Thursday, June 3, 2010

We attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the American cemetery

On Saturday Steve guided for Sun Cruises and was assigned two groups, around a dozen young Filipinos and a slightly larger group of travelers from Poland. Steve was told that the tour coordinator thought she was assigning Steve a group of Americans, but when she found out they were Polish, she said, “That’s okay. I think Steve is Polish.” When Steve introduced himself on the tranvia the group at first thought maybe they had a Polish guide. Since Steve speaks virtually no Polish and the young Filipinos of course even less, Steve presented his tour in English and one of the Polish ladies translated for those in the group who needed it.

Having a last name of Kwiecinski (properly pronounced something like “kveh-CHEEN-skee” – we soften it to “Quiz-IN-skee”) only means that Steve’s paternal ancestors came from Poland, not that he speaks Polish. We have one of the easier Polish names to look at and try to pronounce. One of the tourists spells his last name Przetocki. He said that it is pronounced “sheh-TOAD-skee.” The group said they know many Kwiecinskis in Poland and that the name comes from a spring flower. Anyway, they were a nice group, and they invited us to come see them when (if) we travel to Poland.

As soon as the tour was over, we boarded the Sun Cruiser II with the tour guests, and headed to Manila. We spent some time in Robinson’s Place having dinner and dropping off some slacks for alterations. We have both gotten skinnier living here, in part because we have far less access to junk foods – especially Steve – and in part because it’s often too darn hot to have much of an appetite. Once again we stayed at Hostel 1632, which is managed by Agnes Jurado, former manager of the Corregidor Inn.

The main purpose of this trip to Manila was to attend the Memorial Day commemoration held at the American Cemetery. Each year groups volunteer to place small American and Philippine flags in front of each of the 17,000 graves. At least three times as many people attended as at last year’s Veteran’s Day ceremony in November, with around 20 wreaths being presented by various organizations. Some no doubt came for a chance to meet the new American Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas, and that certainly influenced us as well. Thomas, who replaced the first female ambassador to the Philippines in April, is the first African-American ambassador here. We were able to welcome him and invite him to come to visit Corregidor at his earliest convenience, and we certainly hope he can work it into his schedule before we leave in late June to spend two months in the States.

The following comments came from our readers concerning the May 24, 1942 march on Dewey Boulevard:

During the "march" through the streets of Manila, a Filipino band was ordered by the Japanese to play something showing how defeated the Americans were. The prisoners were pretty down until the band struck up "the Stars and Stripes Forever". So the story goes the Japanese "escorts" couldn't understand why the Americans straightened up. – Larry Gundrum

My mother remembered the mini-march and would tell us how she and her cousins went down to watch and hope against hope that they would see a family member or someone else they knew. Sometimes they would even do the "V" for victory signal when the Japanese weren't looking. – Bob Hansen

As we toiled along Dewey Boulevard, objects began to appear, arching thru the air into the column of Americans. The man directly ahead of me managed to catch one missile and it proved to be several long, brown cigarettes tied with string. Large kitchen matches filled the crevices between the cigarettes. I witnessed round rice cakes, food wrapped in banana leaves, small bananas, an incredible array of food tossed to the hungry prisoners! But now the Jap guards began to shout at the Filipinos, shaking their rifles, threatening these people who were attempting to help the Americans. First one, then many of the Filipinos were struck with rifle butts, jabbed at with bayonets! Soon the torrent of food lessened, and only an occasional object was tossed into the column of weary men. Now the people lined along the curbs watched hopelessly for a chance to throw some article of food, when the guards were few, and hopefully looking the other way.

The march continued along Dewey Boulevard, the guards now beating the Sunday crowd back instead of encouraging them to move closer. Realizing the Filipino people were attempting to help the Americans, the Japs now turned on the native citizens, and punished them for throwing food to the prisoners. The trek through Manila continued, and our tired bodies began to rebel. Men began to lag behind and they were grabbed by other, more able men, and helped along. Fortunately, this march did not resemble the horrors experienced by the participants of the Bataan Death March, about which we would learn later. – the late Al McGrew, as submitted by Paul Whitman

Paul Whitman added the following:

Can we NOT call it a mini-death march? There's too much confusion already – maybe call it "the march of the surrendered" or anything. I'm not much for "March of Shame" though I recognize that the weight of use is probably against me there.

When we called it “Mini-Death March” and “March of Shame,” we were repeating what other participants called it, either in their books or in personal interviews with us. We have pointed out in the past that there is NO COMPARISON between this and the real thing which occurred in April, and on numerous occasions have stated categorically that the survivors of Corregidor were not Bataan Death March participants.

Steve’s father Walter made this observation:

We had to march, too, but it wasn’t like a death march. We marched down Dewey Boulevard to go to this prison [Bilibid].

There was only one “Bataan Death March” and numerous “Walks of Shame.” We kind of like “The March Down Dewey Boulevard.”

Dewey Boulevard was originally named for Admiral George Dewey, victor of the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Since then, it has been renamed Roxas Boulevard in honor of the first president of the new Republic of the Philippines, Manuel Roxas. In 1942 the boulevard ran several miles along the waterfront from the south in a north-northeasterly direction and was mostly lined with single-family residences. Since then, much of the bay to the west has since been filled in, and today it is an area of commercial buildings and high-rise apartments.

We were dry through May, but beginning early on June 1 it began to rain and has been cloudy and raining off and on ever since. This may be an early onset of rainy season. We’ll know in the next few days.

Incidentally, Sunday, May 30 was the 40th anniversary of Steve’s graduation from St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville, Minnesota, which traditionally held its graduation on Memorial Day.

1 comment:

  1. It reminded me again of my short visit to the island last April 2010. Im looking forward to staying overnight on my next visit. I found out that my gradnmother's brother also joined the Death March, unfortunately he did not survive. Libingan ng mga Bayani and the American cemetery in Fort Bonifacio are one of the must-see places while visiting Manila.