Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"
 
THE LAST CHINA BAND
 

CHAPTER FOUR - On Corregidor

Along the road on the Bataan Peninsula, the road that would become world renowned, the route of the infamous “Death March”, a few months later, we saw Army troops digging in defense lines and emplacing large guns. It gave my morale a boost to see what I thought would halt Japan’s invading army coming down behind us. Usually quiet and sleepy Bataan, was now a province of frantic activity; roads full of soldiers, civilians and vehicles going both directions. Hey Joe! where you go?” we shouted. “Oh! Joe, I go look for my compawn yuhn”, seemed to be a stock answer. Troops were every where and my spirits were restored to see us joining them and we could stop the enemy’s march. At the time, I was unaware of what a really large force was being thrown against us.

We entered a small village. From my side of the truck I could see a faded sign that said Barrio Hermosa in blue letters. What a beautiful little town it was, just like pictures I’d seen in a National Geographic magazine. Neat rows of little houses on high piers all with thatched roofs made of nipa palm leaves. Lining all the streets were red flowered trees and bushes with yellow and purple blossoms that gave the air a refreshing cool fragrance when you could catch a quick breath of it not mixed with gas fumes and dust from all the traffic going through the peaceful little town. I could see from under the drab green canvas rolled up on the sides of the trucks many small children playing among the pert little colorful chickens strutting around the streets. They all seemed unaware that they were in the path of a terrible battle soon to begin.

Near the end of the day we were unloaded on some unknown Bataan hillside in a thick jungle of high Cogan grass and many dense trees. Drum Major Rauhof mustered our platoon in a small clearing and first announced that we were going to dig in right there and prepare to make our last stand against a large Japanese force coming south. A day or so later we were told to pack up and prepare to move out. We would be going to Corregidor. At that time in my young life I knew nothing more about the place other than it was an island in the Philippines. Some of my buddies were both surprised and pleased that, finally, they found a place I didn’t know anything about. Up until that time I had a good reputation for geographical knowledge. Those that knew soon informed me that Corregidor was the most heavily fortified island in the United States or it’s possessions. It was supposed to be only slightly less impregnable than the British bases of Gibraltar and Singapore.

Corregidor is the largest of four small islands in the mouth of Manila Bay. It is closest to the southern tip of Bataan just a couple miles out from the town of Marivales. While Corregidor bristled with many guns of all sizes to fend off attacks from the sea, it was without enough troops to man them all or provide an adequate beach defense. The 4th Marines, now at regiment strength with the addition of the 1st Separate Battalion from the Cavite Navy Yard, was moved there to improve those defenses. On December 28th some of us were crowded onto a barge and towed to the docks of Fort Mills, Corregidor.

My trip, along with a few other bandsman across the bay was on a “Mosquito Boat”, a powerful patrol boat, a gray pleasure cruiser size vessel with a cartoon picture of a big black and yellow insect bearing a large and venomous looking stinger painted on it’s hull. There was not much room aboard because the decks were crowded with huge launchers loaded with ominous looking torpedoes. A few months later, four such boats would assist General MacArthur, his family, staff and President Emanuel Quezon’s government to leave the Philippines. The very same kind of boat that John Kennedy, our future President, would command in combat.

It’s lovely in the Philippines in winter. It was especially so that first morning on Corregidor. We marched up Malinta hill to an area known as Middleside Barracks. Along the way I was impressed with the throb of life going on in the busy fort. We passed through barrio San Jose where some soldiers lived with their families. Most of the dependents of American troops had been sent back to the states but thousands of natives were still living there. Trolley cars ran through the streets on narrow tracks carrying people to and from work and shopping. There were nice quarters along the way where officers had once lived with their dependents. Most were closed now but the grounds and yards, full of lush green bushes and colorful flowers, still looked well cared for. The coast artillery troops who normally occupied the multi-storied, supposedly bomb proof barracks at Middleside, were gone. They had moved out to various big gun batteries located on the green heights and ridges of one of the greatest and most famous fortresses that America had ever built.

The empty “Million Dollar Barracks” as they were once called, looked abandoned. These marvelous, expensive looking structures, in long lines, were built to last for centuries. More of them were on the crest of the hill above us, a place called, “Top Side Barracks”. The 4th Marines reoccupied “Middleside”. The band platoon was assigned space on a second floor; no bunks, no cots, no lockers, just the hard, slick concrete floor army troops had kept polished glass smooth with high powered electric buffers. Still, it was a clean place to sleep. Safe from wildlife of the Bataan jungle that was supposed to have pythons, cobras, and monkeys. Fortunately, I never encountered any wild things. But in less than 24 hours I was wishing to be back in those safer jungles sleeping on the ground and looking for the company of the animals. Bataan hillside in a thick jungle of high Cogan grass and many dense trees. Drum Major Rauhof mustered our platoon in a small clearing and first announced that we were going to dig in right there and prepare to make our last stand against a large Japanese force coming south. A day or so later we were told to pack up and prepare to move out. We would be going to Corregidor. At that time in my young life I knew nothing more about the place other than it was an island in the Philippines. Some of my buddies were both surprised and pleased that, finally, they found a place I didn’t know anything about. Up until that time I had a good reputation for geographical knowledge. Those that knew soon informed me that Corregidor was the most heavily fortified island in the United States or it’s possessions. It was supposed to be only slightly less impregnable than the British bases of Gibraltar and Singapore.

Corregidor is the largest of four small islands in the mouth of Manila Bay. It is closest to the southern tip of Bataan just a couple miles out from the town of Marivales. While Corregidor bristled with many guns of all sizes to fend off attacks from the sea, it was without enough troops to man them all or provide an adequate beach defense. The 4th Marines, now at regiment strength with the addition of the 1st Separate Battalion from the Cavite Navy Yard, was moved there to improve those defenses. On December 28th some of us were crowded onto a barge and towed to the docks of Fort Mills, Corregidor.

My trip, along with a few other bandsman across the bay was on a “Mosquito Boat”, a powerful patrol boat, a gray pleasure cruiser size vessel with a cartoon picture of a big black and yellow insect bearing a large and venomous looking stinger painted on it’s hull. There was not much room aboard because the decks were crowded with huge launchers loaded with ominous looking torpedoes. A few months later, four such boats would assist General MacArthur, his family, staff and President Emanuel Quezon’s government to leave the Philippines. The very same kind of boat that John Kennedy, our future President, would command in combat.

It’s lovely in the Philippines in winter. It was especially so that first morning on Corregidor. We marched up Malinta hill to an area known as Middleside Barracks. Along the way I was impressed with the throb of life going on in the busy fort. We passed through barrio San Jose where some soldiers lived with their families. Most of the dependents of American troops had been sent back to the states but thousands of natives were still living there. Trolley cars ran through the streets on narrow tracks carrying people to and from work and shopping. There were nice quarters along the way where officers had once lived with their dependents. Most were closed now but the grounds and yards, full of lush green bushes and colorful flowers, still looked well cared for. The coast artillery troops who normally occupied the multi-storied, supposedly bomb proof barracks at Middleside, were gone. They had moved out to various big gun batteries located on the green heights and ridges of one of the greatest and most famous fortresses that America had ever built.

The empty “Million Dollar Barracks” as they were once called, looked abandoned. These marvelous, expensive looking structures, in long lines, were built to last for centuries. More of them were on the crest of the hill above us, a place called, “Top Side Barracks”. The 4th Marines reoccupied “Middleside”. The band platoon was assigned space on a second floor; no bunks, no cots, no lockers, just the hard, slick concrete floor army troops had kept polished glass smooth with high powered electric buffers. Still, it was a clean place to sleep. Safe from wildlife of the Bataan jungle that was supposed to have pythons, cobras, and monkeys. Fortunately, I never encountered any wild things. But in less than 24 hours I was wishing to be back in those safer jungles sleeping on the ground and looking for the company of the animals.

After noon mess on the 29th I was detailed to wash down the area behind the barracks mess hail. Finishing the job I started down the hill to return hoses borrowed from the Fort’s arboriculture shed (army lingo for nursery). The melody for Irving Berlin’s famed “Lady Be Good” was running through my mind and I whistled a few bars as I walked down the winding road. What another beautiful morning it had been, so clear and pleasant. A nice breeze blowing across the little island cooling everything in the bright sunshine. Then I heard the sound of many aircraft motors in the distance. They made a peculiarly throbbing and unsynchronized sound. I looked up in the cloudless blue sky and saw them, tiny specks like flocks of geese flying south in regular V formation. They couldn’t have been ours, weren’t they all destroyed at Clark Field? Maybe not, maybe reinforcements were arriving. Quickly they became larger and louder. Suddenly their sound was drowned out by Corregidor’s air raid alarms.

I stopped my whistling and hurried on down the little used road. There were some loud explosions close by. Probably antiaircraft fire, I thought but jumped into the ditch beside the road in case they weren’t, still clutching 50 feet of green garden hose. The first bombs exploded somewhere nearby, very close, it seemed. First there was a short high pitched, “Wheeeee!”, and then a “Crummmphhh!” Following it were hundreds more falling all over the place, swishing, crunching, screaming and shaking the whole island like a plate of jelly. I huddled in the end of a culvert under the road until I thought of it caving in on me. Quickly I moved, entering a small building close by. No one was there and I couldn’t believe the enemy had found me, personally and isolated again. From the windows looking up through the trees I could see enemy planes flying overhead and sticks of bombs tumbling down from them. It was a terrifying sight and I hit the deck. I discovered what it was like to know real fear and the despair of helplessness.

This time I had nothing at all to fight back with. My rifle was back on the second floor of the barracks. Even if I had carried it with me, the planes I first saw were half a mile or more high in the sky, far out of range. All I could do now was keep down. I clung to the concrete floor of the old wooden building like I might fall off. Nearby antiaircraft guns shook the place violently firing back at the raiding planes. I decided I might not be in such a good place and wanted to find a better one. But the bombing and shooting seemed to go and on, without a break. I waited hopefully for a lull, thought about the folks at home and breathed some prayers. Being alone made the attack seem to center so personally on me again. Oh! how I wished to be in the bombproof barracks with the others. What another tough break to be off somewhere doing some odd thing. Surely and invariably that’s when it’s going to happen. Must have been an early war time version of Murphy’s Law; “All enemy attacks occur at the least likely time!”.

Some of the guys from the band platoon had planned to go shopping at the Post Exchange after chow. It was located in one of the “bomb proof” buildings on Top Side. George Francis and Francis Hooker were up there shopping for wrist watches when the air raid began. I thought they would be in a much better place than I but, of course, it was one of the “choicest” targets for the waves of Mitsubishi bombers. The long row of huge buildings must have been a delightful sight in the cross hairs of their bombsights. lop Side barracks took a heavy pasting. The post exchange steward was so shookup after the raid which completely decimated his store, that he didn’t even charge the guys for the watches they had picked out before the raid.

I was better off where I was but I didn’t know it then. Not a bomb struck the building and it’s a good thing or this story might never have been written. I guess the enemy bombardiers couldn’t see the place because it was so well hidden under the big trees. All I could think of was getting back up to the barracks. When I got to my feet to go look for what might be a better place, I could see the shape of my body wetly outlined on the gray floor with perspiration. Afterwards I would think of that when I heard the expression, “sweating it out”. When I think about 6o % of the Fort’s wooden buildings destroyed in this one raid, I can still break out in a sweat. When the raid was over I resolved never to whistle George Gershwin’s great tune, “Lady Be Good” again. I knew now that it was my bad luck song. Sometimes if I caught myself doing it unconsciously, I would say to myself, “hold it, buddy remember what happened the last time?” It’s not one of my favorites even after 48 years.

Sometime in midafternoon things quieted down; bombs ceased falling and antiaircraft guns stopped firing. I could no longer hear enemy airplanes overhead. Friendly ones either, for the Far East Air Force had all but been wiped out in the first hours of the war. The few surviving airplanes did not rise to challenge the invaders. As I returned to Middleside the all clear sounded. The long beautiful building was still standing but had taken a terrific pounding. The area was cluttered with debris.

People were milling around looking for their friends and their stuff. Most everyone was confused, dazed and shaken. After seeing it I was sort of glad I hadn’t been there. There were big bomb holes all up and down the front of the long building. Down the hill big plumes of smoke rose here and there. Smoke and dust was blowing out of broken windows. Fumes from a punctured refrigeration unit in the mess hall had everybody excited about a “gas” attack. Inside was a mess with great gapping holes in the floor littered with concrete, red roofing tile rubble and razor sharp bomb splinters, some a foot long. Huge bombs had opened great holes in the ceilings, perforated the upper floors and exploded on those below. Each gap was festooned with dangling wires and steel reinforcements still waving from the shocks and vibration. Sunlight shot through the holes and highlighted our scorched stuff scattered in bunches all covered with plaster and concrete dust. I found my musician! infantry buddies busy trying to sort out and salvage our gear. Most of mine was still there: rifle, pack with clean skivvies, socks, blanket bedroll, shelter half (one side of a two man pup tent), water proof poncho, steel “tin pot” helmet, gas mask packed with some toilet articles and a few ration D chocolate bars. Gone was my coffee beige colored towel. I had a heck of time getting another one. It had been a major air raid, a re-introduction to war, making the attack at Olongapo seem like an ice cream social.

No one who survived that attack has ever forgotten it. The enemy paid a price though for the defenders scored pretty well: thirteen medium bombers and at least four dive bombers, enough to discourage the enemy of any further use of them on us until April, 1942.

Later on when the enemy’s artillery joined the siege, air raids would seem mild by comparison. But no one would ever forget the 29th of December air raid. It was the last time the band would all be in one place together. For some it was the very last time to see each another again. During the evening our platoon was deployed along Corregidor’s South Shore Road with orders to repel invaders. We got bombed again the next day but suffered no casualties and dug in with a machine gun company (2H4) and some field artillery units. We made a long thin line from Geary point out to the end of the road at Battery Mona, a 5” gun mounted in a casemate tunnel on the western cliff. Above us were the most powerful guns on the “Rock”: Batteries Wheeler, Crockett, Geary and Way, big 12 inch rifles and mortars designed to stave off enemy attacks from the sea. Now there was, at least, a few more warriors in case the enemy wished to test the mettle of trombonist, flautists, clarinetist and yes, even some piccolo and horn players. Later we were augmented further with some survivors of other outfits: Navy torpedomen, Chiefs even, and some U.S. Army Corps pilots who had lost their aircraft. For four months we dug holes, strung barbed wire, made strange weapons out of 25 pound fragmentation bombs to drop on enemy troops who might try to scale the cliffs. They were just simple chutes made of two long boards nailed together at right angles to make a “Vee” shaped trough. The insides were lathered thickly with grease and then strung out over the edge of the cliff. A stack of aerial bombs was placed beside the upper end of the chute all fused and ready to go. To use the clever device (replacing airplanes no longer available) one had only to it wait until the enemy landed troops just beneath the position. Then the operator's) would place a bomb in the chute, slip a loop of the arming wire over a screw near the top, give the little propeller a spin or two and shove the bomb down the greasy slide onto the unsuspecting invaders on the beach below. I never doubted it could have worked if all the conditions for success were met but it wasn’t tested right where I was. Perhaps the enemy knew we had it but could not bring his guns upon it very well. They certainly tried but the position was well protected by the very high cliffs above. Neither did he choose the place to make a landing. Not that I think it was such a mighty powerful defensive device. It could have been the cliffs alone that affected his decision. The facts are though that our sector would have been the site of an enemy main thrust had their attempts on the far side of the island not been so successful.

The bomb slide wasn’t the only improvised weapon we had. There were the subcaliber guns. I’d never heard of them before going to Corregidor. They were little 37mm cannons without carriages formerly mounted on top of the big guns during gun crew training drills. A big 12 inch gun requires “tons” of stuff for just one shot: 1000 pound shell as big as a tuna, several bags of powder, like silk covered pillows, primer charges and detonators. The expense of just one shot would fund a regimental beer bust. The army had dummy shells, powder bags, and other stuff to use over and over again. But to put some realism into gun drill they had these little cannons to shoot for practice. When the gun captain yelled, “FIRE!” A crewman would pull the lanyard on the little gun, “BANG”! Shooting the 37mm job didn’t cost so much. It’s not true that extravagance always existed in the military.

Mounts for these guns were fashioned in the island fortress shops and issued to our troops on the beaches. Could have been these were some of the first cannons the 4th Marines had. With those and some old Stokes and 80mm Mortars the regiment built up it’s fire power while waiting for the invasion that was sure to come soon. In the meantime the enemy seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of big bombs and shells with which he kept up long and steady barrages to soften us up. The intensity of them grew as time passed. Almost 2 million pounds were fired on the 2nd of May, at a rate of about 12 shells per minute. Before long many of the big gun batteries were destroyed.

At times things seemed quiet until Barn! here they come again, enemy aircraft in big bunches. Then after Bataan fell, the enemy brought up its big guns. Nothing to do but jump in your foxhole and sweat it out. Better yet were some tunnels dug by the Corps of Engineers or some smaller ones the troops made by hollowing out into the sides of the cliffs. The siege would last four months. Our bodies grew thin, nerves frayed, and everybody ran out of things to talk about while scanning the water for the enemy’s landing parties. But no one wanted to stray very far away from their position. We made hikes to other areas to familiarize ourselves with the terrain in case we’d be needed elsewhere to help out. But, after a while, you get attached to your foxhole in a situation like this, and don’t feel secure being very far away. No matter where you go, it’s always nice to get back “home”.

At other times, a relative quiet, and I could think about home and a chance to go back to college and play in the band at a big football game. One where victory might be just Nebraska Wesleyan over Midland College, a conflict with less sinister prospects. I hoped the thousands of men and hundreds of planes President Roosevelt said he was sending to help us out would arrive in time. That would mean we could push the enemy back off the islands, end the war and resume being the fine musical organization we used to be and make good and wonderful sounds again. Then my thoughts would be interrupted by a single enemy observation plane flying over daringly low. It made an awful sound, like an old worn out washing machine. It was almost comical. But we still hated it and fervently hoped it would explode in midair from the malfunction that it seemed to suffer from. Some of us called it “Washing Machine Charley”. Others dubbed it “Photo Joe” because they supposed the observer in the plane was taking pictures. Guys would stand out in the open and pose for him. What an arrogant intruder he was! As always, it seemed to come at chow time or some other least convenient time. But its visit usually signaled a severe follow-up bombing or shelling mission.

There was a little spring that ran a trickle of water off the cliffs above the road near our position. Franklin Boyer and Francis Hooker made it into a shower bath of sorts. Water became very precious and had to be trucked from reservoirs in Mainside usually through shell fire. The little we got, brought to us in powder containers discarded from twelve inch mortar guns, was reserved for cooking and drinking. Most did their bathing after dark in the salty surf fronting our barbed wire barricades. The fresh water shower, was a luxurious feature of our area. I didn’t like to use it though, for I knew the minute I would get soaped up, boom! here would come the planes, and bombs, and shells, and the kitchen sink. It was bound to happen, I just knew it. It became some kind of a silly superstition, like walking under a ladder. Actually, I was in one of the safest spots on the island but it didn’t seem so at the time.

 

Full Text of THE LAST CHINA BAND Please Click Below for:
CHAPTER ONE - China Duty Page 1
CHAPTER TWO - The “Clouds of War” Page 7
CHAPTER THREE - In the Philippines Page 21
CHAPTER FOUR - On Corregidor Page 31
CHAPTER FIVE - The Battle is Over Page 41
Return to THE LAST CHINA BAND Introduction Page
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