Monday, September 27, 2010

Corregidor misidentified as ammunition dump

The two following pieces of information, or rather misinformation, hit the media in the last day.

Quoted from an ABS-CBN News report about the meeting between President Aquino of the Philippines, and US President Obama: “Both leaders talked about a US assistance in cleaning up an ammunition dump in Corregidor.”

Writer Aurea Calica, in a front page article in the Sept. 27 issue of The Philippine Star says: “President Aquino … managed to seek Washington’s help in cleaning up a military dump off Corregidor island [sic] in Bataan [sic].” (Corregidor Island is administratively a part of Cavite, not Bataan.)

Corregidor Island is one of the top tourist spots in the Philippines, expecting more than 70,000 guests this year. It is run by the Corregidor Foundation, Inc., (CFI) and serviced daily by Sun Cruises, Inc. (SCI). Rest assured that if there were live ammunition dumps on Corregidor, we would know about it. Tourists need not fear explosions from ordnance that has long since been cleared from here. CFI and SCI would not and will not put their guests at risk by exposing them to old bombs.

We need to make this perfectly clear: The island under discussion is NOT Corregidor! The ammunition dump is located on Caballo Island, the former American base called Fort Hughes, which is approximately 2 kilometers south of Corregidor. The Philippine Navy has kept a small contingent on the island for many years in an effort to keep anyone from coming onto the island. The request for ammunition clearing is for Caballo Island, which contains many 14-inch shells which, if accidentally detonated, could be catastrophic to that small island.

The report from ABS-CBN (which is watched world-wide by Filipinos) is clearly incorrect by portraying Corregidor as the island of concern, while Calica’s use of the phrase “off Corregidor island” is easily misunderstood. The word “off” in this context means “near,” rather than “on,” but it is clearly a poor word choice, as evidenced by the massive confusion and distress among those with historical and/or tourism connections to Corregidor Island. We can only hope that other media covering this issue have correctly identified Caballo Island and that ABS-CBN and the Philippine Star will promptly issue corrections.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We identify the pigeon, war relic

The pigeon we talked about last newsletter has apparently “flown the coop.” Of course, we don’t really have a coop, or he might not have flown away. Here is what Don Dencker had to say:

That beautiful Homing Pigeon is used for pigeon racing. The one in the picture is called a "Blue Bar." It brings back memories to me about when I was 15 to 18 years old and my hobby was raising and racing Homing Pigeons. I belonged to the Hennepin Racing Pigeon Club in Minneapolis. I had two birds that were 500 mile a day birds. They had flown 500 miles in one day back to my loft from being released at about 6:30 AM. When I went into the Army at age 18 I gave my two best birds to the Army Signal Corps and gave away or sold the rest, about 24 birds. My dad was a building contractor and he built me a pigeon coop. That building is now a tool shed on 24th Ave. So. in Minneapolis.

On the other hand, no one was able to correctly identify the relic we also talked about. It appeared to read “Masterplan,” but in fact the word is “Masterphone,” and of course, “719” was the extension. See the attached photo sent by one of our readers showing one of those old phones, from the days of switchboards and before rotary dials, and compare it to our photo. This is indeed an historically important find: a part of the phone used at the Fort Mills Command Post, undoubtedly by 59th CAC Commander Col. Paul Bunker himself.

Just for fun we have attached another photo. We won’t tell you its size, but as you can see, it is a semicircular red object. This should be much easier for you to identify. Can you tell what it is? Hint: It is seen at several locations on Corregidor, and is common in certain parts of the world.

People often ask us what we do to pass the time, especially on long, rainy days, here on Corregidor. We are both readers, and Marcia in particular can entertain herself all day long with a good book. When we moved here a couple of years ago, we were extremely limited as to the number of books that we could bring with us, so we mostly brought books about Corregidor and the war in the Pacific. When we go to Manila, we have a couple of favorite stores that sell used books. Once in a while one of the big chains will also have great deals, and occasionally there will even be a temporary kiosk set up in a mall that will have what we are looking for. Specifically, when we are looking for pure entertainment, we tend to read mysteries and courtroom thrillers. Marcia likes historical fiction, and we both enjoy Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and the Harry Potter books.

We find it amusing that even bestselling authors’ books will occasionally have quirky sentences. In some cases, what the author means to say may be obvious, but the choice of words or word order makes the apparent meaning somewhat hilarious. In others, there is confusion, which you will see, requiring a second look for understanding. Note that each of the quotes we present to you came from paperback, meaning that the ambiguities could have been corrected before the reprinting. We certainly could not be the first ones to spot, for instance, the ones from the Harry Potter series that we cite below. We hope you get a kick out of a few of our favorites. These are all books and authors we’ve enjoyed, so rest assured that we are complimenting them with this evidence of our thorough absorption while reading their books.

Steve Martini, The List, p. 163: “She wore the same gray wool business suit she had taken with her on her trip to New York and matching heels.” Is “matching heels” in New York, and if so, shouldn’t it be capitalized?

Robin Cook, Chromosome 6, p.369: “He was a heavyset, enormously friendly individual with bright eyes and flashing teeth who shook hands enthusiastically with everyone.” Who has eyes and teeth capable of shaking hands?

Patricia Cornwell, Body of Evidence, p. 85: “Out front, we got a cab piloted by a bearded Sikh in a maroon turban whose name was Munjar, according to the ID clamped to his visor.” Who names a turban, and why would it need an ID? Does anyone else fondly remember the Dick Van Dyke line (as multiple characters) from the movie Mary Poppins about “a wooden leg named Smith?”

Barbara Parker, Blood Relations, p. 271: “A mockingbird was hopping around near the old man’s bony feet. He wore frayed corduroy slippers.” Usually mockingbirds prefer to go barefoot.

James W. Huston, Balance of Power, p. 94: “Captain Clay Bonham stood behind the small man driving the boat with his hands tied behind him.” Quite a trick to drive a boat with your hands tied behind your back.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p. 65: “Then it was time for a last mug of hot chocolate and bed.” Is a bed a special additive for hot chocolate in the wizarding world?

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 337: “Harry got up on Sunday morning and dressed so inattentively that it was a while before he realized he was trying to pull his hat onto his foot instead of his sock.” Why would anyone, even a great wizard such as Harry, want to pull his hat onto his sock?

Steve and Marcia on the Rock -- comment or read previous newsletters at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We host pigeon, research war relic

We have been back on Corregidor almost a month already, and have been having really good weather. Last year at this time we were running our diesel generator several times a week because there was not enough sun to keep our solar-powered batteries happy. Since our return, we have not had to supplement with the generator even once. It’s one of those things you kind of hate to mention. We’re not supertitious, but like most people, we’re “a little ‘stitious’.” You know how it is when you mention something that has been better than you might expect, say “knock on wood,” and the next thing you know, the very thing you talked about not happening starts happening? Anyway, we hope that by mentioning the weather, which has been mostly sunny days followed by cloudy, often rainy nights, we don’t start the next round of typhoons. It’s really nice to avoid listening to the very loud generator, and to save diesel fuel at the same time.

The other day Marcia spotted a pigeon standing near our dirty kitchen, below our clothesline. She decided to try taking its picture before it flew off, so she went inside and grabbed her camera. She started by photographing from a distance, and kept moving closer and closer. The bird stayed there, watching her but not flying or walking away. At that point we decided that it might be injured, maybe having flown into a windowpane. She was able to get within a foot or so before the bird started to walk away from her, not appearing to be injured, although we were not sure yet if it could fly. When Marcia returned to her usual seat on the bench in our dirty kitchen, the pigeon walked right below Steve, who was reading in his hammock. He took a few more photos from that vantage point.

After a while, Marcia walked behind it and took a few more pictures. The bird walked ahead of her and went around the corner of the house. Marcia reassumed her reading spot, and a few minutes later, here came the pigeon from the other side, having walked around the whole house. It was obviously not afraid of us. Steve hung his foot down and the bird pecked gently at his toes. The next thing we knew, it had flown up and stood on the table between us. Eventually it flew up to the top of the bench where Marcia was reading. Finally, after a couple of hours, it flew to the ground, walked off through the yard, and disappeared. We thought we had seen the last of it.

But then we heard a sudden flapping of wings, and it perched right up next to Marcia’s head. It seemed very content to just stand there. We went to Ron’s for a little beer and supper, and when we returned, it had settled in on our auxiliary table next to our outdoor fire-pit stove. The next morning, it was still perched there on the table. Steve shooed it off the table, which was, as you might expect, covered in bird poop. The bird, which the Filipinos call a “racing pigeon,” has a left-leg band which reads, “PHIL PFP 2010 20169.” If you are able to identify the bird more accurately from the pictures we’ve provided we’d be glad to know more about it. We are not sure if or when it will return to our house, or how one might find its owner if it continues to stay close to us.

And speaking of identifying something for us, when we returned to Corregidor, Ron gave us something that had been uncovered while the guys were clearing the Fort Mills Command Post (aka C1), which we talked about a couple of newsletters ago. It can best be described as a black circular piece of hard rubber or soft plastic, slightly smaller than and half the thickness of a hockey puck. On the top side is a smaller circular transparent cover, with a thin metal frame and a metal band through the center, having a small screw to hold the cover in place. In the upper half of the circle is a word which clearly begins with “Master,” followed by “p” and some partially obscured letters. Our best guess was “Masterplan,” but we were wrong. The number 719 is handwritten below it, in the lower half of the covered area. Not knowing what it was, and hoping that someone else could identify it, we sent a photo to a few Corregidorphiles. Most of them were stumped. However, after the email with its photo got passed around a bit more, someone was able to identify the piece. It turns out to be an important Corregidor artifact. We are supplying the picture of the top, as well as a picture of the bottom, which shows that it was hollow and had two holes which could be used for screws. Can you figure out what it is? Hint: you probably have to be near 50 years old to have actually used the object of which this was a part.

You may remember that late last year Steve gave a tour to Congressman Bob Filner of California. Earlier this month Steve provided a tour for Cong. Jeff Miller of Florida. Although they are on opposite sides of the aisle, they are both on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the congressman (who was very informal and insisted on being called Jeff) said that Bob is a good friend of his. The visit was kept very low key, and he later told his U. S. Embassy escort that he really enjoyed his time with us. Jeff is also the ranking Republican on the Anti-Terrorism committee, and could chair it should the House of Representatives go Republican in November.

We hope that we can continue to serve the Embassy when they have dignitaries and visitors here in the Philippines. It is always a pleasure for us to “show off” the sights of our Corregidor home, and we enjoy the occasional chance to spend a day with folks from the States.

P.S. As we were in the process of writing this, the pigeon returned.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Steve visits Fort Drum (the "Concrete battleship"

There are a few things that I (Steve) have hoped to do for many years. Probably my biggest dream is to fly over Corregidor (the once formidable Fort Mills) to see it from the air and to take photographs. I have also hoped to explore Caballo Island (Fort Hughes), El Fraile Island (Fort Drum), and Carabao Island (Fort Frank).

Last November Marcia and I went to Carabao with Karl and John, but when we got there, only Karl was brave (or crazy) enough to climb beneath the massive wall during the heavy seas. Caballo Island is closest to Corregidor but has been restricted because it is an arsenal with tons of bombs from WWII awaiting proper disposal, so it is almost always off limits to visitors. The closest we ever got was when an exception was made for the family of Wes Shoop in April, 2007 so that they could try to locate the site of his uncle’s remains. Our banca landed at the Caballo dock long enough to let the Shoops and their guides disembark, but only their group was allowed on the island. We have ridden around Fort Drum numerous times but have never set foot on the massive structure, nicknamed the “Concrete Battleship” because essentially that is exactly what it is, the only one of its kind in the world. I recommend searching the internet for specific information if you wish to know more about this fascinating fortification after reading this newsletter.

One reason that we have not set foot on Fort Drum has been that whenever we have had the opportunity, usually when guests here have wanted to go onto the island, the waves have been too rough. It is safe only when it is quite calm and it is also best to go during high tide. The extra five feet can make quite a difference in disembarking and returning to the banca. Banceros have to be careful that their boats are not smashed against the unforgiving concrete walls. We have heard stories of explorers getting onto the structure only to be stuck there for several hours, and even overnight, before they could be retrieved. So, adventurers must keep an eye out for a morning when calm wind and high tide coincide. When we have sailed around Fort Drum with our April guests we have had trips with seas almost as smooth as glass, while in 2008 it was an up-and-down experience that left all of us wet and the men in the front absolutely soaked. Fortunately no one got seasick. The point is, predicting what day or month that sea and wind will be calm is not a simple matter.

However, the first several days of September were exceptionally calm during the mornings, with minimal winds until well after noon each day. I remember my father saying that the rains in rainy season were so predictable on Corregidor that you could set your watch by them. We have not experienced that, although we have not spent any time here in July yet, and maybe that is when the phenomenon can occur. In any case, having observed nearly a week of calm mornings, I decided that now may be the time to get on board Fort Drum.

On Monday, after consulting with island manager and friend Ronilo, we made arrangements for Randy, one of the island residents with his own banca, to take me to Fort Drum on Tuesday at 7:00 A.M. as long as the weather looked good. I really did not want to get there only to find that the waves were too strong to complete my mission, but I also wanted it dry to protect my camera equipment. In addition, wet concrete can be very slippery, and I didn’t want to risk personal injury.

Marcia decided that she was going to stay home, planning to use the dry weather to get laundry done. Having seen Fort Drum from the outside many times, and being very familiar with the bunkers of Corregidor, she was not as interested in making the trip.
Based upon what I already knew of Fort Drum, plus having spent years observing the concrete bunkers on Corregidor, I had a pretty good idea in my mind of what I would see. I expected lots of small below-deck rooms with very little light, so a camera with a good flash would be essential. Having been warned about holes in the structure big enough to fall through, good flashlights were also in order. On Monday night things still looked positive for a trip the next morning.

Following is my account of the excursion to Fort Drum.

Tuesday morning. It’s cloudy but absolutely calm. I am a little concerned about rain, but Marcia says that it’s looked like this the past few mornings, so it will probably clear up in a little while. So I grab my camera, flashlights, lots of water, and “just-in-case” plastic bags, kiss Marcia goodbye, and head down to Bottomside. It’s 10 minutes ‘til; Randy is already waiting for me. He says that there is an 85% chance that we will get onto Fort Drum. Ed, not to be confused with Edmun, brothers who look quite similar, will be crewman. Ronilo decided that our helper Roy should also go along. Roy arrives, and at exactly 7:00 we pull out of the harbor. Randy laughs as I show him my watch, commenting to him that we are not on “Filipino time” today.

It takes a few minutes to leave the north harbor, mostly to slowly back out while Ed pulls in the anchor. A larger banca is parked to one side and we have to pass over one of the mooring ropes. I cannot figure out how we can pass over the rope without getting it all tangled in Randy’s propeller, but somehow we slide right over it. Randy guides the banca out of the harbor, and then Ed takes over steering while Randy handles the throttle. As we start to accelerate I notice that we are heading toward the east end of the island. I ask Randy about this and he says it is the shorter way. Every other time we have gone to Fort Drum we have always passed around the west end (head of the island), so I always assumed that it was shorter, but maybe I was wrong. Or maybe it’s “half of one, six dozen of the other.” In either case, this route takes us around Corregidor’s tail and close to Caballo Island.

As we begin to head east I can see that it is raining in that direction, probably over Manila. There is not much to see along the north side of the tail other than steep, tree-covered cliffs and rocky beaches. Now I can see a few very dark clouds ahead of us, but as we clear Corregidor and start to turn south it appears unlikely that they will rain on us. That’s good. Also, the sea is still calm, so I am very hopeful that we will actually be able to get onto Fort Drum.

Out on the water Roy and Ed point to disturbed areas that they say are schools of fish. To me it just looks like little ripples but then I did not grow up on the water nor has my next meal depended upon catching fish as is the case with so many Filipinos. There is one barge being towed that will pass behind us, and a few fishing bancas, but pretty much the water is as quiet as I’ve ever seen it out here.

Because of the overcast it is not the best day for distance viewing. Everything looks dimly purple. I can see Fort Drum straight ahead now, with the mountains of Cavite province right beyond. Things are still looking real good as the large structure now looms above us. I can see no evidence of waves hitting the side. Randy drives straight in, something that I figured he would have to do, since the outriggers on his medium-sized banca would keep us from disembarking from either side. Just now we hit the concrete hard enough to make a slight clunky sound but obviously not hard enough to do damage to his banca. Roy, I, and finally Ed walk straight off the front of the banca and onto Fort Drum, easy as pie! It’s amazing what good conditions can do.

The first thing we see is the large opening onto which we set foot. It goes up at a fairly gentle incline, flattens out for a few feet, and then goes back down the other side. It appears to be the only normal way onto the island, although I suppose it would be possible (but much more difficult) to scale the walls, scuba dive underneath from the outside, or land on top by parachute or helicopter. This way is just fine with me.

At the flat area we take a second to get out the flashlights and camera. The Ed leads the way through a large opening to the right, which is westward, towards the front of the “ship.” Immediately we are in a large passageway with small rooms off to either side, exactly what I had imagined, and very like many of the bunkers in the more remote parts of Corregidor. For the most part the floor would probably be in fairly good shape, but all of the concrete chunks make it a bit hard to walk without risking turning an ankle.

Flashlights are an absolute must, and I am having Roy shine two of them around my feet while Ed highlights areas that I might want to see and photograph. After 100 feet or so we turn right again, walk through more rubble and see more rooms off to our right, then up a few broken steps. We are now in a room with what appear to be two extremely rusted turrets. I believe these are the remains of two of the six-inch guns that were mounted on the sides of the ship. Then it is up to the top deck, which we have to get to via stones that have been piled up to replace a stairway. Being tall helps, as does Ed, who takes my camera from around my neck long enough for me to get up, which I have to do by getting on my knees on some very rough concrete. Oh, well, a scrape or two is small payment for what I am about to see.

We are now on the deck of the “Concrete Battleship.” I know from old pictures that there used to be a large tower on top, much like that on a real ship. It has been replaced by a much smaller one, possibly just something to act as a lighthouse. I start by walking toward the back of the ship, being careful to avoid falling through openings or tripping on the uneven surface. Under ideal conditions such as today it is really very safe; I don’t want to give the wrong impression. On the other hand, if it were windy, or if you were paying more attention to taking pictures than watching your step, I’m sure that it could be very dangerous indeed. As I walk around the back of the ship and continue clockwise around the outside, I find a place where I can look down at the rusted remains of what must have been the outer protection behind which another two six-inch guns were located. I remember them from trips around the fort in the past.

Continuing forward, I now see the turret from one of the twin-barrel 14-inch guns. Sadly, one of the barrels is completely gone while the other has been sawed off to maybe two or three feet, the evidence of scrapping that has been going on here. Fortunately, as I head toward the bow of the ship I can see that the two barrels in the other turret have been spared. One barrel is pointed straight ahead, the other is pointed up at a 45 degree angle.

As I climb to the top of the turret I can see that there are deep burn marks on the barrels, evidence of phosphorus from bombs that Americans dropped on the ship while it was being occupied by the Japanese. The view from the top of the turret is great, with Carabao Island not far off to the southwest, Corregidor and Caballo to the north, and the mountains of Bataan behind them. The sky is still very gloomy so I am not sure that I am going to be happy with the pictures I am taking up here. It appears that the ones I’m taking inside are actually coming out better, thanks to the strong flash.

After spending a few minutes exploring the upper deck, we head once again into the bowels of the ship. Now we are in the south side of the belly, which, as I expected, is much like the north side. I would not be surprised to find that most of the ship was designed in mirror image. Certainly this six-inch gun room is identical to the first one we saw. Six inch guns are the same size as some of the ones still seen on Corregidor, notably the disappearing guns of Batteries Morrison and Ramsey. But there is nothing on Corregidor to quite compare with the massive 14-inch guns we saw up top. The closest would be Batteries Hearns and Smith, although the difference between 12 and 14-inch bore is significant, both in firepower and range. These 14-inchers, and Fort Drum itself, were clearly designed to take on enemy battleships entering Manila Bay, which the Japanese avoided doing.

Through more rooms and more rubble, we work our way back to the center of the ship. Suddenly we are back to the ramp leading us down to Randy’s banca. Randy is safely parked well away from the island. There are the slightest swells now, nothing to be concerned about, but I see that Randy is going to have us board at the very eastern tip of the concrete island instead of at the opening in the wall. It’s a short, safe walk along a ledge, then I jump down a foot or so onto the front of Randy’s banca, and walk quickly straight into the boat to make sure I maintain my balance. Roy and Ed follow, and we are on our way back.

Because we will pass so close to Caballo on our return, I ask Randy to find the rusted old Sherman Tank that is on the southern shore near the east end. I have seen it many times before but have never been able to get a good picture, so I am hoping today is the day. When Randy points it out I am surprised because it is completely in water this time, I guess because it is maximal high tide. I have no problem getting good pictures of it, and am surprised to see that there is still so much of it remaining after 65 years. True, salt water and scrappers have taken their toll; there is ample rust and the gun barrel has been cut short. Like the phosphorus burns on the gun barrels, this tank is another reminder of the Americans returning to the Philippines in 1945.

We return to Corregidor’s north harbor just a few minutes after 9:00, barely more than a two-hour roundtrip. The weather cooperated, although I am pretty sure that the pictures I took on the deck of Fort Drum will not be the best. Now that I know my way around the ship I am sure that I can accompany other people there should the opportunity arise. All in all, a very rewarding morning.

Steve (with Marcia editing) on the Rock

P.S. As I sit writing this article, loud rumbles of thunder can be heard to the north over Bataan, although it is still calm enough that Marcia and I sit outside with the fan oscillating between us, something that we haven’t done in a few months. – Steve