Fire Mission 42

This is the first page of fire mission 42. This is where the introduction would go?

Introduction

Marines land on Peleliu, 1944

Sept 15, 1994

I woke up this morning and felt it was a special day. My mind suddenly went back to fifty years ago when we had made the landing on Peleliu.  I thought about it piecing together various things about the landing and the kind of day it was.
 
That’s what prompted the urge to put down my memories on tape for someone to listen to later.  I went out to put up the flags, both the US and Marine Corp flag and thought about it again.  Maybe it was partly because we had attended the First Division Reunion commemorated the 50th anniversary of Peleliu and went back in memory to our reunion where we met our old friends.
 
As I looked around at the reunion and talked to our friends whom we knew so well I could see how old we were all getting.  If young people would come in and look at these people they would wonder how they could have won a war since a lot of them were balding, mostly gray, some fatter than others, some handicapped.  It’s amazing that they could have changed so much.
 
Some of the friends who sat at our table were Paul Stigall and his wife Lucy, Paul has a steel plate in his head from an injury during and air attach we had In Cape Gloucester, on January 2,, 1944. Then there was Jack Biggins and his wife Connie along with A.J. Walker and his wife Ann, from New Jersey, he was a few years older than we were nevertheless, we had become good friends. We discussed the past and present and enjoyed each others company.   These reunions were annual occasions with about 3000 people attending.  We always looked forward to it.
 

fire_mission_42151.jpgMilton Royko, 1942

At the reunions on Saturday mornings we had a very nice commemorative service with the First Marine Division Band present playing for us.  Always a high light!  In the evening they  held the regular religious services, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant.    We attended the Protestant service at which a Baptist Minister spoke in a very throaty voice and gave us food for thought with his substantive sermon and remembrances of  the people who lost their lives . The minister’s voice though hard to listen to, described how he had been shot thru the throat in Peleliu.  After his service in the Marines he had gone to Theological School, became a Baptist minister and had gone to Japan and been a missionary preacher there.  It was very interesting. Because of all the memories stirred up I decided to put my thoughts on tape, along with the urging of our daughter Gayle, and our son Mark. I would like to go into my experiences as I recall them before my memory fades away.

 

Call To Arms

USS California sinking at Pearl Harbor

I should probably start just pre-war.  I don’t want to go into my early boyhood; but just pre Pearl Harbor.
 
We were a Sea Scout Troop that had use of a Boy Scout Camp just north of Chicago.  It was a great weekend and we enjoyed every bit of it.  We had hiked, had classroom study and walked through the wood, studied trees, played games and really had a great time.
 
We awakened to a bright sunny morning and arose to look out on a beautifully landscaped area, wooded and as beautiful as any state park could be.  Unfortunately this was our last day and we would be headed back to Chicago.  There were about twelve of us young lads, sixteen and seventeen year olds plus the skipper of our Sea Scout Ship, a very nice seventeen year olds plus the skipper of our Sea Scout Ship, a very nice man who was part of the volunteer group in the community center in Chicago
    
The community center was the hub of our activities in our neighborhood.  It was sponsored by the Methodist/Episcopal religious organization.  The placard on the front of the building read M/E., a four story brick building on Halsted Street and Eighteenth Street, around the corner from Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church that I attended.
 
On the first floor of M/E was a chapel where people went to services.  As a part of the neighborhood group we all participated in the offered activities.  It was wonderful because it kept all the people off the street and all together and maintained a nice peaceful situation.
 
There were ball games which were tournaments and they lead those during the summer.  There was a swimming pool with lockers on the lower level.  There was another gentleman volunteer, an ex-naval officer, who taught swimming and Life Guard lessons.  He could swim like a fish and was an inspiration to everyone interested in water activities.  I got my Life Guard Certificate there.
 
The second floor was designed for the girls for sewing and home economics.  The third floor housed a library and the fourth floor was a gymnasium where there were basketball games and tournaments throughout the season.   As kids we played a lot of basketball.
 
The neighborhood was a mixed group make up of Czechs and Slovaks, Lithuanians, German, Italians and others.  It was a wonderful time and place to grow up and see the way the nationalities kept the peace and everyone got along well.
 
As I mentioned, it was the last day at the camp so we cleaned, swept and put everything in order in the camp, got our gear in order and my group went into the skipper’s car headed for Chicago.  He had the car radio on and though we were all talking, he heard something alarming and asked us to quiet down.  It was the announcement of the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.  There were bits and pieces of information and we were stunned and amazed that this was happening.  We were very irate and did a lot of shouting about the Japanese.  We could not believe that this was happening.
 
The next morning I went to school and there at Harrison High we heard the now famous “Day of Infamy” speech delivered by President Roosevelt.    Everyone was amazed and shocked.
 
Following this there was so much information on the news, in the newspapers, on the radio broadcasts and magazines, that it was overwhelming.  The stories about the courage of our people who were there during the attack was unbelievable.  We continued to see Pathe’ News Reels at the movies of our sunken fleet and destruction all around.  It was devastating to the point of disbelief.
    
We were aware that in the rest of the world there was a lot of chaos and that things were not going well.  The Nazis had marched over almost all of Europe and it seemed that the English were on their last leg.
 
In the Pacific the Japanese had come down without fear of our fleet and attacked Corrigedor and then followed the Bataan Death March.  They were taking other islands.  It almost seemed that we were powerless and it gave one an unbelievably awful feeling.  It was a chaotic time the whole month of December 1941 and the following year.
 
It did get better later even though the Japanese had attacked Wake Island and although Marines had done a wonderful job of defending it for a long time, the Japanese finally took it.  The other good news was that when the Japanese attacked Midway Island there was a big victory for us because our carriers were there and had sunk several of their ships so that they left without trying to take the island.  We were relieved and happy about that one.
 
­There was a state of panic.  Some of us were outraged and crushed and I think that is what led to our determination to go into military service.
 
When I got home my parents were both very upset.  They had the radio on and it looked like pandemonium had set in and it was not inconceivable at that time that the Japanese would take over Hawaii.   Everyone was upset. My father was upset because the Nazi’s in Germany had taken over almost everything. It looked like the whole world was collapsing.
 
It was a very patriotic time and as I mentioned everybody in my age group wanted to enlist.  We were 16.  This whole time the papers were full of stories about the heroism and bravery and all the pictures of ships that were sunk.  You’d see them in the newspapers and at the movies “Pathe News”.  We went to school the next morning and heard the now famous “Day of Infamy” speech from President Roosevelt.   We were all riled up and heard that the recruiting offices were full of enlistees.  The whole month of December 1941 and the following year was a very chaotic time.  There was nothing but bad news.
 
After Pearl Harbor the Japanese took over Wake Island with its Marine defenders and the Philippines.  The only good news was the Battle of Midway, which came a little later in which we won a relative victory and sank a few Japanese ships.
    
Over in Europe it was bad news as well.  The French had fallen. The English were the only ones left and they were being bombed regularly. The Russians were being pushed back on all fronts.  It was a bad time.   The general depressed feeling was that we were going to be an island resisting the Japanese and the Germans and we didn’t look too strong compared to them.
 
On the home front the draft was in progress; but with Hitler’s various victories in Europe there arose a segment of German Americans, in various cities in the United States that formed the German American Bund and they openly marched in their brown shirts with swastikas.  After all they contended, that this is a country of free speech. Very depressing.  The feeling that resulted from this was all the more anti Germany and anti Japan.
 
High school continued that year and we would listen to various radio reports about the progress of the war, which continued to be all bad.  We would go to the movies and see Pathe News or Movie Tune News and see pictures of the bombing in London and sinking of ships.
 
During my high school years I always thought of flying that was always a very popular theme. I thought I’d go into the Army Air Force or into the Naval Air Force that was what I was really crazy about.  But at that age, at 16, I didn’t have the right education to be considered or the right age for being accepted into the air corps so thoughts went elsewhere. 
 
Finally, during the rest of the year because of Wake Island and the Phillipines and the showing that the Marines had made they got more publicity plus some background thing I had heard about the Marines we all three decided that when we went we would go to the Marine Corp.
 
At Harrison High School in Chicago I tried out for the football team and the swim team and made both, that was in the spring of ‘42.  As it turned out I didn’t fulfill any of the requirements because of the things that followed. During the summer we played soft ball and baseball on organized teams.
 
On August 7th of ’42 we got the news and it came like a bombshell that the Marines had landed on Guadalcanal, an Island that no one seemed to know anything about or ever heard of.  We started getting the news about the landing and the battle progression as it occurred.  At one point in August it looked like the First Marine Division was in big trouble because the Japanese were landing a lot of troops and there was a lot of combat and our Navy was not able to give the protection that our troops needed.
 
This was the frosting on the cake.  After badgering my parents for months about joining the service and using the fact that I would be drafted sooner or later any day.  They finally consented to signing my application for the Marine Corp and I was very elated about that at the time.
 
The three of us went down to the recruiting office in downtown Chicago and turned in our applications and were told to report for our physical a few days later, which we did.  I remember one incident during the physical, which you might have heard before; but there was a young fellow in front of me In line and the navy corpsman was giving us the color blind test. I could see in front of me the numbers that appeared on the colorblind test but he was unable to see them so he was rejected.  The Navy corpsman suggested:

“Why don’t you try the Navy they might be able to take you”.

 This made me feel that they were taking the cream of the crop in not taking somebody for something as small as color blindness.
 
We all passed.  John Kurowski, Dick Buegel and I and were ordered to report for swearing in and leaving , This was August 31, 1942. Several days later we went to the recruiting office again with approximately fifty new recruits and were sworn in.  We went to the railroad station after a few hours to board a train to go to San Diego boot camp 
 
I’ll never forget, my parents came down to the LaSalle St. Station among a few other parents who also showed up and at that age I was a little embarrassed and felt they should not be there.
 
We boarded the train and as I waved to them I could see that my mother and father were very concerned thinking they might never see me again. Now years later I think of the consternation that I caused them but; it was one of those things for that time and it happened and it is over.
 

Boot Camp

milt_at_bootcamp.jpg

The Marine Corp has two boot camps one in Parris Island and one in San Diego (which you’ve all seen in “Gomer Pyle’s Adventures in the Marines”   on the TV series) that was the boot camp we were assigned to.  We boarded the train for the three day journey, no air conditioning, the windows were usually up on the train and we slept in our clothes in the seats, not too comfortable.
 
At the end of the trip we felt dirty and sweaty.  Arrived at the San Diego railroad station.  Trucks were waiting for us and we were piled into the back ends of two and a half ton military vehicles.  We all stood up in the back of the truck and were taken to the recruiting station in San Diego.
 
 As I stood in the truck I noticed all the lush landscape that was completely foreign to any of us from anywhere east or the Midwest.   It was just beautiful with palm trees and flowers and for me, unusually colorful.
 
By this time it was getting to be late afternoon and we were all tired and hungry.  We finally arrived at the recruit depot and saw the big sign out in front “The Main Gate U.S. Marine Corp Recruit Depot”.   The truck stopped and we were allowed in and I thought  “Boy, this is finally it.  It’s going to be a real adventure.  It Was!
 
They herded us into a huge barracks.  The main floor was a partially open area where we were met by several Marines, mostly DI’s and we all more or less lined up in front of this long table.  We were expecting to be greeted with some ebullience but it was quite the contrary.  This DI’s jumped up on the table in front of us and told us what scum-bags we were and how we had volunteered to get into the Marine Corps and they didn’t particularly care whether we were there or not, it was up to us.  He used a lot of strong language, which I don’t care to repeat here.
    
The DI looked every inch a “God”.  He had his brown stiff brimmed hat, starched khakis everything spit and polish and he looked like everything we envisioned a Marine to be, except we were taken aback by his attitude.
 
We were given little boxes to put our valuables in, to mail home later, and afterwards we were walked to the mess hall and had our dinner, a little late, on stainless steel trays.  I think it was “cold cut day”  (Friday) we sat down at long tables and ate.
 
Everyone was very tired and quiet, with just a little talk here and there.  We were taken back to the second floor barracks, typical barracks with double bunks on top of the other and lockers.  We were shown how to make up a bunk.  We were told to strip the bunk and make them up.  The DI afterwards checked to see whether we had done it correctly.  Well, if one or two people had not done it correctly, he made everybody strip the bunk again.  This happened three times.
 
We finally got it right and were told to take a cold shower, which we did, and afterwards finally got into our little beds and went to sleep or tried to go to sleep.  I lay back on my bunk wondering what the heck I had done! Anyway, the next morning a bugle on the PA system woke us up and we literally jumped out of our sack, got dressed and went back down stairs and were taken to have our physicals.
 
The physicals went fine except there was a line for everything.   As we went through the Navy doctors and corpmen were very efficient.  The final test was a blood test.  I’ll never forget how they used a tiny tube with a sharpened end which after tournequeting your bicep they put the tube into a vein and let the blood run down into a test tube which ended up corked and had your name put on it.  That was the end of that physical.
 
The next step was getting our gear, equipment and clothes.   As we walked over to the warehouse where all of this was stored we passed on the edge of the parade ground that was indeed a magnificent sight.  The parade ground at San Diego is pretty much the way Gomer Pyle shows it on TV.  A huge quadrangle of asphalt and the buildings surrounding it are stucco and clay tile, rather good looking.
 
The parade ground by this time was filled with recruits, formed platoons with the DI’s drill instructions.  You could almost tell by the way each platoon marched which week they were in, the first, second or third week.  It was very noticeable in the way they wheeled around and did about faces and some had rifles by this time, which was another indication that they had been in for several weeks.
 
After getting our clothing, pith helmet, shoes khaki shirts, greens and all of the other things, belt and whatever we needed at that point we were marched over to the PX and each man had to purchase a pail, scrub brush, Fels Naptha soap, shaving gear and tooth brush and tooth paste.  These would take care of our needs for the next seven weeks.
 
We were next assigned to platoons.  My platoon happened to be 743 and we were assigned a DI.  The DI assigned to us was Corporol Apple. He was a good looking guy with blonde hair and looked great, he was liked by the guys because he had a ready smile he tried to be mean and rigid but he broke into a smile occasionally as if to show that he didn’t really mean it.
 
This is probably one of the funniest incidents in Boot camp while not funny to us at the time. We were marched over to the barber shop and the platoon stood in three ranks waiting to get our hair cuts.  There must have been three or four barbers inside and there was only one way to get in, walked up two or three stairs and went in and took turns   The funny part of it was that as we stood out there each man had varying lengths of hair, some having longer curly locks which they were apparently vain about.  As each man came out with his head narrowly shaved the entire platoon would burst out laughing.  The same thing happened to me and everybody else; but we all got used to it.
 
 We lived in Quonset huts, which are half circles of corrugated steel. Inside were the same steel bunks every man having a bunk and some sort of a locker and the day’s work proceeded.  The first week was strickly close order drill.  We were taught to do our left face, right face, forward march and close order drill and we marched pretty continuously for several days.  We had several classes, class movies and it progressed that way until about the third week.
 
At this time we were issued our Springfield 03 rifle.   A World War 1 vintage wonderful weapon, lever action with 5 round clips.As we walked up they handed them to us and they were full of Cosmoline which is a thick green grease.  They marched us to a cleaning area where there were toothbrushes for cleaning each weapon.  We were given a lecture and were told that this rifle would be our partner for the rest of our Marine career.  We treated them with great respect.  The same day after the Cosmoline process and a thorough cleaning we had a rifle inspection and many of us had to go back and clean them again and probably again.
 
About this time Corporal Apple was transferred to another platoon. We were sorry to see him go.  He was replaced by Sgt. Sellers, who was a handsome man, a little older than Cpl. Apple.  Sgt. Sellers had a little mustache, Pith helmet, as usual the same spit and polish appearance, we grew to like him as well, although he was a lot more strict and a little more temperamental than Cpl Apple.
 
A little note about the DI’s we were instructed by, they had all been in the Corp for several years.  I think Sgt Sellers had been in for six or seven years and we heard that all of the DI’s on the base had been survivors of the SS Lexington the carrier that was sunk in the battle of the Coral Sea.  They told us little stories about being rescued after a day or two just clinging to the wreckage or rafts and finally being picked up.
 
A little about the make up of the platoon, they came from all over.   The platoons in marching order were arranged so that the biggest men were usually in the lead when we marched in columns and the shorter men were in the back, they got to be fairly small down to five foot six inches tall the last two or three were called “feather merchants” I don’t know where the term came from but that is what they were called.
 
Personalities varied as did ages some were seventeen as I was and some were as old as twenty, although there were not too many of those.  Some of them as you talked to them you realized that they had been around for a little while and as in the case of the one guy with the longer black shiny hair, had a loud sport coat when he came in, quite talkative and you could see that he had been around and was more or less a “city slicker”
 
Sgt. Sellers took us in hand after we received our new rifles and taught us the  “Manual of Arms” and the Marching Manual and had us marching with our rifles on the parade grounds and we were doing pretty well after two days.  We were slapping our rifles as hard as we could so that we sounded pretty good.
 
There were as many as 20 platoons at a time, all marching in cadence and each DI had his own little style.  The cadence was almost musical with the various DI’s and you could hear them from
afar.  The whole ambiance was really kind of exciting the cadence went, somewhat like this:  “wot, two, three, foe, three, foe d -u left, right, left hup o three, four, five, six, seven, eight” and you were expected to slap your rifle so that they all came down at the same time.  It was rather miraculous as we got to be good at it.  The sights and sounds of marching recruits all over that parade ground was quite a sight to behold.
 
There were two other events that happened during boot camp.   We were told that they were making a movie in Hollywood and wanted us on the parade ground with all the recruits of the boot camp at that time.  So we all had our rifles, marched out to the parade ground and   they assembled us all over that parade ground and we had been taught to do an exercise drill with rifles so that the entire parade ground was filled with recruits at about 5 or 6 feet apart each way and the cameras were on us.  We went through this rifle exercise to the music of “It’s Three O’clock in the Morning” and they had us do this several times while they shot and re-shot.   I don’t know if this ever appeared in a movie but for us it was a kind of a unique situation.
 
The other event was: every Saturday morning we would have an inspection and several of the higher ranking officers would come around and make the inspection walking past all of the troops lined up on the parade grounds in our “greens” with our rifles, standing at attention all at several stages of training.  Now and then one of the high ranking officers would stop and talk to one of the men and ask how they were doing in their training and of course it was always, very affirmative and up, up, and up.
 
One particular Saturday morning we were told that President Roosevelt was coming so of course we were out quite early all standing at attention on the parade ground.  On the perimeter of the parade ground were many platoons all lined up, all standing at attention.  The sun in San Diego during the morning hours was starting to get quite warm but we stood there and not too long afterwards an open black limousine came along  and there he was President Roosevelt, FDR himself!  The car went touring around the middle of that parade ground in the middle of all the recruits and we got a look at him and he left.  That was the end of that big event but it was quite exciting.
 
I had told you that we had gotten Pith Helmets originally; but we hadn’t since they were short of Pit Helmets so we got them three or four week later.  Most of us had the short over-seas caps.  Some of the fellows who were blond or red heads got some real sun burns !
 
Boot camp took seven weeks of which the first three or four weeks, was at the base and that went mostly as I told you.  On Saturday mornings it was inspection time but on one or two days a week in the mornings we had to wash our clothes and we were
marched out to the wash racks which were bands of wood racks with piping and faucets above about three feet apart so what you had to do was wash your clothes that morning, shirts, dungarees, skive drawers, underwear and scrub them with the Fels Naphta and a brush and hang them up to dry. All of the clothes were marked so that you would hopefully get your clothing back.
 
We were awakened by a bugle call at 5:00 a.m. put on our clothes rather quickly, and ran outside with overcoats because the San Diego mornings at that time of the year were quite chilly.  We would do   some calisthenics, then marched over to the mess hall for breakfast.
 
We were usually scheduled to do certain things during a particular day one of them being, bayonet course, obstacle course, class movie training films, snap in with rifles, close order drill and on it went. Occasionally, someone would foul up so the DI would make the offender do something strange or bizarre to make others laugh at him.  Scrubbing the stairs up to the drill instructors little bivouac with a toothbrush and soapy water, another one was to send  the offender  out to the salt flats to bring back a handful of  water.  Well, that was quite hard to do.  Usually very little water remained in the offender’s hands.
 

 

Rifle Range

The fourth week at Boot Camp at the recruit depot we were bused over to Camp Matthews, which is the Marine Corp rifle range.  I’d like to describe a little about the camp.  As we came through the big gates they had several mottos above the gates, such as “Make Every Shot Count”.
 
We were assigned to Quonset Huts that were to be our residence for the next few weeks.  We were a couple of miles from the Rifle Range.
 
Let me describe how the riffle range was set up.  They were a flat platform and spaced every so often for a position to fire from.  There was a burning soot-chamber that was used to thrust the rifle in and soot the front sight so that there was no glare off of the site.
 
The Range ranged from 100 yards, 200 yards and 500 yards.  Targets had “buts” which was a trench in back of each line of targets. The targets themselves were square with a big Bull’s-eye in the middle and a number of points much the same as a Dart game they slid up and down.  In the trench was someone tending each target and after each round was fired the person would pull down the target, put a white plug into it so that when he ran it back up you could see if you hit the Bull’s-eye because it had a white spot on it.
 
Every platoon that came in got a turn to fire and to tend the “buts”.  Beyond the 500 yards was a long hill into which all the bullets penetrated  and after a certain amount of time, from what I heard, they would go back there and collect all the lead by digging it out of the hill.
 
The first few days we spent time learning all the firing positions.  They consist of kneeling, prone and standing positions.  We were instructed how to use the rifle sling, how to wrap it around our arm and get a steady position whichever position we were in.  We were given instruction in the 45 caliber automatic Colt which was a standard side arm for the army the Marine Corp and I guess the Navy.  After a certain amount of instruction, I’d say in 2 or 3 days we finally started to fire and we got to practice firing at each position.   This took several other days and in the interim we fired at the 45 Caliber range with the pistol and I did fire expert with the pistol, which I was quite pleased about.
 
Some days later we were told we were going to fire for record, which meant that it goes on to your permanent record.  The three rating from bottom to top are Rifleman, Marksman and Expert Rifleman.  Of course everyone wanted to be an Expert Rifleman.   Record Day turned out to be a nice day, wind blowing slightly and I did quite well firing.  An instructor next to me made a mistake allowing me to fire two or three rounds at the five hundred yard range, without adjusting the windage knob on my rifle and this caused me to miss Expert Rifleman by two or three points.  It was upsetting but I did get Marksman and this was not bad and I felt pretty good all in all. After our Record firing we assembled and marched back. I might tell you that we were issued rifle jackets that were padded, had leather elbows and a leather right shoulder piece so that when the rifle fired it was in the shoulder and it would take up some of the brunt of the recoil.
 
The other thing I have to tell you our original instructor whom I envision throughout my life when I think about it, as an ideal Marine.  He was a great big guy, a French Canadian and looked like he was a Canadian Indian.  Tall, dark wore the typical brown broad brimmed hat and was so good and so likeable that everybody thought he was wonderful.  He would pick up that 03 rifle and show us how to fire standing up.  In that standing position I can see him now.  The rifle looked like a toy in his hand, he was so big, beautifully built and the typical Marine so that we all admired him.
 
After our firing on the range for Record we assembled and were marched back to our Quonset hut.  Sergeant Sellers marching along with us everybody could tell that he was quite upset.  The back of his neck was red and he had a very stern expression on his face.  We marched back to the Quonset Hut.  Later Sgt. Sellers told us that our DI had lost a bet with another platoon DI (a bottle of Scotch and some dollars).  He marched us out to the Salt Flat in the hot sun. for at least an hour.  We were exhausted so he made all of us pay for our misdeeds whether we fired poorly or for a job well done - it was all part of the game.

Artillery Training

The 105 Howitzer

Near the end of our time at Camp Matthews we assembled in an outdoor arena and were given some forms to fill out – questionnaires about our preferences for the further career in the service.  I put down that I would like to be a tail gunner in a fighter plane or a dive-bomber.  I’m looking back and I’m glad that didn’t come through.  My second choice was artillery and some days later, after we got back to the recruit depot, I found out that indeed I was assigned to the artillery.

During our last day or two at the recruit depot was the graduation ceremony.   It was typical of the Saturday morning inspection; we were all dressed in our greens and had our rifles and looked pretty good.  Generally a lot of awards were given out for best squad leader, etc.  I got none of those, but I was just glad to graduate.  We were now full-fledged Marines and could go around the recruit depot for another day or two and do many of the things that we were forbidden to do, like buying things that we needed at the PX.  Also the slop shoot was open to us, which was the drinking pub on the depot grounds and we could go in there and drink beer. That was our primary entertainment.

On another day we got a leave just for the day, so Kurowski, Beagel and I went out on the bus and we found out what San Diego was all about. It was not the city you see today; but much smaller and overwhelming with servicemen of all kinds, mostly Marines and Navy personnel.  We would go into the USO, which was located in the old YMCA building.  It was pleasant enough to pass a little time.  There were hostesses who would come around with coffee and donuts.   Places to sit and write, telephones and occasionally shows you could see.

The other spots were very orientated to military personnel with souvenir shops, and all sorts of gaudy storefronts where you could buy most anything.  There were two or three burlesque houses and we did go into one or two of those.   They were entertaining because they were different. I had never been in a burlesque house and it was fun to see the action on the stage. By today’s standards you could say it was family style entertainment.  The comedian would get up and tell a few racy jokes and there were always the chorus girls who would come on stage; they were all very nice and they looked good to us.

I believe it was about the middle or latter part of October that we went to Camp Elliot, the artillery and infantry training school.   It may be that it was a part of what was later to become Camp Pendleton.  We were assigned to two-story barracks, which were very new and decent, they had two tiered bunks and everything was ship-shape.  We had inspection again every Saturday and our bunks had to be just so.

Soon we were told that we were on alert. Later in the evening when we first got there we were issued ammunition and were told to be ready to go at a moments notice. The word was that they were afraid of a Japanese invasion of the California coast—this proved to be untrue of course.  Later it did come out that a Japanese submarine had come off shore somewhere in Northern California and had thrown a couple of shells into the coast line.
 

The training at Camp Elliot as far as Beagle and I were concerned was training on 105mm Howitzer, 75 mm pack Howitzer and we were shown the rudiments of the French 75 mm cannon that the French had used in WW I.  We were also given some rudimentary training on the 155 Howitzer.  These were the biggest guns the Marine Corp had for division use.

The 75mm pack Howitzer was called a Pack Howitzer because it could be disassembled, reliable, and could be carried up into the mountains on mules, then reassembled and fired from almost anywhere.  The 105 mm Howitzer had a 4.25 inch bore, split trails and was pulled by a truck or a tractor.  The projectile weighed 33 pounds and the shell casing, which you took off of the projectile, contained seven powder bags.  The bags were silk and they were all tied together with string; in order to fire a certain distance, by command we would take off one, two, three, or however many of the powder bags were required for the distance desired and snapped them off, putting the shell casing back on the projectile. The amount of powder inside that shell casing would determine how far that projectile would go.

The three main operators of the 105 were the gunner, who regulated the lateral aiming of the Howitzer.  The number one man who regulated the elevation of the angle upward or downward of the Howitzer and the loader who put the projectile into the breechblock.  Probably five or six other people took care of handling ammunition, opening crates for ammo, getting rid of the powder bags. During the next several weeks we trained on that particular Howitzer most often and were trained in the various positions; we did fire once or twice on the firing range.

Evenings were pretty much on our own.  Sometimes there was a show on the Base or we could go to the pub on the Base or do much of whatever we wanted, read or write letters home.  It was a Camp routine at that particular time. We did get one or two leaves to go into San Diego. The way to get into San Diego was to go through the front gate.  Getting sized up by the MP’s to see that everything was shiny, if it was you boarded a bus and went into San Diego.  That trip took a while, probably an hour the way I remembered it.

You could board the bus back from the USO at the YMCA and come back to camp.  When we disembarked from the buses, late in the evening or even in the morning the MP’s were waiting and you were inspected to see that you weren’t carrying anything into the camp.

Because Christmas was approaching I thought about my parents. We were given a three-day leave – not enough to get to Chicago and back – so I wrote a letter to my parents, and scouted around for gifts.  I bought several gifts with the little money I had, got my picture taken and framed and bought my mother a gold-filled necklace.  Not much.  When I got back home she still had it and seemed to like it though it was beginning to tarnish a bit.  I suppose it was a nice token to give her and she seemed to appreciated her gift.

Pacific Journey

Christmas and the New Year were upon us and for the life of me I can’t remember what we did to celebrate, so it must have been pretty non descript. I’m sure I got some cookies and things from my parents, which I shared with the other fellows.  We did know that we were due to go overseas very shortly.  We didn’t know how shortly; but it turned out to be January 7th.  About that time, after the first of the year, we were told where we would report and we were bussed out to the docks of San Diego.
 
We all stood in columns in our Greens and helmets and sea bags, rifles, packs, pretty heavily loaded.  It was warm while we were standing next to the large ocean liner, which turned out to be the SS Lurline.  It was a luxury liner that normally went from San Diego or San Francisco to Hawaii as a pleasure cruiser.  We waited and waited, and we were hot and sweaty and tired of standing.  After a couple of hours we finally boarded ship.  It was quite an experience to go aboard this huge ocean liner.
 

I’d never been aboard a ship of that size we were directed where to go.  We went down aisles, with staterooms on each side and ended up being put into these staterooms.  It all looked very nice except that there were seven or eight of us in each stateroom with double bunks; compared to some of the other ships we were to be on later it turned out to be quite a treat.

We got going, the trip was fairly uneventful but; we didn’t know where we were headed. There were all sorts of things going on board ship as we sailed thru the Pacific.  For instance, if you opened your stateroom door at two o’clock in the morning there would be a poker game going on in the aisle and mucho dollars passing between players.  Evidently it was quite lucrative for people who were adept in gambling.
 
Meanwhile, we could read or enjoy the ocean from the decks.  We would eat in the dining room and you could still see the trappings of glory from the days the ship was used for luxury cruises.  As I recalled they even used the same silver service that was used on luxury cruises. We sat at big long dining tables so it was pretty nice and we thought that all troop ships were set up that way.  Well, it turned out later that that was not true.
 
We traveled without any escort at all and were concerned about being alone on this troop ship in the middle of the ocean.  The word was that the S.S. Lurline could travel at a 33knot speed and fast enough to beat any submarine trying to catch us.  There were certain rules, never to throw a lit cigarette overboard because that might lead a trail for a submarine.  Never smoke above deck at night because of the light and we traveled aboard ship with life jackets.

After about two to three weeks at sea we started to see land that turned out to be New Caledonia, a tropical island with tropical forests everywhere.  The main city of Noumea lies on a harbor a kind of and is horse shoe shaped.  As our ship approached the harbor the submarine net went down so that we could get into the harbor.  We anchored and all topside were looking at the sights.  Nobody was allowed on shore except, as I recall, there was a raider battalion on our ship and they left to land on Noumea.  We were kept aboard ship and could see the town that was a typical tropical French city with a lot of stucco buildings and clay tile roofs. Rather pretty with lush growth around it.  At night there were no lights because of the war.  During the day it was pretty.  We went on the fantail and enjoyed looking into the ocean.  Our rude awakening came when we were told we were to transfer ships.
 
We had no idea what was happening, at any rate the SS Rochambeau pulled up along the S.S.Lurline.  We got all our gear and went several decks below where there was a wood raft between the two ships so that we could cross over.  We got all our sea bags on the ship and I wound up probably below the water line at a bunk.  The bunks were off of the bulkhead of the ship.   The walls sweated so there was constant condensation coming down the sides.  The bunks were one on top of the other just enough to get five deep.

As we walked around we found that this was one dirty ship, the French Merchant Marine did not keep it very well tended, the decks were scummy.  We were very disappointed and it was quite startling to compare the ship we had just been on.  That early evening when everybody was aboard we took off the ropes of the SS Rochambeau.  The net went down and we departed into the sunset.  Dick Beagel and I sat on the fantail and watched the magnificent sight of the sun going down, and we were off . . .to we knew not where.

On to Australia

We again cruised without a naval escort and were known as the 8th Replacement Battalion.  We were finally told that we were going to Australia and would join the First Marine Division.  This was really big news for us and we were happy to hear it.  I was assigned to L-4-11: Love Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, which is part of the First Division Artillery Regiment.
 
We cruised south for possibly four days.  On one of these days one of the innovative guys decided to do his laundry by tying a rope to his shirt and throwing it over the fantail.  After letting the ocean churn the shirt overnight he pulled it on deck and found just a few shreds of what should have been his shirt.  The conclusion is not clear in my mind; but for sure, no one tried this short cut again and it was back to the scrub board thereafter.
 
Our first stop was Brisbane.  We pulled into the harbor and anchored and again were not allowed to go ashore.  Again the environs were a tropical nature, quite hot, steamy with a lot of tropical growth in the way of trees and bushes.  As we lay in the harbor various things started to happen. Three or four of our crazed guys slipped off the ship and somehow got a boat to explore and forage around for any activity they had longed for during the journey, perhaps “wine, women and song”.  The next day their boat came up to the side of the ship trying to be very unobtrusive and of course they were picked up.   Roll call had been taken, people who were missing were found to be AWOL.  A make shift brig was set up and the people who had jumped ship were sentenced to some time in the brig at least for the remainder of the trip.  I don’t know what the Colonel’s sentence was; but whatever he said that’s what it was with a bad record to boot.
 
The other adventure was that we would stay on the fantail and we could see into the water.  All over the place were small sand sharks and jellyfish.  They were the size of grapefruits in the water.  One of the guys took a bucket with a rope threw it overboard and brought up a jellyfish.  It was thrown on the hot deck.  It almost immediately started to look cooked as if it were melting.  Someone cut it into three or four pieces to see what was inside.  There was no action from the thing so it was swept off the deck back into the ocean.
 
The next day we headed south once more, destination Melbourne, which took two days.  We reached the harbor (I think it was called Port Phillip).  We pulled up along side the dock where there was a Marine Band welcoming us playing the right stuff.  It was quite a glorious sight.
 
The city of Melbourne was very beautiful fashioned to look like a  small London, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. After we disembarked we were taken to the Melbourne train station for our trip to Ballarat. I had never seen a European train with compartments opening to the outside of train.  It was interesting in that we had all our gear with us everybody was loaded down with sea bags, rifles plus  each of us had been issued a hundred rounds of ammo.  I don’t know why they had issued the ammo; but they did.
 
As we traveled to Ballarat for about 30 miles, we passed through a lot of sheep ranches.  Evidently some “coo-coos” on the train took their rifles and fired at the sheep and several were killed.  When the train pulled into the Ballarat Station we were ordered not to leave the train.  As we disembarked one at a time the rifles were inspected and I think the people who had fired their rifles were in for a hard time.  I don’t know what happened to them finally; but they would be made sorry for their peccadillo.

 

Ballart, Australia

Ballarat, Australia

Marine Divisions are made up of four regiments: each has three infantry and one artillery unit these make up the main body of the Division.  The First Division consisted of the 1st, 5th, 7th,and 11th Regiments.  The 5th Provisional Regiment served in World War 1 and was honored by the French.  I believe in Belleau Wood for stopping the German advance in Paris.  They were given a forge’ to wear on their one shoulder.  At any rate, each regiment had four Battalions and this included the four Batteries of 105’s.  The 4th battalion manned 105 Howitzers and the other Battalions had 75 mm Pack Howitzers or 155 mm, we were the support system for the infantry and stayed fairly close in back of them in all the combats we experienced.
 
There were other units attached to the First Division including Special Weapons, companies which consisted of Anti Tank Guns.  We had a First Tank Battalion which was another support system.  Mortar platoons, and Anti Aircraft Battalion and more that finally brought up the full strength of the Division for something probably just under 20,000 men.
 
At the time that I had gotten to Ballarat  the Division was no where near full strength because a lot of the men from Guadalcanal were in the hospital with Malaria , dissentary and Denghi Fever and various other things -old wounds etc.,  A considerable number were in the hospital at Ballarat.  The ones that seemed to have constant trouble with Malaria were eventually shipped home; but some of those fellows didn’t really take care of themselves because they would come out of the hospital and after about a week of treatment with quinine and some rest they would go into town and they would probably drink too much, stay up late and not get enough rest so they would have a relapse with Malaria..  Eventually some of them that had relapses three or four rimes were sent home.
 
However, as time went on more and more replacements were coming in and at the same time more and more of the people that they could not cure completely were sent back to the States so as that progressed the whole Division was coming up to strength. The 11th Marines were placed in Ballarat; but the 1st, 5th and 7th were bivouaced in the Cricket Field in Melbourne and its environs making it a disorganized group.  I think the policy when I joined them was that they were to give the veterans of Guadalcanal a complete rest giving them   a place to unwind and forget about the discipline, up to a point, of course.
 
Generally, the guys in my battalion and all the others in Ballarat were pretty good.  The people of Ballart were excellent they didn’t mind some of the drunks.   We maintained a fairly decent posture there and they seemed to love us.  All in all it was a rather nice experience.  There were some fun times and after we were there for a while it seemed to fall more into place.  Pretty soon we were in a normal training routine but let me tell you about the first few weeks.
 
I was transferred to the gun section #2.  Sgt. Schult was in charge of that and about all we did as a matter of some routine, was clean the gun every two or three days and that meant the complete strip down of cleaning the breech block which was stainless steel and polishing it and oiling it and putting it all back into place until we became skilled at all of that.
 
The regular routine of the day for the first several weeks was laid back.  There didn’t seem to be that many people in the tent rows and I remember the first morning after sleeping in this empty bunk with one or two people around in my tent we were awakened by the call for roll call.  I got up and went out and there were about two dozen men out there.   The 1st Sgt. came out with a list for the roll call, with probably a hundred names, somebody always yelled YOO! for the absent one so they were all accounted for .  The 1st Sgt. knew that but he didn’t seem to care.  That routine was pretty lax and continued for a week or two and in the meantime the new replacements were given all the tough jobs.  Guard duty, KP, things like that.  Most of the regulars were not in for chow and had already had breakfast in Ballarat or dinner or whatever and didn’t go to the mess hall.
 
We were really amazed at the contrast from where we had come from and the lax discipline, totally unlike the Marine Corps.  I guess I was on several guard duties but the most memorable one was to guard the brig.  The brig at that point was not really a brig but rather a big tent and was set up very close to the front gate.  My job was to patrol around the perimeter of the tent with my rifle.
 

On Patrol

There were probably 6 or 8 people inside among them Marcisak and Frank Knapp.  Frank Knapp, I learned later was a college graduate, English Lit. Major he looked like William Powell with a little moustache very socialite looking guy and talked that way.  His father was a manufacturer in the East, so it was a fairly wealthy family.  Marcisak on the other hand was a short very stocky Serbian (or Croatian) and he had the face of a bull dog, came from the NY Bronx or some where like that and talked that way. At any rate,  I learned this later and had no idea when I was given the assignment the types of people who were in that brig.  It turned out that both Marcisak and Knapp were often in that brig.  Usually due to too much drinking.

Around early evening I walked around the brig at a slow pace to help make the time pass away.  I could hear some of the conversation from the inside.  Early on it was affable but nothing to be concerned about.  There were jokes but as the evening wore on and as it got dark laughter and jokes increased inside and Frank Knapp was starting to recite poetry  such as “Gung a Din”, Rudyard Kipling and any number of pieces  such as the “Charge of the Light Brigade”.  One of the things he recited that I learned from him was:

“The wind blows cold off Iceland: but the winds have
Blown cold before, it’s not so hard in your own
Back yard in peace or war;
But to make a stand in a distant land
Is a job for the Leather Neck Corps.”

 
Things like that went on and on. As dumb as I was I saw one of them sneaking out from under the tent and going into town for their liquor.  They were having a ball.  Who was I to Interfere?  I didn’t say a word and when my relief came I was relieved.
 
Another time I was assigned to guard a truck carrying four or five prisoners.  I was the only one with a rifle and had one round of ammunition that I was told not to use unless I had to; but if one of them got away I would take his place as prisoner.  It made me very leery.  The assignment was for the truck to go to a gravel pit, fill the truck with gravel and come back and use the gravel for street repair.   I was supposed to be in charge but; the truck driver who was not a prisoner had other plans.   On these runs when we finished shoveling the gravel I was talked into stopping at a pub.  I did not go in; but everyone else, including the truck driver stopped and had a beer.  Again, when I was relieved of my duty I was really relieved! 
 
As more replacements came in things got a little more serious and the vacation was over.  Now we were having rifle inspection, tent and bunk inspections every Saturday morning and no more fake roll calls everything was starting to be very military and disciplined. We were going out on fire problems during the day and sometime at night and firing our 105’s.
 
One particular mission we went on was a night problem.    We got in at 2 o’clock in the morning and brought the guns in under the tent and were told to clean the guns.  This was not as easy a procedure as you might think.  We had to wash the tubes, dry them and put oil in the tube plus take the stainless steel breech block apart, polishing everything so that I learned no gun after firing was to be put to rest until it was completely cleaned.
 
Training intensified as we stayed there and things got more and more serious, including hiking 10 or 15 miles.  We were issued our new M1 rifles and had to turn in our Springfield 03’s rifles that nobody was too thrilled about.  We fired our M1’s on the rifle range and training became somewhat routine; but on the other hand the passes were fairly generous and we were starting to go on liberty as many as two or three times a week.  Got out at about 4 o’clock and could go to Ballarat at times, on a twenty four or forty eight hour pass and even occasionally a seventy two hour pass.
 

Downtown Ballarat

We got to know a little about Ballarat and the places around it.  The tram ran from the front gate of Victoria Park into town it wasn’t very far, maybe six or eight blocks.  There were not many able bodied men in town as they were all in the Australian army so they were all or mostly all out of the country.  It was the same in Melbourne, very few able bodied men around.
 
I’ll try to remember something about the way Ballarat looked and try to describe it to you.  The center of town was sort of a circle and in the circle was a fountain and some bushes and there was a big median strip in the center of town which ran out as far as Victoria Park and that was all planted and landscaped and very nice. There was a small City Hall and Jail and a Bobby standing around or patrolling the street.
 
The Bobbys wore tall caps that the London, England police wore.  There were stores around the perimeter and on each side of the street.  The stores were fairly decent looking except that the flavor of the place reminded one of a western town, with rails in front of the buildings for horse hitches the reason for that was that in the area all around Ballarat were sheep ranches and the ranchers would come into town on their horses and tie their horses to the rail while they shopped or drinking or whatever they were going to do.
 
The main streets were paved, as I vaguely remember the sidewalks were wood and there were continuous wood awnings over the sidewalks so that you could walk from store to store under the awnings and one could do a continuous stretch of shopping.
 
There must have been as many as a dozen pubs in town within walking distance of one another and they were all done in the fashion of the English with a big sign hanging out on the yardarms with quaint names, about the same kind of names one would except in London, “The white Horse Inn”, etc., The pubs closed for a 6:00 PM for curfew.  We would get leaves at 4 PM and rush over to the pubs to get some of their delicious strong beer.
 
The pubs would fill up and there would be Marines five or six deep at the bar and sometime you were lucky to get a stein.  The bartender would announce;
“That’s the last beer!“  Everyone would file out with more beers for drinking later.  With so much drinking some guys would get “down under” and would have to be shipped back to the camp to sleep it off so that got fewer and fewer “last beers” as we got more experience with it.  That never happened to be.
 
On one occasion we got into a pub and had not gotten more than a stein of beer and the pub closed.  There were two or three of us and we went outside and hailed a taxi and asked the cab driver if there were somewhere else to get a drink.  He took us a little further out into the country where there was another pub.  It looked closed and looked dark.  A lot of the businesses were not allowed to have lights on because of the possibility of bombing.
 
 At any rate as we walked up to the front door, someone peeked out and they let us in it was like a speak-easy.  Low and behold, it was well lighted inside and there must have been 50 Marines wall to wall.   “Shades of Chicago, there is always a way to by-pass the law.”
 
The pubs would get their rations of liquor and since Scotch was the favored item they would run out of it by the middle of the month so it is obvious how much drinking was going on
 

 

ballarat-1.jpgVictory Arch, Victoria Park, Ballarat, Australia

Going in the opposite direction from Victoria Park a short distance away was a miniature Arch de Triumph and it was the same main street that led into town that went thru the Arch.  On each side of the street (or road) it was farm land and about every 10 feet there was a tree planted which formed  a stately row of  about 15 years old trees.  From what we were told they were planted in honor of men who had died in the First World War probably at Gallipoli.
 
There was another park other than Victoria Park but it was primarily for the people of Ballarat.  It was very peaceful out there, it reminded us of a small town park and I remember going there several times usually on a Sunday after noon.  There was a small lake on the property that had a ferry boat on which you’d pay a fare, go across and as you got closer to the other side you could hear a band playing. When you got off the ferry and strolled over to the area where the band was there was a gazebo filled with uniformed bandsman playing all sorts of tunes that were all familiar with. It reminded me of a scene from “The Music Man “ it was very peaceful and nice.
 
One day another friend and I walked to the park from the B & B that was in Ararat, about 30 miles from Ballarat.  As we looked ahead we saw a bench between two trees and there were two girls sitting there using a pair of binoculars.  So of course we walked over and talked to them and found out that their job was Aircraft Spotters.  My friend walked away with the other girl and I sat with “Heather”. She invited me to tea at her house where she introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Campbell, who was very nice to me, offered me some tea which we drank, she asked me where I was from and I could feel that she heard of Chicago; but was not too pleased to have her daughter bring home a ‘Chicago Marine’.
 
Heather showed me all sorts of her sister’s tennis cup awards after which she taught me to play tennis on a court in back of their very nice house.  I did ask her for a date and she met me at Ballarat at the train station.  We went to a movie and afterwards I asked her to dinner.  She didn’t want to have dinner so I felt that we didn’t hit it off too well or maybe, too well.  She was a cute girl sixteen or seventeen, with dark hair and blue eyes somewhat pretty as I recall and very shy . . . an adventure at my young age to remember.
 
At that timeI had an acquaintance, Sgt. Blades who had been an admiral’s aid who was transferred to the First Division.  We went out and rented a couple of horses he was a good rider because he was from Texas.  I, on the other hand did not know much about riding.   We rode for a while and then headed back to camp.  He hit the rump of my horse and the horse went off like a shot and headed fro a low hanging limb.  Fortunately, I saw the limb and kept my head low and that didn’t work for the horse to get rid of me, so he bolted but did not throw me and then calmed down.  We had bought a bike to share, which we alternately used to go out of town. He had a girl friend and spent a lot of time with her. When we left Ballarat in August Sgt. Blades was AWOL not to be found and was facing a Court Martial who knows what happened to him later.
 
On other occasions we would go to Melbourne that was about 30 miles away and spent some time checking it out.  We seemed to have enough money to eat in some nice restaurants and on one occasion we went to a football game at the stadium. The teams were made up of guys from a couple of our regiments, though I don’t remember which ones. I met John Kurowski and had a couple of beers and decided that it would be fun to get a tattoo by a good tattoo artist. We found somebody but the more we talked about it the less enthusiastic we became and it was put off.   We decided if ever we would do it, it would have to be done by a real professional fine artist.
 
Meanwhile, training was getting more and more rigorous the hikes were longer and we were going out on a lot of firing missions both at night and in the afternoon.  One of these was a trip to the outback somewhere out in the country.   We must have hauled our guns 30 miles or more to one of our big firing ranges that I think was enclosed with a rail fence, I found myself assigned to a guard duty post rather than a place in the gun section.  Two or three of us jumped into a jeep and the driver and the NCO took us to a relative post where I was dropped off way out someplace in the boondocks and it looked like the Sonora desert or something with some trees here and there.  I was placed at the intersection of the road going into that firing range.   My job was to keep anybody from going through the gates on foot only vehicles were to pass.  The gates were wide enough for a vehicle and I was placed right at the gate and told to stay there.  I had some C rations with me and I decided to try to kill time and read a book which I had with me.
 
Nobody showed up in that entire time I was on duty.  By late afternoon the sun was going down, and it was getting a bit chilly so I looked around, got some dead logs and started a fire which was pretty roaring and it kept me warm.  As it got dark there was a small scrub forest in back of me and I could hear some strange noises coming out of the area so I kept that fire up fairly high.  I had no idea what kind of animals could be in there and no ammunition, only a rifle and my C Rations that I had eaten at lunch and dinner.  By this time it was getting pretty dark with no relief in sight.   They told me it would be such and such a time that they would pick me up and nothing was happening.   For a while I thought they had forgotten me; however after a while I could hear the jeep and as we started through that little forest three or four kangaroos were jumping ahead of us in the head lights so that was the noise source that I had heard earlier.  I had imagined all kinds of cougars and various other animals.  Another detail I was glad to be finished with!
 
When I was assigned to gun section Number 1 I moved into a tent with the people in the gun section.  The people I remember were Sgt. Lafolette, the gun section chief, John Hutzler from Philadelphia, McClure from somewhere in the South, Georgia, or Carolina or somewhere, John Hess from West Virginia who had a real West Virginia twang, and a few others whose names I can’t recall.
 
Lafolette, was a sort of a “pretty boy type”, his father was one of the famous Lafolette’s of Wisconsin.  I believe his uncle was then the Governor of Wisconsin.  Sgt. Lafolette had a girl friend in town and he used to “pretty up” when he went out - put his cologne on and shaved and shined and looked very handsome.  He reminded me of Rudy Valley and of his going on during his preparation for a date afterwards we would make some snickering remarks.
 
I became pretty good friends with John Hutzler who was a very nice, mild mannered kind of a guy and sort of gave me the feelings of a big brother.   He was a couple of years older and had been around a bit and had been on Guadalcanal. He was the one who told me a lot of the stories about Guadalcanal. John also had a some connection in Ballarat as he had a girl friend there so I took it for granted that he would be in and out and he came in late usually at two or three o’clock in the morning, sometime not until dawn or just before roll call.
 
One night it wasn’t very late, probably 10 or 11 o’clock at night John came running into the tent.  There was nobody else around so that he sat on my bunk and was very agitated so he proceeded to tell me the story of his love life, which was very interesting.  What had happened was that John had evidently made friends with an Aussie soldier who was married and had a little baby probably a year or two old.  The Aussie would take John home, they would have dinner and they all became good friends.  It came to pass that the Aussie soldier who got his orders to leave the country.  They might have been going to Crete or somewhere where they were going to do battle for the English.
 
Before he left he talked to John and asked him whether he would mind  stopping in on his wife to see how she was doing and to see if she needed any kind of help.  Well, it further came to pass that John and the wife started to become enamored with one another and one thing lead to another and pretty soon John was spending all of his nights there. 
 
The story is not as sordid as it sounds but; John explained that in Australia the marriages were sometime marriages of convenience and the Aussie men were not very well reared in their attentions to women in general so that  she was completely taken aback at how American men were and surprised by the attention, plus I suppose she was lonely and at any rate, the night that he came running in late was the night that they were in bed together and there came a knock on the door and there was her husband and they could hear him calling.
 
John had to get out of there very quickly he took his clothes and whatever he had around him and left very quickly through a back window.  He was agitated but hung around a little bit outside and waited to see what was going to happen.  He wasn’t real sure what to expect and he was concerned about her. He came in and told me the story.  The next day he went out there and had dinner with them and said one of the embarrassing things was that the little boy was calling him “daddy”.
 
I got the impression that John really did care for this girl and it wasn’t just an affair to him.  He wasn’t that type of a person, I always had a warm feeling for him.   He was really a pretty straight and honest guy and I respected him.
 
I was normally resolved to stay out of trouble for my time in the Marine Corps but there was one event that I’m almost reluctant to reveal and except for the interesting aspects of what followed I probably would not do so.  I must say that anyone thinking about this should remember that I was 17 and I had put my company in with Fenzlo and it was much like Pinnochio and Candlewick.  Fenzlo was a tall big guy and he loved his liquor and loved to get drunk but I found him sort of intriguing.  He was a Guadalcanal veteran and I was persuaded to go out with him on liberty.  Well, we started at several bars and the upshot was that at this one bar after we had quite a bit to drink Fenzlo started to get a little disorderly I would say, whereupon we were told by someone that the MP’s were coming Fenzlo, leading the way, we dashed out the back and in the process Fenzlo broke a small window so he could unlock the door.  We scrambled out into the back yard and there was a tall brick wall about 6’ high that we proceeded to scale.  As we were going over the top we could both see the MP truck pulling up right in front of us. Thereupon we were arrested and taken to the Provost Marshal in town and stayed overnight in jail and the next day we were transferred to a camp in Ballarat under guard.  I believe the Court Martial was that same day.  We were presented to Colonel Hughs, battalion commander.  Fenzlo, a PFC went in first. As I waited he came out with a smile on his face and he was free, having given up his PFC Stripe and was back to being a Private.  I assume that the leniency had much to do with the fact that he was a Guadalcanal vet as was the Col.
 
I went in with some trepidation and faced the Col. who read the charges.  It developed that I was sentenced to ten days in the brig along with a Five Pound fine for breaking the window, which I didn’t break.  I was escorted to the brig.  The brig was no longer the way I described it when we first came to Ballarat.  It was a bona-fide brig, possibly 3 tents with cots and a little wood stove in the center of each tent.  The brig was almost full.   There was a fence around it and was patrolled by brig guards and an evil looking warden who scowled at us at every turn.  Several of my compatriots from my battery were, Marsiack, Jack Knapp who was in and out periodically and several others whose names I can’t remember were in for a longer period.   Marsiack was in for 30 days, bread and water.
 
Bread and water was just as its name denotes, 2 days bread and water and then the third day a full meal.  I believe that is an old Navy sentence from back in the olden days.  Presently, a prisoner on bread and water  is checked by the battalion doctor periodically, to see if he was in good health.  So, there were some safety precautions. The fence around the brig was made of wire and wood and you could go out during the day and look through the fence to see what was happening outside.
 
I was given a hair cut which was a short crew cut that made me feel naked. None of us could wear our Marine Corps emblems.  We had our dungarees and that was it.  We had the stove burning though it was summer time here in the states but; it was rather chilly at night so we kept the stove going.  We listened to stories from all the inmates and we would be marched out for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
 
One of the funny things that I’ve told various people was that our friends who were on bread and water were provided by us with supplies in this manner:  we would go to the mess hall and someone would take a stick of butter and smuggle it out by putting it on top of their head and the cap floated on top of the butter.   As we were marched back into the brig there was a search, the cap was grabbed and lifted off the head so that there was no contraband on anyone except for the one who stole the butter.  Marsicak made toast on the stove and put the butter on it to have bread and butter and water!
 
There was one incident during the time I was in the brig when one of the inmates had a girl friend on the outside.  She was a daughter of a rancher, evidently pretty well off.  She would ride up on her beautiful riding horse and they would talk and were obviously in love. Sometime later this fellow escaped and I never did find out what happened to him if they caught him, which I’m sure they did, he was probably sentenced to a much worse situation.
 
During the day we were sent out on working parties on trucks to shovel gravel or other such duties.  So the time seemed to pass pretty well and when the time elapsed to get out of the brig I was pretty happy and resolved that I would never let this happen to me again and further more I never again went out with Fenzlo.
 
It was getting to be about August or September when we had a giant regimental parade.  I believe the Division Commanding General came to the parade and inspected the troops.   We knew then that it was getting close to our last sojourn in Ballarat.
 
When we got orders to leave Ballarat it was a nostalgic moment because some of the fellows got into relationships with girls and their families and some just met with various families. Ballarat was all in all a very picturesque and interesting town.  The people were friendly and fun and we generally enjoyed our entire stay.  We were on very good terms with the people so that they were not too happy to see us leave.
 
Most of us left by trucks with the guns, the others left by packing into trains. All of the town’s people were out and waving, some of the women were crying so it was an unforgettable moment.  The last sights of Ballart.

My only regret about this period of time was that I was so young and couldn’t appreciate the value of being in a foreign country and seeing things and appreciating them; but it was that time of life and it’s just too bad.  That is my only regret about that.

 

Ship to New Guinea

Victory Ships
472px-Victory_cargo_ships_are_lined_up_at_a_U.S._west_coast_shipyard.jpgVictory Ships

We got to Melbourne and were bivouaced somewhere but were assigned to a Victory Ship right in the port and I believe that the dock workers were fairly scarce because of the absence of able bodied men   so we spent several days loading ship with supplies for our journey for again we knew not where. We knew it would be to combat somewhere.  We were loading food and barbwire and ammunition and everything that had to do with these trips.  The deck had planks stacked neatly over what was the food supply.  I’ll tell you more about that later
 
This was a Victory Ship made in the U.S., a new line of ship being turned out quickly, therefore they were not very comfortable.  One of the things that were added to the ship were the “heads” which were strung out on both sides of the ship.  They were made of wood and overhung the side of the ship so that the waste matter would be dropped into the sea.  Sort of an afterthought, I would say.
 
We finally boarded ship in Melbourne and got under way, under escort with destroyers and headed north along the coast of Australia presumably into the war zone.  The sea was fairly calm and sunny every day and there was a feeling of elation and excitement, generally speaking and we were glad to get away from the routine of camp life.  We were bored since we had been hearing all of the reports of the progress of the war.  We knew that there were other Marine divisions that were hitting places like Bouganville and we had gotten word that the army had landed in New Guinea.
 
During the trip a couple of events occurred which are probably worth recounting.  One was that Sgt. Bales and Pvt. Gregory had gone AWOL before the ship sailed.  We knew not what happened to them but later it came out that both of them had been picked up by the MP’s which was easily done because there were no more Marines in Melbourne or Ballarat for that matter and it was probably easy to spot a young man with or without uniform in that environment so it was easy enough to spot them. It later came out that Sgt. Bales had contracted a venereal disease so we never saw him again.  Pvt. Gregory, will be a story for a later telling.
 
That was one event and the other one was a simile to the Caine Mutiny,  which  brings to my mind the case of the missing strawberries.  In this case there was a missing one or two cans of fruit such as fruit cocktail or peaches or something.   Someone had pried up the floorboards on the deck that we were sleeping on in our cots and the discovery was made that the cans were missing.  Well, there was a thorough investigation and all the bunks were checked out and it came about that the perpetrator was found and arrested and brought before Col. Hughes and the Court Martial.  Col. Hughes, was called “smiling Col. Hughes” because it was said that when he smiled you were going to get a tough sentence.
 
This fellow got 30 days bread and water on the ship and was confined in a rope locker in the bow of the ship which, consisted of a space probably 5 or six feet square and quite deep down into the bowels of the ship.  You could look down and see him through a grating in the top deck.  There were ropes down there coiled up that I suppose he slept on.  That was his sentence. 
 
The unjust part of it was that sometime during the cruise probably a week later, Col Hughes and the ship officers decided to have a pie eating contest for our entertainment.  The ship’s cooks brought up many pies and Col Hughes brought up the prisoner who was allowed to sit and watch while several of the members of the ships company and the Marines ravenously ate the pies and were timed while doing so.  It seemed a little cruel and unjust. I don’t know if it was against the Navy Regulations but nobody said anything and we felt sorry for him.
 
Life aboard ship was relatively dull; but relaxing and if you had spare time you could go to the Chaplains office and get a paper back book to read.  I read several books during my time aboard ship.   It was during this time that the first paperback books were available.   I don’t think that books were ever printed that way before and they were for distribution to the armed forces.  Reading was one way to pass the time.  We had a several modest working parties, cleaning and sweeping I think that I was assigned to a gun watch at one point and that took one or two hours in the evening.  Other than that it was sort of uneventful.
      
There was another thing that I will always remember.  I happened to be standing at the rail one day and I was standing next to Lebrock, who was a fellow I didn’t know very well, but he had the demeanor of an older man especially when he smoked his pipe.  We got to talking and he was talking about his girl friend back in Australia whom he had left. He had written a letter to her that he wanted to get mailed.  I think he had the idea that he would marry this girl because he was serious about it and had established a good relationship with her.  At any rate, he talked with rather a sad outlook and it sounded as if he had a premonition of something happening to him, which it later did.    
 
We anchored off the town of Townsville that is in Northern Australia, and just inside the Great Barrier Reef.  Actually, we anchored out just beyond the Reef.  I had read and heard about the Great Barrier Reef and was anxious to see something that I hadn’t seen before, along with a whole lot of others who were also curious.  I don’t understand the purpose of the stop over except that possibly they picked up someone or a unit that was coming along with us but; we saw some smaller boats going into town and coming back. We stayed probably a half a day and then resumed our northward journey.
 
The scuttle but finally reached us that we were headed for New Guinea.  I judge that after sailing maybe three, four or five days we finally sighted the Island of New Guinea.  It was most remarkable that as we got closer and closer to the island there were dolphin swimming out in front of us heading into Oro Bay which had already been secured by the army.  There were several ships anchored out there; but the big thing was that what we were looking at were pretty big mountains of lush greenery, which were the Owen Stanley Mountain Range.
 
The other side of the range on the coast was Port Moresby, the big city of New Guinea, which  was occupied by Australians.  We learned that the Japanese had tried to take Port Moresby but the going was too rough trying to get over the mountain range and also due to the tenacity of the Australians.
 
As we approached the port of Oro Bay there were ships with army people aboard so we got some hoots and howls and a lot of derisive cat calls about how late we were getting in there to fight the war.  At any rate, we pulled into the bay and anchored off shore.  There was a good size loading dock.  Oro Bay looked like a well established army base with some minor conveniences.  There was an air force base within a few miles, there was an outdoor theater and a medical unit and other kinds of facilities that indicated that they had been there for a little while.
 
The only problem was that they were still subject to Japanese air raids and the army was still fighting in Buna which was not too far up the coast, therefore we were told that the ship would have to be unloaded as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of getting a bomb hit since we were carrying ammunition and bombs and every sort of thing we needed.
 
Accordingly, most of our troops disembarked took all their gear with them and set out to set up a base.  Unfortunately, I was chosen as one of the people to help unload the ship.  This turned out to be one of the most exhausting manual labors that I have ever experienced.  As it turned out we worked for  seventy two hours straight, I kept track of the time.   We had approximately six hours of sleep and there was nothing to sleep on except what I recall was sleeping with a 2x4 under my head and sleeping on the steel deck.  We were so tired that we slept pretty well before being awakened for more work.  The work consisted of standing under the opening in the top deck above and waiting for the crane to lower a cargo net which was quite large and we would unhook the cargo net from the hook and lay it out flat and stack whatever equipment or food boxes into the net and then hook the net back up to the crane and signal for him to heave it up.  I guess it was probably lowered to the outside to the dock where it was loaded into trucks and taken away somewhere.  The hold was loaded up in layers so that the top layer was probably food crates, barbed wire and ammunition and finally bombs and it went on and on.  Each time we unloaded one layer the decking would have to be stripped and the next layer would have to be loaded onto the cargo nets.  This continued for the whole 72 hours.   By the end of that time we did have an air raid and an alert in the middle of the night.  At one point and we were concerned that we might be subjected to a bombing attack because the bombs were still in the bottom hold of the ship.  Fortunately, planes were driven off so that we never got the bombing attack directly.
 
After seventy two hours we finally got to disembark and join our group.  They had already set up tents and tent rows and I fell back into the tent that I was supposed to be in.

New Guinea

New Guinea

New Guinea was an awesome place about 90 percent covered with rain forests.  Very hot and humid at all times and for a city boy from Chicago to be suddenly thrust into this tropical area was quite an experience.  I’m sure that we were dropped off in New Guinea for jungle training that was unavailable in Australia.  It was a wonderful place for landing in Cape Gloucester and New Britain that I understood was about 90 miles away. We proceeded into some sort of jungle training routine.  We were there for about two months before we landed in Cape Gloucester.
 
The first day or two that we were in New Guinea, there was a great emphasis put on Malaria and its prevention.  We all went to an outdoor theater and an army doctor gave us a lecture on malaria and mosquitoes.  He pointed out a lot of things including a new pill, the Atabrine Pill, which was a new substitute for quinine.  It was a  little yellow pill which you had to take once or twice a day and the side effect was that it made your skin a little yellow as if you were suffering from yellow jaundice, also the whites of the eyes got a little yellow.  The other preventative they supplied,  as an issue,  was mosquito repellent that had to be rubbed on any exposed skin.  The doctor also cautioned us to keep our sleeves down and shirts buttoned and our pants tucked into our socks or leggings.

We were sent out on two or three patrols with spraying equipment and would look for stagnant pools of water where we would spray the surface of the water with an oil spray to keep down the population of the mosquitoes.  I recall one incident where we were chopping down a tree and I think it was Hess, who stripped down to his waist because he was so hot.  I was there also chopping down a tree and noticed that his entire back was covered with these tiny mosquitoes.  Their bite was evidently so sharp that it could not be felt. I helped him brush the mosquitoes off and put on his shirt; but it was a lesson to me so that I tried to keep my shirt on whenever I could no matter how uncomfortably hot it was.

The facilities around us kept being upgraded and one day we watched a couple of truck loads of natives came down into our area. There must have been twenty or thirty of them standing in each truck and they all had multicolored clothes and some of them had different colored hair.  Normally their hair was bushy and black and stuck out in all directions, some had green hair some had blue hair and we were given to understand that this indicated their marital status, if they were married or single or whatever, at any rate there were a couple of Australian soldiers in charge who were obviously used to handling the natives quite well because of the orderly way in which they went about their business.

The natives had machetes and they went out into the jungle and brought back poles some larger than others but generally 2” or 3” in diameter.  They proceeded in one day to build a mess hall for us.   It had rafters of poles everything was tied together with bark and the roof was thatched palm material and amazingly in one day we had a mess hall!  At the end of the day they climbed aboard their trucks and left.

One of our training missions was to take a compass march through the rain forest, with packs, ammunition, rifles and water.  This turned out to be excruciating.  If you have never seen a rain forest, which I hadn’t, of course, as most of us had not, the best I could compare it to was Tarzan, swinging through the trees in what was purportedly a jungle.  Well, as I soon found out the movies were more like a dense forest because this rain forest was indescribable.  The smell was that of mildew and rotting plants.  We had machetes and penetrated the jungle by staying in single file or 2 abreast and the first two men in the column wielded the machetes and cut their way through.  When we got a little way into the jungle we could not see the sky, it was very dark and so humid that we were all soaking wet before we got into the jungle a hundred yards.  The two men at the front had to be continuously rotated because they were exhausted after about five minutes of cutting.  It was impossible to stay up in front so the column rotated 2 men at a time.  The officer in charge had a compass and I suppose we were in the jungle for a couple of hours and went through several swamps hip deep in water.  Cutting our way through the vines, overhanging everywhere and when cut the plant gushed water.  There was no sign of snakes; but I’m sure there were many along with various other animals but the noise we made probably scared them off. We made our march through the jungle and it was a good experience in preparation for the future waiting for us.   We came out of the jungle at a different point and as I say, every body was soaking wet and we were glad to get back to camp.

One evening after supper we found out that there was a movie at the army theater so we all walked down the road a couple of 100 yards.  What it consisted of was a huge screen.  The seating was made up of huge logs big enough to sit on.  It was built in a semicircle much like a Greek Amphitheater.  We sat down and proceeded to watch the movie.  After about 15 minutes a great deluge of rain occurred it came down like the ocean coming down on us.  They were not drops but rather sheets of rain so we all scrambled running down the road which already had about 6 inches of water for us to slosh through.   When we got to our camp we saw that some of the tents had collapsed and there were cots and shoes and various items floating around and the water was at least a foot deep.  The water continued for a short time.  When it subsided we got everything cleaned up and put back in order, righting the tents etc.  I can’t recall this happening again while we were there; but it was a memorable rainfall.

We did have a training schedule and most of the day was pretty well occupied by gun drills, close order drills, class room study or field marches so we were never left at lose ends.  Some of the things I mention were done at times when we did have time off in the evenings and on Sundays.

Almost A Tailgunner

One Sunday morning my friend, John Hess, from W. Virginia suggested that we hitch a ride to the airfield and try to get in on one of the bombing runs.  It was rumored that if you went out there you might be able to get on a bomber headed for Truk Island, which was the most heavily fortified Japanese naval base in the Pacific.  Lots of flak and I assume some losses for our people.  At any rate, it sounded very adventurous and I went along with it.  John was an adventuresome sort spoke with a very decided W. Va. twang and was a real character.  He would talk about his time spent in the West Virginia woods shooting squirrels and his descriptions were pretty funny.  We walked out to the road and sure enough here comes a jeep, we flagged him down and he was headed for the airfield.  So John and I hopped in and as we were getting close to the airfield we could see the bombers taking off.  So whatever would have happened we did not make that bombing run and maybe God was looking out for us.  Who knows? 
 
We dropped off at the airfield and saw all the various fighter planes on the ground.  There was a pretty good variety, some Thunderbolts and some Lightnings  (the ones with the twin tails and twin engines).  Some of them had miniature Japanese flags stenciled on them and by that you could tell the pilot had shot down so many planes.  We happened to come upon Captain Bong’s P38 Lightening that had ten or twelve Red ball flags painted on the nose of the plane with Captain Bongs name stenciled under the cockpit.  He happened to be one of the army air aces at that time.
 
The beach was fairy close and on some Sundays we would go down to the beach to go  swimming.  The beach was fairly decent and in the early morning some of the guys would get out there at low tide, most of them East coast guys, with buckets and dig for clams.  They would bring them in and of course I had never tasted a clam.  They looked a little ugly to me so I wasn’t interested.
 
One Sunday when we were swimming out in the ocean we were about waist deep in the water and we could see an airplane coming toward us. He was flying parallel to the coast, quite low and at first we thought, gee whiz this could be a strafing thing or something, so we were jumping out of the water; but we realized that it was one of our Navy Corsairs.  We started to jump up and down waving our arms and as he got close he could tell who we were.  He must have been 20 feet above the water and as he came very close he waggled his wings and took off.  We felt the woof of the air passing us as he left.  You could tell by the way he flew that airplane and the way he left he was getting a real thrill out of it and joyfully flying that plane.  It made me a little envious because he had this individual freedom that he could command his own destiny and didn’t have to be with a huge group of people.  I always felt that I wanted to be a pilot back when I was in high school but I never really followed up on it so that I was a little sad about it, maybe.
 
On another Sunday we were lying on the beach I think it was in the afternoon.  We started to hear a lot of air noise way up there.  It sounded like a dogfight and that’s what it turned out to be.  Very close to us a jeep had pulled up and he had the radio on.   We could hear a blow by blow report and he was talking about 30 or 40 Zero’s and about that many of ours up there battling with each other and you could hear firing going on quite a way up.  They were at a fairly high altitude a little further away we were listening very intently and every time we heard something good about a Japanese plane being shot down we would whop and holler and finally at one point out of the sky not very far from us came a Japanese plane and on his tail were two of our airplanes and I forget what they were the one was right on his back and he was pouring machine gun fire into that Japanese plane.  The other of our airplane was covering the rear of our pilot that was shooting down that Jap Zero. In a few seconds you could see smoke coming out of the Zero and they passed out of sight but obviously the Zero had crashed into the ocean.  It was very exciting.
 
The last episode I can think of on New Guinea was an event that took place involving Pvt. Schwarzel, who was another character from the east coast with an eastern accent.  He was constantly gripping about the Marine Corp, and always looking for a way to ease his daily life.  Therefore he bragged to us one day about how he had secured this detail that would keep him out of the service and it was to clean the toilets that were set up for us out in the field.  It was a job that would require his attention a couple of times a day and then he would get a day off, all to himself. He felt very proud of this.
 
To describe the toilets they were wood and I believe the roof was canvas or something equivalent it was like an outdoor privy and there were six or seven toilet seats cut out of the wood and the holes had flaps on them.  What Schwarzle was supposed to do was to take some lime, throw it down each hole and take some diesel oil and pour some into each compartment and light it.  This particular day we were out marching and Schwarzle was up to his job for several days.  We were all out there marching in close order drill.  It was hot and we were a little tired but kept marching and it was very monotonous.  As we passed by the toilets within about fifty feet or so we could see that Schwarzle was at his job and as we made some turns we heard this pretty good size explosion.   We all stopped and looked in the direction of the toilets. The whole area had exploded and as  Schwarzle stepped out of the toilet room, not that there was anything left, it was pretty much collapsed; but what had happened was that he had poured the diesel oil down the compartments and then closed the flap when he dropped in the match it was apparently too much and everything just blew up so we all stood there laughing because of the sight of Schwarzle who looked like something out of a comic movie.  His clothes were charred, he was covered with every conceivable toilet remains.  He had to go to sickbay, take a shower of course and then get treated for some burns.  Maybe you had to be there, but every time I think of it I have to chuckle.
 
Probably by this time it was in the middle of December, we were getting bored with our situation and wanted to get on with it.  We knew that we were going to hit the Island of New Britain, which was about ninety miles away and for the past couple of weeks we were getting briefings about what to expect.
 

Cape Gloucester

Marines land on Cape Gloucester

The Island of New Britain is a long sort of fish shaped island with the head pointing east with heavy jungle, much like New Guinea or Guadalcanal or any of the islands in that general area of the Pacific.   The head contained Rabau Harbor that was probably the second largest Japanese naval base in the Pacific.

We were to attack the tail end of the island (which was the western end) close to New Guinea and the army was supposed to attack on the south end of that tail while we were to land on the north end.  We were told that our Navy task force was pretty well assembled and ready to go.  We were also told that the submarines had landed frogmen who went into the Japanese landing sight at night and checked for water sea mines and gun emplacements and to generally check out the land sight.   It was rumored that another landing party had landed at night from a submarine and one of our officers, at least from the battalion, had been on this landing party of about ten men who had stayed overnight to check out the number of enemy troops and where they were.  This was a terrifically courageous act and very dangerous.  It was thought that there would be at least a division of Japanese troops. Even with all this information we were not quite sure what was going to happen on the landing on the South.

Our LST 226, along with all the others assembled, were out in the harbor waiting to be loaded   (LST is the designation for Landing Ship Tanks).  They are fairly large and they can carry tanks and trucks and our guns.  They were wide of beam with the top deck fairly empty for loading but; not heavily armed.  The deck below the top deck was for as many troops as could get on.  There was not enough room, so a lot of our guys would sleep on the top deck in the open air.

The main portion of the ship, the bottom deck, was built for the accommodation of vehicles of all kinds and the most unique feature of an LST was that the entire bow opened up like two huge gates and a ramp flopped down so that the vehicles could roll out on a ramp directly on to the beach.

Preparations were starting to go into high gear and we were told to check all of our equipment.  Anything missing we could request replacements for.  Things like canteens, broken parts, worn out shoes any of that kind of thing so that we would be fully outfitted when we made the landing.  Generally, what we were equipped with was a belt full of ammunition (100 rounds), an M1 rifle, a double pack with all our gear including two or three days of C rations.  The belt around the waist had in the center on the back a first aid pack, two canteens full of water, the left side had a bayonet hanging off it and the right side had a K-Bar Jungle knife with a rawhide handle. 

Normally, our guns were pulled by two and a half ton trucks,  we would hook the gun up to the truck by the trails and everybody would hop on the truck and off we would go.   Well, this was not going to be the case in a jungle terrain because a truck could not maneuver in this obstacle course  so all of our guns were going to be pulled by tractors with winches in the front end .  We had done a lot of practicing using this method also digging in and all of that kind of thing.  We finally were loaded and all the LST’s were ready to go and we embarked.  We were aboard ship and that was the last we saw of New Guinea as we pulled out.
 
As we got a little further out at sea we were joined accompanied by our Navy War Ships, some of pretty good size.  We were headed northeast for Cape Gloucester. I think we were aboard ship about two days and were scheduled to land on Christmas Day 1943.
 
On the evening before landing we started to hear naval gunfire, fairly heavy, and it grew heavier as we got closer to the island. Later in the evening it was quite exciting.  We tried to sleep that night but at about 4 o’clock in the morning General Quarters sounded and there were sailors running around all over the place.  Horns were going off and hatches being battened so we knew that this was it.

Landing on the Cape

LST landing at Cape GloucesterA fully-loaded LST lands on Cape Gloucester

We went topside and had a pretty good breakfast.  The galley on an LST is on the aft end of the ship, you go in on one side much like a cafeteria and you come out the other side.  The big thing about the breakfast was that they had everything you could think of:  scrambled eggs and sausage, pancakes and above all a really good cup of coffee.  The Navy must have had some great coffee makers.  It was going to be our last hot meal for quite a few days. By this time the infantry had probably gone on in and made their way into the jungle.  It was probably 7 o’clock in the morning and undoubtedly they were ashore.  It didn’t seem like they were meeting with a great deal of resistance so we were happy about that.  About that time or maybe a little later we had orders to go down below into the hold where our guns were.  We all had our packs and our gear with us and were ready to go. The command came over the loud speakers to turn on all the engines, which happened almost immediately. The tractors revved up and there were clouds of smoke in that hold until the fans turned on.  These were huge fans and the noise inside was incredible.  The tension inside was building up and we were all expecting something; but didn’t know what.
 
We could feel the ship speeding onto the beach and I could picture those huge gates opening and meeting a whole flock of Japanese firing at us the way they show in the movies.  Well, it didn’t happen that way.  The next thing that happened was the thud of the ship as it hit the beach and sure enough those doors opened wide and the ramps slid down.  The tractors in front of us started to pull out and down that ramp.  There is a picture in one of the Life Magazines of this scene looking out onto the beach from the inside.
 
Our turn came and as we went down that ramp there was another three or four feet of water before firm land came up on us.  It was a space of about ten feet so the tractor went on down into the water.  They were all fitted with long exhaust tubes on the mufflers.  I don’t know how they water proofed those things; but we pulled down into the depth of the water an finally came up on the beach. The tractor took us up a little way.  We paused there a little while.  The LST was still there but everyone was pretty well out of it by then and we were right on a narrow strip of beach of black volcanic sand and the jungle grew almost to the edge of the water in spots, so it was a fairly narrow beach.  The amazing thing was that the terrain looked like there had been a huge forest fire because the area we were in was full of leafless trees,  a lot of which  had  fallen on top of one another.

As we paused we heard the drone of airplane engines.  We looked up and some B24’s were coming parallel to the coastline above the ships and I think that at least one of them started to strafe.  We all hit the deck and there were bullets whistling in the trees right around us.  As far as I know nobody got hit but we were a little miffed because they were Army Air Corp Mitchell bombers and I don’t know where they got the idea to strafe along that beach when the LST’s were piled up there.

At any rate, by this time it was lunchtime, Christmas Day and I remember sitting there for a while and breaking out my C Rations. I think I had a can of beans and franks and some crackers, there was a Chocolate bar in the other can and a little packet of 3 cigarettes and some Nestles powdered coffee and sugar and a little cream in powdered form. We ate and started to get our guns in position where they were supposed to be, with the officers directing us into a route deeper into the jungle.  We were going thru this burnt out area.
 
Our first casualty came to light.  The word was that it was Lebrock, the fellow whom I had talked to earlier on the ship who had some premonition of death.  What had happened was that Lebrock, had been felled by a falling tree and as we pulled up with our guns some stretcher-bearers came past us with his body on a stretcher with a blanket covering him.  It was the first casualty I had seen.
 
The naval gunfire had blasted this area pretty well, that’s why it looked the way it did.  We had not too much trouble coming thru this small area; but as it got green up ahead of us we had a bull dozer knocking down trees trying to make a route thru the jungle to get to where we wanted to set up our gun.  It was a six hundred yard trip and one of the most excruciating trips that you can imagine because we were crossing streams and manhandling the guns.   The tractors could not make it sometime in the water so we were pushing on our 105’s getting them across those streams. This happened four or five times over the course of that six hundred  yards. The ground was very soft, muddy and the tractor had a heck of a time managing and at times we were completely stalled. This happened about every twenty yards.  We would take the wench cable on the front of the tractor and wrap it around a sizeable tree and hook it up and then the tractor operator would put on full speed with the tractor track and use the wench at the same time.  Most of the time it worked.  At one point, I remember the cable broke and it spun around, fortunately not hitting anyone but it would have cut a person in half had they gotten in the way..  We continued at a very slow rate and it was hot and humid.  We were soaking wet but kept moving ahead a little at a time.
 
We later got the Naval Unit Commendation for this effort and that is written up in “The Old Breed” book that I have.   It is verbalized in very nice language but it does not tell the whole story.  We were pleased to get the citation in recognition of what we had done. 

Fire Control

105mm Howitzers fire in support of Marines.jpg

By late afternoon we finally got close to a clearing.   It was a clearing of kunai grass, which is really not a grass but more like bamboo.  The stalks were six feet high and when we got into that patch of grass we turned and there was jungle on the right side.  We proceeded along a path between the jungle and the kunai grass and then the tractors took over and backed us into position. The guns were set up under cover of the jungle.

I have to add that during the trip to the jungle we were fired on a few times by snipers.  Our counter sniper people would go after them and did get a few. The Japanese would tie themselves by their ankle to a tree, fairly high up and just stay there, they were able to stay there for as long as a week looking for targets to shoot at. They would exist on a bag of rice and their little water supply.

The fire control center was located and set up in the center point between the four gun sections and a little deeper into the jungle.  After it was set up, communications were set up with our people with radios in the front lines that was the way we got fire directions.  We then proceeded to put the guns in parallel with the aid of a transit.  This meant all four guns were exactly in line and could fire at the same target and do a pretty good job.  Each gun had a set of aiming stakes that were about an inch and a half in diameter and about seven feet tall and about fifty feet out.  The first aiming stake was put out and then the second one was put out in line with the outer one, all this  was directed by the gunner who was looking through the gun sight with cross hairs on it.  In addition each aiming stake was equipped with a little hooded flashlight which was directed toward the gun and that could be turned on at night.  One flashlight was set low on the first aiming station and higher on the other one.  With the hood it would be hard to see except by the gunner. After that we got a base number based on the transit number all set up by trigonometry.  We proceeded to register a few rounds and fired sort of by trial and error then they could see where we could fire and in what direction.

Things were going well, we were dug in ready to support the infantry if we needed to do so. Some of our officers were at the front line as forward observers and they had communications people with them with radios. Sometime it was radios, sometime they actually took coils of wire and took them from the fire control center out to the front lines and that was communication by telephone.

Since I was just a private I did all the menial jobs with some of the other privates in the gun section consisting of unloading and uncrating the ammunition.  The ammunition usually came two 105 mm shells in a wooden crate.  The crates came in handy later.  We would unload the shells and stack them up ready for use.  We knew how to set fuses and how to take out the powder bags, which governed the distance the projectile would travel.

That first night we had perimeter defense out on the machine gun posts.  We were told to put out more planks.  It turned out that I and another fellow were sent out a little way out into the jungle.  We were supposed to take turns staying up all night.  We flipped a coin and I got the first watch.  I stayed awake while the other guy slept.  We were both exhausted so when I got off watch I woke up my partner, whose name I cannot recall.  At the break of dawn I awaken and I looked over and there was my partner fast asleep.  Both of us could have been cut up or worse.

Condition Red

105 Howitzers support Marines on New Britain

So far the war seemed fairly peaceful so we were in a slack period.  We were in an occasional skirmish to our left, which was in the direction our infantry was headed.  Obviously the Japanese were taken by surprise with the naval gunfire and our landing and didn’t expect us. They were  probably moving into better positions, which could have been the reason for the slack period.

At any rate, my friend Navar, and I were talking and we had heard that there was a Japanese village a short distance away. On the excuse that we were going out sniper hunting we had really thought it would be nice to see if we could find some souvenirs.   We walked about a half- mile up to this Japanese village.  We tracked through the jungle, being very wary looking up into the trees to see that we were not going to be ambushed by a sniper.

The village was in total disarray.  It consisted of four or five thatched huts on stilts about four feet above the ground with stairs going up to each one.  As we approached Navar went up front and I made up the rear guard still scanning the treetops above us.  As we came closer to one of the huts we picked up on a wire stretched across between two trees with a grenade attached, apparently a quickie booby trap that we managed to avoid.

Several of the huts had been gone over by the infantry and our intelligence people and there were documents and books and papers of all kinds scattered all around.  As we looked around we could see that there was nothing to be gained so we started back; but off to the corner of the hut we noticed a big stack of cigarettes in cartons of really cheap paper.  We took a carton along and in one end of the carton there seemed to be some cone shaped cigarette holders made of paper.  We took the cigarettes back to our gun position and tried to smoke a couple.  I don’t know what they were but they were so strong that they made me dizzy. Needless to say after the first one we threw them all away and that was the end of that escapade.

Parabellum_1586.jpg

I forgot to mention one other thing. As we were coming in to back our guns into position in the jungle, I was walking in back of Eddie Plunk, a friend of mine who was later killed at Peleliu he was starting the exact location to pull the gun in and his job was battery runner which, meant he could establish physical contact between the battery and our Batallion in an emergency.  Plunk was walking up ahead of me, a little way into the jungle right in the spot where our gun would be.  He bent down and picked something up and what it turned out to be was a beautiful wooden case, polished and lacquered .  He opened it and inside it was velvet lined with a beautiful German automatic pistol (luger) with a beautiful wooden handle, it looked like it was brand new.  It looked like a gift set or something.  It had an included stock that could be attached to the pistol to make it into a shoulder weapon.  The fact that he was later killed at Peleliu made me reflect later that maybe that was a bad luck piece.
 
Early the second day a body on a stretcher with a blanket over it somehow appeared in our gun section.  It must have been an infantryman that somebody brought in and laid down to rest there for the grave detail to pick up.  The mystery was how it got there.  It was reputed to be a headless body although I didn’t see it but; the next thing it was gone. This brought death into focus again and we realized that things were getting serious.
 
About the same time on the second or third day while we were thinking quietly each to ourselves about the death of Lebrock, accidentally, we got news from the adjoining gun sections that Firtch had been killed, again in an accident.  He was a Chicago boy who operated one of the tractors.  They all carried Tommy guns and his Tommy gun was leaning against the dash board, when he hit a bad piece of terrain the Tommy gun fell over and went off and the bullet hit him in the midsection and through the shoulder and I suppose he died instantly. I was especially taken aback by this because I had known him well and his being from Chicago, I had a different and closer regard for him.
 
With nothing to the right of us the terrain where we were, put us at the corner of the jungle with that kunai grass in the front of us and to our right a fairly flat grassy area just beyond that about fifty yards was the start of some more jungle.  We were in that position which was fairly susceptible to any kind of attack. 
 
While I was out at the outpost that first night the crew had put up our sleeping quarters which was a ridge pole stretched between two forked trees with a tarp stretched over it and pulled back so it made a tent of sorts very close to our howitzer.  For beds we made platforms from the ammunition boxes.  For each one we needed about six of the boxes so every one had ammunition boxes to lay on at night. 
 
During the whole second day and thereafter we were firing “fire missions”. That meant that the infantry were in action against the Japanese and needed our fire support. Starting on the second night and every night thereafter we were awakened two or three times a night by Japanese air raids. What would happen was that you were lying there sleeping and you would awaken to the anti air craft, radar picking up the Japanese plane coming in. The anti air craft guns would send up a signal to everyone so they could see. Three red balls that would hang in the air and everybody would be yelling “CONDITION RED, CONDITION RED”.  Some of the guys would scatter.   A few days later every gun section started to dig foxholes and in our case the guys dug a slit trench in which would be room for six or eight people. I never used it.  It was about five feet deep and fairly narrow and during a raid alert the guys would jump in and stand there.  Some of the braver ones would forget it and keep sleeping until it came a little too close and then they would get a little perturbed and jump in.
 
What we did notice was that the Guadalcanal veterans who had been subject to a lot of Naval gunfire and were in bombing attacks were a little more excitable about air raids than we were because as “green horns” we did not realize the amount of damage that this stuff could do. From day two we were running fire missions every day in support of the infantry and providing support fire whenever they requested it.
 

Dive Bombers

The B-17

One day while we were standing around I happened to look up and saw a B17 (flying fortress) flying around and sort of lazily circling above us right over that kunai grass out in front.  It looked rather strange because he was headed in no particular direction and was lazing around, which was not typical of a B17 bomber.   The bomber left and we thought no more of it but the next day he was back.  We found out later that it was a captured B17 flown by the Japanese and was taking photographs of the area and our guns.  We also found out that when it came back our planes were waiting for it and shot it down. As a result of this on January 2nd, probably close to midnight we had a devastating dive-bomber attack on our positions and it was quite an experience.
 
Navar and I had been a little way from the gun position when we got the condition: “RED”.  Our radar had picked up some incoming dive-bombers.  You could always tell the Japanese bombers as they had a different sound to their engines and we ran over to our gun section.  Everyone was in the slit trench and Navar and I couldn’t get in for lack of space. The bombs were starting to fall very close.  Navar dove into a small shallow foxhole about the size of a coffin and eight or nine inches deep and I went into the one next to it. One of the bombs fell precisely on the fire control center hitting a large tree killing four of our guys and injuring  two of the others.  Paul Stigall was one of the men hit.  Part of his skull ripped off he now has a steel plate in his head as a result of that attack.  Jim Moore, had a huge chest wound.  We met them at a reunion in California.  They healed well and were OK so we had a lot to remember and talk about.  There were a couple of others wounded and during that little episode our Corpsman ran around treating these people and exposing himself to a considerable amount of danger.  He was later evacuated because he had been a Corpsman on Guadalcanal and  it was  discovered that he was a morphine addict because he had been wounded and since he had access to the morphine he was taking it during the entire campaign until they discovered it and sent him home.
 
The dive- bombing attack continued for about an hour and we were being hit pretty hard in front of us and around us.  Number two gun got a bomb hit into a tree directly next to the gun.  Fortunately, no one was hit but the tree was pretty well shattered.  That was about as close as you could get and then Navar and I had just dived into the fox holes when a Daisy Cutter hit into the kunai patch area to the side of us, probably twenty five or thirty yards away.  The sound was just tremendous causing great pain in the ears.  I could feel the fragments from the bomb passing over us hitting trees. The air was full of the acrid smell of powder burning and tree branches falling down on top of us.  After that one hit there was a deadly silence.  For a moment I had thoughts that I had been hit and was dead.  Lying there just a few seconds I finally yelled to Navar and he yelled back that he was OK!
 
The dive-bombing continued but then they were starting to drop bottles, which they had tied together and as they came down they made a shrieking noise like a bomb so we had a night full of excitement. The accuracy of their attack made it plain that that B17 that had been circling overhead had been taking aerial photographs and had our gun positions pin pointed pretty well.
 
The sound of the attacks were violent in addition to the exploding bombs around us, there was the high pitched sound of the dive bombers coming down and pulling out and then the bombs dropping.  They always sounded like they were going to hit you dead center. You wondered if that was where it was going to land. In addition to all of that, there was the sound of our anti aircraft guns just blazing away throughout the attack. I don’t think that they got any of our planes. I guess it’s hard to hit a dive-bomber especially at night.
 
When we awakened in the morning at first light we were dazed and exhausted and a little bit demoralized because we could see the damage around us.  I walked over to Number Two gun with someone else and talked to some of our guys there.  A tree was exactly next to the gun and it was a miracle that no one was hurt.  The tree was really splintered.  The bomb must have hit right into the tree and most of the fragments probably went up or else the guys were just in a positions where they weren’t hit and either was the gun.  The biggest demoralization of that night was the fact that they had hit the fire control center and killed some of our people and wounded several others.
 
 All in all, we were ready to carry out our fire missions whenever called  upon to do so.  We considered ourselves lucky that night.  A few days afterwards while I was standing at the gun all of a sudden we heard the roar of a Japanese airplane and as I looked up a Japanese Zero came right over the treetops so low that I could see the Japanese pilot’s face very clearly.  He was not headed for us but rather the beach.  As he got close to the beach he dropped a bomb and hit one of our barges that was unloading supplies.   He took off and got away with it.  The following day the same exact thing happened, except as I looked up as he passed over there were three or four of our planes on his tail firing at him.  You could hear the bullets hitting his plane.  They did get him out over the ocean so he never got to drop the bomb he came back with the second day.  As we said: he got his “lunch” that day.
 
The infantry was running into stiffer resistance.  As a result we had heavier fire missions each day, we heard a report that one of our infantry companies had walked into an ambush going into the jungle and had been cut up pretty badly.
 

The Battle of the River

The biggest battle of Cape Gloucester was the crossing of the river not too far from us. The battle occurred at night at great cost to our infantry. A lot of bravery involved on their part. The whole battle of that night is written up in a chapter in a book called “The Marines in the Pacific” it’s quite detailed, however the way I was connected with it was that we were close enough that we could hear the terrific sounds of gun fire, rifle fire, machine guns, and grenades and the sound of men screaming.

It was pretty hectic and you could tell that there was a lot going on. Someone came over and they needed two people for stretcher-bearers which didn’t sound too good because it sounded like they were out of stretcher bearers and needed people as replacements. Our gun section decided who would pull straws to see who would go. Well, the short straws were pulled and it turned out to be Navar and McClure. McClure was a little guy who proceeded to whine a lot. I could see Navar stiffening up a bit. One of the most stupid things I did in my life was to volunteer to replace McClure. Almost immediately I regretted it; but I had already said I would do it so I was going to do whatever it took. Navar was a little happier about my being along.

It was terrifying, we were going to truck up there and get involved and get the wounded out of there. When I look back on the incident, it gives me an almost spiritual feeling, realizing what could have been and how close I was to disaster.

A stretcher- bearer is probably one of the worst things you could do in a battle. The whole time this was going on the sound of the battle was in our ears. It was very dark, the jungle was all around us and here we were going ahead into that battle. We were very tense waiting for word to move up and fortunately for us about ten minutes later we got word that we were not needed; but it was one of the most personally tense moments that I experienced. The objective of the campaign was to secure hill 660. It was secured by the Infantry within a couple of weeks after the big Battle of the River. The Japanese withdrew and were trying to get back to Rabau that was on the other end of the island and a terrible march thru the jungle. Knowing this, part of the First Division went down the coast and intercepted the retreat. As we heard later it was a complete success, they decimated the remainder of the Japanese forces. I sometimes wonder if any of those people survived getting through the jungle to get to Rarbau. If they did it was a miracle.

The secondary campaign there was Campaign Talasea the name of the spot where they intercepted the Japanese. Now that the campaign was over we devoted most of our time to improving our living conditions. This happened fairly quickly. The CEEBEES were in and they built a couple of wood roads and their living areas close to the beach. We were getting in supplies pretty regularly so that our kitchen was set up and we could eat hot food. We ate a lot of corned beef prepared in various ways because we had a master chef cook who had a great imagination with the corned beef. We even got an outdoor movie built.

The next thing was an officer’s mess so that the officers could eat separately. They had a waiter who was one of our guys, Gabby Hayes, from Georgia. Gabby was upbraided one day by one of the officers because the towel he used to wipe things with was around his sweaty neck and he was stripped down to the waist. He was told that from then on he would wear a dungaree jacket and never again to put that towel around his neck. As things improved we got better tents and finally got some cots with some mosquito nets and started to be reasonably civilized. The only other thing that happened was rather strange or bizarre. In the interim toward the end of the campaign they had brought in Gregory, the AWOL member of our battery. They had caught him someplace in Melbourne and brought him all the way back to his unit and he was Court Martialed by Col. Hughes.

The Colonel sentenced him to thirty days bread and water and since there was no brig his abode was a two wheeled steel cart with a canvas top, about four feet by eight feet and he was inside that thing for thirty days. It was 100 degrees and very humid so he lost a lot of weight during his internment. There was always a guard walking around, I felt sorry for him. Every very third day he would get a full meal. He lived through it but it seemed like a terrible punishment. I suppose that he fully paid for his crime.

We were still getting air raids but they were becoming less and less frequent and they were not very close to us. I think they were trying to hit the airport so it was enough to wake us up during the middle of the night and several times sometimes. It broke up the sleep pattern but that was about it.

Since we were not doing much but just sitting around in the jungle some of our officers in our Officer-corps decided that they would like to use our guns for anti aircraft guns. This had never been done before and I’m sure it would go down in history in the military annals as a first. We all thought it was a little far fetched but we proceeded to do what we were told to do. The procedure was to go into the jungle and cut some trees and cut them into sections so that two rows of logs could be driven into the ground creating a crescent for the wheels to turn in and create tracks so that the wheels could turn within that track. Then there was a crescent in the back end for the spades on the trail of the howitzer and this was lower so that the tube could be raised to a higher elevation than it normally was probably pointing up at maybe at an eighty degree angle. The rest of the procedure was that when we got to firing we would set the time fuse on the projectile and set it so that it would explode at possibly ten thousand feet. This wasn’t really high enough to hit any airplanes but it probably kept them up high enough so that there was probably some effect on aircraft but primarily it kept us busy. They did not want us to sit around doing nothing. We were all a little curious about how this would work. The first “CONDITION RED” after we were pretty well set up came and we all ran out to the gun and loaded up and set the fuses and proceeded to fire away. It was sort of fun. We probably fired at airplanes three or four times and then gave it up. The air raids got less and less often and bothered us very little.

A  few years later someone showed me an article in one of the military magazines written by one of our officers who described how we preformed as anti-aircraft batteries. Sometime in the past several months, I can’t remember when, I was promoted to the rank of PFC. Obviously it didn’t make a whole lot of difference to me, other than a few dollars a month salary increase and that was all. The reason we stayed on the island so long after it was secured was that they couldn’t get enough ships together because they were assembling ships for other invasions with other marine divisions. We spent probably three months on this God forsaken island. A couple of other bad things happened while we were on the island. The two that I remember vividly were the outbreak of some kind of typhus, a serious problem among the troops resulting in high fever. The doctors apparently did not know what caused it, perhaps some kind of jungle malady. We were all as concerned as they were. They thought it could be some kind of bug in the kunai grass, which it could have been because we were using stalks of kunai grass (which as I mentioned looked like bamboo) to support the mosquito nets over our cots. An order came down to get rid of those stalks just in case they were the cause of the problem.

There were a lot of other “do’s and don’ts” of things we were not to do which lead us to believe that they were shooting in the dark. The closest comrade to me in our battery was Johnny Lyddle who developed the disease with a high fever, he was carried out on a stretcher and was sent home. That was alarming and close. Everyone liked Johnny so we were sorry to see him go. As far as I know no one ever saw him or knew what happened to him. I want to mention a couple of flash backs which I failed to mention. I can’t put them in the right context time wise. During the early part of the campaign, Navar and I were assigned to a listening out post a little way from our gun section. It was at night and very quite and nothing happening except insects chirping and various strange noises going on. We were out for a couple of hours. Navar who enjoyed arguing about nothing, started an argument with me and pretty soon we were yelling almost at the top of our voices until we got orders from our fire control center to knock it off. We did, but you would have to hear it because every one was yelling at us to quiet down because obviously, the objective of the listening post was to be quiet. If he Japanese out there beyond us were listening in they would have thought that it was a ploy to get them to fire and reveal their positions. No sane person would conduct their operation the way we did.

From the other extreme there was another listening post down the way and there were two other guys there. One of them was quite young as opposed to the rest of us I suppose. He was a red headed kid, kind of lean and lanky he was on this listening post for about one or two nights, as we were, it came to light that he was acting very strangely so some of the people complained to our officers. He simply didn’t talk to anyone, never said a word and stoically sat there. In the next day or two they shipped him out. I never knew when he came into the battery. When they sent him back he probably underwent some psychiatric treatment, he was obviously very frightened or disturbed something.

The Rains

After the island was secured and things were pretty peaceful I remember that some of the guys during the leisure time, would go down to the river and throw hand grenades into the water, the grenades would go off and stun fish they would be flopping around on the surface of the water and everyone would have a fish fry. We got some orders later that the fish could be poisonous and the order was that if the fish looked at all exotic or different from the ones we were used to state side it was a good safeguard not to eat them. We were told that the reason we were there for such a long time was that we were waiting for transports, troop ships and Naval Vessels and these were all being used in the other areas of the Pacific. So we waited.

It was rather uncomfortable and we were getting agitated and then the rains came. They lasted for thirty days I mean, day and night constant rain. It would let up for maybe a half an hour and then it would start all over again. You would have to live in that environment to believe how irritable everyone gets so there was a lot of snapping and arguments, almost fisticuffs at times for very little reason.

The gun section #2 had somehow gotten hold of a Japanese Victorola with some records and one night we heard the strains of all these Japanese records being played during the early evening. One of the records was a haunting tune about cherry blossoms. I can still hear the tune in my head. I don’t know the name of it but it was a haunting interlude.

We had a fair galley set up and our cook was a big red headed guy, sort of chubby like you’d expect a cook to be. He was a whiz, a southern boy with a southern accent. We were a little short on some food due to a shipping problem; but he did have a lot of Argentine shredded corned beef and we had that for almost every meal. He used his artistry and made pies and hamburgers and every other thing out of corned beef. I’ll never forget the food and the fact that he did such a good job with the supplies he had.

Water was everywhere, in all of our clothing our shoes and socks everything was always wet during that period of time. It was impossible to keep any thing dry and as things got wet they got mildew on them and we had to wipe shoes and belts to get rid of the green mildew. At one point I remember taking my shoes and socks off to let the air get at my feet and they looked like white prunes. It was quite remarkable.

It was sometime in March of 1944,that we finally got the order that we were going to leave. We were very happy. The rains had just ceased and we finally saw the arrival of troop ships, cleared up our gear and waited to be told to embark. Took down everything, got everything ready to go. We did have a couple of tremors during this time and it sounded like there were some volcanoes on the island so we thought we’d get caught in something like that because of all that rain though it didn’t happen. Looking back later I could see that combat on that island was a piece of cake as far as we were concerned. It was a lot worse for the infantry; but it always is.

I don’t need to go into detail of the actual battles, they are all enumerated and very detailed in some of the books I have. If anyone were interested they could look up “The Battle of the River” that I mentioned earlier.

Another flash back: By now our guns were supplied with head phones and the Sgt in charge of the gun section had a head phone as did each gun section, they were all wired to the fire control center. In this way we got all our instructions thru the headphones and from the SGT verbally. The gun section #2 had somehow gotten hold of a Japanese Victorola with some records and one night we heard the strains of all these Japanese records being played during the early evening. One of the records was a haunting tune about cherry blossoms. I can still hear the tune in my head. I don’t know the name of it but it was a haunting interlude.

We embarked the troop ship and left New Britain, we were more than glad to get the heck out of there. Not too sadly, we waved goodbye to the island of New Britain, thinking we were bound for some very nice rest, relaxation and recuperation some place in the Pacific and that we would get some music and dancing girls etc.. We found out that we were headed for the island of Pavuvu.

Pavuvu Welcomes You!

Pavuvu? Pavuvu! What a name! We almost laughed when we heard it!

Pavuvu is in the Russell Islands not too far from Guadalcanal, It was owned by the British at the time and I understood that the Palmolive Company had planted all of the coconut trees which grew there. They used the coconut harvest for their products. The coconut trees were spaced about 20 feet apart all in regular rows, which made it look pretty neat. When the Island came into sight it looked like a nice tropical island. The configuration was that of a horseshoe with the inside a lagoon and the entrance to the lagoon was sort of blocked by a small island so that when you went past you could hardly see the lagoon; but you could get into the island because it was accessible for smaller ships.

When we got on the island we found no amenities whatsoever. The first thing we did was set up tents so that we could sleep that evening along with cots and temporary comforts such as they were, for the first night. We found land crabs by the hundreds. They were scurrying all over the place and one of our jobs that day was to kill them with shovels and as many of them as possible. A truck would come by and we’d throw the dead land crabs on the truck and they dumped them someplace and that turned into a continual process. The stench was really offensive, but as we stayed there longer their numbers became less and less.

In the next month or so we proceeded with the heavy building work. We were delivered truckloads of corral from the other end of the island and used it to make corral streets like the battery street that was set up in Ballart. We had drainage trenches around each of the tents so that when it rained we would not be inundated. It took on the look of a little more civilized place after a while. At the end of the street we had put up a shower and there was a mess hall put up for our eating area. We found that the CeeBee’s had come in and they were bivouacked in an area distanced from ours. They had put up a loading dock at the point where we had come into shore.

As the days grew on we got into our training procedure again and we were making landings on the opposite shore with our guns and getting ready for our next invasion. We did have leisure time off we used it primarily just going down to the dock for a swim. I suppose the only really nice thing was the memory of the water in the lagoon that looked like it had bluing in it, just beautiful!

Standing on the dock you could look down and see fish swimming around. We did have a shark watch although I never saw any sharks. When you dove into the water from the dock the water was so clear that you thought the water was maybe six feet deep, when actually it was about twenty feet deep. We were getting pretty good meals, fresh meat, eggs and powdered milk and the like so it wasn’t terrible. We were allotted a couple of cans of beer on the weekend usually. So the atmosphere was enjoyable and relaxing. I think I had Feeney and Schwarzle and Navar in my tent. They were three different types of characters and the mix was enjoyable.

Somebody in our tent went to the CeeBees and traded some stuff for the makings of liquor. They got a fivegallon can and put in apricot juice and sugar and some other ingredients. The mastermind of this thought it was supposed to be buried, I think I helped dig the hole for the can in back of the battery street. We were supposed to wait a month until it fermented and then go dig it up. One Sunday two or three weeks later somebody suggested we go try the stuff out. We got the can out got out our canteen cup and everyone got a pouring into his canteen cup. It looked milky and tasted awful. It turned out that after we each had about a half canteen cup full we relaxed.

Feeney laid down on his cot and fell asleep and his mouth was open. Now, I think it was Schwarzle, who took an Atabrine pill, went to Feeney’s cot. Feeney was lying there in the sunshine which was coming under the tent flap and we all waited and watched as the Atabrine pill melted and trickled down into his throat. I think I mentioned that Atabrine was extremely bitter and as it trickled down into his throat he awoke with a start and realized what was happening. Schwarzle was laughing so hard at him that Feeney tried to catch him. He was very angry. After about a month on the island the guys who had been on Guadalcanal were being sent home. Therefore, opening up new positions for promotions. At this time Hutzler approached me and suggested that I should start learning how to use the gun sight on the 105 Howitzer.

After I had practiced a while and knew the gun sight well I was asked to go for an interview for a corporal rank, that I passed successfully. The interview was with the battalion commander and our battery commander in person. I was quizzed about the 105 Howitzer and it proved to be a successful interview. In the meantime Hutzler made Sgt.of gun section Number One and I became the gunner. After that we started some serious training, we knew we were going to someplace that was a corral island because we were starting to train with tire wheels on DUKW”s.

The logistics were that we had to get the 105 Howitzer into the DUKW which barely managed to fit, also to get ammunition into the DUKW and we would try it out by going out into the lagoon with the howitzer. The means of unloading the 105 was another matter which was solved with the use of separate DUKW”s with A frame cranes with hooks and cables on them then we would put cables on the 105 and then the A frame DUKW would come up to our DUKW and unload the 105. Kind of a tedious process but we became pretty good at it after a lot of practice. We started to do a lot of maneuvering around the lagoon with landings on the opposite side. We knew we were not going to be there very long.

One of the memorable things that happened to me, I don’t know why I remember it so well, before I became corporal I went on a working party, I believe it was voluntary I thought it would be good to get away and out. The working party was to bring back fresh meat and supplies from an island very close to Guadualcanal, called Benika. We went in a small boat I believe there were about four of us. We went on the lagoon and as we came past that little island I had mentioned, that sort of blocked the lagoon from view, looked down into the water which was as clear as it could be, you could see the brightly colored fish and an occasional sand shark swimming around near the bottom.

Looked back and saw the island retreating from us. The view was magnificent the sun was just rising and as we got out into the open sea (a trip of about forty miles) the surroundings caused me to sing at the top of my voice and I suppose the guys thought I was coo-coo; but it was kind of fun to do that because we were so far away from anything. Just the impulse was a nice feeling. We got to Benika loaded up and brought fresh meat and supplies; but I thought I’d mention it because I think about it once in a while. I think we were on Pavuvu April, May June July, sometime in August we left and had no idea where we were going to go. The stay there was not that long. The training was once again getting more and more serious.

Another flashback: I happened to think of a couple of incidents that might be interesting: We happened to be in New Guinea previous to our New Britain landing on Thanksgiving of that year. We got in a turkey dinner at the chow hall so that everyone had turkey and dressing and everything the cooks could conjure up for Thanksgiving. It really tasted great. However, about two o’clock in the morning I awoke and felt that I had to get to the toilet. When I got up and came out of the tent there must have been two hundred people in line waiting to use the facility. It was a pretty strange affair. There were people going into the jungle and all over the place.

Yet another flashback to New Guinea: Our battery had taken our guns for a practice shoot. Trucks drove us down the road and away from the encampment. It was all jungle area where we set our guns up just off the road pointing off to the jungle we were on a rise. The jungle forest was a little lower and looked like a huge lush carpet. We proceeded to start firing and about a half hour later we looked down the road there was a native running toward us and waving his arms excitedly. He was chattering about something that we did not understand so we sent him off to our officer down the line.

It came out that we were firing pretty darned close to his village and he had run all the way to tell us about the situation. We immediately got a cease- fire and stopped firing. That was that for the day. It could have been pretty disastrous. The natives liked to come around and try to barter or sell things and get Australian money in exchange. They would come around with carved items that they crafted. One fellow had a wooden comb with insets of shells in the handle, very nicely done. Others would paddle around in their canoes and come ashore to sell fruit. Evidently there were banana trees around so they had bananas and various fruits to sell.

One of the amusing incidents was a little kid not over six or seven years old, a little tiny native kid with curly black hair, came by and stopped and asked for a cigarette and then for a light. He sat at the base of a tree on his haunches, which they all seemed to find comfortable to do, and he had the lit cigarette and seemed to enjoy it a lot. We had never seen anyone that young smoking so to see him sitting on his haunches caused us some amusement. Now, back to the Russell Islands. I can’t remember when it was but we embarked on LST’s, loaded up all our gear and sailed out of Pavuvu and did a practice landing there.

As it turned out we went to Guadalcanal and did a practice landing there coming out of the mouth of the LST onto open water with the 105’s in a DUCKW. We went down the ramp into the water and everything seemed to go well. We landed on Guadalcanal on the beach. That’s all I can remember of the landing itself. We stayed at Guadalcanal for a few days or maybe even a week; but in that time I remember John Hutzler taking me around and showing me the various battle points. There was the Lunga River and Lunga Point, there was the big battle of Bloody Nose Ridge and Savo Island right off the coast where they were. We walked down the beach a little ways and there was a huge Japanese troop ship that had been hit and sunk and had plowed into the sandy beach. There it was, a big rusty hulk when we saw it, of course it had been almost two years since that had happened.

Can’t remember a whole lot about Guadalcanal except that I was probably a little disappointed; but it had been about two years and in the jungle things grow very quickly. There was a lot of growth that destroyed a lot of points that would have been cleared during the battle of Guadalcanal. Nothing much else happened and we re-embarked on our LST, repacked everything and were off for our next invasion.

Peleliu

Landing at Peleliu

After we were on board ship for a while, the task force formed around us made up of a lot of Naval Warships and our Troop Ships. We were off again we knew not where.  The sea was calm and sailing along we had a sense of security from seeing all of those U.S. Naval Ships around us.   
 
Rumors were flying thick and fast about where we were going, of course, we were all anxious to know.  I think, about the second day or so aboard ship we were called up on deck for a briefing, which was done by units.  Captain Croltinger sat there and we sat all around him.  He explained what we were going to do and where we were going.  We were going to the Palau Island group which consisted of several islands among them was Peleliu.  The other island that was going to be attacked was Angaur.  It was to be taken by the 81st army infantry division.
 
He went on to describe what the islands were like and the history.  It developed that as far as the history went, the Germans had owned the islands during the colonial days pre WW1.  Since they had lost the war and the Japanese had been on our side the islands were given to the Japanese.  The islands when owned by the Germans were used, primarily for the export of sulphur of which there seemed to be plenty.  They were getting the sulphur out of the mountainous area on the east end of the island.  The island was not very big approximately six miles by two miles wide, shaped somewhat like a fish.  The eastern end, which was called the Umurbrogol Mountain, was honeycombed with mine tunnels and shafts. The Japanese, looking to the future had made the island into a defensive fortress about which we knew little.
 
They had hundreds of caves interlaced and intertwined.  Some of the caves actually had steel doors and artillery pieces.  Their mortars and artillery were all zeroed in on the landing beaches and that was the other thing we didn’t know.  We were told that there were about ten thousand Japanese on the island and that we could probably be through with the campaign in about four or five days.  It sounded pretty good however we were to be sadly mistaken.
 
Most of the island was flat with the airfield being sort of centered in the middle of the island.  That was our prime objective to take that airport and negate any air forces that could be used against the coming invasion of the Philippines in which General MacArthur was the prime mover, the taskwas to occur very shortly.
 
The days aboard ship were pleasant and warm.   We would bask about on the deck tanning in the sun and reading books and passing the time away. At times we would be assigned to a working party, however since I had become a Cpl. I did not have this duty. The nights were very balmy and pleasant and you could lie on top of the deck and look up at the Southern Hemisphere skies that were black as ink and held hundreds of thousands of stars.  The sea was beautiful as we steamed along. 
 
A noteworthy thing happened to me on board ship during the day.  I think of it occasionally because it was funny.  Here is how it went:

An LST carries smoke charges similar to depth charges.  They come sliding down a chute and are thrown into the sea. When they go off there is a big smoke screen laid out and it is designed to obliterate the view of the ship from submarines.  On this particular day, I believe it was in the morning, we had been to breakfast and I had gone to the head and was sitting there deeply engrossed in my book.  I was so engrossed that I didn’t notice that all of a sudden there was a deadly silence. I looked around and there was nobody around me.  I heard something topside and noticed then that there was smoke creeping into the area where I was and I quickly got out. I had all of these various thoughts:  one being that the ship had been hit and that everybody had left and that I was alone. I had this momentary panic.  I raced up the stairs topside and the deck was crowded with guys yelling and looking at the smoke screen that we had put out.  Evidently a couple of those smoke charges had gone off accidentally and they had been thrown overboard and everybody was getting a big kick out of it.

Orange Beach

Marines wait in their foxholes, Peleliu

I don’t know how long we were aboard ship; but as we got to within two or three days of the island especially at night, standing up on deck we could see out on the horizon flashes of explosions so we knew that we were getting close and that our Navy was starting to pound the island.  This seemed to last quite a while and we were cheered by it of course, hoping that it would eliminate some of the resistance that we knew we would encounter.

The night before D-day we were told to get our gear and our packs ready so that everything looked like we would be prepared to disembark the next morning.  The next morning at five a.m. the horns on the ship went off and general quarters cry arose everywhere so we were up and at ‘em.  Got dressed and went topside and stood in line for breakfast.  As we got topside you could see the outline of the island ahead of us.  It was still fairly dark, barely lightening up.  We stood in line and went through the one side of the ship, which had the entrance to the galley, a cafeteria arrangement, and you would go thru and grab a tray.  They had every conceivable thing on the menu for breakfast, so we ate heartily and the coffee was some of the best, so much so, that every body had two or more cups in their canteen cups.

“Are you headed for Orange beach-1?”
“Yeah” He told us: “It is really hot there”.

Back up on deck we watched the infantry move in and you could see the boats coming past us often moving toward shore, which was a little distance away.  We were careful to keep the Troop Ships out of artillery range because we didn’t know what size guns they had so it was a precaution. Since we were not yet ready to disembark we all stood around on deck and looked toward the island which was ablaze with smoke and fire and you could hardly see the island.  It looked like they had dropped the A-bomb on it (although that was unheard of at the time).  We could see fires burning on the shore and we weren’t quiet sure what they were but as the sun rose things got lighter we could see landing craft of ours (we believed) burning on the beach.  We didn’t think they would be theirs so we assumed they were ours so we knew something was not going right. We could still see wave after wave of infantry moving in on their landing craft leaving little wakes in the back end on the sea.
 
About that time we started to get the word that we were to disembark so we all went down below and got our gear, packs and everything, and got into our DUKWs which were loaded with the 105’s, along with a hundred rounds of 105 mm ammo. This covered everything we needed to set up for warfare.  The big fans started up and the roar was terrific as all the engines started up for warming up.  Finally as we sat on the DUKWs the great jaws of that ship opened up and we could see the ocean out in front of us.  The first DUKW or two started into the water and as we watched they would go down that ramp two feet above the water line.  The DUKWs would slowly roll into the water very gently and the nose of the boat would go down below the water line and then it would start floating on take off.   When our turn came the same thing happened, although it was a little touch and go.   As we sat in that DUKW the other DUKWs kept going down lower and lower into the water and then with some relief it floated and took off.  We were all in line headed for the beach.  I guess we were five or six miles from the beach; but as we headed in and were about half way from the beach we could see that things were not going well.  As we came closer there was a Landing Craft coming toward us, the driver pulled up along side of our DUKWs he was white faced and looked tense and frightened, he asked:

     “Are you headed for Orange beach 1?”
     “Yeah”
      He told us: “It is really hot there”.

We looked down into the hull of that landing craft and he was taking wounded, stretcher cases out to the hospital ship. It was very tense.

We kept going toward the island and as we got closer and closer it was apparent that things were not good on the beach.  We could see a lot of explosions and a lot of fires and smoke.  The noise was deafening and the war ships around us were pounding the Umurbrogol and trying to hit guns that were hidden in those caves.  Directly ahead of us as we drew closer there was a big mortar screen being laid down by the Japanese they hit the water and geysers of water would scream up and come back down and it was scary.

The lead boat, before they got to the mortar range, turned around and as we followed we started to go around in circles all the while we were trying to wait for a lull in the activity so we could get onto the beach.  We did that for almost a half hour trying to get out of mortar range.  We were landing on the north side of the island.  The original plan was that the First Marine regiment was on the extreme left flank closest to the Umurbrogol and the Fifth regiment was next to them.  The Seventh was on the extreme right.  My battalion was landing between the Fifth and the Seventh.  I believe it was Orange Beach #1 or #2.   Can’t remember which.

The First Regiment on the left flank got by far the worst of it, the first day or two or three.  They suffered tremendous casualties.  Some of this can be seen on my video of Peleliu.  The book I have of Peleliu tells about the entire campaign and goes into great detail.  I can only give you my experience from my own standpoint and of course, it’s not as bloody or scary as some of the infantry outfits.

Up ahead of us the mortar fire and artillery fire had lulled for some reason and we started to dash on to the beach and landed pretty well.  We came on to the sandy coral type beach and proceeded to unload the guns.  At that time I looked down the beachscape I could see the litter of amtracs and half tracts and landing barges that were hit. Some of them were burning, some guys were wounded lying in rows, some dead. It was incredible. It looked like a real Hell!  It’s impossible to describe the noise and explosions and the smoke and smell of everything.  Truly, a living Hell!

Right at that point the vehicles had moved up and as we were walking in sort of a line arrangement we passed a burning landing barge, a picture which I shall never forget.  If I have had a camera I could have gotten a classic picture for say, Life Magazine.  It was an incredible sight.  The open end of a landing barge with the open end down was burning inside, and looked like it had been burning a while with flickers of flames burning oil and stuff; but in the center there lay a dead (I assume) sailor who was the coxswain and he was lying on his back with his arms outstretched one hand holding a .45 calibur pistol. He was stripped down to the waist, an extremely handsome man who didn’t appear to have any wounds on him.  It could have been a bullet from the back but those questions will never be answered. I was really awe stricken at the sight.

We moved on and soon an older officer came running back and said he needed some volunteers to wipe out a foxhole. I guess there were a couple of Japs in a spider hole who had been shooting from there.  About twenty of us scrambled forward starting to crawl toward the hole.  Some of the lead guys threw some grenades into the hole and that was the end of it.

From then we proceeded a little further in with our guns and unloaded them with the  A Frames.  We jacked them into position, dug holes into the back for the spades to sit in and started to get set up for firing.  Our fire control centers were set up and we got the guns in order, put out the aiming stakes and were ready to fire.  I think that we got fire missions that morning and afternoon with more firing into the Umurbrogol, which is  where a lot of the firing from the Japanese was coming .

In back of us were the Seventh Marines and we had word that they had already cut off the Japanese at the end of the island.  From what I saw later there may have been four to five hundred Japanese on that corner.  We heard firing from the back of us going on pretty much throughout the day so I imagine the Seventh was routing out the Japanese.  Finally. it quieted down and I think everybody was on the island by late afternoon.  There was no firing going on in the early evening.

There was a service going on to our right with gun section # One.  Our gun section was on the extreme right of our battery and we were in close to the swamp.  John Hutzler was in charge of our gun section and that night we just lay on the ground to try to sleep and we had a couple of sentries on each gun section and took turns on sentry duty.  That night we heard a strange thing.  Across the swamp presumably there was an American cry for help and it was after a fashion as if some Marine needed help desperately and the voice kept coming across that swamp: “Help, help save me”.  We didn’t know if that was a Japanese ploy.  We couldn’t have done anything about it anyway but we knew the Seventh would take care of it if they could.  I never did find out what happened that night.  The next day nothing was said about it.  We all felt upset and concerned even though nothing was said.

A Close Call

F4U-1_8b08010r.jpgA Corsair fighter, 1943

On the second or third day, since things were quiet we were taking it easy.   I went a little bit up that ridge in back of us.  It was 8 or 10 feet high and continued over the top of it and went down toward the beach.  When I was about fifty yards from the machine gun post but; could no longer see it, I was fooling around with something, I think I was disarming a Japanese hand grenade.   I heard the roar of an airplane, looked up and to my astonishment it was a Corsair   He had missed his dive bombing run and the Napalm bomb was dangling on the bottom of his airplane by one hook Instead of the usual two hooks. He took a turned to try to dump it out at sea but; as he came over the bomb came loose and down it came.  I looked at the ridge toward the machine gun post which I had just left and there was a huge spurt of flames about twenty feet in the air and then it subsided.  I took off for the machine gun nest thinking for sure that our people were either drenched with fire or burned or whatever.  As I got to the top of the ridge I stood in astonishment because the Napalm was all over everything but a lot of it had burned in the first explosion but some of the Napalm was left on the ammunition, hand grenades and part of the machine gun so I looked and saw not bodies and for a moment I didn’t know what to think.  I knew that they couldn’t have been disintegrated and seconds later I looked to the side and here was our group coming out from wherever.  Apparently they had seen that bomb falling and took cover.  As they all came back we put out the flames from the Napalm with coral dust and burlap bags and things like that that were available.
 
About 15 minutes later the pilot of that airplane came whishing through in a jeep, pulled up at the nest where the bomb had hit and he stopped and got out and said he was sorry that it had happened and was anybody hurt.  We said nobody was hurt and you could see the sigh of relief on his face and he took off and was gone.  It was an exciting few moments.
 
I don’t remember how long we were there at that machine gun post but I think it was sometime in November when we were finally relieved.  The rumors were flying thick and fast that we were to be relieved by the 81st Army infantry division and that we were going to Hawaii for rest and recuperation this turned out to be false as I’ll tell you a little later.
 
One day when we were relieved we were sitting at that machine gun post and down the road came two columns of army infantry.  They were quiet and they looked neat and clean and they marched right on past us.  A few of our guys gave them jazz about getting there too late etc.  These troops were the ones on Anguar down the line and I guess they had a fairly easy cakewalk fight over there and I don’t think they knew what to expect here.
 
As I read later, I think the army lost another five dead and some number of wounded on Peleliu.  We, in the month and a half that we were there, lost twelve thousand dead and six thousand wounded.  It was a goodly number of the division.   A huge part of the loses were suffered by the First Regiment especially in the early stages of the campaign.
 
We went back to our guns, packed up everything got things in order, took our packs and went down to the beach to embark.  As usual we waited in long lines until we finally got aboard ship.  As we left the island I looked back and could see this little gritty, grimy place where so many guys had lost their lives or been wounded and I wondered what it was all about...

Fire Mission

We were wide awake at dawn because of the fire missions.  We did start firing to support our advancing infantry.  We found out later that the Fifth Marines had gone across the two-mile wide island and at the end of their advance they started to run into the swamp.  Now they were parallel with the airfield, we were supporting them and also a part of the First, which was trying to get off of the beach.  They were inland a little way but they were under fire from the Umurbrogol and that looked like it was going to be a tough nut to crack.

At any rate, we could tell that the weather was going to be hot, which it was from then on, roughly about 110 degrees.  We had all started with two canteens of water and by this time it was gone and everyone was starting to feel the pinch of getting really thirsty.  We were still not getting water so it was the thirstiest I had ever been since we were perspiring and it was getting hotter early on.  We wondered if we were going to make it and there was concern about the whole thing.

Chronologically I’m trying to do what I can to remember the things that happened and the way they happened.   I may be slightly wrong, but close.

I believe that on the second day when our gun section was firing we had a lull and all of a sudden there was a shell fired from the rear. I think it was aimed toward the beach to get one of the ships.  It was not a very big shell but big enough for a leafless tree right next to our gun section to be hit.  A branch of the tree went off right above our gun section.  It was startling to say the least.  The person that it hit was a fellow named Sharp from the Chicago area.   I never saw him again.  He got hit in the buttocks with a couple of shell fragments just enough to put him out of action.  The medics came and took him away and I found out later that Feeney was also hit in the leg but he didn’t want any attention.  In talking to him later and I found out that he still has a little piece of fragment in his leg.  It bothers him once in a while.  I guess we were lucky that no one else was hurt.

Getting back to the water situation, by mid afternoon our tongues were hanging out.  We were wondering whether we were going to last.  The word was passed around that there was water coming in.  Sure enough as I recall the middle of the afternoon a truck brought a small water tank cart up.  It had three or four spigots on it and every body rushed up with their canteen cups to use a spigot.  When my turn came as I turned the spigot the water coming into my canteen cup I noticed that the color was strange, a little orange.  I tasted it and there was a definite gasoline taste to it.  It was awful.  Nobody could drink the stuff.  The officer came up and said, “Don’t drink this you will get sick.”

What had happened, as it did in the infantry outfits as well, their water came in five-gallon cans.  It developed that whoever filled the cans had neglected to wash out the cans, including that tank Cart.  I don’t know how that happened but somebody probably was reprimanded or worse. We did get water a little later, so the situation corrected itself.

I believe the third day on the island is when we had the big banzai attack. That morning the Japs had come streaming out of the Umurbrogol and there were five or six Japanese tanks, maybe more, they had Japanese soldiers hanging on them plus Japanese infantry jumping out of them.   They came streaming across the airfield. It looked like a rather sereal suicide attempt the way they were coming across open ground on the airfield.  Everybody who could, had a shot at them and that included us.  We were firing immediately we were given the order to fire at will because the attack was continuing and it did continue for a couple of hours.  We were firing as fast as we could fire.  In a matter of that time we had shell casings in back of our gun section that were eight to ten feet high in a pyramidal pile lying there.  As fast as we could fire, we did.

The procedure was that I was the gunner, Tony Sifuentes was the #1 man and Feeney was the loader.  I had noticed in previous firing that when the gun fired the site on my gun would get off a trifle to the right of the aiming stake.  If I would nudge it a little it would get back on the aiming stake.  We learned that very quickly so we were firing as fast as the gun would fire and we kept that up until the gun overheated.  We had to stop and bleed the oil out below the tube in the reservoir then we continued firing.  During the course of that attack I was really hot.  Tony ran down to the beach with a towel threw it into the seawater and brought it back.  I wrapped it around my head.  I was starting to see waves of heat coming out of the ground.  There were two or three people in my gun section and others who just passed out from the heat.  The corpsmen had set up cots in the tents.  I was not about to pass out because I knew this was very important.  Pretty soon we were told to cease firing and the attack was over.  I think it was a complete massacre from the description I had heard because the tanks had been demolished and the Japs who had come out were totally destroyed.  It was a decided victory.

We were unaware that the Japs in back of us had been alerted to that banzai attack and they did the same thing; but we weren’t used to their pellmell banzai charge.  This group was wiped out by the Seventh Marines a day or two later (more on this later). A couple of us went back toward that end of the island to see what the results were and saw some startling things.

The Seventh, after they cleared that banzai area and there were no more Japs in back of us, were brought up past us to join the First and Fifth adjacent to the airfield I think in preparation of taking the air-field   The next morning we started our fire mission in preparation for the offensive and we proceeded to fire into the foot of the Umurbrogol to cover our guys and also the Fifth and Seventh which went across that airfield in open ground under heavy fire.  They did gain the other side of that airfield so that we got control of the airfield.  The news was that we were suffering heavy casualties much greater than we had anticipated. What we didn’t know was that the worse was yet to come.

As I said earlier, that next day or so we went back into the end of the island and didn’t go too far before we saw the results of the banzai attack.   There must have been two or three hundred dead Japanese in all sorts of positions sprawled out pretty much in line in their banzai charge.  They were pretty grotesque because the sun had swollen the bodies.  The flies were all around.  We had gone down there close to that area to get some food that the cooks had brought up.  It was the first hot food we had eaten and we filled our canteens.  It all was within about fifty yards of those dead Japs it didn’t seem to bother us too much except for the flies; but I think the same day one of our bull dozers came, dug a deep trench and then pushed the bodies in.  Rather bizarre; but it’s one of the things to be seen in combat.

Umurbrogol

The next step in the campaign was for our guys to start probing the Umurbrogol.  It’s hard to draw a picture of that place; but it was a series of valleys and fairly high ridges.  They first discovered how extensive those caves and covering fire areas for the Japanese was when a company of Marines had started into the valley and had been completely ambushed and almost wiped out. When they attacked one side of the ridge they were being fired at from the other side of the ridge and it went on like that.
 
The company from what I read and heard, came out with about three survivors.  From then on it became that kind of a battle.  Col. Hunts First regiments had been on the left flank of the landing that first day.  He wrote a book about the events of Company A, which were on the extreme left flank.  When it started to get dark the company went down into a shallow gulley, which stretched out for a way and they all took shelter there.  Unfortunately the Japanese had infiltrated the area above and around them and fired down into the gulley, as I understand it, most of the men were either dead or wounded.  At one of the last reunions I happened to sit next to a gentleman who was one of the survivors.  He stated that he was one of three survivors.
 
Now that the fighting was confined to the Umurbrogol our guns were virtually useless.  The only other thing we did was to haul our guns up onto the airfield and from there we could look out at the one side of the Umurbrogol.  Various caves were visible and we fired into some of them and blocked out some of the entrances; but I don’t think we did much good.
 
By now the airfield had been patched up and the First Marine Air Wing with Corsairs had landed and were based on that landing strip.  They were making short runs dive bombing the caves wherever they could and dropping Napalm bombs.  It was supposedly the shortest bombing strike in history.

All the units now, the First, Fifth and Seventh, were assaulting those caves with satchel charges and flame throwers and grenades and everything else; but the underground caves were so extensive that it was taking its toll on all of our guys and we were suffering heavy casualties.
 
It was about that time that the artillery being useless and starting to find a shortage of men up in the front lines that the first few people from our gun sections went up on the ridges, at least in the secondary line, loosely termed secondary line.  It was located almost at the top of the ridge on the western side of the Umurbrogol.  There was a road that was at the bottom of the ridge that ran parallel to the beach and parallel to the west side of the Umurbrogol, named the West Road.  There were trucks going up and down that road because that part of the ridge seemed semi secure.  However, the Japs had access to it from the other side of the ridge and they would come over the top of the ridge at night making for a few fire -fights.  One of the things about the West Rd. was that it was considered very dangerous because there were snipers from that side shooting from caves.  Apparently, contrary to the myth about poor marksmanship of the Japanese, they were shooting at the trucks and getting quite a few of our guys.  That was finally secured.
 
Part of the contingent from our section that went up was Navar, my good friend, I was sorry to see him go.  He went on up and they occupied the area on the ridge that we were to occupy later.  A few days later we heard that Navar had been wounded and was in the so-called ‘hospital’.  Karl Jahn and I went down to visit him in this strange set up.  It was a tent hospital with a bunch of cots in it.  We found Navar lying there with both arms in casts.  He talked to us and showed us the sketches on the cast where the bullet had gone through.
 
The story he told us was that he was up on the ridge were there was a fire -fight and someone was wounded.  The corpsman went out to tend the wounded guy and Navar went out to help him.  A Jap bullet got him through the left arm below the elbow and it passed through the arm, broke the bones and hit his left pocket which contained a pocket watch and ricocheted off the pocket watch and went through his right arm spinning as it ricochet   so that both his arms were broken.  It looked from the drawing that they were fragmented in the two spots.  He looked tired and drawn but happy to be alive.  He was scheduled to ship out and that was the last time I saw Navar.  I lit him a cigarette because he couldn’t light one himself I put it between his lips and he looked pleased to inhale and enjoy.   A footnote to this was that I had written a letter home and told my dad that Navar was at The Great Lakes Naval Hospital so he went out there from Chicago with a carton of Lucky Strikes to cheer him up.  Kind of an ironic gesture to bring cigarettes to a guy with two handicapped arms; but I was glad he made the effort.
    
Back to the hospital: I looked out to the right side of the tent where the less serious cases were. In some cases the more serious ones were still laying on stretchers next to the hospital tent.  There were dozens of them.  I looked off in the distance up toward the ridge and there were stretcher -bearers coming down every two or three minutes carrying some one wounded and laying them on the ground next to where the hospital tent was.
 
Off to the left there was one Navy doctor and two corpsmen working on a guy on a table and that was the operating room, just a big tent you could see thru.  There was a hanger arrangement above that that had plasma going down into the patient’s arms and feeding him.  The doctor was obviously an older man, gray haired and he was hunched over, working his tail off and it was really hot.  It was quite a picture!

The Ridge

A few days later we were sent up on the ridge. We jumped in the truck, went up the West Rd. and stopped at the spot that we were going up to and had to half scale our way up the side of that cliff.  It was all very sharp coral outcroppings, with something resembling a path going up.  We climbed up there without rifles, carbines. 

There were a few selected foxholes that apparently the infantry had used probably, the same area in which Navar was shot.  I got into a so-called foxhole with two other guys, one was Tiger, last name forgotten and I can’t remember the other fella.  The foxhole happened to be a kind of a ledge with no back on it and when you looked behind the ledge there was a shear drop of about thirty feet. A drop from there would have taken care of a guy, especially if he were wounded.  We had to be a little agile the way we stepped backwards. 

In front of us was a kind of a short wall, a little ledge in front of us a built up section of coral rocks which some one had probably built up.  We could look over the rocks and look upward another twenty-five or thirty feet of the slope of the ridge.  A little to our right was another larger foxhole.  I think Neal Vincent was in that one.  Nothing much happened that first day we were there.  There was a pioneer outfit next to us on our left side.

There was a cave there, I don’t know if it was the first day or the next day but we were looking down toward the road and there was a jeep that pulled up and three or four men got out and climbed the ridge up to that cave in the Pioneer Battalion area.  Pioneers were basically an engineering group that constructed things in the field under combat conditions.  They were a fairly tough group. 

The three guys came up and walked up to that cave and started to yell into it with a bull horn and the one guy I guess was a Japanese interpreter kept talking, finally he disappeared into that cave.  We were a little awestricken watching him do that.  He was in there for five or ten minutes.  Finally he came out leading about fifty civilian laborers, I presume they were Koreans because the Japanese used them for labor.  Maybe the Japanese decided to let them get away because they were just using up food and water.  At any rate that was one of the incidents.

browning1.gifThe Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)

Tiger had found a BAR Browning Automatic Rifle in our foxhole. He picked it up, looked at it, pulled back on the lever and it was stuck.  Probably slightly rusted so we thought we would just forget about it because it could have been dangerous to shoot with thing.  However, Tiger picked it up and sure enough that evening we started to get some rifle fire zinging around us.  Tiger jumped out of the foxhole put the Browning Automatic Rifle up and sure enough the thing went off and started firing and it went off like crazy.  So we had that assurance, the BAR and our foxhole.
 
 A night or two later we thought we heard Japs coming down on us and we started to fire in the dark at various shapes.  Somebody must have had a telephone in the other foxhole and called for flares.  That night we started to get flares coming up over us that somebody was firing to help us and there was this ghostly configuration of shadows of things as the flares came drifting down.  You could swear that there were Japanese out there moving around it was very deceiving and scary.  We had always heard that the Japanese could sneak upon you and put a knife in your back while you were in the foxhole while you were sleeping.  We were careful to keep a good watch.  Everybody took turns with a two hour watch, which was very nerve wracking because you were as tense as you could be keeping your ears open and your eyes clear and looking out there to see that nobody was coming.  During that previous night Neal Vincent’s group had thrown out about a half a case of grenades because they thought there were Japs trying to get up there.  The next morning everything was OK.
 
I guess we spent about a week up on that ridge and every day after the first or second day our cooks came to the bottom of the ridge with the chow truck.  We would go down in singles or doubles and get some hot food.  So it wasn’t entirely bad, we did go down to get water periodically so we weren’t too badly off and I guess in our position we were spelling the infantry guys who were needed at the interior of the ridge.  We did climb the ridge once and at one point we were looking down into one of the valleys and did fire our rifles down into some of the caves.
 
Once there was a Jap soldier who came running out to get to another cave and everybody opened up on him including myself.  I don’t know whether we got him or he got hit, whatever.  At the same time a little to the left of us one of our pack Howitzer Batteries brought up a couple of 75mm Howitzers.  They were using those to fire into the caves across the valley.  We were up at the ridge about a week and were relieved by another group.
 
On several occasions while we were on top of the ridge looking down across that valley we could see Napalm carrying tanks coming into the Valley firing Napalm into the mouths of some of the caves.  They would move up as any tank would and instead of a cannon they had a long snout for spouting out the Napalm and they would let out a burst which would travel 50 feet maybe more and hit the mouth of that cave and just blaze away.  It would also suck out oxygen inside the cave so that if you were at all close you would suffocate. A terrible weapon!
 
About this time was when Eddie Plunk was killed.  The rest of the battery was down at the airfield at the foot of the Umurborgol at the side looking in toward those valleys and since they were goofing around not doing a whole lot, a group of about 15 decided to go forward, there was really no front line just the entrance to some of those valleys.  Someone suggested they go hunting for souvenirs. They thought they were safe because the area was semi secure and didn’t seem to be too dangerous.  They all went up and it turned out that a Jap had popped out of a cave and threw a grenade, which exploded, and everyone scattered.  They all decided to come back because it was getting a little risky.  When they got back they found out that Eddie Plunk was gone and they couldn’t find him anywhere.  The group reorganized, went back and did a little searching and couldn’t find hide nor hair of him.  He simply disappeared.  About two or three weeks later some of the infantry guys had pulled his body out of a cave.  The  Japs had grabbed him and dragged him into the cave, tortured and bayoneted him many times.  That made us all very angry but there was nothing we could do about it. Eddie Plunk was the guy who had found the Mauser on New Britian, he was a good friend of mine.  He was from Florida.  I often wondered how his folks took that.
 
After coming down from the ridge we were pulled across the road at the foot of the west ridge where we had been and assigned to a machine gun post just off the road.  In back of us was a kind of a higher ridge, we couldn’t see the ocean from where we were; but we could look up and see that ridge.  There must have been four, five or six of us.  Our mission was to man that machine gun and guard the road and take care of what ever might happen on top of the ridge.
 
One of the fellas on the machine gun post with us was a guy named Snyder, we called him Schnader, from Indiana, a real little farm boy who looked like the cover of Mad Magazine.  Schnader was out scouring the area because it was fairly quiet where we were .We used to pass the time  by watching the Corsairs taking off and dive bombing the other side of the ridge with Napalm bombs.  On this particular day Schnader had gotten a hold of a Jap bicycle, some Jap sneakers and a Jap hat and he looked pretty damn close to a Japanese as he came riding down the road.  There were people who started to yell at him:
      “You want to get shot Schnader?” 
      “Get off of that Bike and get in here”
We did get a laugh out of it.

Back to Pavuvu

The rumors where not true!   We were not going to Hawaii instead we found out to our great disappointment that we were going to our un-favorite island of Pavuvu!

I don’t know how long it took; but we got to Pavuvu and had to go down the cargo net to get into our landing boat and in we came onto our (beautiful?) island of Pavuvu.  As we hit the beach there were about a half dozen women who were supposedly Red Cross nurses or whatever.  They were passing out lemon aide.  We were so taken aback that we couldn’t believe this.  Some of the guys took the lemon aide and others just looked with disgust because the women were chortling and flopping around.  They did look good to us but it was so ironic to come from Peleliu and to wind up with this unseemly greeting from these ‘girls’.

PICT5642.jpg Film actress Frances Langford entertains Marines on Pavuvu.
August 7, 1944 - Pavuvu, Russell Islands.
(Photo from History Link.)

We moved back into our tents, which were intact and in pretty good shape.  As we walked around the island around our area we discovered that the CeeBees were there and they had built a recreation hall and a movie down near the beach with log seats.  They were trying to do the best they could for us, I suppose.
Things went fairly well for the first couple of weeks and they let us relax and try to loosen up and enjoy ourselves.  We saw movies and got a beer ration, can’t remember how much but it was enough.
 
At one point I remember an incident that happened.  They had a so -called dance at the recreation hall and these ’Red Cross nurses’ were there and were dancing with the guys.  Whoever wanted to dance would ask them and they were dancing to records that were from back in the states. At one point one of the women was dancing with one of the infantry guys who got fresh with her and she panicked a bit.  Two MP’s came in and kind of roughed the guy up and were ready to arrest him.  His captain and the entire company came around and were ready to defend their friend and part of their company no matter what.  The whole matter was dropped but it was a near riot situation that was kind of sad because that was not what we had in mind in the line of entertainment.
 
These nurses more or less kept company with the division officers and you could see an occasional nurse with an officer riding around in a Jeep.  They had their own quarter’s that were patrolled by MP’s so it was a bitter situation, a little too, let’s say tempting, for most of the fellows there after what they had been through.
 
John Kurowski came over one day and spent a little time with me.  He had been in the hospital because he developed yellow jaundice and was recovering.  His eyes were still a little yellow and his skin was a little yellow however the skin part was probably from Atabrine.  We walked around, walked down to the First Regiment and were at the edge of the street and looked down the tent rows.  The entire area was almost devoid of men due to the heavy casualties they had sustained.  It was very sad.
 
One Sunday we got the word that Bob Hope was coming so we all went down to the movie theater.   It was built like a Roman Amphitheater with a sort  of a stage.  Sure enough here comes a Piper Cub and Bob Hope is hanging out the window and waving to us.  They buzzed the area and after waiting a while they put on their big stage show with the beautiful women, can’t remember who he had there; but there were several big name movie stars.  It was fun but it made you a little nostalgic to see all the good looking girls and being stuck where you were. We went back to our tents probably a little discontented.
 
There were new replacements starting to come in and they fit right in with us and were dovetailed into each crew.  Some of the old timers from Guadalcanal (their third campaign) were assigned to go home.  Among these was my friend John Hutzler and he recommended me for SGT of the gun section.  I took my test, which meant going up in front of the officers of the battalion and the battery and taking an oral exam.  I passed that and was made SGT.
 
John Hutzler said goodbye, packed his gear and said he’d write although I never did hear from him or see him again.  I really kind of missed him.
 
Pavuvu had changed considerably since we had been there last.  The CeeBee’s had come in, their camp was not too far from ours and they had every conceivable luxury such as freezers, ice cream at their meals and I believe beer so for them it was kind of a pleasure time at that point.
 
They had built a pier that had jutted out into the lagoon and we would stand a “shark guard” on the pier while people would be out swimming, everybody in the nude jumping and diving in the water.  The water in the lagoon was beautiful, probably the most beautiful I ever saw it was really a blue lagoon.  When you looked down into the water it seemed that the water was six feet deep because you could see all variety of fish swimming around in the water.  When you dove in and tried to touch bottom it was more like fifteen or twenty feet deep.  It was very nice for swimming and the island was rather nice in an exotic kind of a way, with a certain serenity about it, very peaceful.
 
The whole place looked very spic and span.  The battery streets and company streets wherever you went were clean, and the street itself was made of coral gravel that we had made during our first tour.  There were little drainage ditches around each tent.  The tents were all neatly strung up between the coconut palms all in line and we had added little painted rocks and things to make it look good.  The end of the street had a shower that we all used and it consisted of some fifty-five gallon drums that were filled by somebody as a work detail.  I forget how they heated the water but it was a nice warm shower available whenever it was free to use.
 
The middle of the street had a Lister bag which had an awning over it with a spigot at the bottom for drinking water. The land crabs were a lot fewer than when we first got there the first time but; occasionally a land crab would come skittling along and somebody would hit it with a shovel.  We would get coconuts falling down on the tents and they would come down with a big thud, sometime in the middle of the night but we got used to the sound.   They were pretty heavy so that if someone were hit by one it  could cause a serious injury.
 
If you needed a haircut there was a battery barber, sort of voluntary.  He was a little older than most of us.  For a sum he would cut your hair and do a fairly good job so everyone used him.
 
There were some characters in the battery.  Two of them most unforgettable were Gardner and Pierce who were from the east.  The epitome of vaudeville comedians.   They made us all laugh when they went through all kinds of antics and it seemed that they did that for their own kicks and enjoyment as well as ours just to get a laugh.  They were truly born comedians, a real blessing later in the Okinawan campaign.  
 
Capt. Crotinger commanded the battery at this point.  We called him “Jungle Jim” partly because of his looks.  Rather a nice looking Marine who always wore his 45 in one of those holsters that he wrapped around his leg with a rawhide thong.  He always looked rather dashing.  Some of the other officers that I can remember were Lt. Wolf and  Lt. Goff, who was a high school math teacher.  Not a very practical outdoorsman but a nice guy and generally a good officer.  Then there was Lt. Brown and a couple of others whose names I can’t recall.  They were all Forward Observation (OB) type officers whose job was to go up to the front lines, very close to the infantry and try to zero in on targets and relay the coordinates back to our Command Post.
 
We were now getting a lot of draftees which we had never had before, everybody before this was pretty much volunteers who had enlisted and we sort of looked down on the new men but; there were not that many of them and they dovetailed them among us so it was soon forgotten who they were because they did a pretty good job.
 
Since I was now the gun section chief I selected my crew and it was pretty well pre-ordained.  For instance I had trained Tony Sifuentes to be a gunner and that made him corporal.  Holiday, was the number one man who pulled the lanyard and Feeney was still the loader because he was a big guy and he was willing and eager to work.  There was a little guy from Boston, Tringalle, by name.  Sharp was gone but Smith had come in, more on him later.  Neal Vincent the big kid with the strawberry blonde hair and the freckles was from Wyoming, big cowboy type, who rode horses and chased wild horses. He was a rugged lad. Tony Sifuentes was Mexican actually, a mixture of Mexican and Indian (Mayan) from all appearances, his features were that, the high cheek bones kind of a hook nose and dark complexion with dark hair but; very efficient and a good right hand man for me.
 
We had our crew pretty well set up for the gun section and we did a lot of practicing.  Some of the others were the Greek who was not in my gun section.   He had come from some other division as a replacement and I forget what he did but he was not in the gun sections.  His father sent him a Turkish coffee maker with little Turkish coffee cups.  One night in the tent he made coffee for us and it was thick and rich and very delicious.  We enjoyed it immensely.  I was telling my wife, Anne, that I didn’t know and wondered what he did with the “apparatus”  when we left afterwards.
 
We were now in the regular schedule of training, which consisted of classes, especially if there was any bad weather we would assemble in tents and study the gun sights and have classes on military rules and regulations and that sort of thing.  We were also busy with the guns either firing or making landings around the island and really getting into the status of rigid training.
 
Some of my duties at this time as Sgt. were serving as Sgt. of the Guard, which meant staying up pretty much during the night and checking on all the guard posts. Roll Call in the morning and when I had the NCO of the day I would have to take the troops in for breakfast and lunch and dinner and that always meant I ate last and had to stay up at the head of the line and make sure that everybody had their Atabrine pill swallowed it in front of me and various other duties.  Some of them were just taking out working parties and at that time you would have several corporals if it was a big enough working party that would sort of be subordinate and take care of certain parts of the working party.
 
We had mail call every day and at one point Sue Evak, a grammar school friend of mine used to write to me regularly and it would be a little embarrassing because she would put her kiss mark on the back of her envelope and it would  say: S.W.A.K. (Sealed With A Kiss).   When the First Sgt. passed out the mail he would make some comments on the lipstick mark.
 
The mess hall was generally used for church and in the evenings for write letters.  The CeeBees had rigged up some electric lights with generators so it was a place to which you could retreat. That year of 1944 on Pavuvu we did have turkey and all the fixings at Thanksgiving and at Christmas time and as I said there were church services but; generally the holidays were sort of passed over as just another day because we were so far away from everything.
 
We always got news of invasions going on around us by other Marine divisions.  One day I got a letter from John Loban, whom I had gone to church and Sunday school with, he was a pretty good friend of mine thought I didn’t realize that he had joined the Marine Corp.  He had been at Bedio and Tarawa.  I kept the letter for a while and intended to write to him but at that time we started to get into loading and embarking for Okinawa so I never did get to write.  John was later killed at Iwo Jima where he carried a flamethrower so he was a prime target.
 
I’m not quite sure when we started to load for our next invasion.  We didn’t know where we were going but we were loading up on an LST.  The LST had a barge on each side of the gunnels of the ship that were about ten feet above deck they were strapped down vertically so that it was like a wall on the side of the ship.  Later I found out that these barges were used by the CEEBEE’s and would be used as loading barges strapped together to create platforms out in the water.

Okinawa

American forces land on Okinawa, April 13, 1945

We left Pavuvu under escort of our war ships and steamed to Ulithe Harbor.  Ulithe was a huge coral atoll and—as a lot of those atolls were—it had a huge harbor that was shaped like a great big horseshoe.  We pulled in there and waited around for a couple of days, or possibly a week while we waited for a task force to assemble.  It was a fun time because the weather was tropical and we went swimming in the ocean off the ship every day.

At one point Dick Beagle came over to our ship when he found out where I was.  He had his trunks along so we decided that we would dive off of the top of the barge into the ocean.  We climbed up the barge and when I got up to the top I got a little leery because that was as high as I ever dived off of anything.  It had to be thirty feet or more, and looked pretty far down to me but; I couldn’t possibly back down anymore so when it came my turn I did dive and penetrated the water rather poorly and could have easily broken my neck because I hit my head in the water and it was amazing how hard water can be.  I made it!  We did swim and had fun and like teen age boys, we found a log and were paddling along singing “Rum and Coca Cola” which was made popular by The Andrews Sisters at that time.

As the task force assembled you could see that it was immense, there were ships everywhere.  We did set out and when we were out a ways we did the usual things, we were called up on deck and briefed on our mission, and saw a map of Okinawa and were told all of the details.  There would be six divisions, three army and three Marine Corp and we would be coming in from the China Sea and landing on the west side of the island.  There were a lot of Japanese troops on Okinawa and we were told that it would be pretty tough duty. 

As I recall the island was about sixty miles long and probably twenty miles wide at various points, it was a fairly flat island, not too many hills similar to I guess, parts of Japan.  We knew that the Japanese weren’t going to give up easily because we were getting close to Japan and within a couple of days of D-day.

April 1, at night we could see and hear distant thunder and lightening on the horizon and we knew it was our Navy bombarding the island.  The next night, the night before D-day it was the same thing but much closer and much more noisy and our planes had been dive -bombing and hitting targets to soften up the landing area.  They were also dropping leaflets on the civilian population telling them to assemble at certain areas and that we were not going to hurt them and information like that.  It was the first time that we had occasion to deal with civilians.

As the task force assembled you could see that it was immense, there were ships everywhere.  We did set out and when we were out a ways we did the usual things, we were called up on deck and briefed on our mission and saw a map of Okinawa and were told all of the details.  There would be 6 divisions three army and three Marine Corp and we would be coming in from the China Sea and landing on the west side of the island.  There were a lot of Japanese troops on Okinawa and we were told that it would be pretty tough duty. 

Into The Fire

The Okinawa Beachhead

At about 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock in the morning of D-Day the horns started to go off on the ship and it was general quarters, which meant that all the sailors had to be at their posts, guns and machine guns and whatever they were assigned to.  I got up with all the others, since I was and NCO I was down below deck in one of those tight quarters with hanging bunks.  I rolled out and got my pack and everything together and went on up topside to go to breakfast and get ready to go ashore.  We stood in line and went through the galley and had a great breakfast that was usual fare for the Navy with great coffee.  We ate and went back down below after breakfast and got our gear and went topside through a small hatch.  Just as I came up through the hatch the three or five inch gun close to the bow was firing it gave me a terrific muzzle blast.  It was painful as heck but; I climbed out and there were a bunch of us standing on deck watching the landing taking place.

As we looked around us it looked like the biggest assembly of ships that I had ever seen.  It was just amazing.  There was every conceivable ship as far as you could see on the horizon.  I think there is an account somewhere in the books but; it was a phenomenal task force. I think that some of the ships had come over from the European theater and were being used in the Pacific so that’s what accounted for the size and number of all the ships.   You could see boats heading in for shore and the CEE Bee’s with barges.  Our infantry probably was already on shore moving in.
 
One more thing that was very exciting was that all of a sudden out on our right side about twelve Kamakazi planes came streaking in.   They broke formation and headed for our ship but; instead hit a converted carrier. I was thankful that they didn’t try to get us.  A lot of the planes fell into the ocean some of them were hit by our naval twenty mm gunfire.  I did see one or two hits but you couldn’t see how much damage they had done..  The one hit was on the converted carrier I mentioned, the gunfire had gone right through the deck and had left a huge gaping hole with billowing smoke coming out of it.
 
When it was time for us to get ready to go below we did and got into our amphibious DUKWs.  Our 105’s were in each DUKW and again the jaws opened up and we started to move out to the ocean down the ramp.  They had let us out about ten miles from the shore to avoid any of the ships being hit by gunfire from the shore.      
 
There we were In the dark, heading out through the jaws and down the ramp  out into the ocean.  There was a moment of tension as we watched the bow of the duck dip down below the surface of the ocean for a little way.  We did not know if we were going to go down or go afloat.  It only lasted a few seconds until we got afloat.  The engines put - putted away and off we went in a column.  There were two drivers one assistant and the actual driver.  Some of the guys had put their knap sack in the front hold where there was a hatch.  All of a sudden we noticed smoke coming out of the hatch and we thought, oh boy, we have engine trouble; but the assistant reached forward opened the hatch and there were 2 knapsacks on fire and smoking.  He reached in, picked them up and threw them overboard.  Fortunately for whosever packs they were, Holiday was sitting on the side and as they floated by he grabbed the packs and pulled them back in.  They were wet but; whatever was on fire was out.
    
Since the Kamakazi attack there was no other gun fire and we were proceeding on into the beach and as I said it was about ten miles away so it almost seemed like we were going to get sea sick. The puzzling thing was that there was nothing on the beach from our distance that we could see in the way of flames or smoke or anything else and it almost looked like we were getting no resistance.  It turned out that was the case.
 
We finally rolled up on the beach and all the gun sections pulled in a little bit and as we got off the DUKWs and looked around we could see the condition of the beach.  A little to our left was a cordoned off area and in it were many, many civilians of all ages, kids, younger women older women and some very old men almost bent into any “L” shape with white hair.  We felt sorry for them because they were all in a big group with nothing to do.  They had been herded into this rectangular area just to keep them out of harms way.
 
There were areas along the beach were the Japanese had planted bombs with the fuses sticking up.  I guess our guys had gotten in there and put yellow flags on them so that you would stay out of there. We were pleased with the cakewalk that we had gone into.  We pulled in a ways, unloaded the guns and hooked them on the backs of the tractors that met us and the DUKWs went back out to sea. The battery was all ready to move in whatever direction.  We were given instructions to head north.  Our infantry by the first night had gone across the island.
 
The landscape was similar to pictures of Japan, not a lot of houses but there were fairly narrow roads.  The beaches at various points had huge rocks sticking up off shore, somewhat like you see on the coast near San Francisco.  We turned and headed north.  The First Division was the only one going north we saw no other outfits ahead of or around us so I assume that most of the five other divisions headed south.  We heard that there was starting to be resistance.
 
We were worried about the northern part having gorilla fighters and the possibility of being attacked so we were on the alert at all times.  Fortunately, nothing happened as we headed on the narrow but nice road it felt like we were on a picnic because we heard no heavy gun fire any more since we were far enough away.  The island is fairly large the landscape was beautiful, no inhabitants that we could see so we supposed that all the natives had been brought south to camps that they had set up for the Okinawans.
 
We had some small incidents including one night one of our machine gunners shot what looked like a twelve year old girl.  How she got there at night was a mystery but they heard a movement and yelled for a password and none came so I guess they opened fire.  The next morning we walked in that direction and there was a rather pretty dead girl.  That was a tragedy.
 
We looked around all the way to the other northern tip and saw the beach was rather nice, sandy with pretty vegetation around the entire area.  By this time we knew that the southern part was giving heavy resistance and it looked like the war was really on and it wasn’t going to be a picnic. We turned and headed back and got down about the middle of the island before the resistance started.  We started fire missions on a day-to-day basis so that entire line of our offensive was across the island and going south where all the Japanese were.
 
I forgot to mention the first night on the beach something did happen that was rather exciting.  The nights were fairly cold there at that time of the year in early April, still spring, the word came out to be prepared that they expected a paratrooper attack from the Japanese and everything was brought out on the beach around our position and down the line.  Anti-aircraft guns were set up and more machine guns brought in with plenty of ammunition delivered.  It was ten o’clock at night when we were waiting for the paratroops to arrive.  They were either intercepted or shot down by airplanes so we never did get the attack.  There were also searchlights out there so it would have been a real fiasco for the Japanese.  It passed but was very exciting while it lasted.
 
The Okinawan citizens were pretty well contained and there weren’t too many of them that I could see only here and there.  They were confined in camps and sort of away from the fighting that was going on down south. The Okinawan people were descendants of Chinese pirates who had settled the island.  Their general living areas, which we ran into, were plots of land that they were farming with vegetable gardens here and there.  We were tempted to eat some of the produce.  The cabbages were about the size of basketballs, they were huge but we were forbidden to eat any garden crops because they were fertilized by human waste.  After a while a surgeon had announced that we could eat garden products but they had to be boiled.
 
The other thing we came upon in various plots were what appeared to be family cemeteries, usually a cave in the side of a hill with a stone in the front of it with inscriptions in Okinawan lettering.  Some of the guys in the past had opened those things up and found vases inside and in several cases I saw vases that had been broken exposing bones of their forbearers.   I always considered that a form of vandalism, a sacrilege, and I felt sorry that someone would do that. Things we came across in the same caves were things they put in for safekeeping.  All sorts of artifacts our guys looted.  There were beautiful kimonos embroidered in beautiful colors and they were taken.  I personally just didn’t feel right about that because it had probably been in some family for generations and would be sorely missed.  Nor did I see a need for taking something like that even though it was beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
 

Moving Southward

OkinawaMarineCave-1.jpgA marine takes cover on Okinawa

When we got down South we finally got into the fighting.  We were pretty well set up and hardly stayed in one location very long.  As we went to each new location we would pick up various items to make our life a little easier.  One being a sapling for a ridge pole for a tent so that we could sleep under cover, along with a forked pole at each end to hold up the ridge pole then we slid the tarp over that which made it fairly sizable, Eight or ten guys could all sleep under that pretty well, we slept on the ground, threw some brush down and slept in our ponchos.  The set up could be moved very quickly so when we were ready to move we would throw the ridge poles onto the truck and get moving again and set up again at the next location.  We got to do it pretty quickly and often.
 
One of the first tiffs we had going down South, we were set up and firing and had just stopped firing and we noticed four or five  of our fighter planes with rockets,  they were off to our left as we were in firing position and they were coming in on an angle.  They fired their rockets and made a pretty good explosion where they hit.  I looked at the angle of attack and knew that they must be hitting us behind our own lines, which is exactly what had happened.  They fired these rockets into a bunch of infantry guys, I think they were Marines and they were just coming back from the front lines for a break.  They were lying down on the ground and some standing around and I guess the pilots mistook them for Japanese and fired.  They either killed or wounded some of our own people.  At the same time after they fired their rockets they came toward us right over each of our guns and they must have realized what they had done.  They must have been embarrassed and sorry and off they went and we did hear later that some of the people near the front lines were wounded by that attack.  Somebody got hell for it!
 
I can’t remember the locations we were in but we moved fairly often always moving south which was a good sign.  I remember one position in particular where things seemed to happen.  It all started out when we were positioned about two or three hundred yards off of the ocean heading south.  The guns were in place and the tractors had come in and dug revetments for us.  They went around a little circle, and piled up dirt around us so that we had protection on the ground.  We had a camouflage net over the gun and our ammo was stacked inside that abutment and there was a road close to us.
 
One day in the afternoon we saw this big cavalcade coming down the road it turned out to be the army artillery and they turned in back of us about three or four hundred  yards and set up their 230mm cannons.  They were on carriages and they had huge trucks to carry these things.  So that when they set them in place they had to jack them up and level them up and that took them at least two days.  They worked on those guns shimmying them up to be level and get them ready to fire.  We went back there and talked to some of those guys and they had all the comforts of home including a galley with hot food and it was like they were on a training mission.  A 240mm is about a 9-1/2 “ diameter shell.  I don’t think we had ever seen anything that big.  Pretty soon they commenced to fire causing our aluminum mess gear, which was hanging up on the ridge pole, to rattle all over the place, the tent shook along with the ground.  Quite an experience!
 
A night or two later we started to get shelled by the Japanese artillery and we didn’t know what was coming off but we couldn’t fire back because it was night time and we didn’t know where they were.  We were told later that they had their guns in caves mounted on tracks.  They were not particularly big guns, probably 75’s or 80mm somewhere in there; but that’s enough to give a good account of a shell explosion and they were dropping right around us.  We were all scared and they were firing everyplace.
 
There were some batteries to our right and off a little ways in the distance and one of the shells had hit one of the guns in that battery.  We could see flames shooting up and we were getting constant shellfire.  Everybody laid flat on the ground and it just kept up and up and up.  There were clods of dirt coming up on top of us the camouflage nets almost came down.  We were shaken and truly scared because it felt that the next shell was going to come right in on us.
 
In the meantime our officers were trying to get a bearing on the Japanese artillery and what they did was, they could spot the flash of the gun and they timed that.  They knew the direction by compass or transit I suppose, from where we were and they could plot it out.  It was a flash and sound detection and they knew the speed of sound and they could then measure from the flash to the explosion about where they were.  Our guns were loaded up waiting to be fired.  Finally we got the word so we all clambered up and started to fire.  We must have gotten them because there was no more shellfire that night.
 
The next day or two later, Dick Beagle, came over and it turned out that his gun section had been hit that night.  A few of the people on his gun section had been wounded and hit in that shell burst and the ammo was on fire. Dick ran back inside and dragged a couple of guys out and they extinguished a lot of the fame and got the ammo out and for this Dick got the Silver Star.
 
I can’t begin to explain the kind of fear that you have under shell fire because it is permeating and it just shakes you to your bones because there is no way to get away you can’t do anything, just lie there useless.  As soon as we started to fire everyone got rid of their fears and did their job so it turned out pretty well.
 
A couple of nights later we got the word on our telephone that we should be especially aware that night because we got the word that there were some Japanese trying to get near the lines.  Their objective was our artillery.  It must have been very important to them as we were doing a lot of damage to them.  We kept our eyes open and during the night, almost toward dawn we heard a lot of firing down on the beach right angles to us.   As I said, about three hundred yards down, the landscape slipped on down to the beach.  We were not able to see but heard a lot of firing going on and then it quieted down.
 
Early the next morning at daybreak there was some more firing, after a while it quit. Karl Jahn, and I went down to have a look because it was so quiet.  What we saw was an amazing sight.  There must have been twenty Japanese in a long boat and I think they were probably rowing along the coast.  They were going to land right on the coast opposite us to try to get at us.  One of our Navy Destroyers spotted them and threw a searchlight on them and fired at the boat and pretty well shattered the thing.  The site that greeted us was the boat itself beached with three or four bodies lying inside, one had what looked like a direct hit into his abdomen because his entire midsection was cleaned out. There wasn’t anything left in his body that we could see.  It was a really gory sight we could see the rib cage and the spinal column. and all of that.
 
The others that had gotten out of the boat had run into a grove of thick bushes where they were hidden, a company of Marines had been sent down there to clean them out and check the boat and everything.  Apparently they came in and one of the Marines was killed because when we looked there was a helmet (our helmet) sitting there with a bullet hole right in the center so he was probably killed in that little action.  That must have alerted the rest of the guys because they came prepared with flame- throwers and as the Japs came popping out of the bushes they just mowed them down.  What Karl and I saw was a gory sight, probably the remainder of fifteen dead Japs, some roasted, they looked pretty awful.  All of them sprawled out in grotesque positions, running from the bushes.  A sight I’ll never forget.
 
As we stood there a couple of infantry guys came up with bayonets. One of them propped open a Jap's mouth and started to pry out a gold tooth. I just watched in amazement wondering what kind of a person would do that. But I guess that is part of the psychology of war in the infantry because I think you get sucked down into the depths and do things you wouldn’t normally do.

 

Naha

Anti-aircraft fire lights up the sky during the battle for Okinawa

I think I mentioned how huge our fitting was standing out there in the water. There was everything during the landing.  I looked around, there were hospital ships, destroyers and tankers and every conceivable type of warship from destroyers, cruisers, light cruisers, carriers, they were all out there as far as the eye could see.  It was so awesome that it is hard to describe. 

What I’m leading up to is that one night, I don’t know if it was in the same location that we had been in, but it was dark and we were looking up at the sky because we heard the drone of a Japanese airplane which sounded way up there, it was like an angry bee, roaring around up there just lazing away.  I guess the radar picked him up and the search lights went on, they were all over the island while we were occupying it and the searchlights started to search for that airplane.  It took quite a little while before one searchlight finally picked him up.  It looked like a big white bird up in the sky and as soon as that first search light picked him up the others followed suit.  He must have been in the glare of at least several dozen search lights. 

Everything on the island opened up—every anti-aircraft gun, even the smaller stuff like 20mm and everything out in the ocean, all the ships out there started to fire at him.  They must have used tons and tons of ammunitions and the sky was crisscrossed with white and red lines. I believe there is a picture somewhere whether it’s in Life Magazine or one of those, I don’t know; but it was just amazing to watch.  I’ll never forget the sight.  They never did get the airplane, it just flew away after a while.
 
Another night we were lying there trying to sleep and something happened because the ground forces up ahead of us apparently called for Naval gun fire to help them and some of the big battle ships out there started to fire their big guns, their 16” guns and the shells were going over our heads and out toward the Japanese.  When they came over it sounded like a freight train, just unbelievable and I thought “My God. I’m glad I’m not on the other side of that”.  The Japanese must have really trembled when they heard that.
 
This  reminds me about the stories that the Guadalcanal guys used to tell about being shelled every night by the Japanese navy, just off of Guadalcanal they expected the Japanese fleet in every night since there was nobody to stop them.  Our guys would just dig their foxholes deeper and deeper, whenever they got a chance they would dig their holes. I was told they would use ladders to get down into the hole, so it must have been quite deep.  They would go around and pick up fallen trees or logs wherever they could and put them over the openings and covered them with steel plates or whatever was available.
 

Shuri Castle

A Marine surveys the damage at Naha

We got orders to move that day up forward to a place called Shuri Castle, apparently there is an ancient castle there which I never saw; but our toughest battle area for the first Marine division and the division was assigned to take that area   It wasn’t simply the castle but the area around it.  We packed all of our gear into the truck and hooked up our guns and off we went.

It rained being the rainy season, the road got to be mud and sometime knee deep where you couldn’t get one foot out ahead of the other and it was just too hard to describe.  Trucks were getting stuck even the tanks had to be reequipped with wider treads to be able to move in the mud.  I think this area was the most depressing because the offensive to take Shuri Castle area had become a stale mate and every morning we would start out with the same thing, a big barrage which we would keep up for about a half hour or so, with very intense firing.  Our infantry would try to move up and they would be blown away and that lasted for a week or longer.

PICT5381.jpgTrucks stuck in the mud on Okinawa

At the end of an offensive at about three or four o’clock in the afternoon when we were given orders to start firing smoke we knew that the offensive had failed.  That went on day after day so it was very depressing.  The smoke was to put up a shield in front of our troops so they could pick up the wounded and bring them back.  The very most depressing sight I saw was a truck coming past us that had a canopy on it.  The back end of it from where we could see into the back of the truck was just piled high with our dead.  Their feet were all sticking out and wobbling around as the truck went by.  A gruesome sight and it really made you think.
 
I always felt sorry for the infantry because they were having a tough time and I sometime felt guilty for not being with them; but I guess I was lucky when I look back.  On the guilt thing, at one point it was heartening because there was a company of Marines coming back for a rest.  They all looked as if they had never slept in their lives, they were just utterly exhausted.  A couple of them would stop at the gun and give it a pat because I think that they realized that we were really helping them out and that we saved them on a few occasions so it was heartening.  The other guys sat around and we always had some coffee around which we gave them and maybe a cigarette and then off they went for a rest probably to return in a few days.
 
I think Shuri Castle lasted probably two weeks; but the Japanese finally broke and we were in charge of the area. Some nights later, we were given orders to move to another position it was to be done at night.  Again, we packed up our gear hooked up the guns, jumped in the truck.  There were probably eight or ten of us in the truck and we started out at night going down the roads.  The rains had subsided and it was reasonably dry now as we were headed toward the capitol city of Naha. 
 
We traveled at a slow pace at night with no headlights and it seemed like a long excruciating trip because of the slow pace. At one point, at about one o’clock in the morning we came to a wooden bridge where we slowed down because there was somebody out there, maybe one of the officers or NCO’s with a tiny flash light.  Accordingly, the trucks put on their real low beams that made it barely possible to see the bridge.  Even with this little amount of light you could also see that the bridge was in semi decrepit condition because a lot of the cross boards were broken, the only safe way to go across the bridge was by these two beams that miraculously seemed to match the width of the wheels of our truck.  The truck drivers started across at intervals, one truck at a time.  The bridge was not terribly wide, probably about forty or fifty yards and the river wasn’t too deep; but it went out to the ocean.
 
We were told that on that little peninsula which stuck out to our right there was a Japanese gunner in a cave and he could blast us off that bridge if he was aware of what was going on.  Fortunately that didn’t happen but that was one of the tense moments of that trip.  We finally made it across, primarily due to the skill of the drivers.  It was slow and tedious and we all were tense because we didn’t know if we would make it.  Thankfully we did and a little while later we came into the city of Naha.
 
Naha was completely devastated. Everything had been blown apart. There was a full moon so everything looked like a ghost town because there was this gray dust settled on everything. There were bodies scattered here and there that hadn’t been picked up.  One, I recall was an old Okinawan woman who had been hit by a fallng wall and she looked like a pancake.  It was eye popping!  We went on through the town very quietly.  It was a ghostly convoy going through there.  We passed through Naha and went on further south and got into a position probably at three o’clock in the morning and Immediately set up our guns.
 
My gun, Number 1 gun, was on the right flank and there was a house about a hundred yards down the line just off the road right in front of my gun and when we registered to fire I had to look through the bore to see that it cleared the roof of the house.  By this time it was kind of late and we were dead tired from the ride and everything else so we all laid down to sleep on the ground and thought we’d be able to rest for a part of the morning.  That wasn’t the case.
 
We were awakened at 6 o’clock in the morning after about an hours sleep and it was a fire mission.  We proceeded to fire a few rounds and then quit. That morning we were waiting around for the next fire mission and up ahead at the house we heard this explosion, it was fairly loud.  All of us from our section ran up to the house and here were two Marine infantrymen.  One was laying flat on his face and as I looked I was horrified. He must have had fifty holes along his entire back.  I don’t know if he was alive or dead but they were all from hand grenade fragments, those little half- inch squares of steel that caught him in the back.  We had no idea how it happened right at the moment. 

The other guy was lying down, his leg was split right down the middle on the backside and there was no blood because it looked like it had been cauterized from the explosion.  We immediately started yelling for the corpsman and our two corpsmen came up with their chest full of medical supplies.  I remember lighting a cigarette for one of the wounded guys who seemed to be in a state of shock but; he took the cigarette, sat there in a kind of a daze smoking.  Our corpsman cut off his pant leg and poured sulfur along the whole wound.  Someone had called for a jeep ambulance and in about   five or ten minutes there was the jeep ambulance and both these guys were loaded onto stretchers onto the jeep and taken back to the rear.

I don’t know what ever happened to them.  I am pretty sure that the guy with all the grenade fragments was probably dead by the time they got to the hospital because he had a greenish color—not a great thing to see. At first we thought that they had maybe gone into the house and hit a booby trap but from the few things that the fellow with the split leg had said it sounded as if a grenade which they normally hung on their belts had come loose and they had both tried to dive out of the effect of the grenade and hadn’t quite made it.  That set up the day for us. It was a situation I’ll never forget.

I think it was in this position that a short distance away we found what looked like a quarter master depot for the Japanese.  There were supplies all over the place.  They weren’t anything to brag about; but there were maybe twenty five cases which contained leather saddles they were very nice saddles and a couple of guys said,  “I’m taking one and mailing one of these home.” A lot of these fellas came from places like Texas where they had owned horses; but I don’t know if they actually did what they said they  would do, although they were beautiful new leather saddles, a real temptation to own.

A funny thing happened while we were standing there. We looked up and there was a girl on horseback, an Okinawan girl, and what was strange was that she was wearing a tee shirt on which was printed “University of Hawaii”.  She talked to us in English and said, “Hi, how are you guys doing, etc,.”

After chatting for a few minutes we speculated whether she was a spy or whether she had really gone to the University of Hawaii, she spoke in good English and that was as far as we found out about her.   She turned around and rode off and that was the end of that story.

I want to correct something I said earlier about the landscape.  It really wasn’t flat, maybe it was where we landed; but generally speaking the entire highland was very hilly.  There were forests and some of the hills were coral like and other areas were pretty fair farmland.  The farmland was set up in patches as most of the oriental countries are. It stepped down to take advantage of taking the maximum advantage of the use of the land for whatever they grew.  Sometime there were flat areas that had rice or some sort of grain growing on them.  I wanted to make that correction.

We had occasional leisure moments when we weren’t firing but generally it was always a fire mission or sometime a whole lot of them during the day.  Not generally at night but sometime we did have them at night.  One of the times I recall, we had a kind of a tense moment.  We were getting orders to bring our gun level down to zero which meant firing by sight instead of the aiming stakes and to load up with canisters and to have our small arms ready.  It sounded pretty much like there had been a banzai attack or one was in progress and if they broke through we would have to handle them.  We had everything primed and ready and waited for about a half hour and then again we lucked out and were told to unload and forget about it.  We went back to our standard firing conditions.

When we weren’t firing we would take the time to take care of our weapons and our 105’s, cleaned them and oiled them so they were ready to fire again.  We took very good care of our equipment and kept everything in good shape.

A couple of fellas in our gun section managed to pick up a couple of chickens.  I forget whether they were a rooster or hens but they were a cantankerous lot.  We kept them though because periodically one would lay an egg and then one of us would get a chance to enjoy an egg - probably about one every other week.  That was kind of fun. Our good fortune of being in the artillery was that we always had loose powder bags that were left over from the shell casings and we would drive in three steel rods from the ammunition packages and throw some of this powder into the bottom of the bags light them and have an instant fire. You could keep it going indefinitely because we had a tremendous amount of this gunpowder.

By this time when we loaded the truck we looked like a caravan of gypsies because the truck was full of all sorts of boards and anything we could pick up and the chickens, so we were a motely group sitting on the truck pulling the gun behind us.  We knew it was a temporary combat condition and nobody said anything but we certainly didn’t look like a well- trained bunch of Marines coming down the road.

We moved further south again, I think this was the last position we were finally in.  The Japanese had been pushed further and further south until they were confined to the southern most side of the island.  We were being used less and less for support so that we had a little more leisure time.  At one point I remember, Capt. Crotinger was taking some of us up the side of the hill for patrol.  Apparently there were sightings of stragglers of Japanese soldiers. Neal Vincent, who always seemed to walk into some kind of problem, found a sleeping Japanese soldier lying under an outcropping of rock.  The guy was sleeping and Neal woke him up and shot him and took his revolver as a souvenir, I guess.  In Neal’s favor, he had a dreadful hate of the Japanese, his brother had been killed in the Navy in Pearl Harbor, so I think he was bound for revenge and seemed to come upon these situations at odd intervals.

There were a couple of more stories I’ll tell about Neal one of which is at another time, Ken Smith and Neal went out I think for a little bit of scavenging and souvenir hunting and they happened to be walking down a narrow road and ran into a Japanese or Okinawan who had a kimono on and Neal was telling me that the guy looked too young to not be in the Japanese army or some sort of service so he stopped the guy, Ken and Neal both had rifles, and Neal tried to question him.  The Japanese looked at him very arrogantly. Neal took exception to that so he took his rifle butt and hit him across the face and the guys expression changed very quickly.  He made him open his kimono and sure enough there was a Japanese uniform underneath.  The guy gave Neal no more problem and they took him over to headquarters where he became a prisoner of war.  Surprise was that he didn’t have any grenades or anything.  Otherwise it was a dangerous thing to take a Japanese prisoner because they did not like to give up.

At this last position we were having a lot less to do than we used to, less fire missions.  There were very few so we were at odds as to what to do. We improvised and just let the days pass.  What we found out was that the Japanese had been pushed down to the south where some of them were trying to get through our lines and were trying to get back up north. They would come in small groups or as isolated individuals.

We redoubled our outpost and created one on the far flank not too far from our gun section but up front.  They asked for volunteers to man that post at night.  Having nothing better to do, I volunteered with Karl Jahn and of course, Neal Vincent.

Kimono

Marines search a grainfield on Okinawa (History101.com)

First I’ll describe the area. The post was to the right of a machine gun post maybe a hundred yards or so and it was one of those plots of planted areas.  On the front side was a rise of a couple or three feet and to our left was a rise of about the same amount and then to our left it flattened and the other machine gun post was out there. Well, we could stand and look to the front and look out over this expansive area, sort of hilly but terraced as farmland is.  Out toward the front was a fairly large area of either rice or some sort of grain.  It was late at night and Neal and I were on guard duty together.  Neal had a browning automatic rifle and I had an M1.  We were standing there just peering out.  There was a moon out so everything was fairly light and I wasn’t particularly searching, but Neal said:
 
“Look out there do you see that little ripple in that grainfield?” Sure enough there was a ripple that looked like a trail.  That was exactly what it was, there was a Japanese soldier crawling along, keeping down in the grain; but you could see his trail cut into that field.  If you didn’t look closely you wouldn’t notice it, however, Neal did notice it.  He picked up his BAR and aimed and fired and the tracers were shooting out there. He directed it right into the Jap who jumped up in the air.  You could see his body go up and land a few feet ahead and then there was no more movement. We had a field telephone and reported back about what had happened.  All was quiet for the rest of that night. We had the post set up with about six or eight men so Neal and I were not alone that night.  There were at least four others sleeping in pup tents and of course we awakened them with the burst of that BAR.
 
About the next night or the night after I was out there again.  It was fun to be out there at night just keeping your eyes focused, watching.  This particular night, Karl Jahn and I were on watch and it was probably about midnight and time to report in.  We were supposed to use the telephone about every half hour to an hour and tell them that everything was all clear and that we were fine and in good shape with nothing happening.
 
Karl and I were sitting on two, five gallon cans of water.  I had an M1 across my knees and to my right on the ground was a field telephone with a little crank and a handset.  Karl was to my left.  We were sitting there looking out across that plain where the grain field was and to our left on a rise about three feet up was the other terrace and to our right it sloped down again.  At any rate, the others were sleeping, Neal Vincent among them.  Karl said to me it’s probably time to call in so as I started to reach for the telephone Karl noticed something and the first thing I heard was: “Don’t look now; but there are 3 Japanese to our left, see if you can make them out.”

I looked slowly over and out of the corner of my eye I could see three Japanese who pretty well blended into the night.  They were standing there frozen because apparently they had blundered out onto us without knowing we were there.  They were not sure what to do.  I said to Karl, “I’m going to fire at them from my position so don’t make any moves until I shoot”.

I looked down and directed my M1 barrel at the center man and pulled the trigger.   The first shot was a tracer that kind of blinded me; but I kept firing.  Karl fired at the same time at all three and with that we woke up all the guys in the pup tents and they came storming out.  Neal came out with his 12gauge shot gun.   We heard the bullets from the Japs fire whistling over our heads, fortunately none of our guys were hit. The minute we started shooting the flares went up. I also called for flares on the field telephone and suddenly it was like day light with everything lit up.  By this time everyone was shooting his weapons.  We went up to the rise on the left and as we went up there we could see there were bushes in the way.  In order not to conceal anybody hiding, Neal fired his 12 gauge shot gun and blew the bushes into pieces.  We marched out there for several yards but couldn’t see anybody.  A few minutes later we heard machine gun fire over to our left apparently the three had run across that machine gun nest of ours and they were wiped out. They got all three of them.  I checked with the machine gunner a little later who said one of the Japs, the middle one who was an officer had a sword. He had definitely been shot through the left shoulder so I assume to this day that I got him on the first round.  I was proud of myself and of my aim.
 
I missed telling another story that happened about the time that I talked about Neal and Ken Smith, intercepting that Japanese soldier.  It was in that same place where there was a village about a quarter or half mile from us consisting of a road going through the center with houses on both sides.  The houses were built up a couple of feet on stilts.  They all had thatched roofs and I was told to take a patrol of about 10 or 12 guys and check out the village to make sure it was unoccupied by anybody who was an enemy.
 
Off we went to check out the village walking on both sides of the road carrying our rifles.  As we started getting close to the village we heard some firing going on up ahead and an explosion.  We started to go up a little faster still being unaware of what might be going on.  It turned out that there was a company of Marines ahead of us already going through the village.  They had set one of the roofs on fire.
 
I walked into the first house on our right as we approached the village and there on the floor was a dead Japanese soldier and next to him was a woman clad in a beautiful kimono. The scene was a terrible sight and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of where there should have been a face.  Black hair was spread on the floor with the scalp still in tact, no blood except the red part of the scalp on the inside; but everything else was blown away.  I was shocked as it was a strange scene to see and very bizarre.  I started to conjecture on what might have happened.   Apparently these two had been hiding in the attic and probably had made some noise so our guys had opened fire up toward the attic.  The woman had placed a grenade in her mouth and they both fell through the ceiling and were lying on the floor. To this day I wonder what caused this scene, whether they were lovers or man and wife, perhaps a Japanese soldier and an Okinawan wife, who knows, we’ll never know.   I felt a deep sadness for these two people as we left the village. 
 
At this time the fighting had dropped off, the Japanese were defeated in this area, and we established a staging area where tents were set up in tent rows and we went back into a dreary existence waiting for the next thing to happen; but all was peaceful and kind of deadly we hadn’t even gotten back into training it was a kind of a rest spot. The rumors were flying that the next campaign would be Japan and that this was going to be a really costly affair.
 
About this time I was notified, I think by Lt. Goff, that I was one of the guys selected to go home.  I was happy about that and at the same time I was sad to leave my friends.  Pearce and Garner, who were the Vaudeville actors came over one night and did a little show for us as a farewell.  They made us laugh and we got a big kick out of them. I’m sorry that I never got to see them again where they might have been performing in real life.

One night when we were in bed, trying to go to sleep tossing and turning for about a half an hour a guy in the next tent went berserk.  I guess he had a mental breakdown the whole time speaking out all kinds of mentally unstable stuff making no sense.  We listened to him talking and ranting, obviously very upset, and soon a jeep came by and picked him up. He was probably sent home.  We found out later that he was married and had been in combat before, was sent home to the states and then returned to the battle zone, so I would imagine he must have had a tough time.

OkinawaCivilians.jpgCivilians on Okinawa

I went around saying goodbye to my friends in the gun section.  I started my packing and had to turn in some of the stuff issued to me.  One of the items was a luminous watch, my carbine, a .45, and various other items.  Several books in my Sea bag that I had gotten from the Book of the Month Club, I just passed out to friends and got ready to go home.

One day we were taken by truck out to a special staging area before going aboard ship.  You could observe the Okinawan civilians now returning home.  The women all wore kimonos and some had babies in their packs on their backs, their babies were rather cute.  We had never really seen civilians close up and it was quite a sight to see young people and babies.

I also forgot to mention another incidents that took place about the time that we found that Japanese Quarter Master Depot.   We were stationed there with our guns and one day a young Okinawan boy came over, couldn’t speak English but he was standing around looking at our gun and kind of looking like he wanted company or something. Several of us, including me, gave him a chocolate bar out of our C ration can.  He seemed to be very happy about it. He started to come back often and I went over to Lt Goff who had a book of phonetic Okinawan, and I asked to borrowed it, so for several days when the boy would come around I would ask him questions with the help of the book I’d ask about the bombing raids etc., and he would shake his head or say Yes or No in Okinawan.  It was interesting.

Going Home

Raising_the_flag_on_Okinawa.jpgRaising the US Flag on Okinawa

It was a good size group going home at the same time.  I don’t recall that I knew many of them but we boarded ship and left Okinawa and headed for the states crossing the Pacific.  Since we were still at war I can’t remember a convoy at all we were just zigging and zagging heading for America.  I estimate that we were aboard ship for about three weeks and finally pulled into San Diego the last week of July 1945.

It seemed that we were getting out of the war at just about the right time.  We were in Okinawa right at the end of the campaign.  The rumors were that the U.S. was assembling the largest force they could muster.  The next campaign would be the invasion of Japan and that it would be a really bloody mess.

In San Diego we were quarantined and were put up outside of a tent city, comfortable enough.  The weather was mild at that time of the year and we just sat around waiting for our papers for a 30 days leave, needless to say we all were most anxious to get home.  On August 6th we were waiting in the chow line where a little newsboy was shouting something about a big bomb drop.  We bought a paper and the headlines were all about the Atomic Bomb being dropped on Nagasaki and the horrendous casualties that it was likely to incur. We just couldn’t imagine anything that tremendous and disastrous.  Two days later they dropped the other bomb and soon thereafter there was the surrender of Japan.  It was really good news and everybody celebrated.

I found out later that at the end of the war the First Marine Division had been sent off to China.  I guess the purpose was to protect America against the Communists because the Communists had turned on Chang Ki Chek.

The First Division was split up into several of the bigger cities including Peking and Tensing and other areas and they were engaged in several skirmishes in which my battery was ambushed and some of the guys were shot up.  I was glad in a way not to have been there.  At the same time I missed that China experience, which to this day, I regret missing.

We finally got our papers and boarded the train with 30 days leave.  We were all dressed in our Greens and everyone went off to their own destination.  I headed for Chicago, after three days I finally got there, grabbed a taxi and went home.  My parents were kind of awestricken looking at me making comments about the way I had changed or not changed and so forth. My mother had a big meal and kolacki and that sort of thing baked. It was quite an experience.

I had a good refreshing time on the leave consisting of several parties visiting people with my folks, friends of theirs and some dating.  Can’t even remember with whom.  One of the parties I went to was given by Sue Evak’s parents she was the one who used to write me letters with the SWAK label on the back flap.  That never did go any further than friendship.

When I got home the Loban’s lived about two blocks down back to back with us in Chicago, Johnny Loban had been a good friend of mine and as I mentioned before he was killed on Iwo Jima carrying a flamethrower. My mother suggested that I go over there to see his mother and console her but;  It didn’t really work that way, sorry to slay, because when I walked in she saw me in uniform and just fell apart and took little comfort from my being there..  His younger brother was home and was forlorn and didn’t know how to handle anything.  I really didn’t either at that age.  It was a sad moment and maybe it was the wrong thing to do.

I left Chicago in October for Charleston S. C. and I was to report to the Goose Creek Naval Ammunition Depot that was twenty miles north of Charleston.  I left Chicago where it was beginning to get cold and arrived in Charleston in my Greens where it was 90 degrees. We were sweating when we got off the train, boarded some busses and headed toward the Naval Ammunition Depot and I think our primary purpose was guard duty but we were all waiting for discharge.

The Naval Ammunition depot was surrounded by a huge wire fence, with  a front gate were a Master Sgt on duty there.  The bus came in and we went to a small barracks that had a circle in front of it and a front veranda much the way a lot of southern buildings are and that was where we were bivouacked.   Our duties during the next month consisted of guard duty. The area was piled up with ammunition of all sorts and the purpose was to guard that ammunition. 

A Naval Commander was in charge of the base his house was on the property right off of a small swampy lake with bull rushed and growth on the edges.  The Commander liked to hunt ducks and there was a duck blind there. There were so many non commissioned officers there that the corporals were walking the length of the wire fences, and I being a Sgt. usually had guard duty at the front gate.  The guards had to be fairly trim and proper because the officers all came in that way and the cars had to stop and get the salute.  Most of the time the car trunks had to be opened up to check the contents.  Normally in there were golf clubs or some such things so we would let them pass.

That was the extent of my duty except one day when another fella and I were assigned to go to the Commanders house and take down the flag at sunset.  We were on guard duty for a couple of hours and when the flag was to come down we did that and folded it properly and two other guys came with a jeep and took our place.   Neither I nor the other fellow knew how to drive.  This created a bit of a drive.  I had had a little instruction on driving a truck several years back.  We got in the jeep, started up and sped down the road and I put on the brakes several times to test them out and the guy in the passenger seat would almost flop out of the jeep because I had no idea how much pressure was required to stop. At any rate we made it back and I swung around that circle; but I was going so fast that when I put on the brake it made a big screetch and my passenger almost went out the window again. That was the funniest and most hazardous thing that happened.

We did go out on liberty a couple of times taking the bus to Charleston.  The area right next to the naval base was littered with honky-tonk bars and taverns with sailors and marines all over the place.  There were all kinds of women walking around.  At one point we met one of the men in our barracks who was pretty well drunk along with his girl friend who was in the same condition.  They were staggering along and he was proudly boasting that they had just gotten married. When we walked away we both agreed that we wouldn’t want to be in his shoes in the morning.

I believe my discharge date was October 25th or the day before or after.  I would have to look it up.  I went into Major Akerman’s office where he gave me a sales pitch about re-enlisting that there was a bonus for re-enlisting also for which you got another 30 days furlough.  There was a chance to go to OCS and become an officer etc.  So I had to keep my head on straight and my mind kept going back to the fact that I hadn’t sampled civilian life nor the work field and I decided that I had better try that instead of re-enlisting at that point.  It was very tempting and when I look back I wonder if that wouldn’t have been a great thing; but there are pros and cons to that.

I got my discharge and left on the train back to Chicago.  By that time it was the end of October and things were getting cold there and looking very bleak.  There were times when I wondered what I was going to do.
 
That was the end of my career in the Marine Corps.
 
Sgt. Milton Royko, U.S.M.C.  Retired

Postscript

225px-1st_MARDIV_2_insignia.pngSitting on the train to Chicago, I  suddenly felt adrift. I had lived through a most exciting time of my young life. It dawned on me that this was the end of that phase.  I looked upon the Marine Corp as a big brother, a guide and protector. Now it was time for me to forge ahead.

By the time we reached Chicago I had determined that one of my talents was in art, as it was when I was much younger. After a couple of years at various jobs and some drafting courses I met and married Anne in St. Louis, MO. And enrolled in the School of Architecture at Washington University.  I became a licensed Architect and have worked on many successful projects.  My wonderful wife was most helpful and requires my deepest thanks.

My son and daughter encourage me and gave me the inspiration to write and finish these chronicles before it was too late.  All this reminded me once again of my constant love for The United States Marine Corps.