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In September 2002, a reunion of Mukden POW's was held at Brandon, Missouri. The attendees included ex POW's,Val Gavito and Bob Brown. Shelly Zimbler conducted the interview. Here's Shelley's Zimbler's edited transcript.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
VAL GAVITO and BOB BROWN
VG: They used to tell us that Corregidor was too small to be bombed, because if the bombers flew high enough to keep away from our anti-aircraft, they couldn't hit Corregidor, and if they went lower, or flew low enough in order to hit Corregidor, our ack-ack could hit them, so there was nothing to worry about.
SZ: How old were you then?
VG: I was 21. So along came Dec. 29, when we were first bombed, and we were out there with pistols, shootin' at 'em, with rifles shooting at 'em, and they were 15000 feet.
BB: No, almost 20,000 feet.
VG: 15 to 20,000 ft.
BB: Our own anti-aircraft couldn't reach them.
VG: No, that was our biggest problem. I understand. That the fuses that we had weren't adequate
SZ: Bob, do you recall what I was saying to Val Gavito about the flag? Many Americans of my era were introduced to the story through, of all things, a comic book. The story that it told concerning the fate of the Corregidor Flag, showed four pieces, each about the size of a little name tag. As I researched the genesis of the story, I found out that one of those pieces did survive at West Point and we got involved with McAfee, the curator of the West Point museum, who authenticated it via a confirmation certification letter. The letter stated that prior to Colonel Bunker's death, he gave part of the flag to Captain Ausmus. You were there, is that the way you recall it?
VG: Here's what happened- The morning of the sixth, when we were surrendered, Captain Robert G Cooper, who was the Adjutant of the 59th, was ordered by Colonel Bunker to go up Topside to our HQ Battery and to go to the supply room and destroy all colors, all documents and anything that we didn't want the Japanese to get hold of. Colonel Bunker he ordered me to go with Cooper, and we went there together. We destroyed everything we could, rifles and anything there, and then we set it afire. We went to the parade ground, which was very close to the supply room of HQ Battery, 59th, and there we met with Col. Bunker
As well as Colonel Bunker and Capt. Corkhill, there were other two other Colonels, Lt. Col. Norman B. Simmons and another, I can't recall his name. At twelve o'clock sharp, on Colonel Bunker's order, the colors were lowered very gradually. We'd built a fire near the pole and the entire flag was burned. Right after that we attached a sheet to the lanyard and hauled it up. Now, there was no way in the world that anybody could have cut a piece off the flag, the one that was flying at the time that we surrendered.
SZ: Because that's what you and I have gone on the record to say so, and essentially the certification indicates that what Bunker told Ausmus (was not literally correct) but you're' specifically saying that you were there.
VG: Right. Now, on reading Bunkers War for the second or third time, I ran into a paragraph in his Diary in which he mentions that the flag flying on Corregidor was "tattered and torn" and that he should, that he was going to replace it because it was going to be a good souvenir for the 59th Coast. So he did that. Now then, I conclude from that the flag that was cut into pieces and distributed or given to Col. Delbert Ausmus was that flag, not the one that was flying on Corregidor, at the time of surrender
SZ: That's important, because as I said there are two diverse stories, but you were the one who was there, you're the only survivor. I know you indicated that you watched the colors coming down and then saw Bunker take the entire flag and burn it in front of the detail.
VG: Yes, it didn't touch the ground of course, it literally went from the lanyard right into the fire. Then we put up the white sheet. And that's it. For years, until I read Bunkers War, I could not imagine that anyone could have the time or the inclination to cut up that flag.
BB: Or a pair of scissors, probably!
VG: No, a pair of scissors came much later.
SZ: Whether it flew at the divestiture or whether it flew a day earlier, it is still obviously the flag from Corregidor. One of the other things that Bob mentioned the other day, is the film shown of the Japanese taking the flag down.
SZ: That has to be a complete propaganda film.
VG: That is correct.
SZ: So that is a big issue for as far as Bob was concerned, being a Bataan survivor, he had no idea what was happening at Corregidor. You were on the March already at that time ?
BB: We were already done.
SZ: So it is so important to tell this story.
VG: I can swear to that really, there was nobody cutting a piece off it. Now, like I said, Bunker state that he wanted the flag lowered and replaced because it was "tattered and torn", and he wanted to keep it as a souvenir, though souvenir is not the proper word. He wanted to keep it as part of the heritage of the Regiment, and it was that flag, and that's an assumption on my part. It was that flag, that was possibly cut up into two pieces. I did not know that there were possibly four.
SZ: Well that's what makes it an incredible story. I recall being an eight year old kid, reading of it. Now, we fast forward to 1995-96, and I get involved with Bunkers War. It's remarkable that his diary survived to tell the story. When Bunker died he was in pretty bad shape, obviously. Wainwright was aware that Bunker had a piece of the Corregidor flag, and mentioned it in his autobiography. In it, he recalled that Bunker was cremated and the piece of flag was cremated with him. Bunker knew he was not going to survive and, unknown to Wainwright, he gave a piece of the flag to Ausmus. As both of you have agreed, to be caught with a piece of the flag was to get your head beat in. So Ausmus told no-one, and the first word anybody hears of it is about December 1945 or January 1946 when he presents the piece to Stimson, and it is donated to West Point on behalf of the class of '03. And now we had the mystery, which Val is saying is now solved.
VG: The flag that I saw lowered and burned was not tattered and torn. It wasn't new, but it was in good shape. Now Col. Ausmus, in his statement, certifies that no one, not even Wainwright, knew of that Col. Bunker had given him a piece of the flag.
SZ: I don't know if Bunker and Ausmus were in the same camp as Wainwright at that point. From some of things that Bob mentioned, I guess that Wainwright had a lot of the senior men with him. Whether Ausmus or Garfinklel were in the secondary camp, I'd have to check. Certainly, Ausmus certified that only he was aware of this flag
VG: Where are you going with this?
SZ: Its a story that keeps creeping along because you've kind of...
VG: I don't know that there was any too close a relationship between Col. Bunker and Col. Ausmus- Lt. Col. Ausmus then was promoted to Colonel about that time and he was assigned away from the 59th, but I didn't see any closeness that would have indicated an arrangement of that nature.
SZ: 'Cause one of the ways I thought I was going, and again its such a story in a box, every time you go out you get stepped on, you go back. One of the stories that I tried to do initially, was to find out, because my wife's great uncle Abe Garfinkle was a Colonel and he was with Bunker. I guess that after O'Donnell, they went to Tarlac, and I think he died in Karenko.
SZ: But in Bunkers Diary there is one mention of Abe Garfinkel and apparently he and Bunker were on "goat herd" at one particular time. But Garfinkle's name disappears into history. The next time I was able to find Garfinkle's name is in "The Hard Way Home" by Colonel Braley which talks about his celebrating his 45th anniversary in the Military in 1945. But I began to realize that Ausmus and Garfinkle were together from almost the time they left. Well, Ausmus was never at O'Donnell, but they were together at Tarlac, Karenko and eventually in Mukden. I'm not sure whether Karenko is part of Formosa or not.
VG: I think it is, I think it is.
SZ: Cause this explains what Bob indicated. I was always under the impression that a lot of the senior officers arrived at Mukden in November, and Bob said that they didn't arrive there until May...
BB: May of 45.
SZ: The reason I questioned it, was the fact some of the records are pretty obscure, that my wife knows that Abe lost 4 of his toes due to frostbite so I told Bob if he got there in May- it certainly wouldn't be frostbite, but apparently now as we're talking, I realize that Karenko is Formosa Manchuria so it certainly has the same type of horrible weather.
VG: Well of course, Col Bunkers Diary is pretty specific in the places that where they were.
SZ: And you're correct, its unfortunate that Bunkers Diary ends with uncertain dates. It's editor mentions that the military has him dying in April 43 and another book has him dying in September.
VG: Col. Bunker was a unique officer . Some books talk very highly of him and some are very critical of him, but he was one man who, you could have your eyes closed and he would walk into the room and you knew he was there, you felt it. You felt that bearing, that military bearing. He was one officer who didn't give anybody any lip, but he wouldn't take it either from anybody.
BB: Good for him.
SZ: Well, this is the point that bothers one of the few people who brings it up. Rich Gordon talks about it, and you talk about the lack of discipline of a lot of the officers at that time. And I think its important because the American public has placed them on a pedestal from the official point of view. In Rich Gordon's book "Horyo", he talks about the problems that the Enlisted Men ran into against the Japanese - their own officers didn't discipline them, so if the officers didn't discipline them, then why should the Japanese do it. So it became a situation where you began to wonder that if the military officers disciplined the troops in a way that they should have been disciplined, then they might have been better treated.
BB: I doubt that.
SZ: You don't think so?
VG: I think that a lot of people overlook the fact that some of the brutal treatment that we as POWs suffered under the Japanese was not necessarily attributed do the fact that we were POWs, the discipline in their own ranks....
BB: That what I was just going to say.
VG:... in their own ranks was awful, I mean the Colonel would slap a Major, the Major would slap the Captain. and I mean physically, and literally...
BB:... the guy on the bottom of the totem pole could be beat up by anybody.
BB: But there was no stopping a Major knocking the hell out of a Captain...
BB: ..or any of the ranks up and down the line, but I mean that's how, if you look at all of South East Asia or all these countries that are massive, they are ruled by brute force. China was ruled by brut force. and that's all they knew and that's how they keep those people under control. Here we're telling the world to be democratic and be like us, well hell, they couldn't handle that, because all they know is beat, getting the hell knocked out of them if they don't follow authority. What the hell were they supposed to do? That's the way it was. That's the way the Japanese were. So our rules and our democratic way of life they didn't give a Goddam about any of that that. Right Val?
VG: Yeah, they treated themselves like that.
BB: Yes, they did. What do you expect.
VG: So we were surprised at first on how we were treated, but then we would see how they treated themselves. Then we understood.
SZ: Bob mentioned they were on 1/3 ten percent rations, and that during the last seven or eight days of the Bataan campaign they were living on almost zero rations, and yet Corregidor had ample food. The other night John Basile talked about it having a can of apricots. How did you see the food situation towards the end on Corregidor?
VG: On Corregidor ? Well, we had problems. We had two meals, breakfast, and then we had a can of soup, homemade soup at noon and then about 3:00 o clock we had some more. We had a mess Sgt, his name was Schuniek. We were up topside.and it was hard to get to deliver stuff. But we had an old truck and he used to get on that truck when an air raid would sound and he would go out and raid these other batteries and even he would because we were all hidden and
bring rations to the batteries.
BB: Dog eat Dog.
VG: And he got killed during one of those raids. But one time a barge of prunes, was it prunes, yeah, it got loose and they caught it on Corregidor, we got several cases of those prunes and for a two or three days we had prune pie, prune this and prune that, I'll tell you we had a good time. Water was our biggest problem topside.
VG: Oh yeah. We weren't allowed to wash clothes, we weren't allowed to wash, we weren't allowed. We had one canteen cup a day. Bob, did you have to have water brought over from the mainland?
BB: So all the water that was at Corregidor?
VG: There was no water supply on Corregidor. It was all brought it and put in reservoir tanks which were bombed out during the first days.
BB: So all the water you guys got was from the mainland? I didn't know that.
VG: That's my understanding, Bob. and I read it too. There was none. We found a trickle of water that was coming through the rocks and we found it there, closer to shore. I was at C-1 most of the time. C-1 was the command post of the 59th Coast. We used to go there and try to take a shower when we would go down there but that was a problem.
BB: I never thought about that.
SZ: How did you end up on Corregidor?
BB: Nice question.
VA: In February of 1941, I was a youngster working as a secretary in Brownsville Texas. I saw the war developing in England, and I got a wild hair and said I'm going to join the service. My parents didn't want me to, but I was almost 21, and I enlisted for the AF. While waiting in the day room for assignment some guy was going around asking for volunteers for the Philippines,. and I thought he was talking about the Hawaiian islands. When I got to San Francisco, I learned that the Philippines was on the other side of the world. When I got to San Francisco and went to Angel Island, we used to catch KP, once in a while, 9 meals a day, 3 breakfast, 3 lunches and 3 suppers. You had to get up at 2:00 am to serve KP. Anyway, in the latter part of April or latter part of May we got on board the USAT WASHINGTON and we sailed to the Philippines, and we went to boot camp. I didn't choose Corregidor, Corregidor chose me.
BB: Where did you go to boot camp?
VG: There on Corregidor.
SZ: So you didn't have any boot camp on the mainland?
VG: No, none at all. In fact, I got issued a WW1 type of uniform on Angel Island and partial anyway. We got to Corregidor in May, almost at the beginning of the rainy season. So we were there at boot camp and I was assigned to battery Geary. But I didn't get there. I wasn't there one day.
BB: You were in Geary?
SZ: What is Geary?
VG: It was a mortar battery that..
BB: That got blown up.
VG: It was blown up and at least 15-20 guys killed. Wasn't it?
BB: I wasn't there. Lou Elliot was one of the guys there, you knew Lou.
VG: Because of what I used to do in civilian life, they assigned me to HQ battery, and then Regimental HQ. So that was the reason for that.The outfit consisted of old timers, lifers. Depression had forced them into that type of thing. In those days you had to be in the service 10, 12, 14 years to make Corporal. and that type of thing see, and that's where they sent me.
BB: You know, I think you ought to back up and get this on your tape, this battery Geary that was shelling Corregidor with so many shells after Bataan fell, and one lucky shell went into the magazine on Geary and blew the barrel of that gun you had there..
VG: one of the mortars,
BB:..about 500 yards away from where it was. It weighed 8, maybe 9 tons. It blew the whole damn magazine up with the powder, the opening that it went threw was a lucky shot as I understand it- am I right or wrong?
VG: Yeah thats right close.
SZ : I'm glad that Bob brought it up. One of the keys from the historical viewpoint, is that most of the guns were facing the ocean for a Naval war yet here we were..
VG: Except for a couple of batteries, which were mortars, short barrel that could be traversed all around. The sea coast batteries faced towards the China Sea where you could not run it around. Like Batteries Craighill on Fort Hughes. I don't remember which one, that one you could traverse, for some reason or another,
SZ: I come in 40 years later and the only mortar that I know is the old 4.2 base...
VG: Yes of course,
SZ:... which can be fired at any direction you're talking about.
VG: We had like, I said, two or three batteries, mortar batteries that 8, 10 and 12 inch mortars. and the Japs really pounded them.
TRANSCRIBER NOTE: This transcript has been edited for reading continuity.