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discussion point:

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OFFICER COUNTRY

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EXTRACT FROM A ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION 

MATT ADAMS: Are there any contemporary accounts from which to draw sensible conclusions about how the officers felt about the Philippine assignments?  This would have to be in the form of private papers and diaries.  You certainly won't find this kind of info in official correspondence.

PAUL WHITMAN: The plural of anecdote is not evidence. But we'll start with the 'official' position.  Assignment to duty with units of the Army outside the continental limits of the mainland of the United States was classified as foreign service. The large permanent garrisons maintained in Hawaii, the Canal Zone, and in the Philippines provided exceptional opportunities for valuable experience with all arms and services, with the combined arms, and with the Navy. The training was unique in that it was conducted in the very areas of possible war engagements. The opportunity for travel and the enjoyment of experiencing life abroad was considered by most officers as a particularly desirable feature of Army life.  Indeed, it was a policy of the Army to encourage officers to visit all parts of the Philippines. The living standards in the Manila were, if one paid close attention to health and hygienic aspects,  were at least equal to home stations in most respects, and exceeded them in some important particulars. By comparison with Manila, life on the small coastal Forts would indeed be a 'hardship' posting, as they lacked many of the creature comforts

 The War Department made the selection of officers to be assigned to foreign service. Selections were made to fill anticipated vacancies by arm or service, and by grade, so that the authorized strength of garrisons was maintained. Except for special assignments, officers were detailed by roster in such a manner that the officer with the least foreign service credit was the next to go.  These selections were made from two rosters: the regular foreign-service roster, and the volunteer foreign-service roster. The regular foreign-service roster was a list of officers so arranged that the officer with the least foreign service was at the top, and all others arranged in accordance with their credits for this service. In general, the officer with least foreign-service credit in the branch and grade in which the vacancy exists was selected. 

However, this was not an inviolable procedure, and several common sense policies could hasten or delay the detail of a particular officer. For example, an officer would seldom be relieved from an assignment prior to its normal expiration because of his place on the roster; but if, for some reason he was considered 'not suitable', he might find himself so relieved, and in Asia ahead of the rest of the class. Conversely, an officer with particularly desirable qualities (language expertise, intelligence connections) who is to be relieved from a normal assignment might be selected for foreign service somewhat in advance of his name reaching the top of the roster. 

The volunteer foreign-service roster was maintained by the Adjutant General and contained the names of officers who had volunteered for foreign service. Replacements were selected from this roster 'when practicable'. The name of an officer was placed on this roster only at his request. The use of this roster tended to defer, to some extent, assignment abroad for those officers whose names were carried on the regular roster. An officer who desired to have his name borne on this roster had to make application to the Adjutant General for foreign service in general, stating his preferences in order of choice.  He could restrict his application to a particular overseas department or station. Because it was a voluntary listing, he could withdraw his name from the list but not after the actual issue of orders.  Officers were not selected from this roster until they became available for change of station, nor before the expiration of three years since their last tour.

The augmentation of the Manila garrison during 1939-40 presented a difficult problem with respect to quarters and conditions. During the period of the emergency declared by the President in 1940, many reserve officers and some units of the National Guard were placed on duty in the foreign service garrisons of the United States. So, by late 1941, there was a new factor involved, new men unfamiliar with the life of politeness, civility and respect that constituted military courtesy.  

An officer posted to the Philippines could find himself at a wide range of posts.  In Manila itself there were assignments at Fort Santiago, Post of Manila, and Sternberg General Hospital.  Next came  Camp Nichols (six miles south of Manila), Fort Wm. McKinley (9 miles south of Manila), Fort Mills and Kindley Field (Corregidor), and then Clark Field and Camp Stotsenburg (57 miles north of Manila.) Camp John Hay was as close to a holiday resort as it was possible to have, it being in the mountains 170 miles from Manila, at a pleasantly cool 5000 feet altitude. In Mindanao, about 670 miles south of Manila, was Pettit Barracks. So, at any one time, there was a bountiful supply of postings, usually the more desirable when closest to Manila. 

Informally, from what I have been able to pick up,  Corregidor was seen as being a very desirable posting,   if not quite the plum of the foreign postings at least close to it, and a place where very valuable and long-lasting social friendships could be cultivated, which might be to a person's advantage later in one's career, or afterwards into retirement. It was like a large 'insider's club'  I think it was a multi-layered system, like many Army postings. There were tendencies to (a) park older, 'troublesome' (ie alcoholic, personality defective, burned-out) Officers in out of the way places, (b) put people to a plum position there towards the eve of retirement and (c) normal rotation to move younger officers through a wide range of postings to educate them of the Army's skills and its expected ways. (All happening at once, and, I dare say, in such a manner that each officer attempted to assess what each other officer was there for.

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Battery Morrison

SCOTT HARRISON: I have asked perhaps 70 pre-war Army veterans with service in the Philippines about their (subjective) perception of the best pre-war Army posts.  For Coast Artillery folks I have interviewed a majority voted first for the Presidio followed by Hawaii and then Corregidor.   Prior to the transfer of the 15th Infantry Regiment from Tiensen to Washington State following the 1937 Panay Incident, China was by far the favorite overseas infantry assignment in the entire U.S. Army.   I would say Hawaii was second and then it was a toss up between Manila and the Panama Canal.  Navy veterans voted their preferences pretty much as follows:  San Diego, Hawaii, Asiatic Fleet (most favored the six months spent on the China coast than  the six months in Philippine waters). 

To look at pre-war assignment preference from a different angle, and while keeping in mind that until the height of the Depression the Army often found it hard to fill all of its regimental vacancies, one of my questionnaires asks specifically for veterans to recall the spiels given them by Army recruiters.  I have learned that there were posters and stories of tropical splendor, but all of the hype was for Hawaii and not the Philippines.  I have yet to uncover a single recruiting poster depicting the Philippines. Until the late 1930's many of the men who volunteered for the Philippines were on their second assignments and had heard of the PI from other veterans.   For the very small officer corps, the vagaries of War Department personnel assignments was a bigger factor in postings than personal preferences or on the premise one foreign posting was perceived to be better either in comfort terms or as a career enhancer.   

In early 1941 a then 1stLt. told me about swapping assignments with a fellow officer.  He went to Manila and spent the subsequent war years as a POW and the fellow he swapped assignments with rose to general rank fighting in Europe. 

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"Mile Long" Barracks

Another factor that makes it difficult to easily determine the appeal of various pre-war military assignments was the fact that back then new recruits were assigned directly to a regiment with a vacancy where they then received basic training versus today where soldiers go to places like Fort Benning for basic training before being parceled out to various units. Inasmuch, a young farm boy from the Midwest might, in lets say 1938, approach an Army recruiting center in Chicago only to find that the Army vacancies then available were in the Panama Canal or Manila.  One vacancy might be CA and the other Infantry so these preferences would come into individual play as well.  Unlike today, Army recruiters in the pre-war era basically recruited young men to fill vacancies in regiments in the immediate vicinity of the recruiting station.  The severely strapped military did not have much money to pay for travel so emphasis was placed on the expediency of assigning new recruits to the closest possible unit.

Overseas assignments had new recruits funnel into either New York or San Francisco for passage on Army transports.  For instance the USAT Grant, which made three trips a year shuttling soldiers to and from various overseas posts, began a typical voyage from NYC and proceeded to Panama before heading to San Francisco.  From there it was to Hawaii, Guam, Manila and Tiensen with the return voyage hitting all of the same ports.   

Officer life in Manila centered on the quarterly arrival of these transports.  "Boat Day" was eagerly awaited by military and civilians alike.  A week was spent each quarter in a variety of departure and arrival parties.  The 31st Infantry's officers took particular pride in its Shanghai Bowl drinking ritual held in conjunction with each transport arrival at the posh Manila Army-Navy Club.  Manila's newspapers would regularly chronicle these various shindigs. It would be false to generalize too much, however.   

That said my interviews suggest enlisted men enjoyed the Philippine far more than officers. Depression era young men found life pretty good in Asia even on $21/month Private's pay.  I have also discovered what I believe is a good psychological profile for the typical sailor attracted to the Asiatic Fleet. Sailors who liked the camaraderie of small teams, freedom from rituals and the impersonal nature of big ships found solace in the WWI-vintage destroyers and submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. Memory is a funny thing, however.  Almost all pre-war veterans I speak with look back fondly on their time in the PI.  They remember the good times.  Interestingly, there is lots of documentary literature, memoirs and the like in various archives which talk about the drunken sprees soldiers and sailors went on to celebrate their long awaited departure from the Philippines.  Many men could not wait to head for home.  In summary, there is no easy of simple way to describe pre-war military preferences.   All locations had good and bad points.

PAUL WHITMAN: We're getting a lot of worthwhile comments here, it's almost justifying a publishing on a letters page.  I'm inviting Al McGrew into the discussion, he's had more experience with Officers than all of us. 

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The Northern Entrance of Malinta Tunne

AL McGREW:   Since Capt. Starr, my C.O. at "H" Btry gave me his writings sometime before he left us, I took the liberty of pulling his "book" from it's folder and perused the earlier pages this afternoon. This action was triggered by considerable 'flack' and various opinions of the Officer Material serving on the Rock during my stay in 1941-42. 

Apparently some individuals have uttered numerous negative comments based on material found in various books written by "authors" (I use the term loosely) who read other books, written by authors whose credibility was something less than desirable.

Firstly, in my own humble opinion, the officer material, both senior and junior, that served on Corregidor was not a true cross-section of those serving in the U.S. Many factors were probably skewed due to the rather pleasant environment, the social life and the tropical atmosphere existing there. Many preferred the lifestyle, (until the families were shipped out in mid 1941.) Some preferred to "hide out", away from the more rigid regimen found elsewhere. Obviously there existed both "good" officers, and "bad" officers. Anyone out there that served at an Army post that differed from this? I don't think so.

I visited Capt. Starr and his wife in Yakima, Washington,  before he passed away. During our discussions (over pizza and coffee) throughout an entire afternoon and evening, we talked of the defense of Corregidor, how the enlisted men conducted themselves, and about many of the officers, both in command, and support positions. Many of my questions were both shallow and naive due mostly to my rank and lack of knowledge at that time so long ago. Capt. Starr's descriptions of several officers were sabre sharp, with no punches pulled. A Lt. serving under the Capt. in "H" Btry. was referred to as "the creep". A few of the Senior Officers were classified as "incompetents". I will not go into details on this subject.

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Lateral N,  Malinta Tunnel

The men of "H" Btry. were extremely devoted to the Capt. If I were forced into another such battle, I would most certainly choose Capt. Starr to lead me. He was unwavering concerning the training and the protection of his men. He gave the men strength when they were in danger, and he was always there when we needed him. We would hardly exchange the Capt. for the officers of "D" Btry. where it was mass chaos during the difficult times.

I cannot say the same for Lt. Col. Barr, nor the "Bird Colonel" that commanded the 60th.  I had zero contact with the 59th Officers. General Wainwright, often berated for his drinking, was one of the bravest men I ever saw. During a visit to "H" Btry, two formations of Sally's carried out bombing runs and General. Wainwright stood on the top of the sandbags protecting the Battery Commander's position next to the director, and watched the bursts from our firing plus "D" and "C" Batteries thru binoculars throughout both bomb runs.

The bottom line is that we had both good and bad officers. "H" Btry was quite fortunate, we had a very good one! 

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Ft. Bonifacio

All photos this page Richard Marin 1999