Tell me if I am wrong.
This was my SuperShuttle from my hotel in downtown Houston to Hobby Airport on Thursday, April 12, at 4 AM.
Tell me if I am wrong.
This was my SuperShuttle from my hotel in downtown Houston to Hobby Airport on Thursday, April 12, at 4 AM.
On January 10, 1945, my dad, Peter G. Cassone, was a thirty-year old Lieutenant in the US Naval Reserves and part of Task Force 79, under Vice Admiral T. C. Kincaid, the main thrust of the retaking of Luzon.
He joined the war later than most as he was still serving his internship as an MD at the old Union Hospital in the Bronx. But when that hurdle had been cleared, he joined the Navy on June 12, 1943 and was shipped out quickly and served in the Seventh Fleet transporting elements of the Sixth Army to the Battles of Tarawa (11-43), Marshall Islands (2-44), Saipan (6-44) and the Invasion of Leyte in the Philippines (10-44). After landing their troops and aiding the injured, they steamed away under cover of smoke screen just avoiding the approaching Imperial Japanese Navy for what turned out to be the largest naval battle in history.
The Task Force resupplied and proceeded, during the holidays, to the Lingayen Gulf for the retaking of Luzon Island and its capital, Manila. They landed the Sixth Army on the beach of Lingayen (about 130 miles north of Manila) at 09:30 on January 9, 1945. While there was practically no resistance on land, both Lingayen and the Leyte operation saw the introduction of kamikazes into the war as a major offensive weapon. From January 4th to the 12th, in Lingayen Gulf alone, 24 vessels were sunk and 67 damaged. One of those 67 was Dad’s USS Monrovia, an attack transport, which off-loaded amphibious landing craft and took injured and prisoners back to the rear.
USS Monrovia APA-31
Amphibious landing crafts head toward Lingayen Beach, 1-9-45
While there are very scant reports on the kamikaze, I have read much and believe that a kamikaze swimmer towing a torpedo in a raft (or on a small boat) left the western shores of the gulf during the night. For some reason, Dad was on deck when the swimmer was spotted and “dispatched to his ancestors” as one account said- probably shot before he reached the hull. The subsequent explosion which didn’t damage the ship, blew shrapnel into Dad’s shoulder which also became his ticket home. The other possibility is what I remember Dad saying, that a kamikaze hit a ship right next to them. I haven't found any reports of that yet but it is still viable (mainly because it came from him.)
Shinoy boat- used by kamikazes in the Lingayen Gulf
It was that scar that I would marvel at as a young boy, wondering if it hurt or what actually happened. Dad would do this “Popeye” arm thing and lift me up as I grabbed onto his clenched bicep so I had ample time to see that “bullet hole” as we kids called it. The WW2 generation was a humble lot and hardly talked about their exploits. Dad was no different and he was short on the details. His story is that he was standing on deck when a kamikaze hit the ship next to his. So we have the two stories and either one is fine with me but I always wanted to know. So when a dream trip to southern China materialized, I realized I had my chance.
Chevron contracted me to bring my special form of teambuilding to their Leadership Team for their China Energy division. The meeting was in Sanya on Hainan Island, the southernmost city in China, about 200 miles from Haiphong. But more importantly, it was only a two-hour flight from China to Manila, and a visit to the Philippines became real.
After a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sanya, I had to hit the ground running and had only two days to prepare my February 1st event for Chevron. So I never really saw much of China. The Sanya Hilton reminded me of the Bahamas or even the Gulf Coast resorts of Alabama and northern Florida. I flew to Manila on February 2 and rested finally. Sunday, the 3rd, I plunged into the Filipino culture with my new friend, Ernie Parrish, the father of my new son-in-law, Neil. After a lunch of fresh fish that we picked out in the market outside the restaurant, we headed to the first of Manila’s World War 2 shrines, Fort Santiago. It was here that American soldiers captured on Corregidor and in Manila were kept in dungeons by the brutal Japanese. Many died before rescue and the pits we saw must have been appalling.
The next day I took the ferry and had the full Corregidor tour. Never knowing what exactly Corregidor meant besides a tough battle, I found that the Japanese bombers mercilessly pounded this little gatekeeper island at the mouth of Manila Bay, eight hours after Pearl Harbor. I could talk all day about what I learned about the sacrifices here, but it served to put me in the mindset of soldiers (and sailors) who heard of the atrocities and were part of the retaking.
I sing with the Sunday choir of Our Mother of Good Counsel (a mostly Filipino parish) in LA and a couple of friends from there were in Manila. They offered to help set me up with a driver who for about $150 was at my beck and call all day Wednesday – my day to visit Lingayen Beach.
Yonatun picked me up at my hotel on the bay at an early 6:30 AM. He explained that there was traffic. An understatement for Manila. I come from NY and LA and have never ever seen creeping, stalled, gridlock like Manila’s. So after about 90 minutes we finally emerged from the grimy, exhaust-filled streets of the city into the beginnings of the Central Plains. We settled into our over four-hour ride as I gazed at rice paddies, not unlike Vietnam. I had my Google Maps app on my iPhone that worked quite well but the silk scarf “escape map” I found on eBay really came in handy.
Rice paddies of the Central Plains of Luzon
The US had used “escape maps” printed on silk during the Normandy Invasion to much success. The airmen and paratroopers sewed them into the lining of their jackets in case the worst happened. These maps were (and still are) exceptionally accurate. At a scale of 1:1,000,000, where one inch on the map equals 15 miles on the ground, the five color topographic maps still hold up quite well. As we drove up the plains I could see the Cabusilan mountain range which includes Mount Pinatubo off to the west. To the east, the anomalous Mount Arayat poked up all alone and was easy to find on the 1944 scarf map.
By the time we hit Tarlac which was half way, we were well back into the third world. In fact it looked like Depression-era Appalachia with dirty, barefoot children playing around dirt-floored houses, animals everywhere and the main form of transportation, scooters. Often along the breakdown lane of the 3-lane “highway” we would see rice and corn spread out, drying in the sun and several caretakers winnowing the crop. Rice paddies would have workers with the conical, Asian coolie hat and the attending Musk oxen. We were back in time. It looks like not much has changed here since the war. Still it made for a very peaceful and serene ride.
At St. Ignatia we veered west and followed the Agno river valley the final 40 miles into Lingayen, which is now quite the resort town. As we approached you could feel the atmosphere change, as we got closer to the shore. The mountains to the west receded and the vegetation changed to more tropical palms and fields of abaca. Crossing over a few bridges as we skirted the Agno, we were back in Filipino traffic but really close to the shore. Google maps to the rescue as I just pointed north for Yonatun to drive and we found a road through a campus that was straight…to…the beach! Even Yonatun was excited as we pulled out onto the sandy driveway and drove along until we found a small restaurant and restroom. He went off to eat and I just headed to the water’s edge, driven by this urge to just get there.
Silk Scarf "Escape Map" of Luzon - often sewn in the lining of bomber jackets. This one dated April 1944. The red lines denote prevailing sea currents, in case of ditching.
Hardly anyone was on the beach, a couple or two, strolling along. I just took it all in and tried to imagine the morning of January 9, 1945 as the ships pounded the inland hills with artillery, clearing away any resistance. The Japanese had pretty much retreated from here and even the locals mustered up a parade along the beach with US flags so the Navy would see that they needn’t keep shelling. The Monrovia and its counterparts released their amphibious landing craft and our boys took the beach without a shot. But that didn’t mean they were out of the woods. The kamikaze attacks increased all day and into the night, the USS Columbia was struck in the bridge, losing her captain and top staff. Skirmishes off to the east could be seen and heard by all the ships in the gulf but for the most part, it was an easy operation. Maybe that’s why Dad was sightseeing along the rail, probably watching the action off in the distance and not noticing the Jap in the raft with the bomb, curiously similar to the USS Cole bombing 55 years later.
On the beach...really, it's volcanic dust.
Yonatun and CC at the beach. He was almost as excited as I at finding the beach.
For whatever reason, I got very emotional when I asked a couple from Spain to take my photo. They asked, “Why are you crying?” and all I could say was that I had come a long way. I asked my Dad, if he could hear me, to try to understand how proud of him I was. For when I was thirty years old, I was still trying to figure it all out. Yes, I was married and had a decent job as a recording engineer in a hot studio but I doubt if I had the fortitude and the backbone to go to war. Dad signed up in 1943 and his Shellback Certificate shows he first crossed the Equator on October 3, 1943 at Latitude 00000 and Longitude 159.20 (northeast of New Guinea and in line with the Marshall Islands. This “certificate” signed by King Neptune and cosigned by Davey Jones and the ship’s Captain Brittain, is evidence of the shellback ceremony. More of a fun hazing than a rite, first time equator-crossers must kiss the oily belly of King Neptune's baby while being drenched with fire hoses in full view of the rest of the crew. While it is a fun sideline to an otherwise dreary and death-filled journey, the certificate also shows that Dad was part of the upcoming and vicious Tarawa assault, several key atolls in the Marshall Islands and the retaking of Saipan in the Marianas. MacArthur’s strategy was to island hop and slowly tighten the noose around the Japanese’s control of the Philippines. Once he had the Philippines, he could control the shipping lanes from Southeast Asia which was supplying Japan with much needed rubber, oil and sugar. The ship, while Dad was aboard, spent two Christmases at war. The sacrifices were huge so a little fun with King Neptune probably was much needed.
Taken aboard Monrovia
"Shellback Certificate" signed by Davey Jones, King Neptune and Captain Brittain.
Before I left I grabbed a little sand for my siblings and children and as I scooped it up, realized that it wasn’t really sand but volcanic pumice, grey and soft, but not like the yellow-white sand we are used to. remember, Mt. Pinatubo blew in June of 1991 and the entire Philippine archepelago has been built by volcanoes. As we headed out of town I felt well accomplished and that my effort and spending was all worth it. Then we headed south back to Manila, I remembered the movie, “The Great Raid”, and realized that when the commandos (US and Filipino) had rescued the POWs at the prison camp at Cabanatuan they met up with the Allies at Lingayen. If Dad hadn’t been wounded, he sure would have been attending to the 553 rescued POWs. His injury also kept him out of the Okinawa assault. In fact, he returned to the US very soon after, was discharged and married Mom in 1949 (I was born in 1950).
But my tour was not to end quite yet as I still wanted to visit the old San Fernando train station, site of the end of the Bataan Death March. At least it was the end of the brutal walking part of the march. At the train station the prisoners were loaded into cattle cars. These cars should have held 100 people but the Japanese forced 200 and more into them, suffocating many before they reached the prison camp.
Second to last Death March marker: 101 Km or 63 miles
When we pulled off the highway into San Fernando proper, I was using my iPhone again as “old San Fernando station” popped up in Google maps when I searched. Navigating there, as luck would have it, we passed a marker for the Death March. It turned out to be the second to last. Yonatan slammed on the brakes as I screamed “Stop!” and we both got out to revere it. And we knew we were close to the station. Google said it was down a slum-filled overgrown street and we turned off and down that alley. Sure enough, there it was along with the final marker. After a few pictures and prayers, we headed home after witnessing first hand the hard battles for freedom. Freedom from tyranny that was unchecked and loosed on the world.
Home to Manila and then home to the US where it seems our freedoms are being eroded every day, the latest being the attacks on the Second Amendment. Senator Rand Paul had just filibustered the administration’s plan to allow drone attacks on US citizens on US soil without due process. That’s the Sixth Amendment being dismantled. The Tenth was thrown discarded when Arizona was sued by the Justice Department for enforcing its own and Federal Laws. And the First Amendment is under constant attack as free speech has been eroded with oxymoronic political correctness. Just try to speak your mind about Islam and see where that gets you. What would the boys from the USS Monrovia say to all of this? What would the survivors of the death camps and marches and battles in long forgotten jungles and rice paddies say to the loss of these freedoms? What did they suffer for, really? Even though Dad has been gone for 24 years, I know in my heart how he would feel.
My trip was a bittersweet one. Happy that I could finally walk and see where my Dad had fought and been wounded but saddened by the forgetfulness of many in the country who have no clue to what the Liberation of the Philippines was all about and why it directly led to their quality of life today. We all know what George Santayana said about forgetting history and being condemned to repeat it. That’s why I went to Lingayen Beach. That’s why I gave my children vials of its sand. We must remember their service and sacrifice and victory over evil.
Actual color footage of the Lingayen landing (5:17)
I'm working for Chevron China Energy's Leadership Team at their offsite on Hainan Island. China's southermost city, Sanya, is at the tip of it and it's much like Hawaii (so say the other Americans). Whatever. It's paradise. And I am really liking the Chinese, guests as well as staff, who are so friendly and helpful, even if their English is little (and my Mandarin is basically "Shay, shay" or thank you.)
The culture is very westernized, at least where we went. The food is quite different. Definitely not China Gardens take-out. They eat full dinner-type meals in the morning with many locals opting for noodles, broth, spinach and dumplings in a large bowl. "Century eggs" (blackened by aging in some kind of lamb something) on red bean congee (rice oatmeal thingy) was another. Luckily they had good old cereal and fruit.
The rear staircase to China Southern's Airbus A380 (seats 508):
Sanya Hilton Beach, Hainan Island, China:
I leave for Asia on Monday evening, aboard China Southern's A380 Airbus, along with 600 others. If you need me I'll be on the second floor of the huge plane, flying for 15 hours just to get to Guangzhou (广州) and then another 2 hours to Sanya (三亚) on Hainan Island. It's best known for being the southernmost Chinese city and training area for their Olympic Beach Volleyball team (yea!).
View Cassone Asia Trip in a larger map
After work with Chevron's China Energy Leadership Team, I fly to Manila on Saturday Feb 2 for a week in the Philipinnes. I'll also hook up with my son-in-law's father, Ernie Parrish, an American Filipino who will show me some sights. Maybe we'll watch the Super Bowl on Monday at 7 AM!
Then all week (Feb 3-8) I will be visiting some of the most sacred of the American war memorials overseas: Corregedor and Bataan. Then up to the Lingayen Gulf to get any info on Dad's ship's bombing.
Check back for updates.