Saturday, May 26, 2012

AWON tour, reader comments

Today we began another excursion for Valor Tours of San Francisco. This time it is for members of AWON, the American War Orphans Network. One tour guest is a veteran who fought in Mindanao during the last months of the war. We will also accompany several of the guests for an extension to Leyte, our second visit to there.

We received the following email from the Director of Veterans Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. We were both honored and humbled by his words.

Dear Steve and Marcia,

Congratulations on your book and Happy Birthday to Steve! I wanted to send this brief note thanking you for all you have done to sustain and enhance the legacy of Corregidor for our Filipino hosts, our American brothers and sisters, for historians, students of WW II, and those from all corners of the globe with a connection to, or curiosity about, ‘The Rock.’

After serving Veterans of both the United States and the Philippines for 9.5 years as both Deputy Director and Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs office here in Manila (VA's only overseas office), I will bring with me many memories as I depart for my onward assignment in the United States early next month. One of those lasting memories will be of that passionate, curious American couple who chose to take up residence on the Rock and share their experiences.

Thank you for your support of our mission, our Veterans, and for making the trip to Manila for each Veterans and Memorial Day. For me personally it has been an honor and the privilege of a lifetime to serve such a noble and worthy cause as the one we have here in the Philippines. I know we share the same reverence, gratitude, sense of inspiration and awe for the many WW II survivors we have met, whether it be those from Bataan, Corregidor, O'Donnell, Cabanatuan, Los Banos, or Davao.

I wish you all the best as your Philippines journey continues. Perhaps we'll see each one last time at this year's Memorial Day ceremony. If not, take good care of that Rock. It shan't be forgotten.

With Great Respect,

Jon Skelly
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
United States Embassy Manila

The problem with getting to know people at the embassy is that they usually do not stick around very long. Most of them are here for three or four year assignments. We’re glad that Jon got to stay as long as he did. We still miss our friends Rebecca White, and Philip and Rebecca Thompson, who left almost a year ago.

The following is an excerpt from an email from Gary, who was with us during our last tour. He mentions a new historical park that he and his friend Kathy visited during their stopover in San Francisco. We thought you might be interested in reading about it yourself.

We spent most of the day in San Fran (before our flight back to Colorado Springs last Friday) visiting sites at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California. A great story about America's Home Front during World War II. Most of the Park is set in one of Kaiser's old shipyards in Richmond's Inner Harbor but there are sites throughout the city. Unfortunately, the visitor's center doesn't open until Memorial Day weekend but we got to see most of the sites and had a good chat with one of the rangers, so that was nice. As part of the Park, there's a Victory ship (SS Red Oak Victory) that was built in the shipyard but it wasn't open when we were there. The battleship Iowa (BB-61) is nearby, although it's not part of the Park; it's undergoing renovation and eventually going to be a museum ship in Los Angeles.

Kathy wrote further:

The park isn't just about the "Rosies" - it's about the whole socio-economic environment that the war effort created. I can't begin to explain all the different aspects they are attempting to capture within this park, but three I remember are: racial/sexual tension (women were not welcomed into the workforce), rationing, and how Richmond grew overnight from 20,000 to 100,000+, and then at war's end, the jobs disappeared but the people were still there. So initially the town had to provide housing, services (fire/police) and infrastructure, not knowing if it was going to become a ghost-town in 3 years. It was the first time that workers were provided with health care (the precursor to Kaiser Permanente health insurance) - and because the shipyard was 24/7 - they provided the first organized daycare center. I'm sure there are many other "firsts" too - I just don't remember.

This sounds to us like it will be a very interesting place to visit, especially as it continues to develop over time. Kathy also mentioned that the park officials would be very happy to receive donations of WW II home-front items. It is under the umbrella of the National Parks System, but funding and oversight come from multiple organizations.

For years, many of us who spend time on Corregidor have been aware of a building on Topside that just didn’t seem to belong. For those of you familiar with the island, the location is directly across the road from the Post Headquarters/Chapel, and just 100 feet from the Old Spanish Flagpole. The building is currently undergoing demolition. When one looks at the very famous March 2, 1945, photograph of Gen. MacArthur and the troops saluting the flag as it is raised on Topside, this house would sit at the extreme left edge of the photo. We are glad that the Corregidor Foundation decided to return the area to its previous state, given its location amidst historic ruins.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH: A Corregidor Story

Many of you know that we have been working for a long time on a book about Steve’s father, Walter, who was a soldier on Bataan and Corregidor during the beginning months of World War II. We are pleased to announce that the book is now available throughout the Philippines at all National Bookstores and Powerbooks. On Corregidor, you can purchase a signed-by-the-author copy from Sun Cruises during your tour.

It has been a long haul, the initial chapters of the book having been written when Steve first came to Corregidor ten years ago. Since then, much has happened to us, as you well know. Because we are living in the Philippines most of the time, we decided that it would be far easier to seek a publisher here. The book was produced by Anvil Publishing, Inc., the largest publisher in the Philippines. They mostly publish schoolbooks; we learned that this is only their second book about World War II. Their first, “Jungle of No Mercy: Memoir of a Japanese Soldier” was written by a Japanese Filipino, Hiroyuki Mizuguchi, who was forced to serve in the Japanese Army. So, this is their first publication written from an American soldier’s point of view. Anvil is working on a process to make the book available to U.S. readers, and we will relay this information to you as soon as we are informed.

The back cover does a good job of introducing the book, so we reproduce its text here.

HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH: A Corregidor Story

The story of a son tracing his father’s footsteps and discovering a true and inspirational story of courage, faith, and patriotism in the days of Bataan, Corregidor, and Japanese POW camps in WWII

“I find Honor, Courage, Faith: A Corregidor Story very well written, flowing well. In Part 1, the author does a first-rate job of intertwining his own travel diary with his father's personal accounts. The items in Parts 2 and 3 add a great deal to the story and it was really exciting to learn that the author actually got to meet two men from his dad's battery. Their comments clarify some of the questions raised and unanswered in Part 1. This is a very fine account of a hero and a son's love for his father, and is a must-read for those who want to know more about Corregidor. It gives the reader a more personal view of the war experience, and brings the siege and ensuing captivity to life.”

– RICO JOSE, History Professor, University of the Philippines

Stephen A. Kwiecinski grew up in his father’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, USA. Because Walter spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese, he seldom talked about his war experiences. He was, however, always happy to convey to Steve his love of Corregidor. For most of his life, Steve dreamt about that mysterious Pacific island. In 2002 he visited “The Rock” for the first time.

After serving in the U. S. Air Force, Steve spent thirty-one years in the computer field. He and his wife Marcia raised their family in Michigan. They have four children and several grandchildren. Steve and Marcia retired in 2008 and spend the majority of their time in the Philippines. [End of cover]

A few people have already given us feedback.

From an American who was with us on our April tour:

Steve & Marcia,

I've finished reading Steve's book and really enjoyed it, especially the first-hand accounts and the parts where he mentioned sites we visited (it was great to have a mental image to go with the words).


From Eli, a Filipino friend and avid newsletter follower, who found the book at a National Bookstore location in Metro Manila:

Hi Marcia & Steve,

I finally finished reading the book with much enjoyment yesterday and found it to be a very well-written and researched story of a father’s war experiences by a loving son. It is also a very informative eye-opener to the later generations of the atrocities by the Japanese soldiers during the war. With God’s intervention, some prisoners miraculously survived the horrible and inhuman deprivations/treatments for others to know, most of which were too shocking and brutal to those with weak hearts and stomachs.

I agree that the Silver Star rightly belongs to Walter ‘Finch’ Kwiecinski and NOT to Walter Kulinski. Even the latter himself acknowledged that he was surprised receiving the award since Col. Massello didn’t even like him in the first place. It was a case of confusion because of two ‘Walters’ with surnames sounding almost the same. The decision to pay the Japanese internees from WWII $20,000.00 each later for “suffering and humiliation” was very unfair to their American and Filipino counterparts.

By the way, I like the picture of Walter with Steve pumping the well during a fishing trip. Walter's 6'6" height was greatly emphasized.


And an invitation from our friend Yuka, who read the book while with us on the April tour:

Dear Steve and Marcia,

Both of you have been great host and hostess of our tour, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your preparation, consideration and hospitality for every attendee, including those of us from Japan.

No one but Steve and Marcia could do that. It must be a challenging profession, but what you've been doing in Corregidor is just excellent, and I admire you both.

I hope you'll come over to Japan in a near future. You could have an event at Temple University in Tokyo and promote the sale of your book.


Thank you, Yuka, for the invitation to Japan. That would certainly be an experience! We wonder how well the book would be received there. (Although Walter had very bad experiences with most of the Japanese prison guards, he did talk about the occasional guard who would look the other way – at the risk of his own life – in order to let the starving prisoners steal food, something that may have kept them alive. He also talked about how sorry he felt for the masses of Japanese civilians he saw while he was in the POW camps there.)

The book has received favorable reviews in the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and at

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

P.S. Steve will be celebrating his second 30th birthday on Sunday, May 20.

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.