THE BEST WARRIOR I EVER KNEW 
_________________
Bill Calhoun

 

 

Bill Calhoun, as the officer submitting McCarter's recommendation for the Medal of Honor, has written about McCarter's background with the 503rd and OF some of the incidents  which MADE McCarteR  "THE BEST WARRIOR I EVER KNEW."
 

After leaving Camp Cable near Brisbane 7 April, the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment (it would not become part of a combat team until the following fall) debarked at Cape Sudest, Oro Bay, New Guinea and set up camp in the cantonment area formerly occupied by the 31st Infantry Division.

Many of the junior officers sent over as replacements after the Nadzab operation in the Markham Valley had attended the Queensland Jungle Warfare School during the regiment's stay at Camp Cable. For several weeks the regiment trained hard in the dense, coastal rain forest adjacent to their camp. One of the cardinal principles instilled by the instructors (principally former 9th Division, AIF, who had escaped from Singapore) was, "If they can see you, you can see them." Day after day the platoons slipped through the forest seeking the "enemy" lying in wait. The officers and men gained much confidence in their ability to carry on jungle warfare. After all they had the heritage of the Indian warfare in the history of our country.

During the month of May the regiment moved to an area across the road from the 32d Infantry Division, an area near Dobodura. Behind their cantonment area were dense rainforest on hilly land. A number of creeks ran down from the higher hills in deep channels with high banks. The training became more specialized. The platoon leaders were particularly interested in developing good scout teams. Good eyes and ears were essential. I was not satisfied with my trainees. No one excelled. After working with many, I did not feel that I had a really good scout team. Some had potential, but that was in the future.

We received a new group of replacements from the States in May. In going through their files, I found one, Private Lloyd G. McCarter, who had grown up in Idaho, and later worked as lumberjack. I told him I wanted him to try out as a scout. He said he had been in the artillery when he went to parachute jump school and had no Infantry training. I already knew this. I also knew he was a sergeant when he took the voluntary reduction to private in order to qualify for the parachute school. He agreed to try.

The next day the six scouts from each platoon were to go through a scout course using live ammunition. The team ran through half the course with one acting as 1st scout and then changed places through the latter half. One other problem remained. McCarter had never fired a Thompson submachine gun. My platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Wendell Wuertz, was an expert with the gun. I told him to take McCarter back into the forest and teach him to use the TSMG. Later that afternoon Wuertz came back with a glowing report. He said McCarter was a natural even though he fired the gun in an unorthodox manner. McCarter was only about five feet six inches tall but was heavily built with huge forearms. He laid the stock of the fun on the inside of his forearm and fired with the gun on its side. In assault problems firing from the hip, we taught our men to imagine they were pointing their index finger at the target and fire. McCarter was an expert in using this method.

I placed McCarter with my best scout, Neville Powell. LTG Walter Krueger was on an inspection tour. He and his party, which included LTC Jones and Major Britten, followed McCarter through his test as 1st scout. They were greatly impressed. Now not only did the 1st squad have a scout team, but the platoon did also.

During the Noemfoor operation McCarter, followed by Powell, led the way. The platoon developed a strong confidence in them. We came to believe that if it was there, McCarter would find it - that if he could not see it, he would hear it, and if he did not hear it, he would smell it. I quickly noticed that McCarter loved a firefight. This short, stocky man literally danced on the coral outcroppings somewhat akin to a ballet dancer. For example, on 19 July as we followed a trail through the forest of tall trees, a Japanese voice challenged us. I was behind Powell and saw the entire action. McCarter answered in a guttural, unintelligible voice and began to advance at his skipping, bouncing run. The puzzled Jap challenged again. Firing broke out, but the enemy's hesitation was fatal. McCarter and Powell had killed the four Japs manning the position. McCarter was gleeful.

At the end of the operation my 1st squad leader was rotated home. McCarter was 24 years old, which was older than the others, and he certainly had their respect. I named him squad leader and was well satisfied-for a few days. Then he was gone-AWOL. We heard he was over on the New Guinea mainland fighting the Japs alongside of the 7th Division, AIF. When we prepared to leave Noemfoor bound for Leyte Island, he was back and remained until after we landed at Mindoro and the threat of action was past.

As soon as we were alerted to jump on Corregidor, he reported for duty. I got him out of the stockade to go with us. Just as he had done before, he apologized to me for the trouble he had caused. I had never had one moments trouble with him when he was present for duty. He never complained and carried out his assigned duties cheerfully. S/Sgt Chris Johnson was my 3rd squad leader. He was a 501st Parachute Battalion man who had taken thirty days leave rather than rotation and was now back for duty. I assigned McCarter to his squad.


Officers' Quarters 27-D and 28-D

About two hours after we landed on Corregidor, F Company was in the 28-D, the last house at the west end of Senior Officers Row. Soon the CP began to draw fire from the Battery B (Boston) area. Bill Bailey, F Company commander, ordered me to clear the old AA area. McCarter soon wiped out a machine gun in his usual rapid fashion. The area bordered Battery Wheeler's eastern side. As we advanced deeper into the AA area, the parapet of Battery Wheeler loomed above us. Our battalion S-3 had been in part of the battery earlier and found it unoccupied. I had gone far enough earlier to see the number two gunport clearly. I saw no sign of enemy activity. Still the commanding position of the east parapet of the battery was too dangerous to leave unoccupied, so I sent four men to occupy it. One of the men was killed, Sgt Bill Freihoff and Pfc Delby Huff  were trapped inside a magazine of the battery, and Pfc Albert Thomas escaped to bring me the news. However, Thomas was killed a short time later, while pointing out to me the room where Freihoff and Huff were trapped. I had withdrawn my platoon from the AA area and put them in position behind Battery Wheeler. I had taken a bazooka team, a flame thrower operator and several men forward to a crater in the berm immediately behind the battery. 

Battery Wheeler  and the berm facing it - The photo was taken from atop the room in which Freihoff and Huff were trapped.

 

The problem was that the door where Freihoff and Huff were trapped faced the length of the battery and was covered by machine gun and rifle fire from the Japs in the central magazines and the battery control station. We could see the door at an angle but between the door and us was a steep slope from the top of the berm down to the level area some 40 feet across to the base of the giant concrete battery. The road and railroad lay in this level area between the berm and battery. After Thomas was killed instantly by a bullet in the head, I had the flame thrower operator attempt to spray the concrete near the Japs with its deadly liquid, but the operator could not get the weapon to work. It had been damaged in the parachute drop. Not knowing it at the time, we were very fortunate. Inside the magazine were tons of black powder, as we would see the next night when the battery blew-up, but we were a safe distance away then.

I pointed out the approximate location of the Jap 50 caliber machine gun to the bazooka gunner, and he hit the spot with his first round. Then he followed with several more rounds. The hits had no effect on the thick, reinforced concrete. Observing and firing was very ticklish since we were not unobserved by the Japs, and we had seen what had happened to Thomas. During all the melee McCarter and S/Sgt John R. Phillips had slipped down the slope of the berm in the dark and were directly behind the battery control station. They engaged the .50 caliber mg in a duel until they ran out of ammunition. They found a dead trooper still in his parachute harness and retrieved his M-1 carbine and fired up all its ammunition. Then they started throwing rocks and yelling insults at the Japs,  creating such a diversion that Freihoff and Huff ran out the door across the road and around the end of the berm to safety.

On the eventful third night, 18-19 February, F Company was given two positions to defend. Bill Bailey kept company headquarters, the 3rd platoon, one squad of the 2nd platoon, the direct fire 60mm mortar squad, and a section of light machine guns from the 3d machine gun platoon of 2d Bn headquarters Company to defend Way Hill. I was given the mission of defending the magazine of Battery Hearn (former Battery Smith #2) which was some 300 hundreds yards away. A deep valley separated us. We could not see each other because Way Hill was still heavily wooded. The vegetation and brush had been cleaned off around Hearn down across the valley and toward the sea past Battery Smith (formerly Battery Smith #1). This area had been in the middle of the target area where 3,140 tons of bombs had been dropped the past few weeks. It was completely denuded of brush. We could look down into the valley below us and see the road and railroad to Battery Grubbs for several hundred yards until they turned right disappearing around Way Ridge. My force consisted of my platoon, two squads of the 2d platoon, the two conventional 60mm mortar squads, a light machine gun section, a bazooka team, and two officers beside myself. F Company had lost all their officers except Bailey and me. 1st Lt. Daniel Lee (a new replacement) was transferred that day from 2d Battalion Headquarters company to F Company, and 2nd Lt. John Mara of D Company was loaned to F Company.

The position on the 80 by 120 feet top of the magazine was formidable. The slope on the west down to the 12inch gun pad was so steep concrete stairs had been built. The west side facing the valley and the east side facing Cheney Ravine were so steep they could only be climbed with great difficulty. The north side sloped gradually down to a railway cut a hundred yards behind the magazine. A rail line entered a tunnel which entered the magazine at its northeast corner. This line joined the line behind the magazine and the line to Battery Grubbs to Battery Way. Directly across from the center of the magazine in the valley were two overturned trolley cars with their floors facing the magazine defenders. The danger, obviously, was from the north from any enemy who got past our position. The heavy base of fire had to be placed on the north in order to place enfilading on the road-railroad to deny passage of the enemy up this open route to Topside. The second consideration was to defend the east side against any who got past and attacked us from the rear. I placed my 1st squad and the lmg section on the west front. On the north slope I placed the two 2d platoon squads and my 2d squad in a heavy defense against attack up the gentle slope. Putting full trust in Johnson, I gave him the east and south sides

Our savior was Bill Bailey. Even though the 6th Army G-2 had estimated the defending force would number no more than 850, he remained cautious. During the afternoon I had taken my platoon to Battery Smith on patrol. Bailey had the rest of the company going back to the ammo dump at the Topside barracks bringing more ammunition. Fifty rounds were brought for each mortar. Bach rifleman was given an extra bandolier of ball ammunition bringing his supply to 184 rounds. The machine guns were brought almost twice the regular supply. In addition a large number of fragmentation and white phosphorus hand grenades were brought over.

The Navy was firing intermittent star shells to illuminate the area. At 2200 hr we heard loud yelling typical of the build-up for a banzai. Soon a flare burst. There, to out disbelief, were the Japanese marching up Grubbs Road in a column of fours. The front of the column was near the junction of Grubbs and Belt Line Road coming for us. Our mortars were set for this, and they commenced dropping their rounds on the road. The Japs were crumpling and closing up ranks. Soon our machine guns were also cutting swaths in their ranks. Of course there were periods of darkness of 10-15 minutes between flares. Even so, we could still see enough to keep fire on the large body of the enemy. Why did we get no fire support from the cruisers and destroyers as well as our artillery? Every platoon and the support groups had the same Corregidor map with the same pre-designated numbers and numerals. We could have called for fire at point "#21" (the intersection of Belt Line and Grubbs Roads) and so on that night, but we had no communications. Our radio net closed at dark and did not open until 0600 hr. No wire had been strung. Our battalion and regiment did not know D Company and F Company had been in a battle for their lives that night until the next morning. A few Japs who got past my platoon got to Topside and scared the hell out of the headquarters.

McCarter was at the northwest corner when the action started. Seeing that some of the Japs were getting past, he moved to the northeast corner by the "hump" formed where the tunnel entered the magazine according to mortar platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Johnnie Phillips. He climbed down the steep slope here and took up his position in a shallow ditch by the side of the road and opposite the wrecked trolley cars. As you know from the account which is muchly as I wrote it. He did come back up twice and get a new weapon when his became disabled. First, he got Pfc Benard Schilli's BAR after Schilli was wounded. Then he got an M-1 Garand and fired it until the operating rod split. Either shortly before this or soon afterward, at dawn, he was hit in the chest. Fearing he was dead, Pfc Richard Lampman and several others got down to him and, despite fire from a Nambu light machine gun under the trolley cars, succeeded in dragging and carrying him to the top of the magazine and into the large crater near the big ventilator. He was calm and seemingly unperturbed. It was mid-morning before we could get the way cleared to Topside and the wounded could be evacuated. With a bullet entry near the middle of his chest, I was worried about him going into shock. Our Medic, Pfc Roy Jensurd, had used his supply of blood plasma long before. I went to him several times to reassure him we'd get him out as soon as we could. Each time he told me not to worry about him, that he was doing all right. I never saw any symptoms of shock. He was tough and complaint was not in his vocabulary.

We counted 35 dead enemy in the road to his front and around his position. We could not be sure of the count because when we searched the valley which we dubbed "Maggot Valley" we found many bodies had been dragged into craters. There were over 300 dead by our count and estimate (we did not drag the corpses out of the craters until two days later). Some of the Jap force had diverted to attack Bailey's force on Way Hill, and they counted 125 dead. Some of the enemy force got around to our rear and attacked in three banzai charges about an hour apart. After the last attack we were out of ammunition. Fortunately, dawn broke. When the radio net opened I was asked by the D Battery commander if the people in the railway cut to our rear were friend or enemy. D Battery was in position near the NCO Quarters looking down the cut several hundred yards away. When I answered that they were enemy, the artillery 50's made mincemeat out of about 35 Japs caught between the concrete walls of the cut. We were still drawing fire from the area. Our mortar crews searched through the pile of mortar shell cartons and found six rounds of live ammunition. They thought they had put every round into the cut. Our patrol found that every round had hit a large crater beside the cut and killed twenty Japs. After knocking out the Nambu light under the trolley car and a few isolated riflemen to our north near the cut and hiding behind some trees standing near the car barn, the way was clear to get our wounded to Topside.

Our command was grossly misinformed by the 6th Army G-2. Their CG, LTG Walter Krueger, did not place much value in their estimate. Had he done so, there would have been no parachute assault with heavy supporting units. Actually there were 6,800 defenders. Our command was placing too much faith in the G-2 report despite the fact that by all indications during the three days (showed) there were many more defenders. This is shown by the dispositions of the troops for the third night. There was no perimeter. There was no reserve. F and D Companies were placed out in isolated positions and out of communications even if reinforcements had been available.

Back to McCarter; we never saw him again. I wrote a narrative of McCarter's action and recommended that he be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Soon afterward, I believe the next day, I was ordered to report to LTC John Britten, the regimental executive officer. In a stern, uncompromising manner he announced that my recommendation was out of the question, and he was reducing the recommendation to a Distinguished Service Cross. I was shocked. After serving under him for over a year, I felt he was a fair man. I asked him to go with me to the site of the action and let me show him what happened. He threatened to reduce the recommendation to a Silver Star if I didn't leave. Years later, Bill Bailey told me that Col. Jones had taken him to task for my action and that Jones had told him "no man in my command with a record such as McCarter's  was going to get a CMH." *

After we arrived back on Mindoro and before we left for Negros 17 April, I received a letter from the president of the USAFFE Awards Board. He stated that after review it was their unanimous opinion that the recommendation should be for a Congressional Medal of Honor. In light of their recommendation he asked me to reconsider, and if I agreed with them to send two eyewitness affidavits, a hand-drawn terrain sketch, and a weather and light description. I immediately complied. John Mara and our platoon sergeant, T/Sgt Phillip Todd, wrote the substantiating affidavits.

During April, while we were engaged in combat on Negros, the company was notified that McCarter had been awarded the CMH. We were to take him out of combat immediately if he was with the company, and he was to be given the choice of having the President of the United States present the award in the White House or go to Manila to have the award presented by the commanding general of USAFFE, General MacArthur. Of course, by that time McCarter had been sent back to the States for hospitalization.

I did not know how McCarter would settle down after the war. He was discharged in 1945 due to the severity of his wound. He married and lived a quiet life until his wife died due to cancer. In February 1956, while despondent over the death of his wife, and in constant pain because of the bullet which was so close to his heart that it could not be removed, the best warrior I ever knew took his own life.

William T. Calhoun

 

                                                 N   O   T   E   S                                                     

 

Header Photo: McCarter receives his Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman.
(Photo National Archives 111-SC-210829-S courtesy of  Bill Calhoun)

1:     In a recent book, "Heroes of World War II", Robin Cross mistakenly states that McCarter was killed on the "morning of the 18th." His book is fraught with errors, but so are most other books describing the battle. The only book I have read which gives an accurate account is Gerald Devlin's "Back to Corregidor."  

2.     Our regimental commander and staff never thought of the Japanese Marines under Lt. Endo on the western side of Topside as a serious force, but then none of them were involved in defending the ridge between Btty. Wheeler and Btty. Crockett. Nor were they defending the top of the Battery Hearn magazine.  

3.     John Lindgren and I have different ideas of how the action occurred, but that's quite natural as we witnessed it from different areas. At Wheeler Pt., they were given an impossible task for a rifle company. 

4.     Even when the S-3's periodic report and journal stated that mopping-up operations were taking place at the western end, the 2nd Bn rifle companies were battling for RC6 in Grubbs Ravine, and "E" and "D" Companies were trying unsuccessfully to take Battery Monja. They had been given an impossible task for rifle companies. Lieutenants Corder and ball of "E" Company performed heroically, of that there can be no doubt.

5.     LTG Flanagan's account of this action is too much of Hollywood. I do not admire it. 

6.     There are those who seek McCarter's glory. One in particular who does not know the positions of "D" and "F" Companies the third night. Most authors place the two companies in defensive positions. Most battalions have a defensive perimeter, we did not. Cheney Ravine separated "D" and the eastern half of "F" Company (my half). That was over 500 yards as the crow flies. One of the "D" Company men today claims he was the one who killed the 35 Japs, and that in the confusion McCarter was given the credit.

7.     I know good men's memories fail. Some events become so fixed in their minds that they truly believe them. For example, Richard Lampman, a solid soldier who served under me until he almost lost an arm on Negros, once corrected me, saying Morton Kaufman had been killed, and that he knew this because he had helped carry Kaufman's body back. I settled the issue by giving him Kaufman's address in New York.   

*      This is a polite paraphrase of what was actually said.

  

 

 

 

 

         

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