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The Battle of Manila: A Soldier's Pictures

Updated on November 13, 2017

Staff Sergeant Fredrick Dale McVay (1916-1989)

My mother divorced my biological father during World War II for reasons which aren't important here. She met Dale after the war, and married him in 1947. They remained together until his death from mesothelioma in 1989.

Mom owned a home on Pine Avenue, in Willow Glen, a suburb of San Jose, California, and that's where we lived until about 1950. Dale converted a hall closet to a darkroom and developed the photographs you see here. These photos fascinated me - a boy of seven - and I often joined him in the darkroom and asked him questions about his work.

Dale was reluctant to talk about the war. He was a counterintelligence agent during the battle for Manila, and had clearly seen horrors that scarred him for life. He came home from the Philippines determined not to bring children into the world he had seen during the war, and married a woman that already had them. I can't relate his stories here because there weren't any. When I said Dale was reluctant to talk about the war, I mis-spoke. He simply refused to talk about it.

He did leave these photographs behind, and I want to share them. Most of the photos showing the incredible destruction were not labelled. If you can identify them, I'd love to hear from you - please leave your comments below.

Can you identify this building?

Can you identify this building?
Can you identify this building?

441st Counter Intelligence Corps

United States Army

The Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) was a World War II and early Cold War intelligence agency within the United States Army. Its functions are now performed by the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command and by counterintelligence agents assigned to Army tactical units.

The CIC recruited men with legal, police or other investigative backgrounds, and particularly looked for men with foreign language skills. Special CIC teams were created during WWII, in large part from the Military Intelligence Service personnel. However there were never enough of these and local interpreters were often recruited.

"Nipa Nook," Manila 1945 - Dale McVay photo

As most CIC agents in the field held only non-commissioned officer rank-corporals and various grades of sergeant - they wore either plain-clothes, or uniforms without badges of rank; in place of rank insignia, and so as not to be perceived as privates, agents typically wore officer "U.S." collar insignia. They were instructed to identify themselves only as "Agent" or "Special Agent" as appropriate, in order to facilitate their work.

These detachments provided tactical intelligence about the enemy from captured documents, interrogations of captured troops, and from para-military and civilian sources. They were also involved in providing security for military installations and staging areas, located enemy agents, and acted to counter stay-behind networks. They also provided training to combat units in security, censorship, the seizure of documents, and the dangers of booby traps. In some cases CIC agents found themselves acting as the de facto military government on the occupation of large towns [ed: like Manila] before the arrival of Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) officers. (Condensation of extensive Wikipedia entry)

US Army Counter Intelligence at work, Manila, 1945. - Dale McVay photo.

New Guinea - 1945

Prior to MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines, Sgt. McVay's unit participated in the New Guinea campaign. (Dale McVay photos.)

New Guinea


You'll find a lot of video clips dealing with New Guinea and the Philippine campaign on YouTube - I've chosen three which will help viewers understand just how terrible the fighting was.

Bilibid Prison, Manila

Carcel y Presidio Correccional

Bilibid Prison, Manila, was the major place of incarceration in the Philippines, and was built in 1847. Bilibid prison was formally opened in Manila in 1865 by a Spanish Royal Decree. Many revolutionaries throughout Philippine history found themselves incarcerated here.

The old prison occupied a rectangular piece of land which was part of the Mayhalique Estate in the heart of Manila. It was divided into two sections - the Carcel Section which could accommodate 600 inmates and the Presidio, which could accommodate 527 prisoners.

Sgt. McVay's unit entered Bilibid Prison as the Japanese retreated and discovered the bodies of slaughtered prisoners. The prison became their headquarters.


Bilibid Prison, Manila, 1945

Bilibid Prison, Manila, 1945

Mass Murder

Prisoners killed by the Japanese as they retreated from Manila, 1945. Dale McVay photo.

Battle of Manila - Free of Japanese Domination 1945/3/22

"The Battle of Manila (Additional pictures, just received, showing the details of the terrible battle between MacArthur's Armies and the fanatical Japs). The Japs, content with delaying actions against the Yanks, as they retreated southward in Luzon, resolved to put on one of their fanatical 'death stands' within the confusion of Manila.

The motorized U.S. 1st Cavalry Division enters Rizal Stadium, where Jap fire meets them from the bleachers and the stands. Tank fire and machine guns turn the stadium into a death trap for the Japs. Huge fires are raging throughout the city. Hundreds of huge Yank guns fire across the Pasig River into Jap hideouts. Then foot soldiers of the U.S. 8th Army use rifles, machine guns, liquid fire and grenades to finish off the Japs. Charred Jap corpses are seen. American wounded receive American Red Cross blood plasma.

Fighting converges on Intramuros, the old city, surrounded with 30 ft. walls. U.S. artillery breaches the walls, Jap madchine gun nests are silenced, and fighting in Manila ceases. Nuns and Filipino civilians, used as shields by the Nips, leave Manila. Scores of corpses of other civilians are found, tied hand and foot, then coldly stabbed and butchered by the fiendish Japs.

General MacArthur walks through Manila, which now lies in absolute and complete ruin, the Stalingrad of the Pacific, Pres. Osmena's government assumes power and Gen. MacArthur takes a PT boat to Corregidor. He stands before Parachute Troop formations up on the Parade Grounds, and touchingly orders the Stars and Stripes to be raised, 'nevermore to be hauled down by any foe.'" scenes of the taking of Manila, artillery used against enemy dug in, "alert riflemen cut down," two fleeing Japanese, flame throwers burn out resistance in southern city, litter bearers come under fire of Japanese snipers, big guns breach thick walls of city, dead bodies, "natives slaughtered in cold blood," MacArthur inspects ruined city, speaks on Corregidor, flag raised to bugle call. Newsreel end with sound.

"We Wanted To Open It..."

This was one of the few photographs Dale would talk about, but all he told me was, "We wanted to open it, so we blew the door with dynamite."

The Destruction of Manila

Can you identify these buildings?

The one-month battle, which culminated in a terrible bloodbath and total devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theater, and ended almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines (1942-1945)

Although General MacArthur had declared Manila an Open City, and the Japanese Commander in Chief of the Philippines, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, did not plan to defend the city, Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji, his Manila commander, decided to defend the city to the last man. The result, as these photographs attest, was the total destruction of Manila and the death of at least 10% of the population of the city - more than 100,000 people.

Photo: Dale McVay standing in front of the Manila Aquarium ruins, 1945

Can you identify any of these buildings? - Scene One

If you recognize any of these scenes or buildings, please leave a comment and refer to the scene number.

Scene Two

Scene Three

Scene Four

Scene Five

Scene Six

Scene Seven

Scene Eight

BATTLE OF MANILA - US Army Documentary

Awesome combat footage begins just past the 5 minute mark...

A Funeral Procession

Japanese Olympic Swimming Team


This is the front of a photograph believed to have been among the effects of a Japanese soldier who died during the liberation of Manila. One reader has suggested that this may be a photograph of some of the members of the 1940 Japanese Olympic Swimming Team.

(In February 1936, Tokyo and Sapporo were designated as the venues for the 1940 Summer and Winter Games. The Tokyo Olympic Games were canceled because of World War II.)

This is the obverse side of the photo above. Translations would be appreciated.

While some of the characters have changed over the decades, one helpful reader identified characters on the note that she was able to identify.

She says it appears to be a letter to someone, describing for them the members of his swim team, how much they are being paid as members of the team, and their plans to go to the Olympic games.

While she adds that he appears to be fairly young, there is also a reference to "Grandson".... note the reference to "Kan" (currency of the time) vs "Yen" (currency of today).

The comments on the photo obverse are hers.

Family names identified to date: Henjima, Nagahtsa, Koike and Kawabayashi,.

Scene Nine

Scene Ten

Scene Eleven

Destroyed Train

The Domain of the Golden Dragon - Ruler of the 180th Meridian

To all Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, wherever ye may be and to all mermaids, flying dragons, spirits of the deep, devil chasers, and all other living creatures of the yellow seas, GREETINGS: Know ye that on this 12 day of January 1946, in latitude 20 degrees 10 minutes longitude 180 there appeared within the limits of my august dwelling the U.S.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE.

Hearken Ye: the said vessel, officers and crew have been inspected and passed on by my august body and staff. And know ye: Ye that are chit signers, squaw men, opium smokers, ice men, all all-round landlubbers that F.D. McVay having been found sane and worthy to be numbered a sweller of the Far East has been gathered in my fold and duly initiated into the Silent Mysteries of the Far East

Be it further understood: That by virtue of the power vested in me I do hereby command all moneylenders, wine sellers, cabaret owners, ______managers and all my other subjects to show honor and respect to all his wishes whenever he may enter my realm.

Disobey this command under penalty of my august displeasure.

Golden Dragon

Ruler of the 180th Meridian

Related YouTube Videos

There's a lot of material on YouTube, to which I refer anyone who really wants to understand the Manila nightmare.

Dead Japanese Soldier

American Tanks

Rich & Poor? - Scenes Twelve & Thirteen

These two photographs were labeled "Rich" (top) and "Poor" (bottom), so I thought I'd present them as a pair. Manila, 1945. Dale McVay photo.

Philippine Islands - 1945

Here are some photos - some colorized by Dale McVay, showing a less painful side of the Philippines.

Life Goes On - In the midst of devastation.

Sgt. McVay in Manila

Home again

My mother, Frances Louisa Miller - Dad called this one "Home again." Dale McVay colorized photo - 1947.

(This was probably taken while mom and dad were on their honeymoon in Carmel, California.)

There isn't much of a story here, unless you'd never heard of Manila, or the city's destruction in 1945. I created this page in the hope that someone out there could help me identify the buildings shown in the photographs. It would be of historical value to be able to label them properly, and your assistance would be appreciated.

They Didn’t Understand

I attended a Remembrance Day commemorative ceremony this morning in a nearby community. The local Legion, as always, placed their "Military Service Recognition Book" (Vol. XII, 2017) on their tables. This story, a contest winner, rang loudly in my heart, and so I share it here:

Written by Cassidy L. Jean, Kamloops, B.C.

They didn’t understand that through the war has long since ended

It lived on in his mind and in his harried dreams each night

Demanding attention

Fighting for his very soul

They didn’t seem to notice that the world had not gone back to normal

Life was not the same as it once was

The world had changed

His world had changed forever

They didn’t understand that he carried the war along with him

Like photographs tatooed on his arms

The blood of the fallen, friend and foe

Covered his hands

His children didn’t understand

That his back didn’t ache from pushing the mower up and down the lawn

But from carrying his friends, his brothers in arms, on his shoulders

As he dragged their lifeless bodies out of enemy fire

They didn’t understand that his arms were heavy from the weight of a gun in his hands

Or that his ears still rang with the sound of screams and gunfire

Or that his feet were still tired from walking for miles and miles and miles

They didn’t understand that he did it all for them

His wife didn’t understand

That he couldn’t stand to hear the baby cry

Because the weeping of orphaned children was etched in his mind

Branded on what was left of his heart

His family didn’t understand that no, he couldn’t speak of the horrors he witnessed

Because the taste of war was still present on his lips

The stench of sweat and death and fear still permeated his nostrils

And that he could still see the blood running in rivers through the trenches

They didn’t understand that some days

He didn’t know if he were the lucky one

Or if the lucky ones lay beneath a bed of poppies

For the dead were not haunted like the living

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      If war does not happened. Manila is one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. :(

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great stuff, was looking hoping to find something on my dad JA Click, I have a photo album with pics from New Gunia and Before and after pics of Philippines and of Gen Wainwright in captivity and after his libaration. some taken with a very small camera it looks like. I am his son John. Thanks.

    • profile image

      CatJGB 5 years ago

      Wow, what history. I too can understand why he never wanted to speak of it. Such destruction and terrible loss. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • iWriteaLot profile image

      iWriteaLot 5 years ago

      Wow! What a glimpse! These are incredible photos but so horrific, too. I can understand why Staff Sergeant McVay never wanted to speak about what happened over there. It's heartbreaking just looking at the pictures. I can't imagine being there in person, in the middle of all of that death and destruction. Thank you for sharing.

    • OldStones LM profile image

      OldStones LM 5 years ago

      Wow, what a great historical collection of WWII you have.

      Thank you for sharing

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      I cannot, unfortunately, help you identify the buildings, but do appreciate your preserving and sharing this piece of history.