Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Michael Duncan's quest, part deux

You may have noticed that we've increased the frequency of blogsite postings in recent weeks.  As our time remaining in the Philippines gets shorter, our calendar gets more bookings.  This one is a "catch up" posting, going back to March 12th, and it precedes several recent posts.

In June, 2013, we accompanied Michael (Mike) Duncan of Nashville Tennessee on an adventure to find places that his father, Walden Gray Duncan, had visited while serving with the U.S. Army in the Philippines at the end of and immediately following WWII.  Mike was partially successful then, went home to do lots more research, and came back to try to complete his quest. To review part one of Mike's journey in his father's footsteps, go to

We met Mike at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila at 5 A.M. and immediately headed northwest to Urdaneta.  The three of us had been here before, but on a weekend, so we were hoping for more luck this time.

We started at the Urdaneta City Hall

A gigantic, beautiful ship-shaped monument memorializing Fray Andres Urdaneta

A small museum located in the old city complex has a few WWII artifacts on display.

Mike and Marcia hunting for treasures.  The lady on the right was extremely excited to have researchers visit.   She was very helpful, finding every book they had that might be of interest.

Michael was looking for the location of the wartime Red Cross, and this book looked promising, but it didn't contain what he was looking for.

Instead, Marcia discovered a gem.  The book includes the story of the escape of the S. S. Mactan from Manila, which was under the threat of imminent Japanese invasion, to safety in Australia.  One of the "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor," Lt. Floramund Ann Felmeth (whom Marcia met at an ADBC convention about seven years ago) was one of only two U.S. military personnel included in the staff aboard the ship during its evacuation mission which was organized by the Philippine Red Cross.  It's quite a story!

We visited the new Urdaneta Philippine Red Cross building, and the staff said that they had no record of the old location.  They referred us to their national headquarters in Port Area, Manila.
The new Urdaneta Red Cross building

Our next objective was to find San Isidro Labrador Chapel in nearby Gueguesangen, Santa Barbara.  Bert Caloud of the American Cemetery in Manila had provided a map and directions from the city of Santa Barbara heading north.  He also sent a photo of the old chapel, which stood beside the former temporary American Cemetery, which is what we were really seeking.
We drove until we came to an old church, hoping that it was the right one.  Upon questioning the local citizens, we were left in the dark.  Were we at the right place or not?  Asking them where to find the San Isidro Labrador Chapel brought blank stares, as if we were looking for a place on the moon.  Someone finally told us that we were in the wrong barangay - Gueguesangen, Mangaldan - and to try heading back south to Gueguesangen, Santa Barbara.  There is no visible line between these two adjacent communities, but their governments are independent of one another.
Probably two miles away, right beside the road and definitely in plain sight, there was the chapel.  How we - all four of us - missed it the first time, and how all those ladies could live so close to it all their lives and have no clue, both mysteries.
An old church, but the wrong one, in Gueguesangen, Mangaldan

The correct one at last

Not long after we arrived, a man asked us if we wanted to get into the church, and if we knew that adjacent to the building was the location of an old American wartime cemetery.  Eureka, we had the right place, and a local whose father had been its caretaker!  Rodrigo Garcia had learned the stories from his mother, much to our delight.
Rodrigo Garcia with our driver Mario and Mike

This photo was taken through the church window, and shows the location where Americans killed in liberation fighting in this area were temporarily buried until they could be relocated to the Manila cemetery or sent home to America.

This rose was growing in the chapel yard.  We're not sure we've ever seen roses here in the Philippines.

The next morning, our driver Mario said that there were remains of an old train station along the road to Baguio, so we stopped there and took a few minutes to stroll through them.  He said that the Japanese had used this station extensively for troop and materiel transport before the Americans returned to Leyte and Luzon.
The Damortis train station must have been beautiful in its day.  It certainly was large.

A look from the other side.  The rails ran between these two walls.*

From there we proceeded to Baguio.  Again, we had all been there in 2013, but Mike had since acquired more information, and besides, it was on the way up north.
Look at this building on the side of the mountain in Baguio.  It's at least eight floors high.

The rules have changed at the Baguio Museum, and we were now allowed to take non-flash photos.  This wood carving is of a mountain warrior carrying a deer.  This is a common subject for carvers in the Philippines.

Mike's father was in the 37th Regiment.  This photo in the museum shows some of the men viewing "the ruins of the summer capital."

Steve in native garb.  Guwapo!

Marcia, too!  Magandang babae.

Mike exploring the bookstore at the Hotel Vallejo.

We had our lunch at the Hilltop Cafe in Hotel Vallejo.  It features a spectacular menu and the food definitely measured up.

Last October was our first visit to the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Baguio.   It was raining that day, but this time we were able to walk around to the back, which features some beautiful gardens...

...and a great view looking out across the valley.

A look from a garden toward the residence.

How about that.  Pink roses!  Less surprising to find them up in the mountains.

Tea Morales (Peter Parson's wife), Marcia, and Coco Merrill at the Baguio Country Club.

A view from the outside dining area at the country club.

And another view.

From Baguio we drove to Banaue, taking many great photos along the way.  This leg of the trip began our foray into new territory.  If you haven't seen these pictures yet, go to
This is the lobby of the Banaue Hotel, reminiscent of a Rocky Mountain Lodge.

While in Banaue we visited the Batad Rice Terraces.  Again, we took many great photos.  If you haven't seen them yet, go to

From Banaue we headed southeast to the main north-south highway in northern Luzon, then straight north toward Aparri, making for a very long day in the van.  We saw a sign for Calvary Hills in the town of Iguig.  It looked interesting so we stopped.
Marcia in front of the church

Behind and to the sides of the church are the fourteen stations of the cross in life-size figures.  off in the distance we could see some of the first eleven stations.  This is station 12, "Jesus dies on the cross."

Station 13, "Jesus is taken down from the cross."  We looked but could not find the fourteenth station, which may have been down the hill toward the river.

Mike's research led him to plan a stop at the Paret Bridge, a significant landmark in his father's letters and in the history of the 37th Infantry.  Notice the low water level, and remember that we are in late dry season now.  Once the rains begin, this will become a full riverbed.
Mike on the bridge

Old bridge pilings.  Pre-war?

We finally made it to Aparri, on the east bank at the mouth of the grand Cagayan River on the very northern shore of Luzon, in Cagayan Province.  The Japanese landed here at the beginning of the war.  At the end of the war, American paratroopers landed south of the city and cleared out the Japanese.  They then went south to meet up with the 37th Infantry.
Workers spreading fish on drying nets

Lots and lots of fish (dilis) drying on the pier

A fisherman working with his nets.  In the background an ocean-goer leaves the Cagayan River.

Looking northward

Mike on the Aparri shore

The Aparri City Hall

A gazebo in a large park across the street from City Hall

Another park view

Did you notice the snowman in the previous photo?  Brrr!

After a couple of hours driving southward, we spent the night in Tuguegarao.  The next morning we continued our drive south, heading for Cabanatuan.
A mixed herd of carabao (water buffalo) and sheep

This paint store caught our eye

Minnesota House Paint?  It turns out that this is entirely a Philippine product.

We continued to head south.  The ride over Balete Pass seemed interminable, as the semis were ascending at literally a walking pace; with all of the winding roads and no passing lanes it was nearly impossible to get past any of them.  And even when not on the mountain, our way was continually slowed by the omnipresent, underpowered "tricycles."

Finally we approached the city of San Jose.  By this time all four of us had to pee really seriously, and couldn't wait to get to a restroom.  Then the nightmare happened.  We got to a section of busy highway where only one lane was open.  Okay, we wait our turn, right?  Wrong.  A bunch of vehicles went past us going the other way, then a short break, then a bunch more, another break, over and over again, for 35 minutes!  What the heck was going on?  Why weren't we getting our turn?  Finally an ambulance came through, followed by even more vehicles.  But at least we knew why we were waiting.  Chances are the person waiting for the ambulance had already died or recovered by the time it arrived, something we always feel when we see one trying to get through standstill traffic in Manila.  Obviously we hope the person recovered.

Anyway, we finally got our turn and slowly made our way to San Jose, praying for a restroom.  We passed a couple of gas stations that already had people lined outside the CRs (comfort rooms) and then saw a sign for a five-star restroom.  Yeah!  Sounds great, right?
5 star.  Must be fantastic!

Steve takes the time to photograph the door before heading inside.  He couldn't have been that desperate, could he?

Marcia says the 5 star name was definitely over-rated.  She gives it one star for a flushable toilet with a seat, and one star for running water in the sink.  But it was lacking tissue (toilet paper, which is always, always in her pocket), soap, and towels or a dryer.  So she gives it a 2.  Maybe 2.5, since it was relatively clean.  But considering our state, it was a very welcome 2 or 2.5!
The drive from Tuguegarao to Cabanatuan took 11 hours and 55 minutes, almost as long as the flight from San Francisco to Manila.  The next day we drove to Manila, where we were told at the Philippine Red Cross headquarters that they had no records of the American locations.  Mike has a listing of document files from the American Red Cross, and Marcia was able to give him a few pointers for making use of them.
The following day we visited two libraries which have WWII and other records, photos, books, and objects of interest to Americans and other researchers.  Both are well worth visiting - plan at least several hours each.
This is a view inside the American Historical Collection (AHC) in the Rizal Library at Ateneo University.  

The AHC has many items of interest.  We spent a couple of hours, with Steve mostly going through old photo collections, two of which we had contributed to the collection.  The staff had done an amazing job of transferring the photos onto acid free paper and binding them into book form.  Mike was digging through books, and Marcia looked at old maps, transcribed speeches, and books.
Steve, Marcia, and Mike with Ms. Dhea Santos, head of the collection, and Josh Amancio, one of her research staff members

The Ortegas Foundation Library, Manila

Steve, Marcia, executive director John Silva, and Mike

We wish to thank both the American Historical Collection and Ortigas staffs for their assistance while we were visiting.

It was a very interesting and enjoyable eight days with Mike, and he left feeling that he had accomplished almost all of his goals.  We plan to keep in touch with him after we return to the United States.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

*Lou Jurika had this to say when he read about the train station:

Wow, the old Damortis train station. Many memories of that place as we Brent students headed back from vacation would take the train from Tutuban station in Manila to Damortis, from whence cars would each take four or five of us up to Baguio, all part of the ticket. Same thing in reverse going to Manila. But while waiting for the train to Manila, I would step down off the Damortis platform to place those old Filipino one-centavo copper coins on the rails (they were almost as large as a US dollar coin) so that when the train came in and rolled over them, you were left with a beautifully flattened out bracelet of "modern" art.

The other memory of the station was much more heartbreaking. When the train pulled into the station, the freight car doors would slide open and wire cages reinforced with wood slats would be tossed out onto the platform. The cages were filled with stray dogs rounded up on the streets of Manila and destined for a cook pot in the mountains. But worst was that the cages had no flooring such that when lifted up off the ground some of the dogs' legs would drop through the chicken wire, dangling like that until the cage smashed onto the cement station platform, breaking many a leg and leaving the dogs in howling pain. Not that any of the baggage handlers cared.

But that train ride was the best. What a shame it doesn't run anymore as it would be so much faster than taking the bus.

Joe Rica