Remembering Corregidor today

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


UNCLE Dave, my mother’s cousin, was a World War II veteran. He fought in Corregidor side by side with the American soldiers. When I was a kid, he would tell me blood-splattering and viscerally violent stories about their high-speed maneuvers in fighting against the Japs in Corregidor, “The Rock.”

Corregidor is a small, rocky island (nine square kilometers in area) honeycombed with caves and tunnels and guarding the approaches to Manila Bay. It is known in World War II history as the last refuge of the Philippine and American forces when the Japanese Imperial Army overran Luzon in 1942. This could be the basis of Presidents Obama and PNoy in calling themselves partners for peace. (Let us review the Corregidor story and find out the post-apocalyptic scenario.)

China was there ahead of the Philippines and America. The Chinese invader Limahong stayed in this island in 1574. This pirate was there like a vulture waiting for the merchant vessels. The Spaniards made the island as its outpost and entry point to Manila Bay towards the end of 19th century. Incoming vessels stopped here so that the Spanish authorities could check and correct their papers. The island’s name could have been taken from Spanish “corregir” which means “to correct.”

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It could have originated also from the word “Corregidor,” the man who headed the “corregimiento,” the unpacified military zone during the Spanish period. Even before the Second World War, this island was already fortified by the Americans alongside with the other islands: Caballo, Carabao, El Fraile, and La Monja. Collectively, they formed the Corregidor defense complex. (If you read the mind of the Americans, they are already preparing for the daredevil action.)

This was called Fort Mills by the U.S. Army. The defense complex (as featured by Uncle Dave) consisted of numerous coast artillery and anticraft batteries of light and heavy guns. Uncle Dave was trying to frighten me when he said that some guns were of the huge 30-centimeter caliber. He would act like a military briefing officer by telling me that the key defense complex consisted of Malinta Tunnel is cutting through the rock in the middle of the island.

My uncle was really familiar with the terrain. With rugged authenticity, he would tell me that the tunnel was used as storage for strategic materials, as a hospital and barracks, and later as headquarters of the Commonwealth government. In his first person narration, Uncle Dave would pause like Charles Bronson (“The Dirty Dozen”) to remark on the cynical portrayal of a war-tested soldier.

As a result of the Japanese offensive in December 1941, which culminated in the fall of Manila on Jan. 2, 1942, the American high command established headquarters in Corregidor. Gen. Douglas MacArthur left Corregidor for Australia in a torpedo boat (just like in the movie that generals don’t die on the spot), leaving Jonathan Wainright to command the American and Filipino soldiers who were shocked to see MacArthur leaving them like a canonized saint making his ascension to heaven.

After the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 (we don’t know why we call it “Araw ng Kagitingan”), Wainright was left in Corregidor with a force of 12,000 troops. Uncle Dave was one of them. (Strategic location of Corregidor: It lies about 65 square kilometers from Manila, 26 square kilometers from Cavite, and 13 square kilometers from Bataan.)

The island fortress was subjected to intense fire from Bataan (now under the Japs), from Cavite and from the sea. Uncle Dave said, “The purpose of war is not to die for my country but to make our enemies die for theirs.” He sounded like Gen. Patton. Day and night bombings and artillery fire were relentless. Filipino and American soldiers fought like “Band of Brothers” but ultimately were doomed to failure.

On May 5, 1942, Japanese amphibious forces landed on “The Rock.” Eventually, on May 6 (exactly 72 years today), the island surrendered to the Japanese. Wainright surrendered the entire USAFFE forces in the Philippines to Masaharu Homma of the Imperial Japanese Forces. The fall of Corregidor marked the end of organized resistance against the Japanese in the Philippines. (Corregidor was recaptured three years later. That was in March 1945.)

Uncle Dave made his great escape by breaking the enemy line and joined the guerilla movement in Capiz, his home province. Today, I remember him and his testosterone-fueled experience in Corregidor. We salute our brave soldiers who believe that war is a monstrous destruction that brings instantaneous violence, and soul-lifting friendship. “President Barack, you should hear that.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 06, 2014.

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