MANILA, Philippines – Nearly 81 years after American and Filipino forces surrendered Corregidor Island – the final holdout against invading Imperial Japanese forces. U.S. Army Pacific Commanding General Gen. Charles A. Flynn and Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. visited the island’s ruins and memorial sites to commemorate the heroic actions and shared sacrifices of those who fought to defend the Philippines.
Corregidor Island (officially named Fort Mills) was a heavily fortified U.S. coastal defense outpost given names such as “Gibraltar of the East” or “the impregnable rock.” The fort guarded the entrance to one of the most strategic locations in Southeast Asia, at the mouth of Manila Bay—the largest natural harbor in the Philippines. Construction was completed in 1910, and a sizeable garrison occupied the position until the Japanese Army seized the island in May 1942.
Preceded weeks before by the Bataan Death March, the defeat at Corregidor is considered one of the worst defeats in U.S. military history. It serves as an example of the importance of military readiness alongside allies and partners in the face of a formidable adversary in the region.
“For me, this trip today is more meaningful because we’re doing it with an ally,” said Brawner. “It’s like reliving the past when both our forces – the American Forces and the Philippine Forces – were actually on this island fighting for the independence of the Philippines. Fighting for our territory.”
The Republic of the Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally dating back to 1951, but shared experiences of American and Filipino forces in war date back to the turn of the twentieth century. Both countries have long assisted each other with military operations, including Philippine participation in the Vietnam War and, more recently U.S. support to counterinsurgency operations across the Philippines during the Global War on Terror.
Philippine The Philippine government recently declared an end to counterinsurgency operations and is shifting focus to territorial defense as U.S. allies across the region contend with an increasing threat posed by the People’s Republic of China. Recent The recent addition of four new sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and uptick in security cooperation activities with the United States point toward the Philippines renewed commitment to mutual defense. The visit to Corregidor was a symbolic reminder about of what that commitment means to those responsible for upholding it.
“We needed each other’s help then and we need each other’s help today,” said Flynn. “Walking around this hallowed ground with Lt. Gen. Brawner, I’m thinking about the sacrifices that were made during World War II by our countries, by our people and by our soldiers. Similar sacrifices have to be made today because preparation is the most important.”
Extensive coastal artillery batteries were constructed on Corregidor from 1904-1910 and the Army later added the Malinta Tunnel complex in 1934 at the heart of the island’s interior to defend the Philippines from invasion. Despite the national focus on WWI in Europe, the U.S. government dedicated substantial resources to improving Corregidor’s fortifications throughout the early twentieth century in preparation for the conflict leading up to WWII.
“It’s really very meaningful as you look back to the 1900s,” said Brawner. “The implication of what we learned today is that as early as the early 1900s, they were already preparing for something which later on came during World War II and today, present time, we’re also doing the same thing.”
Gen. Flynn visited the Philippines to observe activities that are part of the Army’s Operation Pathways including Exercise Balikatan, the largest largest-ever U.S.-Philippine Joint exercise with over 12,000 participants and observers from 10 countries. Following Balikatan, U.S. Army Pacific Soldiers will continue to train with the Philippine Army this summer during a second iteration of Exercise Salaknib, an army-to-army exercise occurring on the front and back ends of the joint exercise.
The fall of Corregidor in 1942 is a lesson in military failure. Poor readiness in the Pacific theater cost thousands of lives during the Battle of Corregidor and brutal three three-year Japanese occupation of the Philippines. While many things have changed since WWII, the Philippines’ strategic geography in the southern first island chain has not changed. Building readiness through training together as a Joint and Multinational force in the Philippines remains a critical expression of collective commitment to protecting sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific.
With most of Fort Mills destroyed and coastal artillery fortifications rendered obsolete by advances in air power, the U.S. government returned Corregidor to the Philippine people achieved their independence in 1946. A Pacific War memorial sits among the ruins on Corregidor’s highest point known as, Topside. It serves as a reminder of the shared sacrifice of the U.S.-Philippine Alliance that was forged in blood and continues to represent a commitment to mutual defense.
“There is a picture in the war memorial of U.S. Soldiers and Philippine Soldiers working on the coastal artillery weapons, and it talked about training together,” said Flynn. “I turned to Lt. Gen. Brawner and said today with exercise Balikatan and exercise Salaknib that’s exactly what we’re doing. We find ourselves 81 years later on similar ground and our forces are still training together.”