"I SHALL RETURN"
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines honours the American and allied servicemen who died fighting the Japanese in World War II. The Cemetery offers repose to soldiers who died in the Pacific theatre, which included the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Pacific islands.
I had known about this place for some years and finally decided to have a look for myself. I walked there through Fort Bonifacio Global City, one of the newer, cleaner, richer parts of Manila. I had taken a few map shots on my phone so I knew where it was and I as walked up a small hill surrounded by high-rises being constructed, I had reached the cemetery.
Gates to the entrance
I was faced with some big metal gates and fence encasing lush, green well-kept grounds. I approached the guard and asked if it was ok to go inside. He asked for my ID and he wrote down my details in his log book. He then asked if I had been before, and when I answered ‘No’ he produced a laminated document with the ‘rules’ on it that I had to read. Nothing to over the top, just basic rules to ensure respect like no playing golf or learning to drive in the park.
Once inside I saw a long driveway, maybe two hundred metres long. It has a large island in the middle and the lawn is manicured. On each side of the roadway is a line of trees, which border the graves. Graves as far as the eye can see. To the left and to the right are white crosses, placed with military precision, a uniform distance from each other. Walking up the long drive gave me a moment to reflect on the soldiers that lie in the graves. I have a look at one and read the inscription, the soldier’s identity was ‘known but to god’
At the end of the drive is the central part of the cemetery and memorial. Two large semicircular buildings nearly joining to create a perfect circle. There is a large chapel, some ten metres in the air that takes centre stage. At the end of each of the semi circles are map rooms showing important battles from the war in the Pacific. These maps take up the whole wall, are to scale and carefully constructed with tiles. I take some time out to sit on the bench and read all the information presented. I studied the Second World War in high school and so it was very interesting to me to learn more about some very important battles. The Philippines, because of its location, played a very strategic and important role in the war in the Pacific.
On the day I arrive it is not very busy. A few mini buses arrive, but I only see about twenty people in all. The walls of the two large semi-circular walls hold the names of service men and women that are missing in action. Twenty Nine names are in gold to signify that they had earned a medal of honour and others had rosettes near their names to indicate that they were no longer missing. Engraved into the ground are large seals, which were the seals of each state in the USA.
The Memorial wall
Even though I am Australian it is still brought out strong emotions when looking at the names of the US and Philippine soldiers that paid the ultimate sacrifice during the war in the Pacific. It is sad to see the sheer volumes of young men and women whose names appeared on the walls. I made my way to the large monument, which houses a small chapel with a beautiful mosaic of the Madonna rising to the sky. Natural light shines through stone grill works flanking the altar. The outside of the chapel has a large sculpture on the front. It represents St George, the American fighting warrior, fighting his enemy the dragon. Above them are the ideals for which he fought; Liberty, Justice, Country and Columbia with child symbolising the future.
After looking at the information and the memorials I took some time to wander around the graves. Once again, the volume of graves is overwhelming thinking about the massive price it cost in lives. It was Memorial Day and the occasional grave had wreathes placed on them. It is a sombre place and no one really made eye contact with each other, lost in their own reflective world. It was good to see the level of respect of the visitors with heads held down, perhaps saying a silent prayer for a relative.
The remains of 17,206 servicemen and women who gave their life during WWII are interred in the cemetery. In addition 36,279 missing from WWII (whose remains were not identified or recovered or who were lost or buried at sea) are inscribed by name on the walls of the memorial here. Most of them gave their lives in defense or liberation of the Philippines, or the regions northward from Australia to Japan. The 152 acres of the site were donated by the Philippines. The design for the cemetery and memorial were prepared by American artists and architects; and executed by local builders under the supervision of the American Battle monuments commission.
How to Get There
Manila American Cemetery is located in the Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila, within the boundaries of the former Fort William McKinley. It can be reached most easily from the city by taxi or automobile via Epifano de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) to McKinley Road, then to McKinley Parkway inside the Global City. The Nichols Field Road is the easiest access from Manila International Airport to the cemetery.
The cemetery is open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1. When the cemetery is open to the public, a staff member is on duty in the visitor building to answer questions and escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.