” The receptionist said, “No, we don’t have waterbeds, we have two big beds.” Steve looked at Melba like, “Don’t you get this?” After thinking about it for a few seconds, Melba realized the joke. Tubig is the Tagalog word for water.

The main objective on our final day together was the site where Betsy’s father had died, the prison camp near Cabanatuan City. There were actually three camps, called simply “One, Two and Three”. Camp Two was closed after one day, since it had no water supply. Camp Three was open for several months before its prisoners were relocated, joining those at Camp One. Betsy could not remember if her father died at Camp One, site of the Cabanatuan Monument, identified by the concrete footings of the water tank, or at Three, of which no identifying traces remain. In any case, the name of Lt Cmdr Andrew E Harris is clearly visible on the wall of the dead.

Following our return to Manila, Betsy heads off to spend a couple of days seeing the Banaue Rice Terraces and historical sights in and near Baguio. Scott and Melba are going to spend the time relaxing in the island paradise of Boracay.

On another topic, this came to us from Chris, whose uncle is buried in the American Cemetery in Manila, and whose father fought in many of the Pacific battles:

Be sure to tell your visitors about Honor Flight which flies WWII vets free to visit the WWII monument in DC. We took Dad in November and it was wonderful and so moving to see all these Vets together and treated royally. Each Vet is provided a guardian for the day. has all the info. It is a wonderful program.

What a tremendous program, indeed! Marcia’s Uncle John retired from the U. S. Air Force after a career as a pilot. His service included the WW II years. John told us about Honor Flight a year or two ago, shortly after the organization enabled many veterans to attend the WWII Monument inauguration ceremonies. We hope that many of the surviving vets will be able to make the pilgrimage. If you know of a veteran who has never been to the memorial, this program can make it happen.

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