The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 27

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2013
27
involved in World War II hostilities, but the battle for the
nearby island of Peleliu is still remembered as one of the
bloodiest of the Pacific campaign. Operation Stalemate II
finally ended in the autumn of 1944 after 2,000 Americans and
10,000 Japanese were killed.
An airport exchange of classified diplomatic pouches occurs
here with an embassy escort. An hour later the plane is taxiing
for a takeoff over the spectacular Rock Islands, shaped like
mushrooms rising from turquoise waters.
After a few hours in the air, we fly past the perfect cone of
the Mayon Volcano (8,081 feet) and over the Leyte Gulf, scene
of the largest naval battle in modern history. In October 1944,
this was the site of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous “I
have returned” speech to the Philippine people. The Battle of
Leyte Gulf pitted 212 Allied ships against the remnants of the
Imperial Japanese Navy. The victory there eventually paved
the way for American and Philippine troops to recapture the
Bataan Peninsula on Feb. 17, 1945.
In Manila, I secure the regional classified material overnight
in the embassy vault, and proceed to explore the disheveled
seafront and Intramuros District, the original walled Spanish
settlement built in 1571.
In January 1945, when American and Philippine forces
attempted to recapture Manila, they drove the retreating
Japanese troops into the walled city and shelled it, killing 16,000
soldiers. The infamous Manila Massacre, committed by Imperial
Japanese Army troops while surrounded by U.S. and Philippine
forces, killed some 100,000 Filipinos—10 percent of the city’s
population at the time.
The next morning it’s important that I arrive at the airport
early. Embassy Manila always has a large outbound classified
load, and traffic is notoriously bad. The diplomatic courier
escort in Manila always does an excellent job of getting the
pouches planeside through a remote customs gate. I process
through the terminal like a regular passenger, before being
escorted onto the tarmac to observe their loading by the Thai
ground agent.
Following wheels-up, the flight soars west over Corregidor.
En route to Bangkok above the South China Sea, we pass over
Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel Islands—two contentious
island groups currently being claimed by the Chinese, much to
the displeasure of the Philippines and Vietnam.
On arrival in Bangkok, the entire classified load of diplo-
matic pouches is securely transferred from Suvarnabhumi
Airport to the embassy’s classified vault, where it is prepared
for dispatch aboard the weekly department trunk line to Seoul
and Washington.
The Island Hopper is a classic Diplomatic Courier Service
trip, as well as an education in the history of the Western
Pacific during World War II.
n
Intramuros in Manila, as it looked in January 1945.
In January 1945, when American and Philippine forces
attempted to recapture Manila, they drove the retreating
Japanese troops into the walled city and shelled it.
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