Pressed into duty as a marine during the 1942 siege of Corregidor, U.S. Navy Supply Ensign Jack McClure had to quickly decide whether to follow orders or save a life
I was awakened by the chattering of monkeys in the branches of the giant cashew tree directly over my head. They usually signaled dawn, but it was 2 a.m. and pitch-black. The reason for their unusual activity was soon apparent. Bud Snow, a fellow ensign who slept a few feet from me, was sitting on the edge of his cot. “I was just going to wake you,” he said in a hushed voice. “Warrant Officer Dobler just told me that the Japs have broken through the main line of resistance at Bagac, about ten miles up the road, and are heading for Mariveles.” Mariveles, the site of the navy section base, is a small town at the tip of the Bataan Peninsula where the bay provided adequate anchorage for naval vessels up to the size of light cruisers. Intended primarily as a supplementary repair facility for submarines, the section base had a dry dock, machine shops, and the sub tender Canopus, now anchored in the lee of the promontory that marked the entrance to the bay. Ships of the Asiatic Fleet were to have been serviced at the base, but by now the cruisers, the destroyers, and most of the submarines had dispersed south of Java, leaving only the PT-boats, which swung at anchor just outside the bay in Sisiman Cove.
Snow and I, together with a half-dozen other supply corps officers, had reported for duty on December 12, 1941, two days after Japanese bombers obliterated the huge navy base at Cavite, 20 miles north of Manila. Eighty-some planes took part in that raid, and it marked the virtual end of American naval power in the Philippines.
For almost four months we had been sequestered at the section base while the army and Philippine scouts fought a losing battle against the Japanese. For the first two months the army had held the Japanese at bay, but reinforcements from the victorious Japanese forces in Singapore had bolstered Gen. Masaharu Homma’s resolve, and he renewed his offensive. The Japanese pushed the Americans and Filipinos, decimated by casualties, malaria, and starvation, back until finally the line of resistance buckled, and now the Japanese had a clear route to Mariveles and victory in the Philippines.
Throughout this entire period we received very little news about the Battle of Bataan. Senior naval officers on Corregidor may have known, but they didn’t tell us, and our only source of information was the occasional army officer who, having heard about the high-living navy, came scrounging for handouts.
The army officers told us of cavalry units that had killed and eaten their horses; of men catching, cooking, and eating monkeys, wild pigs, and other animals that had fled down the peninsula ahead of the scourge of war. They told us further that the physical condition of their troops was so bad that they didn’t have much hope of withstanding the Japanese onslaught for very long. By contrast, we ate very well. Submarine stores, held in readiness for any of the boats that might put in to Mariveles Bay, were plentiful and by army standards exotic. Canned oysters, sides of beef, powdered milk, coffee, and even ice cream from Canopus lent credence to the rumors that the army had heard about the navy. Lt. Cmdr. F. N. Bryan, the section base supply officer, allowed the army officers to take as much with them as they could carry, but he was adamant about not issuing food in wholesale quantities.
As March dwindled away, it became obvious to most of us that a debacle was in the making. There were still some who held out hope of succor, a hope that had been bolstered by a message from Gen. Douglas MacArthur that said: “Help is on its way from the United States. Thousands of troops and hundreds of planes are being dispatched. The exact time of arrival of reinforcements is unknown, as they will have to fight through Japanese lines. It is imperative that our troops hold until their reinforcements arrive.” It wasn’t until after the war that we found out that this was a bald-faced lie. The facts were that in a meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston S. Churchill, and top military commanders, the decision had been made to give priority to the war in Europe, and literally to abandon the troops in the Philippines to a fate that now seemed certain. The Japanese would be in Mariveles and the section base in a matter of hours. It was April 9, 1942.
“What are our orders, if any?” I asked Snow. “Dobler said that we should take all the gear we could carry, go down to the docks as soon as possible, and get to Corregidor aboard any available boat,” he replied.
As I got into my clothes and started stuffing what little gear I owned into a duffel bag, the sights and sounds of increasing activity were becoming more apparent and much louder. Demolition teams began blowing up supply depots. Gasoline storage areas were set afire, and flames were shooting hundreds of feet into the air. In the midst of it all the very earth began to shake; unbelievably, it was an earthquake. It was as though nature itself was rebelling against such a holocaust and was trying to rid itself of intruders.
We were only a short distance from the dock close by Canopus, which was fated to be scuttled before dawn. The dock was crowded, but order prevailed and we waited patiently in the eerie light of fires, which were burning everywhere. Snow and I finally managed to get aboard a navy boat that had been plying back and forth to Corregidor along with anything that floated. When we were three hundred yards from shore, one of the tunnels in which gasoline had been stored was blown up. Like a huge cannon, it shot boulders the size of small houses out into the bay. One landed directly on a small boat 50 yards from shore, killing everyone in it. It also created a huge wave that threatened to capsize other craft anywhere near where it landed. Our boat bobbed and rocked violently, and several men who had been clinging to the rail were thrown overboard. We managed to haul them back in and gingerly headed through the minefield toward Corregidor, three miles away.
Behind us, the section base was enveloped in flame. The breaking dawn was obscured by heavy smoke, the green hills of Bataan convulsed by gigantic explosions. We were greeted at North Dock on Corregidor by a barrage from the Japanese batteries that had long since been zeroed in on strategic locations on the island. Lying alongside the dock, we timed the intervals between exploding shells and made a run for shelter as soon as a shell exploded. Never had the record for the 100-yard dash under a full pack been broken so many times.
On Bataan we had been the object of only sporadic interest to the Japanese, as they concentrated on annihilating the ground forces stretched across the peninsula, but life on Corregidor was to be like living in the center of a bull’s-eye. We made our way in half-light from the dock to the navy tunnel, one of the many that honeycombed Malinta Hill. When we reported in to the duty officer we were told that the combined navy/marine battalion that had been formed on Bataan to repel Japanese infiltrators was being re-formed and would constitute a reserve force for the beach defenders—primarily the 4th Marines. I was ordered to report to Maj. Max Schaeffer, in command of Headquarters and Service Company of the 4th Marines, in regimental reserve along with Maj. “Joe” Williams’s 4th Battalion.
A marine sergeant took me and several other officers in tow and led us out of the tunnel to where the regimental reserve was bivouacked on the side of the hill, along a winding road that ran down from Battery Geary to join the main road leading to the small town in the middle of Corregidor. After scouting around, I picked out a level spot, unlimbered the collapsible cot I had been issued, hung my seabag on the branch of a nearby tree, and sat down. Through the trees to the south I could see the islands on which Fort Drum and Fort Hughes were situated, and beyond them the shore of Cavite province. I had gotten little sleep in the past 24 hours, and as I lay back on my cot I realized before I fell asleep that the curtain was about to be raised on the last act in a drama that had begun about a year before.
I was awakened by a marine sergeant named McCormick, who, I later learned, came from my hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and who had gone to the same high school as I had. He announced that chow was ready. As we lined up to receive a mess kit of stew and a canteen cup of coffee, Major Schaeffer announced the organization of the 4th Battalion of the 4th Marine Regiment. It consisted of sailors and petty officers from the section base and the now scuttled Canopus, and was officered by a heterogeneous collection of navy and army officers. While the army had been ordered to surrender on Bataan, a number of officers had ignored or hadn’t received the order and had managed to get to Corregidor. They had all seen combat and were welcomed by the marines, who needed all the reinforcements they could get.
I was designated platoon leader of a group of 10 enlisted men from Canopus, among whom was a chief petty officer with the unlikely name of Talmadge Smithey. He was a huge man with a gruff voice that belied an essentially mild manner. Smithey was my second-in-command.
The next day we were issued .30-caliber Enfield rifles still covered with cosmoline—the thick grease in which they had been stored. It took a whole day to clean those weapons. They were World War I vintage, as were our helmets. Later, when we saw pictures of Americans in combat dress, we thought—because of the new helmets—that they were Germans.
Major Schaeffer, faced with organizing such a ragtag group, left it up to the marine sergeants, and between bombings and shellings they did the best they could to train us. We couldn’t practice with the rifles. Ammunition was scarce, and there were no ranges, but we learned how to clean our piece, aim, and dry-fire it. We also learned how to pull the pin on dummy grenades, count to five, and pitch them stiff-armed at a target 25 yards away.
As far as I was concerned, the reality of our situation never actually sank in. I couldn’t quite visualize what I would be called on to do when the Japanese attacked. The best I could do was to try to recall war movies I had seen and pattern my behavior after scarcely remembered role models. Actually, the Japs prevented us from doing much of anything. Corregidor was under constant bombardment from dawn to dusk, and even at night they fired an occasional shell to keep us awake.
The main force of the beach defense consisted of 3,000 marines, augmented by about a thousand assorted navy, army, and army air forces personnel. As many as 7,000 other military personnel were sequestered in the various tunnels and laterals, most of them so terrified of the bombing and shelling that they left their warrens only at night. We called it “tunnelitis.” Those of us who lived in the open hated to enter the tunnels in spite of the bombing and shelling. The heat and the lack of water for bathing, plus mass fear, produced an indescribable and pervasive stench.
The Japanese had set up about 150 batteries on the hills of Bataan and the shores of Cavite. They ranged in caliber from 75mm to 240mm, and the unending barrage destroyed defenses faster than they could be rebuilt. Gun emplacements were wrecked, land mines exploded, the boats of the navy’s inshore patrol sunk, and barbed wire was destroyed. And it got worse. By the third week in April, we could scarcely move. We spent most of the time crouched in small tunnels dug into the side of the hill just off the road that wound through our bivouac area. We also had shallow foxholes into which we jumped when we didn’t have time to get to a tunnel.
Word was passed that a submarine was coming in the night of April 20 to take out key personnel and that we could also send a letter. I wrote one to Hazel Smith, a girl I had known in New York. It went out uncensored and was delivered a month after Corregidor fell. It described fairly well what most of us felt was in our future—death or capture—and we weren’t sure which was preferable.
Just at this moment, when spirits and confidence were at their nadir, something incredible happened. The word spread like lightning that the army air forces had bombed Tokyo. Not only had they bombed the capital city of Japan, but our radio operators had actually talked to the pilots as they flew toward their targets.
We learned after the war that the Japanese had discovered the attack in progress and consequently there was no reason for radio silence. Corregidor went wild. Rumors swept through the troops that MacArthur’s promise of aid was being implemented and that we could expect reinforcements momentarily. Lookouts on Topside peered into the night at the China Sea for indications of the huge convoy, and strange distant lights were reported each night. We were soon brought back to reality, however.
On April 29, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday, Corregidor was subjected to the heaviest bombardment yet. Starting at 8 a.m. and continuing until dark, more than 10,000 shells smashed and blasted every area on “the Rock,” as Corregidor was known. Beach defenses were obliterated. A powder magazine on Cavalry Point exploded, the concussion completely stripping the clothes off troops in nearby foxholes. Some men were buried alive. Three ammunition dumps were detonated, and the explosions knocked out a searchlight and three gun positions. At the end of the day Corregidor lay shrouded in clouds of smoke and dust. As the tropical night fell, grass fires and burning and exploding ammunition created a scene that made Dante’s Inferno look like a backyard bonfire.The minds and bodies of men on the beaches and in the prepared positions were subjected to almost intolerable strain. We were bivouacked about two hundred yards downhill from Battery Geary’s huge 12-inch mortars, which were capable of hurling monster shells at targets miles away. They had been quiet ever since Bataan fell because they had no way of telling where the Japanese were massing or where the prisoners taken on Bataan were being held. But once the enemy began to cross the bay toward Corregidor, our guns wreaked havoc on the invaders. Consequently, Japanese 240mm guns had been steadily shelling the battery for several days. On May 2, a shell penetrated the wall protecting the battery’s magazine and blew off the top of the hill. The monstrous blast hurled several of the mortars, each weighing as much as 10 tons, more than a hundred yards, and great chunks of reinforced concrete, several the size of houses, rained down on our position.
We rattled in our tiny refuges like seeds in a gourd. Afraid the tunnels would collapse, yet terrified of leaving them, we simply held our breath until the earth stopped shaking. The explosion had deafened us all so that we weren’t sure it was safe to crawl out, but finally we emerged, shaken and bruised and relieved to be alive.
Trees everywhere were smashed down, and across the road a tremendous slab of steel-reinforced concrete lay where my cot and all my possessions had been. Not that I had had much, but now I owned only what I had on.
Major Schaeffer, the bravest man I have ever known, asked for volunteers to see if there was anything left of Battery Geary, and up the hill we went. The Japs, intent on finishing the job, began to lob shells intermittently. The heat was so intense that it was impossible to get inside what was left of the concrete structure, and there was always the possibility of another explosion. Most of the men in the battery had simply disappeared, blown to bits, but there were some still alive and a few who were only slightly hurt. All were deaf as stones and in a state of deep shock. We carried them out on makeshift litters and radioed for a truck to come up from Malinta Tunnel to take them to the hospital, where there were already more than a thousand wounded. The less seriously wounded had to remain outside and take their chances on a stray bomb or shell, but the far side of Malinta Tunnel was well defiladed, so that it was unlikely that a shell could fall close enough to do any damage.
Nearly all the beach defense guns had now been put out of action, and all the great batteries—Geary, Crockett, Wheeler, Way, and four others—had been silenced by Japanese shellfire. To cap it all, only a week’s supply of water—with minimal rations—remained. Despite all this, the 4th Marines, augmented by a thousand navy and army personnel, stood ready to fight—all four thousand of them. In the tunnels the rest of the army was frantically sewing money into the seams of their clothing, burning papers, and preparing for surrender.
By now the 4th Marines had suffered 10 percent casualties. Corregidor as a defensive position was almost untenable. Hills once covered with greenery now lay naked and pockmarked with shell craters. All aboveground structures had been leveled. Roads were impassable, and communications were confined to radio and runners.
Nerves were on edge, and the hopelessness of the situation became apparent. But never once did I hear anyone voice despair. The marines displayed that rare brand of courage that manifests itself in the continuation of normal behavior. They cleaned and oiled their pieces. Some even shaved, using precious water that was doled out every day by canteenfuls. Mostly we talked—about food, women, but never about home. And we sat on the hillside at night looking out to sea, no doubt with the vain hope of seeing the lights of the huge convoy that had been promised by MacArthur.
On May 4 a barrage started at first light. It matched in intensity that of the emperor’s birthday, but it extended through the entire day, and over that 24-hour period some 16,000 shells hit Corregidor. Most of us knew in our hearts that it was the beginning of the end. At about 10:30 p.m. on the night of May 5, the barrage shifted its intensity to the eastern end of the Rock. Our first indication that the Japs were attacking was when we got the word to move out and head for Malinta Tunnel. Ammunition and grenades were issued to all hands. Struggling through a night lit by fires and an occasional flare, we passed through Middleside, which was receiving desultory shellfire, and as we approached Bottomside a barrage began hitting us. A small-arms ammunition dump at one side of the road was set afire, and the popping of .30-caliber rifle bullets sounded like a string of firecrackers on the Fourth of July.
Shells were coming in every five seconds, and we all scattered for cover. Finally the barrage lifted, and we moved through a scene of utter desolation—wrecked buildings, upturned automobiles, smashed trucks—into the western entrance to Malinta Tunnel. It was 2 a.m. and the first time I had been in the tunnel since the middle of April. It was terribly hot, and the smell of fear permeated every corner. The tunnel was full of men who looked at us with wild eyes, amid a scene of utter chaos.
As we threaded our way through the length of the tunnel so we could go out the other end to counterattack the Japanese, all around us men were preparing to surrender. Papers were scattered everywhere. American dollars and Philippine pesos were being passed around, and I wondered what good it would be after our capture. Little did I realize how important it would be in prison camp. Money is money, and it will buy things anywhere.
We reached the eastern end of the tunnel and sat down. The entrance was sandbagged, and in order to go out you had to go through a sort of baffle, or maze. From outside came the sounds of battle, and every once in a while stretcher-bearers would carry in some poor marine who had taken a hit and was still alive.
Lieutenant Colonel Beecher’s command post was just inside the entrance, not far from where we sat. It was obvious that things were not going well. The look on Beecher’s face told the story.
Sitting there, I realized that I was scared shitless. I thought, “What the hell am I, a navy supply officer, doing here with an automatic pistol and two hand grenades on my belt, waiting to go out to meet certain death when all the rest of these bastards are getting ready to surrender?”
Could I go to Beecher and protest? Could I simply disappear into one of the laterals? I looked at Major Schaeffer and knew I had no alternative. I had been ordered to duty with the reserve battalion of the 4th Marines. The reserves were about to be committed to a losing battle, and I was going with them. My stomach churned. I thought maybe if I threw up someone might see that I was too sick to be of any use. But I didn’t, and at 5 a.m. we were ordered out.
Platoon after platoon, we ran through the maze of sandbags outside the entrance and made a 50-yard dash down the road before stopping to regroup and look around. Shattered trees and bodies around us let us know quickly, as one of the men put it, that we were “in deep shit up to our eyeballs.” The farther we got from the tunnel, the less intense the shelling became until we reached a point where it was relatively quiet.
Over the years I had read a lot of war books containing vivid descriptions of combat, descriptions that made me feel the terror and the fear, and that roiled my stomach with scenes of gore and carnage. But they were nothing compared to the real thing. In a little while the initial terror subsided, and it was like watching a movie. It was past dawn. The sun had come up. After the heat and stench of the tunnel, the cool morning breeze felt marvelously refreshing. An occasional shell exploded somewhere, and down the road I could hear small-arms fire and the occasional chatter of a light machine gun. Out in Manila Bay, the sun sparkled on the water, and far to the east the white buildings of Manila were catching the early rays. “People waking up there,” I thought. “I wonder if they know what’s going on here.”
Our orders were simple. We were to move along the road until we came upon the enemy, and then we were to dislodge them from their positions and drive them back. At a turn in the road we came upon a Filipino in position behind some sheets of corrugated tin. He was sitting behind a .30-caliber machine gun, dead. He looked as though he were tired and simply taking a nap, but the strange angle of his head and his slumped body were not that of a living person. He had the unreal look that you see in discarded toy dolls. A few seconds after we had left him, a burst of automatic fire rattled through the corrugated tin, sounding like the sudden eruption of a trap drummer in a wild jazz riff. Had we still been there, a few of us would also be dead.
For a moment there was silence and from some blighted tree not far away came the clear trilling notes of a songbird. “Christ,” I thought, “doesn’t it know there’s a goddamn war on?” It was all so incongruous—the soft, cool air, the brilliant water, the call of a bird. And death everywhere. “How the hell could mankind have gotten itself into such a mess?” I wondered. “And what the f— am I doing right in the middle of it?”
There was a loud “plop” from somewhere, and big Talmadge Smithey bowled me over with a block that would have done credit to an all-American tackle. “Mortar,” he growled, just as an explosion rent the air about 10 yards away, and pieces of metal sang past.
We crawled to the far side of the road and slid down a slight decline. Defiladed from the apparent source of fire, we waited for instructions from Major Williams, who came back down the road and called us together.
“McClure,” he said, “Take four men and see if you can get that machine gun over by that water tower. The rest of you come with me.” And he quickly walked away.
My jaw dropped. “How the hell can he expect me to do that?” I wondered. I looked at the four men, including Smithey, and shrugged my shoulders. “You heard the man,” I said, “Let’s go.” I climbed up the hill to the road, and as I got to the top I turned around. Not one of the men had moved.
“What the hell do I do now?” I thought. “Draw my .45 and order them to follow me?” In my mind’s eye, I could see a similar scene from some movie where the brave lieutenant, automatic in hand, says, “Follow me,” and goes over the top toward the German trenches.
“Ensign,” spoke up Smithey, “get your ass down from there before you get it shot off. We ain’t going nowhere. You saw them guys in the tunnel. This war’s over and we’re staying right here. Alive.” I hesitated. He was right. Besides, I didn’t need any encouragement. I couldn’t take the damn machine gun with or without them. I didn’t want to try, but I couldn’t just stay there. So I left. A hundred yards down the road, which ran laterally across the Japanese position, I met Captain Clark and several marines. Clark had a rifle and knew how to use it. Looking toward the water tower about 75 yards away, he suddenly put the gun to his shoulder and fired. A man had appeared to one side of it and ducked back.
For the first time since Bataan, I had seen the enemy, and he and a lot more like him were intent on killing me. Borrowing Clark’s binoculars, I looked toward the water tower. Behind and to the side of it were scurrying figures. Little men in leggings and soft caps could be seen briefly. Only 75 yards away, the Japanese were obviously on Corregidor to stay. There was no way we could dislodge them, let alone drive them back.
I left Clark and headed back toward my four men. Off to one side, I saw army Capt. Calvin Chunn and navy Lt. Charles Brooks with several men. As I approached them I heard that “plopping” sound again. “Mortar,” I yelled and hit the dirt. Seconds later it exploded, and I heard yells from the group.
I jumped up and ran toward them. Brooks and Chunn had been hit, Chunn in the belly and Brooks in the leg. Brooks’s leg looked as though it had been severed just above the ankle. His foot dangled from a few strands of sinew and he was cursing. Prematurely bald, Brooks looked a little like a math teacher I had known in high school. He didn’t whimper or complain. Calmly he asked me to help him put a tourniquet on his leg, which was spouting blood.
Memories from Boy Scout days came flooding into my mind. Where was the femoral artery? There just behind the knee. Squeeze. Put a pad there. Yes, take your handkerchief, roll it into a ball and bind it tight with adhesive tape. Blood stopped spouting but was still seeping.
Brooks was wondering how he could get back to the tunnel. There were no medics. No stretcher-bearers. But there is a calm about the professional military man who all his life has accepted the possibility of death or wounds as part of his contract. Faced with the prospect of bleeding to death, of being unable to walk back to Malinta Tunnel, Brooks remained calm.
Captain Chunn was sitting down. He pulled up his shirt. There were three small punctures in his belly. Innocuous in appearance, they were the stigmata of tiny pieces of metal that, flying at a deadly speed, had pierced his gut. His intestines were spilling pollution into his abdominal cavity.
The Marine Corps, noted for its dedication to its living, its wounded, its dead, had no corpsmen anywhere. But this was a unique experience in the corps’ history. Never before had a Marine Corps unit surrendered. Not a platoon, not a company. Never, inconceivably, a regiment.
Standing there on that brilliant day of May 6, 1942, I was faced with the decision of whether to continue to try to kill Japanese or to preserve a life. There was no hesitation. Corregidor was doomed. Those of us who were alive deserved to stay alive. We had done our duty. We had reached the point where we could no longer accept the irrationality of death for a lost cause.
I took off Brooks’s belt and twisted it with a piece of branch. The blood stopped seeping. I tore off a strip of Chunn’s shirt and taped it hastily to his belly with tape from my kit. I then took off for the tunnel.
Immediately, I felt guilty. I had left the scene of battle without permission. I had fled. And I was relieved to have made the decision to try to save life rather than to continue to deal out death. But most of all, I was filled with a terrible feeling of guilt. Was my flight from the battlefield cowardice that was excused by the rationale that I was saving lives, or was it a rational action in the face of certain defeat? I knew I was right. Corregidor was finished. Only I could have saved those two men from certain death.
I turned my back on the battle scene and ran like I had never run before. As I sped across the paved area of the 92nd garage, the whine and zing of ricochets reminded me that the course was not without obstacles. I ran with that reserve energy that I am sure characterizes those who break records, but which most of us never feel the need for. I arrived at the entrance to Malinta Tunnel completely spent.
A navy corpsman gathered me into his arms and deposited me gently onto a wicker chair immediately inside the eastern entrance to the tunnel. In a few minutes I regained my breath and told him about the two casualties—two casualties out of hundreds. Two individuals that I knew about among all those who had perished. He listened and while doing so pulled a syringe out of his kit bag and gave me a shot of something in my arm. After what seemed to be an interminable wait, he grabbed two collapsible cots and we started back across the cement surface of the 92nd garage area. Again the snapping and whining of bullets and ricochets, incidental music to the basic symphony, lent speed to our dash.
We gathered up Brooks, his one foot dangling on sinews, and Chunn, with the tiny puncture marks in his belly. With the help of some other men, we got them both to the tunnel. The corpsmen carried Chunn and Brooks into the hospital lateral. I sank into the wicker chair where an hour before the navy corpsman had given me a shot to keep me going. I knew that it was all over.
I looked up. A Japanese dive-bomber was leisurely circling in the noon sun. It suddenly heeled over and started down in a vertical dive. It looked as though it was making straight for the tunnel entrance. I couldn’t move. I was drained, devoid of any feelings of self-preservation or of fear. The last thing I remember was hoping that if the Jap dropped a bomb it would land in my lap.
The next thing I knew I was in the hospital lateral. A doctor was cutting away my pants leg, and the sting of antiseptic in a deep gash in my leg just above the knee was making me gasp. “Not bad,” he said, and I was ashamed. In the bed nearby was a Filipino with an arm missing. He was sitting up watching me, and he extended two fingers of his good hand in the V sign and smiled. He’d obviously been there for several days and didn’t know what was going on outside.
A navy nurse led me to a bed, and I was out before I hit the pillow. The next morning I was awakened by the noise of shouted commands. A group of Japanese officers was inspecting the hospital lateral. When they reached my bed, they looked at me and asked why I was there. When they were told they grimaced with disgust that such a minor wound was being dignified with so much attention. That afternoon I was told that I was to leave and join the prisoners of war at the 92nd garage area.
As I got ready to leave the tunnel, I suddenly realized that I had nothing to wear but a pair of hospital pants and shirt. Marie Atkinson, a navy nurse who had elected to stay behind when other nurses were evacuated, scrounged around and came up with a shirt, a pair of khaki pants, and several pairs of skivvies. I still had my shoes and socks, but that was it. At the time it didn’t seem to make any difference.
It was late afternoon when I walked out of Malinta Tunnel by myself. No guard. No guide. I retraced my steps of several days before, following the same road that I had traveled at 5 a.m. when we were sent out to counterattack the Japanese landing. It looked much the same except that the bodies had been removed.
All the prisoners had been herded into the expanse of concrete at the 92nd garage area on the south shore of Corregidor, the same area that I had traversed so frantically in my search for a medic to help Brooks and Chunn.
The gathering dusk was deepened by the smoke from hundreds of fires on which the prisoners were cooking or heating whatever food they had been able to find. As I looked down from the top of the hill, it looked like a vast barbecue by the seashore. The fires beckoned and twinkled, and for a moment I felt strangely peaceful. The mind plays strange tricks. Just two days earlier I had lunged out of Malinta Tunnel into a maelstrom, a lunar landscape, an abattoir. Yet at a particular instant when the gunfire had died down and there was a lull, I had been aware of the sound of birds, of the sun glinting on the bay, of blue sky. And the war had become unreal, a nightmare that would certainly disappear upon awakening. Now I was about to descend to a big summer cookout. I had lived through the siege of Corregidor with only a battered and bloody leg.
Jack McClure was held prisoner in Japan for the remainder of the war, after which he worked as an advertising executive in New York. He died in 1993.
This article is from the Summer 2002 issue of MHQ (Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 16)