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Al McGrew

"H" Battery, 60th Coastal Artillery

Died January 27, 2008.R.I

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Corregidor is where I sit and hear the voices of my young friends and colleagues. It's where I sit amidst the broken-down ruins of my youth, America's naive youth, and see in my mind's eye no ruins at all."

-Al McGrew

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If it hadn't been for Al McGrew, this website wouldn't be here.  I'd already started it, and had come to a point where I had begun to doubt its raison d’Ítre.

Once I'd met him, I knew had it.  

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The most peculiar thing is that I don't much recall meeting Al, because it soon seemed that I'd known him most of my life. I do recall seeing him sitting quietly amidst the sharp green grass overgrowing the ruins of what was once Battery Ramsey, Corregidor. What was he thinking, all these years after? What brought him back to Corregidor, year after year, to commune with ghosts?

I learned that he was recharging his batteries. 

In a way, we all know Al. He's the skinny, naive country kid who left home in the pursuit of friendship and the road to adventure, and found instead Dai Toa Senso, Japan's Great Pacific War. He aged from seventeen to forty in six months. Yet with the rising and falling of Colonial and Imperial empires around him, Al emerged from his POW years a peculiar amalgam of strengths and weakness. Nietzsche said that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and Al's memories of all those years ago are clearer than what he did yesterday, and we are all the better for it.  So he makes US stronger.   
We don't own history, we only hold it in trust for our children. Good people who experience, achieve and survive something extraordinary, when others have not, voluntarily shoulder certain obligations upon themselves, not just for society, but also for those of their contemporaries who did not survive. One of the more poignant obligations of their survival is to relate the experience, on behalf of those who did not. The knowledge of surviving veterans, whose time is shortly upon them, is a living treasure. Their memories,  but our treasure. 

Al taught me that, years before Private Ryan taught it to a generation.

Our obligation, as the generation that follows them, is to record and regard their human experiences, their humanity, while they are still with us. These fragments are our treasures in trust, valuable only when we can refresh their experience by passing them along.  So-called historians will come along a hundred years after us, and tell us what our history was. Yet only those of us who can sit with the veterans in their parlor, and who listen closely, can recall their humanity.



Paul Whitman

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Al McGrew, 85; WWII prisoner tortured by Japanese
By Tanya Sierra


February 19, 2008

It took more than 30 years for Al McGrew to return to the rocky island of Corregidor, where the Japanese captured him, tortured him and forced him to work for three years during World War II.

When Mr. McGrew did return, he finally came to terms with his brutal captivity.

Mr. McGrew made more than 10 trips to the Philippines beginning in 1981. He became an informal historian of the battle of Corregidor, giving tours and eventually writing a memoir.

“He was probably one of the toughest little guys I've ever known in my whole life,” said friend and fellow prisoner of war Martin Christie, 86, of the San Fernando Valley.

Mr. McGrew died Jan. 27 of cancer. He was 85.

Mr. McGrew shrank from 130 pounds to 80 pounds before escaping. His humor kept him grounded, family and friends say.

“My dad never talked about the war when I was growing up,” said Vicki Maheu. “He didn't join the POW group until 15 years ago.”

Growing up poor in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. McGrew and his best friend, Spencer Bever, joined the Army as a way to see the world. He thought of drilling for oil in Arabia or South America, he said in a 1991 interview.

“With no basic training we were shipped to Corregidor,” he said in that story. “They needed manpower, even untrained men.”

After being beaten, strung up over a fire and enslaved, Mr. McGrew escaped the camp in the summer of 1945.

“We always felt like we were lucky,” said Christie, who served in the Marines. “So many good men that we felt were better than we were died.”

In 1948, Mr. McGrew met and married Marjean Herres in Ohio. They had two children and eventually moved to San Diego. He retired from Control Data Corp. after 27 years when the manufacturing division left San Diego.

In addition to golf, tennis and traveling to Corregidor, Mr. McGrew talked about his experience as a POW to history classes at University of California San Diego, high schools and other organizations.

“He enjoyed being a tour guide there and an amateur historian and being contacted by people all over the world looking for information on Corregidor,” Maheu said.

A memoir of his experiences was published recently in San Francisco, Maheu said.

In addition to his daughter, who lives in San Diego, Mr. McGrew is survived by his wife, Marjean, of Serra Mesa, and his son, Steve McGrew, of San Diego.

A memorial service will be held at noon today at St. Columba's Catholic Church, 3327 Glencolum Drive, followed by a reception in the church hall. Military services will be held at 3 p.m. today at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Family members will leave some of Mr. McGrew's ashes at Rosecrans and the rest will be spread in Corregidor.




  • Wrote his Memoirs of Army life and as a P.O.W., "Amid Th' Encircling Gloom - Corregidor and Survival" privately published by the Corregidor Historical Society, Ca, 2008.
  • Over 10 trips (last in 2001) to Corregidor where Al was photographed on Corregidor by the famous National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry and assisted McCurry with the setup of some of his photos published by the National Geographic Society article Corregidor Revisited, July 1986.  Al photographed historical sites, acted as tour guide and historian to 10s of visitors to the “rock” during the 1980s and 1990s.  Many of these visitors, former military, historians, and others who had contacted Al via email and phone traveled together to Corregidor on several occasions.
  • In 1996, Al, and his wife Marjean, were guests of several Buddhist Monks in Chino, Japan for a memorial of the 50th anniversary of the last prisoner camp “Suwa” where Al was interned.  His daughter accompanied them to Japan.  Yasuo Komatsu of Kanazawa, Japan, whose husband stayed with Al and Marjean on two occasions and became close friends, made this invitation possible.  Yasuo researched and found the location of Suwa Camp and interviewed many residents about World War II and Suwa Camp.  They had questions for Al and he for the Chino locals.  Yasuo translated many letters back and forth.  The Japanese press followed Al’s visit to Chino and locals were able to hear Al speak at the Community event. Al didn’t relate much of his war experience to his family and friends, but he was fondest of telling the “Hogan’s Heroes-type story”, of breaking out of the newly-built Suwa Prison Camp, late at night, to forage through vegetable gardens of the local Japanese families.  The Suwa Camp had some “loose” boards and the prisoners “broke out” to steal vegetables.  During this visit to Japan, Al, Marjean and Vicki were able to meet the one of the elderly couples from whom he stole vegetables.  The Japanese couple knew that the American prisoners were stealing from them, causing a real hardship for their starving family, yet they did not complain knowing that the prisoners would be harshly punished or worse.


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Bill Delich

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14,000 American POW deaths resulted from imprisonment under the Japanese, out of approximately 33,000. By way of comparison, of 96,614 American POW's captured by the Germans, only 1121 died in captivity. A third of the survivors died within a year of arriving home.

(Based on Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico figures)

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