Saturday, March 5, 2011

Brealwater Point

When we head out to explore parts of Corregidor Island unfamiliar to us, we rely on copies of old, declassified army maps. More often than not, these maps – made over 75 years ago – can be used to find old road and rail beds, and to locate buildings, bunkers, and gun emplacements. The key is to follow the old roads to an approximate location, and then start searching. Major turns, ravines, and intersections help to pinpoint your present location. Best bets for finding ruins are high spots and points, where they would logically be located, since the fortification of The Rock was done to prevent assault from the sea.

One recent morning, we decided to hike the road that leads downhill from Battery Ramsey, which is just across Middleside Parade Ground from our house. When this route, Government Road, is well cleared it takes about 15 minutes to get from Ramsey to the road junction (not in the map photo) for the turnoff to Battery Geary. Government Road continues basically southward, heading farther down the hill. It eventually comes to a spot – Road Junction # 61 on the map – where you can hook back and to the northeast (a tight left) toward Bottomside, a trail we have hiked a couple of times, or you can go southwest (an easy right) along a route that originally went above four of Corregidor’s searchlight locations. Beyond RJ #61 the road southwest essentially disappears, and you must work your way through and past trees and vines, keeping between the decline to the left and incline to the right.

The purpose of our expedition was twofold: to look for structures on Breakwater Point, and to see how far the trail would take us toward the searchlight positions. Breakwater Point, so named because it rises above a breakwater, actually has three mini-points. The northern one has what we have referred to as a “bathtub bunker” for want of a more specific term. It is a small, in-ground stone and concrete-walled bunker that was used as a machine gun location. It is marked as VI-M-2, which stands for Sector 6, Machine Gun # 2. Just south of it, there is another point which has a larger, three-walled structure, its fourth side open and facing away from the sea. It shows no sign of having been roofed. The seaward end of the structure shows evidence of a direct hit. It is labeled as VI-S-2, indicating Siege Gun # 2. On the southern point we could see four three-foot high walls, five to ten feet long, spread out near the cliff edge. The map calls this area VI-F-4, indicating Field Gun # 4. The map indicates other structures in this area, but they are more difficult to locate because this particular point is totally covered in tall grass, vines, and a few lantana bushes. There are almost no trees, strikingly different from the surrounding jungle. We were not able to locate Siege Gun # 1 or Machine Gun # 5. Another project, for another day.

We had hoped to follow this trail much farther, since as we said, the road shown on the map continues at least a mile and leads to four searchlight positions. However, we were only able to go another 100 yards at most before the road disappeared. It appears that the road was destroyed at that point. Instead of a flat road, we encountered a steep, overgrown hill. It’s likely that artillery shells from the south hit the cliff above the road, causing enough of a collapse that it left only rubble, and at a very steep angle. The vegetation is thick again here, obscuring whatever path might still exist. It is obvious no one has passed this way in a long time. We may plan a return trip with an experienced bolo man and see if we can go farther. Steve’s father was originally assigned to the searchlight division of the 60th Coast Artillery Corps when he arrived on Corregidor in 1941, so we’re motivated to extend the trail if possible. Currently, access to these searchlight positions is gained from the shoreline, hiring a banca to get close, and then wading ashore to climb the steep hills up to the sites, so gaining access from above would be great if possible.

On our homeward trek, just after passing Road Junction # 61 we paid closer attention to a wall along the trail’s west side. At first glance it appears to be made of concrete embedded with stones, essentially a 10-25 foot high retaining wall. In reality it is a crosscut of the ground which makes up the island itself. What looks like cement is in fact semi-solid, can easily be scraped away with a stick, and in some places is soft enough to scratch with a finger. Our guess is that it is ancient volcanic ash mixed with small-to-large stones and compressed over the millennia. We can only imagine the machinery that must have been required to slice into the side of the hill to create the wall and roadbed. If you look closely at the picture of Marcia standing by the wall, you can see that the equipment left a fairly smooth horizontal groove at about her shoulder height, roughly four and a half feet, and above the groove you see rougher cut wall. We’d be interested to hear from anyone knowledgeable about such equipment and the techniques that would have been used 100 years ago to create such a wall. We saw no evidence that any part of the wall has collapsed, indicating that no large bombs ever fell in the area. Given the soft composition of the wall, it would have crumbled, leaving the road covered in rubble such as we encountered beyond Breakwater Point.

March 2nd marked the 66th anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur fulfilling his pledge to return to The Rock. We joined Corregidor Island Manager Ronilo Benadero and four of the security men from Ground Zero for an early morning flag-raising to commemorate that event. The 48-star flag was donated to the Corregidor Foundation, Inc. by James Zobel, curator of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. It flew proudly above the island for the day.

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