Corregidor Island: 19th AW honors a legacy of heroes

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As the sun rose over the South Pacific on a warm February day, the flight crew onboard a C-130J Super Hercules, decorated with the nose number X41 and the words “Jungle Skippers” on the side, departed for their next destination. The crew flew on the same flight path their predecessors did during World War II — high above the clouds focused on the mission to be accomplished.

Airmen from the 41 Airlift Squadron and 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flew to the Philippines to partake in a commemorative event marking the 75th Anniversary of the retaking of Corregidor Island, while also honoring three members from the 19th Bombardment Group, now 19th Airlift Wing, and nine members from the 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron, now 41st AS, Feb. 18, 2020.

In December 1941, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, where the 19th BG was stationed. The surprise attack in Pearl Harbor gave the Airmen forewarning and the bombers scrambled into a holding pattern, awaiting orders. Running low on fuel, they landed, rapidly taking on bombs.

After four months of grueling battle, the Japanese overwhelmed and captured the remaining 76,000 ground forces, forcing them to endure a 70-mile march. Today, this event is known as the “Bataan Death March,” in which almost 20,000 lost their lives. Many survived the Death March, only to perish in prison camps. Among those who perished were Airmen from the 19th BG. 

Airmen from the 41st TAS flew C-47s nonstop to resupply those troops in contact with the Japanese in the Southwest and Western Pacific — including the Airmen from the 19th BG.

The events that the 41st AS and 19th AMXS Airmen participated in allowed them to better understand what Airmen from the same units they serve endured 75 years ago.

“I appreciated that fact that we were able to spend a good amount of time at the Manila American Cemetery,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael DeSandre, 41 AS pilot. “We really felt connected to our heritage, especially when we saw the white marble Latin cross headstone with the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron engraved on it. You see the heritage and you see where it comes from — the legacies left from those who have come before us.”

The 41st TAC provided support to ground troops in the Philippines — including Airmen from the 19th BG — decades before they would become geographically connected again by both units being reassigned to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.

The Airmen who recently went to the Philippines were able to better understand the long-standing connection between the 41st AS and the 19th AW by seeing grave sites of Airmen from each unit buried merely yards away from each other.

“We were able to recognize the heritage from both units,” said Senior Airman Evan Dawson, 19th AMXS crew chief. “Our history is so deep, it was such a humbling experience for me to see in person the impact our predecessors made.” 

Seeing first-hand the tale of these legendary Airmen helps write the story of future generations by connecting Airmen to the rich history that surrounds their respective units.

“This trip gave me insight as to why I am here — to carry this tradition forward and honor these men,” Dawson said. I hope that we can pass the importance of our heritage down to more of our Airmen.”

The Airmen that took part in the ceremony discussed the events that they took part in with great pride — believing it is important to reflect on those who have come before them and learn from the courage and heroism displayed by the unsung heroes from their unit’s past.

“I can see how much pride and appreciation the Airman who went on the trip have for the job they do now, especially when they tell the story from their trip,” said Maj. Jarrod Jones, 41st AS pilot. “It is easy for us to become wrapped up in our daily tasks. Many times, when we go on the road, we are always talking about war stories from Afghanistan or Iraq. Those kinds of conversations did not happen on this trip, because it was not about us — it was entirely about them and their legacy.”