503rd Parachute RCT had occupied a hastily constructed camp on the shores of
Leyte Gulf since its non-combat landing on 19 November 1944.
We were awaiting orders for our next combat assignment.
Finally, in the first week in December
orders came down specifying an important assignment for us.
We were to make an amphibious landing on Mindoro Island and secure
sites for new airfields. These
fields would be needed in order to support further advances in the
Construction of the only major airfield at Tacloban on Leyte was taking much longer than anticipated because of the swampy land in that corner of the Island. Even if the fields had been constructed on time it would have been very difficult accumulating the numbers of C-47 aircraft necessary for an operation such as this. C-47 transport aircraft had become the work horses of the Southwest Pacific Area, moving troops and ferrying freight. Airborne troops did not have an exclusive hold on the transports. Thus we were to make an amphibious rather than a parachute landing.
12 December 1944 the Combat Team boarded a fleet of small troop transports,
mostly Landing Craft Infantry (LCI's).
This was the real thing. It
was a new experience for us. We
were accustomed to having wings on each side of our transports.
We were a bit apprehensive since we knew amphibious operations were a
completely different matter than the airborne tactics we had trained for. But if "straight legs'' could do it so could we, only
had been briefed in our mission to land on the Island of Mindoro, secure the
area around San Jose, on the level Southwest plain, and provide security as
Engineers and construction personnel build airstrips.
long road back to the Philippines had proved that air superiority was an
absolute requirement in the accomplishment of a strategic objective.
In this case the objective of the operation was, really, the main
Island of Luzon and the City of Manila.
The toehold in the Philippines, with the partially completed air base
at Tacloban, on Leyte, was too far from the important parts of Luzon for
effective sorties. Without
airfields closer to Manila it would be nearly impossible to seize and
maintain air superiority in northern Luzon.
Airfields in the Southwest of Mindoro would be much closer to the
targets on the big island. San
Jose, Mindoro is, roughly, 150
miles from Manila.
A fleet of Naval craft was assembled instead of the aircraft. Guthrie enumerates the craft in the assault force as follows:
a number of smaller craft
The Assault Force was only part of the story behind this mission.
One cover fleet consisted of 3 Cruisers,
7 Destroyers and 23 Motor Torpedo Boats. Another Fleet of Naval
craft stood by to provided air cover and support and were there if the
Japanese attempted to block the Assault Force.
Guthrie says this force consisted of:
''landlubbers'' the sheer number of these ships boggled our minds.
Never had we seen anything like that number of ships at one time.
One report told that the total fleet numbered over 150 ships of all
this was, relatively, an insignificant operation we wondered what a
major fleet operation would be like.
We pulled out of Leyte Gulf and into the Strait of Surigao after dark on the night of 12 December. Even in the dark it was still possible to make out the shore of the Island of Mindanao on the Port side of the LCI and the shore of the Island of Leyte on the Starboard side. We could not help but reflect on the battle waged here, in these very same waters, just a short time before between the attacking Japanese Naval force and our Naval ships. Many, many, people had died that night. Thankfully, they were mostly Japanese. This remote corner of the Philippines had become important for a short span of time.
morning we emerged from the Strait of Surigao into the Mindinao Sea.
This was a much wider expanse of water but with a large force such as
ours there was not much maneuvering that could be done.
It seemed as if we steamed in a straight line to the Southwest.
On our LCI at breakfast time we expected to be fed but this, it
turned out, was not a part of the Naval crew's duties.
In fact, they left the feeding of our troops to our own men.
Cases of C Rations were opened and spoons came out of hiding.
I carried a spoon in the
knife pocket of my right pant leg of my fatigues where it would be handy at
any moment. Somehow cold C
Rations in the morning are not an appetizing way to start
a day. This was a far cry from the treatment we had received from
the crew of the Custer on our voyage from Noemfoor to Leyte.
Then nothing was good enough for our men.
Now it was up to the 503rd, not the Navy.
crew of our LCI had been instructed to keep our troops below deck any time
there was any enemy action taking place.
That turned out to be a good deal of the time.
Watching some of the shrapnel from our convoy's Anti Aircraft
Artillery falling around us and slamming into the water the Navy was
probably justified in issuing that edict but all our men wanted to see what
was going on outside and when there is enemy activity one does not like the
feel of being cooped up under deck where it would be virtually impossible
to get out if we were hit. The
edict remained in force for most of our voyage from Leyte to Mindoro since
we were under attack, or expected to be under attack most of the time.
this time let me explain that the whole of ''E'' Company of the 503rd had
been loaded on one LCI. I don't
believe anyone else were among our passengers.
Captain Sam Smith was our Company Commander and I was the Company
Executive Officer. I had been
promoted to XO after we had emerged from the jungles of Noemfoor at the end
of the fighting on that Island.
and I became good friends and palled around often.
The two of us, at this time, stretched the Navy edict considerably. We remained under deck when we were under attack -- sort of.
We'd edge our way up the steps leading from the troop deck to the
main deck a little bit further every time we could get away with it.
By the time the voyage was over we were on deck all the time.
To Hell with the Navy.
and I had our heads far enough above deck we had a pretty good view of one
of the first encounters with Japanese airplanes early after daybreak the
first morning. A large, twin
engine plane came out of the sky to the North.
To my knowledge no one knew where it came from .
We were within easy reach of enemy flights based on Bohol, Cebu and
Negros. The Japanese in their
three years of occupying the Philippines, had constructed many airfields
throughout the various islands. Many
of these fields were primitive but were adequate to act as bases from which
their attacks could come. Later
we were to see a number of those strips on Negros.
Jap plane headed relentlessly toward the cruiser
It, apparently, had sneaked through our radar warning system.
It seemed as if it came as such a surprise the Navy did not have time
for effective antiaircraft fire to be established.
The plane came in at a thousand feet or so and there was no doubt in
any minds where he was headed. He
kept pretty much on a straight course toward the Nashville.
Finally, it plunged nearly vertical into the cruiser, hitting just
behind the bridge. There was a
huge bursting ball of flames. Surprisingly,
it was only moments before the plane and the ball of fire had been swept
overboard. From our vantage
point the Nashville seemed as if it was unscathed.
We did not know until some time later that the cruiser had been badly
damaged. The task force Chief
of Staff had been killed along with many other people on the ship.
The Command of the task force was transferred from the Nashville to one
of the destroyers and the Nashville returned to Leyte Gulf for necessary
With this air activity as a beginning the next couple or
three weeks provided the men of the 503rd had an almost constant show.
Having been interested in airplanes since I was a small boy, this
seemed to be the greatest show on earth.
We knew there were many people, both American and Japanese, being
killed but from our vantage point, they could not be seen.
Second Battalion Adjutant, Tom McNerney, described the engagements which
followed during our days in the convoy.
and breakfast was at 0430.' Tom
McNerney's journal says there were doughnuts
and coffee. I think Tom was
was early on the morning of 15 December 1944.
Our men were anxious to be ''up and at them'' and get our first
combat amphibious landing behind us. We
have no idea whether our landing will be opposed or not.
The Japanese have seemed to adopted a strategy of pulling their
defenses inland, allowing our forces to land unopposed, then attacking the
troops who have landed. Maybe
they will follow the same approach here, but, then, who knows?
Maybe this is the time they will try to defend the landing beaches.
we came on deck well before the 0700 HR on ''U'' Day (15 Dec 44) the
invasion fleet had reached their assigned positions off shore.
The LCI's were lined up in rows consisting of the order they would be
landing. Far to the right, or
South, were the landing craft bringing the 19th Regimental Combat Team of
the 24th Division. To the left,
North, of us were landing craft with the 1st Battalion of the 503rd who were
to land on the North side of the Bugsanga River and represent the Left Flank
of our invasion. Nearby were
the LCI's of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd.
Behind us, further out to sea were craft with the 3rd Battalion,
acting as Combat Team reserve.
0700 approached landing craft, including LCI's rigged as Gun Ships began
launching rocket salvos. That
was the first time I had seen Gun Ships and their array of rockets.
Each gun ship would fire many rockets at a time.
They would leave with a high pitched swoosh!! The rockets could, clearly, be followed all the way to the
point of impact. Hundreds of
these rockets plastered the beach line and a short way inland. I'd have hated to have been in the shoes of anyone caught on
the beach at that time.
I did not check my watch we must have hit the beach at almost exactly at the
As in the case of our practice landing on Leyte, a few days earlier,
our LCI hit the beach very softly after having dropped an anchor a few yards
out so they would be able to winch themselves off.
When the landing ramps were dropped the water was chest deep on the
taller men. Shorter men were
over their head and woe be a short man with a heavy load.
He was in danger of drowning. At
the very best, men making the landing had their weapons and loads thoroughly
soon as we hit the beach our lead platoons began to move inland, only to
discover we had not landed at the exact spot which had been intended.
The whole invasion fleet had landed about 400 yards
to the right of where we supposed to have landed.
There followed about an hour as the Companies shuffled around getting
themselves into their assigned positions.
Company was to be in the van of the Combat Team as it moved inland.
A narrow gauge railroad, used in pre-war days to haul sugar cane to a
sugar mill, guided our advance inland.
It was obvious to us that the railroad had not been used during the
Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Grass grew up around the ties and the tracks were dull as if no
traffic had used them for a long time.
large corrugated building could be seen in the distance.
This was adjacent to the village of San Jose.
The village must have been a Company Town with the sugar mill
practically the only industry in peace time.
Housing, occupied by the workers, ranged from very small to quite
large, representing the status of the employee occupying the home.
Company had Scouts Out from the lead platoon.
As we had always done, the scouts searched for suspicious looking
areas where the enemy might be waiting to ambush our advance.
This, of course, took more time than a simple march inland. The problem was that an Engineer Construction Battalion had
come in with all their equipment not too long after our landing.
Because of the delay getting our companies straightened out after our
landing the Engineers were right behind us and kept nipping at our heels
hoping to get to the place where they would begin construction of Elmore
airstrip. Having D-8
Caterpillar tractors right behind you and trying to pass does not make for a
very orderly infantry advance,
managed to keep the D-8's behind us and, eventually, we reached San Jose and
the Company carefully moved in. The
small Japanese garrison had moved out and had taken to the hills.
This had been a hasty evacuation as they left their morning meal
uneaten and abandoned their living accommodations.
Since our objective was to clear the area of any Japanese so the
airfields could be constructed, we did not pursue the evacuating troops.
We sent outposts to make sure they did not return and, then, began to
assume the positions we would occupy while the construction crews took over
civilian population came out of hiding and welcomed the invading Americans.
Company was to occupy a position on the perimeter located along the Bugsanga
River which drained a large area to the East of San Jose.
The river was a well defined boundary for the perimeter, forming the
Northern boundary of the outposted invasion.
''D'' and ''F'' Companies also assumed a part of this perimeter.
Over the coming weeks the companies developed their positions, from a
line of temporary foxholes to one including bunkers and emplaced heavy
machine guns, even 50 Caliber
Machine Guns. This was the
first time the 503rd had any experience with water cooled 30 caliber Machine
Guns or the air cooled 50 Caliber Machine Guns.
Company CP was set up a hundred yards, or so, to the South of the river. As the Elmore airstrip construction progressed it turned out
the CP was not far from the end of a major landing strip. Nearby an Anti-Aircraft Artillery outfit set up a 40mm
emplacement. This facility
became the designated ''Alert'' gun for a large part of the area of
Bugsanga River ran from East to West along the Northern edge of the occupied
area. The gravel bed was
several hundred yards wide with the stream itself running along the Southern
part of the bed. The river
varied from a foot to several feet deep.
The water flowed swiftly several miles an hour.
This was the first time the 2d Battalion had manned a perimeter with
a stream in front of it. The
water was clear and cool and appeared usable without treatment but we had,
long ago, learned to always treat our water before using it to drink.
The penalty for drinking untreated water was not worth contemplating.
never had a significant rainstorm during our occupation of Mindoro so we had
no way of knowing what the river was like under those circumstances but we
suspected the stream bed could be a raging torrent.
almost immediately after our landing on Mindoro we were subjected to
Japanese attack from the air. Being
a relatively short way from their airfields on Luzon, including Clark
Airfields, North of Manila, the Japanese had plenty of planes to use against
us. The Japanese bases were closer than our base at Tacloban,
Leyte so they hit us often. At
one time I saw and ''A-2'' (Air Corp. Intelligence) report which told of 182
raids over a two-week period. That
is ''Raids'', not single aircraft. Our
air defenses consisted of carrier based planes from out Navy task forces,
Army Air Corp planes from Tacloban and AA fire.
had seen a good deal of air activity; bombing
and dog fights while on Leyte and during our convoy attack on Mindoro but
the shows on Mindoro were awesome! Some
days the sky teemed with air battles. One
encounter comes to mind. One
day we were having a big raid with a lot of Japanese planes.
There were a lot of our planes in the air, mostly P-38's, holding the Japanese off.
Since this was a real good show the people from the CP climbed on a
gravel pile left by the construction people, to get a better view.
CP group were all watching one fight going on up high to the North.
For some reason I happened to look over my shoulder, toward the South
and commented, ''Boy, that P-38 is low!''
One of the sergeants looked back, said "38 hell, that's a Jap,"
then dove off the gravel pile.
I looked again and sure enough it was a Japanese twin engine light
bomber heading our way low. Right
behind him, however, was a P-38. About
that time the Jap leveled off at about 200 feet and passed overhead.
As the Jap was going away I could see a tail gunner open up at the
P-38. The P-38 now opened up
with all his guns and we could see the tracers hitting the Jap plane
trick film makers use to show a ''kill'' in a dog fight is to have the
pursued plane go behind a hill, then show a big ball of flame coming up.
This is, exactly, what happened in this case. The Jap went behind a low hill with the P-38 following him.
There was a big ball of flame and the P-38 came zooming up from
behind the hill. A big cheer
came from the observers on the gravel pile.
kamikaze planes were in evidence on a daily basis.
One day a kamikaze hit an oil tanker in front of the occupied area,
presumably carrying aviation gas. A
huge plumb of black smoke went up thousands of feet high.
The breeze happened to change direction from the East to the West and
the smoke passed over our heads. As
it did a black rain began to fall. Afterward
an oily sheen covered everything under where the cloud had passed.
That ship burned for a number of days.
We could only imagine it formed a great landmark for the Japanese and
American planes coming together for their dog fights.
time a big air battle was taking place.
We could see Japanese planes trying to get at the supply ships
waiting to be unloaded off shore. I
do not know if it was a bomb dropped or a kamikaze but an ammunition ship
was hit. Mind you, we were
something over two miles inland from where the ship had been.
The concussion was such that we were nearly bowled over.
After the shock, all there was left was a sea covered with debris.
Not a soul aboard the ship survived.
our planes from Tacloban were above us they kept most of the Jap planes
away. This, of course, was
during the daytime because most of our airfields were not set up for night
our planes were not overhead Anti Aircraft Artillery batteries, the 40 mm,
the 90mm and even 50 Caliber MG's made the Japanese planes steer clear. At night searchlights were also effective for making it
difficult for Japanese planes to bomb or strafe our airfields. It was interesting to hear a Jap plane approaching at night
only to be caught in searchlights then AAA fire.
It sounded similar to a bee approaching and being stirred up.
The sound would go from a steady drone to a high pitched scream as
the pilot attempted to evade the light.
the ammunition ship which had been vaporized in front of us was loaded with
AAA ammunition. So the guns
were left with practically no ammunition.
this time a squadron of nightfighters had arrived on the Island.
They flew P-61's, twin engine planes guided to their targets by
radar. These planes were put up
as our night time air defense. Since
our planes would be in the dark sky that night, orders were given forbidding
any anti aircraft fire from the ground.
In other words the P-61's would be our only defense. This led to some very hectic nights until a ship got through
with AA ammunition. Being near
the approach to Elmore field where the P-61's were based, we would hear a
plane approaching. We would not
know for sure whether it was one of ours or a Jap.
If it landed, it was one of ours.
If it began strafing and dropping
bombs, it was one of theirs. The
P-61's were very ineffective at keeping the Japanese planes away at night.
40mm AAA outfit near us gave the air raid warning in our area
On the night mentioned the gun was constantly sounding a BOOM,
BOOM, BOOM (alert). Then
after a quiet stretch the all clear BOOM would be fired.
Every time this gun fired I would nearly jump out of my skin.
night when the orders against ground fire were in place, a twin
engine Jap bomber who had dropped his bombs was caught in the lights
and tried to get away, heading out over the river in the ''E'' Company area.
A gunner manning one of the 50 caliber MG, opened up at him and a
number of rounds hit the Jap. I was watching this and could see the tracers slamming into
him. If you consider there was
one round of tracer to six rounds of ball ammunition, you know he is being
Jap was hurt critically and crashed on the North side of the river.
We were still under orders that anything moving was enemy so no one
ventured to the crash site that night.
Early after daybreak I went from the CP to the line.
Since they had shot down a Jap plane it didn't seem to make any sense
to chewing out the machine gunner for disobeying orders not to fire.
daylight dawned an Australian truck drove up to the river.
It had a load of Aussie airfield construction workers on it.
The truck driver started to ford the river to get near the downed
plane. Our men yelled at them
''What the hell are you doing, you can't go over there!''
The driver yelled back ''We're going over there to get souvenirs from
that plane, Yank'' and started across.
Our machine gunner fired a burst in front of the truck and called
''You're not going over there, cobber!"
The burst changed the Aussie's minds.
They turned around and went away.
full light I, along with a big group from ''E'' Company, went to the crashed
plane. The two pilots were dead
but there was documentation for the plane which was deemed to be valuable
for our Air Corp intelligence. It
was a new type of plane, similar to our A-20, for which our Air Corp
welcomed information. When the
brass came down to find out who had fired at the Jap against orders, no one
in ''E'' Company had heard any firing from guns in our Company area.
the MG may have been fired by Pfc. Munoz who was assigned to ''E'' Company
from Second Battalion HQ. This
was the man who was badly wounded in the shoulder while with our company on
Noemfoor. Not long after the
incident with the Japanese plane Munoz was, once again, badly wounded, this time
in the head by falling AAA shrapnel.
503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team saw only limited ground action while
on Mindoro. The Second
Battalion saw none but ''B'' Company, in the First Battalion was ordered to
make an amphibious landing on the North West corner of Mindoro.
They moved inland and attacked an enemy garrison at Paluan, sent
there by the Japanese to set up an early warning outpost to tell when
American planes were headed toward Northern Luzon.
Paluan was a small and short mission but a fierce
battle took place during which most of the Japanese were killed and
''B'' Company lost five men.
another occasion, Lt. Ewing from Second Battalion Headquarters was sent with
a small group to investigate a small Island off the Northern coast of
Mindoro where a black market center had been established.
Ewing told me there were many cases of cigarettes and other military
supplies which had not been available in the Philippines during the Japanese
occupation. These illegal good,
the cigarettes in particular, were like gold, a matter of great value. Ewing said he had been offered many thousands of Pesos of
American Victory currency if he would look the other way and let the dealers
off the hook.
were something in the order of 300 Japanese on Mindoro, other than those at
Paluan. We did not know, for
certain where they were so they could have presented a threat.
In addition there was always the potential for Japanese troops to be
sent from Luzon to interfere with the airfield operations around San Jose.
So informal patrols from the Second Battalion ranged out to the North
of the Bugsanga River even after it appeared the base around San Jose was
several occasions I would gather up a squad of men, tell HQ what I was doing
and patrol a few miles into unoccupied territory.
A number of the local Filipinos, who had made for the hills as we
landed on December 15th returned to their homes in the area and I became
friendly with several of them. It
was an interesting experience. Most
of these people had been educated around the sugar mill property at San Jose
and most were quite bright and intelligent.
Their homes ranged from primitive nipa huts to good size buildings,
set up in sizeable compounds. One
particular farmer always insisted they should kill a chicken and prepare a
meal for us. I felt a bit
guilty about taking food away from their families but they would insist.
After the first such experience I always took some food with me which
I left for them. It would be
something they would not have been able to find otherwise and they
appreciated whatever we could take to them.
one of those patrols we had finished the meal and were talking when I heard
a small explosion. It was no
surprise because there were a number of small streams, or sloughs, in the
area which held fish. Some of
our men would come out with grenades or blocks of TNT to stun the fish they
could pick up. In this case one of the men and a buddy were setting up a
block of TNT when it went off in his hand.
The explosion had blown off both his hands and we had to apply
tourniquets to keep him from bleeding to death. This happened shortly before we left for the Corregidor
mission and I never learned his name or what became of him.
time on the perimeter around the airfields built on Mindoro did not last
long. As was the case we,
shortly, began to set up a more permanent camp.
A large, level, area was laid out for us and we set up a tent camp. It was, really, at this time the 503rd became known as
''Colonel Jones and his 3000 thieves''.
Parachute units throughout World War II were set up with Tables of
Organization and Tables of Equipment as if we flew everywhere we went and
had no use for garrison supplies. In
the 503rd Regiment, for example, there were fewer than one jeep per line
Company. Trucks and other
supply vehicles were also in short supply.
We were ''officially'', authorized a very limited supply of materials
we could draw from the Quartermaster Corp.
Even if we could draw lumber for tent frames (which we couldn't) we
could not haul it because we did not have enough trucks.
The 503rd learned how to steal trucks to haul the materials we had
stolen. In some cases trucks
already loaded with materials were stolen.
This was considered good because we didn't have to load them.
There were even times when truckloads of beer were stolen.
This was considered very
''cool''--a term unknown at the time.
we were still on the perimeter and the Anti Aircraft Artillery gun crew were
still very active Sam and I began to be a bit concerned that our oversize
foxhole did not protect us from the shrapnel from their fire.
As we had gone past their camp we noticed they had a few sheets of
corrugated iron. So we swiped a
sheet, put it over our foxhole and tossed about a foot of dirt on it. That would protect us from the smaller bits of shrapnel and
we felt a lot safer. Unfortunately
a detail from the AAA outfit came over, picked up the end of the sheet of
corrugated, dumped the dirt and left with our stolen material.
There wasn't much we could do about it.
''E'' Company began to set up camp we needed something for tent frames. Lumber was out of the questioned. Then I recalled a Filipino farmer I had met who had quite a
large plot of bamboo. This took
up quite a bit of land where he could have been growing cane when they
started up the sugar mill again. I
didn't know this guy well but took some beer and went out to talk with him.
He welcomed our cutting in his bamboo patch.
So I organized a detail and we went out and cut down a lot of bamboo
suitable for tent frames, probably in the range on 200 pieces.
When we had the supply back in camp and the tent frames nearly
completed this guy came in with a piece of paper charging us two Pesos (1 US
Dollar) per piece. I had made a mistake in not having him agree to a price
before we started cutting. We
did not pay for the bamboo.
in short order had many planes from a number of different units; Air Corps,
Marines and an occasional Navy plane. On
the way to Regimental Headquarters, the easiest route led past revetments
set up along the airstrips of Elsmore field.
would see P-38's and P-47's with large numbers of Japanese flags painted on
them, indicating a kill. Several
of the leading ACEs were stationed on Mindoro at one time or another.
I think Bong was one of them.
time, I think it was Bong. A plane was taxing and got a wheel stuck on the
railroad. Without a thought of
who might be effected, he reved up his engines.
The props threw up a painful amount of dirt and gravel.
At that moment an ace would have been shot down if we had one of his
time we passed some revetments where the ground crews were working on a
B-25. This model of the B-25
had two 50 caliber Machine guns on each side of the fuselage.
As we passed in front they were working the bolts of the guns.
All they would have needed to have was ammunition and we would have
been hit with many rounds per minute of 50 caliber stuff.
unit which flew P-47's also was stationed at Elmore field.
At the end of the East end of one of the main runways the sugar mill
was left standing. It was an,
at least, two stored corrugated iron building.
One day, as I was going to Battalion HQ I could see where a P-47 had
crashed into the building. The
odd part was that the hole in the corrugated iron was in the exact shape of
a P-47 faced head on. I never
knew what happened to that pilot.
fighter aircraft always buzzed the strip to see that everything was clear
for them to land. At the end of
the strip they would pull back on the stick to gain altitude quickly, get
into a pattern, come around and land. If
they had shot down a Jap plane they would do a ''Victory Roll'' as they
climbed. We saw planes with as many as four rolls, indicating four
Japs shot down.
day a P-47 pilot buzzed the strip, hauled back on the stick and his motor
began to sputter. The P-47 was
a huge, ungainly, looking aircraft. It
had an enormous radial engine. It
had a very low glide ration. In
other words when its motor conked out it couldn't glide far, it had to
crash. As I watched, the pilot tried, unsuccessfully to get the
engine running smoothly, all the time trying to maintain the landing
pattern. About half
way along the down wind leg he crashed with his wheels up.
A lot of dust was kicked up but no fire.
all headed over to the crash site to see if the pilot was still alive and to
help him If he were. Much to
our surprise the pilot was headed across a field toward us, lugging his
parachute over one shoulder. He
was not even limping.
of the many aircraft to be based at Elmore strip was a Navy version of the
Air Corp B-24. Early models
retained the twin tails of the B-24 but the models stationed here had a
huge, single tail. These
aircraft were used by the Navy for long range patrol.
in the afternoon of the day after Christmas 1944, one of those Navy planes
came in to report a Japanese task force consisting of a battle ship, three
cruisers and seven destroyers. Reports
days later scaled back the size of this fleet but the mere fact the Jap task
force was off Paluan Island and headed our way was a scary thought.
There was, also, unconfirmed reports of Japanese troop ships
following the attack force. The
possibility of a landing of troops, which had always been a consideration
now gave more concern.
reported task force stirred up a flurry of activity.
the US Navy, which had maintained patrol activity around Mindoro, had been
drawn back to Leyte (we thought they may have run out of Ice Cream mix and
had to go back to Leyte to get a new supply).
At any rate the sum total of a Naval defense was the small contingent
of Motor Torpedo Boats (PT Boats) which were still on station.
the American base had to make do with what it had.
First, the troopers, who had their positions pretty well hardened dug
a bit deeper and any gaps were closed up.
Sam and I dug our oversized fox hole even deeper to the point we had
to chin ourselves to get out. We
had done all we could.
we had no heavy bombers on Mindoro, such as B-17's or B-24's we had a number
B-25 light bombers.
B-25's began their bombing of the Jap fleet as soon as they could be gassed
up and loaded with bombs. At
first the planes were gone for an hour or two because the fleet had been
200, or so, miles away when they had been spotted.
As the ships came closer in the twilight hours of December 26 the
B-25's were gone only a few minutes before they returned for more fuel and
more bombs. As it began to be darker, a couple of things happened.
First, we could see flashes from the Jap AA fire from their ships.
Second, the B-25's were joined by nearly anything else that would fly
and could carry a bomb. The fly
boys were hitting the Japs with
everything they had. But
darkness made operations more difficult.
The airfields were not prepared for this many aircraft to operate
using, more or less primitive, radar facilities.
It was necessary for returning planes to use their navigation lights
so they could avoid each other. Again,
as we awaited developments planes came in to land on our nearby airstrip and
we never knew if it were one of our or one of the Jap's.
Jap task force was moving rapidly. By
the time it was fully dark their AA fire was clearly seen along with the
flashes of bombs exploding. This
was a thrilling sight. In
retrospect it was, probably, one of the most sensational events in my life.
base at San Jose, Mindoro had been reasonably well stocked with fuel and
bombs but as our planes continued to operate at full tilt supplies
began to run low. We were told
that to gas up the B-25's fuel, tanks were lifted on one side so every last
drop could be taken from the tank. It
may be a bit hard to believe but we were told the last B-25 to leave on the
bombing run had bombs without detonators.
They were dropping the bombs just because they were heavy.
the fleet drew close to our airfields the planes were told not to come back
to the Mindoro base but to head
for Leyte and safety. It was
250-300 miles back to Tacloban and many of the planes which by that time
were flying on fumes did not make it. It
is thought that more pilots and planes were lost due to running out of fuel
than were lost to the enemy.
as we all watched, the Jap ships came abreast of our base on Mindoro. About that time a sound powered phone we had hung on a tree
in the CP rang. Being JOP
(Junior Officer Present) Sam sent me to answer the call.
On the phone was Lawrence Browne, Battalion S-3.
His message was that the Jap fleet was off our beaches and could be
expected to shell at any moment. This
came as no surprise to me, particularly when I heard the first shell woosh,
woosh toward us and burst into a star shell.
A star shell burst can make a person feel naked as a jay bird with
the whole world look down on him. I
said, ''Larry, what the Hell do you think we have been watching for hours?''
Then I made a leap for the fox hole where I had the presence of mind
to check my watch and saw that it was 2325 hr.
the first star shell went off the next round, a high explosive one, followed
quickly. The shelling went on
and on with an occasional star shell mixed in among the HE.
Strangely, I heard nothing hitting close to us or the nearby air
strip. It finally dawned on me
all the shells were landing in the gravel stream bed of the Bugsanga River.
Apparently Japanese spotter planes told them that the stream bed was
an airstrip. They did not even
hit any of our defensive positions on the Southern side of the river.
The shelling stopped after 25 minutes at 2450.
Then the Jap fleet began a withdrawal Northward followed by our PT
boats which continued to launch torpedoes
next morning we were all gathering to discuss what we had been through. I then noticed my right big toe was hurting.
When I got out of our hole to answer the phone I was bare foot.
Apparently when I dove for the hole I'd stubbed the toe.
By morning it was badly swollen.
I went to the Battalion aid station and told Doc Charley
Bradford I might have broken my toe.
He looked at the toe and agreed, I'd broken it.
So he fashioned a cast on my foot with my big toe
sticking out. He also
gave me a pair of crutches. I
had never used crutches before and found them very hard to navigate.
Every few steps I would stub the big toe on a rock, or something.
With the heavy cast adding weight it hurt more when I stubbed my to
than it did when there was no
cast. I went back and had Doc
take off the cast. I hobbled
around for a few days but with no cast
afterwards we began to set up our ''permanent'' camp.
© September 2000 All Rights Reserved
STAND IN THE DOOR!
The 503d PRCT Heritage Battalion is the Official Website of the 503d Parachute RCT Association of WWII Inc. Join with us and share the 503d Heritage and values.
Copyright ©, 1999-2013 - All Rights Reserved
Corregidor Historic Society, 503d PRCT Heritage Bn. & Rock Force.Org