Willie and the 766 Marines that came from Shanghai just a little over three months ago had been reinforced with all the Marines in the Philippines and included the Marines protecting the now destroyed Olongapo Naval Station and Cavite. The 66 Marine Officers and 1,365 enlisted Marines organized into two battalion regiments. The two battalions each had two machine gun companies and two rifle companies. The majority of the men on Corregidor including the Marines had two meals a day and enemy air bombardments often disrupted the meals on Corregidor. Willie and his buddies, now back from Corregidor from their reconnaissance mission, knew that the Japanese were about to take Bataan if the armies there could not regroup. The Marines knew once Bataan fell, the Japs would focus on them next. With the Marine patrols recent visit to Bataan and what Willie did to the ammo dump, he was feeling blessed that he was still alive even though he felt he might not be able to dodge the next bullet next time.
As the Marines sat in their foxholes, they would tell jokes, stories, and have a smoke to pass the time. On this hour though, they began to see plumes of black smoke coming from Bataan. A combination of more Japanese artillery and now just a remnant of the organized armies to defend against them, the Philippine and American armies were blowing up ammunition dumps and setting to fire anything of value. The goal was not to allow the Japs use their own weapons and ammo against them. Philippine and American armies were now trying to escape the Bataan region if they were able. Some explosions were enormous. The men on Corregidor could feel the earth-shattering explosions all the way from Corregidor and felt as if the Island itself was going to shake loose from its strategic position at the mouth of Manila Bay. It shook the men on Corregidor mentally and physically as well. Retreating Americans on Bataan blew up supplies of gasoline, ammunition, and equipment cached in four huge tunnels carved in the Mariveles Mountains overlooking Manila Bay. Under the red-orange glow of exploding ammunition and flaming gasoline, Willie and the Marines in Corregidor’s trenches and bunkers saw an entire mountainside dissolve into dust and debris and slide into parts of the bay.
The extraordinary explosions hurled boulders into the air. Boats filled with fleeing men escaping from Bataan to Corregidor were trying to dodge rocks and boulders that were plummeting into the waters of the mid-channel of the Bay. Some boats were directly hit by debris and were unknown to anyone if the men made it to safety. The options were to swim for it or get rescued by another boat. If a shark didn't take a man, he hoped to have the energy left in him to swim back to Bataan or Corregidor. A group of men on Corregidor watched a boulder fly right for them. As they ducked and it passed over their heads, they noticed it wasn’t a boulder, but a human head landing and rolling up against a mound of dirt. The Morale dropped for all American soldiers that day on Corregidor. The Armies defending Bataan were in far greater numbers than what they had on Corregidor, and it was sad to see them retreating.
On Bataan, there was no such thing as an organized retreat but just scattered groups of men fleeing from the now fast approaching Japanese forces on Bataan. By the evening of April 8th, the men that had fought on Bataan came to Corregidor on boat after boat. They had commandeered anything that could float including the Navy inshore patrols of ancient tugs and mine sweepers. Men also commandeered luxury boats, old freighters, canoes, and rowboats. Those that could not find a functional boat would quickly make up rafts. Some were loosely tied together and falling apart by the time they reach Corregidor. Some 2,000 men arrived until General Wainwright threatened to turn back anymore since the Island did not have enough resources to sustain them. The 2,000 men were lucky to escape but had defeat in their eyes and very little willpower left to regroup and fight again. Finally and reluctantly, General Wainwright had released an order that would turn back any more men after the ninth day.
General Edward King, commander of the Luzon Force and the defense of Bataan now surrendered himself and about 78,000 men with him. 12,000 of the men surrendered were Americans, and about 60,000 or more were Filipino. General King's troops were at the mercy of the Japanese Army. The surrendered forces of thousands of American and Filipino men would take on a March that depicted the Japanese resolve. They would find brutality at its worst, and the enemy did not think twice to torture and kill anyone that they felt like giving harm to. General Homma was angry that General King was not the General of the entire American armed forces on the Philippines. He did not approach General King to discuss surrender and sent a Colonel Nakayama Motoo to discuss terms. General Homma was furious and had thought that King would surrender all forces, and the battle was won. Instead, it was General Wainwright that commanded the entire operations in the Philippines and Homma had to regroup and align his forces to invade Corregidor.
With the Japanese artillery guns now rolled into position and aimed towards the Island fortress of Corregidor, the majority of people on Corregidor lost hope of the United States would send reinforcements. Unfortunately, help was not on the way. Back home, now only five months into the war, America was building up their armies, their fleet, and had mustered every resource possible to not only fight against the Japanese but also fight against the Germans. They found themselves unprepared and ill-equipped. Before the War, the assumption was they were very strong until the Japanese simply had their way taking the Pacific. The American bombers in the Philippines sat tip to tip only to be easily destroyed by the Japanese. America’s response to Japanese actions was like a gazelle seeing a cheetah in the grass and just staring at it until the cat pounced on it. Once the claws sunk into the skin, it was too late. America at the moment was at a loss. Understanding the fear and devastation that the initial disasters of the war had on the American people, Roosevelt decided to focus resources on hitting the Japanese back directly. In addition, they had an attitude that the European war and Germany were more of a threat and concentrated heavily in support of the war effort in Europe. President Roosevelt decided to bomb the Japanese mainland rather than sending more equipment and manpower to the Philippines. The Japanese Navy fleets were at large in the Pacific, and the risks were high to send troops and equipment to the Philippines. The main focus was to use the resources they currently had to defend Hawaii and the United States west coastal regions. If the American men and supplies tried to journey across the Pacific with very little support, all the American men and equipment could end up at the bottom of the ocean by the Japanese Navy and the Japanese Navy Air Force.
Back at home, Willies parents, Andrew and Mary, received a letter from Willie stating he was leaving China and heading to the Philippines. He also sent some money and pictures he took in and around Shanghai. Andrew and Mary regularly prayed for their son, in addition to supporting the war through hard work and conservation program. Americans all over the country were now in fear that the Japanese will soon attack the west coast mainland. The fear drove the people to work harder, live on fewer resources, and provide all they could for the war effort. This included limits on gas, food, and clothing. Since tens of thousands of American men signed up to fight, the woman had to step up and work in American factories, steel mills, assembly lines, and other manufacturing in an effort to support the war. Willies parents were issued ration stamps to buy an allotment of food. Fruit, butter, meat, vegetables, clothing, tires, gas, and fuel oil were all rationed to create plenty for the American war machine to fight two fronts. For Andrew and Mary, they already knew the hard work it took to feed a family. They were use to a long hard days work. Fishing and farming were what they did. Like many Americans working at home during the war, the McCormack family most likely supplied several times more resources for the war effort, such as food and materials, than what they consumed. But in the middle of April 1942, along with millions of Americans, their thoughts and prayers were for the men defending the Island of Corregidor. Not only was there constant bad news regarding the Japanese advances in the Pacific, but Germany was also in complete control over Europe, now advancing on Moscow and continuous bombings on Great Britain. The United States was getting into the fight. Little did people know how much the United States would contribute to the war in April of 1942, but indeed help was on the way for Europe and in the Pacific. Unfortunately, the help was not quick enough for the men currently fighting on the Philippine Islands.
With the Japanese guns pointing towards Corregidor, roughly 75,000 American and Philippine troops that surrendered trying to defend Bataan were now on a 65 mile march to Japanese prison camps. The march is better known as the Bataan Death March. Humans on average can walk about 3 miles an hour. For a person to walk 65 miles would take them between 21 to 22 hours. Unfortunately, when people are half to mostly starved, sick, injured and demoralized, that walking pace was slowed tremendously, and it took about nine days. Many men cared for their fellow American brothers and would help them or even carry them along the march. The Japanese were very impatient with the pace that the men were going and were constantly pushing them to walk faster. Any hesitation could mean instant death for the prisoners. When a man fell out of line, the Jap soldiers would rather bayonet or behead them instead of making them get up and get back in line. Often the Japanese would beat them with the butt of their guns, or a swift kick with their boots first to get them up. Unfortunately, the beatings only weekend the soldier even more. The results of the beatings left the American and Filipino men lying in a ditch unable to move. In the American and Filipino’s minds, rather than getting back up to march some more, they were probably thinking, just kill me. The Japs would easily comply with a gunshot, a bayonet into the chest or their favorite execution practice, make them get on their knees and take their sharp sword and instantly cut off their heads. They considered the men that surrendered as slaves and did not honor them as soldiers. They just wanted to keep the slave marching and to reach the transports.
On April 9th, the Japanese had commandeered gun batteries along the vicinity of Cabcaben. They used the batteries and put in place additional artillery to begin firing on the beach defenses of Corregidor. Willie and his 4th Marine buddies were forced in their bunkers by the overwhelming firepower coming from Bataan. Battery Keyser, Keys, Morrison, James and Hanna were fired upon. In addition, air raids on Corregidor became heavier than ever before. Between the Japanese Imperial Army Air and Navy air raids and the artillery, the Island was in continuous bombardment. Knowing that help was not on the way, for Willie, the only thing he can think about is to defend the Island and try to survive. In addition, help others that he can to survive with him. He resigned in his mind that he could just die here on the Island at any time. He would hope that he could take more Japs with him if he does. Besides, they have already taken the lives of some of his buddies and were the least he could do. But for now, Willie and his 4th Marine buddies hunkered down in their bunkers hoping that a precise hit from an artillery shell would not fall on their position. He could hear the guns on Corregidor answer back, with the bigger guns, the explosion on the other side of the channel on Bataan was immense. However, the response from Corregidor only gave way the positions of the big guns. Enemy shells slammed into one of the coastal artilleries causing a tremendous explosion. Also, Japanese bombers and fighters strafed targets they could find with their bullets and then dropped their bombs as they pulled up.
Willie was below the battery that was hit and heard the explosion behind and above him. After a massive explosion, there was stunned silence and the following of screams of agonizing wounded soldiers. Willie felt he had to do something to help the men now screaming for help. He left the safety of his bunker and headed towards the smoke, fire and agonizing screams. Willie was two hundred yards away and in the open. Two Japanese fighters peeled off from their group and opened fire on Willie. He was not only running to danger to save people wounded and trapped but was now also running from danger due to the bombers above and the fighter planes heading towards him. As the machine guns from the two planes chattered, Willie could feel the heat from the tracers and the bullets splitting the ground at his feet. Rather than just diving to the ground, he decided to keep running forward zigzagging in hopes he would be a harder target to hit. His primary focus was to get to the wounded as fast as he could. The Japanese pilots most likely were frustrated that the running figure was still running. They had to pull up in fear of crashing or getting hit by small gunfire. Not to mention they were most likely running low on ammo. They headed back to formation and eventually back to base. Willie reached the devastation only to find dead men, men badly burned and bleeding, and men trapped in falling rubble from the cliff side that caved in. In addition to the threat that the magazines within the battery would explode, he knew he could die among them if he did not hurry. He quickly started digging people out of the cave in. A few men had broken bones and scratches while other men were critically injured and beyond recognition from the burns they had to succumb. One by one he pulled both American and Pilipino men to safety until he was exhausted. Other men had finally joined in to help dig out the soldiers and put out the fires as well. One man, in particular, had a bolder that appeared to have landed directly on his chest and stomach area. He had a hard time breathing. When Willie told him he needed to pull him out of there due to the risk of more cave-ins and explosions, the man only said: “help me.” He carefully cleared the debris away from him and had to lift him up in a cradle position. He couldn’t throw him over his shoulder due to his damaged midsection. The man smiled regardless of his pain and said: “thank you.” He then proceeded to pass out. When Willie carried him to safety, he carefully laid him down, and he was dead. After he and others could save who they could, put out the fires, and restore some calm amongst a chaotic scene just minutes and hours before, Willie finally was able to take a break.
With blood and dirt on his shirt and pants from dragging and caring out the wounded, he sat down thinking about what just happened. His hands started to shake visibly, so he put his hands on top toward the back of his head while slightly bending over facing the ground. The man that he thought was still alive because he was talking to him when he carried to safety was dead when he laid him down in a safe area. The “thank you” from the man as he tried to rescue got to him. He felt that if he would have left him there, the medics may have saved him. But thinking further about it the man was crushed, and the medical facilities on Corregidor wouldn’t have been able to do anything for him. Willie could only think of carrying out about 6 or 7 men but lost count of the many faces he tried to pull out of the wreckage. After thinking about the horrific event and that he could have gotten himself killed, he felt he needed to get up. He thought: I’d better get back up and head back to my bunker before more bombs fall. He felt there was no time to reflect on what just happened and to try to shake it off. Some of Willies buddies that remained in defensive positions for a potential Japanese beach landing saw him get back into position in their makeshift bunker. Willie was all bloodied and dirty, as he took a drink out of his canteen and poured the rest of the water on his head and face to rinse off; his buddies asked him what happened? Now, seeing mangled bodied limbs, injured men screaming in agony as he was rescuing them, in addition to dropping a man off in a safe zone only to notice he was dead, he simply could not tell his story to them right at that moment. It took him a few hours to process what had happened before he started to let it out. Before he told his story, he sat there thinking of his mom and her wise counsel. She would make him speak his mind when he was a young boy and not hold his feelings inside. When something went wrong like being angry or getting in a fight with a friend of his, he didn’t want to talk about it; Mary would tell him that if you bottle something up, it will tear your insides up and your mind will not function properly. Not sure where Mary got this wisdom from. It may have been from her parents or seen it from her brothers, cousins, or friends that may have fought in the First World War, or maybe even the Civil War. Often he would talk to her, and get over his frustration. The next day him and his friend that fought, would apologize to each other and become even closer friends. Willie, adhering to his mom's wisdom, knew he better talk about it to his buddies, or else he would be torn up inside. So he began to talk. His buddies sat in the bunker listening to the dramatic scenes he described, and his frustration when he pulled someone to safety, only to have died most likely while carrying him. My Grandpa told me that his buddies did not ask questions, did not say a word and they just listened until he finished talking. There were no words said after that for a good amount of time. Not sure what was running through everyone’s mind in the bunker, but some Marines could only imagine and hope they could meet the enemy face to face rather than facing their bombs and bullets from afar.
Willie did not feel like he was a hero that day simply because men died and he felt he was doing what had to be done to save people. He felt anyone would have done that. In reality, men may have died by the Japanese Imperial Army planes trying to take out the running figure on the ground if they had followed Willie at that very moment in time. Someone from command or an Officer in the area must have observed Willies act heroically and all the people he pulled to safety. Willie was recognized by leaving his bunker, chased by Japanese fighter planes and renewed Jap artillery, threats of more explosions from the shells within the batteries, and still carried and dragged men to safety. He was awarded his second Silver Star. The citation quickly described what happened;
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star (Army Award) to Corporal William N. McCormack (MCSN: 278612), United States Marine Corps, for gallantry in action at Fort Mills, Philippine Islands, on April 9, 1942, while serving with Headquarters Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, Fort Mills, P.I. When an enemy bomb caved in a tunnel sheltering a gun crew of the 91st Coast Artillery (PS), trapping several men therein, Corporal McCormack, without regard for his personal safety, voluntarily left a place of shelter and proceeded a distance of two hundred yards over open ground to the scene of the cave-in, and aided in digging out the trapped men.” General Orders: Headquarters, Philippine Coast Artillery Command, General Orders No. 24 (April 14, 1942.”
During that time with constant explosions and men all over the Island working hard to survive, repair their batteries and guns, and fight again, the award came as a surprise to Willie. One of his buddies asked if he was going Army due to the second Silver Star awarded to him. The comments slightly amused Willie because the 4th Marines were just starting to be integrated with all the other men on the Island. They all had one purpose, to defend the Island and their positions. The 4th Marines were now fighting alongside with Army, Air Corp, Navy and Filipinos to defend the Island. Colonel Sam Howard was ordered to insert the men from Bataan into his 4th Marine Regiment.
The proud China Marines, nurtured and legend by the Corps, became a unique force. They were plumped out by the rag-tag and bob-tail men from the Army’s 31st and 57th infantry regiments, some nine hundred American sailors who some had never handled a gun except in boot camp, 929 Philippine army soldiers, 246 Philippine scouts and an assorted group of Army Air Corps pilots and ground crews that were way out of their element. The fourth was built into a 4000 man force to defend Corregidor and its 7,500 other rear echelons non-combatants. Unfortunately, many of the men from Bataan were woe-be-gone scarecrows who arrived from fleeing Bataan without arms, food, and equipment. Some men were distraught, simply looking for a canteen to carry water or a plate and eating utensil so they can eat. It was stressful for them. Some used canteens and plates assigned to men that were now dead. It is a humbling and uncomfortable feeling to eat from a dead man’s plate. A superstitious person would refuse, not wanting to follow the same fate with the person that used the equipment before them. Some of the men that came over from Bataan were half naked with their clothes torn off due to battle. Others had to rip their paints to create cut off shorts and had no shirt or shoes because they had to swim to get to safety. They have been without a good meal and a full night sleep for months. Their desecrated muscles were defined against their bones from starvation. Their bodies have eaten away any fat, and very little muscle remaining. They appeared as if they came out of the grave from deterioration. Today’s we may think of them as zombies. Some men had Malaria, Jaundice and Jungle Fever. They could only hope that the horror would stop. Unfortunately, the worse was just beginning.
By April 11th, the Japanese had moved their observations to the top of Marevelas Mountain. The same location the American and Philippine forces had once used to observe troop movement of the Japanese just a few weeks earlier. From the top of Marevelas and the use of observation balloons, the Japs could look down into the Batteries on Corregidor and pinpoint their targets. With some 150 batteries the Japanese had, they were able to bombard Corregidor day and night with better accuracy. The next phase of the siege of Corregidor had begun.
This draft is the first few pages of my book. The information is pulled together from historical information and the stories told to me by my grandpa as a young child up until I was 19 years old when he passed away. More to come...