Manila American Cemetery is the largest American battle monument from World War II. There are more than 17,000 graves and the names of a further 36,000 missing in action are inscribed on the memorial. Despite its brutal origins the cemetery is one of the most peaceful places in the city stretching across 150 acres of immaculately maintained land.
Today the cemetery is surrounded by the high rises of Bonifacio Global City newly developed since 2000 on the grounds of an old army base. During our time in Manila we lived in one of these high rises that overlooks the cemetery. One of our neighbours was the representative of the American Battle Monuments Commission responsible for the management of the cemetery.
Before arriving in Manila I never knew the extent of the destruction of the city during the war. In 1945 with Japanese defenders dug in and willing to fight to the death the U.S. Army and Filipino resistance fighters had to fight street by street to retake the city leading to the most intense urban warfare seen in the Pacific theatre.
The U.S. military initially tried to avoid the use of high explosive weapons with hundreds of thousands of Filipino civilians trapped in the city, many held hostage by the Japanese forces. But in the face of mounting casualties the U.S. eventually concluded there was no other option and started using heavy artillery against the Japanese.