As previously mentioned, the Japanese occupation forces
were well aware of the fact that the bulk of the Philippine silver stocks were dumped
overboard in San Jose Bay. The American divers who were forced to retrieve these coins did
everything within their power to prevent these stocks from falling into the hands of the
Emperors troops. Since the Japanese were successful in recovering only two million
of the fifteen million pesos known to have been jettisoned I would have to say that the
divers many acts of sabotage and trickery paid off!
One of those US Navy
divers involved in the dumping and subsequent forced salvage of those pesos
was US Navy 1st. class diver Morris Solomon. In an interview with this man many
years after the fact I was to learn first-hand of some of the more interesting historical
facts surrounding these events, as well as a couple of little unknown treasure stories.
Mo, as his closest friends call him, was not immediately shipped to
those infamous prisoner of war camps on the Philippine mainland as so many were, but was
kept on the island in a small PW enclosure near the old Navy sea-plane hangers down at
bottomside. The Japanese kept a 300-man prison labor force at Corregidor to help clean up
the aftermath of war and re-build the more vital military areas of the installations. A
dozen or two of these men were Navy divers and the Japanese command eventually transferred
them to a barge moored just off the North Dock.
The men were given a proposition that they could not refuse, and that was to help
the local Japanese command recover the millions of silver pesos on the bottom of San Jose
Bay. Every day the barge would be towed around to the South Harbor for the operations and
Mo described in detail how the PW guards would watch his small group as they
entered and left the water in their attempts to locate raise the hundreds of boxes of
silver. Each diver was issued an empty gas-mask bag and was expected to return to the deck
of the barge and pour out the contents of his bag into a pot in front of the guards.
Quite often, in fact every day, the divers would successfully smuggle most of the
pesos off the barge at the end of the days work. It started with small lunch bags
filled with silver while being escorted back to their enclosure, and when the lunch bags
became lunch-pails, the guards seemed not to notice. However, one day, after the barge was
secured to her mooring, the divers noticed that one of the higher-ranking Japanese
officers was heading down the dock in their direction for a surprise inspection.
Fearful of being caught with hundreds of silver pesos on their persons, the divers
slipped the coins through an opening into the bilge of the barge. Since the barge was
constructed of wood the coins made very little noise as they were poured in by the
hundreds. After the inspection the Japanese inspection staff walked away shaking their
heads. They knew that their
land-based prison guards were being bribed and
bought-off for special favors with silver pesos by the prisoners in the
enclosure, but they failed to find the source of the coins.
Over the next couple of months Mo and his fellow divers poured at least
half of their recoveries down into the bilges of that wood barge before tying up to the
mooring in North Harbor. In his own words, Mo says: "We stole a million,
we gave them a million, we had to! But they never got what was inside that barge!"
Three years later that very same barge was photographed by US Army Ariel recon.
Planes just prior to the retake of Corregidor Island by American troops in 1945. It was
still sitting at its usual mooring near the North Dock, but by the next day, the barge had
been sunk by American aircraft.
Today, the remains of this heavily framed vessel is easy to find within the North
Harbor waters. In 1988 I was able to actually dive on this wreck and was rewarded with
hands full of silver pesos, which were clumped together in mass along the interior keel of
There are many pesos still left within this wreck waiting for the next diver. This,
at least, is one treasure story of Corregidor that is true! (19)