How would you like to explore an actual World War II battleground in Southeast Asia? If you're leaving from Manila, you don't need more than an hour's boat ride to get there—a mere 48 kilometers southwest of the Philippines' capital, the tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor guards the mouth of Manila Bay.
In its heyday, Corregidor was more than an armed outpost guarding naval access to Manila. It was also a bustling American community, with schools, swimming pools, golf course, a moviehouse, and a tram system. The remnants of this community can still be viewed at the plateau called "Topside"—the ruins let visitors peek into the charmed lives of the American soldiers and their families who lived here until World War II erupted.
Family fun aside, Corregidor was a military base first, with some serious firepower, too: the U.S. Army installed coastal guns and anti-aircraft guns on the island, which helped hold off the Japanese invasion in 1942 until the very last minute. The Japanese invading forces held Corregidor until 1944, when the American offensive retook the island in a series of bloody battles.
War memorials and gun batteries
Today, a number of war memorials join the ruins around Topside: next to the old moviehouse, you'll find a museum and a memorial to the American soldiers who fought in the Pacific during World War II, whose efforts are commemorated with an "Eternal Flame" looking out to Manila Bay.
To explore Topside, you'll need to join one of several guided tours circulating around Corregidor. Most guests ride the "Tranvia", a tourist bus patterned after the tram system that used to weave through the island. These tours only stop momentarily at Topside before proceeding to the island's other war memorials and gun batteries.
Another touring alternative takes a more in-depth look at Topside, its buildings and its lore. Ivan Man Dy's new walking tour "Of Bombs, Big Guns and Lost Gold" limits its scope to Topside and nearby areas—after all, ordinary legs can only take you so far. What the tour lacks in breadth of physical coverage, it makes up for in depth and human interest.
Beyond history and military
Ivan's patter covers Corregidor's history between 1898 and 1945, beginning with the American colonial takeover that transformed the island into "Fort Mills" and ending with the aftermath of World War II. Tour guests follow Ivan through Topside's sights and ruins: a flagpole repurposed from the mast of a Spanish battleship, the former American GHQ (general headquarters), the "Mile-Long" barracks that used to be the longest barracks in the world, and the Cine Corregidor moviehouse.
"This was the most important part of the island—I call this the 'Acropolis'," Ivan says of Topside. "The highest point, where the power emanated from." Ivan points out that the ruins of the married officers' quarters had chimneys: "They tried to create a little America in our tropical isle—it sounds funny; what is a chimney doing at the mouth of Manila Bay?"
Ivan takes pride in telling a more eclectic, comprehensive story of the island. "There are many ways to tell the history of Corregidor, [it's] not just military," Ivan says of his new tour. His own take on Corregidor and history looks behind the dry facts and figures: "We want to dig in more [on] the values, lessons that we had from this," he says. "It's not just political, there's a little bit of architectural, a little bit of cultural...."
Ultimately, Ivan intends to place a spotlight on the people who up till now have played supporting roles in the Corregidor story: the Filipinos themselves. "In between [Japan and America] was us," Ivan tells us. "Us as a people [caught between] two armies in a war which we never intended to join in the first place."
"Of Bombs, Big Guns and Lost Gold: WWII Tales Declassified" is organized by Ivan's Old Manila Walks in partnership with Sun Cruises, the main tour provider to the island of Corregidor. For more information on Ivan's Corregidor walking tour, email email@example.com, or visit their site www.oldmanilawalks.com.
To arrange an independent trip to Corregidor, start at Sun Cruises' site, www.corregidorphilippines.com; Sun Cruises' fast ferry leaves their wharf in Manila's CCP Complex every day at 8am. Sun Cruises day tours include ferry transfers, a guided tranvia tour, and a buffet lunch at the Corregidor Inn, the only tourist-class hotel on the island.