Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bats, flies, and parachutes

The last couple of weeks we’ve been hearing hard-to-describe noises at night, squeaky, screechy, chattering sounds, coming from high up in the trees. The sounds start right after sunset and sometime continue through the night. They are loud enough to occasionally disrupt sleep. Our best guess was tree frogs or some kind of migrant night-birds. We don’t remember this from last year, but then all of the sounds were new to us. A few nights ago, Marcia suggested that we try shining one of our big flashlights into the tree – we think it's called a "taluto" – beside our bodega. To our surprise, we saw a number of fruit bats in its branches, apparently feeding on the green blossoms. In the sky, we could also see more of the gigantic bats circling to land. Their bodies are 8-10 inches long, with wingspans of 24-36 inches. We had no idea fruit bats make so much noise, being much more familiar with the almost inaudible and much smaller insect-eating bats.

Most of the year, flies are not a big deal on Corregidor. They were much more annoying all summer long when we lived in Michigan. It’s not uncommon to have to shoo a fly away from your food when eating outside, of course, especially when fish is on the menu. As we move toward May, mango season, the flies also come into season. There are many mango trees on the island, both native and an Indian variety. A high number of both types border the Middleside Parade Ground across the road from our house.

For you city folks who have never seen flies in their natural habitat, let us describe their behavior for you. First, they are extremely quick and alert. If goaltenders had the reactions of flies, no one would ever score a goal in hockey or soccer. It’s almost as if they can read your mind, anticipating your every move. Second, they seem to have one-track minds. Once one zooms in on a landing area, it tends to return to the same spot. You might be able to find flies at your city zoo. If there is no exhibit, we’re sure you’ll find some in their natural environment around the monkey house.

Marcia seems to really enjoy sending flies to critter heaven. We spend a lot of our down-time reading outdoors in our dirty kitchen area, and it’s common for one fly to take it upon itself to “bug” one or the other of us. Marcia especially seems to take delight in sneaking up on a fly that has been pestering Steve while he is lounging in his hammock. Fortunately for him she is very accurate, so almost every swat means a dead fly! Once in a while he might be sitting at his computer in front of Marcia, and WHACK!!!, he feels a sting on his back before she has a chance to warn him. He does like to see proof in the form of carcasses to be sure it’s worth the sting of the swatter.

Flyswatters are available here, but the ones we have found are made from a brittle plastic which cracks after a short time. They’re also designed with a smaller “business area” than the ones we are accustomed to using, are much less flexible, and have a fly shaped hole just large enough for a lucky fly to slip through, so they require a very different technique. While we were in the US last summer, one of our shopping goals was to find flyswatters that would improve our hunting percentages. We found some – made in China – and have been quite pleased with them.

Last Friday we were visited by a daughter of Pfc. Richard J. Adams of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team. He was among the first to drop on Landing Zone B, Corregidor, on Feb 16, 1945. Richard is still active and well, and has begun to make plans to return to Corregidor on Feb 16, 2011.

The daughter says that her childhood bedtime stories were her father’s tales of the 503rd. His license plate is “503P1R” for 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. He had to substitute the “1” for an “I” because otherwise it would have been a normal 3-digit, 3-letter configuration for a Michigan license plate, and thus not allowed as a valid choice for a vanity plate.

Naturally, she was especially interested in the areas of Corregidor where her father had spent time. We started out with a half-hour lateral tour of Malinta Tunnel, even though Richard had not been inside the tunnel himself. It was occupied at that time by Japanese soldiers, who either blew themselves up, or were killed by bombs dropped down the ventilation shafts or gasoline poured into the shafts and ignited, since they refused to surrender. Richard was on Malinta Hill when the major in-tunnel explosion occurred, this one a Japanese mass-suicide. We then rode out to Kindley Field to where her father’s unit fought to root out the Japanese along the north beach area. Returning to Malinta Hill, we hiked to the summit, along the same path that her father must have used numerous times during the days when he was part of the troops occupying the hill.

After lunch at our house, we went to Topside to see the landing zones of the 503rd. Landing Zone A, where Tony Lopez was intended to land, was the Parade Ground area. If you remember, Tony was too anxious and landed short of the designated area. Richard was destined for Landing Zone B, the golf course across the road. He was in the initial wave which jumped from 550 feet, still too high for the winds that they encountered. Being the first man out of the plane on his pass, and facing higher-than-expected headwinds, Richard fell short of the gold course, smacking into the hillside in Crockett Ravine about 50 feet below the road. He sustained a lower-leg wound that tore his flesh to the bone. Nevertheless, he climbed up the hill, and assisted in carrying others more injured than himself to the temporary hospital set up in a second floor area of the Milelong Barracks on Topside.

While carrying one of the injured, Richard lost his Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary, which was very precious to him. The odds of finding the medal again on the battlefield seemed beyond remote. Later during the evening, when he and his friends were trying to settle down for the night, the flies were so bad (due to the numerous dead bodies) that they decided to go back to the drop area for some of the abandoned parachutes to use as covers. While walking back with arms full, he dropped his load of chutes. When he regathered them, there was his medal! Indeed, miraculous!

Richard, 87, and his wife reside in suburban Detroit. We are hoping to visit with them this summer while we are in Michigan.

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