Like the other POWs facing their first full day of enemy captivity, Edgar Doud Whitcomb, 24, rose to his feet slowly and warily, not knowing what to expect.North across the channel, Ed could see the shores of Bataan and, beyond, the towering summit of Mount Mariveles.“Our B-17s could fly beyond the reach of the Jap’s anti-aircraft and planes, and we could pinpoint targets and destroy them with miraculous accuracy.” Japan’s riposte came from a clear afternoon sky on December 8—December 7, Hawaiian time—as dozens of enemy bombers and strafing fighters savaged Clark. “Crews standing by their planes were destroyed along with the ships,” Ed recalled.“Four bodies beside our own ship were charred beyond recognition.” Within two weeks, Japanese troops invaded Luzon, the largest and most populous of the Philippine Islands, and pressed forward until, on December 23, the grounded remnants of the 19th Bombardment Group joined a mass retreat south to Bataan Peninsula.
ON MAY 10, 1942, after Ed’s POW contingent had finished repairing Kindley Landing Field, their captors marched them to a flat expanse on the south shore of Corregidor.Open-air latrines swarmed with vermin; dysentery was rampant. A rifle company commander in the 4th Marines on Corregidor, Bill immediately impressed Ed—not least because the tall, thin, and resourceful Kentuckian, son of a Leatherneck general, was, in Whitcomb’s words, “dead serious about escaping.” Across Manila Bay they could see the shore of Cavite, eight miles to the south.The surrounding cliffs trapped and intensified the heat and the only available relief was to soak in Manila Bay’s shallows under watchful Japanese eyes. Swimming there was impossible, but if they could somehow reach Corregidor’s north shore, they might be able to swim back to Bataan.A partially demolished garage housed the sickest and most seriously wounded.
The rest—as many as 12,000 American and Filipino airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines—sat exposed or under makeshift shelters.Now, after scant sleep and no food, the POWs began repairing Kindley’s cratered runway for Japanese use.