Because of the makeup of this group, we naturally spent more time than usual at the American Cemetery and a little less on the Defense of the Philippines. On Sunday, May 27, we attended the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the cemetery, with AWON presenting a wreath on behalf of those present and the many members who were present in spirit. Our ex-pat-friend Mark Hall and his daughter Shelby attended. Shelby was looking through the pictures in our newly published book and came across a picture that had been taken there ten years ago, during Steve’s first visit to the Philippines. It shows Maxine Stanley pointing at the name of her father, Valleon Sylvester. With Maxine are her daughter Vonn and her granddaughter Taylor. In 2002, on Steve’s first visit, the group just happened to be at the cemetery on May 4, Valleon’s birthday, so his family held a birthday party for him. Steve thought it would make the book more real to Shelby if she saw Valleon’s name on the Wall of the Missing, so he took her there after the ceremony.
The rest of the tour was a slightly condensed version of the standard tour, about which we have written many times. However, one of the tour members arranged for a side-excursion to get as close as he could to the location where his father had been killed. Since it was in an area of Luzon new to Steve, and to keep the guest – a doctor, also named Steve – company, Steve-on-the-Rock decided to go with him. The two Steves separated from the group at the Cabanatuan Memorial, and proceeded to travel north with their hired driver for more than three hours. They eventually rode into beautiful mountains, crossed through Balete Pass, and proceeded to the town of Santa Fe. This is a beautiful part of the Philippines, with small mountains and lush valleys. They even saw a few rice terraces along the way. Until reaching Santa Fe the highways were standard two-lane roads, winding but easily negotiable. However, their destination was a very small village called Malico, about 20 kilometers beyond Santa Fe and up into the mountains. After Santa Fe, travel became interesting.
The road was under construction for the next few kilometers. Short sections had already been paved with concrete. The driver had to maneuver over a bumpy, rocky surface, constantly weaving around obstacles, which included patches of new concrete as well as rubble from recent landslides. Eventually they got beyond the construction and onto a very windy road, constantly climbing, at times only feet away from cliffs looking hundreds of feet down, and without guardrails. They passed through Imugan, a very small village, and the road narrowed even more. At this point, Dr. Steve reluctantly said, “We’ve gone far enough. I think we should turn back.” Steve replied, “Wasn’t your father killed further up the road? You’ll probably never be here again. Let’s keep going unless we are forced to turn back.” Somewhat relieved, Dr. Steve agreed. So they continued, hoping that they would not meet another vehicle, especially at any of the many blind curves that they were encountering.
It turned out to be a good decision, because they did in fact reach Malico. They spoke with several townspeople, and one of them was aware of the marker Dr. Steve sought. At this point, the road was barely wide enough to handle even one vehicle. They found a footpath and started to follow it up a steep hill. At the top was the marker, with inscriptions in Japanese, Tagalog, and English. It was placed here in memory of the thousands of men who had died in battle, including Dr. Steve’s father, who was killed by Japanese sniper fire. He spent a half hour contemplating, alone on the hilltop, and said how grateful he was that Steve had recommended pressing onward in spite of challenging road conditions.
Several guests extended with supplemental trips after the initial eight-day tour was over. Two went on to Mindanao, and we accompanied four others to the province of Leyte, where General Douglas MacArthur decided to begin the liberation of the Philippines in October 1944. Steve and Marcia were here for 65th anniversary ceremonies in 2009. Unlike that trip, with its pomp and ceremony and having several WW II veterans in our group, this time the six of us were almost entirely on our own. We started the day with four of us attending Sunday Mass at the Palo Cathedral, which, later in the day and unbeknownst to us, was one of the stops on our day-tour. It had served as both the first military hospital and a civilian refuge when the American forces returned. After breakfast, we met our local guide who took us to several battle sites and markers. One of our stops was the north shore of Leyte, which one of our guests requested since her father had flown over the area before being presumed lost at sea. We ended the day-tour at the monument marking the spot where MacArthur, members of his staff, and soon-to-be-President Sergio Osmena came ashore. This striking monument is located only a couple hundred yards from the brand new Oriental Hotel in Palo, where we stayed for two nights. The Oriental is so new that their huge swimming pool is still under construction.
The story wouldn’t be complete without talking a little bit about Edwin Dyer. Edwin, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, was part of the liberation forces here in the Philippines. He landed in Mindanao, fighting in the same unit with the killed-in-action father of Jerry, one of the AWON members in the tour group. Edwin also saw action on Luzon. We asked him to tell some of his war stories while we were traveling by bus. He is an outstanding storyteller, and has a great memory. Jerry has been particularly thankful for Edwin’s accounts, which have helped him piece together his father’s last days. Edwin turned 86 on May 26, the day the tour group arrived in Manila. We invited Edwin to “return” in a couple years, when we hope to lead a 70th anniversary tour of the Liberation of the Philippines. You never know, he might just do it.
By the way, Edwin likes to spend some of his spare time watching old movies. He especially likes John Wayne and James Arness, and was remembering a movie that he had seen which takes place in Hawaii and in which both men starred. Steve later looked up these two actors on the internet, seeking the title of that film (Big Jim McLain), and discovered that, unbeknownst to Edwin – there’s that fancy word again – both John Wayne and James Arness were born on – can you believe it? – May 26, the same birthday as Edwin’s!
FYI, Anvil Publishing is working on e-book editions of HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH; A Corregidor Story. They are also working on a way for people in the States to purchase hard copies. We will keep you informed.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock