U.S. service members from the 317th Airlift Wing from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment from Vicenza, Italy, commemorated members of the allied forces in World War II during a ceremony marking the 75th Anniversary of the retaking of Corregidor Island at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, Philippines, February 17, 2020.
The ceremony honored those who fought and died during the retaking of Corregidor Island in order to retake the island from the Imperial Japanese forces.
“This was a historic day for us to come together, commemorate and honor the U.S. and Filipinos on this sacred ground,” said Col. Jeffrey Menasco, 317th AW commander. “We honor their sacrifice, we are thankful for the freedom they provided to us and our allies, and we are forever indebted to their bravery and heroics demonstrated in combat.”
During the ceremony, service members from the 317th AW and 503rd IR stood in formation to pay tribute to the fallen military members, wreaths were laid to recognize 40 Airmen from the 317th Troop Carrier Group and 90 soldiers from the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, and Airmen laid flags at the grave sites of service members who serviced in the 317th AW.
There were also two C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from Dyess AFB and one from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, that were decorated with ‘Jungle Skipper’ decals on the plane in order to pay tribute to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft flown by the 317th Troop Carrier Group during World War II.
“This was a great to be able to recognize what our service members accomplished 75 years after it took place,” said Brian Smith, 317th AW historian. “Both units were part of three major drops in the Pacific Theater during World War II, with one of them was the retaking of Corregidor Island. It’s important to remember our history because it helps build camaraderie within the squadron and the 503rd IR received their nickname, ‘The Rock,’ from Corregidor.”
During the 10-day retaking of Corregidor, the 317th TCG, now the 317th AW, airdropped paratroopers from the 511th PIR, now the 503rd IR, to fight enemy forces on the island. By regaining the island, allied forces were able to obtain control of the entrance into Manila Bay and reopen a strategic port to push back enemy forces.
Retaking Corregidor also had a strong symbolic value because it was the one of two locations that had the largest number of American troops surrender in 1942.
“It was humbling to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those who planned the sorties and solved the tactical problem of landing on a small drop zone as we learned what was accomplished and everything that went into the mission,” said Maj. Michael Mayor, 317th Airlift Wing inspector general. “To understand how the mission was completed 75 years ago can help us become more prepared for potential future missions from the way they solved those problems.”
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial holds 17,058 service members who died during World War II. Most of the service members lost their lives in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines.
“It’s important for us as an Air Force to remember and commemorate what has happened in our past because we are able to learn from what we’ve done and pay tribute to those who served before us,” Mayor said. “Knowing our heritage of the 317 AW and going back 75 years to celebrate how we became one unit with the 503 IR in order to retake Corregidor to take back the stronghold of Manila Bay is absolutely phenomenal.”