Carl Holloway: Our freedom is precious, but fragile. A sure way to lose it, is to take it for granted.

Published 12:11 am Sunday, June 10, 2007

The bugler began blowing the “Call to Arms” at 2:30 a.m. in the Philippine Islands at Olongapo on Subic Bay. It wasn’t long before the U.S. Marines stationed there got their baptism of fire. Word in the camp was the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor, and Japanese transports were landing all over the Philippines. The seven or eight PBYs (four-motored patrol bomber sea planes), were ordered back to base and to leave the planes in the water. Within the next few minutes, just after the last plane had landed, Japanese Zero Fighters materialized from no where, strafing and setting on fire the bombers. In no time the planes sank, some with the crews still on board. As the Zeros passed over head, they spread their bullets generously over the camp and Master Sgt. Carl Milner Holloway, lately of Picayune, was face flat on the ground scared to death several of those bullets would march up his back.

After that first day, Japanese bombers regularly flew over the Philippine Island mostly bombing airstrips and airplanes. The standing orders were if a bombing attack was imminent to the camp, all personnel were to disperse throughout the town of Olongapo. Shortly after those orders, Holloway spotted 28 bombers, wing-to-wing flying low over the nearby hills straight for their camp near the golf course. He dove for cover.

“I have been in much more dangerous situations from artillery shelling than from bombings, but to this day the most ominous sound I have ever heard was the approach of many bombers and then the swishing sounds of the falling bombs just before they exploded,” he said in his book, “Happy, the POW.”

Many of the men in his outfit were concerned their families back home had not heard from them. Holloway was chosen to make a trek to Manila to get word to the families. Several hours by truck later, he rolled into Manila only to find out he could only send one message to his own family in Picayune.

“Still kicking,” he sent.

That night the streets of Manila were full of trigger-happy people making the blacked-out streets a dangerous place to be, but Holloway and his driver tried to make the best of it. When they got back to their outfit, they found the troops had pulled up stakes the night before, moving to Mariveles. It was Christmas Day of 1941.

“My only food or drink that day was some warm beer that we found along the way to Mariveles,” he said.

General MacArthur withdrew his forces to the small Bataan Peninsula. The enemy had overwhelming forces on the sea, in the air and on the ground. Bataan was just two or three miles across the water from the island fortress of Corregidor which was less than two square miles. It sat in the mouth of Manila Bay between Bataan and Cavite Shore. Soon, Holloway and his outfit were positioned on Corregidor.

Communication headquarters and command post along with the hospital and ammunition storage were housed in the tunnels of Malinta Hill on Corregidor. The bombings were merciless and continuous. The vital organs of the American Marines were mostly protected in the tunnels, but Holloway’s regiment were out in the open. They were the beach protection and lived in foxholes.

“Acre for acre and bomb for bomb, Corregidor was the most bombed place in the world,” Winston Churchill said in March of 1942.

The shrill whine of artillery fire pierced the morning air, joining the bombs. About the same time a communiqué from MacArthur was posted in Holloway’s area.

“I believe I can quote it verbatim,” he said. “’We must stand fast. Thousands of men and hundreds of tanks and planes are being dispatched from the West Coast daily. Help is on the way. We must stand fast,’” it read.

The odds were overwhelming and Holloway said he didn’t blame American officials for not sending troops because anything they sent would have just gone down the drain, the enemy’s forces were too strong.

“I shall return,” MacArthur made his well-known statement to the forces in the Philippines about this time.

More than one half of the American boys sent to defend the Philippine outpost died in battle or in the enemy prison camps. Those that survived the camps carried deep scars, some that never healed.

On April 9, 1942 Bataan fell. Corregidor held fast for several days. On April 29, the Emperor’s birthday, thousands upon thousands of artillery shells screamed toward Corregidor and during that two hour period, The Rock as it was called, quaked under the onslaught.

The shelling continued day and night, the air was black and visibility was reduced to less than two-feet. With little food and water, and even less sleep, the fortress was reduced to rubble.

On May 5, about 11 p.m. word came the Japanese had landed on the north shore of the island. The phones were out so the commanding officer called for a volunteer to bring the news to the unit up the hill. Holloway’s squad was with that unit so he volunteered to take the message.

He made it through the rain of artillery, so winded he could barely pass on the message. Then his orders were to take his squad north to bolster the First Battalion lines.

“Listen up,” he told each one of his men, “we’ve been taking this from the enemy now for five months, this is our opportunity to strike back.” He knew that it was the last day of Corregidor.

“As we moved out along the road leading to the point of the heaviest fighting, Japanese units shot up flares and immediately heavy bombardments from both shores of Bataan and Cavite began to fall all along the roadway. In addition, the Japanese that had already landed were also firing with machine guns and rifles…we were so accustomed to the heavy artillery and the bombs for so many months that the bullets kicking up dust around our feet seemed at times almost like rain drops hitting the dust,” he said.

In the intense fighting, Holloway took refuge in a foxhole and found a man severely wounded. He helped him back to the hospital tunnel close enough a medic could grab the man. By this time, Holloway was completely separated from his Marine unit with no idea which way they were. On his way back along the road, the fighting became so intense, he hardly noticed being wounded. Master Sgt. John Haskins pointed it out and insisted he go back to get it fixed. Holloway pointed out it would be suicidal to venture down that road again. Haskins said he would bleed to death if he didn’t. Holloway started back down the road.

He had a premonition a bomb would arrive at the tunnel’s mouth at the same time he did. It nearly proved true. A shell hit the lip of the tunnel, blowing him off his feet. The doctor didn’t have a needle when it came Holloway’s turn, so he pushed the thread through with the sharp point of scissors.

“It didn’t seem to hurt at the time,” he said.

The battle became so heated, every man of the 300 in Holloways company, Headquarters Service Company, Fourth Marine Regiment, was either wounded or killed that night. Heavy fire was coming from a silo-shaped water tank, and some of the men were trapped in a bomb crater close by. Every time they would try to leave, they would be covered in machine gun fire. The Japanese were lobbing knee mortars towards the crater getting closer and closer to the target.

Sgt. Thomas F. Sweeny, a close friend of Holloway’s, gathered some hand grenades from those near by and climbed the water tower. He was quite effective in knocking out some of the fire, but his supply of ammunition was exhausted. Sgt. John Haskins gathered more grenades and climbed the tower ladder. They knocked out the machine gun fire, but Haskins was killed as he made another trip up the tower and Sweeney was killed as he lobbed grenades at the enemy.

“By midday, the Japanese occupied almost every foot of the island, and had positioned tanks at all the entrances to the tunnels where the wounded and nurses were. If the Philippine forces had not surrendered, all would have been executed,” Holloway said.

It was May 6, 1942.