Escape to Corregidor but “We Shall Retu rn”… to Peregrina !

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sun 21 Oct 2012 01:34

09:45.9N   118:43.7E
Escape to Corregidor but “We Shall Return”… to Peregrina!

                We had a spell of really rainy weather a couple weeks ago here in the Philippines and that meant we spent day after day sitting on the boat bobbing up and down at anchor or cruising under miserable conditions.  When this happens, the heat and humidity remains but we have to “batten down the hatches” against the rain so we feel very closed in and extremely uncomfortable.  Even a 47 foot sailboat gets pretty darn small when you’re stuck in the rain. 

                Tensions aboard Peregrina were rising as everything started to smell and, after a long days of doing basically nothing, getting into bed with clammy sheets just made things worse.  We alternated between joking about “Are we having fun yet?” to threatening each other with severe bodily harm!  
So, a change of scenery was desperately needed and not a minute too soon!  We booked a flight to Manila for a little 3-night “thrilla!”  You can read details about Manila and where we stayed in the historic Intramuros area on our blog:  The highlight as far as we were concerned was our visit to…
               We took a fast ferry to the island of Corregidor, 48K from Manila and strategically located at the entrance of Manila Bay. Known as “The Rock,” it is just 6K long and about 2.4K wide.  It’s shaped like a tadpole with its head pointing out to the South China Sea.  

                For centuries, Corregidor was fortified to defend the entrance of Manila Bay and the City of Manila from attacks by its enemies. During WWII, Corregidor was clearly the first line of defense from the sea for the city of Manila and the island of Luzon as well as the last bastion of resistance in defense of U.S. interests in the Philippines and the balance of power in the Pacific theater. 
                Today, Corregidor stands as a living memorial to the thousands who died in the Pacific conflict and the ruins of the military base here are preserved pretty much exactly as they were found in 1945.

A little background history here…
                Under Commander George Dewey, the U.S. Navy ended 328 years of Spanish rule and obtained the Philippines as part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War in 1898.  In 1902, the island of Corregidor was organized as an American military reservation.  In 1908, a regular Army post was established there and designated Fort Mills, in honor of Brigadier General Samuel Meyers Mills, Jr., Chief of Artillery of the U.S. Army from 1905 to 1906.

                Over time, the U.S. Army and the Corps of Engineers completed construction of concrete emplacements, bomb-proof shelters, and numerous trails at various parts of the island. In 1928, the U.S. Army constructed the Malinta Tunnel, a bombproof bunker built into the side of a hill which would serve as a hospital and last-ditch command headquarters in the event of war.  Malinta also had a series of lateral tunnels to protect military stores and vital installations as well. 

We walked through the tunnel with a tour group to see the “Sound and Light Show” which was pretty amazing.  Many of the lateral tunnels still have furnishings, office equipment including typewriters and business supplies and hospital equipment sitting untouched from WWII.  There is a lot of McArthur memorabilia and dioramas of the soldier’s life “underground.”

Corregidor during WWII
                The WWII Allied Headquarters, under General Douglas McArthur, was located on Corregidor and, ultimately, some of the fiercest fighting of the entire war was conducted here.  At the urging of President Roosevelt, General McArthur reluctantly left Corregidor in March of 1942 to move the Allied Command to Melbourne, Australia.  McArthur did not want to leave.  In fact, he had refused Roosevelt’s orders twice previously.  He could not disobey his Commander-in-Chief a third time but before he left, he spoke those immortal words to his troops saying, “I Shall Return.”  

                American and Filipino squadrons on Corregidor fought on valiantly and held out a little longer against Japan’s unrelenting attack which reportedly numbered over 16,000 rounds a day.  At the same time, the Japanese Army blocked Corregidor from any sources of food and fresh water.   On May 6, 1942 Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese.  In the aftermath, huge numbers of American and Filipino prisoners of war died on the Bataan Death Marches ordered by the Japanese.

                General McArthur and the American forces took back Corregidor and defeated the Japanese in February of 1945. The allied forces landed by parachute and on the beaches. The battle was fierce. Below is a picture of Emmet R Spice, a parachute doctor who while mortally wounded and isolated calmly filled out his own death certificate.
Armed and Ready!
                There were 23 batteries installed in Corregidor, consisting of 56 coastal guns and mortars with 360 degree traverse, including two 12 inch Hearn & Smith guns which could reach targets 16 miles away on Bataan .


                In addition, Corregidor had 13 anti-aircraft artillery batteries and 76 guns - 28 3-inch and 48 50-caliber. You can see the damage to the guns caused by exploding bombs.

Island Layout
                The highest elevation is at 589 feet on the “Topside.”  The island is divided into four sections:

                The island's biggest area, which looks like the head of the tadpole, rises prominently to a large flat area that is called the "Topside". Here you would have found the fortified communications center of the island, as well as the location for the Army headquarters, the famous “mile-long” barracks for enlisted men, a branch of the Philippine Trust Co. bank, the Cine Corregidor movie theater, officers' quarters, underground ordinance shops, the traditional parade grounds, an Officers' Club with a 9-hole Golf Course, tennis courts, and swimming pool, and the bulk of the armed batteries that constituted the strength of Corregidor.  Most of these facilities were destroyed completely during the Japanese bombardment but the barracks still stand - although mightily damaged -and you can visualize most of the other major ruins. 

                Middleside is a small plateau that connects Topside with the upward slope from Bottomside.  This was the location of a 2-story officers' quarters, more barracks for the enlisted men, a hospital, quarters for non-commissioned officers, a service club, PX, and two schoolhouses—one for the children of Filipino soldiers and the other for American children.

                Bottomside is the lower part of the island and is the neck that connects the tail and head of the island. South of Bottomside was the Filipino village known as Barrio San José near what was Navy Beach; on the north was Army Dock, with its three large piers, and to the east of Bottomside, is the Malinta Tunnel. Malinta Hill separates Bottomside from the Tail End. 
                The Tailside or Tail End is the remaining portion of the island where different memorials, shrines and the island's airstrip are located. We spent several hours visiting the Corregidor Museum here, as well as the Pacific War Memorial and even the very peaceful Japanese Cemetery and memorial garden. 


                It was a great day, although a bit rainy.  However, this seemed to add to the authenticity of the experience as the soldier’s would have endured conditions very similar to what we encountered.  Touring Corregidor was a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that have been made in the name of freedom.  On a memorial to the fallen soldiers is written:

"Sleep. My sons your duty done...For Freedoms light has come.
Sleep in the silent depths of the sea or in your bed of hallowed ground
Until you hear at dawn the low clear reveille of God."

  The valiant efforts under dreadful conditions and overwhelming odds at Corregidor in 1942 and the hardships endured by the prisoners of war in the ensuing three years must never be forgotten.    

Peter & Margie Benziger