‘Corregidor Used to Be a Nice Place; It’s Haunted Now’


The Allied command center on Corregidor.

The Japanese Imperial Navy began shelling Corregidor three weeks after their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Philippine island was the strongest fort in the Pacific, nicknamed “the Gibraltar of the East” by the US troops stationed there. Corregidor was a two-square-mile tangle of tunnels, bunkers, and heavy guns preventing the Japanese from securing Manila Bay.

So the enemy kept bombarding. For four months, a valiant group of US Marines, Army, and Navy fighters — joined by Filipino soldiers — held out against the incessant Japanese aerial, naval, and artillery attacks. But they couldn’t hold out forever.

At the start of May, Japanese aircraft dropped 365 tons of explosives on the rock as howitzers pounded Corregidor day and night. The defenders had been living on 30 ounces of food a day and were allowed water twice every 24 hours. As the food ran out, they ate the cavalry’s horses.

On May 5, Japan’s final assault began. By May 6, Corregidor had fallen.

Every Memorial Day, I think of this haunting audio — the final messages from the US-held island.

The radio operator, Cpl. Irving Strobing, survived the war, liberated from a POW camp three years later. His brother Joe — told by Strobing “to give ’em hell” — also survived.

In the brutal battle, Allied troops took more Japanese lives than they lost, but Gen. Jonathan Wainwright finally made the painful decision to surrender. His next public appearance was aboard the USS Missouri to receive the Japanese surrender, still emaciated by the cruel treatment of his guards.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur greets Gen. Wainwright upon his liberation from a Japanese POW camp in Manchuria, August 1945.

The stalwart defense of Corregidor scuttled Imperial Japan’s planned invasion of Australia. Gen. Masaharu Homma, who had promised to take the Philippines in two months instead of five, was relieved of command.

The island remains haunted, but those brave American and Filipino soldiers ultimately emerged as victors.

Published in History, Military
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  1. Seawriter Contributor

    The US retook Corregidor in February 1945. My current writing project is about that. I finished the draft of the main body today, Memorial Day. I still have a lot of work left, but I really wanted to finish the main body today.

    • #1
  2. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Roosevelt didn’t want to resupply the 100 thousand fighting men in Philippines. He let them rot in Japanese prisons or in the jungle.

    • #2
  3. J Ro Member
    J Ro

    Poor “Skinny” Wainwright, left behind and in charge by his Commanding Officer, who skedaddled in the night with his family!

    About 25 years ago I was privileged to meet the late Prof Claude Buss at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. I knew he’d worked in China before WWII, but it wasn’t clear to me how he’d ended up as a Japanese prisoner early in the war. So I asked him about it.

    “Well, you know when General MacArthur was on Corregidor and told Wainwright, ‘I’m out of here, so you’re in charge.’? Right after that my boss turned to me and said the same thing.”

    Buss had been the executive assistant to the US High Commissioner in the Philippines, left behind to surrender to and negotiate with the Japanese.

    I have taken the tour of Corregidor once and highly recommend a visit to those looking for a deeper understanding of the Pacific War. For one thing, unlike Pearl Harbor, it is not an active, operational military installation. The old barracks stand empty, some of the heavy artillery sits where it was abandoned, many with the obvious scars from direct hits by Japanese bombardment. Haunting, indeed.

    • #3
  4. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald

    The History Channel, I believe, has a show called Mysteries of the Abandoned.  There is an episode on Corregidor that I would recommend watching.

    • #4
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