Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We see the sights in Rochester, NY

For the second Friday in a row, we had the pleasure of spending a part of the day with a World War II veteran. While we were in Rochester, New York for the wedding of Marcia’s nephew, John Clarke, retired Social Studies teacher, picked us up at our hotel and gave us a great mini-tour of Rochester.

We first met John a little over three years ago when he joined Valor Tours the first time Steve hosted for them. John’s brother, Robert, volunteered for military service and was stationed at Clark Air Force Base when war broke out. A survivor of the Bataan Death March, he was one of 361 Americans who were killed by “friendly fire” while on board the infamous Enoura Maru. John was serving with US troops in England and learned about Robert’s death close to VJ Day. Robert was initially buried in one of the group graves in Taiwan. The remains were moved to Shanghai after the war, but his final resting place remains a mystery. John is convinced from documentation he has obtained that Robert and his compatriots were eventually buried at the “Punch Bowl” cemetery in Pearl Harbor, but he has never been successful in persuading the Washington bureaucrats to officially agree with that conclusion. Robert’s name is on the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Manila.

John took us to Lake Ontario Beach Park, which reminded us just a bit of the port of Duluth, Minnesota. Two piers lead out into the Great Lake, although these are much longer and further apart than the ones we saw last year. There is an out-of-commission railroad bridge about where the aerial lift bridge would be in Duluth. Close to a dozen small sailboats were frolicking in the harbor. Since one flipped over, John believed that they may have been taking part in a training class. It was interesting to watch the young sailor work to right the overturned boat.

Following a drive through downtown Rochester, famous for the Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, and Kodak offices, John took us to the George Eastman House, now a museum. Eastman, the inventor of roll film, started Eastman Kodak. Roll film soon led to motion picture film, so we have the likes of Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and Eastman himself for that form of entertainment, as well as inexpensive photographic equipment.

Eastman was a lifelong bachelor whose mother came to live with him in the massive house. Besides running his company, he was a major benefactor of the University of Rochester and the city. Kodak is still a major employer in the area, although it has downsized and had to reinvent itself with the proliferation of digital photography and the great drop-off in the demand for both film and printer paper.

Features of the house included a ground floor organ with the pipes behind a wall at the top of the stairs on the floor above. An organist played several waltzes while we toured. The library contains thousands of old, obviously valuable books. There are large rooms for entertaining guests, and one contains the head of an elephant. Outside are two beautiful and well-kept flower gardens.

We are grateful to John Clarke for hosting us for the afternoon and always surprised when someone thanks us, as if we were something special. We assure you that it is the other way around. We are greatly honored to spend time with the vets such as Wally McKay and John, both of whom served in WW II.

The following is self-explanatory response to last week’s newsletter from a loyal reader.

Steve & Marcia –

I'm so pleased to receive THIS letter, in which you speak of Co. "A", of the 194th Tank Battalion! My husband, Edward L. Burke, was Company Commander of that unit overseas-- (in fact, he served as Company Commander for ten months as a Second Lieutenant!) Col. Miller had always been the Co. Commander of the 34th Tank Co. from the inception of the National Guard in Brainerd, until they arrived in FT. Lewis, WA in February of 1941, when the whole thing was reorganized to become part of the 194th Tank Battalion, with Miller being promoted to Battalion Commander as a Lt. Col. and my husband being appointed Company Commander. Ed (my husband) was finally promoted to 1st Lt. and then to Captain after the Jap attack on Dec. 7th, '41. On the day Herb Strobel was killed, my husband was shot and left for dead in that same action. The Japs, coming by on mop-up operations 24 hours later, found my husband -- with four more bullet wounds --temporarily paralyzed but still alive, and so took him prisoner. He survived several different POW camps, including Cabanatuan and several in Japan, and was liberated (with rank of Major) on September 8, 1945. He lived 25 years after liberation, dying on November 9, 1970.

The McKays were near neighbors of the Burke family, but I was a bit younger and barely remember the McKay boys (I think one was a classmate of mine--Brainerd High School, class of 1934), and of course I met Hortense after the war, and treasured her friendship and her experiences. I also have a copy of her original book “Angels of Bataan.”

I really treasure your correspondence!

I've just come home from a stint in the hospital – had a valve replaced, plus one bypass...but I'm doing nicely, thank you!...........Perky Burke

Having graduated from high school in ’34, Perky must be about 94 years of age. This email is presented unedited, and is living proof that you are never to old to get into the computer/email generation. We can’t tell you how glad we were to hear from Perky after a seemingly long gap between letters.

Also as a follow-up to last week’s letter, it has come to our attention that the cleanup of fallen trees on Corregidor will take up to 30 days!

Our friend Leslie Murray writes:

You may want to see the Basyang photos and message that we have put up on the FAME website ... http://www.filipino-americanmemorials.org/

We encourage you to visit the site.

And speaking of visiting, we are now in mid-Michigan for the next two weeks. Email us if you want to try to get together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

194th Tank Battalion; Typhoon Basyang hits Corregidor

We have been enjoying our trip to America. The first few days were spent in the Minneapolis area, centered around two wedding-related events. One morning, Marcia’s Uncle John, who flew in the Army Air Corps during WWII and in the Air Force in Korea, took us for a short outing to South St. Paul’s Fleming Field. We saw restored military planes and vehicles and the small but very interesting museum, all run by the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.

Now we are nearing the end of our three-week stay with Steve’s mom in Virginia, Minnesota, where we once again celebrated the 4th of July at Ely Lake outside of Eveleth. Unlike last year, when the weather was unseasonably cold, we’ve mostly been running around in shorts every day. The hot weather has spawned lots of thunderstorms, some severe with hail and tornados, although only one was near to us so far.

Wallace McKay has been on our April tour twice in recent years. Wally’s sister, Hortense, was in the last group of nurses evacuated from Corregidor barely three days before the surrender on May 6, 1942. Hortense was never sure why she was among those picked to leave, and was the only one of those nurses to remain and serve in the Pacific war after the submarine arrived in Australia. She always had a sense of regret for having to desert her patients. Wally gave us a copy of her book, “Jungle Angel: Bataan Remembered,” which we recommend for a unique perspective.

On Thursday we drove the three hours from Steve’s mother’s house to spend a day with Wally, his wife Margaret, their daughter Patty, and her daughter. We had met Patty in April when she accompanied her dad on the Valor Tour. Wally and his wife spend the warmer months in their lake home, once owned by his sister Hortense, about a dozen miles north of Brainerd in Central Minnesota. Their warm hospitality made us feel like the best blend of family and guests.

On Friday morning, which would have been Hortense’s 100th birthday, we were honored to be joined for about an hour by Stewart Mills, co-owner of Mills Fleet Farm. In 2007 Stew had hired Steve to guide him and his daughter Marissa for a four-day trip to the WWII sites in Luzon. Stew’s interest stems from the fact that Brainerd was the home of the A Company of the 194th Tank Battalion, which served in Bataan in the early days of the war. He knew a number of the 65 Brainerd-area men who entered the war. Barely half of them came back, victims of the brutality of the Japanese in the Bataan Death March and the prisoner-of-war camps that we have discussed so often.

As Stew was leaving, we were joined by six men who had their own interests in the 194th. Two were nephews of Sgt. Herbert Strobel, the first man of the company to die in the war. The McKay family is also related to the Strobels. Others knew men who had come home to tell their tales of the war, and relatives of those who died. Two of the six men currently serve in today’s 194th. Seven of the veterans are still alive, with two living locally and another in suburban St. Paul. Later we went to the Armory in Brainerd to see their Bataan Memorial which is dedicated to Colonel Ernest Miller, company commander. Every spring the city of Brainerd hosts a run to remember the Bataan Death March. In fact, out front of the armory, which is currently home to the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor (1-194 CAB), is a replica of the old-fashioned Death March markers. Several of the men expressed an interest in fashioning another marker to replicate the new style used along the Death March route in the Philippines.

We had heard that Typhoon Basyang hit Central Luzon late last week, and were told that power could be out in areas of Metro Manila for up to four days. The latest death toll in the Philippines is up to 68. In addition, we received several aftermath pictures from Corregidor and we are passing a few along to you. As you can see, there was great damage all over the island, from the MacArthur Café area at Bottomside to the area around Middleside Barracks where we live, and at Topside. We believe one picture shows one of the few trees that survived WWII, near the old Spanish flagpole. We have not been informed of anyone on the island being injured, and we hope that no such news means good news. But it looks like it will require considerable effort to restore the island to its normal safe tourist haven.

On Wednesday we will be heading to New York for a wedding, followed by two weeks in central Michigan before heading back to Minnesota for one final wedding. For our Michigan friends: we should be there from about July 27 to August 11 should you want to try to get together with us. Best to contact us via email.