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.

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