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Published April 1st 2015
I shall return - and MacArthur did
"I shall return". MacArthur's most famous words were first echoed on the steps of the long-departed Terowie Railway Station in March 1942. Made in reference to the departure of American Armed Forces from The Philippines, these words have been immortalised in Philippines culture and in particular on the island of Corregidor, the place where MacArthur departed. On a recent trip to The Philippines I took a tour to Corregidor Island to see and reflect upon this important part of Philippines history.
Corregidor is a small rocky island in the Philippines about 48 kilometers west of Manila which is strategically located at the entrance of Manila Bay. This island fortress stands as a memorial for the courage, valor, and heroism of its Filipino and American defenders who bravely held their ground against the overwhelming number of invading Japanese forces during World War II.
Corregidor is a heritage site and access to the island is only available through accredited tour operators, of which Sun Cruises currently have the licence. The tour commences with a 90 minute boat trip departing Manila Harbour at 8am each day and traversing across the calm waters of Manila Bay. Upon arrival at the Island, guests are then allocated to open windowed mini-buses based on language preferences. On the day of my tour, Australian tourists were in short supply, so I was allocated to the mini-bus with a number of Americans.
The eight mini-buses departed the boat terminal to different sights on the island, each of them circling around to ensure every sight is seen and each group has sufficient time to hear the story behind the sights and to take photos before another group arrives.
Our tour commenced with a tour of the Middleside Barracks, a massive military barracks built in 1915 that housed the 60th Coast Artillery anti-aircraft regiment, the 91st Coast Artillery and the Philippine Scouts. The two three-storey buildings were bombed by the invading Japanese forces in 1941, and are now just skeletons.
Battery Way is one of two mortar batteries at Fort Mills (American name for Corregidor) and consists of four 12 inch mortars guns which have been partly restored for tourism purposes. Nearby was the Battery Hearn with the biggest gun on the Island. Battery Hearn had a firing elevation of 15 to 25 degrees and was capable of firing in all directions.
One of the most photographed spots on Corregidor is the skeletal ruins of the Mile Long Barracks across the top of the hill side. The barracks are a three storey building around one third of a mile in length, and was used for the billeting of Americans Officers and enlisted personnel.
Within the same vicinity the Pacific War Memorial Complex honours the Filipino and American Soldiers who served during World War Two. Comprising a museum, the marble dome memorial, and the Eternal Flame of Freedom Monument, the listing of the persons who died and the evidence of war is overwhelming and brings a tear to the eyes.
To the left side of the Complex is the original movie house which was built shortly before WW2 broke out. Known as Cine Corregidor, this movie house catered for the entertainment and leisure needs of the soldiers and their families, and often had new movies on show before or at the same time as they were released elsewhere in the world.
The oldest structure on the island is the Spanish Lighthouse. Built in 1836 by the Spaniards, the lighthouse is no longer in active use but provides a lasting memory of the original purpose of the island, being a major shipping waypoint. The 57 steps to the top of lighthouse make for an easy climb, and an opportunity to gain some exceptional views of Manila Bay, Bataan and Batangas.
Corregidor Inn at the centre of the island is our destination for a buffet lunch at the local restaurant, La Playa Restaurant. The welcome cool drink and dessert are particularly appreciated on a warm days, as well as the meat and salads on offer for lunch, and the flowers in bloom in the Restaurant's gardens.
The Japanese Garden of Peace is a memorial built in honor of the Japanese soldiers who fought in Corregidor during the war. Funded by the Japanese Government, the memorial reminds us that war results in casualties on all sides.
Arguably the Filipinos were the most affected by WW2 in the Philippines, having had American and Japanese occupation of their homeland and of Corregidor. Located on the tail side of the island, the Filipino Heroes Memorial complex was inaugurated in 1987 and features 14 sculpted murals depicting the many battles of Filipinos, a museum and several statues of Filipino heroes.
Built from 1922 to 1932, the Malinta Tunnel is an 860 foot tunnel built through the top of a hill, with numerous lateral tunnels. A light and sound tour is offered for 200 PHP, which allowed guests to walk through the tunnel and be informed about its history, and the history of battle on the island.
Finally we make our way towards Lorcha Dock, the historically significant site when General Douglas MacArthur left Corregidor for Australia. A large statue in honour of MacArthur stands tall by the Dock with the famous words of"I shall return"displayed on a plaque at the bottom.
Sun Cruises operate daily to Corregidor Island. Weekend tours cost PHP 2,500 ($A 70), while weekday tours are slightly cheaper. The 200 seat boat has extensive facilities and a kiosk, while there are numerous kiosks and bathroom facilities at most of the stops throughout the tour. The tour returns to Manila Harbour around 4pm each day. For further details, and booking information, refer to the Sun Cruises website.
It's been 15 years since I first went to visit Corregidor Island, and it's still Sun Cruises who operate the tours, haha. But I am glad the price has not gone up much and that many people still come to visit and appreciate this piece of history.