Lt. Frank F. Miter Survives A Storm While At Ft. Drum


My father, Col. Frank F. Miter was stationed in the Philippines in the period 1928-1930.  Part of that time he was stationed at Ft. Drum, known as the ‘Concrete Battleship’, at the entrance to Manila Bay.  Other forts mentioned are Ft. Hughes on Caballo Island and Ft. Mills on Corregidor.  Cavite was the Naval Base.  My father was a bachelor at the time which may have led to his being stationed at Ft. Drum, which had no dependents. The boat they were on called a banca, was a double outrigger canoe.  Frank was not a photographer before getting married and so there are no photos he took of the Philippines.  In this letter he is writing primarily to his father Frank H. Miter in Troy, NY. but also to his sister, Evelyn (Ev, Evie) Mesick and others.   

Frank Miter Jr.


Fort Hughes, P.I.

September 9, 1929



Dearest Padre et al,


The voice of out of the deep speaking.  I’ve just had a most thrilling experience, an adventure you might say.


Friday afternoon Aug. 30th Sgt. Marrs, Cpl. Hencke and I took a banca out for a sail.  The banca belonged to Sgt. Davis of the outfit who is over at Ft. Mills.  It was about fifteen feet long and rode about a foot out of the water.  There was a light breeze stirring and we thot we’d have a fair bit of sailing before suppertime.  However, after we’d been lowered over the side by the derrick and had the sail up, the wind had died down considerably and we made small progress, having to tack against the wind out towards the open sea.  We started out that way so that when we wanted to return for supper we could either go before the wind or sail across it and be sure we could get there quickly.


At four thirty we were about eight hundred yards from Drum and decided to go back as five o’clock was chow time.  The breeze had started to freshen and we were beginning to make fair headway when suddenly a squall hit us with full force but with just enough warning for us to let the sail out and prevent the boat from tipping.  In fact it almost did tip us over and the right outrigger had risen about three feet out of the water and if Sgt. Marrs hadn’t seen it in time and yelled to Cpl Hencke to let the sail go we’d have been upside down in no time.  It was useless as well as dangerous to keep the sail up so we lowered it and the mast as well and headed down the wind hell bent for election.


By the time we were stripped for action the wind had risen to its full force and the waves in no time were running to five or six feet in height.  In less time than it takes to tell about we were beyond Drum and headed up the bay toward Manila.  Thank the Lord it was coming in from the sea instead of running the other way or we might have been drifting yet.


The squall started to subside about dark and the men at Drum lost sight of us and started to search for us with one of the lights.  They didn’t seem to be having any luck so I, remembering my pictures of castaways in Life and Judge, proceeded to put up the mast and ran my undershirt to the top of it.


While the squall was blowing, which was about two hours, we had plenty of excitement.  The sergeant was steering, the Cpl. was bailing with a rusty two quart tin can with a hole in the bottom, and I was pulling on an oar to give us headway to steer by when the crucial moments came along.


Now and then an enormous wave would com up behind us and it seemed as tho it would surely break right over us, but she’d hit under the stern and for an instant we’d stand on end and then the wave would slide under us and we’d slip down into the trough behind it.  On such occasions we’d invariably ship water and it would pour over the sides until it seemed we were awash but the little old banca would come out of it riding like a duck.  


By the time the squall had started to quiet some, a two masted native fishing schooner which was out in the entrance of the bay when it started, had caught up with us and was crossing our bow.  But it was fairly dark then and they couldn’t see us so we yelled and waved our arms.  However they evidently thot we were just yelling to them to look out for us for the kept on their course and sailed by.


No help coming from that quarter, we decided to put the sail up and get somewhere faster.  The wind had gone down some but the waves were still too high for us to take from the side.  The shore was about three miles away and Cavite about ten miles ahead.  However there is a small barrio on the south shore called Naic and we were about five miles from it in a straight line.  We could see the lights of it and thot we’d go with the wind until the sea had calmed so that we could cross it.  So we took a reef in the sail and ran it up and dashed merrily down the bay.


Finally the water calmed and the wind quieted a bit more so we let out the full sail and headed straight for Naic.


By that time it was pitch dark and we were wet and shivering in the wind.  The only clothing we wore was a pair of blue denim trousers, shoes socks and underwear.  The water was warm and full of phosphorescence that made it so light that we could see each other quite plainly and when the water would splash on you it would leave little radio-lite spots on your skin.  A rope that had been trailing in the water looked like a silver snake when we pulled it out in the air.


After an hour or more of sailing we heard the booming of the waves on a beach so we headed for it.  We had lost sight of the lights of Naic as it is located back about a mile from the bay on a small river.  Soon we found ourselves among the rollers and after a couple had passed under us we finally rode in on the crest of a wave and landed on the beach.  We jumped out into the water and when the next breaker came in; we grabbed the outriggers and pushed the banca up on the dry beach. 


Just as we approached shore I saw a light in the trees and after we’d pulled the banca out of the way of the breakers, we started out to look for the light and about fifty yards down the beach found a native fisherman’s hut.  The Corporal could ‘hable’ a bit of Tagalog and after much palavering we found out that it was about 9:30 and that we were about two kilometers from Naic.  We finally persuaded two men and a boy to take us to town.


The path led across the rice fields which are nothing more than small mud ponds about three inches deep with water and twelve inches deep with mud.  Each field is separated from the next by a mud wall a foot high and a foot wide.


That was adventure number two.  The Filipinos had a search light and the man in rear carried it so that once in a while you could see where you were going and then just as you’d become enveloped in shadow you’d put your foot down on a place in the wall where the earth had washed away and you’d slip off into the rice and go up to your knees in mud almost.  After about a half hour of that we finally hit the railroad track and in another half hour we were in town.


I tried to send a telegram to Corregidor because I thot they probably were a bit worried for us but the office was closed and try to get these Filipinos to work over time.  When we hit the beach there were three searchlights looking for us and, as I found out later, the mine planter and two small harbor boats were out.  In addition two planes from Nichols Field were out the next morning looking for the wreckage along the Cavite shore but that was about seven o’clock and at that time the wreckage was pulled up under the trees and the dead bodies were asleep in a nipa shack in Naic.


I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.  After I found that we couldn’t send a message we thot we’d better ward off the evil spirits as we were very wet and not a darned bit comfortable.  The corporal was the only man who had any money and he only had a peso twenty so with the peso twenty we bought a quart of square face and proceeded to take a bracer.  It helped a whole lot and we had no bad effects of the trip over there.


Then we started out to find a place to sleep.  There were a couple of men from the outfit on Furlo and spending it in Naic with their squaws and we located one of them and he took us in and fed us and gave us some clean clothes to the extent of a pair of trousers for each of us to wear that night.  All he had in the way of a guest room was the living room and for a bed he had a straw mat to spread on the floor and a blanket on top of that.  However, beggars couldn’t be choosers and we didn’t care much anyway.  It was a lot better than the beach and I had been thinking while the squall was trying to swamp us of that good old sailor ditty about “Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep so BEWARE, BEWARE!!” and I guess the floor was better than Davy Jones’ locker.


We got up at six and after much fussing around the squaw managed to turn out some bacon and fried eggs and rice bread.  Then we went out to send a telegram and then hired a river banca to take us down to the beach.  When we get to the mouth of the river we took off our shoes and started out to find the banca.  We found it o.k. and took our trousers off, as they were very uncomfortable being all mud and sand, and pushed the boat out beyond the breakers.


We put the sail up but it was no use because there wasn’t a breath of air stirring.  Consequently we had to row and we made a couple of miles that way.  The tropical sun was living up to its reputation and Drum was about ten miles away.  However, the tide was running out and helped us some and finally the breeze started to come up.  But of course the wind had to be a west wind and we had to buck it all the way.  It finally got strong enough for us to make some headway on but the darned banca hadn’t any centerboard so we went sideways about as fast as we did forward.


About noon we met some Filipino fishermen out in a banca and tried to get one of them to sail our boat and the other to take one or two of us out in his.  We thot they’d be able to sail them into the wind more skillfully than we could.  But they were too damned lazy to go way out to Drum.  Then we saw a banca pulled up on the beach in a little cove and tried to interest him in a couple of pesos but no soap.


At last we gave up and decided to keep on if we had to row all the way home.  We thot that if we kept close to shore we’d catch an off-shore breeze banking off the cliffs.  No luck there either but the wind had gotten good and strong by then and we discovered that we were making good headway on a tack out toward the middle of the bay and thot if we got out far enough we could tack the other way and make it to Drum.  I was taking a turn on the tiller and when we got out about four miles from shore I tried to make the other tack but the banca seemed to lose ground on that tack and as we were getting along all right on the other one and headed straight for Fort Hughes we decided to go back on it and after a couple of more hours we arrived on the south shore of Hughes.  It was not a very good beach there so we went around to the north shore and pulled up there.


It was about four o’clock then and we’d been out since eight and when I put my trousers on, we being back in civilization, I discovered that I was plenty well sunburned.  I went up to see Nicholson who wondered who the beach comber was.  I hadn’t shaved for three days and my clothes were slimy after the journey in the rice paddies and I had left my shoes on the beach at Naic.  However Nick took me in and after telephoning Major Putney I took a fresh water shower, put on some clean clothes of Nick’s, had a dash of blackberry brandy and proceeded to make myself comfortable.


That was the end of the voyage but I’ve heard nothing but that ever since.  They spent about five hundred dollar’s worth of fuel and juice for the boats and searchlights looking for us and they were out all night.  I’d much rather have had them spend some of it the next morning to come and tow us home but they didn’t think about that.  I thot for a while we might have to spend another night out.


I decided to spend the night at Hughes with Nick and Madeline and take the Monday boat back to Drum.  I even contemplated going to Corregidor for a party I had been invited to but my sunburn told me no and Bill Chamberlain, the other officer at Hughes was having a small party for some friends who were over for the weekend and Madeline was throwing a picnic the next day.


Then when Monday came around a typhoon had started up and Captain Brand who was out at Drum, called up and told me that I might as well not return that day as they would have to lower the lifeboat for me and otherwise the boat would not have to stop there at all.  Wednesday was the next boat day and the typhoon was so bad that they didn’t run.


Friday I went over to Corregidor to see Connie* and Marge and while I was there the Captain called up to say that the battery at Mills was due to go on guard the next day and could I stay there to go on as O. D. with them.  I told him I could and very glad of the opportunity as Lee Hughes and his wife, Mildred, had asked me to spend the weekend with them and go to a party they were throwing Saturday night.  So I stayed and borrowed some uniforms from Lee.  Sunday Hammy Ellis threw an impromptu party and we all went to the movies that night.


Today I came out here and discovered that Friday while the waves were still high a Filipino soldier disappeared.  Evidently he was down in the sally port all alone and a big wave came along and washed him out.  Everyone was down below at dinner and consequently the thing is a mystery.  That’s the only possible solution.


This page is where I branch out into individual letters.  That tale was too much to think up anew for everyone so I made a couple of carbon copies.  The other two copies I think I’ll send to Marge and Grace.  Please pass this on to Ben and Ev and I’ll be spared the labor.  I’ve been working on it for three hours now.  I think it’s the most exciting experience I’ve had so far and I’m not anxious to have it happen again very soon.  We didn’t have time to get scared because the only times there was any danger we had to be on the job thinking and doing other things than considering whether we’d go to heaven or hell.


At first I thot I wouldn’t tell you about it till I get home because I don’t want you to worry about it.  There’s no need to worry because I’m well convinced that as long as you use your head in a banca you can’t come to grief.  It was certainly well tested out that night and even if it had swamped we’d have been able to hang on to it and sooner or later we’d have either been picked up or drifted in to shore. 


Well old timer I think I’ll drift along to bed and finish this tomorrow.


There’s not much left to say.  I received your letter Saturday after it had spent a week at Fort Drum while I was at Hughes and waiting for the typhoon to blow over.  It was scheduled to come within thirty miles of Manila but changed it’s course and drifted off into nothing.  However it managed to sink the Mayen, one of the inter-island boats that goes by here quite often.


However, I was darned glad to hear from you after the silence.  Guess it was mutual.


When is the brother going to step off?  He hasn’t beaten me yet.  Not that there are any prospects in sight and I’m off of the idea for a good year.


Glad to get Evie’s address.  She must think I’m supposed to guess it and what’s the use of writing her at home for you all to forward to her when I can write you a letter and you’ll forward it anyway?


Well I think I’ll dash along and write some other letters.  Will write you with the usual regularity which you may know now is not so irregular as that to which you have been accustomed. 


Madam Putney sends her love or something.  Also give mine to the gang.







This is not a verbatim copy - I have copied the text and have taken liberties with the format. - Ed

* Unfortunately Lt Col Clair M. Conzelman  returned to Corregidor for another tour of duty at the wrong time.  He did not survive the sinking of the hell-ship Oryoku Maru, 15 December 1944.  - Ed. 

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