Diving into History

As we pass through the quiet and peaceful pristine islands of the Calamian group my mind takes me back to September 1944 and the battle of Coron Bay. I see 96 Grumman F6F Hellcat dive bombers strafing the ridge and the 24 Curtiss FB2C Helldivers plummeting down to drop their load on the anchored ships. I hear the ear piercing noise of the aircraft engines winding up to top RPM and the deafening sound of the bombs exploding on their targets. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz boom, I can see the mayhem on the decks of the unsuspecting ships as one by one they are sunk in the shallow bay.

As we dive through the wreckage of the Kogyo Maru and the other ships I can hear the screams and the panic of the crew and feel the shrieking of the steel ship as it is torn apart by the torpedoes and bombs. The now peaceful home to large schools of fish and sea life holds the history of the horrors of war.

The Japanese occupation of SE Asia will go down in history as one of the worst acts of man’s treatment of man in modern times. The horrific acts of cruelty are often hid in the history books, until you get here and read of the local accounts. Simply put no one deserved to get their ass kicked more than the Japanese invaders of this incredible region. Yet thinking of the lowly sailor sitting on the deck of a supply ship as he sees the dive bombers approaching brings chills to my spine. I can also imagine the elation and fear of the US pilots as they discover the hidden fleet of supply ships as their fuel supplies run low. The fleet had been moved here thinking it was out of range of the carrier based squadrons and it was nearly so. These unarmed ships held the supplies that facilitated the horrors of the Japanese invasion so destroying them was a giant step to the liberation that followed.

I am a firm believer in “history forgotten is history repeated” so I am always happy to see a major motion picture tell the tales of the brutal acts of the oppressors and the liberating heroes of WWII. I do find it interesting that we revisit the horrors of the Nazi rule relentlessly (as we should) but the Japanese atrocities are seldom exposed. The acts of outright cruelty and inhuman slaughter of millions of Asians goes untold. One great movie after another tell of Nazi concentration camps, genocide and acts of cruelty yet few depict the Japanese actually doing far worse, if you can get worse than the Nazi’s antics.

Race might play a part here; are we so politically correct now that revealing the atrocities of those of a different race might label us racist? Heaven forbid we might look at what “people” did instead of what a race did. Or is it the opposite, the victims of the slaughters, enslavement and torture where all Asians and in post WWII America Asians were all lumped together and seen as inferior? Michener tells of post WWII anti Asian racism in his Tales of the South Pacific and it is a pivotal topic in the musical that came from that great book, South Pacific. The song about teaching racism is riveting, so much so there was great debate about using it until Michener insisted.

All these things come to mind this beautiful morning in Puerto del Sol as we plan our next wreck dive. These ships are not just great dive sites, not just hunks of twisted steel now home to schools of peaceful fish, they are history. They are the history of the worst and the best of mankind. At no time since have the clear lines of good and evil been so exact, so clear and so important.

So as I dive through these wrecks I feel a throbbing joy to see the oppressors destroyed, the wonderful people here liberated. I feel sadness for the lowly Japanese sailor as his ship is sunk but none for his leaders. I feel pride for the pilots of the dive bombers and the courage of his leaders in making the attack.

As we prepare to dive the next wreck I am profoundly reminded of this time in history, a time when war was the right thing to do. There is no debate, no other point of view, no second guessing history. The Allied liberation of the South Pacific with all its sacrifice, pain and suffering was the right thing, period. At no time since then have the lines of good and evil been so clear. Never since then has the use of military force been totally unbridled, every effort and so many risks were taken to achieve the victory. As I descend into the warm waters of Coron Bay today i will take a moment to thank that Hellcat pilot and Vice Admiral Mitscher who led the raid.

To get the full history of this spectacular raid, see http://www.coronwrecks.com/history.htm (pictures courtesy of this site)