The Crown of Valor and Glory: Corregidor’s Topside
Last Christmas, I had an opportunity of visiting one of the bastions of Philippine history, Corregidor Island. As with my previous posts, from the beginning and towards the middle side area, this island has a lot of stories to tell, about valor of our forefathers who fought endlessly to defend our freedom from the invaders. Yet the highlight of that tour last December hasn’t been reached yet. As we reached high above the Manila Bay, the view of the nerve center of then-one of Asia’s best military camps, this island has still a lot to tell…from its head and all towards under its belly.
This is my tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives for the greater glory of freedom and for peace to prevail once more in this part of the globe. Today is April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan in the Philippines.
For those who have seen the Mid-side barracks, you haven’t seen the main barracks on the topside of Corregidor…which is the “city center” of the said fortress island. Topside is where most of the high-ranking officials and officers do their activity while they are in the island. Aside from being the “nerve center,” it also serves as the commercial and entertainment center of the island back then. The topside area of today are dominated by ruined buildings—symbols of War’s ill-effect to mankind.
The Mile-Long Barracks or the main barracks is reputedly the longest and the largest barracks in Asia during the American colonial era. It houses several hundred men; it serves as the main residence of the military personnel that served in Corregidor. And yes, this is the famous ruins that you see in the postcards depicting the island. When I saw the old photo of it before it was destroyed by war, its architecture reminded me of UP-PGH, a trend during that time. Now ruined, it was heavily devastated by bombs and artillery from both sides. This is also one of the ruins that can be safely visited “inside.”
Nearby, the Cine Corregidor was a theatre/movie house of the island. Talo pa ang IMAX at mga pirata ng DVD, because during those times it was one of the best movie houses in the Philippines, screening Hollywood movies before they even come to Manila’s shores such as “Gone with the Wind.”
The Pacific War Memorial
Just beside it is the Pacific War Memorial and Museum. The old tattered US flag welcomes the guest and so were the war-time memorabilia, may it be Filipino, American or even Japanese. The display of old photos, from the glorious times of Corregidor, to the invasion, to the bloody battles and up to its retaking and even the gory suicidal episodes, the museum and the memorial reminds everyone on the valor, the honor and even the death of every soldier.
The memorial was constructed two decades after the war. It features an altar under an egg-shaped dome, with an oculus. Like the Pantheon in Rome, the oculus casts the sunlight to the circular marble altar at a specific time—an honor for those who have died in the battle of Corregidor and the rest of the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
And just behind it is the 40 foot Eternal Flame of Freedom, designed by Aristedes Demetrios, one of the famed artists of the United States. Symbolizing freedom, this fiery crimson or sometimes tangerine steel structure is said to light up the Corregidor skyline at night. On a clear night, it can be seen as far as Manila, like a flame guarding the capital.
At the Topside…
The topside is where most of the activities happened. The parade grounds are the main plaza of the island. It is also here where the first of the paratroopers landed to reclaim the island fortress from the Japanese.
Aside from what I’ve mentioned, there are still a lot of ruins within the area. The Bachelor’s pad, the main offices which once held one of the best altars, the official’s quarters and even the historical flagpole that was once part of the Spanish warship that the Americans took during the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898—for MacArthur and his men, hoisting the US flag again at that flagpole during the “The Liberation of 1945” is as symbolic as reclaiming victory.
All right, the tranvia’s bells are ringin’! Time to head up to the highest point of the island and probably the only Spanish-colonial remnant there is in the island. As we leave Topside, there are so many stories to tell that my head starts to tilt—enthusiastic to listen and feel, yet fatigue has started to creep in. However, passion surges forward, and like our brave warriors of the past, I simply moved on forward—I’m fighting fatigue while they fight for our freedom!
Today is the Day of Valor, Araw ng Kagitingan. Let’s look unto our history and see how our forefathers sacrificed for democracy and liberty. And we continue our Corregidor series until May 6, the day the island surrendered to the hands of the enemies…