Sunday, February 14, 2016

Corregidor: A Time of Peace and Healing

It took a couple of hours to ferry from Manila to Corregidor Island. The weather was balmy and the sea calm. We sat in assigned seats, in rows facing forward. Unlike on the Washington ferries, there was no getting up and wandering around to look at the view. A big screen TV hung from the ceiling in the front and a short film on safety and evacuation procedures played followed by an entire Bee Gees concert. It was an old concert, all the Bee Gees were still alive and well. I was feeling better, but still had some stomach and lower abdominal distress.

After I passed out on the floor in the restaurant in Manila, Morgan, the scout Master, fired off a text message to Peter, my stepson, which read: Grandpa Yeager had a fainting spell, he refuses to go to the hospital, but is conscious and talking. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a Grandpa, especially because of my relationship with my three grandsons, but his text message bothered me. It sounded like Morgan was referring to some doddering, pain in the ass, feeble old man, and that’s definitely not how I see myself.  When I was first introduced to Peter and Nani’s maid, an attractive Filipino woman, she asked me if she should call me Grandpa, I suppose because Chris calls me Grandpa. She calls Peter, Sir, and Nani and my wife Katie, Ma'm. I told her I preferred to be called “Stud”, but I don’t think she got the humor and she continues to call me Grandpa. My dad was a grandpa to our son Ben for just over a year. He once said, “I don’t mind being called Grandpa, I just don’t want people to know I’m sleeping with Grandma.”

Corregidor proved to be an excellent place of healing for me. I didn’t take any electronic devices on the journey, no cell phone, tablet or computer, just reading and writing material. I went on one tour of the middle part of the island with the boy scouts, and an independent tour of the tunnel and lower part of the island. But most of the time, when the boy scouts were off doing various activities, I was alone to wander the lush forested island or lie on my bed in the hotel room and read, while the cool tropical breeze wafted over me. I also spent some time sitting up on the veranda, sipping iced tea and talking with various travelers who were visiting the island.

Corregidor is a small island, 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, shaped like a tadpole. Strategically located at the entrance of Manila bay, it was used in defense of Manila harbor first by the Spanish, who conquered the Philippines in 1570, and then by the Americans, who took possession of the islands in 1898 after the Spanish American war. In the early 1900s, the Army Corps of Engineers transformed Corregidor into a major military reservation.  It was incorporated into the harbor defense system of the area and Fort Mills Army Post was established there.

In 1942 the Japanese flew 614 bombing missions over the island and dropped 1,701 bombs. After fierce fighting, they took possession of the Philippines until 1945, when the American Military took the islands back. In 1946 the Philippines was finally granted their independence.

My grandson, Christopher, told me that he heard the island was haunted. I didn’t see
any ghosts as I walked from one end to the other. I did see a lot of lush tropical plants, insects, birds, monkeys and goats. I thought about all the people who lost their lives on the island. Our tendency is to romanticize past wars. Having been in one, I can say that at times it brings out the best and worst in human nature, but there is nothing romantic about it. Hopefully over time humanity will collectively raise its consciousness so that war becomes obsolete, a horrible and stupid thing of the past.

The ferry ride back to Manilla was delayed because of stormy weather. When we finally got underway, the waves tossed the boat up and down with great force, the water rhythmically washing over the bow. A Mr. Bean movie played on the big screen TV. While many of the passengers got sick, the scout sitting next to me and I laughed ourselves silly all the way to Manila.   

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