ANILA — Ensign Conrad Geeslin rapped on the thick wooden door of Adm. Thomas C. Hart's suite at the Manila Hotel. It was somewhere around 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, 1941.

Geeslin, the admiral's coding officer, was carrying a message from Washington which he had decoded only minutes :before: the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and American losses were thought to be significant.

Geeslin had walked down the stairs of the four-story Marsman Building, where the headquarters of America's Asiatic Fleet was located, and was driven by a staff chauffeur to the nearby Manila Hotel where Hart was staying.

Ho, the admiral's Chinese orderly who usually slept on the floor of the suite's main room, awakened and opened the door to usher the young ensign inside.

"I have a message for Adm. Hart," Geeslin said. Ho, a big man who never seemed to talk much but who was a most efficient aide, disappeared into the admiral's bedroom and moments later a sleepy-eyed Hart appeared in his robe. Geeslin handed him the message and the admiral quietly read the dispatch.

"Thank you Geeslin," Hart said. "I'll be over in a few minutes."

For Hart, a distinguished Naval officer who once served as superintendent of the Naval Academy and who was the senior admiral afloat in the world at the time, was not surprised.

A few days before, Hart sent a message to Adm. Husband E. Kimball, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet in Hawaii, alerting him to increased Japanese military activity in the Pacific and uncannily predicted that the United States would be at war with Japan within three days. .

Some months earlier — believing he could better direct his fleet from land in the event of an attack on the Philippines — Hart moved his operations from the heavy cruiser USS Houston to Manila. He then dispersed virtually all of his ships and submarines throughout the Philippine Islands as a precautionary measure.

It wasn't much of a fleet really. There were several ships — the most modern of which was the USS Houston — and 29 submarines. But their torpedoes never worked properly, thereby dramatically reducing their usefulness.

Hart dressed and was driven to his headquarters where he drafted a message to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the former Chief of Staff who was then in charge of the Manila-based U.S. Armed Forces Far East.

Within hours, Japanese bombers and fighters crossed into Philippine territory from their base in southern Formosa, some 500 miles to the north. At 12:15 p.m., they attacked Clark Field north of Manila, dropping their ordnance from about 25,000 feet. Fourteen B-17 bombers and 32 P-40 fighters were destroyed during the attack.

The total number of U.S. aircraft lost was more than 100, virtually wiping out American air power in the Philippines.

Bombed also — with startling precision — was the U.S. Navy base at Sangley Point in Cavite. Geeslin remembers standing on the roof of the Marsman Building watching the attack.

"The planes looked like they were not over six inches long they were flying so damn high," said Geeslin, now 76. "As I recall only two bombs fell outside of the Navy yard. It was the most accurate bombing you can imagine. Of course the rumor was that they had German pilots that led them in and led the bombing. Whether it was true or not I don't know. But it devastated the place. Killed hundreds of people. It was a real massacre."

In the days that followed, the Japanese bombed Manila repeatedly. On one occasion, two bombs landed so close to the Marsman Building they actually threw the building askew.

"The doors that were open you couldn't close," Geeslin recalled. "And all the doors that were closed you couldn't open. It just sprung the whole building."

As the bombing of Manila continued, thousands of Japanese troops advanced from the north where they landed at Vigan and on the beaches of the Lingayen Gulf.

MacArthur had about 120,000 men to oppose the invaders, but most of them were inexperienced Filipino soldiers. A number of the 23,000 American officers and enlisted men were equally unskilled.

With their air power gone, the American and the Filipino fighters were outmatched from the beginning. So to spare the citizens of Manila, MacArthur declared it an "open city" and announced that all military forces would evacuate the Philippine capital by Christmas Day.

On Dec. 24, MacArthur moved his operations to the tadpole-shaped island fortress of Corregidor, strategically located at the mouth of Manila Bay. About the same time, he ordered some 80,000 troops to retreat from various locations in the country to the Bataan Peninsula, the long finger of land just south of today's Subic Bay Naval Station and across the bay from Manila.

MacArthur remained on Corregidor until he was ordered to leave by President Franklin Roosevelt. On March 11, 1942, he and his family boarded a patrol boat which took them to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. From there, they flew to Australia.

Less than one month later, on April 9, Gen. Edward P. King, Jr., surrendered, and some 78,000 Filipino and American soldiers were taken prisoner by the Japanese Army. Their forced march — during which many men died or were killed by their captors — from Bataan north along the peninsula to prisoner of war camps was to become known as the infamous "Bataan Death March."

Corregidor was excluded from the surrender terms and fought on under the command of Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

But the bombing of Corregidor was intense and continued around the clock. Finally, on May 6, Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese.

The Japanese hold on the Philippines was relatively secure until MacArthur and an American invasion force returned Oct. 19, 1944. The battle to recapture the Philippines continued for the next several months. American troops entered Manila in early February and eventually ended all Japanese resistance there after heavy fighting that left thousands dead.

Fierce battles continued throughout many other parts of the country until August when Japanese leaders — following the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — were ordered to surrender to the American forces in the Philippines.

Today, visitors can see ruins caused by the war on Corregidor. Children scamper about, selling old bullet casings and rusting defused hand grenades. And many of the huge guns that helped defend the island during the war are still standing.

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