I finally got a chance to fulfill a longtime dream when I was invited to fly over Corregidor on Monday. Peter Parsons and his one-time college roommate John Jenkins, came to the island for a private tour. Marcia and I accompanied them around the island. It just so happened that another of Peter’s friends, pilot Curt Perry, was on his way from Palawan to Subic Bay and stopped to join us all for lunch. When Peter and John boarded the Sun Cruises ferry for Manila, Curt took me up for a spin in his two-liter, turbo-diesel prop plane, using the mostly grass runway known as Kindley Field, which is located on the tail of the island.
Flying in a small plane is about as much like flying in a 747 as driving a motorcycle is like driving a Greyhound bus. I have no fear of flying, and Curt is as experienced a pilot as you could get, but I developed a bit of nausea during the flight. The reason is that I would spot something I wanted to see and Curt would turn the plane sharply to get us in position. At one point I mentioned the mild nausea to Curt and he said, “I forget that not everyone enjoys acrobatics.” It really wasn’t a matter of enjoying it so much as that he would turn hard right and my stomach would keep going forward for a few seconds. It probably did not help that we had just consumed a large lunch of fried chicken and pancit (noodles). You can be sure I found it well worth the minor discomfort.
Having seen many pictures taken from airplanes, I knew more or less what to expect as far as the basic tadpole shape of the island. As we approached the head of the island I spotted Geary Point, and was surprised that it appeared to have been reshaped in a rectangular fashion. Take a look at the photo to see what I’m talking about. I suspected that certain batteries would be easy to spot, and I was correct. The big disappearing gun batteries of Crockett, Wheeler, and Cheney, which are lined up along the southern edge of the island’s head, are even more impressive from the air, and the purpose of their positioning obvious: to keep big enemy ships out of Manila Bay. Likewise, the western batteries of Hearn, Smith, and Grubbs stand out clearly from the air, and spotting Topside and Middleside Barracks and the Ft. Mills Hospital were a snap.
As I suspected, spotting Battery Way from the air, my primary goal, proved much more difficult. The problem is that the trees not only grow right up to the edge of the battery, but they also almost cover the road leading to and from it. So we had to take an educated guess and fly over it several times to get any decent kind of pictures. The afternoon sun angle made it impossible to get a great shot, since shade covered part of the battery. This would be one reason to hope for clouds: less contrast on the ground. Nevertheless I was happy to spot my dad’s battery, and also could understand why the Japanese did not know of its existence until late in their barrage on Corregidor. (It was actually Way’s guns opening fire toward Bataan in late April that revealed its position. After that the battery came under heavy fire for the remaining week of American resistance on Corregidor.)
One interesting building as seen from the air is the YMCA, or Enlisted Men’s Recreation Center at Middleside, very near our house. Most visitors probably never realize what a large building it was, since they don’t leave the road. But walking into its ruins reveals that it is at least double the size that it appears when viewed from the road.
I wanted to get pictures of our house and was somewhat successful. Unfortunately we approached it from the wrong angle. The next time I get up I will ask the pilot to approach from the other side, which will also make Battery Way easier to spot and photograph. Also, I realize now that I did not get any pictures of Battery Geary, the battery that was “blown to smithereens” less than four days before the Japanese assault. The fact that it is mostly grass now, instead of concrete, and that trees grow close by are probably factors, but next time I will make it a priority.
After a few passes of the island, Curt asked me if there was anything else I’d like to see so I asked him to take me over Ft. Drum, the old “concrete battleship.” It is impressive enough from the water, and I have even had the privilege of being on board, but flying over gives a whole new perspective. It is indeed an impressive structure, and moreover, the only one of its kind in the world. Usually it can be seen from Corregidor, but often it just looks like a large, black rectangle that could be mistaken for a passing ship. This battleship was built on an island and isn’t going anywhere, but its presence certainly must have made the Japanese think twice about trying to get past it and the other three fortified islands of Manila Bay, because they never gave it a try.
On the way back to Kindley Field we flew past the northern side of Caballo Island. Since it is still a Philippine Navy arsenal, Curt chose not to fly directly over it. Most impressive are the steep cliffs, and one battery in particular. Filipino Coast Defense scholar and friend Tony Feredo clarified what I photographed: “That is Battery Gillespie, a 14-inch gun on a disappearing carriage. Together with Battery Woodruff (on the lower part of Caballo), these two may be the only remaining 14-inch DC guns (US) in the world. Notice how the gun wells were already filled with concrete. There was a plan to use the battery as a launch platform for the AFP’s rocket experiment in the 70s.” I include a picture from Tony showing him at Gillespie.
We flew over the extreme east end of Corregidor’s tail and swung around to land from the west. As we did so, we passed over the Sun Cruiser II, carrying our friends Peter and John back to Manila. The final approach was easy enough, although Curt mentioned that some maintenance needs to be done to cut the encroaching ipil-ipil trees away from the concrete landing pad. I thanked Curt, and he went on his way back to Subic Bay.