The Philippines was a critical location in the Pacific Theater during World War II. We spent three weeks in the Philippines in May of 2017 and visited two of the major sites in and around Manila. It was a sober reminder of the many lives that were lost in this part of the world during the second world war.
I certainly learned more about the history of the war in the Pacific. It also gave my wife and I more insight to where her father served in the war and what he might have done. My father-in-law was a torpedo man on the SS Scabardbfish, a submarine that he shipped out on for the first time from Pearl Harbor. He didn’t talk much about the war, but we do know that he mentioned the Mariana Islands and that they were instructed to pull back from Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped.
My father-in-law and one of his brothers served in the Pacific during World War II. Three others of my wife’s uncles served in the war in Europe. I have three great-uncles who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the war. Fortunately, all of them came home. I am grateful for their service and of all those who served to defend their country and the freedom of peoples around the world.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial
We stayed in a condo that overlooked the American Cemetery and Memorial for our two weeks stay in Manila. The cemetery and memorial cover 152 acres and contains the graves of 16,632 American Military personnel and 570 Philippine nationals serving with US forces. Also on site is a memorial where the names of 36,286 missing in battle are inscribed.
The site is open to the public every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day. We visited for a few hours one day to pay our respects. My wife’s father and uncle served in the Pacific and three other uncles served in Europe. Fortunately, all of them came home. To our knowledge, we don’t personally know anyone or know the family of anyone buried in the cemetery. However, we did notice the name of Paul Begay on a list of those buried there. Begay is a very common Navajo name. The maiden name of one of our best friends is Begay. We suspected that Private First Class Paul Begay of the US Marines was a Navajo code talker. Further investigation confirmed that he was a code talker from Arizona.
We asked at the office if they could tell us where the grave of Paul Begay was. They staff were very helpful and located his grave on the map and took us to the headstone in an electric golf cart. They brought along a small cup of wet sand and rubbed the sand into the engraving in the headstone to make it show up better for a picture. We took a few moments to pay our respects and then walked over to the hemicycle memorial.
The memorial consists of a left and right hemicycle with the names of the missing engraved in large partitions holding up the structure. A chapel stands in the south between the left and right hemicycles. There are 25 large mosaic maps showing battles and information about the Pacific theater operations. The mosaics helped me understand specifics about the war, strategies, battles, etc. and helped me imagine where my father-in-law might have sailed.
Many people know the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return.” Corregidor Island was where the General was when he received the orders to leave the Philippines and go to Australia to become the Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area. Generally, MacArthur was referring to the Philippines when he spoke of returning. Specifically, he made a point of returning to Corregidor Island.
Corregidor Island stands at the entrance of Manila Bay and offers an excellent position of defense of Manila, the largest city in the Philippines. The island has a very rocky landscape, making it ideal for fortified tunnels and protection from bombs. It has been used since Spanish colonial times in the 1500’s as a fortress.
During World War II, the Philippine government headquartered at Corregidor. It was also used as Allied headquarters until March of 1942. The Japanese captured Corregidor in May of 1942, completing their conquest of the Philippines. Although Corregidor fell, the forces there held out from December 29, 1942 to May 5, 1942. Japanese intelligence had predicted that they would capture the island in 14 days. This took a great toll on the Japanese and they had to divert forces from other areas of the Pacific to eventually take Corregidor.
In February of 1945 the Allied forces retook Corregidor and on March 7, 1945, MacArthur returned to the island.
To get to the island we took a day long tour. The boat left Manila harbor at about 7:30 AM. It took about an hour and a half to reach the island where we boarded open sided trolley buses. Each trolley had its own guide and we made numerous stops on the island to view ruins and memorials. We boarded the boat back to Manilla at about 3:00 PM. It was an interesting tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Manila.
Additional War Sites in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial and Corregidor Island are two of the largest memorial sites in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. One of the things that really hit home to me as we have traveled in Southeast Asia is the extent and brutality of the Japanese occupation throughout Asia. Most Americans and Canadians probably associate the war with Japan beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1944. However, for decades before Pearl Harbor, Japan had been invading and occupying most of Southeast Asia. In China, we saw whole museums regarding the Japanese occupation. In history museums Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam we have seen at least some mention or exhibit about the period of time where the country had been under Japanese occupation.
As we travel, we get to see first hand the history and effects of war on countries around the world. It is interesting and very sobering to see the conflict that has occurred throughout history. I am grateful that since the US Civil War, those of us that grew up in Canada and the United States have never seen the ravages of war on home soil. It makes me grateful for those who have served abroad in the military, keeping our countries safe.