Sunday, March 31, 2013

Marcia is 60

Tomorrow is Marcia’s 60th birthday.  She doesn’t know writing this I am so if grammar mistakes I make or speling mistakes i mayk then my fault is it.
In a way April 1 is bittersweet for Marcia, whose mother passed away at the age of 61 on Marcia’s 25th birthday.  Thirty-five years have passed.  Wow!
That’s right, Marcia’s birthday is April 1.  April Fool’s Day doesn’t mean anything here in the Philippines, so she misses out on those practical jokes, unless I do something today just to keep her on her toes.  One of her high school friends was born on the same day, and our neighbor of 19 years in Lansing was exactly 24 years older, so Happy 84th, Peg.
I fell in love with Marcia the first day we spent time together.  Actually we had met once before, when she and another girl came through my college dormitory selling candy or something.  I was a freshman at St. John’s U. and she was a senior as St. Ben’s Prep in Minnesota.  I just remember I was wearing only a bathrobe because I was heading to the showers, so it was semi-embarrassing when I answered the door.  I had known a couple of her brothers – she has six – from St. John’s Prep, and also sort of knew her sister – she has four – who is one year older (my age) but I didn’t know Marcia.  She says that she was already aware of me, though.  Must have been my height and good looks. ;-)
The next time we met was at a picnic at a mutual friend’s house.  We took a walk through the woods in their back yard and I was lovesick.  Did she like me?  What excuse could I make to meet her again?
Marcia was at St. Ben’s because her original girl’s Catholic boarding school, Villa Maria Academy, was closed permanently when its four story school building was struck by lightening and burned to the ground during a snow storm in March, 1969.  And it was snow that got us together again after the picnic.  The last day of my first year of college was May 18, 1971.  I was supposed to drive home the next morning.  However, about a foot of very heavy snow fell, making it impossible to travel north, so I decided to try to slog over to St. Ben’s and maybe run into some girls that might also be stranded.  As it turns out I met Marcia who was waiting for her brother to pick her up.  By the time David arrived at least two hours had passed and I had an invitation to Marcia’s commencement ceremony.
When I arrived at graduation I found out that Marcia was the valedictorian.  This was in a class where at least half the girls would have been at the top of any other class in any other school in the state.  This was one smart bunch of girls.  One sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Now I’m no dummy, but this kid was out of my league.  Then I drove to her house (I can’t remember how I finagled that one) only to find out that the Blaylocks had a house the size of a small hotel, complete with tennis court and horses.  I was from a much different social strata.  So I figured it was fun while it lasted, which wouldn’t be very much longer.
Needless to say, Marcia must have seen something in me because we dated off and on for the next year, then got engaged and were married on February 24, 1973 at the ages of 20 and 19.  Odds were not in our favor.  Marcia immediately got pregnant with our daughter Jean, and we decided that I would join the Air Force to get medical insurance.  So off we went to Texas, and then back to Minnesota.  The war in Vietnam ended and I got an early discharge, so I was able to finish college in 1976.  Shortly thereafter our first son, Nick, was born.
Despite Marcia’s brains, we had committed to her being home to raise the kids, so I went from computer job to computer job for the next several years, eventually moving to Lansing, Michigan in 1981.  We arrived on our 8th anniversary, and it was already our 7th cross-state move.  However, we settled in Lansing, and after a few years with Burroughs I worked the next 13 years for EDS at General Motors.  We had two more sons, Tony and Al, in the 80’s.  In 2000 I went to work for the State of Michigan in their computer department.
When Al was in the last years of grade school Marcia went back to college and received a two year degree as a physical therapist assistant.  She was one of two out of 30 or so students who finished on top in the program.  Marcia was the oldest and the other the youngest, just out of high school.  She worked for a private Lansing company mostly at the Eaton Rapids Hospital for the next ten years.  It was obvious at her retirement party that she was well respected and loved by co-workers and patients alike.  And she truly loved her job.  I believe that at even at 60 Marcia could go back to medical school and graduate with honors, that’s how smart she is.
But as most of you know, fate led us in another direction.  In 2007 we were offered the opportunity to live on Corregidor Island where my father had fought in WW II.  It didn’t take us long to make the decision, but it did take a year and a half to make it happen.  In the meantime Marcia’s father passed away, and at his age (almost 91) and health (failing kidneys and three times a week dialysis treatments) it was a blessing.
I often wonder how many other women I could have married that 1) would have put up with me so long, and 2) would be happy to live on a remote island 8000 miles from home and family?  Although we live comfortably by Filipino standards, we were living in a 3000 square foot home with 12 acres and an in-ground swimming pool, with modern conveniences like a microwave and a 52-inch television.  We had two good-paying jobs with excellent insurance coverage.  We didn’t have the ants and scorpions and lizards and snakes that we do here.  Yet she was willing to leave all the comfort and security to help me honor my father and the thousands of other men and women who served and in many cases died here.
I absolutely adore Marcia.  I would die for her and I would die without her.  Do I always act that way?  Of course not, I’m human.  But I am constantly reminded of what an exceptional person she is, and how blessed I am to have her as my wife and companion for these past 40 years.  She has made me a much better man.  She’s smart, she’s beautiful, and she loves me.
Steve on the Rock
PS  For those of you who have been receiving this newsletter from the beginning, it may seem familiar, I sent this out four years ago on Marcia’s 56th birthday as well.  It’s still true,

Thursday, March 21, 2013

We're for the birds

 Our last newsletter consisted of mostly disconnected subjects, and so does this one.  We held some of this information in order to keep the previous letter to a reasonable length, as well as to await photographs that had been taken by another person.
On February 27 we attended the first birthday party of Jemarie, daughter of Jesse and Mabel.  Jesse recently assumed the position of Commander of the Ground Zero security crew here on the island.  We had anticipated a small party at our friend Ron’s, only to be surprised by a very large celebration.  Jemarie has to wait another three years to actually experience her first birthday, because, as you may now have guessed, she was born on February 29.  Doesn’t keep her from being a year old, though, does it?
One of the party attendees was Pol Curado, a long-time tour guide for Sun Cruises.  Some of you might have ridden on his tranvia when you visited Corregidor.  Pol had not been looking well recently, although he always seemed in good spirits.  At the party, he especially seemed to enjoy Steve doing his best to sing “Gintong Araw” (Golden Day) in Tagalog, following along on the karaoke machine.  But the next morning Ron sent us a text saying that “Mang Pol” had been found dead in his row house.  (“Mang” is the Tagalog term of respect used for older men.)  Pol was found sitting in a chair, and, from the expression on his face, appeared to pass peacefully.  His wife preceded him in death, passing just before Christmas a couple years ago. 
Many of you have commented about the eagles that we have been watching for the past month or more.  The first time we saw them there were only the two adults.  A few visits later we spotted the nest and were delighted to see one egg – a couple days later there were two eggs.  The next visit we observed one eaglet and one egg, and a couple days afterwards there were two eaglets.  We made quick visits every two or three days and were saddened when one of the eaglets was no longer in the nest.  Marcia always thought that one looked stronger than the other, although we have no way of knowing for sure what happened to the missing baby.
For the next two weeks we watched the single eaglet grow, and it was so exciting.  Every time we arrived the mother was in the nest, and when she’d spot us she’d take off and circle around.  Her mate would join her from his look-out perch, and they would keep their distance, wary and watchful but not acting threatened by our presence high above their aerie.  On Sunday the baby was active and looking very healthy.  To our shock, on Tuesday the nest was empty.  We can only speculate about what happened to the eaglet.  Possibly it was snatched by one of the many Brahminy kites on the island.  Perhaps it was spooked by one of the low-flying aircraft that passed over the island.  In any case, the parents appear to be staying around, and we hope that they will produce a second set of eggs with a happier outcome.
For our fellow bird enthusiasts we’re including several photos that Marcia recently took, including an adult sea-eagle, a soaring Brahminy Kite, a Pied Fantail (well camouflaged in the center of the picture), an Asian Glossy Starling, and a pair of Pink-necked Green-pigeons who were kind enough to hold that pose long enough for several shots.  The Pied Fantail and the Pink-necked Green-pigeon are perched in Taluto Trees, of which there are very many in bloom now around the island.  You can see the many round green blossoms which open into star-shaped bells and are much loved by fruit bats, butterflies, birds, and bees.  Some of these were taken in poor lighting, not the ideal sun angle, but being a very-amateur bird photographer, she was pleased to capture what she did.  Most of the birds on the island are very shy, often hard to spot at all even with our high-power binoculars, and even harder to photograph.  We’ve been gradually expanding our list of those we can ID by call/song, but would benefit greatly from a CD with both photo and song for our more common birds – if such exists. 
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Emails, deaths

 March 2nd marked the 68th anniversary of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Rock, which occurred after two weeks of ferocious fighting between the occupying Japanese and the American assault forces.  We present a picture of the 48-star flag, a gift to Corregidor from the MacArthur Memorial and Archives, which has flown atop the Spanish Flagpole for the past two weeks in commemoration of that successful conquest.
On Sunday Marcia became a godmother to Khate Nicole, the firstborn of our friends George and Marlene who live on the island.  We took an early-morning banca to Cabcaben, with the baptism taking place at St. Joseph the Worker Church following instructions to the parents and godparents of the five to be christened.  A nice party was held after our return to the Rock.
Sadly, we received the following email a few days ago:
With joy we know that Frank is with God, family and friends who have gone before us.  At age 99 Frank and I were still dancing.  He sang our traditional duets in German"Ihr Kinderlein, Kommet" and "Stille Nacht" before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.Two days later I took him to our Military hospital.  Family was with him day and night,and we ALL gathered to sing him Happy Birthday, complete with balloons and cake.Frank died in my arms the morning of January 8th. Judy
We met Frank only twice, once in the late 1970’s, when we visited him at his home in San Antonio, Texas, and the other at an American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor convention in Phoenix in 2006.  Frank had been captured on Corregidor, was in many of the same POW camps as Steve’s father Walter, and also was on the same 62-day Hellship ride from Manila to Japan in mid-1944.  Frank and Walter kept in touch until Walter’s death in 1988, and Frank continued to occasionally correspond with Steve and his mother.  The two men were also close in age.  We will miss Frank.
Recently we were asked to host a Japanese couple for a day on Corregidor.  Maybe it goes without saying, but we are always a little apprehensive when we talk with Japanese for the first time about what happened here in the Philippines in World War II.  We knew ahead of time that Mariko is a new member of Bridge for Peace, which meant that she and her husband Tetsu should not be too shocked by what they heard.  Our approach is to be tactful but also truthful and hope for an understanding.  Following is Mariko’s email.  Note that her English is quite good.  We present it unedited.  Read “tombs” where she used the word “thumbs.”
Dear Steve and Marcia,
Thank you for yesterday.  Tetsu and I really had a fulfilling time there thanks to both of you.
It is still hard for me to imagine there were such furious battles happened in the beautiful island like Corregidor where is surrounded by greenery and where the songs of birds heard everywhere.
Until we visited our last destination, Japanese soldier's thumbs, I could hardly fill the gap between the past time and the present time where we are - peaceful atmosphere with lots of tourist walking around smiling.  However, at the thumbs, I realized that all the battles were actual events by reading the name, birthplace, age and so on of the dead soldiers.  They are so real.
Aside from the meaning or judgment of the World War II, these soldiers fought for protecting their family and friends.  But in Japan, most of the people do not know what happened in Corregidor.  I, myself, did not even know the name of Corregidor until I came to the Philippines.
When I prayed for their souls, I felt guilty for not knowing about them until then.
This time we did not have enough time, but I will visit the American and Philippine soldier’s thumbs next time.
I’m looking forward to reading Steve’s book.
Attached, please find a picture of "hero of the rock" ;-)
Thank you again and regards,
It was clearly our pleasure to spend the day with Mariko and Tetsu, and we were surprised to find that Tetsu is employed by Accenture, a company with ties to several of our family members.  While we were in the museum with them, we met a couple of ladies from Ohio who overheard Steve and briefly joined our discussion.  Later they each bought a copy of Steve’s book, and Mariko sent us the photo that she mentions, taken on the dock before ferry departure.
And this from Patty in Minnesota, who has been on two of our tours:
First of all-let's just move on from the fact that I watch Survivor. It is being filmed in the Philippines on the Caramoan Islands. The winners of a challenge last night received a visit from a local native who would teach them some useful survival tricks. As the camera  focuses in on a man paddling a canoe, I realize it is the older gentleman from our "Jungle Survival" trip in Subic Bay! Would one say it is a small world or would we all like to debate the reality of reality T.V.? I sure hope spring is just around the corner! I have had enough for this year and wouldn't mind sipping a G & T some place warm!
Cool!  We’re sure others will recognize this guy from the Jungle Environment Survival Training School (JEST) in Subic.  Patty is a niece of Hortense McKay, one of the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.”  Our friend Mark Hall sent a text message saying that Mildred Dalton Manning, the last living of the Angels, recently passed away at the age of 98.  How sad to think that they are all gone.  We include a photo of the lower section of the nurses’ memorial marker here on Corregidor, on which you can find both names. 
You may recall that a couple of weekends ago we hosted a United States congressional delegation.  Here is a personal email from the Minnesota 1st district representative.
I wanted to thank you and Marcia for the time you spent with us on Corregidor.  It was an honor to hear your father's story.  I have finished the book and appreciate the passion you obviously have to tell this important story.  I have yet to get back to Minnesota, but will visit your father's grave to pay respects on behalf of all southern Minnesotans.  I will reserve time on the house floor on or near May 8th to honor your father on the 25th anniversary of his passing.  Let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you or your family.
Tim Walz
Member of Congress
Minnesota's First Congressional District
We’re very touched by his kindness, and look forward to receiving a photo of Congressman Walz standing by Walter’s grave at Fort Snelling Cemetery in suburban Minneapolis.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock