Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Michigan connection

As you may know, we spent over 28 years living in the Lansing, Michigan area, most of the years that our children were in school. Just next door is East Lansing, home to Michigan State University, known nationally as “State” or “MSU.” (In the Philippines, MSU is Mindanao State University.) Because of our proximity, and since most of our friends had attended State, we naturally became fans. Green and White were good, and all things related to the University of Michigan’s Maize (golden yellow) and Blue were evil, mean and nasty.

So, who should contact us and ask to spend some time here on Corregidor but Tom and Susie, who attended U of M and MSU respectively. It wasn’t too difficult to spot them as they came off the boat, since they were wearing their school colors. Actually, Steve met Tom a couple of years ago, a chance meeting when Tom was assigned to one of Steve’s tours. For some reason, Tom had taken an interest in Battery Way, and he had been wearing a cap that he’d had made for himself. When he realized how important Battery Way was to Steve, he promised to have a cap made for him as well, and on this, his fifth trip to the Rock, he presented Steve with it. Although Steve is most grateful, he joked that it would have looked a lot better in Green and White than, that’s right, Blue and Gold.

Tom had emailed weeks in advance and said that, since he had been on the regular Sun Cruises tour a number of times, he would prefer that he and Susie simply spend the time with us hiking in the more remote places that most of the island’s guests never get to see. We were more than happy to oblige. On the afternoon of their arrival, we took them to Kindley Field, which, among other things, is the Omaha Beach of Corregidor as far as the Japanese are concerned, but is usually not seen by guests due to time constraints limiting the regular tour. Then we walked with them up Malinta Hill to see the observation area and searchlight position. They treated us to lunch at MacArthur Café. In the afternoon, we took them out to the westernmost part of the island, visiting the Batteries Smith and Hannah areas. As you can see in the photo, Susie literally walked the soles off her shoes! They treated us to dinner in the Corregidor Inn. The following morning we all walked around at Topside, spent some time in the museum, and wrapped up our time together with another lunch at MacArthur’s before they boarded the ferry to return to Manila.

Again, we encourage people who have been here before as day-tourists and want to see more of the island to consider doing what Tom and Susie did: come to Corregidor and spend a night or two, and take the time to explore more of the island’s historic and natural attractions. We assure you that the Sun Cruises standard tour packs in a lot in a few short hours, and we always encourage people to see the island in that way for their first time.

It is jackfruit time again, and that means daily visits by our furry neighbors. Actually, they usually stop by once or twice a day to see if we’ve discarded banana or citrus peels, but this time of year they are on the prowl for jackfruit. We have one tree only a few yards from the house that produces more and more fruit every year. For those of you unfamiliar with it, jackfruit is a very large fruit that grows on trees. By large, we are saying that some approach the size of large watermelons, close to 18 inches in length and 8-12 inches in diameter. When the fruits are green, they can substitute for potatoes, vegetables, or beans in soups. When they ripen, the fruit is extremely sweet, sometimes used in the popular dessert halo-halo. The monkeys have not let one ripen on the tree since our first year here, either eating them while sitting in the tree, or chewing through the stems to drop the fruits to the ground.

The monkeys usually come through the yard as a tribe, and we have come to learn that they are selfish individuals. One large male that we see all the time we’ve nicknamed “Big Red,” since he seems to have a red rather than grey-brown pelt. If Big Red is the first one here, the others are usually out of luck. Due to its size, jackfruit time is the exception, since there is enough fruit to share.

What usually happens is something like this. We are in our dirty kitchen out back when we hear rustling leaves indicating activity in the jackfruit tree. Sometimes we’ve already spotted the monkeys, especially if they run across our bodega roof, which is tin and noisy. Other times they can approach stealthily through the trees or across the grass. In any case, the next thing we hear is a loud “thunk” as another jackfruit hits the ground. And right away a monkey is sitting by the jackfruit and starting to tear it apart. Sometimes several of the younger monkeys will eat together, but there is an apparent ranking that usually determines who eats first, second, and so on. The squabbles when someone ‘cuts in line’ can be very loud, sounding a lot like a mixture of dogs and cats fighting. Eventually, after enough of the fruit is gone, a monkey will drag the remainder a little further away, we assume because they know we are watching them and they feel guilty for once again eating the fruit before we get our turn.

Friday, January 20, 2012

We welcome back the Adams Family

For the second straight year, we were honored to help host the Richard (Dick) Adams Family here on Corregidor. You may recall that Dick was a member of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, which began the liberation of Corregidor on February 16, 1945. As of now Dick is the last WW II veteran and last liberator associated with Corregidor to return here. The last defenders (1941-1942) were Everett Reamer and Chuck Towne, who returned in January 2006. The oldest returning veteran so far has been Oscar Leonard, who served on the island before the war. He also holds the record for the oldest veteran (and possibly oldest, period) to climb Malinta Hill, at the age of 91 years, 11 months, and 12 days. Dick is a mere 89 and a half.

Last year Dick and Nancy’s daughter, Kim, was not able to come with them, but this year she joined them and her younger sister, Alyson, currently on leave from the U.S. Air Force. Corregidor Foundation Inc. Executive Director, Colonel Artemio Matibag, arranged for a wreath-laying ceremony on their first day here. This was held at Topside at the 503rd Marker, which is adjacent to Topside Parade Grounds. Alyson donned her USAF uniform, and Dick, who until arrival did not know that the family had secretly brought it for the occasion, donned his U.S. Army uniform that shows his rank – six stripes – after years of continued service.

Although Dick does not see himself as a hero or even anyone special but as just another soldier who did his duty, he looked great in uniform, and later said he appreciated the special attention that the island visitors bestowed upon him. Dick took the time to talk to some of the interested guests, as well as go into the museum, which features a photo of MacArthur riding in a jeep with Dick amidst a group of men in the background.

Joining us for part or all of the Adams’ stay were friends John Moffitt, Paul Whitman, Karl Welteke, and Peter Parsons. At any given time, we were all available to assist them in seeing the island. We also joined them for lunches and dinners at MacArthur’s Café, and extend sincere thanks to Edit and Orly for their help with providing vegetarian meals for Kim – and all of us – to enjoy. Overnight and breakfast accommodations for Dick and family were at the Corregidor Inn, with many thanks to staff and management.

One of the highlights was a trip up Malinta Hill, where Dick was positioned on sentry duty with about six other soldiers when thousands of Japanese died in the tunnel beneath the hill in a massive suicide explosion. At the top is an observation post/gun position, which interestingly has camouflage under the roof but not on top, indicating that when the installations on Corregidor were designed and installed, aerial warfare was not considered as a risk, only attacks from the water below. We include a photo of John and Peter taken there.

On their last full day on Corregidor, Steve drove the family to Topside where they spent several hours by themselves, looking at places that Dick remembers from his time on the Rock. Later in the day, we took them for a drive, since Kim had still not been to some of the important sites. We drove around Tailside, taking in the vistas at the beach resort and Kindley Field. We finished up with Topside, overlooking the hillside where Dick landed, short of his golf course landing zone, on February 16, 1945. Finally, we watched a beautiful sunset from Battery Grubbs.

On Monday, after four days here, we bid adieu to the Adams family at the North Dock. They were planning to spend another three days touring historic spots and staying at beach resorts in Bagac and Subic Bay before flying back home to Michigan. For the past few months, Sun Cruises has been offering its guests ferry service to Mariveles, Bataan, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It departs soon after the delivering the Day Tour guests on Corregidor at approximately 9:30. Dick, Nancy, Kim and Alyson took advantage of this new feature. The boat returns from Mariveles to Corregidor at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, boards the day-tourists, and heads back to Manila. So, we want you to know that if it is more convenient for you to come to the island from Bataan, and you plan to spend at least one night on Corregidor – highly recommended – we encourage you to check out this new option from Sun Cruises.

Because the Adams family members – except for Kim – were here last January, much of what we could have written regarding this visit would have been repetitious, so we encourage you to visit our website, steveandmarciaontherock.blogspot.com and read the relevant newsletter from January 2011.

For the past week or so, crews for “The Bourne Legacy” have been filming in Manila. We heard that certain streets are closed to traffic to facilitate the filming, and that the normally heavy traffic in these areas is even worse as a result. Later, other locales in the Philippines will be used for film locations. We will find it very interesting to watch the completed movie and look for spots we recognize. We certainly hope that the Philippines gets repaid in positive publicity for the hassles that it is undergoing in order to comply with the filmmaker’s wishes.

The basketball tournament will resume soon. We had to postpone games over Christmas and New Years. Vacations for key individuals delayed it further. We are hoping to wrap it up this month.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The treasure hunt

On Wednesday, Larry Atkinson, director of the American Cemetery in Manila, and his assistant, Bert Caloud, brought Darrell Dorgan to Corregidor. Darrell, from Bismarck, North Dakota, is an acquaintance of Fred Saefke, who was in the 4th Marine Regiment on Corregidor when it surrendered on May 6, 1942.

Private Saefke was in the Government Ravine area when the order to surrender was given. The men were told to get rid of all of their valuables, which otherwise would have to be given over to their Japanese captors. Saefke claims to have hidden a ring and a locket in Government Ravine, and was hoping that Darrell could find them. We had been aware of this story for several years, but figured that the chance of finding the items was next to nil. Nonetheless, we gladly agreed to accompany the men on their little treasure hunt. Our good friend, John Moffitt, who is very familiar with the area, agreed to be accompany us.

We began by walking along the south beach toward the bottom of Government Ravine. At first, the shore was sandy and easy to traverse, but soon we were walking on medium to large sized stones, and the going was a bit treacherous, since a slip could easily mean a broken arm or leg. Government Ravine is much further from the south beach than Saefke’s map indicated, making us wonder if he meant Ramsey Ravine, which we walked past first. He mentioned several landmarks, some of which seemed to be in one ravine and some in the other, making matters more confusing.

Hoping that he had stated the correct ravine, we proceeded up Government Ravine from the shoreline. We soon came to a concrete trench that zigzags a hundred yards or so up from the beach. The Saefke map shows a straight trench, more indicative of Ramsey Ravine. Soon we came to an old water-pumping house, and then began our ascent. Saefke indicated that there was a very large tree 21 paces (he was 21 at the time of surrender) from the hiding place. We knew that we would never find this most important landmark, since 70 years have passed, and trees spring up and grow much more quickly here than in the northern United States, essentially blending in around the old tree, should it still exist, which is highly unlikely. One must also realize the changes wrought to the island in the 1945 liberation assault, as well as 70 years of rains, typhoons, and earthquakes.

Eventually we decided that we were not going to find what we were looking for, and followed an old roadbed trail back to Bottomside, where we had hotdogs, hamburgers, and San Miguel Pale Pilsens at MacArthur’s Café. After lunch, Steve gave Darrell a one-hour whirlwind ride around Corregidor, showing him the main gun batteries and barracks, along with a walk through the Pacific War Museum on Topside.

Since this is his treasure, and we do not want others going off in search of it, we do not feel that it would be prudent to describe in detail the major clues as to where Saefke hid the items. Suffice it to say that we had other clues that should have helped us locate the items if the area still looked the same now as it did to Saefke, but we sincerely doubt that he would recognize much of anything should he have come back here himself. In fact we never found anything like we were looking for, so our search turned out to be fruitless. Nevertheless, it was a fun three hours out in the jungle.

A few months ago, we spent some time with a man named Christopher. He recently sent the following email in appreciation:

Dear Steve,

I do apologize about the delay. I just wanted to thank you and your wife Marcia for sharing a wonderful experience on Corregidor Island. It was one of my goals to visit Corregidor Island. I spent a month in the Philippines in Cavite city where I stayed with family and friends. I am a former Marine my wife is a Filipino and also a former Marine. While I was in the Philippines I took a tour to Corregidor Island along with a retired Vietnam vet and a Filipino friend named Don. It was our first time to the island. We took the tour package that is offered thru Sun Cruises which is based out of Manila. It takes about one hour and a half to reach Corregidor Island by ferry. When we got there we loaded on to our tour bus and off we went. Our tour bus guide Armando was everything you could ask for in a tour guide. He was knowledgeable about the history of the island and also very funny. The only thing that was disappointing was that it was too short and not a lot of time to explore the island itself. So when we were done with the tour I asked our tour guide Armando about coming back to the island again and he suggested that if I do come back he would help me get in contact with an a American couple that resides on the island. Man I couldn't wait to come back. So the next week me and Don went back for three days and two nights. When we re-visited we met the American couple that lives in Corregidor Island, Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski. Then for the next three days, mainly Steven, gave us a tour of the island that you wouldn't see on the tour itself. He showed us military sites, gun emplacements, defensive positions, buildings and went through caves/tunnels. Steve also gave an underlying history of the island, the battles, and the Bataan death march adjacent the bay. I would like to thank Steve and Marcia for being humble and generous hosts and I am greatly appreciative of their knowledge of Corregidor Island. I would recommend anybody that’s highly interested in WWII history and want to fully-experience Corregidor Island. Corregidor Island is becoming a forgotten historical landmark in American & Filipino history & without the Kwiecinski's I wouldn't have been able to FULLY appreciate the sacrifice the people of the Philippines and the Americans suffered.
I would greatly appreciate keeping in contact with you and your wife. I apologize for the delay. I've been very busy since my return home but this letter has been a priority of mine since my arrival.

Christopher S.

Chris, it was our pleasure having you and Don here, and we hope you can return soon.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Children's Christmas Party

As this newsletter goes out, it is 8:00 A.M. on New Year’s Day, with a gentle breeze blowing off Manila Bay. We expect sunny skies and a high of around 88 degrees. A beautiful start to welcome in the New Year on Corregidor!

We received an email from Steve’s sister Della saying that the temperatures in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota) were in the 30’s and 40’s lately so there was no snow on the ground for Christmas. None here either, although it got so cool Christmas Eve night that we were almost tempted to put a second sheet over us…but had no need to close the windows. It was so windy that no small bancas ran between Bataan and Corregidor, and so despite making plans, for the third year in a row we missed Christmas Mass.

Once again, we spent Christmas with island manager Ronilo Benadero. We purchased two large chickens, which Ron and Gilbert took turns turning over charcoal. They stuffed the chickens with onions, lemon grass, and tamarind pods, and marinated it with patis, a type of salty vinegary sauce. The meal, as usual, was delicious. Marcia brought a cucumber and onion salad to have with the chicken.

Ron had arranged for the children to come to his house for a few gifts. We got a group photo of some of the children and a few mothers. Ron passed out a p20 note (about $1 U.S.) to each of the children. Earlier in the day, Steve and Marcia had put together little baggies with several different candies and a p20 note in each one. The children lined up, and we passed them out as well.

After the gift giving, the children were given further incentives to earn additional p20 notes. One of the contests for the older children was to see who could drink an 8 oz. bottle of soda the faster. Others included dancing to the music. Ron tried to make sure that the money got spread around.

Look at the photo entitled, “Marcia with Shanaica,” and you will see that Shanaica is a sweet, charming nine-year-old whose father, Budoy, works here on the island. Her right foot has been badly deformed since birth. Our guess is that it is something that might have been handled more easily when Shanaica was born, but that now it would require major intervention. She has of course learned to live with her condition, and walks with a minimal limp, something you might miss if you did not know to look for it. It certainly does not keep her from having fun with the other children.

Happy New Year from Steve and Marcia on the Rock