Sunday, December 18, 2011

Steve and Marcia wish you a Maligayang Pasko

The 2011 Corregidor Basketball League playoffs got underway in earnest this Tuesday. In the first semifinal game, Battery Way eked out a 91-89 victory over Battery Geary in the 2nd/3rd bracket. It was neck and neck all the way through the game. Big man Chris Atadora led Geary with 49 points, but this was not enough, as the diminutive captain of Way, Roy Baludbod, scored an even more amazing 52 points! The combined teams’ points are 20 more than the next highest scoring game so far. Add it up, and Atadora and Baludbod accounted for 101 – over 56% – of the 180-point total score. If we had kept track of assists, Baludbod would have looked even more impressive, as he dished off plenty of passes to teammates for layups.

In the second game, fourth seeded Battery Hearn surprised regular season champion Battery Grubbs 67-64. Hearn played the game with only six players while Grubbs was able to stay fresher by substituting among 10 players. Hearn got off to a 6-0 lead and held through the first half. Weariness started to show early in the third quarter, and Hearn fell behind by nine points, and it looked to be all but over. Incredibly, they managed to whittle away and in the end pulled off the upset. Including the 4th/5th qualifier game last week which Hearn won 58-56, the first three playoff games were settled by differences of two, two, and three points. Talk about exciting basketball!

The second pair of games on Wednesday did not come close to Tuesday’s matches for excitement. Needing a win to stay alive, Hearn rushed out to an 18-3 lead and coasted to a 72-60 win that was never as close as the final score would seem to indicate. In the other contest, Geary drubbed Way 101-71 in another must-win game. Atadora was the high scorer, getting 44 for Geary. The only highlight for Way was Baludbod, who finished with 42. Atadora is one of the biggest and possibly the most athletic man in the tournament, and Way had no answer. On the other hand, Baludbod was, at five feet, three and a half inches (1.61 meters), the shortest but certainly the most exciting player on the court once again. The two men combined for half of the scoring in this game.

In addition to Atadora, Battery Geary has another great player, captain Jerry Constantino, the 2008 MVP. Constantino did not play for much of the first game between Geary and Way due to nagging injuries, which possibly figured in Geary’s loss. He is very much like Baludbod, small and fast, and a great strategist, scorer, and assist man. Teamed with big-man Atadora, we think they are the team to beat should both players remain healthy and available for the rest of the tournament. Second favorite is regular season champ Grubbs, with no single standout player, a more balanced team able to substitute at will and remain fresher than any of the other teams.

A quick rain during Thursday afternoon left enough water on the uncovered basketball court to force a postponement of the third and deciding games for all four teams. Since Christmas is near and many players – as well as faithful scorekeeper Resty – will be off-island for time with their families, it was decided to postpone the remainder of the tournament. Play will resume after Christmas.

A rare tropical storm (Sendong/Washi) moved through Mindanao this weekend. We say rare because such storm systems typically swing north before reaching the southern Philippines. Although the winds apparently never got high enough to be classified a typhoon, it dumped a typical month’s worth of rain in 12 hours. We are very sad to see news reports that 652 are reported dead and around 800 missing, mostly due to flooding, and mostly in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in the large southern island of Mindanao. Many of them were caught unaware while sleeping, due to suddenly rising floodwaters during the night. Storms such as this occur on average only once every 12 years in this part of the country.

The further north you are in the Philippines, the more likely you are to be in the path of a Pacific Cyclone. Batanes, a small island group situated halfway between Northern Luzon and Taiwan, seems to be in the path of almost every typhoon that hits the Philippines. Pictures of Batanes show treeless hills and stone buildings, making it appear more like Scotland than the rain-forested islands one sees elsewhere in the Philippines.

A quick geography lesson: Luzon is the main island of the northern Philippines. Luzon is the most populated of the islands, with Manila near its center. It comprises about 35% of the total land area of the country. Mindanao is the main island in the south, and comprises almost 32% of the land area. The remaining 7,000+ islands, mostly in the central Philippines (Visaysas Region) make up less than one third of the land mass. Our home state, Minnesota, is 10% larger than Luzon and Mindanao combined, but has about one-twentieth of the population.

By the way, some of you have asked about how we are doing. Corregidor is near Manila and hundreds of miles north of the storm, so we got some clouds and maybe a little rain, but without access to news we would not have know anything happened down south.

Christmas is now less than a week away, and as usual we plan to spend it here on The Rock with our friends. The annual all-island Christmas party was held last Monday evening, and we were glad that friends Bill and Midge were here to join the festivities. Good food and entertainment, an enjoyable evening! Having spent most of our lives in Minnesota and Michigan, it is still a little hard to think of Christmastime when the average high temperature is 85 and the average low 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

We have included a photo that was taken in front of Middleside Barracks where Steve’s father Walter resided before the war. It is only a few hundred meters from our house. The photo will be on the back cover of our book about Walter, Honor, Courage, Faith: A Corregidor Story, which we anticipate will be published and in Philippine bookstores early next year. We’ll keep you posted!

We wish all of our family and friends a truly Maligayang Pasko! Merry Christmas!

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day

Currently we are caught up in a “wind convergence” weather pattern that had made it impossible to complete the basketball tournament before the island Christmas party scheduled for December 12. We were able to hold games on ten successive days to finish the regular season last week. Since then, however, that until yesterday it had rained enough each day that play was impossible on the uncovered outdoor court.

Battery Grubbs was the regular season champion at 6-2. Having already clinched the number one seed, they lost their final game to Battery Way in what was a must-win for Way. Way finished tied for second with Battery Geary at 4-4, and the two will face each other in one of the semifinals. Batteries Crockett and Hearn, each finishing at 3-5, played last night for the privilege of meeting Grubbs in the other semifinal matchup. Hearn won an exciting 58-56 game, so Crockett’s season is over.

We are much more likely to see certain creatures while it is wet from the rains. Good examples are hermit crabs and frogs. Marcia was clearing leaves from the gutter – an eight-foot section of bamboo perfect for the purpose – and was surprised to discover a frog hiding out in it. As you can see from its feet, it would have no problem climbing up to the roof of our dirty kitchen, but it is not something we expected to find there.

Last week a number of U.S. Marines, who were on R&R from the USS Essex, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship (in essence a small aircraft carrier), spent the night on Corregidor. We hiked with them on several of the trails around the island and to the top of Malinta Hill. It was our honor and privilege to spend time with some of our service members. The oldest is 41, the youngest barely out of high school. These men, two of whom are helicopter pilots, put their lives on the line routinely for our continued freedom.

Today, December 8 already here in the Philippines, and the 7th in the U.S., marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We hope that your local newspapers and TV shows make mention of the fact. Exactly 70 years ago today, Steve’s father Walter was operating a searchlight just a few miles west of here, on the Bataan peninsula. Over the next day or two, he witnessed some of the Japanese bombing of American installations in Cavite across Manila Bay. Life was never the same for him and the tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers who would be fighting against the Japanese in the next few months. Most, like Walter, became prisoners of the Japanese.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Clearing trails and taking hikes

If you like hot, humid weather, then you’d love Corregidor about now. It has been sunny most days, with the very occasional time when it will cloud up, then clear again. Watching basketball has been pleasant except that on a couple of windless evenings, there have been tiny black bugs – maybe a type of beetle – that don’t bite or anything, they just land on your skin and “bug” you.

We have also watched a few games where the players have had to consider the wind-factor for their longer shots. The regular season only has a few games remaining, and already Battery Grubbs has clinched first place. They will play the winner of the game between the fourth and fifth place teams next week. The games have mostly been exciting, with Battery Way losing two games this week in overtime. Battery Geary looks very strong, being the only team to beat Grubbs so far. We think these two teams have the best chance of meeting in the final, which will be a best-of-three event. One other note: Battery Crockett, one of the weaker teams, has a player who scored 45 points in their 71-69 overtime win against Way.

It is back to trail-clearing time now that rainy season is over. Last week, we took our friend Gilbert to help us clear the trail from Battery Way to Battery Hannah. We were hopeful that it would not require much clearing, and for the most part that was true. However, there were complete blockages due to 1) downed trees from Typhoon Pedring, 2) bamboo, and 3) rattan. Where the trees were large we left them alone and made paths around them or cleared for hikers to go over or under, hoping that someday we can get a chainsaw to complete the job. Bamboo is usually easy to clear if you don’t let it get too mature, since when it is young the shoots are soft as grass. Later of course, they harden and can take serious bolo (machete) work. The frustrating part is that, no matter how well you clear, the bamboo will grow back, sometimes rather quickly. The same is true of rattan, which has nasty, sharp little thorns on its fronds and vines. Even gloves do not always help. We got the trail cleared about two-thirds of the way, and then realized it was time to head down for lunch. From that point, we just slashed our way through to the trail’s end, knowing that we’ll have to go back or hire someone to finish clearing it.

You can also start hiking from Battery Way and choose go to James Ravine, so we decided to check out that trail from the three-way intersection to the ravine. Unlike the Way-Hannah trail, which was worse than we had hoped, this section wasn’t too bad between the intersection and the ravine. The worst part was near the bottom, where we ran into, you guessed it, bamboo and rattan. Steve used a bolo (machete) and Marcia used a sturdy garden shears, and we managed to get through with no problem, although we both got a few rattan “bites.” Just to make sure we got it well cleared, we returned the following day and walked it again. It definitely was an easier walk without having to hack our way through obstacles.

Along the way we took some photos that we will include and describe now.

1. As many times as we have walked the trail from Middleside to Battery James, this was the first time we noticed this staircase from the road up to what was once the trolley line. However, there it is, if you know what to look for.
2. Several years ago, there was an authorized project moving mature male-female monkey pairs from Corregidor to other Philippine islands. You may have heard that there are 3000 monkeys on Corregidor. Having learned that Philippine long-tailed Macaques live in colonies of 30-50, and since we have only been able to identify 6-10 colonies on the island, the numbers are probably more like 500, and certainly not more than 1000. In any case, if you want to see one badly enough, spend some time at with us at Middleside. Photo is of the abandoned monkey quarantine area.
3. A typical Corregidorian monkey.
4. There are hibiscus bushes all over the island, and they date back to pre-war landscaping. Here is one blossom along the trail, likely descended from that era. Sometimes they act as signs alerting us to ruins in the jungle.
5. One-hundred-year- old guardrail extends along the road near Battery James, both on the way to Middleside and down to James Ravine. Some broken sections are evident, and could be due either to war damage or falling trees.
6. We love the roots of some of the trees on this island. This is an example of one of our favorites, with Marcia standing alongside for scale. Absolutely huge.
7. This tree branch, about a yard/meter long, lay on the trail above the 1918 tunnel. Isn’t it beautiful?
8. There is a very large retaining wall at the three-way intersection. If you look closely you can see Marcia standing behind a bush at the top-left of the photo, and can get an idea of the size of the wall. We didn’t measure it but it’s probably close to 30 feet high at its maximum, tapering to follow the slope of the trail. In the photo, you can see several of the drainpipes placed in the wall to prevent it from water damage. A part of the wall is missing, almost certainly due to a bomb dropped by the Japanese in 1942 or an the Americans in 1945.
9. Vines, vines, everywhere vines. Some make hiking difficult, since you are constantly tripping over them. Some are larger than Stone Cold Steve Austin’s forearm. Occasionally you come across two identical vines that decided to intertwine each other, as is the case here. Notice that Steve cannot encircle the vines with his long fingers.

We saw many fruit bats flying overhead. They were so quiet that we did not hear them, unlike their noisy behavior at night. However, their giant shadows caught our attention, and looking up into the trees, we were able to spot a few.

A much rarer sighting is the sulfur-crested cockatoo. Although we hear them often – their natural call is obnoxious, like loud ducks with sore throats GACK! GACK GACK! – they are extremely shy, and this is only the second time that Steve has seen them. After leaving the trail, we spotted a pair flying across the road at treetop level. Unfortunately we could not take a picture, as they were there and gone too quickly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brigada, basketball, birds, and butterflies

GMA TV, a network here in the Philippines, sent a film crew to Corregidor for a couple of days this week. They were filming for a segment on one of their news shows, “Brigada.” In addition to interviews with Corregidor Foundation staff regarding the Philippine government funds recently allocated through the Department of Tourism for preservation of the “Cine Corregidor” ruins as well as several related Topside projects, they expressed interested in the story behind our stay on the island. The crew spent several hours with us, asking many questions about the motivation for our decision, about our life here and some of the ways we spend our time, and the efforts we make to support the Corregidor Foundation in its mission to protect, preserve, and promote the island as a War Memorial and tourist destination.

The segment will be one of three shown during a one-hour time slot, airing initially at 8:00 P.M. on Monday, November 21, on Channel 11 in the Manila area and throughout the country. It will also be aired internationally on GMA-LIVE and/or GMA-PINOY, so, if you have access to these channels, watch your scheduling information We cannot predict if we will be featured, since, as you know, hundreds of minutes of footage are shot for each minute that is actually aired. We will try to watch the show on Monday, probably at the Corregidor Inn. We rarely see live TV while on the island – some of Manny Pacquiao’s fights – so we would appreciate if someone could record this week’s Brigada episode for us “just in case.”

Due to holidays and other vacation days, the basketball league schedule was suspended for two weeks. This week the weather forced a postponement of Tuesday’s game and the suspension of a game on Thursday, rescheduled to be completed the following evening. In spite of the rains, the teams managed to complete another five games.

For the second time, the Battery Way team had to play with only five of its players, and they lost their second game. Battery Crockett finally gained their first win, beating Battery Hearn 55-50 in a very close game. The best game so far – the most exciting for the spectators – saw Battery Geary lose by 1 point in overtime to Battery Hearn. When competing teams have each had a good complement of players, the games have been quite close. For example, Battery Geary has lost its two games by a total of 3 points. We won’t even try to predict which team will win the tournament. Currently they are only half-way through the regular season, with players and fans enjoying the competition.

Going into the final ten preliminary games, the team records are as follows:
Grubbs 3-1
Hearn, Way and Geary 2-2
Crockett 1-3

Recently a bird flew into our glass front-door. It was a Hooded Pitta, pronounced PEE-tuh – similar to the Middle-Eastern pita bread. Before it regained its composure, Marcia was able to get some pictures. As you can see, it has a striking green on body and wings, a black head and neck, bright turquoise bands on its wings, and red-orange on the vent-area of its belly. We were very glad to see it fly away into a tree after a few minutes rest.

Several weeks back, Steve was able to photograph a member of the largest butterfly species we see on the island. It was lazily flying from plant to plant near the former butterfly garden. The body and the upper surface of the wings are mostly black, with a bold slash of orange-red on each wing. The undersides of the wings have larger areas of the orange-red, marked with black dots. As you can see, this one was not as shy as your typical butterfly, being attracted to Marcia’s brightly colored blouse. We do not know the name of this species, but trust that one of our readers will inform us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

The American Women’s Club of the Philippines gathering went very well. We gave a 45-minute slideshow presentation, highlighting the flora and fauna of Corregidor as well as its history and our reasons for being here. Of course we encouraged them to come visit The Rock sometime in the future. Several of the attendees have already been to the island, so we suggested that they return to explore the island, maybe staying a night or two.

For the fourth consecutive year we attended the Veterans Day ceremonies at the American Cemetery in Manila. The ceremony was held on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, as usual, but this year is also the 11th year of the century. Lots of elevens!

We thought it best to include photos showing beautiful views of this peaceful and impeccably maintained final resting place for over 17,000 soldiers and a few of the civilians caught up in the war. We include one picture from the Walls of the Missing. Notice the name “Robert Beedle,” one of over 36,000 names listed. He was the brother of movie star William Holden

After the ceremony we were treated to lunch at the Big Buddha restaurant (excellent Chinese food in Greenbelt 3) by our friends Ely and Ging. You may recall Ely from an earlier newsletter. He is the man who takes the spectacular bird pictures using his gigantic Canon telephoto lens.

We finished out the day, and our stay in Manila, by touring Everest Academy in Taguig with our friend Fr. Eric Nielson, a member of the Legionnaires of Christ. The Academy, currently 1st through 6th grades and planning to eventually include all grades through high school, is the only Catholic School in this area, very close to many of the international schools and following the international calendar.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Steve and Marcia to speak at the AWCP this Wednesday

The American Women’s Club of the Philippines has invited us to be guest speakers at their General Meeting to be held this coming Wednesday, November 9. The meeting is open to the public, runs from 9:30 to about 11:30, and includes breakfast. The cost is p500 for non-AWCP-members, p300 for members. The meeting will be held in the Palm Grove Room of the Rockwell Club, which is in the Amorsolo Building in Rockwell Center, Makati. The address is : # 23 Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City.

Also, we will once again be attending the Veteran’s Day Ceremonies at the American Cemetery in Manila on Friday, November 11. Those who wish to attend are asked to arrive no later than 10:30 if coming by private car, since all vehicles entering the cemetery will have to be cleared by security. If you are dropped off outside the gate, you can walk or catch a short shuttle ride to the ceremony area. It is requested that all are seated by 10:45.

We hope that we can see some of you at one or the other of these events.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011 Corregidor Basketball League

The 2011 Corregidor Basketball League Tournament got underway this week. As is traditional, the teams lined up at the administration building and paraded to the basketball court. Then they were introduced in their new uniforms, some of which were not delivered until an hour before opening ceremonies. Another tradition is the team “muse.” Each team has a young lady in her ladies’ style uniform, and the muses perform individually for the audience. One muse presented an a capella vocal number, two did solo dances, and two performed partnered dances.

Then it was time for the ceremonial opening toss. Steve, the CBL commissioner – i.e., the one who raises the money to fund the tournament – was at center court with inn manager Ed, island manager Ron, and the captions of the first-game teams. By luck of the draw, the opening game pitted Battery Way, captained by our helper Roy, and Battery Geary, led by the 2008 tournament’s MVP Jerry. By the way, many Filipinos pronounce Geary more like JEER-ee, so that is why Jerry decided to go with Battery Geary for his team name.

The opening game was probably the most exciting of the first week, with Battery Way edging Battery Geary in “The Battle of Mortars” 60-58. Because it was opening day the players had asked to schedule two games, and in the second, Battery Grubbs beat Battery Crockett in “The Battle of Disappearing Guns” by 53-47. Steve worked out a five-team schedule so that no team would have to play two consecutive days if only one game per day was played. However, because of the two games held on opening day, Battery Way had to play again on day two, facing Battery Hearn – the lone “Long Gun.” On top of being scheduled on consecutive days, only five of their players were suited up at game time, versus all eleven players for Battery Hearn. This was partly due to men who had previously scheduled vacation and were off-island, an unavoidable challenge for every team. Battery Way fell behind early, with a sixth teammate not arriving until the 4th quarter. Battery Hearn won 70-62.

On the third evening, Battery Geary defeated Battery Crockett 64-52. On the next night, completing the first week’s schedule, Battery Grubbs beat Battery Hearn 68-54, having gained a 21-4 lead early in the game. Battery Hearn was never able to draw closer than ten points, and this left Battery Grubbs as the only team to be undefeated after playing two games. Next week includes Halloween, All-Saints Day and All-Souls Day, important days here in the Philippines, so it will be a short week for basketball. The five teams will ultimately play each other twice, followed by championship playoff games.

By the way, the uniforms look very nice, and each team has a slightly different style. Battery Way is a royal blue with white trim, Battery Geary is canary yellow with green, Battery Hearn is white with blue, Battery Grubbs is black with red and white, and Battery Crockett is dark green with white and black. The total cost – for fifty-six player uniforms, five muse uniforms, four committee shirts, and two referee shirts – was p37,200 (about $855). Compare that to a recent Michigan State University game in which Nike reportedly paid $200,000 (almost nine-million pesos) to outfit MSU with what some stated were the ugliest uniforms on the planet (one man called them “jammies”)…to be worn for one only game, against the University of Michigan, who also wore reputedly ugly one-game “throw-back” uniforms.

Hikers occasionally still discover pre-war relics. While our friend Karl was here he happened upon a large pitcher, the kind you often see with old-fashioned pitcher-and-basin sets. It is white enameled metal, and not in great shape – until you recall that it has lain in the jungle for about 70 years. It actually cleaned up fairly well, but has several holes and the handle is missing. The initials, “U. S. A.” and “M. D.” appear to be stamped on the bottom. Perhaps one of you readers can tell us what the “M. D.” stands for.

We wish to bring your attention to an artifact which is slowly disintegrating here on the island, and want to know your opinions on whether or not anything can and/or should be done about it. On February 16, 1945, the Americans landed on Corregidor to recapture the island from the Japanese. Members of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team first landed at Topside. We have learned that the first American flag raised that day was not at the historic Spanish Flagpole, the site of the ceremonial flag raising upon MacArthur’s return on March 2nd, which stands at the southeast corner of the Topside Parade Ground. It occurred on a flagpole that stood near the Post Improvement Building, down the hill and across the trolley line which ran west of the Parade Grounds.

Several of our explorer/history-nut friends are certain that they have located that flagpole. Or at least what little remains of it. As you can see from the picture, it now consists of several pieces of wood in the concrete-lined 14-inch hole which formed the flagpole base. Our friend Karl is standing next to it. It appears to have been burned down to around two-feet high. Assuming that this is in fact the actual base of this less-known but very historic flagpole, should something be done to preserve what is left of the pole? One suggestion would be to remove the few pieces of wood that are left and exhibit them, maybe in the museum or near the Spanish Flagpole. We also wonder if folks with ties to the 503rd PRCT might wish to sponsor a permanent marker to be placed in or beside the actual flagpole base.

Finally, about the pastry gift we received from Hitomi: Father John Nariai said, “The Japanese goody in the photo that you ate is ‘Shun no nama Yatsuhashi’ that is ‘dry cookie made of sweet potato, pumpkin and Japanese chestnut.’ It is baked only in spring and autumn.” Juan M. wrote, “My Japanese colleague here at work tells me it’s a type of Japanese ‘Hopia’ called Manju in Nihonggo.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Various things and another passing

Over the years we have made a number of Japanese friends. These are people who feel that there should be more emphasis on informing the Japanese public about what really happened in WWII, rather than to ignore that part of their history. On occasion one or more will visit the Philippines, often asking Steve to show them around Corregidor. Recently we were contacted by a young student by the name of Hitomi, referred to us by mutual acquaintances in Japan.

It just so happened that we were returning from a quick trip to Manila on the same day that Hitomi was coming to Corregidor. All we knew was that she was young and female, and Japanese. Going on that information, we looked for her on the uncrowded Sun Cruises ferry. By coincidence the first two young ladies that Steve approached were not Hitomi, but he soon found her. The other two decided to also join Steve’s bus. Hitomi was prepared to hear about some of the Japanese atrocities associated with Corregidor and Bataan, but Steve had no idea about the other two women, so he spent a couple of minutes addressing the three of them, assuring them and the other guests that the material he would present over the next few hours was no reflection on them or the present-day Japanese people, but was intrinsic to the story of Corregidor.

Joining the three of them for lunch, Steve discovered that, indeed, the other two young women were somewhat surprised, but were also very open to hearing the truth. They parted as friends, thankful for the opportunity to learn about Japan’s WW II role in this area of the Philippines. As is customary among many Asians, Hitomi gave us a popular Japanese treat. We are including a picture of the ornate box cover. Inside were three each of three different kinds of sweet, paste-filled pastries. The outer layer was similar to the wrappers used in making wontons and egg-rolls. Maybe someone can tell us what we were eating. They were very unlike any of the pastries we are accustomed to eating in the US. One filling was like confections made here in the Philippines using the purple sweet potato called “ube” (Tagalog for the color purple.) Another was chocolate, and the third was a yellow-orange color with a flavor similar to mango or apricot.

On Sunday Steve was asked to escort a family from Manila around the island. He knew that the group included at least one VIP, having been told that there would be a congressman from Bataan. In actuality the person in reference was Congresswoman Tricia Bonoan David, who represents the 4th Congressional District in Manila. Her district includes Santo Tomas University, a place with its own very significant WW II story.

Steve had lunch with Tricia and her mother Zany (ZAH-nee). Zany’s husband, who passed away about eighteen months ago, had served preceded his daughter in Congress. Tricia is the sixth of their twelve children, and Zany also has over 40 grandchildren! Steve asked Tricia to send best wishes along to fellow congressman and world-great boxer Manny Pacquiao. Tricia complimented Steve on his “excellent” presentation, and who knows, maybe one day Steve can also show “Pacman” around the “Rock.”

Our friends and fellow island-lovers Paul and Karl came again to explore Corregidor for a few days. Since Steve had never been to the ruins of the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) Club, Paul offered to take him there. They started at Battery Hearn, but had a difficult time finding the road that leads from there to the club ruins. The problem may very well have been that Battery Hearn had come under intense bombing by the Japanese, so finding the road level was more difficult than it is in the less-bombed-out areas. They ended up going too far down the hill. The good thing is that if you are lost here you can usually find your way out by heading uphill, the idea being that you if you are familiar with the island, you should know the high points. So they headed up the hill. Quite by accident they ran smack dab into one corner of the NCO Club. The building mostly consists now of one long wall, with the old roadway right above it. They spent a few minutes taking in the sheer size of the building. They found one of the largest collections of mostly-broken beer bottles on what used to be the bottom floor. Imagine, soldiers who liked to drink cold beer! From the club they worked their way to the radio room and out to Topside Parade Grounds.

At one point during the trek, Steve and Paul found a hole in the ground – over a meter in diameter – of which they had been completely unaware. Lowering a flashlight down the hole, it is about 18-feet deep, unlined, and appears to have been there since war-time. Without going down, it is impossible to tell if the it goes anywhere but straight down, but if not, it doesn’t make a ‘hole’ lot of sense.

Just last newsletter we reported the passing of friend and Bataan Death March survivor Malcolm Amos. Believe it or not, we just received word that fellow BDM survivor Richard (Dick) Francies also passed away just days after Malcolm. Both were travelers with Steve on his initial Philippines tour in 2002, and they were both with us on the Hellships Memorial Dedication Tour of 2006. Dick was a gentle man who had many interesting stories to tell, and we are sad to hear of his parting.

As you may know, there are memorial markers every kilometer along the BDM route. KM 110 was dedicated to Malcolm Amos, and the very last one, KM 112, was dedicated to Dick Francies. We have included pictures of both of them. Notice that Malcolm’s marker is the modern type, while Dick’s is one of a small handful of the older style.

Should any of you wish to write up something about either or both of these recently departed veterans, please send it along to us. If you’d like, we can share some of your memories with our readers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Typhoon clean-up

Last week we wrote about Typhoon Pedring. We hope that we did not leave you with the impression that Corregidor sustained such damage that travel here is not advisable. Just the opposite is true: we are coming out of rainy season, and the island is fully open for business. In fact, we’d encourage you to hop aboard a Sun Cruises ferry and visit the island, and to stay overnight if you can make the time. Just remember that if you want Steve to be your guide you must make arrangements ahead of time.

Despite all of the tree damage that we described, life pretty much went on as usual once cleanup was underway. The majority of the wind and rain occurred on Tuesday. There were Philippine Coast Guard storm signals out for Tuesday and Wednesday, which meant that Sun Cruises was not able to bring tourists here those days, not that they would have wanted to. Roadway clearing was beginning by early morning on Wednesday, with all major routes passable by nightfall. On Thursday, regular tourist trips were resumed and more widespread clean-up continued. We want to point out what an outstanding job was done by the workers, led by Corregidor’s Resident Manager Ron, and Building & Grounds Manager Tony.

We have included several before-and-after pictures. Again, we say that it is remarkable what one man with a chainsaw and several using only their bolos (Filipino version of machetes) and muscle power could accomplish in such a short time.

Sadly, one of the historic buildings sustained notable damage: Middleside Barracks, home of the 60th Coast Artillery (American Army) and 91st Philippine Scouts (Filipinos in American service). The northwest corner of the southern building had a single pillar that had stood unsupported for almost seventy years. Now it is lying on the ground, most likely a victim of the high winds. We have provided the best before picture we could find, along with one of what it looks like now. The pillar was on the left side of the near building.

Those of you familiar with Middleside Barracks will recall the bracing added to certain parts of the southern building under the direction of the National Historical Institute, hoping to preserve some of the structure for as long as possible. There were some who opposed this initiative, people who felt that nature and time ought to be allowed to take their toll. We understand the sentiment, but have a different perspective as history buffs. The supports, although unnatural, will allow future generations to come to Corregidor and be able to get some idea of the buildings that were in use before and during WW II. So we fully support maintenance/preservation projects of this type. Over time, we realize we will see more and more sections of buildings fall. Fortunately, the steel-reinforced concrete is in remarkably good shape in most gun batteries and in parts of the main barracks and hospital, so they should be around for many centuries to come.

This past April our Valor Tours group included Matt Payne, who writes a travel column for the Washington Times. Matt recently wrote an article about his trip. You can read it at: Matt, we thank you for remembering us in your column. Hope to see you here again!

On a sad note, we were just informed that Malcolm Amos, a Bataan Death March survivor, a regular visitor to the Philippines, and a dear friend, has passed away. We have attached a couple of pictures of Malcolm that his son-in-law John Shively sent out. We will surely miss Malcolm.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weathering Typhoon Pedring

With the exception of our off-island tours or vacations, we closed every window on our house for the very first time on Tuesday. The occasion? The arrival of Typhoon Pedring, internationally named Nesat. This is easily the strongest typhoon to hit Corregidor since we have lived here, with the possible exception of Basyang, which blew through while we were in the States in July, 2010. Pedring was a very large storm, causing high winds here for over 48 hours, with eight inches of rain measured in our backyard during a 24-hour period. Pretty amazing considering that the center of the storm was north of our area by a long shot. It was raining and blowing so hard that it reminded us of snow squalls at times. A young swallow even sought refuge under our over-hanging roof, clinging to the upper edge of our American flag.

The Corregidor “family” came through the storm unharmed. Because the 100-year-old drainage system is still functional, Corregidor can pretty much take all the rain a typhoon can dish out. Metro Manila, only 26 miles from here, is recovering from flood waters now, some of the worst along the Manila Bay beachfront in decades. We’ve been told that you can see some interesting footage of the waves shooting over Roxas Boulevard on YouTube. Try searching for “Manila” and “Pedring.” We also read that the American Embassy, which is along the bay, had some flooding.

It’s kind of strange spending a whole day indoors, but we really had no choice. The winds were so strong that if we left any windows open, things were blowing around inside the house, and rain blew in as well. Obviously one should not go outdoors during such storms, given the risk of being struck by flying objects or falling trees. Fortunately the house suffered no structural damage – it is quite sturdy – although we of course had damage to some trees and bushes. As usual the rains came in waves, super-heavy for awhile and then almost stopping briefly. We have encountered similar rain patterns in Michigan and Minnesota, but to our recollections they were always accompanied by lightning and didn’t last nearly so long. No lightening, no thunder with Pedring.

Normally when we lie in bed at night some of our bedroom windows are open, and we hear all kinds of sounds. Most of them are birds, frogs, lizards, and insects, especially crickets. Once in a while we will hear a branch fall, and sometimes we hear sounds that neither of us can identify. Almost never are these sounds scary. Recently Marcia awoke, hearing a scratchy sound at one of the bedroom window-screens. She had to drag Steve out of bed, and they walked toward the nearest open window, looking for what was making the sound. There, clinging to the outside of the screen, we spotted a land crab with maybe a 12-inch leg span, harmless but a little scary looking at four in the morning, especially having been startled from sleep.

Being inside in a totally closed house on the island is a different sensation entirely for us, the wind vacillating between near-calm and howling, and rain occasionally lashing the house as well. You feel kind of helpless, like there ought to be something you should be doing, but you just have to wait it out and trust that everything will be alright when you get up the next day.

On the second morning – Wednesday – Steve took a walk from our house on Middleside, following the road to Topside. Workers were already busy clearing the fallen trees that were on the road, but it was evident from all of the leaf debris that a lot of damage had been done. Most obvious was a large, old tree at Topside which is in front of the former Fort Mills Administration Building. This massive tree completely blocked the road and a crew of six men worked the whole morning to cut and clear it. This required skillful chainsaw work, since it is very easy to pinch the blade when a tree is not lying flat on the ground.

The road in front of the Ordnance Repair Shop was blocked, a tree having been torn from the ground by its roots. It’s kind of surprising to us that a tree here could have such shallow roots, since it can often go six or seven months without measurable rainfall, but with the ground saturated it was hard even for deeper roots to withstand the wind gusts. Steve observed many trees down on the road to Batteries Hearn and Grubbs on the western part of Topside. Three of our bougainvilleas out front are lying on their sides and will have to be cut back to the ground to await new growth. A few of our cili (hot pepper) plants are lying down as well, though still rooted.

As he was walking back down to Middleside, Steve was surprised by what he saw at Battery Geary. In the middle of the battery is a hole in the ground where the central powder magazine was originally located. It was blown to bits by the Japanese in 1942, leaving a deep crater behind. It is temporarily a pond, with so much storm water having accumulated that it apparently has not yet had enough time to seep into the ground.

Steve was also able to drive down the hill to access the Internet on Wednesday morning, after missing email since Sunday. At the south beach, the waves were occasionally coming up as high as the dock. It was very difficult to photograph because the spray from the waves was hitting the camera lens. Also, winds were so strong at times that it was difficult to stand up straight. You can really feel the power of nature while standing on a beach, even at the backside of a typhoon. And remember, we weren’t even that close to the center of the storm!

Because of rough sea conditions, boat traffic is – of course – restricted by the Philippine Coast Guard. This has stranded a number of the island’s regular workers in Cabcaben on Bataan. And of course it means the banceros who bring supplies are not able to make their daily runs. We try to keep a good supply of non-perishables – canned fish, corned beef, Spam, spaghetti, rice, beans, etc., on hand just in case we are cut off from the mainland for an extended period of time. At present there is another storm that could choose to head our way…we hope it will track north of here. If not, we could be in for more surprises. Ahhh, tropical adventures!

Steve and Marcia on the very wet Rock