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Exploring ‘War in the Pacific’ on the island of Corregidor, Manila

Corregidor, a small, rock-strewn island, which lies 48 Km to the west of the Philippine capital, Manila is a destination of great historical significance. The island Corregidor played a prominent role in the USA’s war in the Pacific during WWII, for it was on this small island that Filipino and American defenders fought valiantly against the rapidly advancing Japanese forces.

Corregidor, which came to be referred to as ‘the Rock’ for it symbolized the bravery and courage of the defenders served as a key bastion for the allies. The joint forces of the Filipinos and the Americans managed to hold on to the island for nearly a month after the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942. However on May 6, 1942, the allies were compelled to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army as they were running out of supplies. Towards the end of the war in May 1945, the Allies under General MacArthur managed to recapture Corregidor, and the American flag flew over the island until the Philippines gained independence from the USA in 1946. Corregidor then reverted back to the Philippines on October 12, 1947 in a ceremony that featured much emotion, pomp and pageantry.

History of Corregidor

Before the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, the island of Corregidor was home to a simple fishing community, though it also served as a base for pirates as the island’s strategic location enabled them to launch attacks on ships entering Manila Bay.

The moniker Corregidor is believed to have originated from the Spanish word for correct i.e. ‘corregir.’ Various stories abound about how the name of the island originated, but they are all linked to the time of the Spanish rule in the Philippines (1521-1898).

While one theory states that Spanish ships entering Manila Bay had to have their documents checked and corrected at this island pit stop, as a result, it came to be known as "Isla del Corregidor" (Island of the Correction). Another theory states that the island came to be called Corregidor for the Spanish used it as a correctional facility for prisoners.

The Spanish used the island mainly as a signaling facility. At first, they routinely lit bonfires on the island to indicate the approach of ships into Manila Bay. They later went on to build a lighthouse, a naval dockyard and a naval hospital on the island in addition to establishing Corregidor’s small township, San Jose.
 
After the defeat of Spain by Admiral George Dewey in May in 1898, Spain ceded the control of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the Americans via the Treaty of Paris. The island of Corregidor soon became a base for the US Army.
 
The US Army went on to build several fortifications on the island in an effort to secure the approach route into Manila Bay. In addition to gun installations, concrete structures and bomb-shelters the army also laid out roads and trails on the island. It seemed as if the US Army had a premonition that one day the island of Corregidor would be caught in ‘the eye of a storm.'
 
During the early stages of WWII, the guns of Corregidor boomed in support of the Filipino and American forces engaged in protecting Bataan. After the fall of Bataan, the Japanese invaded Corregidor. The Japanese relentlessly bombed the island and in May 1942, the allied forces were forced to surrender after some intense battles. Corregidor saw more bloody action when the Americans finally recaptured the island in 1945.
 
Corregidor today is a prominent tourist attraction of Manila. Visitors head to the island year round barring Typhoon season (June to October) when the seas are extremely choppy. Local tour companies in Manila offer daylong tours to the island. These tours usually include the ferry trip to Corregidor and sightseeing journeys around the island.
 
Prominent sights on Corregidor
 
Topside
Topside, as the name suggests is the highest elevation point on Corregidor. Most of the island’s prominent landmarks like the Old Spanish flagpole, the Spanish lighthouse, Cine Corregidor; the Mile-Long barracks are located here at the height of approximately 400 feet above sea level. Also located in the area are the commemorative attractions of the Pacific War Memorial Dome and the sculpture of the Eternal Flame of Freedom.
 
Mile-Long Barracks
This three level concrete structure was used to house officers of the US Army. The building is hurricane proof and is 1520 feet in length. The building was deemed to be the longest military barracks in the world and even though the structure is not quite long as a mile, it came to be nicknamed so.
 
The Pacific War Memorial (The Dome of Peace)
This memorial pays homage to the valor and grit of the Filipino and American servicemen who fought heroically against the advancing Japanese Imperial army during WWII. The memorial is shaped like a dome and encloses a stone alter that is illuminated by natural rays of sunlight filtering through an opening in the dome. The United States Government funded the memorial, and it was completed in 1968. The memorial also encloses a small museum that showcases relics from the battles on Corregidor.

The Eternal Flame of Freedom
Located directly behind the Pacific War Memorial is a large, steel sculpture, shaped like a flame, which symbolizes the concept of never-ending liberty. The structure, which was designed by renowned sculptor, Aristides Dimetrios stands on a platform that affords stunning vistas of Manila Bay and the Bataan Peninsula.

The Old Spanish Flagpole
A relic of Corregidor’s colonial era, the flagpole, dates back to 1898 and the Battle of Manila Bay, wherein, the Spaniards were defeated by the Americans led by Admiral George Dewey. The flagpole is, actually the mast of a Spanish ship, which was captured by the Americans.

This flagpole featured prominently during WWII, for it is on this flagpole that the American flag was lowered in 1942 when the allies surrendered to the Japanese. In 1945, when Gen MacArthur reclaimed the island, the American flag was once again raised here. Finally, on October 12th, 1947, the Stars and Stripes, was lowered for the last time as the flag of the independent Republic of the Philippines was raised on the island.

Cine Corregidor
Located close to the Pacific War Memorial are some ruins. These ruins are the remnants of a movie theater that served as an avenue for entertainment for military personnel and their families stationed on the island.
 
Spanish Lighthouse
The current lighthouse on Corregidor is a replica of the original lighthouse that was built during the Spanish era and destroyed during WWII. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse to take in gorgeous views of the island of Corregidor and beyond.
 
Malinta Tunnel
The Malinta Tunnel was a bomb shelter, which was dug through solid rock of a hillock located on in an area called Bottomside. The Americans began digging through a hill to create this tunnel as far back as 1922. This 835 foot long east-west tunnel took ten years to build and stands 24 feet wide and 18 feet tall. This construction marvel provided complete protection from artillery or air attack. The tunnel also has lateral tunnels branching to the north and south of it. 13 lateral tunnels lie to the north of the main tunnel while 11 lie to the south.
 
The Malinta Tunnel served as Gen MacArthur’s command central and the headquarters of USSAFE during the siege of Corregidor. The tunnel featured communication equipment; medical units (1000-bed hospital), food storage.  It even featured air circulation through installed blowers. It is from here that Gen MacArthur commandeered his beleaguered forces during the Japanese occupation of Corregidor. The Malinta tunnel played a vital role in the battles of Corregidor and is undoubtedly the star attraction on the island today.

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