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.

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