Carolina: Cruising Past 70: OLA: Reliving WWII in the Philippines

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

OLA: Reliving WWII in the Philippines

sunset over the Bataan Peninsula from Battery Grubbs in Corregidor Island
monkeys by the road in Subic
At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the US.  The US built three major military bases: Subic Naval Base in Zambales, Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga, and Fort Mills in Corregidor. The islands became a major battlefront in the Pacific during WWII. For a Filipino-American couple like us, this piece of history takes on a significance of more than double proportions.
In Bill’s first visit to the Philippines in 2009, I took him to Subic and Clark. Subic Base, a major ship-repair, supply, and rest and recreation facility of the US Navy, was the largest overseas military installation of the United States Armed Forces after Clark Air Base.  Since the bases turnover to the Philippine government in 1991, it has become an industrial park, a tourist resort, and a residential haven.

Charo's home, former officer's, at Subic
One of my friends, Charo Simons now lives in a great former officer’s home for a mere $50,000 long-term lease. She works for the Chairman of the Subic Bay Development Corporation which manages the area. The tourist duty-free shops still offer many a bargain, the beaches still look very inviting, and the hills offer good jungle trips.  Regularly, planeloads of Asians are brought to its casino for a gambling weekend.

Clark International Airport
an Aeta hut at The Villages
When we went to HongKong, we departed from the Clark International Airport. Unlike Subic, it looks like Clark is dying. It should be an ideal place for a major airport (bus trip from Manila, 1 ½ hours) because of all the facilities and land (14.3 sq mi with a military reservation extending north at another 230 sq mi). The base was a stronghold of the combined Filipino and American forces and was a backbone of logistical support during the Vietnam War. Bill was able to fly a plane at a Clark flying school in 2009.

Goddess of Peace facing Japan
a similar one is in Corregidor
a cow being butchered in the fields
We had a few hours before boarding our plane, so we hired a van to take us around. We discovered a lonely Goddess of Peace memorial from Japan, the controversial white elephant project of former President Fidel Ramos, and empty hotels and duty-free shops. But the Villages, home of the native Aetas in the surrounding hills, is the great discovery. We even witnessed a cow being butchered in the fields.

empty Centennial Expo
km 00 of the Death March in Mariveles
Coming back from HongKong, we stayed in Clark for the night, and BFFs Ann and Jingjing picked us up in Dittas’s car (she is in Colombo, Sri Lanka, heading an IT company). We first had the famous pizzaninis at C! and then took the SCTEX, the new interchange connecting Subic and Clark, and proceeded to Montemar Beach in Mariveles, Bataan, where Jingjing is a member.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Four months after, Bataan fell to the Japanese.  75,000 Fil-Am soldiers were forcibly transferred to the POW camp in Capas, Tarlac. The 60 mi Death March resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.

Las Casas Filipinas in Acuzar
It started in Mariveles near Montemar and markers are regularly placed on the road retracing the infamous route. On the way there, we paid tribute to Filipino heroes at Mt. Samat, the huge cross on top of the mountain, a memorial to those who suffered in March.  In Acuzar, a town before Mariveles is Las Casas Filipinas (Philippine Houses) by the sea, a neat cluster of restored ancestral Filipino homes brought there piece by piece.  Montemar is a beautiful exclusive beach resort (we watched the Pacquiao-Mosley fight there).
water bikes in Montemar

hydrofoil and tram vias in Corregidor
The strategic location of Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay prompted the Americans to make it an ‘impregnable fortress’.  During World War II, Corregidor played a significant role during the invasion and liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. The hydrofoil trip to the island was just 1 ½ hours from the Folk Arts Theatre area in the reclaimed land on Manila Bay.  Colorful tram vias, replicas of the trollies they used then took us around the island.

ghost of Mile-Long Barraqcks
MacArthur's I Shall Return
The skeletons of heavily bombed Mile-long Barracks (the longest single military barracks in the world housing 8,000 soldiers) and the remains of the cross-shaped Hospital which the Japanese destroyed  despite war treaties were spectacles of the gruesome battle that lasted five months. And the fitting tributes to the brave soldiers are many…the Pacific War Memorial (with its altar and Eternal Flame), the Filipino Heroes Memorial with 14 murals of Philippine history, and statue of Gen. Macarthur who  escaped to Australia where he declared, ‘I shall return’. Corregidor was retaken 3 years after.
Malinta Tunnel from our room at Corregidor Inn

air passages for a lateral
The Malinta Tunnel Night Tour is the most descriptive of the life of soldiers on the fortress. It is a 2.5 mile network of laterals on Malinta (full of leeches) Hill.  At times bending low to pass through narrower sub-laterals, we experienced utter darkness, felt whiffs of cooler air from the air passages, visited the 1,000 bed hospital that replaced the destroyed hospital outside, and retraced the escape route of Gen. MacArthur, the quarters of President Quezon, the petroleum storage facilities, the quarters, and even the femur bone of a Japanese soldier. 
the largest battery in the island
Reliving WWII in the Philippines reminded us again of the closeness of Filipino-American relations. It also gave me memories of my father who fought with Americans and my mother, a teacher who learned Japanese and interpreted for Filipinos. Taking this trip with Bill, my American husband, made it even more significant!


  1. I am sorry your trip is at an end. Washington should be lovely this time of year though.

  2. We are quite ready to go back to our 'home'. We actually go to Glacier National Park a week after our arrival! Anyway, we return to Asia again in 2013 and plan to spend more time, like 6 months! Thanks for your continuing interest and support.

  3. That's quite a lot of history ! Bataan and Corregidor are certainly strong pieces of the war in the Pacific during WWII. I would think that visiting it would be particularly thought provoking. It seems that Subic and Clark are changed enough to no longer generate the same emotions. Thanks

  4. I'm not sure my last comment made it before I lost connectivity! Briefly, the history at Corregidor and Bataan are central parts of the WWII War in the Pacific. They must carry more emotion than Clark and Subic just because the latter two were not scenes of major battles. Thanks for giving so much info.

  5. You are very right. I should probably have minimized the coverage of Subic and Clark and talked more about Bataan and Corregidor. Thanks for the insight.

  6. No, your coverage of Subic and Clark were very informative and interesting. The success or lack thereof after turning them over to the Philippines is important to show how those changes can help when properly planned for and transitioned. It is good info, I just like the historic significance of the others more.

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