Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Valor Tours Ghost Soldiers of Bataan Tour 2010

Our nine-day, eight-night tour for Valor Tours began on the day after Easter. The flight arrived at 3:20 AM, so we decided to let Tommy from Rajah Tours, the Filipino company that handles the local logistics, meet our guests at the airport. By the time they got through customs, retrieved their baggage, and made the bus trip to the Manila Hotel, it was about 6:00. Two guests had arrived the afternoon before, so we’d spent some time with Jack and Sue on Sunday. The remaining 10 guests checked into their rooms after Steve’s brief “meet and greet.” We spent the day touring Intramuros – old Manila, literally “within the walls” – and the U.S. Embassy, visited Tesoro’s, a Filipino handicrafts store, and enjoyed dinner at a fine Spanish restaurant back inside the old city walls.

On Tuesday we took the Sun Cruises ferry to Corregidor. We did a typical day tour with Steve guiding. We visited the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor monument, which contains the name of Hortense McKay, sister of Wally and aunt of Patty. In the late afternoon we toured the original hospital, watched the sun set, and then most of the group walked through the hospital within Malinta Tunnel. Wednesday we took a two-hour banca ride around the fortified islands of Manila Bay: Carabao (Fort Frank), El Fraile (Fort Drum, the concrete battleship), Caballo (Fort Hughes), and Corregidor (Fort Mills). We were on-board El Corr(egidor) II, a 48-passenger banca, providing safe and dry travel.

Thursday morning we boarded El Corr II for the 20-minute ride to Camaya point, where Tommy met us with the big bus. We drove from Mariveles to Balanga, stopping at particular kilometer markers of the Bataan Death March. We arrived during a brief ceremony at the park at km0, the traditional start of the DM in Mariveles. Karen, the daughter of a DM survivor, spoke briefly to the assembled veterans and townspeople. Wally also made a few remarks about his sister’s experiences working with Filipino nurses. At km7, aka Little Baguio, Karen was overcome with emotions, knowing that her father, with the 228 Signal Corps, had been at that spot around the time of the surrender. (Steve’s father was at Little Baguio when war began four months prior.) After visiting the site of General King’s surrender of Bataan at Balanga Elementary School, and then lunch, we proceeded to Montemar Beach Resort along the secondary route of the DM, which ran from Bagac on the west coast to Pilar on the east, where the two routes merged. We stopped at three markers, those dedicated to Wally’s sister and the commander and men of the 194th Tank Battalion, Company A, from the Brainerd, Minnesota, area.

Friday we attended the Araw ng Kagitingan, or Day of Valor, at Mount Samat National Shrine. Our group was warmly greeted by members of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, dressed in period uniforms, who set up chairs for us near the stage. President Arroyo was out of the country, so the Philippine Vice President was the featured speaker. Also speaking were the Japanese Ambassador and the U.S. Charge d’Affairs Leslie Bassett, who was standing in for Kristie Kenney’s successor, the newly confirmed Ambassador Thomas. We then drove to Subic Bay, visiting the Hellships memorial. Sue, whose father died on the Brazil Maru two days before reaching Japan, having survived the sinkings of the Oryoku and Enoura Marus, presented a wreath in honor of her father and all who perished. We later attended a demonstration at the Jungle Environmental Survival Training (JEST) center.

On Saturday we drove to Angeles City, the home of Clark Field. On the way we stopped at the San Fernando train station where many of the DM men were put into rail cars for the torturous four-hour trip to Capas, and San Guillermo Church, which was inundated by lahar flows after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991. Lunch was the traditional filet mignon at the Angeles VFW. In the afternoon we visited the Clark Museum at Fort Stotsenberg. The buffet dinner at the Holiday Inn was spectacular, with standing rib roast, roast pork with a cherry sauce, a hundred other selections, and deserts galore. It was very hard not to stuff ourselves. Okay, we actually did stuff ourselves, but we all know that calories don’t count on tour.

Sunday we repeated the buffet experience, this time for breakfast. We added a new stop: the Bamban Museum. It is very simple, consisting mostly of photographs of local war history, most notably the American retaking of the area from the Japanese in 1945. We stopped at the Philippine Bataan Death March memorial, then the Capas train station where the surviving POWs resumed walking to Camp O’Donnell. We stopped at the markers for Malcolm Amos (km 110) and Dick Francies (km 112) and many of us walked the final kilometer to Camp O’Donnell, where Karen’s father was interned for about six weeks. After a flat tire change, thanks to momentous effort by driver Emil and photographer OG, on we went to our hotel in Cabanatuan City.

Monday morning we visited the memorial at the site of Cabanatuan POW Camp, where the fathers of Sue, Karen, and Steve spent time during the war. We then drove to Manila where we visited the University of Santo Tomas, location of a civilian internment camp. Jean, one of our guests and the oldest at 88, was an army nurse who was here at the end of the war. She couldn’t recognize the city area around Santo Tomas, which had been basically leveled during the liberation of Manila. Now it is one building after the other, the exception being the grassy plaza on the UST campus and the main building, which Jean could clearly remember. Maita of the museum staff gave us a half-hour talk about the internment camp. Next, we walked down an alley to see the entrance to the Manila City Jail, another POW camp known as Bilibid.

Tuesday, our final day together, we visited the American Cemetery in Manila. Since Sue’s father was lost at sea, his name is on the Wall of the Missing. It is the largest American cemetery outside of the United States. Until our aging veterans began dying in large numbers, there were more WW II vets buried here than anywhere else in the world. The tour ended at noon, with Sue and her husband going back to Hawaii. Jean and her friend Darlene went on to Thailand, while the others left together early in the evening to fly back to San Francisco.

This is our fifth tour to host in four years for Valor Tours, and once again we really enjoyed it. Every indication from our guests was that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves as well. Many questions were answered for the POWs’ descendants in the group, and all appreciated the opportunity to be in the places where the veterans had been. We invite you to consider joining us – if not next year, begin thinking about 2012, when we will be hosting the 70th Anniversary tour commemorating the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor.


  1. Steve and Marcia,
    Nice update. More pictures on the Day of Valor activities here:



    Victor Verano

  2. Hello Steve and Marcia.
    Glad to have met you at Mt. Samat.
    Hope to visit you on Corregidor next time.
    Buhay Ng Kasaysayan, (Living History Group- Los Angeles).
    Secretary, Phil. Scouts Heritage Society - Los Angeles Chapter.