The Fall Of Corregidor

PrintPrintEmailEmail

On the torn and blasted battlefield of Corregidor, the shells still fell and the Marines still fought, but an order went out: “Execute Pontiac; execute Pontiac.”

It was the code name for that last bitter order which in their hearts they had known would some day come. It was surrender—by Wainwright’s orders—as of twelve noon, May 6, 1942, a date that will always live in sorrow and in pride.

(At his headquarters on Bataan, General Homma, the Japanese commander, was moaning as he listened to reports of the fighting: “My God! I have failed in the assault.")

Surrender was Wainwright’s decision, but the Marines’ Colonel Howard agreed with it. Japanese tanks were within a few hundred yards of Malinta Tunnel; water was nearly gone. Wainwright thought of his hostages to fortune—more than 1,000 wounded and 150 nurses. MacArthur had said to hold until he returned, but Corregidor was finished.

At the Marines’ regimental headquarters in Malinta Tunnel, Colonel Curtis ordered the adjutant, Captain R. B. Moore, to burn the regimental and national colors. Moore came back with a tear-streaked face.

The psychological and emotional tragedy of surrender, especially to a Corps with the pride of the Marines, is wracking. And for the 2nd and 3rd battalions defending the beaches of the central and western parts of the island, surrender was bitter anticlimax. For months these men with the stoicism born of discipline had been taking it, had seen some of their comrades blown to bits, had watched the gradual destruction of the fortress of Corregidor. And now that the Japanese had landed, they had expected a chance to dish it out. But this was not to be. The enemy had landed in the 1st Battalion area, and the men of the 2nd and 3rd battalions scarcely fired a shot.

Captain William F. Prickett said: “I’ve lived pretty close with you men for the past five months and I’ve grown pretty fond of you all—and proud of you too, mighty proud . . .” Prickett broke down.

They hurled their rifle bolts into the bay, and then while the shells whistled overhead and the smoke from Corregidor curled upward, they washed, scraped the whiskers from their strained faces, donned the cleanest uniforms they had, and prepared to show the Japanese the pride of the Marines.

In Malinta Tunnel, Irving Strobing tapped on:

We’ve got about fifty-five minutes and I feel sick at my stomach. I am really low down. They are around now smashing rifles. They bring in the wounded every minute. We will be waiting for you guys to help. This is the only thing I guess that can be clone. General Wainwright is a right guy and we’re willing to go on for him, but shells were dropping all night, faster then hell. Damage terrific. Too much for guys to take.... The jig is up. Everyone is bawling like a baby.... They are piling dead and wounded in our tunnel.... I know now how a mouse feels. Caught in a trap waiting for guys to come along and finish it up....

On Corregidor, the white flags of surrender were flying; it was noon.

The key chattered on:

My name is Irving Strobing. Get this to my mother. Mrs. Minnie Strobing, 605 Barbey Street, Brooklyn, New York. They are to get along O.K. Get in touch with them soon as possible. Message. My love to Pa, Joe, Sue, Mac, Carry, Joyce and Paul. Also to all family and friends. God bless ‘em all. Hope they will be there when I come home. Tell Joe, wherever he is to give em hell for us. My love to you all. God bless you and keep you. Love. Sign my name and tell Mother how you heard from me. Stand by …

The shells still fell. The 14-inch turrets of Fort Drum continued firing to within five minutes of the end. This was the one battery in all the fortified islands that was never out of action. Drum was hammered by at least 1,000 shells on the last day—and its guns still fired.

The earth still shook on Corregidor; the tunnel lights in Malinta still glowed and flickered fitfully at the crash of explosions. And, in parts of the island, Marines and soldiers—because they were tough troops and the orders to surrender had not gotten throughholed up in foxholes and clugouts and fought through the long blistering afternoon to their death.

The messages broke off....

Corregidor was silent.