16 February 1945
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.**
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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. ****
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.”