While walking around the grounds of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila one afternoon back in 1994, I chanced upon a small commemorative marker that was located near the water, specifically in that part of Manila Bay where there's a small pier situated between the said grandstand and the Manila Hotel.
The marker commemorated the landing of the China Clipper seaplane on the waters of Manila Bay on November 29, 1935. The landing marked the conclusion of the first trans-Pacific flight that began in the City of Alameda near San Francisco, California on November 22, 1935. This flight marked the beginning of regular airmail service between the United States and the Philippines. It was not a non-stop flight for along the way to Manila, the plane made stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island and Guam. (Source: www.flyingclippers.com)
Prior to my "discovery" of that marker, I absolutely had no idea that the Philippines had figured in the making of aviation history. That moment was the first time I heard of such a thing and the marker certainly piqued my interest in the event. I later went to a library and did some research just to satisfy my curiosity about it.
That was pretty much it for years until early this afternoon when, to my very pleasant surprise, I chanced upon a newsreel that reported on this particular event back in 1935 while going through YouTube's video archives. The following newsreel produced by Fox Movietone News reported on the successful landing of the China Clipper at Manila Bay.
Although video and sound clarity on the newsreel leaves much to be desired, we could see that a large crowd and quite a number of government dignitaries led by Philippine Commonwealth President Manual Luis Quezon (1878-1944) were on hand to welcome and congratulate the plane's crew.
We could also see an aerial view of what is the current site of the Quirino Grandstand (then known as the Luneta Grandstand) and the Luneta Park itself prior to the plane's water landing.
What could be historically significant about this newsreel is that the viewer gets to hear President Manuel L. Quezon's voice maybe for the first time through a brief congratulatory speech he gave to the crew of the China Clipper led by Captain Edwin Musick, Pan American Airways' ("Pan Am") Chief Pilot at the time. For his part, we could see that Capt. Musick handed to President Quezon a letter from US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
We can also see standing right next to President Quezon a little boy smartly dressed in what appears to be a Naval Officer's uniform. It is probably safe to assume that the boy was President Quezon's son, Manuel L. Quezon, Jr. (1926-1998) who was nine years old at the time.
But trans-Pacific flights in those days were still in their infancy and often carried a lot of risks. Thus, it is to be sadly noted that a little over two years after this achievement, the China Clipper's pilot, Captain Edwin Musick, perished in an onboard plane explosion in January 1938 off the Pago-Pago (American Samoa) islands in the Pacific. His body was never found.
Another member of Capt. Musick's crew on this flight was Frederick J. ("Fred") Noonan, who served as the flight's Navigation Officer. He was one of the crew members who stood around President Quezon in the newsreel and based on this photo of him, I think he was the tall crew member (Mr. Noonan was said to be six feet tall) who stood second from the right of that particular footage.
At the time, Mr. Noonan was recognized as one of American aviation's best flight navigators and was a regular crew member on trans-Pacific flights. As a result, he had also spent a good deal of time in Manila from 1935 to 1937. Sadly, he will forever be remembered in aviation history as the flight navigator who was with the celebrated aviator Amelia Earhart when her plane, a Lockheed Electra, was lost in the waters of the South Pacific in 1937. To this day, no trace of them or their place has ever been found.
It's been 14 years since I last saw the marker that commemorated this flight. Given the passage of time and the changes that have taken place in its vicinity, I am no longer sure if that marker is still there. I certainly hope that that humble marker still sits on that spot so that it could continue to serve as a reminder that decades ago, our country was part of record-setting aviation history.