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CORREGIDOR
16 February 1945

 Corregidor had been targeted for aerial bombardment almost a month before.   The attacks began on January 23rd with B-24s pounding the island with 500-pound bombs.  By February 7, two hundred tons of bombs a day fell on Corregidor. P38, P39, P-47 and P-5l fighters joined in the assault hitting tunnel entrances, caves and gun emplacements.  In twenty-five days, Corregidor had been hit with 3,l25 tons of bombs in a target area of just over one square mile.  On February l3th, the Navy joined in the pre-invasion assault with the firepower of five light cruisers, nine destroyers and several mine sweepers.**

 It’s still early-morning dark when we are roused.  We stumble around gathering up our gear.  I open a can of cheese and munch on some crackers.  We climb into landing crafts and take off onto the choppy waters of Manila Bay. 

In the LCVP there is little room as we share the small space with an Alligator that’s piled with munitions.  We are cramped and huddle together, unable to do anything but stand.  The small craft bounces and pitches in the water.  After a couple of hours, I am getting a little seasick.  I close my eyes, and somehow, manage to doze off. 

 Somebody pokes me awake.  It’s daylight and the bombardment has begun.  Cruisers and destroyers behind us open fire on Malinta Hill and along the cliffs.  A B-24 makes bombing runs over Topside, and low-flying A-20’s swoop in low and strafe the beach at Black Beach, where we will land.  Smoke and dust fill the air.  All the landing craft are circling now waiting for the signal to go in.   Now, I’m wide-awake, and I’ve forgotten I’m sick.

 As the bombardment ends, the sky is filled with C-47’s, and we watch as the Paratroopers from the 503rd fall out of the sky and onto Topside.  A wind carries some of the troopers off their mark and on to the cliffs towards the Bay.  PT  Boats move in to those caught between hell and high-water. Our landing crafts continue to circle.  Cruisers and Destroyers stand by.  Smoke rises from the Rock.  The morning is bright.  This is a spectacular sight-- John Wayne big-screen action. It seems unreal! 

 The flags on the crafts go up as a signal to peel off of the circle and head in to the beach.  Immediately our craft is hit with small fire, and a water can loaded on the vehicle drips on my head.  The guy next to me yells as he is hit in the shoulder. Now, we are only moments away. 

 

A jolting stop as the landing craft bites into the sand.  Someone yells, “Get the hell off the beach!” We scramble off the landing craft and onto the sand.  The Alligator rolls off at the same time that I set foot on the beach.  Then a blast and I am knocked to the ground--the amphibian craft has struck a land mine and lies on its side.    Its a few minutes before my head clears, and before I get up and take off for another crater.  I run ahead and dive into another hole.  I am not alone. A guy, crouched in the hole, points a camera at me, and yells, “Hold it!”  Some guy from the Signal Corps, I guess.  I get up and zigzag up the beach a few yards until I reach the cover of another crater.  I watch guys from the 3rd Battalion scramble up Malinta Hill.  A guy in back of me yells for a medic.

 Up again and moving.  But, only another couple of yards before small arms fire pins me to the ground.  I press my face flat against rocks and with one hand reach for my entrenching tool.  The shovel bounces off the hard rock as I try to dig a little protection.  Six P-47’s zoom in and drop napalm bombs on the Japanese positions to our left.  Huge columns of flame, then black smoke. 

 Two destroyers move in close to the shore to try to silence the enemy fire. Another craft filled with more troops pulls in and unloads.  The men take off and start up the side of Topside.  A Japanese machine gun to our right bangs away at them.  The path is steep and as one man is hit he tumbles into the men below him.  Most of them fall and it is sickening to watch.  I wonder whose idea it was to take that way up.  

 I wait until my breathing and heart slow down, then, decide to move on.   I reach a large bomb crater where five other guys have hunkered down.  One of them yells, “Get down!” and I jump in beside them.  Not a moment later a shell lands on the edge of our hole.  Lucky again!  The shell has landed on the side where three of us are crouched.  The rock and sand collapse over our heads but only bury us with sand and rock, but the other three have been hit.  The guy next to me has a head wound.  I do the thing I’m not supposed to do:  I bandage him with my own first aid kit, instead of his own, and give him some sulfa pills to swallow—with my water. 

     Our objective is the narrow ridge that traverses the island between Topside and Malinta Hill.  I watch as troopers still drop from the sky.  Two, now three, plummet down, their chutes failing to open.  Below me, on the beach, a new wave of landing craft approach.  They are met with fire from caves alongside Topside.   Planes zoom in and drop Napalm into the positions.  The sun beats down off the white rocks.  There is no shade, no vegetation of any kind, nothing growing midst the rocks.  The sweat rolls down my forehead and into my eyes.  I try to wipe my glasses clean. 

 It’s mid-afternoon when I reach the ridge.  Joe Froelich has a foxhole already started when I join him.  The island is only 250 yards wide at this point; we are halfway between Black Beach where we landed and Red Beach to our front.  In the far distance, the mainland, and the city of Manila. Down about twenty-five yards to our right is the entrance to Malinta Tunnel.   

  The Japs fire at us from an ice plant down on the beach to our front.  Smoke pours from the vents.  I see a couple of Japs running from the tunnel and down the road.  I fire a clip and one of them stumbles, falls, and crawls out of sight.  Three Japs pop out of the cave, set up a motor and lob half a dozen shells at us, then duck back behind the protection of steel doors to the plant. I look up, standing alongside my hole is, Col. Jones, from the 503rd Paratroops, and the commander of the operation.  We point out the enemy in the ice plant.  He calls for a tank and takes off toward Topside.  A self-propelled 105 cannon soon arrives on the scene, zeros in on the target and sends several shells crashing into the plant.    

 Back down on Black Beach another company is landing. Several men fall as soon as they hit the beach as automatic weapons fire and mortars rake the area.  Another tank hits a mine and a jeep pulling an anti-tank gun is blown to pieces.  Two supply boats are driven off the beach by the heavy enemy fire. Rocket-firing LCM’s let loose and zero in on tunnel entrances to our left.  The landing craft pitch around in the water and try to back off from the beach and out of range from enemy fire.  The beach is littered with battered and ripped steel.   Within thirty minutes, Colonel Postelthwait had lost half of his vehicles to mines and to anti-tank fire from caves. **** 

 It’s late in the day and we are very low on water.  Because there is none available on the island, all water will have to be brought in from the mainland.  It will be scarce until the Navy brings in distillation units that will process the seawater into something potable.  Meanwhile, a squad is sent back down to the beach to refill our canteens.  They return with a five-gallon can full.  We gather around.  Lt. Stack pours a half canteen cup for each of us.  “Take it easy with the goddamn water,” he growls.  I will save mine for later.

 I notice Detroit sitting up in a shallow shell crater.  He is shaking badly and sobbing.   I tell him the hard part is over and that he is going to be all right. “I can’t do this,” he sobs.  I help him dig his hole a little deeper and take off.  Detroit is thirty-two, married and has two kids.  I feel sorry for him--he doesn’t belong here. 

 Froelich and I hunker down for the night.  He is an interesting guy, the old man of the outfit.  He’s thirty-seven years old and represented Austria as a downhill skier in the l932 Olympics.  Built like a fireplug, he is tireless and almost exuberant in combat.  He makes a great foxhole partner.

 Firefights break out up on Malinta Hill and Topside.  We fire on enemy activity off the point to our right, and a brief skirmish behind us toward the beach.  The Navy lights the darkness with flares.  The sun has drained me and I am exhausted.  Hungry too.  I’ve lost my pack on the beach.  Joe opens a can of cheese.  “Here”, he says, “I giff you some uff my mine.”  He gives me half.  Will trade sleep and awake time with Joe tonight.  A few hours later, small arms fire comes at us from below.   We wonder who the hell is firing up from their position on the beach.  We decide to stay low until the firefight subsides about thirty minutes later. 

 Morning, and we are told we will hold this position on the ridge. Joe and I will attempt to enlarge our foxhole.   Looking down to the main entrance to the tunnels of Malinta Hill, I am reminded of the brave and desperate American and Filipino soldiers and nurses who held out here for so many weeks under terrible conditions, before being surrendered to three years of barbarism and torture in prison camps on Luzon and beyond, only miles from here.  Sobering thoughts.      

 Truckloads of wounded troopers coming down the road from Topside.  Most of their injuries resulted from the landing on the rocks and jagged cliffs.  Many with broken legs.   The jump was made from a low altitude and winds blew many of them off target, and into the waters of Manila Bay.  

 Planes continue their napalm attacks on the cliffs below Topside.  We hear our 3rd Battalion has made it to the top of Malinta Hill, but has met fierce resistance last night.

 Sixth’ Army estimate of the Japanese force of less than one thousand was in error.  Despite reasonably good sources of information, planners had been grievously misled.  Through nobody’s fault last-minute shipment of Imperial Marines to Corregidor was undetected.  Some six thousand Japanese were waiting underground in caves.  ***

 Heaberlin gets a call from “F” Company atop Malinta.  Their Company Commander says, “We’ve got one of your guys up here, named, Barrera.  I’m sending his ass down, because we can’t keep him in ammunition.” I believe it. Jose is excitable, and trigger happy as we found out back on Zig Zag. 

Many unburied bodies around and the stench is terrible.  I try to eat a cracker without swallowing flies.   I heat up a canteen cup of chocolate, but before I get it up to my mouth, it is covered with big blue flies. 

 Two things were constant for the troops on Corregidor.  The large, blue flies and the stench of rotting corpses, which were strewn over the rocky terrain.  The ugly flies swarmed everywhere.  They clung to our fatigues and exposed skin.  Getting a spoonful of K-ration meat or a cup of coffee up to one's mouth was almost impossible.  The smell on Corregidor pervaded everything.  It was said that men on ships anchored offshore in Manila Bay would get sick from the smell from a distance of two miles away.   On D-day plus ten a C-47 sprayed the entire island with DDT.  The fly problem was solved.  The smell was to remain for weeks. **                              

There is nowhere to properly relieve oneself—can’t dig a hole in this solid rock.  We end up shoveling loose gravel aside, afterward, replacing it, cat-like.  Joe covers me, as I find a suitable place down near the entrance to the Malinta tunnel.  But it’s a little unnerving squatting, and at the same time, keeping a bead on the tunnel with my M-l.

Marner is asleep, stretched out in a shallow hole with me, just below the Ridge.  I am watching a squad of guys attack a cave entrance on the side of Malinta.  All of a sudden a group of Japs armed with sticks, spears and knives come pouring out of the tunnel.  I raise my rifle and take a shot at one of them.  Just as I squeeze off a second shot, Marner sits straight up in front of me.  My bullet whizzes by his head.  Aside from being deaf in one ear, he is fine.  

We move down from the ridge and head up the road that encircles Malinta Hill.  Our platoon will set up a roadblock there about one hundred fifty feet up from the Bay.   We gather up rocks and build a makeshift wall across the road.  It’s only about two feet high, but it allows some cover.  We set up our 30 cal machine gun and stack up ammo and grenades.  

We sight a few of the enemy on a shoreline cave out to our right, but out of our range.  A destroyer lies off shore down below us.  Jack gets on the radio and asks if they’ll give us some supporting fire.  Sure enough, the ship moves in, Jack gives them the target, and they proceed to shell the position.  We kid Jack about making some kind of history--a lowly Corporal, a radioman, directing a navy destroyer around the Bay of Manila.

Fairly quiet night--except for Marner’s somewhat amusing encounter.  A couple of Japs come out from a cave behind us and attempt to surprise us.  Marner spots the movement.  He first empties a clip at them—and then yells, “Hold it!”  Not the proper sequence, but very effective.

The afternoon is quiet.  We sprawl out on the road and add a few more rocks to our barrier.  We trade talk about hometowns, family, what we’re going to do when we get home. Jack has taken the tobacco from some cigarettes and is now smoking my pipe.   

Our squad will take the roadblock position tonight; the rest of the platoon will be spread out behind us at the entrance to the tunnels. Still short on water.  We hear that some Japs on a suicide mission demolished the water purification units during the night. 

 The threat of an explosion from the tunnels below Malinta Hill was a real one.  A captured list of munitions stored in the tunnel showed 35,000 artillery shells, more than l0,000 powder charges, 2,000 pounds of TNT, two million rounds of rifle and machine gun ammunition, 80,000 mortar shells, 93,000 hand grenades and 2,900 anti-tank mines. *

At 2l:30, I am awake.  My turn on duty, my head resting against the machinegun when the explosion occurs.   The concussion lifts me off the ground.  I am stunned and dazed, trying to figure out what has happened.  Then, there is a rumbling sound from above, and slabs of earth crash down onto the road.  Rocks and debris shower down upon us.  Behind us, a landslide, the road torn away.  I hear someone cry out next to me.  Someone scrambles over the low wall of rocks and begins to run toward the Jap positions. Before he can get too far, he is knocked down by a huge chunk of rock.  I scramble over the rock wall and run after him.  In the darkness I make out the form of Detroit.  Because he is small, slight, I am able to drag him back behind the barrier.  I feel the warm sticky blood of a wound on his head.  I can’t see exactly where the wound is because of the darkness but I try to fashion a bandage around his head.  I hunker down behind the machine gun and wait for an expected attack.

We soon discover that we are cut off from the rest of the platoon by the landslide.  The road has been wiped out, and is now a sheer cliff that drops some hundred and fifty feet below into the Bay.  Six of our men, positioned only yards behind me, have been buried alive. 

We collect all the grenades we can find, stack them beside the machine gun and wait. More explosions, and more rocks rain down on our position.  There is no place to take cover, nowhere to go to escape.  Somebody says to dismantle the machine gun and toss it over the cliff so it won’t fall into Jap hands.  But, most of us agree we should hold on to it as long as we can.   We are getting help from the guys atop Malinta.  They are firing down on the road ahead of us.  But every time there is fire from above, more of the Hill comes down on us.  Flares light the sky.  Jack is on the radio trying to get us some help.

Its a couple of hours later when Sgt Rosen makes his way up to the barricade and taps me on the shoulder.  A destroyer and a PT boat have moved into the Bay below us and the Navy has managed to shoot a rope up to our position.  “We need to test the rope—see if it’s a way for us to get down,” he tells me. 

 I sling my rifle over my shoulder and make my way to where the rope is anchored.  As I start down, I’m able to see in the darkness only the side of the cliff in front of me.  I scramble down, hand over hand, as quickly as I can, worried only about being surprised by a Jap in one of the cave openings.

 What seems like forever is only a matter of moments before I reach the beach, feel the rocks beneath my feet.  A sailor appears out of the darkness and waves me over to the shore where another man in a small rubber raft is waiting.   We push the raft off the rocks and into the water.  The raft capsizes, but we finally get it righted and tumble in.  The sailors start paddling and we head for an awaiting PT Boat.   

 I am hauled aboard and am shown below to the small cabin.  The skipper pulls out a bottle of whiskey from a cabinet and pours me a shot-glass full.  “Here you go”, he says.  I chug it down and try not to cough.  He also hands me a fresh apple, which I stuff in my pocket.   We agree that this plan won’t work--the rest of the troops cannot be rescued by means of this rope, and that other ways must be tried in the morning. The PT boat sails around the point and pulls in to the wood pier.  I climb down onto the beach and plop down on the sand.  Daylight is still a couple hours away.  I will try to get some sleep.

It’s morning, and the Aid Station tent on the beach is crowded.  As I’m getting bandaged up, Jose Barrera is regaling the medics about his exploits atop the Hill during the night.  He has everyone laughing. He has been wounded in the foot, but his smile is as broad and as bright as ever.  Detroit has a fresh bandage around his head.  He will be evacuated this morning, and he appears to be all right.  I am happy for him.

Joe Froelich will be instrumental in getting the rest of our platoon off the Hill and back down to the Beach.  His mountain-climbing experience has been put to use as he fashions a path across the landslide for the survivors.  Back with us, down below, Joe tells me the sad new about Jack.  He had been on the radio all through the night helping to affect a rescue.  He made it down safely this morning, then, cracked and broke down.  He will be evacuated as soon as possible.  I was awfully sorry to hear it.  He was a terrific guy to have next to you in combat.  And, he was a good and gentle man.

Both arms, from my elbows down, and both legs, from the knees down, are wrapped in bandage.  The worse thing about it is that now I‘ve become even more attractive to the ever-present flies. Some of the guys have been hit with dysentery already, and the medics are busy dispensing pills.

 About the only time we can get any kind of sleep is during the day. Even though there is no shade from a boiling sun, we take turns napping.  It’s quieter than at night when flares turn darkness to daylight and the rattle of firefights erupt. 

A couple of us take off with Lt Rollins to clear out a small cave.  Rollins heads up the demolition team.  Very business-like, he prepares the pole charges like he’s wrapping a birthday gift.  We cover the cave entrance while he shoves the charge down the hole.  At his loud yell of “Fire in the hole!” we hit the ground.  He is kept busy all day.  And I wonder how long it will be, after this war is over, before Rollins is fitted with hearing aids.

 Our Company is moving up atop Malinta Hill this afternoon.  Each of us will have to carry a five-gallon can of water.  A guide rope has been fashioned to assist us as we make the climb.  Still, it becomes physically exhausting for me. We arrive atop the Hill and take over the ready-dug foxholes of the men who have been relieved.  My hole on the perimeter faces back toward the beach, so I will have it easy tonight.  We set some booby traps with trip wires to grenades and settle in.   The moon is very bright and I stay awake a long time thinking about how happy I will be when we get off this goddam island. 

There is a large naval telescope mounted atop the Hill.  This morning we have a wide-screen view of the Bay and the City of Manila and Bataan.   We have a 50-caliber machine gun set up, and pick off a couple of the enemy who have emerged from the caves down below on Monkey Point.   

A plane flies over dropping “surrender” leaflets.  Printed in Japanese on one side, English on the other, the paper invites the Jap soldiers to surrender and offers safe treatment.  The general feeling among us is that the Japanese will use these to wipe their butts.  Thus far, we see no one willing to surrender.

Tonight we can see the city of Manila, ablaze from the fighting going on there.  In the Bay, bursts of light and gunfire continue on throughout the darkness.  More muffled explosions under Malinta Hill tonight. 

 This morning troopers have moved around the road on the Hill and are sweeping the area below us.  We have ringside seats to the action.  They are a terrific outfit, well trained and move quickly to seal up cave entrances and secure the area all the way out to Monkey Point.  (Tonight, the Japanese will detonate a cache of explosives on Monkey Point that kill or wound one- hundred ninety-two paratroopers.)   

 Time to move to another position, and we pack up and move back down the Hill and across the beach to the foot of Topside.  I am a little antsy as I dig in.  I look up at the cliff above me and wonder if it too will crumble down around us.        

It is March 2.  We hear that a ceremony is scheduled for later today when General MacArthur is to arrive and raise the flag on Topside.  But an hour later comes really great news.  Some of us are being relieved—within the hour!  

We head down to the beach and wait to load onto LCM’s. Stretcher cases with wounded are carried on first. As I climb up the steel ramp and set foot on board I feel a great sense of relief.  I have a lump in my throat and wonder if I’m going to cry.  Of our forty-man platoon all but six men have been killed or wounded.  I spot Milazzo on deck, and we slap each other on the back. 

We pull away from shore.  Soft, fresh winds blow across the waters of Manila Bay.  I lean over the rail and breathe the quiet air.

On the morning of March 2, General MacArthur, with an entourage of high-ranking Army and Naval officers boarded four PT boats for the return to Corregidor.  A convoy of jeeps carried the officers to the parade ground on Topside.  There, a contingent of troopers from the 503rd and company commanders from the 34th Infantry gathered to raise the Flag once again over the island.  Col. Jones saluted General MacArthur and said, “Sir, I present you the Fortress Corregidor.”  In an emotional moment, General MacArthur replied, “The capture of Corregidor is one of the most brilliant operations in military history…I have cited to the order of the day all units involved.  I see the old flagpole still stands.  Hoist the colors to its peak, and let no enemy ever haul them down.” **

 
 

EXTRACTS

*    Children of Yesterday                - Valtin

**   Rock Force Assault                 - Flanagan

***  Corregidor                               - Belote

**** Retaking the Philippines    - Breuer