Saturday, November 1, 2014

Special tour including Leyte extension with Valor Tours

We have put together some photos from our latest tour to give you an idea of where we went and who was in the group.  We were especially honored to have two veterans who were part of the “Leyte Landing” seventy years ago, and a woman whose father was killed in the fighting on Leyte.

As you probably know, the area we visited in Leyte was hit especially hard by Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) last November 8.  Tacloban and the nearby cities were almost destroyed, with only the strongest-built buildings standing a chance against the ferocious winds and storm surge.  Yet less than a year later the area has been rebuilt and sometimes it was easy to miss what had taken place.  This is true because the Filipino people are used to tragedy, and rebuilding is a way of life for many of them.  Also, the vegetation has returned, so it’s once again green everywhere.

Vicky Middagh of Valor Tours informs us that she will once again be offering an optional extension to Leyte with next April’s Ghost Soldiers Tour.  It certainly seems we will once again be going not only to Manila, Corregidor, Bataan, Subic Bay, Clark Field, Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, but Tacloban and Palo, Leyte as well.  Check out the Valor Tours website at  It’s one thing to read the stories and see the pictures, it’s something else entirely to be there and experience it for yourself.

Since we do not know what the future holds for us once we return to live in the United States, next April could be our last time hosting the Ghost Soldiers Tour.  We certainly hope not, but “you never know.”  We hope some of you can join us for the upcoming April tour.

Steve addressing the group on the bus on the first day

Museum staff member Maita talking with Bub and Fay at Santo Tomas University

Maita gives Bub a hug for his part in the liberation of the Philippines

 Ken and Jane between President Quezon and General MacArthur inside Intramuros

Kyle under the entry arch at Fort Santiago, Intramuros

Sally presenting a wreath to her father at the Wall of the Missing, American Cemetery, Manila

A hug from Leyte Landing veteran Bub for Sally, whose father was killed in Leyte

Bub and Fay at Bub's brother's grave

 SSgt Raymond M. Simmons, killed on Biak Island, June 8, 1944

The group at the traditional start of the Bataan Death March, Mariveles

Kyle at the zero kilometer Death March Marker, Mariveles
Note the Jollibee (Filipino version of MacDonald's) next door

Dwain, Leyte Landing veteran, and his son Jim on the steps below the cross at Mount Samat Shrine

Gary and Bub at historic marker and monument, honoring mess sergeant Jose Calugas, a Filipino awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his bravery at this site

Our group enjoying lunch at the Crown Royale in Balanga, Bataan

Group photo at the Hellships Memorial, Subic Bay

Marcia and Fay outside the Capas Train Station

Marker dedicated by Death March survivor Harold "Malcolm" Amos.
Malcolm accompanied us on several tours before passing away a few years ago.

Marcia, Dwain, Bub, and Steve in front of a railway car purportedly used to haul Filipino and American prisoners of war during the Bataan Death March

Dwain, Bub, Ken, and Sally at the Camp O'Donnell Wall of the American Dead

Site of Kamikaze East Field, Clark Air Force Base

 Kamikaze Memorial statue

Jim at the San Fernando Train Station

Dwain in front of the San Fernando Train Station

Inside the San Fernando Train Station Museum

Note:  All of the preceding photographs were taken by Rogelio (Ojie) Santos, who accompanied us on the first four days of the tour.

Group photo at Battery Way, Corregidor

All of the following photos were taken in typhoon-ravaged Leyte, starting in Tacloban

We cannot imagine the patience that was needed by the local people as they waited for services to be restored.  But for thousands, it was also waiting to find out if their friends and loved ones were among the living.  Although the official death toll from Typhoon Yolanda is under 10,000, many believe that 50,000 dead would not be an exaggeration.  We talked to many local people who are so grateful that others from around the world contributed through international charities and organizations, enabling them to regain some part of their past lives.

A bridge, so damaged that it had to be replaced

Hotel Alejandro, which we were initially told may have been damaged beyond repair.  Obviously and thankfully not, as is was open for business.  Although the hotel is not near the beach, a twenty-foot high storm surge flooded the entire town for about twenty minutes.

Having been told that the Alejandro would not be open, the tour company made reservations at another hotel nearby, but maybe we will stay at the Alejandro next April

 Many of the bigger buildings survived, sort of

 A mass grave, including many from a single family

Steve holding a child on his shoulders at a monument marking the airfield south of Dulag

 Hill 120, Dulag.  A year ago it looked like it was ground zero for an atomic bomb: all vegetation gone except for tree stumps.  This is a great example of how the whole area greened up, masking much of the devastation.

 The 96th Division Monument looking great atop Hill 120.  In fact, the view from the hill was much better than in recent years, since the tall trees which blocked some views are gone.

The site of the former Tadyaw Beach Resort, where we enjoyed lunch with two previous tour groups.  Gone also are the cages full of exotic birds, no doubt victims of Yolanda.

 The famous Leyte Landing Memorial has been restored

Look to the front and notice that Palo Cathedral is under massive post-typhoon repair, preparing for a Papal Mass in January

A new roof, since the old one was blown away by Yolanda. The cathedral is one of our points of interest since it was used by the U.S. Army as a hospital during the liberation of Leyte.

 This ship was lifted by the storm surge and settled mostly on land.  That's actual roadway pavement under the bow.  There are several smaller boats throughout Tacloban that are still not removed.  Some appear to be being used for temporary housing.

 The Leyte Park Hotel, where we stayed five years ago.  Since this hotel is on high ground, it didn't experience the storm surge, but took the full 200+ mph (300+ kph) winds.

A very large butterfly on a mall window.  Wing span about 5 in (13 cm)

 A rainbow over Samar during our flight back

Mayan Volcano in southern Luzon; notice the steam venting at the top

Next week, on the first anniversary of the devastation, we plan to show you photos of the early aftermath of the storm, taken by our local guide Romilo "Butz" (pronounced boots) Eguia, who has kindly offered to share them with you.

Steve and Marcia back on the Rock

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