Thursday, May 19, 2011

More Philippines Phun: Sun Cruises Corregidor Tour

In just a few days and with our resolution not to bust ourselves touring too hard, Justin and I barely scratched the surface of the Philippines's 7,107 islands. We did get to see the historic island of Corregidor, which played an important role in World War II, via Sun Cruises, and in company with our awesome friends Beia and Romel.

Also, lunch.
Before World War II, Corregidor was a US base. I found a wonderful web site by a woman born on Corregidor to service parents with details of their life there, such as the closet with the light on all the time to prevent mold from growing in the clothes. (Lest you be puzzled by the visible dryness in our pictures, I'll point out that May, our visit, is the hottest and driest month on Corregidor. We have impeccable timing.) Apparently you couldn't bring furniture from the U.S. because the glue couldn't hold up to the heat. causing the furniture to fall apart. I finally understand know why the tied rattan furniture is such a hallmark of colonial design. Despite such irritations, her family loved Corregidor enough to re-up for an extra year there. Well, it can certainly be stunning:

And also, you had lots of servants for very little money- she says three for her family of three (a houseboy, laundress, and nursemaid).

The barracks were constructed out of concrete, apparently because the termites got anything else, and even for concrete they had to raise it off the ground. The remains of pre-war barracks can be seen on Corregidor today. The island is shaped like a tadpole, they like to tell you, which is certainly more polite than the word I thought of. In the "head" of the island, you have the areas of Bottomside, Middleside, and Topside, so named because the island is a big old hill. Bottomside, the lowest altitude is where we took the picture earlier, and also where we had our lunch. Housing starts on Middleside with the remains of Middleside Barracks.

Things get wild on Topside, where you have the ruins of Mile-Long Barracks, supposedly the longest single barracks building made by the U.S. It's not actually a mile long (closer to 1/3 of a mile) but "One Third Of A Mile-Long Barracks" sounds lame.

The missing windows here were once wood and capiz shell, a la the highly-rated toilets of Sonya's. The ruins of the movie theater are there as well. We also went up the reconstruction of the Spanish Lighthouse, for some stunning views.

You are probably picking up on some key words for visitors to the Philippines: "remains," "ruins," and "reconstructions." Just as it did with Manila, World War II did a number on Corregidor.

Indulge the history teacher for a moment here. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy bombed Pearl Harbor (you've probably heard of this; it's pretty infamous). War came to the Philippines on December 8, but when you factor in the international date line, it was the same day as Hawaii, just ten hours later. General Douglas MacArthur, it is recorded, received notification of the Hawaii attack within an hour and a half. This left him nine hours of preparation in which he did... precisely nothing.

You may have already picked up on Justin and my distaste for Dugout Doug. Every history geek worth his or her salt has pet villains, and he's one of ours. Partly, this is shaped by my grandfather, who never forgave him for his actions on Corregidor (more on this later). It's also shaped by my dislike of men who attempt to overthrow the U.S. government by suborning the military. Philippine opinions on MacArthur seem more widespread. On the other hand, there was the Carlos Celdran tour, in which he shared the "Dugout Doug" nickname (earned, so it's said, from his habit of fleeing for cover when bombs started falling, leaving his men behind) and blamed MacArthur's egofor the destruction of Manila (again, more later, unless I forget). On the other hand, according to our Corregidor guide, MacArthur's name was called for years at roll call for the Philippine Army, with a sergeant stepping forward to give the response, "Present in spirit."

So MacArthur failed to get the Philippine defense off the ground, literally, culminating in his air force being destroyed on the tarmac. The American-Filipino combined army fought at length on the Bataan Peninsula but gradually retreated south until forced to surrender due to lack of supplies. The march back up the peninsula is more commonly known as the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of prisoners (the majority Filipino) died of malnutrition, exhaustion, dehydration, or execution. The purpose of the Death March was to clear Bataan for the invasion of the intransigent little island of Corregidor.

Make a backwards "C" with your right hand, and your index finger is Bataan. The fleshy part between your finger and thumb is Manila. The space in the C is Manila Bay, and Corregidor is an imaginary dot between your thumb and index finger, guarding the entrance to the bay.

MacArthur and his staff had withdrawn to Corregidor, along with the men who would be inaugurated as President and Vice-President of the Philippines. They hunkered down in Malinta Tunnel, now home to a "light and audio" show for an additionall fee which we gave a pass.

MacArthur evacuated from Corregidor to Australia in February, 1942, both giving his famous "I Shall Return" speech and leaving his second in command, General Wainwright, to surrender to the Japanese in May. My grandfather never forgave him for this. (It should be said that MacArthur was under orders from Roosevelt to evacuate. It should also be said that my grandfather probably didn't think much of Roosevelt either.) This ardent desire to fulfill his pledge, coupled with frustration at being an Army general in the Navy's theater of war, led MacArthur to insist on opening a front in the Philippines even though the island-hopping strategy (bypass non-essential islands en route to Japan itself) dictated leaving them alone. In the Battle of Manila alone, nearly 100,000 Filipino civilians died, and the city was left in ruins. You connect the dots.

Here's a statue of him at the dock.

The potential for misinterpetation in this hand gesture amuses me.

I have just know realized that this is substantially longer than the "moment" I asked for. Thank you for bearing with me, and please understand I can't help myself.

We visited some of the defense sites of the island, such as Battery Hearn

and Battery Way, named, to my surprise, for a guy named Way, instead of as in "Battery Path." It is the site of the stand of an army mortar crew let by Major William Massello. Our surnames are similar enough that I adopted him for the duration of reading his memorial plaque. Distinguished Service Cross for keeping the battery operating for eleven straight hours while under continuous fire, firing the gun himself to minimize the exposure of his crews to counterfire, saved his own right arm by holding down his artery with his left thumb after shrapnel tore through it, reportedly tearing the telephone out of the wall so he couldn't receive an order to surrender. Oh, and then it was off to three years as a POW, where he insisted on offloading sick comrades from prison ships while his right arm was still paralyzed. No wonder Death waited until this guy was 89 to come after him.

The monument to World War II on Corregidor is at the top of Topside, along with a little shoestring-budget museum of Corregidor's history as a US base.

I have three main complaints on the day with Sun Cruises. The first was that we took way too long to get started after lunch, which plays into the second - not enough time at each stop. I really had to dash through this museum. The third complaint, which I know is going to make me sound like a bit of a jerk, was that the guide's accent was so thick that I barely had any idea what he was saying.

On the way home we were treated to the famed Manila Bay sunset.

I forgot to mention that these ferry rides are over an hour long. That's probably why Justin looks so happy. I have to get him off of boats with a crowbar.

According to the tourism video showed by China Airlines at the end of our flight, there is a Filipino saying that while watching the sun set off of the first Philippine island, the gods liked the sight so much they created 7,106 additional islands. So I will leave you with this photograph of sunset over Bataan, and point out that if I were in charge, I'm not sure I'd stop at 7,107.

1 comment:

  1. Probably didn't think much of Roosevelt? Probably? With the sort of Biblical assurance you can hold on to as astroids plow through your living room ceiling and Cthulu bursts forth from the deep, with the sort of certainty you can prize as down becomes up and up becomes down, you can rest assured that your grandfather detested Franklin Roosevelt. But not as much as your great grandfather did. I can only hope, in my small way, to detest Roosevelt as much as they did now that they are gone.

    your loving cousin,