Last weekend we joined a group of teachers on an historically rich venture to the island of Corregidor, the second most-bombed place during WWII. The island is situated right at the mouth of Manila Bay and was a key location during the war. American troops occupied the island during our control of the Philippines and to defend the country from the Japanese. Unfortunately, MacArthur was called away from Corregidor by the President, who felt he was needed elsewhere. Upon leaving, MacArthur is said to have announced, “I Shall Return.” It wasn’t long before the Japanese successfully invaded the Philippines for three years. President Quezon, his family, and other government workers were secured in a tunnel system on the island as the Japanese invaded the country. Corregidor was used as a stronghold for the Filipino and American soldiers during the battles with the Japanese. It was one of the last places surrendered to the Japanese. During that time, Corregidor was badly bombed and much of the military infrastructure was destroyed. True to his word, MacArthur and the Americans came back and reclaimed the Philippines from the Japanese, leading to more bombing on the island. This is only the briefest of explanations of Corregidor’s history, so please take the time to learn more.
Our day began before 6:00 AM with a 2-hour drive to Mariveles on the bay. Finding our meeting location for the boat ride over was tricky because signage isn’t plentiful. Danette was on the phone with the woman she organized the trip with, and we finally got ourselves to the right place. After parking the car and receiving our Titanic-brand life jackets (really?!), we hopped on the banca boats for a 20 minute ride to the island. As we approached, I found that Corregidor was much larger and hillier than I expected. I had it in my head that the island was tiny and flat. Not at all the case.
We met up with our tour guide and piled into a jeepney to begin the tour, which highlighted the bombing sites – mostly barracks and batteries, the Malinta tunnel, a Japanese memorial garden, a Filipino war memorial, and the museum.
Statue of MacArthur at the dock where he left for Australia, stating, “I shall return.” In his absence, the Japanese invaded, eventually taking complete control of the Philippines for 3 years. In 1945 MacArthur indeed returned, and after a bloody struggle, the American and Filipino forces drove the Japanese out.
The Japanese used man-made caves like this one to hide large wooden boats and themselves during the fighting. When MacArthur regained control of the island, these tunnels were “searched” with explosives, for fear that Japanese soldiers were still hiding in them.
The Japanese war memorial on Corregidor went undiscovered for sometime. It was finally found after a picture depicting recognizable landscape near the memorial was found at a garage in the U.S. The memorial includes this statues of Buddha (facing Japan, not the West), several large guns used by the Japanese, and a small garden.
The Philippine war memorial contains a timeline of the wars fought in the Philippines, statues depicting heroes (like this one, symbolizing the contributions of Philippine women in war time), and a small gallery of artwork portraying the wartime struggles of the Filipinos, specifically the Bataan Death March.
The Malinta tunnel system was used to house President Quezon, his family, his staff, and military men during the Japanese invasion. Living in these tunnels during bombings would have been terrifying, but safer than staying in Manila.
Looking at the destroyed barracks, I was immediately reminded of the Roman Coliseum, which is MUCH older than these buildings, blown to pieces in the 1940s, but the conditions of these buildings was so decayed it looked similar. I felt chills, looking at the ghostly old frameworks and staircases.
We saw several batteries on our tour as well. Guns were place strategically all over the island for the best line of defense against attack. Unfortunately, most of the construction on the island was completed by Japanese companies, so the locations of our strongest weapons were known to our enemy.
Some of our most powerful weapons were rendered useless because the Japanese knew their locations and the range of their fire and simply stayed out of their way and attacked from other sides.
A lot of artifacts in the museum were objects found on the island: dog tags, pocket knives, cups, canteens, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by historic relics like these that link us to the past. It’s like time traveling. And I think we owe it to the heroes and victims of the past to hear their stories. I was particularly struck by this American flag, the first to fly over Corregidor in the early 1900s. You’ll notice there are only 45 stars on the flag. America – occupying other nations before our own had even finished growing.
We finished our tour of the island with a quiet lunch by the water. Satisfied and exhausted, we headed back to the banca boats for the trip home.