Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day at the American Cemetery in Manila

Recently we were honored to have our friend, author John Lukacs (pronounced “Lucas,”) spend a couple of days with us on Corregidor. You may remember that recently we recommended his book, Escape from Davao, which has recently been released in paperback. Although it has not hit the bestseller list, it can well be compared to the recent bestseller, Unbroken. Both are extremely thorough in research and documentation, and could appear to have been written by the same author if one didn’t know better. If you liked Unbroken, you should equally enjoy – if “enjoy” is the correct term for a book about the miseries of being a prisoner of the Japanese – Escape from Davao. John was interested to learn more about Steve’s father, Walter, and to read the plaque that we had placed for him four years ago at Battery Way. He wished us success with our upcoming book.

While we were touring the island with John we got word that the U.S.S. Carl Vinson was again passing Corregidor. Marcia thought that our best chance of seeing it up close would be at Battery James, and sure enough, we got a wonderful viewing opportunity. As it passed out of sight we drove the jeep down James Ravine and saw it exiting Manila Bay. The next morning as we were walking in the same area we happened to spot a monitor lizard. Monitors are easy enough to see here but extremely difficult to photograph, since they are very alert and run for cover as soon as they sense humans. This one didn’t go far, seeking cover in some fallen branches. It stood stock-still and we were able to get a halfway decent shot of it.

For the third straight year we attended the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Manila American Cemetery. It was well attended, and the honored guests included Jejomar Binay, Vice President of the Philippines. Guest speakers were U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, General Gary North, head of the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific and stationed at Hickam Field in Honolulu, and General Eduardo Oban, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

There were about 20 wreaths on display; we have included a photo of the one donated jointly by the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines and the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment. FAME is responsible for many of the WW II monuments here, including the 138 markers along the Bataan Death March route.

It is always interesting to have a name to look up when going to the cemetery, and over the years we have found many, including the great uncle of our daughter-in-law Carolyn. This time we looked for Major Thomas Smothers Jr., a West Point graduate and father of Dick and Tommy Smothers, AKA “The Smothers Brothers.” Since he died aboard a “Hellship,” we assumed correctly that he would be listed on the Walls of the Missing.

We also visited a grave we had previously photographed. Our first Veterans Day here, November 11, 2008, we took a number of photographs of the cemetery and included them with our newsletter. Steve’s mother, Mary Anne, thought that a lady who writes human interest columns for the Mesabi Daily News would like to see the pictures. Linda Tyssen was so impressed that she asked Mary Anne if she could use some in the newspaper. We were more than happy to give our permission, so Linda ran a story and a picture or two about the cemetery here in Manila.

On the day that the story ran, Mary Anne received a phone call from a woman who lived nearby, the manager of the apartment building where one of Mary Anne’s best friends lives. Virginia is a very small city, and just about everybody knows everybody. She told Mary Anne that she thought that her husband’s brother, Reino Kallio, might be buried in the cemetery, but the family was not sure. We just so happened to be back in Manila at the time that Mary Anne sent an email asking if we could investigate.

Everyone who is buried in Manila or is on its Walls of the Missing is in an on-line database run by the American Battlefields Monument Commission, so it was easy to find Reino’s name and the exact grave where he was buried. We went right over to the cemetery, located the grave, and took a few pictures. The markers, mostly crosses but also a number of Stars of David, had names carved into them over 60 years ago, so it is very difficult to see the names unless you stand at just the right angle or the sun is in the perfect spot. For this reason, cemetery staff will take some wet sand and rub it into the name so that you can see it in a photograph. You can compare the two photographs included. One is from 2008, with the sand in place. The other is from this past Sunday. It also shows the American and Philippine flags in front of the markers. There are over 17,000 graves, and on the Saturday before Memorial Day each year a host of volunteers put the two flags in front of each marker. It is most impressive.

The upshot of the story is that Reino’s sister-in-law finally got the answer she had been seeking. In fact, she got more than that. Cemetery Assistant Director Bert Caloud was able to tell us that based upon his outfit, the 182nd Infantry, and the fact that he died on April 11, 1945, indicated that Reino died in the retaking of Cebu. The sad part of the story is that Mrs. Kallio’s husband, Reino’s brother, had passed away less than a month earlier, never knowing for sure where Reino had been killed or where he was laid to rest.

By the way, we were informed that approximately 39 percent of the men who were killed and whose bodies were recovered in MacArthur’s theatre of the war are buried in Manila. The vast majority of the rest were returned to their families in the States after the war. Believe or not, two bodies of unknowns are about to be exhumed and returned to their families in the near future, thanks to advances in forensic science.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U.S.S. Carl Vinson sails past Corregidor

According to a recent newspaper article, the week of May 13 is historically the hottest of the year. This year is no exception, clearly the hottest week so far this year. Early last week Typhoon Bebeng passed nearby, resulting in a couple of cooler days and our first significant rain in months. As a result of the 2+ inches, things are starting to green up around here, and we can smell the fragrance from kalamansi and mock orange/orange jasmine blossoms…but of course it also increased the already-high humidity level. It’s kind of funny to us that on some days the distant views are crystal clear and we can actually see some of the Metro Manila high rises, while on other sunny days it is so hazy that you can’t even see across the few miles to Bataan.

On Monday, May 9, Sun Cruises had to cancel its tour because of high waves in Manila Bay. We stayed home and enjoyed the strong breeze. We noticed a long time ago that we have slide locks on both the inside and outside of our screen door, and that day showed us why. The wind blew strongly enough through the house to open the screen door despite having a Yale door-closer. So we locked the outside lock for the day, switching to the inside lock whenever we were indoors. Most of the time we totally ignore it.

Last year, Typhoon Basyang hit Corregidor on July 12. This year Bebeng passed by on May 9, meaning the first major typhoon of the year to hit the area came more than two months sooner. We wonder what else may be in store for us this year, whether this portends more typhoon activity for the season or not. Bebeng left 44 people dead in the country and caused over 30 million dollars (more than 1.3 billion pesos) in damages. It was a major enough storm that, following Philippine tradition, the name has been removed from the list for future “named storms,” meaning that Bebeng goes down in history by itself to avoid reawakening the negative memories that will now be associated with the name.

On Sunday, May 15, Ron sent us a text saying that an aircraft carrier was passing by Corregidor. We had heard that the USS Carl Vinson would be passing and had hoped to see it, but were afraid that it would pass us in the night. By the time we received the text and got to the north dock, it had already traveled well past the island, headed toward Manila. Unfortunately that meant that it was past the optimal photo position, and was now moving into the morning sun. Add to that the haze and we really didn’t get any good pictures, although our binoculars provided a decent view. The ship made the news when, two weeks ago, it was the recovery vessel for the SEAL team assigned to the Osama bin Laden raid, and provided his burial in the North Arabian Sea.

Between the heat and both of us recovering from colds, we’ve been lying low. We decided to take a short walk up to Battery Crockett to try to locate an emergency bunker that, according to our maps, is just a short distance up the hill from the east gun. It turned out to be very easy to find, in part because this is the best time of year vegetation-wise for exploration. It is easier to move through the jungle, and the ruins are much more exposed. Shortly, the vegetation will once again “explode,” as it takes advantage of the upcoming rainy season.

The bunker is particularly interesting because there is a large piece of concrete inside it, much too large to have been placed there by human hands. We are guessing that it is from the humongous explosion that occurred on the afternoon of May 2, 1942, when Japanese artillery crews were able to directly target the central powder magazine at Battery Geary, killing somewhere from 30 to 60 men instantly and sending chunks of concrete over much of the island. Steve’s father Walter, on the other side of Topside at Battery Way, was one of many who thought that a major earthquake had just taken place.

Today the ruins of Battery Geary remain, but only six of its original eight guns are present, and two of those are under the collapsed roof of one of the other two bunkers. One of those two can be seen sticking out below the fractured roof; the other is 20 feet to its right, inside the structure and not visible from a distance. These two guns appear to provide the only support still holding up the roof. As you approach the battery from the main road, you can see a piece of concrete stairway that had been thrown hundreds of feet by the explosion. It is shown in the lower left of one of the attached pictures.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Manila Bay cruise, 69th Anniversary

We took the Sun Cruiser II to Manila on Wednesday afternoon, but instead of going straight to our hotel, we boarded the Spirit of Manila for a Manila Bay dinner cruise. The boat has an open upper deck as well as a closed, air-conditioned lower deck. Since it was still very hot and humid even late in the day, we opted to stay below, although many of the guests did go topside.

The boat cleared the breakwater and headed south at a leisurely speed toward MoA (the SM Mall of Asia). People who have not been to Manila in recent years would not recognize the bay front; Dewey Boulevard used to run for miles right next to the water. Now Roxas Boulevard – same road, new name – only runs right beside the bay in the area between the U.S. Embassy on the north and the Manila Yacht Club on the south, not much longer than a mile. Now, as you continue south, there is a lot of reclaimed land extending westward into Manila Bay, providing property for many of the nicest hotels, shopping centers, and even the Manila World Trade Center.

We turned around just south of MoA and headed north. About that time we were served our meal, which included chicken in a sauce with which we were unfamiliar, pork kaldereta, rice, corn, and some type of muffin with a sweet cheese topping. Throughout the cruise a young man and woman sang songs. After dinner Steve went on top for a different view. Because of the breeze he didn’t realize just how hot it was until he went back down into the aircon below. The cruise proceeded north until it got near Manila Ocean Park, just short of the Manila Hotel and Pier 15, formerly Pier 7. Then we turned around and headed for the pier. All in all, the cruise took about 75 minutes. We docked just before sunset. Next time we will try to go during the second trip, so that we can experience the sunset while on the water, and also see the buildings at night.

Since we both enjoy being out on the water and the food was good, we’d definitely say we enjoyed ourselves. About the only negative factor had nothing to do with the cruise; it is very difficult to hail a taxi at six o’clock in the evening anywhere near the pier. We had to walk toward our hotel for at least a mile, crossing Roxas Blvd. before finding an available cab. We’re sure that most people who take the dinner cruise would be coming from the city area or be returning from the Corregidor tour, and would have their rides arranged ahead of time. You can see the information online www.corregidorphilippines.com/packages.html.

The reason for our trip to Manila was to sign a book contract with Anvil Publishing. The book has been in the making since 2003. When we met with Karina a few weeks ago, she seemed eager to be able to recommend it to their review board. She told us that the only other book about World War II that they had published was last year’s “Jungle of No Mercy: Memoir of a Japanese Soldier,” by 89 year old Hiroyuki Mizuguchi, a Japanese man who grew up in the Philippines but served in the Japanese Army.

Although we have been calling the book “We Managed to Survive” for the past eight years, we are awaiting their title recommendations. The manuscript will now go into editing, and then we will have to decide which proposed changes should be made and which ones need further discussion. It’s exciting to finally have something happening! Since Anvil is a Philippine publisher, we have a few options for selling the book in the U.S., including finding a second publisher. But one step at a time... It should be available here in time for the yearly book fair in September.

We had to return to Corregidor on Friday morning, since it was May 6, the 69th Anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor, with the surrender of the Philippines to soon follow. Steve’s first such ceremony was in 2002, the 60th Anniversary, with five Corregidor and two Bataan Death March survivors present. We came to Corregidor together in 2003 but there was no formal ceremony. Starting in 2009, the first May after we moved to the island, there has been a ceremony each year. We are expecting that next year, being the 70th, will be the biggest in a while, and are hoping against hope that we can have at least one POW present for the ceremony, as well as many family members and friends of POWs. The problem is that those POWs we know are challenged by health issues, making it difficult or impossible for them to travel such a long distance.

As in the past two years, Steve was the featured speaker. He talked about the significance of that day in history, and also shared some of his father’s love of the island. As you may know, Walter was reluctant to talk about his war experiences with the exception of pre-surrender Corregidor. Speaking of being a POW of the Japanese, he once said, “I wouldn’t take $1,000,000 to go through that for one day!” We have both come to love Corregidor as much as Walter did, if that is possible, and it didn’t take us very long. Everyone who comes here is amazed by what they see, and by how well maintained the island is.

A final note: Walter passed away on Mother’s Day, May 8, 1988. So this Mother’s Day we again remember Walter, who has been gone an incredible 23 years. Walter suffered from the effects of the beriberi he acquired as a POW for the remainder of his life; the pain in his feet never stopped. He always slept with his feet uncovered, he shed his shoes and socks the moment he entered the house, and almost every photograph we have of him shows his bare feet.