Corregidor – Filipino island played key role during World War II

It’s been almost two years since I had the opportunity to travel to The Philippines for work. It was a great trip and a wonderful learning opportunity.

I did my research (duh!) in finding places to visit. It helped that several colleagues had already traveled there, so they were able to give me some tips, too.

One of my favorite tour expeditions was a trip to Corregidor Island. It was my Father’s Day gift to me, since I was away from the family that day.

Corregidor Island was the site of two major battles during World War II. The first, in 1942, led to the fall of the island into the hands of the Japanese forces. The latter battle, in 1945, led to the Allied Forces (American and Filipino) regaining control.

In 1942, when it appeared the island would fall to the Japanese, General Douglas MacArthur planned to leave and turned over control to General Jonathan Wainwright.

Upon MacArthur’s exit, he said “I shall return.”

I felt kind of bad for Wainwright. In assuming command, he knew he was going to have to surrender Corregidor to the Japanese. Great career move! He and other American and Filipino soldiers were held as Prisoners of War after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Apparently, he believed he would be court-martialed when he returned to the US following his release because he surrendered the island. He was actually treated respectfully.

I went by myself. Some people were freaked out that I would travel alone. But, as I pointed out, there were hundreds of people there – several Americans, Europeans, Australians, and others from Asian countries.

I remember the boat ride to the island was “fun.” The water was very choppy; a typhoon was finishing up traveling through the area. We were not affected, other than some rain and the waves. People got sick on the boat ride out. It was a bit humorous to me. I saw staff handing out bags for people, while other people sat in their seats and ate their breakfasts. Yum!

Once we hit the island, I looked for a group of Americans to ride with on our tour. No offense intended toward non-Americans, but I believed that was the safe and smart thing to do in another country.

As soon as our tram took off, the rain hit. For the first hour of the tour, it rained hard. Most of the time was spent riding in the tram, so that was OK.

The only attractions on the island affected by the rain were the Japanese memorial and the Filipino memorial. We were able to pull close to a covered entrance near the Japanese memorial. I jumped off and took some photos of the memorial from a side angle and the large gun nearby. The winds were blowing so strong that small trees bent a little.

At the Filipino memorial, I was able to get some pics from the tram. Then, the rain let up a little so I stepped out and took some shots. It was funny, because as we boarded again, the rain started up heavier.

After that, the rain stopped except for a little drizzle here and there. The rest of the trip was nice.

The island is divided in three sections – Topside, Middleside and Bottomside.

Bottomside is the main entrance to the island for tours. There are some memorials and parks in the section. Unfortunately, with the rain at the start of the tour, we did not get much a chance to look around. That was a disappointment.

Heading up to Middleside, we had more chances to take in the views of the island and the war remains.

The main attraction here were the remnants of the Middleside Barracks. It was named that because, yep, it was built in the Middleside section. It originally housed Filipino soldiers, but later had American Marines.

The buildings on the island are as they were during WWII. They are not replaced as sections fall. The island’s curators will put up support rods to keep some walls from falling down, but that’s the extent of any repairs or replacements. They want people to see the true artifacts.

One item that caught my eye was a statue of a soldier helping an injured mate.

The words at the bottom of the statue spoke the truth:

“In these hallowed surroundings where heroes sleep, may their ashes scatter with the wind and live in the hearts of those left behind. They died for freedom’s right and in heaven’s sight. Theirs was a noble cause.”

At Topside, there were so many things to look at and areas to explore, with such little time (for me at least. I could have spent a day just there).

Topside is home to the Pacific War Memorial. It honors the American and Filipino men and women who served during the Pacific campaign. Our tour guide said there had been discussion of putting it in Hawaii, but sentiment led to its placement at Corregidor.

The memorial is a rotunda surrounded by flowers and water fountains. Along the walk are plaques of each major Pacific battle, with information about each.

At the end of the walk is a sculpture – the Eternal Flame of Freedom. Its red color signifies the flame that burns forever. Looking out behind the sculpture is Manila Bay. You can also see the tail end of Corregidor Island. It is indeed a beautiful view.

A Spanish lighthouse is located on the Topside. It was a nice walk-up and view. The original lighthouse was built at that spot in 1836 by Spaniards. In 1897, it was decided a larger one was needed. That lighthouse was destroyed during World War II. The current one was built in the same spot. At the top of the lighthouse steps, you can see parts of the island, Manila Bay and the South China Sea.

A few steps away is the first American flagpole erected on the island. It was planted there by Commodore Dewey of the US Navy. It was cool to realize that I was standing in front of something handled by a figure out of our history books. The flagpole is actually a mast of a Spanish ship that Dewey’s forces captured during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Mile-long Barracks is housed at the Topside. The three-story barracks housed American officers and enlisted personnel. General MacArthur had his headquarters in the building. While not quite a mile long, it did run a distance of 1520 feet, about ¾ of a mile. Mile-long Barracks sounds better.

A major attraction on the island is Malinta Tunnel. It cuts through a mountain. Construction started in 1922 and took 10 years to complete.

During the war, military forces used it for protection from artillery bombings and to store supplies. It served as the government headquarters for The Philippines president, Manuel Quezon.

It is a major attraction on the island tour. We walked through the tunnel from one side to the other. In-between is a light and sound show, highlighting all parties in the war. It starts with the American and Filipino forces in the tunnel, moves on to the Filipino government operations, the Japanese occupation, and ends with the American and Filipino flags raised and both countries’ anthems played.

The tour ends back at Bottomside, where we had a few minutes to take a final look around. My biggest regret of the trip was that I did not get a picture of the General MacArthur statue. The rain prevented it early on, and then time precluded it at the end.

One upside of the 48-km trip back to Manila was the waters were calm and made for a more pleasant boat ride.

I loved my “me-father’s day gift.” If I couldn’t be with my family that day, I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable time on my own.

Corregidor Island provided an amazing glimpse into history and brought WWII’s Pacific campaign to life.