Welcome to Corregidor.
A gentle breeze blows through your hair as you step foot off the ferry and onto the boardwalk. Looking down, you see straight through the clear blue-green waters to the white sand below. In the distance, you see a few smaller islands. It’s hard to believe there are so many violent memories tied to this tranquil place.
Simply put, the island of Corregidor –America’s Fort Mills, if you rewind a century or so– is an old military base turned war memorial. It may not initially appear to be so because 1) it’s an entire tropical island 2) there is an inn in this memorial 3) you need to hop a boat to get there. I mean, how often do you ferry it to a war memorial on a tropical island and stay overnight?
Amidst thick, green masses of trees, you’ll find remnants of military buildings that stood proud before they were bombed. Scattered in tree clearings all around the island, there are cannons and guns that still tower over tourists.
Right: See the guy in the white hat to the right? For reference, he’s 6’2. That’s how big this gun is. And it’s one of the smaller ones.
Let’s hop on the tram that picks you up from the dock and escorts you on your tour around the island. Even if you never step off the vehicle, you get pretty broad exposure to what’s here.
But of course you want to get off and explore your surroundings to truly experience this historic place.
History abounds with every new picturesque scene. Ironically enough, the island was called a paradise during its peaceful days. It had a 9-hole golf course, a cinema, a swimming pool, beaches…it might have seemed more resort than military base. That was, however, until WWII broke out.
Left: What’s the story behind this tree? There were restrooms beside it. When the building was bombed, part of the brick wall stuck to the tree….and the tree continued to grow with its new accessory.
Fewer and fewer veterans visit in their old age, but artifacts are still being found here, often while hiking. Many Japanese tunnels are still being discovered (mostly during an avalanche or tunnel collapse).
Let’s detour into Malinta Tunnel (below). Built to hold 8,000 people, it sheltered a number just over half its capacity during the siege of Corregidor. However, outside of its hospital wing, it was not built for habitation. Dark, damp, and poorly ventilated…. Can you imagine holding camp underground for 5 months? Somehow, the soldiers persevered.
You probably won’t feel too tired during the actual tour, but fatigue might suddenly beset you on the ferry back to Manila. (Below: Energy levels before and after the historical island tour.)
Corregidor isn’t anything I learned about in my history classes. It may have been just a blip in the long history of war. Yet after watching the documentary onboard the ferry, I can’t help but feel emotion. Exploring the empty, devastated hallways of forgotten buildings on island, it’s hard not to feel the impact of war and the somberness that ensues. I don’t leave the island with a heavy heart, but I’m in a solemn mood. To all the brave soldiers whose dog tags have been lost, recovered, and are still being found here…we salute you.