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.

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