Saturday, February 25, 2012

The target range

The other day we decided to explore the area that was the site of the Fort Mills (the Army name for Corregidor) target range. We knew the location, which is on the “head” of the island, east of Rock Point, but we didn’t know exactly what to expect when we got there. Steve imagined a somewhat flat area, but a close study of the map indicated that the firing line was at the 300 feet above sea level, the 200-yard line at the 250-foot level, and the 300-yard line again at the 300-foot level. The trail leading from Battery Way and below the range is very familiar to us, but we figured that the old road above the range would be completely overgrown.

We started by taking the trail from Battery Way, which, on the provided section of map, would be to the bottom right. Along the way, Marcia spotted a Monitor lizard in the road. He posed for her, but we were not carrying a good telephoto lens, and it was tricky lighting, so the pictures didn’t come out very well. Marcia attempted to get a decent photo, but as you can see from the original shot and the close-up, the lizard blended in very well. (You can see it if you look closely at the crop, which is from just right and just below center of the original. The lizard’s head is into shadow and looking to its right, with the body coming almost straight toward us, and the tail angling toward us to the right again.) Monitors are very alert and rarely pose for pictures, so we got lucky with this one.

We used our GPS to get us to the location of the firing line. We had to climb a steep, 10-foot embankment to get to a flat area where the men fired. Immediately the contour dropped away, and we were surprised just how large the ravine was toward the target lines. Using the GPS to point us in the right direction, we tried to move through the jungle using the path of least resistance. Eventually we worked our way to where the 200-yard line had to have been. It was just the side of a hill, slanting sharply up toward the left. Who knows what a metal detector would have located, given the number of rounds that were fired into the side of that hill?

From there we worked our way up toward the 300-yard line, and found the same thing; a hillside slanted up to the left, not seeing any concrete or structural remains. We were now on the road indicated on the map (very bottom of 300 yard-line where it intersects with the road on the map), but the road appeared to be overgrown, so we decided it might be easier to exit by working our way downhill to the familiar road, which was much closer. We located a drainage ditch and were able to follow it down, although at points we had to work our way around left or right because of jungle growth. We were a little disappointed not to find any physical evidence, and without GPS we would have had no clue regarding the history of the area.

However, our friend John M. told us that if we looked more closely, we could find four corner posts of an unidentified building, and a wall at the firing line, as well as another wall with stairway at the 300-yard line. Sure enough, we went back and searched a larger area, finding everything that he’d seen there. GPS on Corregidor only gets you within about 30 feet, so when you reach an area you have to move around to find things. Part of the problem was that the building we were seeking is no longer evident, and the corner posts we did find are from a building that was apparently constructed after the 1935 Secret Army map.

This week, a man who goes by the name “Diver Dan” stayed on the island for a couple of days. We spent a lot of time at the house talking about Corregidor, and on two consecutive mornings Steve and Dan went on jungle hikes. We hope to see more of him in the future. When Steve said goodbye, Dan told him that he had come to the island to look for dive sites, but after spending the time exploring, he’d come to appreciate what a wonderful place Corregidor is and to appreciate its role in Philippine and American history.

Friday the 24th was our 39th wedding anniversary, and our fourth celebrated here on the Rock. A few weeks ago, Neal Freeman from Brooklyn, New York, asked to spend a day with Steve on Corregidor. Friday happened to be the day that fit Neal’s schedule. He came to the Philippines to do research for a play about his great uncle who survived the Death March but died aboard the Arisan Maru in 1944. We look forward to seeing the play.

We had never gone to the extreme western end of Corregidor to watch a sunset, and decided that our anniversary was a good day to do so. We had clear skies and a beautiful view of the sun disappearing into the South China Sea. In the picture, you can see La Monja Island just below and left of the setting sun. On the upper right is Mariveles harbor, and on the lower right is Conchita Island, just below our viewing point at Battery Hanna.

In closing, another timely email from our friend Bill Borg in Australia:


Today, (19th February, 1942), is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin, Australia.
The first enemy attack on Australian soil in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia occurred at 9:58am on Thursday 19th February 1942.The small Northern Territory town of Darwin suffered an air raid attack by 188 Japanese aircraft. At the time of the attack, the civilian population was less than 2000.

The man who led the attack on Pearl Harbour, Mitsuo Fuchida, was in command of this first attack (carrier borne) on Darwin. By 10:30am, the first raid was over. The US destroyer 'Peary' was sunk within minutes with the loss of 80 lives. Also, the large US transport 'Meigs' was sunk with the loss of only 2 lives. The second raid occurred at 11:58am by land based aircraft from the Celebes and Ambon and the Darwin Airstrip was the target with all aircraft destroyed (uncamouflaged - same as Clark Field) with the loss of only 7 men.

According to the 'Lowe' report, released in 1945, 243 people had been killed with 300 - 400 injured and that earlier warnings would have saved lives and that 'unfortunate panic' was rife among civilians and servicemen. It is often forgotten that the air raids of 19th February were only the first of more than 60 raids over the next 18 months, although none was as severe as those on the 19th February.

(Reference: "Australians Under Fire - 1942" - Australia Post, 1991)

Bill Borg

We expect that many of our readers are surprised to read that the Japanese raided Australia more than 60 times during WW II. Thanks, Bill, for this information. Of course, many 70th anniversaries are coming up soon, including the Fall of Bataan (April 9), and the Fall of Corregidor and the Philippines (May 6).

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

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