ON TO THE FRONT
Deep down in every one of us the travel bug has his haunt. Few—very few—can resist the lure of new places, new faces. And the memory of our past travels lies forever fallow in the long, dim recesses of our minds, always hovering there in readiness to weave into the pattern of our dreams when, in a retrospective mood, we glance back through the arches of the years at a land we once beheld.
So it is with me. But whenever I look back there is one image which I can never obliterate—an image which looms like a dark omniscient shadow, overlapping everything, casting an intangible spell over my very existence. It is always the same. ...a crouching island standing out in stark relief against the golden glow of a perfect sunset. Silhouetted against that bronze light it seems at first a tranquil haven of nature—but only for a brief moment. Memory soon strips the gauzy colors from the artful deception and the island stands for what it really is....Corregidor, the isle of delusion.
My mind flights back, past the fleeting years, past the outbreak of the Greater East Asia War, to a land of wide open spaces—to America. To a starless night in June many years ago, when I was driving from Reno, Nevada, to Ogden, Utah. I shall never forget. The long stretches of wasteland —purple sage rearing against ashy sand dunes—the warmth and the stillness of the Nevada Desert. A combination that played havoc with my imagination.
I remember my hand straying to the radio. Scratchings. Atmospherics. Static discords that paralyzed the senses. Even the radio, I thought, had yielded to the empty hollowness or that vast. American wasteland. I slumped down in the car and tried to console myself with the thought that all this tremendous solitude was free of earthly troubles—that the .stillness signified peace and contentment. It isn't so bad after all, I said to myself. And the hours passed while the .Plymouth roadster floated deep into the profound night.
Some time later—aeons later, it seemed—far away on the pitch-black horizon an airplane beacon winked across the arid void. Strange, how in moments such as this the pendulum of the mind swings once to a distant point and as swiftly reverts to the normal. When my eyes sighted that solitary beacon, it seemed to flash a sudden warning to me ... . "Civilization ahead! Trouble—Beware! " A peculiar feeling flooded my being; a chill trickle ran up and down my spine. Instinctively my hands tightened on the steering wheel. . . .a minute later I was laughing at myself. It was just one of those experiences which mean nothing, yet which still linger in the memory.
My mind races on to another point in time. I am sitting in my bed in the Manila Hotel, sitting alone and in total darkness. Outside there is not a star to be seen, not a sound to be heard. Getting up and staring blankly out of the window, my eye catches a flash from the pitch-black horizon. Another swing of the pendulum…. and for a fleeting second the light stabs a warning at me: "Civilization ahead! Trouble —Beware! " Like one recalling a dream, I am reminded of that drive from Reno to Ogden five years before.
Snapping myself out of the strange spell, I fling myself down on my bed once again, thinking that this metaphysic warning must have its roots somewhere, some obscure metabolism which I search for. And then I realize. . . . tomorrow I am bound for Corregidor!
At six o'clock on the morning of May 6th, Lieut.-Col. Katsuya, Chief of the Japanese Army Propaganda Corps in the Philippines, called for me at the Manila Hotel. Bataan was to be our destination. On the previous day he had told me that the long-anticipated, long-planned blitzkreig on the powerful island fortress of Corregidor had begun on May 1, as squadrons of bombers started their systematic attacks on the island.
During the night I had had little sleep. My mind had been on Corregidor. The whole city of Manila knew that the assault on Corregidor was launched, but the question hanging on everyone's lips was, "When will the Japanese dare to attempt a landing?" Rumors were flying thick and fast. Speculations ranged from, "It will be weeks," to "It won't be long now, Corregidor cannot hold out for ever."
It was the latter belief that had been bothering me throughout the night. I wanted to be on hand when the Japanese sent their "human bullets" to capture Corregidor. I wanted to witness the surrender of Gen. Wainwright and his men. I wanted to speak with American and Filipino war prisoners. I wanted to interview the nurses of Corregidor. And I wanted to see the inside of the island fortress. These were among my "musts" before returning to Shanghai. Yes, I had had a sleepless night, and yet when I roused myself from sleep at daybreak, I was astonishingly full of vigor and very wide awake.
In a Lincoln Zephyr flying a red pennant, indicating the presence of a senior officer in the car, were Lieut.-Col. Katsuya, Mr. Machiuki of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, myself, two soldiers and the driver. The drive down the National Road, originally constructed for Baguio, was refreshing and most enjoyable. In a few hours we would be within sight of Corregidor. The thought of it compelled me to ask Col. Katsuya if he could disclose whether the Japanese forces had already launched their initial attempt against the island.
He grinned and without even looking at me said: "You know, of course, that the final offensive has begun. It started on the night of May 1. Since then, haven't you noticed anything?"
I gave the matter some thought. I recollected now that I had seen a blaze on Corregidor from the window of my hotel for several nights; but not, however, on the last two, even though I had scanned the horizon for that luminous patch intently. I had noticed also that the streets of Manila were filled with Japanese soldiers on leave. But it didn't seem to make sense to me. And so I answered negatively.
Thereupon the Colonel looked at me and laughed rudely. I felt annoyed and cheap. If only I had been Sherlock Holmes or S.S. Van Dyne I might have been able to disappoint him, for he was undoubtedly taking my ignorance with some amusement. Mr. Machiuki also looked embarrassed. I knew that he too was unaware of what was in Col. Katsuya's mind.
The Colonel's laugh was short and he began to explain forthwith. "If you recall, the night before last, May 4, the 'blackout' of Manila was proclaimed lifted," he said, "and the whole of the town was illuminated for the first time since she Japanese occupation. And yesterday, Lieut.-General M. Homma, C-in-C of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, was host to executive officers of the Vargas Government."
He paused and things began to dawn on me. The events would be broadcast over Station KZRH and naturally Corregidor would be listening! Oh—so!
"The landing should have been attempted last night!" Colonel Katsuya concluded in a triumphant manner.
My heart sank, the most important of my "musts"—to make the initial landing on Corregidor with the first group of "human bullets"—was shattered. My face must have shown my disappointment for the Colonel asked what was the matter. I told him, and he grinned again. I felt more embarrassed than ever. Then he said—I suppose to comfort me—"You'd probably never have lived through it. Anyway, you will be able to go today."
I was satisfied. My imagination wandered off to what those soldiers must have gone through on the night before. I envied the fortunate war correspondents who had been privileged to accompany that first landing party. Then, as the car rounded a short curve, I became conscious of the countryside. It was an exceedingly hot day. At intervals of every few miles there were overturned trucks bearing the sign "U.S. Army". Some were urban vehicles that had been taken over, and the original red paint was still unchanged with a white sign painted on, reading "U.S. Army" or "U.S. Navy". Otherwise the countryside was bare. What buildings there had been, now lay in ruins—mere monuments to the homes of the natives which had been laid waste by the "scorched earth policy" of the retreating Filipino-American forces.
Occasionally, refugees passed us, presumably returning to their lost dwellings. Without a single exception the little Filipino children stood at attention and raised their tiny hands to their thinned faces in a salute. How different, I thought, were these Filipino children to those Chinese kids I had seen in China. Later we passed a swamp filled with water buffaloes having their afternoon bath and siesta. There must have been close on a hundred in one of these herds. What did they care about war? Nobody was molesting them and they had their swamp. . . . The car sped on.
We arrived at San Fernando, one time prosperous city on the Baguio highway—now, a skeleton ghost town as a result of the "scorched earth policy". A small regiment of Japanese soldiers was reconstructing some of the less damaged houses. One glance at the town sufficed to show that it was being used as a supply base. A train from Manila had just arrived and provisions were being unloaded. Just off the highway piles of gasoline drums were visible. At another place I noticed stacks of boxes and crates with American labels. These I knew to be food supplies saved from the debris. Still further, I saw numerous once vacant lots packed with American automobiles and trucks. Further on, at the edge of the town, a bridge which had been destroyed was being repaired by Filipino and American war prisoners under the supervision of Japanese soldiers. We were forced off the road to cross a temporary bridge that safely withstood the speeding Lincoln Zephyr. Our driver had orders to "step on it".
Finally, at a spot some hours away from Manila, the cars swerved off the main highway on to a rugged dirt road. A few minutes later, we were in the midst of real "front" atmosphere as abandoned army cars increased in number along the track. Big machine-guns, rifles and scores of steel helmets added to the litter. An hour later a sound like thunder became audible—heavy artillery in action. I saw the Bay but could not see Corregidor. The number of Japanese soldiers increased. There was activity everywhere; trucks roaring, launches preparing for action, communication lines being increased, provisions being moved about, light tanks trundling towards the piers. The sound of guns became louder.
We arrived at Lamao, the first outpost to Corregidor. Further on was Cabcallo and Mariveles. But for the moment, Lamao was our destination. I don't know what it used to be, but whatever it was, it could not have been much. A few houses, plenty of tree-covered mountains, numerous piers … Lamao. I imagine it used to be some kind of a lumber port.
Once more the car turned off the road to the right—onto another dirt road, if it could be called that. It was a small canyon with verdant slopes on either side. Tents had been pitched in every clearing. It took me back to my Boy Scout days and camping in the Sierra Madres.
Leaving the car, we crossed a creek and came upon a scattered group of tents which were the various offices of Military Headquarters. We entered one of these bearing the sign "Propaganda Corps". Here were two lieutenants, a corporal and a sergeant-major together with newsmen representing every important newspaper in Japan. Domei and Japan Newsreel were also represented. The tents of the journalists, I learnt later, were situated down the river at a spot near which we had left the car.
When the Chief arrived there was a great deal of commotion. Following a hurried salutation by all the correspondents, he was bombarded with a barrage of questions which ended with: "When do we go to Corregidor?"
During the ensuing conversation, I discovered that the first group of soldiers had left Lamao at 11.00 p.m., while the second batch had followed at 4.00 a.m. In neither instance had any newspapermen been allowed to go with them. One of the officers, however, a certain Lieut. Mochizuki, had accompanied the second group and had returned with a report of the progress made by the first batch.
He told of how several special landing boats filled with men had crept towards Corregidor while Japanese artillery in Bataan opened up with a heavy barrage. At any rate, the enemy, probably suspecting an attempt at landing, suddenly brought their powerful searchlights into play and the invading party was discovered.
The landing was ordered between Infantry and Cavalry Points; in a miniature gulf. The squadron had just entered the inlet when the heavy guns began a concentrated fire on them from both sides. After that it was sheer massacre. Less than 30 per cent of the men reached the shore, and among these only a few were able to fight. (According to later confirmation, the lifeless bodies of Japanese soldiers were found floating aroµnd for nearly two days.)
Those who effected the landing and were still able to fight had scattered and taken their stand in the darkness. Many of them laid on their bellies and played dead until the enemy ceased firing. In the meantime, the Japanese shore batteries back in Bataan continued their relentless pounding of Corregidor, while daring night fliers rained hell on the resisting defenders. That initial assault lasted from 11.00 p.m. all through the night. At 4.00 a.m. the second landing was effected with greater success, although casualties were still by no means small. By that time the resistance of the American defenders on Corregidor had been so demoralized by the Intense bombardment of the heavy batteries on Bataan that the Japanese forces swept up the slopes and captured Malinta Hill, highest point on the island fortress, at dawn.
As we sat listening to Lieut. Mochizuki, reports arrived that the third reinforcement was about to leave at 11,00 a.m., it was now just 10.40 a.m. Newsmen were on the alert, eagerly awaiting their chance, but so far no consent was forthcoming. The Japanese Command obviously felt that the sacrifice of troops was too great in itself, without the additional responsibility of sending defenceless writers to certain death.
At last, however, Col. Katsuya managed to obtain the permit. The newsmen were exuberantly happy at this piece of luck and were preparing to leave for the piers when the disheartening news arrived that the third contingent had already left. It was a bitter disappointment for the correspondents, who felt that they had been robbed of their rightful reward when the goal was already in sight. The roar of heavy guns, located just over the hill from the little camp, seemed to be a mockery as they thundered out their deafening salvoes of destruction, shattering the silence of the forest glades and sending echoes reverberating through the jungle.
Col.Katsuya told the newsmen that reinforcements would be leaving hourly now. "Don't worry," he comforted, but the war correspondents strayed despondently back to their respective tents. A few lingered behind and these gave their own eye-witness accounts of that first landing as witnessed from Cabcallo.
It was a vivid, gripping drama that they described. "The gun behind us," said one Domei correspondent, "set up a thunderous roar, sending a ceaseless stream of projectiles on to Corregidor. In the distance, across the Bay, a small group of boats rounded a cape and drifted slowly toward their destination. The sputter of the motors seemed to be saying goodbye and we felt ashamed that we ourselves could not have gone with this first contingent of 'human bullets'.
"By now the Corregidor batteries had gone into action —but insignificantly. The sound of the motors was drowned in the inferno. Above, the stars still twinkled, but the moon hid herself from the god-awful scene that was to be enacted a few minutes later below.
"Suddenly the searchlights on Corregidor at both Infantry and Cavalry Points were switched on in a concentrated blaze of light. Even from this distance the landing boats were visible. The shore defenses on Corregidor blazed into action. It was a dreadful massacre. A hundred guns rained red-hot steel on to the suicide boats.
"Judging from the continuation of the firing, we imagined that the squadron was still pushing shoreward in the face of this curtain of molten death. We watched intently. The fire of steel slowly concentrated into a closed area and then we knew that the squadrons had reached the shore. It was a spectacle that confounded the imagination, surpassing in grim horror anything we had ever seen before. An area of not less than a mile square was a solid mass of red-hot, flying steel. And somewhere inside that ring of death was a tiny remnant of those 'human bullets' who had so shortly before left this shore. We wondered in our hearts how many still survived. How could any human beings survive in that terrible inferno?
"In the meantime, our heavy guns, securely hidden in the forests of Bataan, kept on pounding out their incessant message of death and destruction. From above, the Japanese aviators, who held complete domination in the air, showered their bombs on the Corregidor defences. From every aspect it was a tremendous battle," Mr. Higuchi of Domei concluded.
We had been sitting, breathlessly listening to his eye-witness account of that first landing as seen from Bataan. Col. Katsuya smiled. "And you boys," he said, "you boys wanted to go along too?" A chorus of agreement greeted his rhetorical question "Yes," they shouted back. "Let's go."
One must know the psychology of the Japanese to appreciate this dogmatic desire to be in the van of the battle. To report the brave deeds of the Japanese soldiers for the benefit of their people at home is the primary duty of these newsmen. And to die side by side with the troops in action, to be enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo with Japan's million strong is the final Valhalla of every correspondent. To the soldier the newsman represents the civilian, the spirit of the masses at home. Consequently, the relation existing between war correspondent and serviceman is a symbol of oneness, a unification of spirit and effort.
Suddenly there was an interruption; an Asahi reporter dashed in excitedly. He was the bearer of startling, epochal news. "Did you hear," he shouted, "a white flag is flying from Corregidor!"
The resultant reaction was a storm of protest, mingled with a surge of exuberance. Some of the astonished reporters hoarsely shouted "Banzai," whilst others, the reporter in them uppermost, were unable to hide their disappointment at missing the story. I was in the latter category. So it had happened. First we had missed the landing and now the surrender. Might as well have stayed in Shanghai, I thought.
Introduction | Author's Note | On to the Front | Gen. Wainwright Surrenders | Prisoners of War | Fort Mills Hospital | Racial Discrimination | Goodbye Corregidor | Lieut.-Comm. F. H. Callahan | Gen. Wainwright's Appeal | Official Communiqués | Santo Tomas Internment Camp |
Return to Corregidor Under Siege Page
© 2006 Corregidor Historic Society