The
Lean Years - 3
Paschal N. Strong

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As the two main headings progressed toward one other through the bill, we punched out the side tunnels and made crude blowers to exhaust the poisonous TNT gases. It was in one of these side tunnels that McCarthy's skull was splintered into a jigsaw puzzle. A gang of eight Moros worked this heading, and one day when McCarthy was in there they turned on him with pick and shovels, possibly hoping to expedite their arrival in the seventh heaven of the Mohammedans. One of the Moros dragged the unconscious McCarthy away from the others before they finished but when the surgeon examined the X-rays, McCarthy was measured for his coffin. However they underrated the resilience of Irish skulls, and he lived to see the tunnel completed. The incident furnished me with my most cherished memory of Filipino officialdom. I wrote to the authorities in Manila, told them about the Moro who had saved McCarthy and requested that some clemency be shown to him. In due time I received an answer, written in the tidy script of the Filipino clerk. The government was happy to inform me that they had granted a full pardon to the Moro for the unfortunate murder of his wife. However, as he was serving a concurrent sentence for the slaying of his mother-in-law, his services would still be at my disposal.

While McCarthy was still recovering from his battered skull, I happened to be in a heading with a group of Moros when the lights went out. I had tossed away my lighted cigarette, and in the darkness I quietly eased across the width of the tunnel. I thought of the pleasures that the Moros were promised upon returning to heaven after killing an infidel, and deplored *** for virgins in the hereafter. The Moros knew that I was scared witless, and their delighted chuckling still echo in my more obnoxious dreams.

FINISHING THE JOB

The night that we blasted the last remaining rock between the two approaching tunnels found me *** and confident. The Coast Artillery officers had placed bets on how closely the two headings would meet, a large crowd of them were present for the occasion. I was offered odds that the two headings would match in line or elevation by several feet, but being a man of honor I would accept only even money. The headings matched by inches, a fact which I had previously determined by punching an exploratory drill hole through the rock wall.

To date we had spent only small change on the tunnels. But now we found the brittle holes in the rock would not stand up by itself. It peeled off in large chunks from the roofs, and gave evidence of sloughing indefinitely. An inspecting **** general very nearly conked by a roof fall, and though he suspected that I had arranged it purposely, still he agreed that the tunnels must be lined with concrete. Concrete requires sand, stone and cement, and the latter was beyond our ability to manufacture. The Army had money only for pay, food and a few rounds of ammunition a year and maintenance of barracks and ***. I can not say that the "brass" deflected the maintenance funds. I know only that they dug up $10,000 somehow and that our quarters began to leak.

With the bulk of this money we bought cement from the Japanese. They offered it to us for 50 cents a barrel, delivered at Corregidor. The prevailing price was more like $2.50 a barrel, but possibly the wily Jap knew he was merely lending the cement to us in return for concrete to be delivered at some future date. At any rate we lined the tunnels with concrete placing it above the arch forms with Rube Goldberg machinery made in our machine shop by using mechanical geniuses.

OPERATION NEGRITO

It was about this time that the defenders of Corregidor were faced with an emergency that called for resolute action. One of the Bilibids escaped. He was a diminutive Negrito whose natural habitat was the highlands of the Marivales Mountains on Bataan. How such a child of nature became involved with the Filipino law I do not know: possibly an arrow from his little bow feathered itself into the pants seat of some Filipino official hunting the wild pig. At any rate, he was with us, and he escaped. Since there was no way for him to get off the Rock without swimming the 3 miles to Bataan, obviously he must have found a hiding place nearby. Night after night he foraged, morning after morning some icebox among Officers Row would be stripped. Sentries were posted, doubled and trebled, but the little creature continued his raids. The gauntlet was hurled, and the Army met the challenge gallantly.

Operation Negrito that our General Staff developed its excellence. With the plans and annexed** and maps prepared, the officers of the three regiments were briefed. Then to the clarion call of the bugle we took the field. We moved swiftly and energetically. Within a few hours every square yard of the Rock was searched. Not a bush, building or ravine was overlooked. The sweep was made in a continuos line of warriors so that the quarry if forced from one hiding place to another, would eventually be forced into the sea. But when the unbroken line reached the cliffs and looked down upon the raging breakers below, the child of nature was still free.

Weeks later his hiding place was discovered - a hole in the vertical face of the cliff looking across the bay to his mountains. He was captured soon after that and everyone was sorry. He had endeared himself to us by that time and the bolder housewives had taken to leaving special dishes for him in the icebox on nights when they thought he might be around.

By this time the tunnels were completed and I was able to build a boat and cruise among the Southern Islands before returning home. Years later more tunnels were built in Malinta Hill, but the builders had money and equipment. The Army was already being spoiled, and if this sort of thing continued there's no telling what it may lead to.

 

Col. Paschal N. Strong

 

 

 

 

It is doubtful that the Hospital Laterals ever presented such a picture of quietude and benign hospice, except in the propaganda photographs distributed to the press.

 

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The Japanese will now gather almost 12,000 men in the 92nd Garage area, and will leave them there in the tropic sun without cover,  water or food  for almost three weeks.  They will be used as workers for the Japanese war effort, and the lucky ones will end the war in the coal mines and factories of Japan and Korea. The United States Government will continue to ignore the hardships that these men endured, both upon their return and even today.  Of 33,021 US servicemen captured in the Philippines, approximately 14,000 will die before cessation of hostilities and their repatriation. 

 

 

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