Corregidor Virtual Tour
On a balmy November morning at 8 a.m. sharp, Sun Cruises Day Tour sets sail from Bay Terminal A, off tree-lined Roxas Boulevard facing Manila Bay. The ride on 150-passenger, 293 Catamaran ferryboat will take 80 minutes. Its destination across the bay: the historic island fortress of Corregidor, also known as The Rock (DISPATCHES, Destinations: Corregidor, P.I., July 2009, Armchair General magazine).
Once the 90 guests arrive on the 4 mile x 1 ½ mile island, they are to board the four pre-WW II type streetcars called “tramvias.” Our host on the lead car is Tour Guide Carlos B. Reyes of Sun Cruises, Inc.
The first stop is the North (Army) Dock, where General Douglas MacArthur cast off on his daring March 11–12, 1942, escape to the island of Mindanao, 600 perilous miles away, where he would later be flown to Australia to begin the long, hard road back to the Philippines.
The historic dock is shown next to MacArthur’s statue. A somber MacArthur bids good-bye to the embattled defenders as he holds on one hand his trademark corncob pipe. At the base of the statue is a marble tablet that proclaims: “I SHALL RETURN.”
“On this very spot, four PT boats, commanded by a 28-year old Navy Lieutenant named John D. Bulkeley,” Reyes begins to narrate, “took off, carrying MacArthur and his party through the minefield defending Manila Bay and past the tight Japanese blockade. With the General were his wife Jean and their 4-year old son, Arthur.”
In 1987, Bulkeley biographer William B. Breuer asked the former PT boat commander, now an Admiral, to describe this historic moment.
Recalls Bulkeley (Breuer, Sea Wolf. Novato: Presidio Press. 1989):
General MacArthur said he wanted my PT boats to break through the Nip sea-and-air blockade… and carry him and his party south to Mindanao. “But General MacArthur, sir,” I said, “wouldn’t it be safer for you to get to Mindanao by submarine or by air?”
But he smiled and said no, that the Nips would expect him to leave like that and would make every effort to intercept him. “They won’t be expecting me to make the breakout by PT boat,” he added. “Besides, I’ve got great faith in you and your boys!”
The general paused briefly, then asked, “Well, Johnny, do you think you can pull it off?”
Having been young, cocky, and brash, I replied, “General, it’ll be a piece of cake!”
If I were asked today, as a mature individual, I would have to say, “No way!”
For the next three hours, Reyes takes the tour group to several historic sites, such as the main parade ground in front of the officers’ club. We learn that elements of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team quietly dropped on the parade ground one morning, surprising the weary Japanese officers (a passenger points at the site). We drive past the ruins of 1,520-foot long barracks HQ, a recreational swimming pool, and the base hospital.
The tour group arrives at a high point on the island, which provides us with a sweeping view of Manila Bay. Down below, we can see one of the island’s popular sandy beaches. Across the island on the Bataan Peninsula loom the majestic, green slopes of 4,656-foot Mt. Mariveles. At its base lies the town of Mariveles, a scant two miles across the bay from The Rock and scene of some of the bloodiest fighting. Mariveles is known for its fine harbor and rich history dating back to pre-Hispanic period.
“The history of the Philippines,” quips Reyes, “can best be described as having spent 300 years in a Convent under Spain and 50 years in Hollywood under America.”
Not far from the spot lie some of the island’s awesome gun placements. Reyes describes the formidable armament that has surprised even the assaulting Japanese:
Battery Way, armed with four 12-inch mortars that can fire in any direction. It has the last gun to fire out before the island surrendered. Battery Hearn, whose seacoast gun is the longest on the island with a firing range of 17 miles. Battery Crocket, with its 12-inch seacoast guns mounted on carriages that move the guns and disappear behind a parapet. Battery Grubbs, whose armament is described on a commemorative plate.
Reyes says ”it took the Japanese 27 days after the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 to capture The Rock” (Singapore fell in 8 days; Hong Kong in17). During the siege, virtually every inch of the fortress is bombed.
The valiant stand by the Filipino-American forces on Bataan and Corregidor succeeds in delaying Tokyo’s timetable to invade Australia. The delay has given the Allies time to mount a counter offensive that would turn the tide of war in the Pacific.
The next stop is historic Malinta Tunnel.
Originally built as arms storage and not designed to quarter humans, the 836-foot long Malinta Tunnel served as MacArthur’s temporary HQ. It was also home for the Philippine Commonwealth government led by its ailing president (wracked with tuberculosis), Manuel L. Quezon, Vice President Sergio Osmena, and members of his cabinet. Each had a prize on his head. With Quezon were his wife, Dona Aurora, their two teen-age daughters and their youngest child, Manuel, Jr.
Reyes notes that the dim, dank dwelling, measuring 24′ wide and 18′ high, is built beneath the rock-solid Malinta Hill, making the tunnel virtually bomb-proof. It has taken ten years, from 1922, to complete the underground engineering feat.
A few historic events are recreated by the tour’s “Light-and-Sound,” complete with audio-visual special effects. One of the most touching moments is the swearing in of Quezon for his second term on December 30, 1941.
The revered Filipino leader slowly rises from his wheelchair to deliver his inaugural speech. Quezon turns his ire on President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, for their “failure” to defend the beleaguered Philippines, an American possession, in favor of Europe.
“For thirty years I have worked and hoped for my people,” Quezon fulminates. “Now they burn and die for a flag that could not protect them. I cannot stand this constant reference to Europe. I am here and my people are here under the heels of a conqueror. Where are the planes that they boast of?
America writhes in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the backroom.”
Eighty thousand Filipinos comprise the 100,000 Filipino-American defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (two were my uncles, fresh out of the University of the Philippines. One, Pedro “Pedring” Carbonell and my mother’s elder brother, survived the infamous Bataan Death March and is now a retired chemistry professor while the other, Pacifico “Ackoy” Ludan and dad’s younger brother, did not. For more on The Bataan Death March, see YOU COMMAND, November 2007, Armchair General magazine.)
Some historians do indeed tend to agree with Quezon’s sentiment shared by MacArthur himself. Prominent among them are biographers Breuer, William Manchester, and D. Clayton James, who said:
”Like the false encouragement given by physicians to some dying patients, the hopeful words of Roosevelt and Marshall perhaps were intended to brace MacArthur and his men to fight longer than they would have if told the truth. If so, these words were an insult to the garrison’s bravery and determination” (Manchester, “American Caesar,” p. 249. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1978 First Edition).
Feeling betrayed by Washington, the Filipino people turned to the General for their salvation. This explains why MacArthur chose not to use the word “We” when he made his solemn pledge: “I shall return.”
The next stop takes us to the highlight of the tour, a visit to Pacific Memorial Shrine. The memorial was completed in 1968. A “Brothers-in-Arms” statue of a couple of battle-scarred Filipino and American soldiers greets the visitor. The statue is a constant reminder of the enduring bond that exists between the two nations.
The memorial’s design resembles a World War II parachute. Radiating lines cascade from atop its white dome. Reyes points out that the shrine is positioned in such a way that on May 6 of every year (the day the island fortress fell), the high noon sun shines directly down through a hole atop the dome right smack on the center of the round marble altar. Etched on the altar is this touching prayer that starts with the lines: “Sleep My Sons. Your Duty Done. For Freedom’s Light Has Come….”
The campaigns in the Pacific are memorialized on a row of huge marble tablets that line the promenade leading to the awesome Monument of the Eternal Flame of Freedom. The soaring, steel structure sits on a raised platform above a reflecting pool. Visitors are treated to a spectacular view of Manila Bay, the Bataan Peninsula, and the coastline of Cavite, former home port of the U.S. Navy in the Far East. To symbolize the flame of freedom burning eternally, the sculpture is powered by a solar-generated electric array.
Next stop is the memorial’s library + visitors’ center, which contains inspiring war stories and memorabilia. The recapture of Corregidor has produced a couple of Medal of Honor recipients, including Lloyd G. McCarter, Private, U.S. Army, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment (see Special Feature, July 2009, Armchair General magazine). The center features one of three recipients in the defense of Bataan (1942) named Jose Calugas, Sergeant, U.S. Army, 88th Field Artillery, Philippine Scouts (the only Filipino so honored).
During a noontime break, tour guests Dr. Rudy Sabater and daughter Cecille take a respite in the colorful tramvia. Moments later, Reyes leads the tour group toward the topside flagpole, made famous in wartime newsreel.
A visit to renovated Corregidor Lighthouse, built by the Spaniards in 1836, marks the tour’s last stop. Nearby is a dedication plaque from the government of Spain.
Before returning to Manila, we gather for buffet lunch at the 31-room, Spanish colonial style Corregidor Inn. We are ushered into the vast veranda, overlooking Manila Bay. There the chef waits to greet us. As if on a cue, fresh breeze from the Bay starts to waft across the veranda, sweeping aside the warm, humid air that’s been gathering since noon over the lush tropical island.
At 2:30 PM, Sun Cruises Day Tour is on its way back to Manila for a 4 PM arrival—plenty of time to head back to my hotel on Roxas Boulevard, freshen up, sit back, and watch from my hotel room balcony the magnificent Manila Bay sunset, a chilled San Miguel beer faithfully by my side.
(I wish to thank Tour Guide Carlos B. Reyes of Sun Cruises, Inc., Manila, and my hosts, Drs. Rudy and wife Flory Sabater of Sabater General Hospital, Metro Manila, and daughter Cecille, for their invaluable assistance. Mo Ludan, Camano Island, WA.)
About the Author
Mo Ludan lives in the Seattle, Washington area, is a longtime Armchair General subscriber, and has frequently contributed to the magazine. His web articles include his virtual tours of MacArthur’s Dai Ichi building Tokyo headquarters and Corregidor.