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Michael Aquino

Ruins and Remembrance: Ivan Man Dy's World War II Walking Tour of Corregidor Island, Philippines.

By February 17, 2013

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In his book Goodbye Darkness (compare prices), war memoirist William Manchester tells of General Douglas McArthur's wife seeing Corregidor Island for the first time after the close of World War II, as she flew over the Philippine island in an aircraft. "Why, George, what have you done to Corregidor?" she scolded the U.S. Army air commander General George C. Kenney after disembarking in Manila. "I could hardly recognize it, when we passed it. It looks as though you had lowered it at least forty feet."

"Certainly it had been lowered some," explains Manchester by way of context. "Between Japanese artillery in the first months of the war and Kenney's B-24s dumping four thousand tons of bombs on it later, the Rock had been changed beyond belief, denuded, among other things, of all vegetation."

Manchester later revisits the scene of one of the most hard-fought battles in the Pacific War (this article provides the details: World War II: Battle of Corregidor), and pulls a wry face at the renovations done to Corregidor Island in the name of tourism. "Like the picnics at Verdun in the 1920s, turning the Rock into a recreational spot may be an attempt to exorcise the desperate past," he writes.

Not everyone is desperate to exorcise the past in Corregidor - in fact, a number of tours do their best to bring the past to life again.

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Ivan Man Dy (pictured above), for one, operates a new tour of Corregidor Island that sticks close to the old military HQ on Topside. Ivan's new "Of Bombs, Big Guns and Lost Gold" walking tour explores the years between 1898 and 1945 - a jaunt that doesn't just cover the war, but the years before and after.

Visitors get a workout and a look at Corregidor's years under America - bookended by its years as a bucolic outpost for American military families, during the golden years of colonization in the Far East after the Spanish American War; and the outpost's destruction during the Japanese conquest and later defeat in the Pacific Theater.

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

Beginning at the reconstructed "Spanish" lighthouse overlooking Manila Bay, Ivan strolls with his guests through Topside's standing ruins. At the flagpole (a mast of a former Spanish cruiser turned into a trophy of war), the context of the U.S. taking over a former Spanish colony is laid out; as we proceed to the former GHQ, Ivan paints a picture of the rather charmed lives led here by officers and their families before World War II.

The subject gets grimmer as we walk downhill to Battery Way, the last operational gun batteries used against the Japanese during their 1942 offensive. As we pass the former PX, we're informed of the gold and silver that was taken out of Manila by way of Corregidor as the clouds of war loomed. And at the last stop of the tour - at the Pacific War Memorial at Topside again - Ivan ends with a difficult moral question: as the Japanese and Americans were battling it out, using the Philippines and the rest of the Pacific as a battleground, who was really looking out for the Filipino people?

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

While Ivan's tour doesn't cover as much literal ground as the tranvia tours that operate simultaneously around the island (as seen in our image gallery: Corregidor Island - A Lost World; tranvia pictured above), he says his tour benefits from a different perspective - focused, perhaps, by its more intimate exploration of Topside's ruins. "We're not really saying that ours is the definitive historical tour of Corregidor, but history is open to many interpretations," says Ivan. "There are many ways to tell the history of Corregidor - not just military. Although the military factors in heavily, to be more relevant, you have to have the sociological aspect, you have the cultural aspect [of Corregidor], not just military."

The walking part of the tour was the biggest challenge for Ivan and his partners in Sun Cruises - due to the restricted range of a group exploring an area on foot, many of the other sites accessible by tranvia were left out. Surprisingly, leaving those out were no big loss: "As long as it ties within the theme that we want, which is essentially a World War II history - if we can do away with one gun, that's fine," Ivan explains. "That said, we did replace certain things that were taken out in the bus tour."

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

True that: the tranvia tour leaves out the difficult-to-reach Corregidor Hospital (pictured above), with its darker contemporary role in the Moro uprising in the 1970s. "We feel it's more relevant to the island's history because of the Jabidah Massacre," explains Ivan. "So it's more of a plus-minus thing - you take out some, you add some."

Ivan's tour is more attuned to telling a coherent story, emphasizing the narrative over the trivia - "More than the standard dates and sizes of the guns or the buildings, I think what we want to dig in more are the values - lessons that we had from this," explains Ivan.

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

"Of Bombs, Big Guns and Lost Gold: WWII Tales Declassified" is the sixth tour organized by Ivan's Old Manila Walks, and the first done in coordination with Corregidor's main logistical and tour provider Sun Cruises (www.corregidorphilippines.com). The tour kicks off this month, operating every Sunday, and includes a guided tour, entrance fee to Corregidor, and ferry transfers, all for PHP 1,750 (about $43) per head. Buffet lunch at Corregidor Inn and Malinta Tunnel light and sound show are optional, costing about PHP450 ($11) for the former and PHP150 ($3.60) for the latter.

For more information on Ivan's Corregidor walking tour, email fun@oldmanilawalks.com, or visit their site www.oldmanilawalks.com. For images and details on specific stops along the Corregidor tour, read this itinerary: Exploring Corregidor Island's World War II Ruins & Memorials.

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