(Fourth of a Series: Summer Suggestions)
Flashback: mid-1942. Just a few months removed from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the well-planned Japanese offensive saw their forces march triumphantly across the Pacific, forcing the Allied forces to surrender in Hongkong and Guam (December 1941); North Borneo, Wake Island and the Solomon Islands (January 1942); Singapore (February 1942); the Dutch East Indies (March 1942), and Burma (May 1, 1942). Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan had surreptitiously annexed territories in Korea, Manchuria, the Aleutians, parts of eastern China, Formosa, French Indo-China and parts of Siam. It seemed that nothing and no one could stop the Japanese from achieving their dream of creating an East Asian empire.
In the Philippines, Allied forces refused to back down, and instead dealt the Japanese forces their first significant defeat in the first Battle of Bataan in February 1942, forcing them to withdraw briefly and bring in the fresh divisions that had raped and pillaged Shanghai in their campaign in China. Their inability to take Bataan and Corregidor according to their timeline tied up Japanese forces unduly, affecting the overall conduct of their entire campaign.
Lacking food, ammunition, and medicine however,the stubborn American and Filipino forces in Bataan were finally flushed out in the 2nd Battle of Bataan in April 1942. Thus, Corregidor, aptly nicknamed ‘The Rock’, would become the last bastion of freedom standing against the Japanese juggernaut.
To the Japanese, Corregidor was no longer just another military objective, for it was now the thorny symbol of resistance that was embarrassing them as they steamrollered the opposition in practically everywhere they went. For the Allies, ‘The Rock’ would occupy its place in history as the last Pacific outpost of any size to fall to the enemy in the early stages of the Pacific War.
The Japanese had actually opened their attack on the island on December 1941, several days after Gen Douglas MacArthur moved his headquarters there. These attacks however were of no consequence to the heavily fortified ‘Rock’, until the Japanese occupied Cavite, and later, Bataan, after its fall.
When the last American and Filipino troops in Bataan surrendered on 9 April 1942, the Japanese were able to mass artillery pieces for an all-out attack of the Rock and its antiquated batteries. With Corregidor’s heavy gun turrets trained towards the sea, the hapless gun crews could not return fire on their tormentors from nearby Bataan.
By 4 May, many of the guns had been knocked out, the water supply was low, and casualties were mounting. The Japanese concentrated heavy shellfire preceding their landing the next night. But still, resistance was fierce, accounting for the sinking of two-thirds of their landing craft and losses amounting to close to a thousand as they moved in to snuff out the last remnants of significant resistance in the whole Philippines.
Finally, Japanese troops forced the surrender of the remaining American and Filipino forces on 6 May 1942, under the command of Lt Gen Jonathan Wainwright. With Corregidor’s fall, the last vestiges of organized resistance in the Philippines would also cease to exist – on paper. For in the Visayas and far-away Mindanao, organized resistance would continue, however sporadically.
Two years later, Corregidor would be recovered on 26 February 1945, when American paratroopers spearheaded the liberation of the island fortress from Japanese soldiers. For many years, Japanese sources have estimated that there were about 6,700 Japanese on the island when the Allied forces landed, of which, only 50 survived. Such was their adherence to the code of Bushido, preferring death rather than the dishonor of surrender.
In his speech during his triumphant return to Corregidor, McArthur would proclaim: “I see that the old flagpole still stands. Have your troops hoist the colors to its peak and let no enemy ever again haul it down”.
Today, some six (6) decades after the heroic stand, Corregidor continues to bear the ugly scars of the vicious pounding it suffered during those dark days of the war. For that, Corregidor stands proud as one of the key symbols of Filipino heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. Together with Bataan, Corregidor carries with her millions of stories of valor and sacrifice that continue to be discovered to this day.
Take a trip to Corregidor and try to imagine the extreme hardships the defenders experienced then. Take a walk inside the Malinta Tunnel and imagine the chaos, as the staff worked amidst the cries of the wounded and the anguished requests for more ammunition which was not forthcoming. They knew there was no way for reinforcements to get to them on time. They knew that they were isolated and that there was limited food and water, medicines and ammunition. They knew that they had been left to fend for themselves. Still, they fought on. Until the human flesh could take no more.
It is said that the beach along Bottomside, where the surrenderees where rounded up prior to their transport to the POW camps, became red with the blood from the wounded and dying. To this day, strains of the reddish stain can still be seen. It is said that countless others tried their luck at braving the shark-infested waters separating the Rock from Bataan. Most of them have remained missing to this very day. Men fought and died, not just for their friends and families, but for an intangible faith in something called freedom. These men were bloodied, battered and temporarily bowed, but the spirit that kept them fighting on in extremely difficult situations stands tall.
This summer, bring your family to Corregidor. Spend time to learn about our rich history. Bring the kids with you. And inculcate in your family the values of honor, courage, patriotism and love of country. Develop that sense of leadership and national pride in our youth. Why did our forefathers have to make extreme sacrifices, and why – if need be – were they willing to die for them? Finally, articulate to the kids the need to be ever-vigilant still, for despite today’s convenient technologies, life continues to provide us with a box-full of challenges.
(Pictures courtesy of allworldwars.com, nasflmuseum.com, vintu.com, dingeengoete.blogspot.com, donovan.com, worldwar42.blogspot.com, wikipedia.org, tourism-philippines.com, traveling-up.com, travelandtourpackages.com)
My ‘Suggestions for Summer’ Series:
Daring in Dakak – April 9, 2014
Pamilacan on My Mind – April 10, 2014
Carefree in Caramoan – April 11, 2014