Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trip to Iloilo part 1

Ronilo Benadero, CFI on-island manager, goes to his home every January. Ron’s family has been in Barangay Lay-Ahan, one of 50 barangays of Pototan, for over 60 years. Pototan is in Iloilo Province on the island of Panay in the Visayas, which make up the central region of the Philippines. The biggest city on Panay is Iloilo. Got all that? Thus endeth your geography lesson for today. All nine children (eight sons following the firstborn daughter) were born there, and four of the now-grown men still live and farm the land. Ron invited us to visit during his vacation, which coincides with their annual barangay festival. We decided to do so this year.

Our flight to the Iloilo Airport left Manila at 5:15 Wednesday. A.M. In the morning! Who in their right mind schedules flights at that hour? With the rule that you are supposed to be in the airport two hours before a domestic flight, that meant that we needed to get up at 2:00. Of course we went right through the pre-flight check-in and security check, leaving us about an hour and a half to wait. The flight itself was one of the best we have ever been on, leaving and arriving early. Upon arrival we found a van driver who was willing to take us the half-hour drive to Pototan. We texted Ron, and he met us at the drop-off point. While we were waiting for Ron, we noticed that the local school buses were actually tricycles, motorcycles, and whatever else could haul as many children as possible. We all took a jammed-packed tricycle to Ron’s for breakfast, came back to Pototan to get a hostel room, and then went back to Ron’s for the rest of the day.

We were pleased to see Ron’s wife Marivel again, and his parents, who live next door in the family compound, seemed very happy to meet us. Over the course of the first day we met many of Ron’s relatives who live very nearby. There was a constant parade of ducks, turkeys, chickens, goats, and dogs. We went out back to see a catfish farm run by one of Ron’s brothers. Throughout the day, customers came to buy catfish. Ron’s father Pastor (name, not religious title), and mother Milagros, both close to 80, worked drying and bagging recently harvested rice. This area is sometimes called “The Rice Granary of the Visayas,” due to the many hectares of level land perfect for rice paddies. Later in the day other family members arrived, including one of Ron’s daughters. We ended the day by eating turkey adobo, and catfish soup.

The day before the festival, in this case Thursday, is mainly spent preparing food. This means butchering the pigs, turkeys, goats, etc., so that they can be ready for the big day. The men are very involved in the preparation of the various meats. Later in the day we stayed at Ron’s family complex, greeting visitors who travel from house to house. Filipino tradition ensures that there is plenty of food and drink to be shared with all visitors, and the Benaderos hold up their end of the responsibility. Ron has many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews, as well as many friends. The barangay captains’ president (head of the 50 barangay captains) stopped in for a visit. Ron’s brother Renan was recently re-elected Lay-Ahan barangay captain.

On Friday we waited for our friend Gilbert, who used to be one of the photographers on Corregidor. He has moved back to his home on Guimaras, and he and his wife run a small sari sari (convenience) store. When he arrived in Pototan we all got into the tricycle owned and driven by Jose “Kalbo” Benadero, one of Ron’s many cousins, and headed back to Ron’s, arriving before noon. (Kalbo is Filipino for bald. Ironically, Kalbo has lots of hair, contrary to Ron and many of Ron’s brothers and other cousins.)

We were immediately served about a half-dozen food choices. They included: lumpia (spring roll); valenciana (sticky rice with chopped pork liver and seasonings); estofado (fried pork with cooking banana, potato, and pineapple); pabu (Filipino for turkey – pabu-pabu sounds like gobble-gobble); dinoguan (pork blood with finely chopped inner organs, onion, garlic, ginger and other seasonings); sisig (pork organs, brains, and ears, well chopped and heavily spiced); lechon (young pig grilled by constantly turning on a bamboo spit over hot charcoal); and achara (a sweet-pickled salad made with shredded green papaya, carrots, and red bell pepper. This version included green beans; others we’ve eaten had raisins). Spellings and ingredients for these dishes vary by region and by what is available. We both think that Ilongo food, which shows strong influence from the hundreds of years under Spain, is the best Filipino food we’ve had the privilege to eat.

The weather was unseasonably cold. We had each packed one pair of blue jeans, “just in case.” As it turned out, we pretty much were in jeans the whole time. Due no doubt to man-made global warming, it has been so cold during January that the local freshwater fish, tilapia and bangus (milk fish) are lethargic, not wanting to eat or mate, and therefore having an effect on the fish supply. Gilbert says it got down to 15 Celsius in Guimaras, or 59 Fahrenheit. That is downright cold for this part of the world. While we were in Panay the skies were generally cloudy with occasional rain showers, and all unpaved roads became worse and worse each day with mud. Very appropriately, Kalbo was wearing a sweatshirt with a snowman on the front.

We never made it to the actual barangay festival. Starting around noon, we could easily hear the pounding of the sound system bass. We were still at Ron’s house, a good two miles away. Ron and Steve took a motorcycle ride to the basketball court where the music was pounding and where the dance was to be held, and Steve decided that the speakers, which would not have fit into a small boxcar, were just too loud for us to enjoy ourselves. We both have sensitive ears, and dislike loud noise. A few children were standing in front of the speakers holding their ears, and the bass notes literally were hitting Steve much like cannon fire at Civil War reenactments. Since we are also not much for late night activities, we bowed out as gracefully as possible. Our main objective had been met: spending time with Ron’s family and seeing this part of the country.

To be continued…

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snakes and caps

We got these comments in response to our last newsletter:

Thank you so much for this narration of your visit with my family! I'm … the daughter that was unable to come to Corregidor for this visit. I have been getting emails from my parents and sister telling me about how wonderful their trip has been. And the pictures of my Dad here and on my sister's page brings tears to my eyes. He looks SO HAPPY! I'm sure this was an emotional trip for him and it breaks my heart that I couldn't be there. But I will do my best to join them next year, and the year after that, and the year after that! My dad will be around for a long long time and I know he can't wait to join you again! Thanks so much for taking such wonderful care of my family!
Kimberly Adams C.


Dear Steve and Marcia, thank you so much for all your wonderful and amazing works there at the Rock. I greatly appreciate what you are doing there. I want to tell you that I am so move by the articles, stories and reports that I am receiving from your postings. Often, my tears would roll down before I notice it. This recent article created the most. While reading it, my heart kept on saying thank you defenders, do not know you personally, but I am so indebted to all of you for the freedom that we received.
Michael Z.


Somewhat overlapping the stay of the Adams Family, whom we talked about in the last newsletter, was a group of four from California, all of whom are WWII history buffs. They joined us on the banca ride to the fortified islands of Manila Bay and the trip up Malinta Hill where Dick Adams identified his 10-day bivouac area. Later on the three men in the group, who can be seen standing under the trunk of a tree in an accompanying photo, joined Steve for several island hikes, looking for out-of-the-way tunnels and gun installations. Melissa decided Malinta Hill had been enough for her knees, and opted to spend her time relaxing and making use of the massage certificate included in their booking package.

One of the most memorable moments for the trio came just after the Malinta Hill hike, which begins and ends at the intersection of the two roads that wrap around the hill, known as Road Junction Forty-three, or RJ43. A tunnel not on the old maps, indicating that it was probably dug in haste by American soldiers at the outset of the war, is found just downhill from RJ43. Since it was so handy, Steve took the guys into the tunnel.

They had not planned to go into any tunnels, so most of the men had smaller than usual flashlights. In Steve’s case, he borrowed a small gizmo that consists of three small lights, clipping onto the brim of a cap. It throws just enough light that you won’t trip over anything. Steve led the way into the 50-yard deep tunnel, not expecting to come across anything too nasty. Suddenly Steve stepped on something that made a crackling/crunching sound, as if he had stepped on a thin drinking glass. At that very instant, the man right behind Steve let out a “holy s—t” scream at least two octaves higher than any grown man should be able to produce. Steve jumped about six feet in the air, landed and ran a few feet forward to get away from whatever it was that had caused the shriek, assuming that it was whatever he had stepped on. When he turned around, several men had their flashlights pointed at a snake that Steve had just passed within inches of. He then realized that the crunch was actually caused by his stepping on a hermit crab at exactly the same time as the man behind him had seen the snake.

The snake itself was calmer than any one of the guys. It lay coiled on an abandoned railroad tie that was about eight inches across. It was coiled a full four times. Based upon this we estimate that the snake was eight to ten feet long. Since cobras don’t exceed six feet here, and the fact that the snake did not act the least bit threatened or threatening, we think that it was a type of python. Accompanying the group was John M. who, like Steve, has been in just about every major tunnel on the island multiple times. John and Steve had only ever seen one snake each in all of their previous explorations of the Corregidor tunnels, so it was indeed a rare event.
Something similar happened a day later, as Steve was leading the men along the Geary to Ramsey trail. When they were passing through a patch of bamboo, Steve’s hat must have brushed up against something hanging overhead. The same man was again right behind Steve. This time the same words came out, but in the more normal vocal range for a man, though loud enough to send Steve another six feet into the air. This time it was just a poor helpless bat, thrashing on the ground trying to get away. Later when Steve offered to take the men into Middleside Tunnel, AKA “Bat Cave,” that particular gentleman decided to photograph the nearby barracks instead. By the way, the Bat Cave once again lived up to its reputation.

One of the members of the group, having read about Steve’s love for Michigan State sports, brought him a Spartan cap and t-shirt. Steve thought this was really nice of him. The cap is made of stretchy mesh and for that reason is literally the coolest cap he has.

After those guests left the island, Marcia and Steve decided to go back into the RJ43 Tunnel a couple of days later hoping to find the snake and take even better pictures of it in order to positively identify it. That’s right: Marcia accompanied Steve on a snake-hunting expedition. Does this sound like the Marcia you know and love? Those who knew her growing up may remember her catching garter snakes on the farm. Anyway, we saw many hermit crabs, a nice land crab and a frog, but no snake. So we have to be satisfied with the picture we have.

Our friend Tom A. stopped by our house this week. Tom is another man who knows and loves Corregidor. He brought us two Texas university caps. Texas Aggies were responsible for a lot of the early construction that was done on the island 100 years ago, and a number held Aggie Musters here before and after the war. Our daughter is at the University of Texas in Austin. Caps from rival schools to add to our collection.

Currently we are in Manila in anticipation of a four-day excursion to Ilo Ilo and Pototan on the island of Panay in the Visayas (Central Philippines.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Paratrooper Dick Adams returns

We love to welcome returning friends, and to make new ones, on our adopted home of Corregidor. Of course, it is especially exciting to us when we encounter people who come from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where we grew up and spent most of our lives. But our greatest thrill, one that is happening less and less frequently, is to host a returning Bataan or Corregidor war veteran.

To our knowledge, the last American defenders were Chuck Towne and Everett Reamer. They were serving here on Corregidor in 1942 and subsequently had to survive over three years in Japanese prison camps. Chuck and Everett, along with Bataan Death March survivors Malcolm Amos and Richard Francies, were here as part of a contingent that came for the 2006 inauguration of the Hellships Memorial in Subic Bay. Chuck, a corpsman (only females were called nurses) passed away less than a week after returning to his home in Washington State. Everett, who manned a machine gun at Battery Cheney, is still with us, but dealing with health issues that prohibit extensive travel. We often wonder if we will ever see another American defender back on The Rock.

But there is another group of veterans, those who were part of the liberation of Corregidor in February and March of 1945. They did not suffer the years of starvation, disease, and brutality in the prison camps, and on average were a few years younger than the defenders. To our great delight, Richard (Dick) Adams of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, part of the fabled “Rock Force,” returned last week with his wife and one of their daughters. We had been anticipating their visit since having lunch with Dick and Nancy last summer in Michigan. The daughter had come for a day-trip early last year, and was excited to accompany them on this trip.

Marcia spotted the trio on the upper deck of the ferry as it pulled into the north harbor. Each tried to see as much of Corregidor as possible while the boat turned around and pulled alongside the dock. We greeted them as they walked down the ramp, and introduced them to island and hotel managers while security men provided a low-key honor guard. Multiple photos were snapped. Dick’s initial reaction was, “Things sure look different now!” They climbed aboard the tranvia, accompanied by other visitors, a small film crew, a few fellow Corregidor lovers who had come to meet and assist a returning veteran, Marcia, and Steve as guide.

Dick, a somewhat reticent gentleman, wanted to minimize the “hoopla” while here. There was a very simple but moving ceremony at the 503rd PRCT marker at Topside, attended by some of the other tourists as well as our group, with solemn raising of Philippine and American flags followed by presentation of a floral arrangement. Dick seemed a little surprised by the number of tourists who approached to shake his hand and request photos with him.

His main goal was trying to find the areas he remembers from his time on the island in 1945: the golf course landing zone; the hillside cliff where the wind brought him down; the building which held the aid-station where he brought injured fellow paratroopers; the officers’ quarters building near which he lost – and later found – his Miraculous Medal; the huge water tanks between which he spent two nights as perimeter guard, sleeping in shifts with a buddy; and the area on Malinta Hill’s north side where he and five other men bivouacked for ten days and nights.

Having been told that Dick was coming, two of the premier Corregidor explorers, Karl Welteke and John Moffitt, were able to join us as we tried to locate the spots that Dick particularly wished to find. We started by climbing the lighthouse, from which Dick hoped to spot the golf course area near his landing site. As we had warned him, trees block any possible view, but it did help him to orient himself to the Topside area.

Next we went to the easiest place of all to locate, the water towers which are just yards from the foot of the light house. Dick was satisfied that he’d found the sleeping spot. We proceeded to the senior officers’ housing area nearby. We could not be sure of the exact location, but we knew we were in the area where he lost and found his Miraculous Medal, and the stairs he used to get up to the aid station. From there it was only a short walk to the swimming pool, roughly across the road from where Dick had landed on the cliff face. Of course the area is overgrown with jungle, but we could at least make a reasonable guess as to the area.

The following day began with a banca trip around the fortified islands of Manila Bay. It is not an exaggeration to say that the wind was calmer and the sea smoother than they had been since at least the first day of November. It was a marvelous trip, and we were joined by four other Americans whose visit overlapped with the Adams’. Later we all walked up Malinta Hill, and Dick was pretty sure he found the spot where the six men ‘hung out’ for about 10 days. By the way, Dick, who is 88 and in great shape, didn’t slow us down on a hike that includes a few short, steep ascents.

The following day was just the opposite weather-wise. It was easily the windiest and waviest day since the first of November. We can usually say that tomorrow’s weather will be about the same as today, but this was the most marked day-to-day change we’ve seen except for when typhoons affect Corregidor.

We joined the Adams family for lunch and dinner each day, and have to say that we were already missing them as we said our goodbyes at the pier.

Will this mark the last return of an American liberator to Corregidor? Not if Dick has anything to say about it! He and his family had such a wonderful time that they are seriously thinking of returning next year, when their other daughter may be able to join them. We sincerely hope that this will happen, and want to encourage any other defenders or liberators of the Rock to return as well.

You can read more about Dick’s adventures here 66 years ago, including the Miraculous Medal story at:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spending time with Corregidor regulars Bill and Midge

From reader Galo Calizo regarding comments in last newsletter:

Happy New Year! Thank you for making us feel at home, vicariously!

I get so happy reading your ‘blog’ every now and then. Thank you for touching the lives of the poor Filipinos there and thank you for embracing our culture and making it seem like it is such a wonderful paradise. Yes, we are happy people despite all the insurmountable odds that come our daily way and we are proud of that.

Thank you! I hope to meet you soon!

Thank you, Galo, for your encouraging email. We continue to be amazed by the Filipino people, many of whom work hard to make it from day to day, but keep on smiling.

Our friends Bill and Midge Kirwan were here for their semi-annual “Corregidor retreat.” Both retired and living on Chesapeake Bay, they spend part of each year in Southeast Asia. Bill teaches psychology and they both offer counseling. On days when Steve was not guiding tours, he and Bill hit the jungle trails, and Marcia and Midge walked along the paved roads while catching up with each other’s lives.

One day the guys took the recently-cleared trail from Battery Ramsey to Battery Geary. It passes by the old crematory, going downhill to the point where heavy bamboo, now cleared, had kept Julia, Jill and the two of us from passing a month ago. Along the way there is a noble stand of bamboo which would be great for many things including banca outriggers, but it is so deep in the jungle that it would be nearly impossible to haul out.

A little further along the trail is an area that has been nicknamed “the wall of caves” for good reason. There are multiple cave entrances attributed to the U.S. Marines along the base of the rock wall, many of which reportedly connect, but which are small enough that we have not chosen to go inside to find out for ourselves. Just opposite a section of that wall is a point of land providing one of the best views overlooking Caballo Island and the Province of Cavite.

Now that this trail has been cleared, the most difficult part of the hike is right at the end, just below Battery Geary. In the past the trail continued straight ahead, running parallel and below the main road toward Topside, but a landslide, probably from a WWII bomb,– makes it nearly impossible to proceed, the path being covered with loose stones and steeply angled. So the alternative is to ascend about 40 feet at a near-45 degree incline to a ridge just above the battery. We’ve tied a rope to the base of a tree at the top and knotted it every two feet, so it’s not too difficult as long as your hands don’t slip and you watch your footholds. It is definitely easier to climb up than to go down. Bill is a former John Hopkins lacrosse player who swims 3,000 yards a day when he is home, so with his upper-body strength he had no trouble, despite arthritic knees and a fast-approaching 73rd birthday. Steve has comparatively stronger legs but weaker arms, finding the climb slightly more difficult for him than Bill.

Another time Steve and Bill walked from the power plant at Bottomside to a Japanese anti-aircraft gun emplacement above the plant. There are four other AA guns that were moved from their original locations to the Japanese Memorial on Tailside. Writing on these guns indicates that they were manufactured in Hiroshima during the war.

On Wednesday Steve guided a Sun Cruises tour group, which was a mixed bunch from places as far away as California, USA, and Germany. Three of the tourists were avid bird watchers. Paul, another of the men on the tour, originates from Liverpool, England, but now resides in Angeles City near the former Clark Air Force Base. He was here with his girlfriend, Marnie. All of these people stayed overnight, and Steve was able to introduce Marcia to them at the sunset viewing. The following day, Steve led Bill, Paul, and Marnie up Malinta Hill. Paul was so impressed with the island and Steve’s love for Corregidor that he intends to return with a couple friends and spend a few days exploring the jungle trails.

After the hike, Steve stopped at the Corregidor Inn to pick up Marcia, who had again been visiting with Midge. We decided on a light lunch at MacArthur Café, and there were the bird watchers. They were very pleased with how many birds are here on Corregidor, having identified 33 species of birds within about two hours of walking the main roads. It was helpful for us to talk with them and look through their bird book to clarify some of the birds we’ve seen and heard, since we only have a small and very limited pocket guide and are still unfamiliar with many of the bird calls and songs.

During their days here, we joined Bill and Midge for several sunset viewings from Battery Grubbs, but one of our favorite sunsets was seen from the north beach near MacArthur’s Café where we were going to eat dinner. Although we didn’t see the sun itself, since it was behind Topside (left of picture) from where we were standing, the effect over the Mariveles Mountains (center) was beautiful. We hope the panoramic photo does it justice.

On Saturday Steve and Bill took the old trails from Battery James to Battery Smith. Bill was especially interested in the James Ravine area, having recently read a book by General E. M. Flanagan, Jr., entitled Corregidor: The Rock Force Assault. The book describes in great detail the brutal action that took place in that area in February of 1945, when the Americans rooted out the seemingly fearless and obstinate Japanese from the caves and tunnels in the ravine. Later, the four of us joined Ronilo at his house for bulalo (a traditional Filipino beef knee/shank soup) and, of course, rice and beer.

Bill and Midge left on Sunday, but not before Steve and Bill went looking for a storage building near Battery Wheeler where dozens of Japanese had holed up and were ultimately killed by American artillery. Marcia and Midge spent their last ‘girl time’ while the guys were exploring. Finally it was time to bid the Kirwans goodbye until we meet again, probably next January.

We are so thankful for email, which enables us to stay in contact with them and many other friends and family members.