Friday, April 20, 2012

More photos from our April tour

During the first part of our recent tour, photographer Rogelio Santos, aka Ojie, took hundreds of photos of the group. We thought that you would enjoy seeing some of these. Below is a brief explanation of each photo we chose to include from Ojie’s file.

We first visited Santo Tomas University, where John Hogue was interned as a civilian prisoner of war with his Mother and siblings.

John Hogue and John Paul Mathews at Sto. Tomas, in front of the main building, which was used for civilian POW quarters and medical facilities

We visited Bilibid, the Manila City Jail, where several of our veterans were held for varying lengths of time.

Marcia, Lawrence Nelson, and Katie Klug walking back to the bus from the Bilibid (Manila City Jail) gate

We then went to the Manila American Cemetery.

The group in front of the memorial chapel at the American Cemetery in Manila

Marilyn Alarcon Warzecka and her husband Don at the American Cemetery, in one of the two map rooms

The next day we drove to Cabanatuan to visit the location of the largest Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. Three of our veterans had been imprisoned there, along with relatives of four others in our group. Along the way, we made a couple of stops.

Nurse Lori Vanderpool poses with children in Pampanga Province

Dr. Fred Mullinex and Maria Williams in front of Jollibee in Cabanatuan City 

Veterans and descendants of veterans who were imprisoned at Cabanatuan. From left to right, Steve (father Walter), Bob Ehrhart, Jim Collier, Jim Erickson (father Albert), Linda McDavitt (father Jerome),Wayne Carringer, Culea Abraham (great-uncle Linus Marlow)

Branden Piatt, Jim Collier, and Sarah Schrag at Cabanatuan

Warren Jorgenson and JoHannah Fields at Cabanatuan

The Capas Train Station was used as the unloading point for POWs who were transported by rail from the station at San Fernando, Pampanga, during the Bataan Death March.

JoHannah with a local girl outside the Capas Train Station

Malcolm Amos’ marker is KM 110, only two from the end. We stop at it every year. Malcolm had returned to the Philippines many times, the last in 2009. He passed away last year, so we stopped in his memory.

Marcia at Malcolm Amos’s Bataan Death March Marker

Next we visited the Capas National Shrine, once known as the infamous Camp O’Donnell, terminus of the Death March. Wayne Carringer was the only Death March survivor on the tour, so he was a celebrity.

Wayne Carringer and paparazzi at Camp O'Donnell

Wayne and Christianne Martin at Camp O'Donnell

Veterans Jim Collier, Bob Ehrhart, Lawrence Nelson, Ed Knight, Wayne Carringer, and Warren Jorgenson at Camp O'Donnell

College of the Ozarks group, Camp O'Donnell

Warren being lifted into one of the actual rail cars used during the Death March, which is preserved at Camp O'Donnell

Warren in train car, Camp O'Donnell

The next day we visited the Hellships Memorial at Subic Bay. Four of our vets (five including Ray Heimbuch who joined us when we reached Corregidor) had been transported to Japan on these awful ships.

Culea Abraham reading one of the plaques at Hellships Memorial

Jim Erickson, Jim Collier, and Warren Jorgenson, at Hellships Memorial

Group photo, Hellships Memorial, Subic Bay

Shizu Maekawa and Yuka Ibuki, researchers for the US/Japan Dialogue on POWs, at Hellships Memorial

Two days later, we spent the morning at Mt. Samat, celebrating the Day of Valor with the Filipinos. Four of our veterans, those who served on Bataan, Corregidor, and Caballo, were honored with seats on the stage.

Veterans Jim Collier, Lawrence Nelson and Ed Knight with Girl Scouts at Mt. Samat

President Fidel Ramos with Jim Erickson, Linda McDavitt, and Steve, Mt. Samat

Our four Bataan, Corregidor and Caballo veterans, Mt. Samat

Warren, Yuka, and reporter Shino Tatsunori, Mt. Samat. In 2011, Shino travelled to the Philippines with Bridge for Peace, a Japanese group facilitating dialogue between WW II veterans from Japan and the Philippines. He recently graduated from college and began a job with a Japanese-language newspaper in Manila, so he was very interested to interview our veterans.

Veterans Ed Knight and Bob Ehrhart with two Filipinas, Mt. Samat

Our final stop before Corregidor was at the kilometer zero marker in Mariveles, Bataan, the traditional start of the Bataan Death March.

Wreath in honor of her father, a Philippine Scout and Death March survivor, laid by Marilyn at KM 0 in Mariveles, Bataan

Wayne at marker noting the beginning of the Death March route, Mariveles

In order to return to Manila to print photos for the tourists, Ojie left the group before we went to Corregidor. Since our seventh veteran, Ray Heimbuch, and his daughter Nora did not join us until Corregidor, they are regrettably absent from Ojie’s photos.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Corregidor, Ambassador Thomas, and Davao Penal Colony

Our nine-day Valor Tours Bataan Death March tour ended on Friday.  Truly, it was one of our most memorable, being privileged to accompany seven WWII veterans, including three who served and were taken prisoner on Corregidor.  Having the students from the College of the Ozarks added something extra-special; they were delightful, both as individuals and as a group.  Our highest level of praise goes to them and Dr. Fred Mullinex, vice president and tour host for the college.  Check out their blog at and be sure to watch the videos about the trip.  We decided to take a break from writing and let the students tell the stories.
We finished the main portion of the tour on Corregidor, and had the privilege of escorting Marine Warren Jorgenson to the place where he was wounded.  During a banca ride we were able to show Marine Bob Erhart the south side of Caballo Island – not visible from Corregidor – where he manned a machine gun prior to the surrender.  And we were able to take Army veteran Jim Collier to Battery Cheney, where he worked in the plotting room, and also to C1 (“Bunker’s”) Bunker, where he was, as he says, “schlepping ammunition” when word came of the surrender on May 6.
We then returned to Manila for one last day of touring.  On our way to lunch, which was planned to occur immediately before our appointment at the U.S. Embassy, we passed a small protest taking place in front of the embassy.  By the time we ate and returned it had been dispersed.  They were young Filipinos calling for all U.S. forces on training assignments to leave the Philippines, not something we would expect to happen any time soon.  In the embassy’s ballroom, U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas addressed the group, and Steve introduced the seven veterans and John Hogue, a civilian WW II POW, to the ambassador.
Four of our guests, including Ray Heimbuch (HIME-buck) had signed on for an additional three nights and two days in Davao, one of the largest and southernmost cities in the Philippines.  Davao (DAH-vow, not duh-VOW) is in Mindanao (MEAN-duh-now).  A few areas of the second-largest island in the Philippines are best avoided, but the Davao area is considered safe for western visitors.
Our purpose was to visit the Davao Prison Main Camp, which was known as Davao Penal Colony under the Japanese during WWII.  Ray was held prisoner there for the first two years of captivity.  The six of us reached the Manila airport two hours ahead of our scheduled takeoff for our 90-minute flight, as recommended for inter-island flights.  Unfortunately – and for reasons we never learned – many of the flights arriving at the Philippine Airlines terminal were late, including our plane which was coming from Bacolod.  Our takeoff was delayed by more than two hours, getting us into Davao at midnight.  We were met by local representatives of Rajah Tours and driven straight to the very nice Marco Polo Hotel, where we got into bed as quickly as possible.
In the morning we reconnected with our Filipino guide, Tommy Soria, and local driver Alfredo.  We headed out to Davao Prison.  The drive took about an hour, going first through much of Davao City, and then into the country, which looked somewhat like the provinces of Luzon.  The countryside is dominated by tall coconut palms and much shorter banana trees.  (The banana bunches, seemingly millions of them, are bagged on the trees to protect them from pests.)  Although we did not see pineapple plants, the pineapple slices served at the breakfast buffet were the best we have ever tasted!  This area is the home of durian, a fruit that “tastes like heaven and smells like hell.”  We received durian candies to taste after lunch at a Chinese restaurant, with mixed reviews amongst the six of us.  Another fruit grown here is pomelo, a very sweet relative of grapefruit.  Tommy said he bought a bag-full to take back to Manila for family and friends.  It can be purchased in Manila, but at about double the price.
Since the site of the penal colony is still an active prison, we needed special permission to enter.  Tommy knew the right things to say, and into the prison we rode.  It is a large area, and resembles a small village, except for the barbed wire fences surrounding the medium and high security areas.  There are three classes of prisoners, each wearing a specific t-shirt color for identification.  An officer told us about the prison and answered our questions, and Ray shared some of his memories.  One interesting fact is that the vast majority of the prisoners were convicted of crimes-against-property (rather than crimes-against-persons), often due to desperation secondary to unemployment.  Although the prison today is very different from 70 years ago, Ray was quite certain that he recognized at least one area.
Steve asked the guard if the prisoners were expected to work, and if so, how much they were paid.  The answer was surprising: the inmates have assigned jobs, and are paid local minimum wage, which is 258 pesos a day, or about six American dollars.  This may sound low to you, but we learned that many of the prisoners are not eager to be released, since the tight economy means probable unemployment.  Their wages help support their families, even enabling them to send their children to college, something impossible for them on the outside if they cannot find work.  The prison officer then led us on a drive-through of part of the grounds where we saw some of the housing, and vegetable gardens planted and maintained by the prisoners.
This area of the Philippines does not have defined dry and rainy seasons, and it was predominantly cloudy and therefore noticeably cooler than in Manila and Corregidor this time of year, where it typically reaches nearly 100 degrees in April and May.  We spent some time at the hotel swimming pool but it would have been even more inviting if the sun had been beating down on us.  Not that we are complaining about a break from the heat, which has definitely set in at home!
If you want to know more about the Davao Penal Colony, we recommend Ray’s book, “5 Brothers in Arms,” available at  We also highly recommend the recently published “Escape from Davao” by author and friend John Lukacs, available at major bookstores and online.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

P.S.  In a recent newsletter dated 4/4 we asked you who was in the photo with John Wayne eating lunch at Corregidor in 1958.  Some of you were able to guess the correct answer: Lee Harvey Oswald.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

College of the Ozarks students tell WWII Veterans stories

We are currently a Valor Tours group with six American WWII veterans.  Their story is being blogged by an accompanying group of students from the College of the Ozarks (Work Hard U).  We think that you will enjoy their stories and photos at

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Veterans, The Duke and Shanaica

This year, Corregidor Island’s “Tribute to All Filipino Heroes,” ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 7, at 9:00 A.M. It will include a wreath laying, tolling of a bell, and an address by Guest of Honor, Atty. Jose D. Lina, Jr., the son of a veteran and President of the Manila Hotel. Although we will be off island with our annual tour group, we hope that some of you might be able to join in this commemorative celebration.

A number of people have told us that winter never really happened in the northern 48 states this year. A Corregidor visitor from Green Bay, Wisconsin, told us that it only snowed a couple of times and that what little snow fell soon melted away. A snow mobile ride fund-raiser in northern Minnesota had to be changed to a truck rally in February, due to lack of snow.
Well, we’ve had abnormal weather here as well. This is supposed to be “summer,” with mostly clear skies, hot days, and warm nights. Instead, we’ve had lots of clouds, stretches of cool days and cooler nights, and even some measurable rain. We checked our newsletters for the past three years and the only mention we made of rain in March was: 1) that there wasn’t any rain; 2) there hasn’t been any rain for a few months; and 3) we didn’t expect any rain until mid-May at the earliest. However, on April 1, summer may have finally appeared, as it was the clearest sky and hottest temperature in quite a while.

A friend sent us some photos of John Wayne taken here on Corregidor in 1958. We have included them. Take a close look at the photo with the Duke having lunch. Do you recognize the person that is standing in the background? Write us if you think you know this person, who soon made front-page headlines on every major newspaper in the world.

We are excited about the Valor Tours Ghosts Soldiers of Bataan tour that starts this week. We were astounded to find out that we will have seven World War II veterans on the outing with us. Six of them are coming with a student and faculty group from the College of the Ozarks, where the students have come to know the veterans during their studies. We are impressed with the preparations required of the students in order to be granted the privilege of joining this tour. One of the veterans is a Bataan Death March survivor, and became a friend of Steve’s parents when they met at a POW conventions in the 1980’s. Three vets were captured on Corregidor, and another was captured in Davao. The remaining two were part of the liberation forces on Luzon three years later. In addition, we have sons and daughters of ex-POWs, some history buffs, and a man who was born on Corregidor and lived here until the war started. What a group we have!

In this year’s newsletter about the Christmas Eve party, we mentioned Shanaica, a girl whose left foot is severely crooked. We did not make an appeal on her behalf, but were secretly hoping that someone reading the newsletter would be stirred and in a position to take action. Sure enough, a couple from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whom Steve had shown around the island, contacted us sometime in January. They told us about a charity that their church sponsors which helps children with birth defects.

Steve approached Shanaica’s father and explained that an organization was available and willing to help her. He explained that the surgery would require a significant recovery time. Ultimately, the decision rested with the little girl. It was her life, her body; what would she want? The family talked it over, and eventually the father brought Shanaica back to Corregidor so that Steve could get better photos for the doctors to evaluate.

We were just informed that a representative has met with the family, and that the surgery is planned for late April. Because of the time required to recover, Shanaica and her mother will live in Manila for the next four to six months for therapy and ongoing observation. The family learned that the charity organization would cover the costs of the operation, all treatments, and lodging and meals for Shanaica and her mother during the entire time. Shanaica will have to miss a year of school attendance, but she is obviously a very bright girl and we are sure that this is all for the best. We feel that, if we were to accomplish nothing else during our time in the Philippines, being instrumental in providing Shanaica the opportunity to get her condition corrected would be enough. We are so thankful to the LDS for their work on behalf of Shanaica and all children with birth defects.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock