With Memorial Day on the calendar's horizon, it seems fitting to discuss an island which was critical to the allies in the East during World War II. Corregidor is a historic treasure of the Philippines. It is an island reached by ferry through the cooling waters of Manila Bay. The ferry moves swiftly, passing local fisherman waiting patiently in the sun with nets flung out. It is a short distance to the island of Corregidor, but a world away from the fast paced motion of Manila. The change in atmosphere is profound. From the frenzy of the modern city to this historically preserved island, there is a natural adjustment from keeping up with the modern world to slowing down to reflect. It is a pristine tropical memorial to those that lived on the island during World War II and the realities of conflict.
Visitors to the island are escorted by simple open aired canopied trams on a guided tour through the island. The remains of war are so evident and the devastation and hardship so clear that it seems silence is the only appropriate response. Reflecting, i as the cold remains of war lie in sad contrast to the beauty of the abundant foliage of the green jungle like hills and the breathtaking views of Manila Bay and the South China Sea. It is not a place that once can visit carelessly. It is difficult to see the artifacts of everyday life left behind my American soldiers that spent their last moments of life half way around the world from home and in an island that belied paradise and could lull their anxiety among flowers and palm trees that rustle with the sea breeze.
There are resilient canons as long as city buses facing out towards the sea in stark cold contrast to the natural beauty that surrounds them. Their intention of defending from enemy attacks clear, while steps away hidden tunnels veiled by small grates easily covered with leaves cleverly disguise hidden escapes. Around the next hill lies the ruins of US Army barracks the stone remains run football fields in length and tower up several floors the where the glassless window arches frame the blue sky.
There is no escaping sadness on this island, but it is a beautiful tribute to those that served for their respective countries. There are memorials to all the nations whose men passed away on this small now serene island. The Japanese memorial a quiet Zen where kamikaze pilots had without hesitation taken their lives. It is a respectful to the men and the mindset of war. Men and women from both sides of World War II died on this small island and all sides are acknowledged. It is powerful to see memorials and sad to realize the enduring impact felt by the world of those in that generation lost.
The World Wars were wars of tunnels and trenches of hiding in small dark spaces and fearing for light and yearning for fresh air. The main tunnel on Corregidor which is carved out beneath the stone hill on the far side of the island is open to visitors today. Visitors are escorted through the length of the still darkened tunnel slowly and quietly in what are referred to as latitudes, the path only lit with one small flashlight. These latitudes are cave like rooms off of the main tunnel for living and hospital quarters. There is no escaping the impact of this walk. The path through the tunnel is dark and claustrophobic and all memory of fresh air quickly disappears. It smells of cold stone and earth and it is easy to understand why soldiers would sometimes sneak out of the tunnel's tomb to escape into the fresh salt air and warm breezes above the depths of the tunnel.
There is a museum on Corregidor that houses artifacts of these men who served on this island. Pictures line the walls of these handsome mostly American young men in happy times taken near where they were born. The houses they lean up against a style of Midwest clapboard architecture unseen on this tropical; island. Their smiles preserved next to captions saying how they had died in this war. Everyday objects of happiness like a long glass soda bottle in a case remind visitors how simple pleasures are treasured in times of war. Bataan is within sight of the island and it marked a Japanese victory and General MacArthur was forced to retreat vowing to return.
The island also houses a single somewhat rustic, but classically designed and genteel hotel where guests can stay when the day visitors have gone, and enjoy the peacefulness that exists on an island that at times witnessed the bombings and kamikaze flights of a war that affected all the world. Now the views from the veranda are only of the blue waters of Manila Bay and the South China Sea and the landscape a deep green born from its location near the equator.
The island is a beautiful tribute to the men who served here, the lives lost, and the world as it is today because of the battles fought by those brave men born into a time when the world was at war and peace and stability a gift to the future.