Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tour with Corregidor veteran

This May 6 marked the 70th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor. We led yet another excursion for Valor Tours of San Francisco. To our great delight, and somewhat surprising given his age, one of the guests was William Sanchez of Monterey Park, California. Bill, soon to be 94, is a Corregidor and POW survivor, making him the oldest and most recent American defender to return to “The Rock.” Other guests included a niece and a nephew of U. S. Army nurse Hortense McKay, who served on Bataan and Corregidor, and was evacuated from Corregidor by submarine less than 72 hours before the surrender; the daughter of a U.S. marine; the niece of another U. S. marine, both of these men Corregidor survivors as well; and the son of an American serviceman who fought elsewhere in the Pacific Theater.

Our Manila city tour included stops at the American Cemetery, where Bill prayed over the grave of a friend who was killed on Corregidor. Bill was also emotional at Bilibid, where he had been a POW before going to Japan. He said it does not appear to have changed much in the last 70 years, “Still an awful place.”

We also made two new-to-us stops. One was the Chinese Cemetery, the other the Philippine National Railways Manila Station. The Chinese Cemetery is unique in that you must pay an entrance fee. Instead of what we Americans would consider a traditional cemetery having head and/or footstone markers, the gravesites are essentially houses. Most of the dead are in rather large, aboveground concrete vaults. Some of the houses are equipped with air-conditioning, some even have televisions. Tommy, our Filipino tour guide, also showed us a chapel that had images of both Buddha and Christ. We’ve been told that on certain holidays the families of these dearly departed come for picnics and other festivities. The day we were there was very quiet.

The Manila train station, although not a tourist attraction, was important to Bill, since he was transported from this location in Manila to Cabanatuan via the railroad. Out front are two old, small-gauge engines from years ago.

The next day we visited the site of Cabanatuan Camp # 1. Bill was imprisoned here for a few months before being sent on the Totorri Maru to Tokyo, where he spent the rest of the war. The following day we went to the site of the Capas National Shrine, which was known as Camp O’Donnell, the terminus of the Bataan Death March. Although Bill, being a Corregidor POW, had never been there, he was overwhelmed when he saw the recently restored railroad car that had been used to transport POWs. Bill said he would not be surprised to find out that this car was the very one in which he had been transported. He pointed to a corner just like the one where he stood for the 100-mile trip, which was topped off by a 26-kilometer march to Camp Cabanatuan.

We spent the next couple of days in Subic, visiting the Hellships Memorial and relaxing at the new Kamana Sanctuary Resort & Spa. Then it was off to Mount Samat to visit the shrine, which lies on “the last line of defense” of Bataan. The next day we backtracked the first 40 kilometers of the Death March from Balanga to Mariveles, then back up the coast for a banca ride to Corregidor. The afternoon included the traditional introductory tour of the island, after laying a wreath at the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor marker in honor of Hortense McKay.

Normally May 6, the Fall of Corregidor, takes a back seat to April 9, the Day of Valor on which we remember the Fall of Bataan with a ceremony on Mount Samat. However, President Benigno Aquino III decided to make his first-ever visit to Corregidor for May 6 this year. So, just imagine the security that had to be put in place. When we got off the banca from Bataan, we and our baggage were all thoroughly inspected. Military personnel and vehicles were all over the island. For the next day-and-a-half, vigilant security was obvious.

Since we all had connections to Corregidor, Bill by being a survivor and the rest of us being descendents of some degree, our group was given VIP treatment at the May 6 ceremony. We escorted one of the seven wreaths, ours presented by Valor Tours, and were seated up front next to the speaker’s dais. There were four brief speeches, with Corregidor Foundation, Inc. Executive Director Artemio Matibag promising to preserve the history of the island, Filipino-American Memorial Endowment Vice President Leslie Murray recounting her days in the Santo Tomas internment camp and her gratitude to the veterans, and Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie Bassett and President Aquino both speaking of the importance of remembering the shared history and continuing Filipino-American friendship. After the ceremony, Bill Sanchez was able to chat with President Aquino for a few minutes.

Then our small group and a few other interested parties walked to the Spanish Flagpole, where Bill reenacted the taking down of the American flag on May 6, 1942. Assisting Bill was U.S. Air Force Colonel Rick Matton, who pilots for the U.S. Ambassador in Manila, who said that it was an honor to participate.

Our final day together included a visit to the United States Embassy. Col. Matton and a number of other U.S. soldiers welcomed us, and Bill was again in his glory as each expressed his gratitude for his service.

One more very successful tour, with all of the guests expressing appreciation that we are here sharing WW II history in the Philippines. We were especially honored to host a Corregidor defender, wondering how many more we will ever see here.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Below is the speech that Col. Matibag delivered at the May 6 ceremony. Note his pledge to protect the island as a war memorial.


His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III, Honorable Vice President Jejomar Binay, Deputy US Ambassador Leslie Ann Basset, Veterans, AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Service Commanders, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good Morning to all of you. On behalf of Corregidor Foundation, Inc. and Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, I welcome you all on Corregidor. Today, we observe the 70th Commemoration Fall of Corregidor, MAY 06, 1942 to MAY 06, 2012. It was 70 years ago when Gen. Wainwright surrendered Corregidor at exactly 12 high noon on May 06, 1942. Subsequent events in WW2 history proved that the one-month defense of Corregidor after the Fall of Bataan on April 09, 1942 against the well-supplied Japanese Imperial Army invaders was a strategic victory instead of a tactical defeat. Gen. MacArthur was able to regroup in Australia, and planned his return to the Philippines for liberation and retake Corregidor 3 years after on MARCH 02, 1945. Today, we salute all the Filipino and American soldiers for their bravery and courage when it counted especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who survived unbowed and proud in temporary defeat.

Corregidor at present is again in danger from natural and man-made risks. And that is why we at Corregidor Foundation, under the auspices of the Department of Tourism, and FAME under the auspices of AMCHAM Phils., are in the forefront defending to save this island’s WW2 RUINS/GUNS AND RELICS from deterioration and desecration. Our future generations deserve to see Corregidor on as is-where-is condition right now and be proud that we Filipinos take care of our historical legacy. We believe Corregidor is the only surviving WW2 memorial shrine in the world today that showcases original buildings, facilities and gun emplacements after 1945 liberation.

We owe it to our heroes of Corregidor to protect this island and maintain its sacredness while balancing and making it more guest-friendly and convenient for those on pilgrimage on this island.
We appeal to all to assist Corregidor Foundation in our mission and vision for this island. Mission is preservation and vision is to be self-sustaining in operations budget. Proudly, our 25-year old Foundation is at self-sustaining operations budget since 2007, meaning what we earn is what we spend, and save a little surplus every year-end in the last 4 years. This private foundation (CFI) is not a burden to the government at present. A little applause from you all is that I’m asking now. Wala pong bayad sa Corregidor ang palakpak. (No additional payment to Corregidor but applause.) You have already assisted us by clapping your hands.

Again, Welcome to Corregidor and Thank you Mr. President for your time to be with us today. We are so deeply honored today by your presence.

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