Thursday, June 27, 2013

A wild ride through the mountains with Michael Duncan

We spent a very enjoyable nine days in June with Michael Duncan of Nashville, Tennessee.  Michael’s father Walden was with the American Army, 37th Division, 129th regiment, here in the Philippines during the closing months of World War II and several months afterwards.  Walden arrived in mid-March, after the massive January 9, 1945 landing at Lingayen Gulf.  He was assigned to the 37th in April and became a driver, staying until mid-January 1946.  He spent the late-war months as part of operations from Manila northward to Aparri on the northern Luzon coast, and after the Japanese surrender travelled between San Fernando, La Union on the west coast of Luzon, to Cabanatuan, which is north of Manila in Nueva Ecija Province.
While here, Walden sent photos and almost 200 letters home to his wife and family, Michael having been born in 1942.  Michael has over 60 of these letters, and brought copies of the ones that specifically mentioned towns and dates.  His intention is to visit as many cities and towns as possible where he knows his father had spent time.  On this trip he was able to trace much of the route from Manila to Lingayen Gulf, toward Baguio, Aritao, and from Cabanatuan back to Manila.  It will take a second trip to cover the locations from Aritao north to Aparri, and he is already in the thinking stage for that.
Being unfamiliar with the Philippines, Michael contacted Vicky Middagh at Valor Tours of San Francisco and asked for help.  Vicky asked us if we would be interested in accompanying Michael, and we said yes, as long as he was aware that our knowledge of northern Luzon and the liberation of the Philippines was limited.  Michael agreed, and we met at the Manila Hotel for the first day of our tour, which we used to visit the American Cemetery in Manila.  On day two we toured more of the city, including Santo Tomas, Bilibid, and Intramuros, the old walled city very near the hotel.  The third day we rode to Angeles City and visited the Clark Museum at old Fort Stotsenberg.  Since we have shared many pictures of these areas before, we limited our attached photos to areas which were new for us.
In addition to helping Michael with his quest, we were excited to visit Lingayen Gulf and especially Baguio, the “Pine City.”  Many of you recall – in fact, some of you were with us – when back in 2009 we were scheduled to visit those areas as part of the 65th anniversary of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.  But Typhoon Peping damaged the major roads to Baguio and we were forced to skip those sites, a disappointment not only to the paying customers but to the two of us as well.  We had heard so much about Baguio (BAHG-ee-oh) that we really wanted to get there, and this was the perfect opportunity.
So on day four we headed into parts untraveled by us, but we were in good hands.  Our driver Mario is familiar with the places we were going, and he is an excellent driver, which we really appreciated once we got into the mountains.  At this point we go to the pictures we included to help tell the story.

Michael in front of the Urdaneta Municipal Building.  One day while stationed at San Fernando in La Union Province, Walden drove to Urdaneta to have lunch at the Red Cross Station there…a 70 mile drive in what had to be very poor road conditions.  We had hoped to find someone who might know the location of that Red Cross Station, but we arrived on Saturday to find all municipal buildings closed except for the police station, and no answers.

Marcia and Michael walking in the Catholic Cemetery in Santa Barbara.  Walden mentioned seeing a cemetery there, and this, although not the same one, shows a typical Filipino cemetery with above-ground crypts.  The one Walden saw was consolidated into the American Cemetery by 1947.



Photos taken at the Lingayen Gulf Beach memorial, a beautiful tribute to the liberation forces.  It includes many interesting photos, maps, paintings, and landscaping.

Binmaley Catholic Church, including the tower which survived wartime devastation.


 Michael at Lingayen Beach.

The Unknown Soldier monument at Bauang, which as former Lions Club members we especially appreciated.

Michael posing at San Fernando Beach in a re-creation of a photo of his own father, who was 25 at the time the original was taken.

The beautiful Sacred Heart Church in Naguilian, a town and highway mentioned in the official history of the 37th Division which Michael brought with him.

The Naguilian River, also mentioned as “a stream” in the official history of the 37th Division.


Our first glimpses of Baguio, after a couple hours driving eastward up into the mountains.  Baguio is close to a mile high and has far different weather than Manila or Corregidor.  It wasn’t as cool as we expected, but quite comfortable.  But boy can it ever rain there, as it did for hours on our second night.


The Manor Hotel inside Camp John Hay.  The first Japanese bombs in the Philippines fell at this camp on December 8, 1941.  Notice the beautiful pine trees at this elevation.

he secured entrance to the American Embassy’s compound within Camp John Hay.  Here General Yamashita signed the official surrender documents, making CJH the first and last places touched by WW II here in the Philippines.

“The Mansion,” the Philippine president’s summer residence.

St. Bernard, whom we saw on the way down the steps to “Mines View.”

The mining area of Baguio, famous for gold and other precious metals.

Steve at the Baguio Texas Instruments sign.  Steve worked for TI in the late 1970’s in Austin, Texas.

Photo taken at the Philippine Military Academy.  These cadets are assigned to service branches after graduation, unlike the U.S., which has branch-specific academies. 

At this point Steve dropped our camera, rendering it dead.  The subsequent photos were provided thanks to Michael.

Baguio after we left the city heading eastward.

Lake Ambuclao, a dammed lake in the mountains.
There is almost no way to describe the drive from Baguio to Aritao.  Pictures and words just can’t do it justice.  It was one switchback after another, up and down the mountains for two and a half hours, with absolutely beautiful scenery all around us.  We were relying on Mario to keep us safe.  There were long sections with no straightaways at all, our heads constantly bobbing back and forth, left and right.  We said that there is no way to describe roads like these, but in fact, the Filipinos have the perfect phrase: “bitukang manok,” literally, “entrails of the chicken.”

This photowas taken the following morning to honor all of our friends from Indiana.  Notice Steve’s shirt: right colors, wrong state…he’s a Wisconsin (Superior) grad.

An Indiana cornfield in the middle of northern Luzon.

The marker at Balete aka Dalton Pass, the scene of very heavy fighting during the liberation.  Regular readers may remember that Steve accompanied Dr. Steve there last year.

An area of rice terraces south of Balete Pass.

The arch welcoming visitors into Cabanatuan City, another place Walden spent time.
We spent the last day with Michael touring Corregidor, and somewhat sadly sent him on the Sun Cruises ferry back to Manila to catch his plane home.  Since Michael did not get to the most northern parts of Luzon, the route from Cabanatuan to Aparri, we await his return.  Next time he hopes to come in January when the weather is more predictably pleasant and dry.  We were very fortunate that the daily rains cooperated with our sightseeing.
We’re heading to the U.S. for our annual two-month family and friends visit.  We’ll be back in late August, and don’t expect to write any newsletters while we’re gone.  See you in September.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

1 comment:

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