Saturday, February 12, 2005

A Little Filipino WWII History

The Philipino American Retirement Association (PAMRA) set up some side tours for us during our week in Manila. One of the most memorable was to a small island called Corregidor. Corregidor was the last island in the Philipippnes to fall to the Japanese in 1942. The Filipinos built a system of tunnels underneath the biggest part of the island, and stayed there with some American soldiers during the final part of the Japanese seige. General Douglas MacArthur was with them. MacArthur had a special affinity for the Philippines. He already was living there in retirement when WWII broke out and he was asked to command the American Pacific forces. He was able to sneak out Corregidor right under the nose of the Japanese and made his famous promise of "I Shall Return" to the Filipinos. Three years later, he made good on his promise, re-entering the Philippines through the island of Leyte in the south, and retaking Corregidor, liberating dozens of Filipino and American prisoners of war when he did. The whole story is too much to reprint here, and for those of you interested in WWII history, its a fascinating story of human determination, loyalty, and suffering.

MacArthur had not only the Japanese to fight to return to the Philippines - President Truman and all the other American Chiefs of Staff did not support him in the idea. They did not see the strategic importance of recapturing the Philippines until after some very serious debates in which MacArthur passionately laid out his case, making it clear he would not relent. Finally Truman agreed. I find it interesting that even though in retrospect we can see how important the retaking of the Philippines was to American Pacific stratgey, the Chiefs of Staff, and the President, did not consider it important at the time.

Here's Alicia standing in front of the statue of Gen. MacArthur.

Here's a bombed out American Barracks. On the second day of the assault, the Japanese dropped 16,000 bombs on Corregidor (which is smaller than the island of Oahu in Hawaii). 90% of all standing structures on the island were damaged or completely destroyed in one day. One the third day, a bomb hit the ammunitions depot on the island. So much fallout was created that it was dark for three solid days. The Japanese could not see Corregidor and thought it had been blown back into the sea.

Most of the survivors were huddled in the big Malinta Tunnel, which had been built under a small mountain on the main part of the island. A makeshift hospital had been set up there, even though there were not much medical supplies to help the injured with. Here's a group photo of us in front of the Malinta Tunnel. Inside now is a light and sound show that tells the story of the tunnel system, how it was built and what happened to the people inside of it. Some people were inside there as prisoners of war during the entire three year Japanese occupation.

Here's a shot I took from inside one of the smaller tunnels that had been built elsewhere on the island. It was kind of eerie in there.

This a statue the Japanese Emporer had built on Corrigedor. It is now used to honor the Japanese who died during the capture, occupation, and re-taking of Corregidor. It looks to me like a statue of Quan-Yin, the Buddhist Deity of Compassion. I do not know the significance of the babies. I had never seen a Quan Yin with babies on it before.

This is a machine gun behind some sandbags that was used to defend the island.

Here's a view of a small beach near the pavilion where we ate lunch on Corregidor. The Island is a national monument now, and the only people who live there are the Filipino caretakers and their families.

Here I am standing in front of a statue honoring the alliance between thw Americans and the Filipinos. Even though the Philippines asked the American Navy to remove their bases, which we did in the early 1990s, Filipinos still feel a strong bond with Americans. I was welcomed warmly by the people everywhere I went, whether they knew me or not.

More again tomorrow...

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