Friday, March 2, 2012

Newsletter 200: The lost glasses

It’s hard to believe, but this is our 200th newsletter since we started sending them about our life in the Philippines. It’s already been three and a half years.

Friday, March 2, marked the 67th Anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Rock. There was a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at 11 A.M. Then Steve gave a short talk about the significance of the date to students and professors from Cordillero College in Baguio who had come by banca from Bataan. Steve stressed that General MacArthur was undoubtedly the most loved American of the students’ grandparents’ generation, and how he kept his promise to “return” to liberate the Philippines.

In our last newsletter, we did not mention that Steve lost his eyeglasses during our second expedition to the firing range. We decided to wait until we knew whether we would ever find them. The story follows.

When we first reached the 300-yard-line wall, Steve sat on the top to get a GPS reading. Marcia started clearing vegetation from the stairs that lead into the trench behind the wall so she could take photos before descending. After a couple of minutes, Steve, leaving his backpack and most of his equipment on the wall, descended the steps as well. Marcia continued photographing the wall, and Steve went on ahead to see how long it was – about 100 feet. At one point, Marcia had Steve turn around to include him in a picture to put the wall into perspective. Then Steve walked to the end of the trench and went uphill to the right to explore above the wall, with Marcia slowly following.

As Steve started walking above the wall, his glasses were suddenly pulled from his face by a small vine or branch that caught near his right ear. He stopped immediately but never heard the glasses hit the earth, which seemed odd because of the dry-leaf layer on the ground. Since his vision without glasses is about 20/750, he called for Marcia to help him search. Steve went to hands and knees, starting at his original point, and we both moved very carefully. We spent the next hour moving slowly outward from the tree where he’d been – going so far as to search below the wall, in case they had flown that far. We even looked up into the vines and trees above the area, thinking that maybe they had snagged on a branch, and shook the small trees in hopes of dislodging them, all to no avail.

We never figured out exactly what could have caught on his glasses, since he stopped instantly and there did not appear to be anything in the exact spot where this had taken place. Very strange, indeed. Eventually, being hot, sweaty, and tired, we decided that we would head home and return the next morning. Fortunately, Steve has several other pairs of glasses, so it would not have been too bad if they were truly lost, but they are his favorites – most accurate prescription and transitions lenses. (We find it helpful to wear glasses in the jungle for eye-protection. Steve had no choice but to walk several hundred yards to the main trail without that help, while relying on his poor vision.)

As we walked back, Marcia asked if Steve might have left his glasses with his backpack, since he would have taken them off to work with his GPS. (Steve sees very well up close – up to about six inches – without glasses.) Steve thought it was a vague possibility – that he might have felt the contact against his face and just assumed his glasses had been snagged. Then we remembered the photo that Marcia had taken of Steve alongside the wall; surely this would tell the story.

After showering, we took a close look at the photo in question. (In it, Steve is standing in sunlight while the wall, on the right, is essentially invisible due to shadows.) Steve was far enough away that trying to determine if he was wearing his glasses required considerable enlargement. At first glance, it appeared that he had been wearing the glasses at the time. The bows seemed to be visible, although vine shadows might have accounted for the lines. On the other hand, we could not see the plastic bridge between his eyes. In addition, the glasses have transitions lenses, so we thought they would be darkened. Look at the close-up. Can you be sure he is or is not wearing his glasses at the time?

Steve was pretty much convinced that he had been wearing the glasses for two main reasons: one, he thought he remembered seeing the stairway clearly enough to walk down it safely; and, two, he believed that he went from good to bad vision at the instant the glasses left his face. But the more we both thought about our lengthy search, the more convinced we became of the possibility that he’d left his glasses with his backpack and GPS, then simply did not see them with those items when he went back to collect everything after we suspended the search.

The longer we thought about it, the more hope we had that we would find the glasses on the wall above the stairway. If we found them there, Steve would forever wonder how he could have walked so far without them, and then all of a sudden been aware that they were gone. On the other hand, since we had already searched all around the spot where he thought they were lost, where could they have gone? Granted, the frames are a tawny color that matches the fallen leaves, but we still thought they should have been easy enough to spot in the relatively open area.

The following morning we returned to the scene of the mystery. Being convinced that the glasses would be on top of the wall where Steve initially sat, we were disappointed to find that, in fact, they were not. So he must have been wearing them all along, as he had thought. Next, would we find them in the area where we had hunted for at least an hour the day before?

We located the tree past which Steve had been walking when he lost his glasses, and once again began to look in exactly the same places as the day before. What else could we do? We looked for maybe five minutes, and then met back at the tree, once again talking about where they could possibly be. Marcia looked down, and not more than a few inches from the base of the tree, where Steve had stood – and crawled – the day before, there they were!!! The morning sun was shining on the edges of the lenses, or they might have remained hidden from us forever. The previous day we had searched in concentric circles, Steve on hands and knees for a while, but somehow had missed them at the very middle of the search area. As you can see in the picture, taken by Steve at the spot where the event occurred, the glasses fell straight down and maybe a foot to his left. Look at the picture. Can you see them? But why did he hear nothing when they landed? Why did he not quickly find them? It will forever remain a mystery.

We suspected that the wall at the 300-yard line was a place for men to shelter and possibly for yet-to-be-used targets to be stored. We weren’t too far off, as our friend Jack Duncan, 44-year US Navy veteran and longtime NRA member, describes in the following email.

Steve and Marcia, you're probably aware of this, but the "back wall" of the 300-yard targets where Steve is looking down is known as the "butts." The targets were raised and lowered on frames very similar to old-fashioned sash windows, including counter-weights just like the windows. The "butt-pullers" were rotated from the relays of shooters, each relay taking turns. Spotters (large colored cardboard disks) were fitted with wooden pegs in the center that would be put in the bullet holes in the targets so that the shooters 300-yards away could spot where their bullets were going and make sight corrections accordingly. Black disks (tsk, tsk) if your shots were outside the black "bulls-eye," white disks for shots inside the black. There would have been a sloping berm of dirt in the direction of the firing line to absorb any low shots and the concrete wall behind that berm was where the butt-pullers did their heavy work. Marlene and I have both taken our turns as butt-pullers across the nation. There is only one set of butts on a range, while the shooters themselves move back from 200-yards to 300-yards to 600-yards to 1,000-yards for "across the course matches." Usually, using good spotting scopes the shooters can spot their own holes at 100-yards. If terrain and real estate is a problem, then the 600-yard line may be located at 500-yards, such as at the rifle range at MCAS, Miramar, CA, last time I fired there.

I tried to find an illustration for this without success.


Looking at our maps and the steep hillsides and ravines of Corregidor, we believe that the firing line here was fixed; the men would not have been able to move back and forth as Jack describes for normal circumstances. It is hard to tell how much the 200-yard line was used, and there is certainly no room for targets at 500- or 600-yard distances.

We received the following email from Morgan French of Houston, Texas:

Steve, wanted to let you know that my Dad, Morgan French, passed away on Friday, February 24. As we discussed last year, he was the last living member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Company D, that served on Bataan in 1942. Dad was captured on Ft. Drum on 5/10/42, spent 5 months at Cabanatuan, and then almost 3 years as a POW in Japan.

I don't know how many of our group from last April that you're in touch with, but if you could share with them that Dad has passed away, and others you communicate with and who might have an interest in this, I would appreciate it.

Congratulations on your & Marcia's 39th wedding anniversary - that's quite an accomplishment!

Hope all is going good for you guys - take care.


Our thanks to Jack for his information, and our condolences to Morgan on the passing of his father.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

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