“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.

grave

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.

memorial gate

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.

entrance

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’

grave

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.

main building

Map Room

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.

cemetery garden

MIA Walls

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.

monument

Madonna

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.

graves

graves

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.

graves

monument area

How to Get There

GPS Coordinates: N14 32.483 E121 03.008

Google Maps link : http://goo.gl/maps/0rEsn

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.

graves

rosette

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13 thoughts on ““I Shall Return”

  1. I’ve always been curious of what’s inside the gate. Been passing through this place often, but I feel cautious as to what the guards would ask.

    Never knew it’s open for public. Thanks for posting this one! :D

    • I can understand Miguel. I knew it was open to the public and still approached with caution as the entrance is quite daunting. I didn’t know if I would be let in or not. Maybe it is designed that way. You should go check it out now. I wouldn’t say it was a ‘fun’ day in the traditional sense but very interesting and worthwhile. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Great photo’s. My uncle Irvin Corpton Strain was killed June 10, 1945 and it has been a long time since I have seen pictures of the cemetery and my grandma his mother passed away in 1992 she use to send flowers and the cemetery sent pictures not sure if anyone is doing it now. .

    • Thanks for the comment on the photo’s Debbie. Sad to hear about your Uncle killed during the war, especially so close to the end. I hope my post let you know that the place is being looked after and it is very well manicured. Do you know where your Uncle’s grave is? I could place some flowers on it if you would like.

  3. I stayed in the PI’s for a year. I visited this cemetery in 2002. I was deeply moved and both pleased and grateful at the level of care rendered by the people of the Philippines for this war memorial. As an American, I really appreciate the attention that you tendered to this war memorial. I do not know if you have had the opportunity to visit the British Commonwealth & Australian cemetery and war memorial at Kwai River bridge along the Death Railway but I think you would be pleased with the level of attention and care given there. While in NSW, and the ACT, back in 2000 I visited the Australian WWII Museum in ‘Canbraa’ and was very impressed with that site as well.

  4. Thank you for the photos and review. Could you kindly e-mail one photo of the memorial showing the engraved lists? A relative is memorialized there though he was lost at sea nearby. Thank you.

    • Hi Diane, thanks for the message. There are over 17,000 names from the American military and inscribed over many many walls. If you could send me the name I might be able to have a look for you and see if it is on any of the photos I took. There is also a site I found to check the names of the people in the memorial. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=1976551 hope that helps. I only live about 30 minutes walk away and would be happy to track down the gravestone or name on the wall if you would like.

  5. I have recently started looking into our family’s history and thought I’d like to “see” the cemetery where my uncle, Edward R Szymanski, was memorialized. He died Nov 13, 1942 and was a shipfitter second class in the Navy. I never got to meet Ed as I was born much later. Through some research I found that his name is listed on one of the “mia” walls. I’d hoped that perhaps the actual web site would allow panning along the wall to find a specific name but that function is not available. You mentioned in one of the emails above that you wouldn’t mind checking out to see if maybe a name was in one of your photos. I know it’s a lot to ask but if you have some time one day, would you please see if you’ve captured my uncle’s name in one of your photos? If it doesn’t work out, I understand. I really enjoyed the photos you posted.

    • Hi Jo Ann, I am glad you enjoyed the pictures of the memorial cemetery. While I had no real connection to the place in that I did not know anyone who was buried or memorialised there, it was a very special and spiritual place.

      I feel that since I am only a short distance away that it would be my honour to revisit and see if I could find your uncles name on the wall. I will have a check of the photos I have already taken, but just due to the scale of the place, it would be amazing of it was captured in the original visit.

      I’ll email you soon
      Brenden

    • Hi Jo Ann, I had a look at my pictures from my original visit an could not see your uncle’s name on the wall, however I was in the area today and took my camera along with me and after a bit of searching found your uncle’s name on the wall.

      The pics are large, so I have placed them on my Flickr page for you to view.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/78998545@N08/sets/72157647716072128/


      I’ll email this info to you to view as well
      regards
      Brenden

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