Thursday, May 27, 2010

We remember more anniversaries

Our jeep recently had trouble with its charging system. Unable to diagnose the precise problem, island personnel deferred to a trained mechanic who couldn’t get here for a few days. We made do, walking a little more than normal. Actually, the jeep was otherwise running well, and we could use it as long as we didn’t need the battery for starting or headlights. Thus we had to park it at the top of a hill near our house, release the emergency brake, depress the clutch, let it roll to gain sufficient speed, release the clutch in third gear to start the engine, and away we would go. We just had to remember not to shut it off unless facing downhill – if we forgot, there are usually enough guys around for a laugh and then a push. Just another benefit of island living – starting and driving a jeep “Filipino style.” It kind of reminded Steve of a time during college when his car lost reverse. Until he could get it fixed, he had to drive the car like that for a couple of weeks, making sure never to park it in a place where he needed reverse.

Fr. John (Nariai Akito) visited Corregidor again this week. You might remember that he is the retired Japanese priest who says his masses in Latin. He came to our house one afternoon and spent a couple of hours visiting with us. We found out that Fr. John is 75 years old, making him ten at the end of the war. He was not in Japan at the time of the intensive bombing of Japan, since his father worked in a textile factory on an island near Seoul, Korea, where he, his two brothers, and mother lived. While he was here we took a walk to Middleside Barracks, where some Japanese writing is still visible. He told us that the writing says something like, “No entry. Violators will be severely punished,” and also includes the name of the regiment, “Yoshido Butai.”

Because May 6 was the date that Corregidor surrendered, there are a number of significant dates that followed closely. On May 8 the prisoners were rounded up and made to stay on a small beach area, known as the “92nd Garage area,” leaving about 12,000 men with one water spigot and virtually no toilet facilities other than the ocean. According to Col. Paul Bunker, on May 22 it finally rained, and on the next day almost all of them were loaded onto several boats to be taken to Manila. On Sunday, May 24, they were dropped off on the south end of Manila and made to walk ashore and then march up Dewey Blvd. (now Roxas) to T M Kalaw Street, Taft Avenue and eventually to Old Bilibid, the Manila city jail. Col. Paul Bunker: “As we marched along we could see Filipino curiosity seekers being kept back by Jap sentries. Many grinned at us, but whether in derision or otherwise we could not tell. Downtown, more people lined the streets, but were very quiet”. Bunker’s War, p. 168.

Many Manila residents witnessed the “March of Shame,” including Peter Parsons, who sent us this recent email:

I have been mulling over my experience of giving water to Corregidor guys who were lying down on the grass in front of our house.

This was at the intersection of the Blvd and St. Scholastica Street.

Three guys were lying down on their backs, feet facing the bay. A sentry was hovering around them but not doing any damage to anyone. My family was gathered at the fence of our yard just a few feet away. My mom was looking for people she knew. Included in our family were my older brother, also a baby brother, a Chinese Amah and my dachshund and two Japanese sentries that lived at our place--as we were under house arrest.

Because of "my own" sentry and because I could speak a lot of Japanese by then, I was allowed to bring out a large bottle of water, at least two gallons.

I remember one guy being a lot taller than the other two. I wonder how many guys would be nearly a foot taller than their mates on Corregidor.

It haunts me that this might very well have been your dad lying there.
[Steve’s father Walter was 6’ 6” and was in this group of POWs. We have no way to know if he was the man Peter remembers]

Whoever it was, the tall one got up on his elbows and said, "Thanks, buddy."

I had just turned five years old. I have treasured that scene and those words all my life.

Best wishes,

Another one of our readers, retired Manila attorney James Litton, has vague memories of seeing the soldiers as they plodded down T M Kalaw.

So May 24 was the 68th anniversary of the mini-death march in Manila, which ended at Bilibid Prison. From there the Filipinos were sent to Camp O’Donnell. Some Americans were sent to Japan, others to Mindanao in the southern Philippines, but most eventually were sent to Cabanatuan before being shipped to Japan and other East Asian POW slave labor camps. Steve’s father Walter spent 10 months in Bilibid – the last five in the hospital ward – before being sent to Cabanatuan, and then to Japan after a brief layover again in Bilibid.

And speaking of anniversaries, we have one reader who was a child in England during WW II and remembers the German rocket attacks on London, another native Brit who flew bombers over Germany, and two native Germans who can remember bombing by the Americans and British. Having been reminded by more than one reader that the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day occurred on May 8, we wish to pass along our belated remembrance of that important date in world history. VE Day was not necessarily good news for the U.S. troops who had been fighting in the European theatre, because the healthy ones were quickly reassigned to the seemingly inevitable land invasion of Japan, with American casualty estimates of one-half to two million depending upon the determination of the Japanese people in defending their homeland.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We go exploring, return to monkey business

Since the second of November we have had less than two inches of rain, with virtually all of that coming in two consecutive nights in late April. This Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies, something that we have seldom seen this year. May has been very hot, easily hotter than April, with temperatures reaching 97F (36C) every day. At six each morning the temperature has been right around 87F (30.5C). We were hoping that the morning clouds would mean a slightly cooler day, but no such luck. Same as every other day, high of 97. Even better would have been some rain.

We decided to take advantage of the morning clouds by trying to find two locations near our house that we had not yet explored. The first is a large NCO barracks that, according to the map, is located just below a pair of buildings that are identified as Corregidor High School. Just west of the high school were the American Legion Hall barracks and the Radio Training building. These are the buildings, originally built as barracks, that we believe were assigned to the 91st Philippine Scouts when American troop levels increased in 1941, requiring all of the Middleside Barracks for the 60th CAC, as detailed in our Nov. 5, 2009 newsletter. Looking at the map, we decided to use the high school as our starting point. We had to work our way further west than we had anticipated, due to a steep drop-off. Marcia spotted a drainage ditch, and we were able to use it to safely descend the 50 feet to the lower level. Before we got there we could already see the ruins through the vegetation to our right. Unlike the school buildings, where only ground-level flooring and corner-post footings remain, this building clearly has the skeleton of a large, two story building.

It didn’t take us long to realize that the building is unique among the many we’ve seen here. There is absolutely no evidence of stairways to the second floor, nor is there a trace of what would have been the combined first level ceiling/second level floor. The missing roof, however, is the norm here, the one exception being the two Middleside Barracks buildings, which have concrete roofs. We spent a great deal of time looking around but saw nothing except fallen wall materials and corner posts. All we can conclude is that the missing stairways and the ceiling/floor/roof were wood or similar material which burned during the war or rotted over time. Also it should be noted that, despite all of the huge buildings here, there is no evidence of a single window having contained a pane of glass. The only window-type glass we have ever found here was from the 60-inch Sperry searchlights, and it is much thicker than window glass. We’ve read that capiz shell windows were used, hung on rails to slide open or closed easily. Some of the hardware is still evident in the hospital and other building ruins.

There are large bomb craters on two sides of the building, and the building itself was heavily damaged in the war. Notice in the first photo that the entire northwest corner of the building has collapsed. The building had three chimneys built into interior walls, with openings for stove vent-pipes on front and back at the ground floor level and at the second level. Rummaging around, we found many San Miguel beer bottles, many of them with necks broken off as if the soldiers were in a hurry to drink the beer. Some bottles were unbroken, but all were misshapen, obviously victims of very hot fire.

From the west end of the barracks we again worked our way downhill to the road from Middleside to Battery James wasn’t far. We were thinking we might find a staircase that we had seen many times before while walking that road, but didn’t spot it. (Later as we walked back up to our house we saw and climbed the staircase, learning that it indeed led to that building as we suspected, but near its eastern end, so we had missed the stairway by a couple hundred feet.)

Our second goal was to find the double mine control station above Battery James. From the map we could see that if we started at James and worked our way up a ridge, staying near its peak, we should find the object of our search. Unlike the first part of our trek, where we had to make our own way through jungle growth, someone had recently cut a fairly good trail. We had to crawl a bit in one area where the trail tunneled through a thick stand of bamboo, but other than that, it led us right to the control station. Being a double station, this may very well be the widest and longest of the command posts on the island. Such control structures were built mostly underground, with ground-level observation openings just below their rooflines. Because of the surrounding bamboo, the front is extremely difficult to photograph, and photos cannot show this building’s extensive dimensions.

The entire trek took us just two hours, but by the time we got home around 11 A.M., we were both sweat-soaked. Of course, now that we would enjoy cooler showers we are getting warm ones due to sun on the water lines.

When we got home we were in for a surprise. We normally spend most of our time behind our house in our dirty kitchen. Islanders think of Corregidor as a “crime free” island, so although we put our computer inside before our walk, we left a few things on our table, including a paperback and a plastic glass mostwhich it had been lying. When Steve went to use it he realized that the roller wheel was sticking. We saw a small gouge in the rubber wheel, which was restricting its motion. Putting two and two together, we realized that while we were hiking a monkey must have jumped up on our table, knocked over the water glass – was he looking for a drink? – and then stolen the mouse. We are fortunate that monkeys are vegetarians, because after trying one bite he apparently set it down. Despite the nip and after a little minor surgery ly full of water. We found that the glass had been knocked over, heavily soaking the book that Steve was close to finishing. We could not imagine a gust of wind knocking over the glass, but what else could have happened? When Steve brought his computer back outside, he realized that his wireless computer mouse was missing. He told Marcia, and then we searched the house, thinking that maybe Steve had set it down somewhere and then forgotten where. Age, you know. Finally, Marcia spotted the mouse on the walkway out back, several yards from the table on by Marcia, the mouse is fully recuperated. The book, on the other hand …

By the way, Thursday was Steve’s 58th birthday. He sends thanks to all who sent him birthday greetings. Steve looks forward to his birthdays. He figures it beats the alternative.

P.S. Memorial Day will be observed at the American Cemetery in Manila on Sunday, May 30. The short program starts at 8:00 A.M. but guests are asked to be seated by 7:30. Harry Thomas, the new American Ambassador to the Philippines, is expected to attend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Are we responsible for stolen toilet seats?

As you know, we recently lamented the fact that toilet seats are missing from so many comfort rooms (restrooms) in the Philippines. We asked ourselves, “Why would someone possibly want to take a toilet seat?” We then asked you, our readers, for suggestions of what you might do with a toilet seat, and published a list of creative ideas. Since publishing that list, we have received a few more suggestions. Christopher R. proposed attaching strings to the seat and adding a handle, thus making it a tennis racket, or using one as an old-fashioned stock for criminals. Stephen C. went a step further, saying that his sister has two complete toilets – “thrones” – in her yard that she uses for flower planters.

Looking through old family photos for another reason entirely, we ran across one that led us to think of another use. On the left you can see Steve and his sister Della playing in the bathtub. On the right is a toilet with no seat. Front and center is their sister Paula as a toddler with a toilet seat around her waist. Della is laughing and pointing at Paula, who appears to be using the seat as a hula-hoop.

Now for the bad news. We had intended that our story about the disappearing toilet seats here in the Philippines would be for entertainment purposes only. As we feared, we are now hearing reports of missing toilet seats in certain parts of the United States and other countries all over the world, and the suspected source of the disappearances has been traced to – you got it – this newsletter. So if you have been pilfering toilet seats to use for picture frames, hillbilly horseshoes, or your kids’ hula-hoops, for the sake of your fellow humans, please stop. And whatever you do, please don’t copy Stephen C’s sister and take whole toilets!

Last year while we were in the United States and had access to hi-speed internet we decided to create Facebook accounts. For those of you who are unaware, Facebook is a place for people to connect and share their thoughts. It is a very good way to find ‘lost’ friends and relatives, based upon a number of searches which include the schools you attended. Also, Facebook suggests contacts that you and someone else in your circle of friends have in common. We have had the pleasure of reacquainting ourselves with a number of friends and a few cousins as a result. We do not log onto Facebook often because it requires faster internet than we normally have available.

It seems that when anyone creates something good, someone else has to come along and try to spoil it. One of our sons informs us that Facebook, being one of the most popular websites on the planet, has become a major target of hackers, spammers, and virus spreaders. A number of our readers have received recent emails from Facebook asking them to join, supposedly invited by one of us. It has never been our intention to send out such spam-type notices to our readers. We advise those of you regular Facebookers to be cautious, and to those of you who feel that we are the cause of unintended Facebook spam being sent to your email accounts, we are as much at a loss as to why you received them as you are. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. We have been seriously contemplating whether or not to stay on Facebook. However, just today Steve received an email from a granddaughter of Capt. Samuel McF. McReynolds, Jr., who was the commanding officer of Battery Hearn at the time of the Japanese invasion in 1942. Her mother (his daughter) had been born on Corregidor during a prior assignment. She found us through Facebook.

The 68th Anniversary ceremony on May 6 was well attended, thanks to the many guests of Sun Cruises who chose to attend. After the presentation of wreaths and opening remarks by CFI Executive Director Artemio Matibag, Steve gave the principal talk, speaking about the significance of the date and his father’s role in it. At the same time, the plane that we mentioned in the previous newsletter dove over the dome several times. Its shadow even passed over the hole in the dome. We are including a picture that Steve took when the circle of sunlight through the dome was completely covering the altar, something which occurs for less than 30 seconds only twice a year. Although it was intended to occur at noon on May 6 to coincide with the surrender, it actually occurred just before noon on April 29 this year.

Mango season is now in full swing. The upside is that, if we are lucky, we may get some free, delicious fruit. The monkeys here are apt to climb up into the trees, grab a mango, take a bite, decide it’s too sour, throw it to the ground, and repeat. Often we see a mango tree surrounded by mangoes with a single bite out of each one. The downside of mango season is that it brings out more flies. Steve touched a mango on one of the trees the other day, and was immediately under attack by red ants, which are all over the trees in search of the sweet juice. How the Filipinos can pick the fruit before the monkeys, and how they and the monkeys can stand the ants, is beyond us.

Last year we wrote about a tree in the yard which bursts into bloom a few days after a soaking rain. The very fragrant flowers are white, about an inch in diameter and ¾ inch deep, and have five or six petals. The fragrance is light during the day, becoming very intense just after dark, perfuming the house and yard all through the night for about a week. We are still curious about its identity, and wondering if it might be a variety of night blooming jasmine. Its medium-green leaves are relatively soft and not glossy, one to two inches long, with a very finely serrated edge. Take a gander at the picture and let us know if you agree that it is a form of jasmine.

P.S. On the story about toilets seats disappearing because all over the world because of our newsletter – just kidding!!!

P.P.S. We recently heard that you can use a toilet to measure time. “How long is a minute? It depends which side of the bathroom (CR) door you are on!”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6, 1942: The fall of Corregidor

I first came to the Philippines with my sister Paula in 2002 to attend the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Corregidor and the ultimate “Fall of the Philippines.” Traveling with Valor Tours of San Francisco, we were very fortunate to have five Corregidor survivors in the group, as well as two men who had survived the Bataan Death March. I’ve included a couple of pictures from that commemoration of eight years ago.

My father Walter arrived in the Philippines in late April of 1941, having successfully gained entry into the US Army after initial denial due to a perforated eardrum and flat feet. His first May 6 here was spent in paradise-like conditions, assuming Paradise is sunny and a bit on the warm side. But I’m sure that he gladly traded the freezing cold of Northern Minnesota, along with the shortage of job opportunities, for warmth, a steady paycheck, and “three squares” a day. His barracks was only a couple of hundred yards from our house here. His good friend Ray Makepeace of Minnesota told me that on hot nights the two of them sometimes slept on the walkway bridging the downhill slope between the road and the barracks.

Everything was wonderful for the next six months. Apparently his age (27), height (6’6”), and brains impressed his commanding officer, Major William Massello, because he promoted Walter from private to private first class, then corporal (see picture taken with unknown private on Corregidor), and then sergeant in just a few months. Certainly rumors of war with the Japanese must have had an affect on the psyches of the men here, but for the most part a service assignment on Corregidor was considered one of the best that an Army guy could get.

That all changed, of course. Not long after Walter arrived, the Army began sending all military dependants home, so they were safely away when the first bombs fell, unlike the family members of American civilians working in the Philippines, who were for the most part to spend three years in interment camps. I’m not sure just how many wives and children we’re talking about, but there were many buildings for married-officers’ housing on Corregidor, most still in evidence today.

On December 1, 1941, Massello and his men were sent to Bataan, where they initially set up searchlights and tents at Little Baguio. We have visited the area often, it being the relocation site for Hospital Number 1. Walter remembered being there and seeing his first Japanese planes. Even knowing that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor, they were told not to fire until fired upon!

For the next four months Massello’s men were on the Bataan peninsula, up until the night of April 8, just before General King’s surrender of Bataan itself. Massello did his best to round up as many men as possible to return them by boat to “The Rock.” Once back on Corregidor, Massello sought permission to get Battery Way up and running, and by the time that the Japanese were hitting the beaches on the morning of May 6, the 12-inch mortar assigned to Walter was the only big gun on Corregidor that was still in action.

Thus his second May 6 bore no resemblance to the paradise of the previous year. For the first several hours Walter, under the command of Major Massello, was giving the Japanese hell, hitting at least 14 landing barges and killing hundreds of Japanese assault troops, while he and his men were under very heavy fire. Massello had already been injured, but stayed around on a stretcher despite a severe leg wound, barking out orders and urging the men on. Around dawn they were told to stop firing at the beach on Tailside, since their terrible 700-pound shells were possibly killing some of their own men. About the same time the breech refused to open, having become so hot that it had expanded inside the barrel.

In a way, Walter had it easier than most of the men on Corregidor that May 6. He was one of the “lucky ones” who could keep busy while the enemy was pounding the island at the rate of one shell every five seconds. He had no time to think about being frightened. It was the other men, the ones hunkered down in tunnels or foxholes, who had it the roughest, wondering which shell might be the one to kill them, or if, God forbid, they surrendered, what the Japanese had in store for them. Since more than one in four of these POWs would not live to return home, such fears were well-founded.

Later that May 6, Walter saw his first Japanese soldiers, so small that they reminded him of school children. But these were little men with big guns, holding his life in their hands. Walter and his fellow soldiers saw their lives transformed instantly into over three years of starvation, sickness, humiliation, beatings, torture, and slave labor. The following two May 6ths, Walter was in Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. May 6, 1945, found him forced to work in coal mines in Japan. Little could he imagine that in another three months, the Enola Gay would drop the first of two atomic bombs that shortened the war and paradoxically saved millions of lives, mostly Japanese. And by the following May 6 he would be back home in Minnesota, his weight returned to normal, and by all outward appearances no worse for the experience.

So today we once again will gather at noon to remember May 6 at the World War II Memorial on Topside. I don’t expect that we will have Corregidor survivors attending today’s or future ceremonies, although if we are lucky maybe we’ll be graced with a descendant or two each year. There will be a short ceremony, with Marcia as emcee and me as a guest speaker.

Ironically, as I am writing this a small prop plane is buzzing the island, diving near us time and again. This has become a common occurrence, and to be honest it kind of sounds like a dive bomber without the bombs and machine guns. To say it is disturbing the peace would be an understatement. But it sure beats the alternative of 68 years ago.

Steve (writing) and Marcia (editing) on the Rock

P.S. Valor Tours has announced that it will be offering a “Liberation of the Philippines” tour similar to the one last October. We will again host the tour, which will include visits to Manila, Corregidor, Bataan, Subic Bay, Clark Field, Camps O’Donnell and Cabanatuan. Also included is a flight to the island of Leyte to attend the 66th anniversary ceremonies commemorating MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. One of the guests is expected to be a writer for the Washington Times, who will be researching his grandfather’s exploits, which included escaping from Cabanatuan, then being recaptured, tortured, and finally liberated from Bilibid Prison in Manila. Visit and click on “TOUR DETAILS” for exact dates and costs.