50 years later, soldier remembers the surrender, the tears Texan recalls the bitter U.S. surrender of its only colony during World War II.

May 06, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

CORREGIDOR, Philippines -- The white flag had replaced the Stars and Stripes over Corregidor when Gen. Jonathan Wainwright strode out of Malinta Tunnel, accompanied by his aides and his captors, on his way down to the beach to sign the United States' unconditional surrender of its only colony, the Philippines.

Awaiting a fate far worse than most could ever imagine, American soldiers outside the tunnel watched their fiery commander emerge.

One of them shouted, "Attention!" And the troops snapped ramrod straight in one final display of unity and discipline.

It was then that Wainwright, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's best field commander, broke down and cried, overcome by their devotion.

That morsel of history comes from B.D. McKendree, 72, a retired petroleum engineer from Austin, Texas. Today is the 50th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor.

He saw it all through eyes just 22 years old, fresh out of a little town west of Amarillo called Vega, though by the time of the fall, all the freshness was gone from his face.

"It was really sad," Mr. McKendree recalled in his room at the Manila Hotel -- MacArthur's hotel -- on Monday night, the eve of his return to the Rock, as Corregidor is affectionately known. "We were all feeling numb -- kind of walking around in a daze wondering what was going to happen."

MacArthur's brilliant defense of the Philippines, marshaling his troops on the Bataan Peninsula, had finally come to end here on Corregidor, the heroic last stand of 13,000 Americans and Filipinos transformed into what was the largest capitulation in American history.

What was going to happen would take more than three years of bloody war in the Pacific to play itself out.

The events are solemnly inscribed in marble at the Pacific War Memorial on this tadpole-shaped island guarding the entrance to Manila Bay, 26 nautical miles from the heart of the city: Battle of the Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

The pantheon begins, of course, with Pearl Harbor, Bataan and then Corregidor, which once competed for the sobriquet "Gibraltar of the East," according to William Manchester, MacArthur's biographer, "before the events which were to make its name synonymous with the Alamo and Dunkirk."

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