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 CafĂ©. 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

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