Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Corrigidor retry

MAUI – Corregidor held out until May 6. Not many New Mexicans were on the Rock, as they called the tiny island lying just off the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula.
When the Japanese finally stormed to the southern tip of Bataan, a few New Mexico National Guard troops had the opportunity to be evacuated to the well-fortified bastion. And some of those who couldn’t find a craft to transport them swam the relatively short distance or found a floating object to grab.

Corregidor held a strategic location, guarding the entrance to Manila Harbor. Until the enemy had Corregidor, it didn’t have access to the huge harbor. The Japanese commander had tried to insist that Corregidor be surrendered along with Bataan.
But the Americans weren’t about to let that fortress go because they knew that holding it as long as possible would delay the Japanese advance toward Australia even longer. Some suggested that the additional delay made the captors even more ill-tempered toward their prisoners on Bataan.

Corrigedor was a series of tunnels where life was pretty good for an army about to be overrun. Supply ships and planes still got through occasionally, bringing food, ammunition and medicine. The men stationed there were shocked at the condition of those arriving from Bataan. For the New Mexicans who made it to the island, it was a bit of heaven.
The shoreline bristled with batteries of antiaircraft artillery. It was to those units that New Mexicans were assigned, even though most of the units were at full strength because they hadn’t suffered the casualties of those on the mainland.
On April 29, the final assault began. Japanese artillery pounded the island mercilessly, day and night. On May 3, Gen. Wainwright wired Gen. McArthur that the situation had become desperate. Most of the antiaircraft guns had been knocked out. They would soon be fighting as infantry and about the only men with infantry combat experience were the exhausted troops from Bataan.

Wainwright began to evacuate key personnel, important documents and nurses from the doomed fortress. On May 5, the Japanese landed with a vengeance. Tanks, artillery and infantry overran one fortification after another. Wainwright ordered that records, codes, equipment and money be destroyed. The dead and wounded piled into the tunnels at a terrifying rate.
The situation was hopeless. Defeat was certain and imminent. Wainwright knew that continuing the fight would delay the inevitable only a matter of hours and surrender would save thousands lives.

He notified his president, asking him to please tell the nation “that my troops and I have accomplished all that is humanly possible and that we have upheld the best traditions of the United States and its Army… With profound regret and with continued pride in my gallant troops, I go to meet the Japanese commander.”

To forestall renewed hostilities and a sure massacre, Wainwright assumed command of the remaining forces in the Philippines and ordered their surrender. It was the only condition the Japanese would accept. It took another month to effect the surrender of the remaining islands.
The Corregidor prisoners were held in conditions as bad as in any other camps. When all prisoners had been gathered, they were ferried to Manila and marched through the city on a Sunday afternoon, flaunting them before the crowds. And then it was on to the old Spanish prison of Bilibid.

For almost a month after Bataan fell, Corregidor held on, costing the enemy dearly in men and time. Like Bataan, the tale of Corregidor inspired a nation.
But now the men of Corregidor were to undergo the same inhumane treatment as Japanese prisoners of war that their comrades from Bataan were enduring in nearby prison camps. And it would continue for three-and-a-half years.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, relatives were getting fed up with the way their loved ones were being treated by the U.S. government.

Coming soon: the birth of the Bataan Relief Organization.


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