is spent getting ready for the on-coming event.
My Thompson sub machine gun has just received a new barrel, and I have
test fired it to be sure the .45 slugs are going where I point the gun.
I collect my ammo and grenades,and
load them on to my webbing.I am
ready to go wherever the Army and the new day takes me.
falls and the LCI's arrive and nose in to the beach, the loading ramp is lowered
and we board, As each LCI is loaded, it backs off and takes a position with
others that are circling further out at sea.
mood of the troopers is sombre as we find a comfortable spot to rest and think
of loved ones, home, and whatever else is dear to our hearts during the ride.
We have no idea of the situation we are going into and
those who feel the need for prayer are now praying.
I see one trooper moving his Rosary beads through his fingers, and I
recall the troopers who came and passed like those beads which pass through his
fingers. One nagging thing we all are fully aware of is that we are
commonly referred to as cannon fodder.
appears that the night move is designed to take advantage of the element of
surprise.As paratroopers, that is
where we excel – thoughnot
usually by water, but from the air.
find the crowded conditions not very pleasing, so I climb into the forward 20 MM
gun position, and from this vantage position I can see a great expanse of ocean
with silhouettes of the convoy visible to all sides. The sea is cooperating,
being as calm as I feel it could ever get. It is to me like mounds of gently moving swells, and our LCI
moved through them into the night without even the gentlest list. There is no
chance that I will sleep this night, and I spend my time gazing at the convoy
and the night sky that is full of stars.
passes and I feel it must be getting well into the wee hours and approaching
dawn. Suddenly, far off to our left I see a flash of light, almost immediately
followed by the sound of a large naval gun. This is followed by more shots, and
each time the gun fires I can see more silhouettes of ships.
I count seven shots, and wonder brings the break to this stealthy night. What the target is, or might be, we have no way of knowing.
All becomes quiet and I fell back into my melancholy.
time passes and the sky starts to brighten,
a glow appearing on the horizon.But
it is not the dawn. It looks like a fire burning, and I wonder whether its
possible that that was the target our navy was shooting at earlier, and if it
is, then how far can they accurately hurl death upon a ship at that range. We
sail gently on and come closer to the glow.
We see a ship burning still and we learn by radio that she is a Japanese
comes. I have no watch and my best guess is that it is about 7 am.
I can now see the armada of ships on the horizon to our left. It looks
to my eyes like an entire Pacific fleet. To my right I see a cruiser
between us and the land on our right.
As I looked at the cruiser there appeared two single engine planes. " Zeros," I mutter, though to no one except myself,
it seems.They have appeared from
behind a mountain, and they bank hard right and headed toward the cruiser,
approaching it from astern.The
lead plane appears to be about to fly past the cruiser, but banks hard left and
dives into the cruiser, hitting it amidships.
can feel the effect of the blast on my face, and am sure the plane had
explosives on board. The other aircraft continues past the ship and disappears
behind the mountain as my attention is towards the cruiser. Why don't they
direct us to aid the men there?In
a while we are told that the cruiser's fires are out,
though the task force commander has been killed. We sail on, leaving my Nashville
memories never quite behind me for the rest of my life.
breathe deeply and enjoy a sigh of relief and turn my attention to what is
happening ahead of our convoy.We
must be near our destination, for I feel we are slowing.
Yes, we are here, wherever here is, for the Navy ships are shelling a
our LCI continually circles we crowd the sides trying to get a look at the ships
firing and the effect they are having on the beach.
Our spirits are up for we all agree that nothing can survive such a
bombardment.Time passes fast and
slow, and as the last volley is fired we accelerate towards the beach which will
be ours, somewhere behind the curtain of smoke ahead of us. Our LCI cuts into the smoke, and I start to smell the
acrid smell of fire and brimstone, and wonder whether Hell can be this
The ramp is down and we charge down the ramp and on to shore. I move in short rapid
advances, crouch, run forward and hit the ground hard. I size up the situation, spring up and repeat the process, until it
becomes quite evident that either there are no Japs here or they have no fight
left in them. I feel slightly foolish, but at the same time relieved as my
tension unwinds and we start to form into little groups, noticing that we are
all sharing this common relief.
this point we are strolling inland in no particular type of military formation,
enjoying the clean air of survival when an order is given to form a column of
four abreast.In this formation we
proceed in as proud a manner as troopers have ever marched, towards and into a
town called San Jose.
work isn't done, and we cannot stay and enjoy being the liberators of San Jose,
but whilst marching through the town a small pig gets tangled up among our
marching feet and I reach down and snatch him up by one of his rear legs. I just
can't pass up such opportunities, and there is much amusement as the noise of
the squealing pig is covered by the sounds of our marching feet and our happiness
to be young and invincible on such a day. There is no shortage of guys offering
to take care of my prize' demise, and there is enough time to record the
amusement on film. Every face, Stormy Gerhardt's in particular, is the record of
a man thinking of roast pork and crackling.
guard our squealing prize until evening comes and we are ordered to dig in for
the night. We dig a pit, skin the pig, put it on a spit for roasting,
and look forward for our sundown roast.Impatiently
the fire is put out and the area is now completely dark. Stormy cuts a
hindquarter from the pig and hands it to me.
I drop into my foxhole, all anxiety and saliva to spare.
The blackened area on the outside tastes best and as I bite deeper into
the pork the taste changes. What the hell, it’s getting cold and no meat
tastes good cold. Pulling my Poncho over the hole to ensure no light escapes,
and using my cigarette lighter I examine the meat, the better to enjoy my treat. Blood is running from it, and my hunger runs from me.
I stop eating and offer the meat to whatever animal may happen to pass
settle in to a routine, vying for K-ration instead of c-ration, and passing the
time of day in any way that we can.Our
first indication that the enemy is active after dark comes when a single twin-engine
bomber comes across our patch of sky and drops what appear to be a thousand
sticks with bumps.We soon learn
that the sticks are anti-personnel bombs, with each bump an equivalent to a
grenade, throwing shrapnel and jumping all over the place. Lucky for us they
miss our bivouac.
night thereafter we hear two motors clearly out of synchronisation,
umm-umm-umming their way over us,making
their unmistakable announcement of his return.
Inevitably, he is named "Washing-machine Charlie", as he
approaches we repeat to ourselves prayerfully "…don’t drop it,
Charlie, don’t drop it yet…” until he passes sufficiently beyond our
positions for someone else to be disturbed.
We feel no guilt, comfortable that every other man along his washing
machine line is offering the same pagan prayer.
next important thing I remember is the arrival of Christmas Day, 1944.
Mass was given and the day passes,it
not seeming too abnormal anymore to have a Christmas without snow.
Under normal circumstances I would pass over this yuletide without a
second thought, but on the following day we are ordered to the unfinished air
strip, where we take our positions along side the strip in anticipation of a
special show. "The word" is that a Jap landing is coming.1
first indication that there are Japs nearby is a star shell bursting and
lighting up the strip.It is
followed by high explosive shells, and from that moment on things get bad.
Our planes are making bombing runs over a Jap fleet laying somewhere off
shore, and there are Jap planes making bomb runs on our strip.
The action cannot be far away, for I observe our planes going out and
coming back,one taking only about
four minutes from takeoff to return.We
are under orders not to fire atthe
planes for fear of hitting our own,but
from my position it is quite easy to pick the Jap planes from the American.
Our planes have red and green lights on the wing tips, while the Japs
have an orange and green light on their wing tips.
a time, it looks to me as if some of our planes are trailing themselves as a
high flying bait, with lights on high over the Jap ships, drawing fire.
With the Jap gunners firing high, other planes with bombs are going in
low and doing good damage.How long
this goes on I just cannot say, but finally a Jap gets lucky and hits the strip
just off centre.A B-25 has just
touched down as the bomb hits ahead of him,
and the aircraft almost looks as if it is kneeling down towards its nose
as the pilot applies all the braking he can to pull up before the crater.
I am amazed that the nose wheel does not collapse, and stops on the edge
of the crater.We rushed on to the
strip and manage by weight of numbers and adrenalin to push the plane off the
after this incident the air corps personnel, in what looks to me like their
entirety, ungratefully leave the island.We
are left to await whatever may still be coming.
We watch, we wait, but nothing happens.
Our pilots prevail, they have done the job well, and the Jap has failed.
move back to our original position and set up a more permanent camp, this time
using Pyramidal tents.Of greatest
importance, there is now a kitchen, which means hot food.
If we cannot go home, at least give us hot food.
Army has a way of always ruining something when it looks too close to being like
a holiday, so it came as little surprise when G-Company is called on for a
patrol out into the countryside to find and secure a Jap Betty bomber that has
run out of fuel and had landed on an abandoned strip.
A pilot ( a captain in the air corps) is to come with us, for it will be
his job to fly the Betty back to Washington, for it is, we are told,
the first captured Betty capable of flying.
we assemble to form the patrol I hear the most dreaded sounds in the English
language. “Nycum take the point!”
lead off and shortly I am facing a shallow river crossing. Moving to the far
side I hear someone yell “Hold it!” and looking back I can see activity
about mid-stream. I pull my camera and take a picture of the patrol.
I see them pick up a man and carry him back towards camp.
We move out.I shall learn
later during our first break that the man had been bitten, by what no one knew. (He will die of it.)
Fatal River Crossing
photo - G Co Collection)
continue along a path through 6-foot kunai grass until we came in sight of the
plane. We have had good directions this day. I move gingerly up to the plane and determine it has been
abandoned.The Filipino guerrillas
have been here already, for the guns have been stripped from the plane.
There is no sign of a crew ever being there. Our pilot comes forward to
inspect his new prize and I move back out of the way.
Jap Betty before the Air Corps remodeled her.
photo - G Co Collection)
this moment we notice a squadron of P-38s coming in for a look see. The lead
plane comes in for a closer look, and we wave and shout.
All the pilot could see was Japs,and
another flag on his scoreboard, for he makes a steep climb and rolls over into a
strafing run.Soon they are all
helping reduce Washington's newest curio into bag of Betty bolts. As they fly off I glance over at the Captain who was to fly
the plane home and (I'll swear) I see he is crying. One man's meat is another man's poison.
at camp we settle into the routine of self-made R & R, doing as little as
possible and enjoying as much as we can.Our
dusty pyramidal tents dot the sunny grassed valley of the Busanga River.
During this lull
someone gets the idea of going after a caribou to get fresh meat.
A 1 ½ ton Truck appears, and in the spirit of the U.S. Paratrooper, I do
not know who requisitioned it nor do I ask from where it has come.
There are 8 of us along on this caper, and we head out cross-country
through the grassy plains that make up a good portion of the island until, late
in the day, we come to a river.Deciding
to spend the night by the river, we use a few grenades to harvest fish for
dinner.Meanwhile in the process of
cleaning and cooking the fish, an elderly Filipino gentleman approaches us,
indicating he wants the fish heads.Seems
he cooks them with rice and it makes a fine feed.
Well, certainly not for us.As
we got better at communicating with this fellow, we finally got him to
understand we were looking for a caribou to kill. The old man smiles and points
to the hill on the other side of the river.
Seems he's had a wild bull take over his herd and he can't get to the
came and the old man is there waiting to take us to the herd. We all load on to
the truck and the Filipino directs us to a shallow river crossing, thence to the
herd of buffalo. We pulled up parallel to the herd with the condemned bull
closest to the truck. Our host becomes excited and indicates for us to shoot for
the neck. Someone, I don’t remember who, suggests that we give the Filipino
the first shot.Giving him the M-1,
he takes aim at the bull,fires
andhits the bull in the apron that
hangs under it’s neck. The bull reacts as one would expect, pawing the ground
and snorting, then charging straight at us as we stood with our backs to the
truck.In preparation for this hunt
I had borrowed an M-1 for the kill, knowing full well my Tommy gun would do
little to stop a caribou.The guys
open up with all we have, the Banzai Bull keeps right on coming.
I empty my M-1 and grab the Tommy gun, firing point blank into the
on-coming head.The bull slides to
a stop two foot from where we were standing. I
look at its forehead and see that all the hide is missing where the .45's were
hitting and bouncing off.With our
bull now ready for butchering, one of our guys says he will remove the guts, so
since this is the worst of the butchering we allow him to proceed. Without
hesitation he inserts his trench knife to the hilt and begins sawing and cutting
the length of the belly. The odour that comes from the severed intestines is as
much as my stomach can stand. We quickly wrap kerchiefs over our faces, looking
all the world like cowboy-movie baddies, and proceed to dissect the beast's
hindquarters, which we load on the truck. The balance of the bull is left for
back in camp we unload the two quarters at the mess hall for the cooks to make
ready for up coming chow time. Well, we wait with mouths watering for fresh
beef. At least that's what it smells like as it cooks.
Finally it's chow time, andwe
line up anticipating the fresh meat.Even
before I get my first piece I hear moaning, groaning and cussing! Seems the
cooks have sliced the meat length-wise, parallel to the bone making a slab of
meat as wide as the quarter, then taking each slab and cutting it into
individual squares for serving.There
has never been a set of teeth on a human that could bite a chunk out of a piece
of that meat. All one can do is chew to get the juices,
then throw the pulp away.
has been pleasant for us,but as I
said already, the Army abhors being known for
"a pleasant stay."
The delay between inspections becomes shorter, and we are clearly
preparing for another mission.The
Ordnance truck takes the defective weapons and fixes or replaces them. On the
afternoon of 14 February, we gather in Regimental formation.
The Colonel reads us a note from MacArthur and addresses us briefly. He
is at his best, and we are too.After
Retreat and "To the Colors" we march off the field. This will be the final
formation the entire 503rd RCT will ever hold.
It's time to focus again. This next one is to be a parachute invasion.