The Pacific War Memorial on Corregidor Island in the Philippines was erected by the United States government to commemorate Filipino and American soldiers who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Inaugurated in 1968, it was the first memorial built by the U.S. on Philippine soil since they had recognised Philippine independence in 1946, following almost 50 years of American colonial rule.
The memorial was initiated by former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Emmet O’Neal. O’Neal would serve as Chair on the Corregidor-Bataan Memorial Commission, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 1953 to commence a “study for the survey, location and erection on Corregidor Island of a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the use of Corregidor Island as a memorial to the Philippine and American soldiers, sailors and marines who lost their lives while serving in the Philippines during World War II”.
Writing after his death in 1967, Emmet O’Neal’s family commented that it was during his ambassadorship to the Philippines (1947 to 1948) that he had a “vision” for a memorial on Corregidor. O’Neal believed in the positive impact of American colonial rule on the Philippines, and in the significance of the association of the two countries. These ideas informed O’Neal’s vision for a memorial, which initially comprised a replica of the Statue of Liberty. He saw the Statue as emblematic both of American achievements in the War and of the historical significance of the country itself. O’Neal wrote: “From Europe the torch of Liberty was handed to America. Now America has an opportunity to hand it on to Asia”.
In 1957 a nationwide competition was launched (within the United States) in which 48 architects competed, with five finalists chosen by a jury of architects. The winning design, selected by the Commission, came from Seattle-based architectural firm, Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson, and depicted two “uplifted arms” rising above a “memorial room”. According to O’Neal the “arms” were intended to “symbolize the East and the West, each a separate and distinct entity, yet each equally striving to the highest point; each held to the other by, [sic] an encircling bond without which the structure of their civilization would collapse without the tie between the two”.
However, Congressional and White House opposition to O’Neal’s “important matter” resulted in long delays to the memorial’s authorisation and construction. Yet, following petitions from Philippine President Garcia, the Kennedy administration was obliged to authorise a final budget of $1.5 million in 1962 as they deemed “positive relations” between the two countries to be “at stake” due to the almost decade-long delay.
The final design by Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson comprises a square courtyard, at the centre of which stands a domed room, ringed with reflecting pools. The room is open on all sides and supported by wide rectangular columns. At the centre of the room is a circular altar, above which the sky can be viewed through a rounded opening in the dome. On the other side of the courtyard is a long walkway, walled in by marble tablets listing each of the major battles of the Pacific conflict. Reflecting pools sit on either side of the walkway and the centre contains a rectangular concrete planter, within which local foliage has been planted. The walkway terminates in steps leading up to a raised platform that looks out onto Manila Bay. A bronze sculpture in the shape of a flame sits on the platform. Designed by the Greek American sculptor Aristedes Demetrios, it is entitled the “Eternal Flame of Freedom”.
The article, ‘A “Monument to the American and Filipino Alliance for Freedom”: The Pacific War Memorial and Second World War Remembrance’, written by COTCA PhD student Kim Weir, and published in the Journal of American Studies, interprets the Pacific War Memorial and its accompanying discourses to illustrate how the U.S. continued to use the Philippine landscape to exert a geopolitical influence in the Asia-Pacific region, long after Philippine independence. It examines how U.S. Cold War foreign policy shaped the monument committee’s vision and, in turn, the ways in which American and Philippine identity, as well as narratives of the Second World War, are constructed within the memorial itself.