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The Lean Years
Paschal N. Strong

The author,  a Colonel in the Corps of Engineers,  was involved in the construction of the Malinta Tunnel. This is the story of how malinta was built.


As any intellectual will tell you, the phrase "military mind" represents the nadir of mental negativity, the dividing line between the vegetable and the animal kingdom. Our profession was in particular disrepute between World Wars I and II, and while we were kept in a pleasant enough captivity, our childish antics as we played make-believe soldier with pop guns and cap pistols must greatly have amused our keepers.

These reflections were occasioned by the running of a home movie which showed the construction of the Corregidor tunnels fifteen years ago. I kept this reel hidden under the bottom of a trunk in 1942 convinced that if the Japanese even obtained and discovered how the tunnels were built they would assault Corregidor with the first stray battalion they could shake loose from Bataan. Curiosity, if nothing more, would urge them on, for indeed few modern fortifications have been built with the assistance of a Moro who would be a free man today if he had tempered his resentment against his mother-in-law.

I was ordered to the Philippines at the close of 1932 as a lieutenant of engineers of some ten years service. Promotion at the bottom paced vacancies at the top in those days and the Army was deplorably healthy. My station was Corregidor and the engineer mission there was expressed with simplicity: Build tunnels in the rock but don't bother us with foolish requests for money or equipment..

This refusal to be bothered for money or equipment was not as bizarre as it seemed. Ten years previous we had sat down at a table in Washington with England, France and Japan and when the admirals had been carried out in straightjackets we emerged with a 5-5-3 Navy and a promise to Nippon not to modernize the Gay Nineties fortifications of Corregidor. For this we received a gleeful promise from the Japs not to fortify the mandated islands of the Pacific. It was distressing to know, in 1932, that the Japs were as busy as little bees in those islands with concrete and guns, but Congress would not appropriate a nickel to provide air raid shelters on Corregidor because "it would be an insult to a friendly nation."

Insult or not, the commander in the Philippines was worried. He was keeper of the gates, and was responsible for the defense of the Philippines regardless of what had happened elsewhere. I knew nothing of high army policy for though a lieutenant of those days was roughly equivalent to a major of today, neither rank provided much insight into the workings of generals' minds, Ralph Ingersoll to the contrary. Nevertheless I suspect that the Department Commander had sleepless nights as he considered the bird's-eye view of a fortress designed when the Wright brothers first flapped their wings. I remember especially our only two really long range guns, Smith Number One and Smith Number Two. Sited the middle of a circular concrete blanket, they resembled from the air two inviting bull's eyes. And while they and other guns could be partially concealed by umbrella camouflage, undoubtedly the enemy already had every gun position on his maps. And nowhere in the three square miles of the "Rock" was there an air-raid shelter where even a rabbit could hide.





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The Northern Entrance
©Richard Marin

Lateral N-1
©Richard Marin