Saturday, May 16, 2015

Steve and Marcia say Salamat Po "Thank you very much"

We knew that the day had to come when we would no longer be "Steve and Marcia on the Rock."  Now we've become "Steve and Marcia on the Range."  We are living in Virgina, Minnesota, in the middle of the Mesabi Iron Range, simply called "The Range" in these parts.

We present you with newsletter/blog number 301, or as Huck Finn would say, "Chapter the Last."  Since our announcement that we would be leaving the Rock, we have received hundreds of emails which all say some variation of the following: thanks for everything you've done, we will miss your newsletters, Corregidor benefited by your presence, and you will be missed.  Many said they were in tears after our last blog.  To each of you well-wishers, we wish to say thanks.

We want to recognize many people who made our stay on Corregidor possible and memorable.  We can't possibly mention everyone and are sure we're going to be embarrassed to find that we left out someone important, so we apologize in advance if we fail to mention you in particular.  It's tough to go back through six and a half years of memories and remember everything.

There are so many memories of occasions, but we want to concentrate on the people and leave the events and the hikes and the birds and "all that" to previous blogs.

First of all: Bob Reynolds.  Steve's parents visited Corregidor in 1980 with Bob and his company, Valor Tours.  Since 2007 Steve has taken Bob's place as tour host for the annual April "Ghost Soldiers of Bataan Tour."  Without Bob, we would have never gone to Corregidor in the first place.

For a short time Bob lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  We lived in Lansing at the time and were able to get together with Bob and his wife Betty before they moved to Texas.  

Steve with Bob in a Kalamazoo restaurant

 Victoria "Vicky" Middagh, Bob's daughter, who took over as operator of Valor Tours when her father was ready to "turn over the reins"

Steve's father Walter was sergeant of the last big gun firing on Corregidor, one of the mortars of Battery Way.  When Steve went in 2002, and when we both went in 2003, both times with Valor Tours and Bob as host, we were under the mistaken impression that a different mortar was the one in question, which led us to pose in front of the wrong gun.  It all stems from a misreading of a plaque at Battery Way (a missing period).  When we found out that we had gone to the island - twice - to pose in front of the wrong gun - yes, twice - we determined to return one last time.  That "one last time" soon led to Vicky asking Steve to take Bob's role as tour host, which led to our asking for permission to live on the island.  So one missing period on a plaque changed our lives.

Two men we want to recognize never visited us on Corregidor, but sent frequent informational emails about plants and animals, which we often cited in follow-up blogs.  We spent time with both of them in Manila.  Philip Thompson works for the U.S. Government and is now stationed back in the States.  Eli de Santo is retired but still stays busy with his property outside Manila.



Now for some of the important people that we met as a result of living on Corregidor.  We made several Japanese friends.  These people work to try to get the Japanese government to acknowledge that it was responsible for atrocities in WWII against the Filipinos, Americans, Chinese and others.  Below is a group from "Bridge for Peace," founded by Naoko Jin.

Naoko (left) and Yuka Ibuki (third from right)
Yuka's husband Juji, who visited with Yuka on a different occasion, is inset at upper left

One of our recent acquaintances happened quite by accident.  We were walking in the dark between MacArthur Cafe and the Corregidor Inn when another couple was walking the other way.  We struck up a conversation and since have become good friends.  Mike Ross works for USAID and has been quite busy for the last year and a half with relief efforts for the Tacloban area which was so ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda in November, 2013.

Jhen and Mike Ross

When we have traveled to Tacloban, our host has been Ludette Ruiz and our tour guide Butz Eguia.  They were so hospitable that they made us feel like family.  Speaking of family, Ludette's grandson Cody is the boy geography genius that we talked about a month ago.
Madison, Cody, Miki, Ludette, and Butz

We met Bill and Midge Kirwan early on, one of our first evenings on the island.  We went to watch one of the beautiful sunsets at Battery Grubbs and met this American couple who was staying several days at the Corregidor Inn.  Bill and Midge regularly come to the Philippines to teach, and usually come to the island for ten or more days at a time twice a year, and have come to be our good friends.

Midge and Bill.  Bill was a member of a National Champion lacrosse team at Johns Hopkins, thus the shirt

Some of the most important people, in our estimation, are the ones who come to Corregidor over and over to explore the island.  The website is run by Paul Whitman, and has a surprising amount of detail and photos both past and present.  We've written about all of the following people before, but they deserve special recognition.

Peter Parsons and John Moffitt

Paul Whitman and Karl Welteke

Steve and Glen Williford (2nd from right) at the table

Tom Aring and wife Remy

Tony Feredo

Earl Grimes, a fireman from Texas, became one of our closest friends in the past couple of years.  Earl comes to relax and enjoy Corregidor, but he also comes to work.  In March he cleared two gun batteries (Wheeler and Cheney) of overgrowth with help from his fiancee Lhen.  Budget cutbacks have left those and other more remote batteries at the mercy of the jungle, something we were sad to see.  These two look great now.

Earl with his fiancee Lhen

Escape from Davao author John Lukacs visited more than once and we got to be good friends.

John and his mother Anita

Bob Hudson's father survived the Bataan Death March and the prison camps.  Bob moved to Bataan a few years ago.  Bob and his fiancee Rosalie have come to mean as much to Bataan as we did to Corregidor, doing local research and assisting mightily with Death March marker maintenance.

Bob Hudson

Steve gave tours for eleven different U.S. congressmen, one of them (Jeff Miller from Florida) twice.  Rep. Tim Walz from Minnesota was so impressed with the story of Steve's father that he took a minute in the House of Representatives to recognize Walter on the 25th anniversary of his passing.  Go to to see this very short yet very well-done tribute.

Rep. Walz giving his tribute to Walter Kwiecinski

Steve's book was printed in 2012.  In 2013 it was selected as a finalist for Biography of the Year in the Philippines.  We wish to thank Anvil representative Karina Bolasco for publishing the book, which is now available world wide on Amazon Kindle, as well as throughout the National Bookstore chain in the Philippines.

HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH: A Corregidor Story

We needed to go to Manila often to take care of business.  Two families made their houses available to us time and again.  Ray Ong was a 1963 graduate of West Point, and retired as a general from the Philippine Army.  Lee Bumgarner is married to a Filipina and has lived in the Philippines for thirty years.  There is no way to adequately express our thanks for the generosity of these two families.

Esther and Ray Ong- and Heidi

Lee Bumgarner (left) with his friend Andrew Barber in front of Malinta Tunnel

We often visited the University of Santo Tomas, site of a civilian POW camp.  Maita Oebanda, UST Museum staff member, is super-informed about WW II in the Philippines, loves the former POWs and American Veterans, and has always been very helpful in assisting our guests.  And a great friend!

Maita Oebanda

Whenever we brought guests to the American Cemetery in Manila, we were greeted by Superintendent Larry Anderson and his assistant, Bert Caloud.

Larry Anderson

Bert Caloud (right) with Valor Tours guests Tom, and Gurney, whose father is buried in the cemetery

We had stayed at the Corregidor Inn on many previous visits to Corregidor, and became residents for the last four months.  We wish to thank all of the staff who made our stays enjoyable, from the front desk to the waiters and cooks, to the housekeeping staff, too many to mention individually.

Corregidor Inn

Once we were asked to leave our rental house, Sun Cruises, Inc. owner Doris Ho and Corregidor Operations Manager Roland Portes made us an offer we could not refuse.  We spent our last four months housed in Room 101 of the Corregidor Inn.  We sincerely thank Doris and Roland for that, and for everything that they did for us during our stay on the Rock.

Doris Ho in the Corregidor Inn restaurant

For over two years we relied heavily on Gilbert, who was our groundskeeper, fuel hauler, sometime cook, and oh so much more.
Gilbert Secusana

In our opinion the most important island resident is Corregidor Foundation, Inc. (CFI) Island Manager Ronilo Benadero.  Ron watched over us and made sure our house and possessions were safe.  We ate dinner at his house on too many occasions to count.  In 2010 we visited Ron and his family near the city of IloIlo on Panay Island, and also visited Gilbert's home on Guimaras Island, one of our memorable trips while we lived in the Philippines.  Today, Gilbert's family lives on Panay, too.

Ron Benadero

We've known Leslie Murray since before we moved to the Philippines in 2008.  Leslie made our life easier by always being available to direct us to whatever or whomever we needed.  She was a child POW interned at Santo Tomas University with her parents.  We stayed often with Leslie and her late husband Brian before Brian became ill.  Leslie is very important to the Filipino American Memorial Endowment (FAME).

Leslie Murray at the American Cemetery in Manila

Last and certainly not least among our Filipino friends is Lt. Col. (ret.) Artemio Matibag, Executive Director of CFI.  Art granted us permission to live on Corregidor for six years at the old aviary caretakers' house at Middleside.

Art Matibag

We never, ever could have done this without the support of family.  We were so happy when Della and Paula were able to join us on Corregidor in January, 2013.
Paula, Mary Anne, and Della, at Della's home on Mother's Day

When people ask(ed) us why we live(d) on Corregidor, it always meant explaining that Steve's father, Walter, was a soldier stationed there, where he fought before being taken prisoner.  Walter loved Corregidor, which led to Steve's longing to visit ever since his boyhood days.  By the time our stay was over, we believe that we lived there longer than any other couple from the Western Hemisphere.  What an experience!

Walter at Battery Way, with the picture that inspired us to return (we had been told "the gun" was the one in the back right), and ultimately led to our living on Corregidor

Finally, whether you were mentioned in this blog or not, thanks for being faithful readers by joining us in our adventures over the last six and a half years.

"Steve and Marcia on the Range"

Monday, May 11, 2015

Steve and Marcia return "home" to Minnesota

We made the trip back to the United States with few problems.  On Wednesday we left Corregidor and went to stay for a couple of nights with our friends, Ray and Esther Ong.  They also provided us several delicious meals and a driver while we accomplished last-minute business.

Dinner with Esther and Ray

On Thursday we closed our last bank account and had lunch with our friend Leslie Murray of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines.  After lunch we stopped at the AmCham office, where director Ebb Hinchcliffe and Leslie surprised and honored us with a silver plate inscribed as follows:

Presented to

Marcia and Steve Kwiecinski

With great appreciation for their dedication and tireless support
in the active
preservation of the history of Corregidor, Bataan and other WWII sites
in the Philippines, and for furthering the appreciation of this history
as 1st class tour leaders, bloggers, and historians
in line with the objectives of FAME

Given this historical day, May 6, 2015

The Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, Inc.
Affiliate of the
American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.

Ebb Hinchcliffe
Executive Director

Ebb, Marcia, Leslie, and Steve at the AmCham Office

On Friday morning the Ong’s driver took us to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.  Our flight to Guangzhou, China, was delayed about an hour and a half, but that didn’t matter for us because we had a scheduled seven-hour layover.  Our flight to Los Angeles was delayed for over three hours, so it was a good thing that we had almost a five-hour scheduled layover in LA. 
While we were waiting in Guangzhou we were able to find a couple of electric receptacles to plug in our PC and Kindle Fire.  Fortunately for everyone else, we had two extension cords, so we were able allow others to plug into our cords; most people were looking to charge their I-phones or whatever you call those phones that look and act like tiny computers but you can also talk into them and take pictures.  The world has sure changed in the six and a half years that we spent mostly on Corregidor.

Our flight to the U.S. was long but we were able to catch some much-needed sleep, except for whenever the man seated next to Marcia sneezed loud enough to wake the deaf.  Never looked our way or apologized for waking us up on numerous occasions.
The plane from LA to Minneapolis left the terminal on time but then had to return because one of the sensors was acting up.  Thankfully it was reset and we were on our way.
We spent the day with Marcia’s brother Wally, who picked us up at the airport, and his wife Bonnie, then went to Steve’s sister Paula’s late on Saturday afternoon.  Sunday started with a Mother’s Day meal at Steve’s other sister Della’s, with Steve, Della, and Paula’s mother Mary Anne in attendance.  Then we went to the Fort Snelling National Cemetery to visit Walter’s grave.  Walter and his experiences on Corregidor are why we became “Steve and Marcia on the Rock.”
Steve, Paula, Mary Anne, Della, and Marcia

Walter's grave, Fort Snelling National Cemetery

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Steve and Marcia's last night and last day on Corregidor

On Tuesday night we attended a party for Steve and Lt. Col. Artemio Matibag, Executive Director of Corregidor Foundation, Inc (CFI).  Steve and Art share May 20 birthdays, but since we'll already be back in the States by then, Art decided to call it an early birthday party rather than a going away party.

We began the party at the "Motor Pool."
Some of the gang at the Motor Pool

CFI island manager Ron, Steve, and Art in front of the motor pool, as we move the party to "Baywalk"

Our last sunset on Corregidor was once again very colorful

Art Matibag

Willy, who lives off island, staffs the motor pool and operates large bancas that ferry guests to and from Bataan

Ron, who seems saddest of all to see us go

What would a party in the Philippines be without karaoke?

Our former helper, Gilbert

Mechanic Budoy

Auto technician Jujit

Steve singing "I Can't Help Falling in Love" to Marcia while we dance

Steve and Ron singing a Beegees Medley

Gilbert joins in

Ron and Marcia dance while Steve sings "Rock Around the Clock"

Steve's final song was especially for Ron, Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."  Gilbert closed out the party by singing "Farewell," unfamiliar to us but very appropriate.

The next morning, May 6, was the 73rd anniversary of the fall of Corregidor, and the 13th anniversary of Steve's first visit to the Rock.  As he has done on several previous occasions, Steve began the day by spending the sunrise at Battery Way, where his father Walter was commanding the last big fixed gun firing at the invading Japanese from Corregidor.  According to Walter, the last shots were fired at about sunrise, when the Japanese were already ashore and the gun was too hot to function.

The entrance to Battery Way just before dawn

"Battery Way" above one of the magazines

Battery Way as seen from the left entrance

The four mortars of Battery Way.  The back right gun is number one, and the guns are numbered clockwise from there.  Number two (front right) is the last gun firing and the one that Walter commanded.  Number one was never in action, as it was unserviceable and used for spare parts.  Before the Japanese landings began, numbers three and four (the two on the left) were knocked out of action by Japanese artillery located on Bataan.

"Walter's gun"

Steve pondering the moment exactly 73 years ago, mortar firing while under fire, probably impossible to understand unless you've been through the genuine hell of war.

Steve's book, HONOR, COURAGE, FAITH: A Corregidor Story,  tells Walter's story of Battery Way and survival in the prison camps.  It is available on Corregidor, and in National Bookstores throughout the Philippines.  The Kindle edition is available worldwide from Amazon.
We saw these bushes on our way to breakfast at MacArthur's Cafe.

Variegated hibiscus (gumamela)

Santa Ana (santan)

At 11:30 a small ceremony was held at the "Parachute Dome" on Topside to commemorate the Fall of Corregidor, which also precipitated the Surrendered of the Philippines.  It would take General Douglas MacArthur almost three years to fulfill his promise to return.  The dome is a reminder of the initial parachute assault in 1945.
Below are photos of the ceremony, where once again Steve was the main event speaker.
Parachute Dome

Ceremonial wreath offered by CFI and FAME/AmCham Phils

Steve and Marcia presenting the wreath

Marcia giving the invocation

Steve speaks about remembering those who served during the "Fall of the Philippines"

During the ceremony, Art referred to a plaque that he is going to have installed under Walter's plaque at Battery Way.  It will read:

We extend our gratitude to our historian Mr. Steve Kwiecinski and his wife Marcia who spent six and one half (6 1/2) years on Corregidor researching and rediscovering the island's historical legacy from World War II.  Steve's father, SSgt. Walter Kwiecinski, is a great inspiration to them and to all.
Corregidor Foundation Inc (CFI)
Filipino American Memorial Endowment (AmCham Phils.)

Sun Cruises Inc (SCI)

Afterwards several guests in the audience came forward to talk with us.

Marcia with Beth Urbano, who runs several businesses on Corregidor

Marcia with a present from Beth

Steve, Art, Marcia, Beth, and Willy.  Steve, Art, and Beth all were born on May 20, though in different years.

Steve, Sylvia, and Marcia at our last stop at MacArthur's Cafe

Gilbert on Steve's old motorcycle, our departing gift for his loyal service

Ron and Steve:  Can you see that these guys will miss each other?

Sun Cruises' Bay Cruiser II, which will take us to Manila

One last look at Corregidor

Then we bid adieu to Corregidor and boarded the boat to Manila.  We fly home in less than two days, and will be with Steve's mother Mary Anne for the first Mother's Day in many years.  Walter passed away on Mother's Day, 1988.

Steve and Marcia (one last time) on the Rock