For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by war – the heroism, the sacrifice, the toll on the human spirit and the lessons behind it. Often times, I would consume copious amounts of books retelling the various stories of war in the Pacific and even in Europe during the First and Second World Wars — devouring page by page by page. One of my favorites was the novel, “Helmet for my Pillow,” written by the World War II veteran and military historian Robert Leckie. Leckie’s book, along with another favorite, “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” provided vivid recollections about the war and how it took a toll on the life and spirit of the soldiers fighting for the islands, as well as the many people killed displaced and affected by war. Both books were later on adapted for the small screen and were used as source material for the immensely successful war series, “The Pacific.”
The Philippines is not a stranger when it comes to the stories of heroism during the Second World War. All throughout the archipelago, men died fighting for their homeland. While numerous lives were lost — what remains true to this day is the deep sense of patriotism and the lessons learned from the past. Nowhere is this more celebrated than in Corregidor Island.
Both Bataan and Corregidor are legendary in the history of war. Despite relentless attacks by Japanese forces in 1942, and without reinforcements coming from the United States, Filipino and American troops fought back for several months, from January to April of 1942, after being overwhelmed by superior Japanese firepower and troop numbers.
Corregidor suffered heavy bombardment from the Japanese Imperial Army for five months. Until finally, on May 6, the leader of all US and Filipino Allied forces in Asia, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, led his men in their surrender to the Japanese. They fought as long and as hard as humanly possible. The surrender resulted in 80,000 Filipino and American troops walking more than 100 kilometers from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac where they were interned at Camp O’Donnell. This was the infamous Bataan Death March where out of 80,000 prisoners of war (POW), only 54,000 made it to camp alive.
Today, attractions like the Pacific War Memorial with its Dome of Peace, and the sculpture, Eternal Flame of Freedom can be found in Corregidor in commemoration of the sacrifices and heroism of those who fought there. There’s also the Pacific War Memorial Museum that houses World War 2 memorabilia. It is now considered the world’s biggest war museum.
As the Philippines celebrates its heroes –April 7th is Veterans Day, and April 9th is Araw ng Kagitingan or National Heroes’ Day — it is good to remember and revisit Corregidor. It has become synonymous with Filipino and American courage and determination in protecting our freedom.
Walking down history lane is made more engaging in Corregidor via the guided tram tour of the island. Passing through the Malinta tunnel with lights and sounds show that simulates what it was like during the island’s darkest days during the second world war is something that visitors of the island should not miss.
Corregidor Island, which is a popular historical tourist attraction in the Philippines, is currently undergoing more improvements following a 10-month tourism masterplan by Palafox Associates.
Now categorized as an eco-tourism site, Corregidor is managed and operated by the Corregidor Foundation, Inc. (CFI) under its current chairperson and CEO, Ms. Cynthia Carrion. It is strongly supported for development and marketing by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) under the aegis of the Department of Tourism (DOT).
The DOT, TPB and CFI jointly manage Corregidor to remind us not so much of the horrors of war but rather, how high a price we must pay for our freedom and how we must all work to keep the peace.
As an eco-tourism site, Corregidor is not just a repository of history but an island full of fun and excitement. A fully functional beach resort and campsites are available for families and friends to relive history, relax and unwind. Indeed, history is made more fun in the Philippines!
Like always, April 9 is a Holiday – what could be an even better way to celebrate it by setting foot in one of the places where the men and women before us truly sacrificed for the motherland? Going to Corregidor is easy. Head to the ferry terminal located from the Esplanade Seaside Terminal at the SM Mall of Asia Complex.
For more information, go to www.corregidorisland.com.ph