Chapter 8.1





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I recall Mindoro and that "G" Co. Roll Call of my morning of Feb 16, 1945 starting with a very routine "FALL IN", so like many other "FALL IN's" that I can still sing its peculiar cadence. 









I go tense. 





My body relaxes. 

"O'Brien?" I exhale. 



But this morning I wonder if today will be the day my luck runs out. I start to become conscious about being different to the others, as if being different places me somehow more in danger, that fate might separate me from them. I notice many men in the lines around me have their jump boots, and I look at my feet, and feel self-conscious that I am wearing WWI leggings. Were they really out of the small sizes? Is there some damn thieving supply clerk somewhere with small feet and a beautiful pair of Corcorans? Why not me?

We load on to a convoy of trucks, which are then off to the air strip where we are directed toward banks of stacked parachutes, each man taking one and strapping it on. We adjust ourselves, and each other, starting to look like a flock of mean, heavily armed penguins as we waddle around fastening our loads. I am carrying three days supply of rations, ten each twenty round clips of Thompson .45 ammunition, two fragmentation grenades, and two Phosphor grenades, my trench knife, and my utility knife. The last item I fasten to my webbing is the weapon case, in which I am carrying a Thompson machine gun hanging diagonally across my body. I am number 3 in my string because they like the Tommy Gun men in early, in case there is a problem. I try to tell myself that I am ready, so many times until I can believe it true.

The command is shouted to load up, and I load onto the waiting C-47. We are each so heavy, we cannot get on the aircraft without the assistance of  the man behind. Ahead of me is *, and behind me is *. It is 1030 hrs.

Our plane is air borne and we try to settle back to get as comfortable as possible, to wear our 60-80 lbs of equipment as if it was but a rosette in a tuxedo. I look at my brothers in arms. Is it to be my turn today? If not mine, then whose?

Time passes. Our altitude must not be high, for the tropic heat remains with us. I recall the crossing of the Owen Stanley Mountains going to Markham Valley, where our lips were blue from the cold.  Our Jumpmaster speaks. No coach at a football game was ever more sure of himself. Casual to look as unconcerned as if it were just a bus ride, I do not wish to name Lt. H, though I recall him well. "We have been picked by MacArthur to retake Fortress Corregidor from the Japanese! This is our special honor!" His words take my thoughts back to the fall of Bataan, the Death March, and the siege and surrender of this island to the Japanese, and my hate and anger are renewed. We are hallowed to be taking back the Fortress Corregidor.  

I do not know whether men on the other aircraft were given the same talk.

Our flight does not seem long, as none of the flights into combat seem long, for time goes so quickly when one is not eager to get to the drop zone. I am sitting here quietly, as if wanting a longer flight can somehow make it so. Too soon I hear the order


Each of my brothers rises up from his thoughts, and with snap fastener in his left hand, allows the static line to pass over the top of his wrist and snaps it on to the cable running the length of the aircraft.


I check my gear, and check my static line again. I would check it a hundred times if it would assure me absolutely, but I must check the gear of my brother in front of me, the Number 2 man in our stick.  Number 4 checks me.


"1 OK!" 

"2 OK!"

"3 OK!" 

"4 OK!"

I notice my breaths are short, and my heartbeat is racing. What was that about into the valley of the shadow of death? That is not for me today, I congratulate myself.

The silence when the entire string has given the OK startles me.  

How quickly the eternity rushes time past my eyes and ears, and I see the red light come on. 


The green light is on, and for a few eternal seconds, we are not moving. Then, almost as one, we quickly move forward, my right hand never leaving the back of Number 2 in front of me. In but the time it takes to blink, I let go of him as he falls away into the blast of the airstream, and I am falling behind him.


In the first second, I have fallen over 150 feet towards "B" field, and I feel the jolt and look up to see a full canopy. There is just enough time to stop my oscillation. The wind is blowing me backwards, and I see a bomb crater in front of my feet. I drop into the crater, sliding part way down its side, landing full and fair on my back in a cloud of dust. It is as good a landing as I can hope for.



The very first thing I see is a trooper with a movie camera taking pictures of my landing. For the rest of my life, I shall see myself on film, television, and video dropping into Corregidor WWII in my WWI leggings. I catch my breath momentarily, and some Headquarters troopers pounce on me and help to free me from my harness. I remove my Thompson from its case, and discard the case. I load a magazine, cock it and put it on safety. Hell will break loose later. A few quick words, and they point me toward a section of the field which I will soon discover is on its southern edge.  

Now in company, I take a position looking down the beaten slopes towards the beach, laying there waiting to provide covering fire when the infantry reaches the beach. I see a trooper climbing the slope towards me, using his rifle as a pick, jamming the barrel into the ground to pull himself up.

"Give me cover" I tell the man next to me, and I lay my Tommy gun down and go towards him, grabbing his shoulder, and carrying him through to the first shelf below Topside. I run west along this shelf to another bomb crater and deposit him solidly into it. I clean the dirt from his rifle barrel, and take up a 'ready to fight' position. Having done this, I realize that I have done it all without thinking.

Two men join us in our crater. They are not troopers, and they are asking me questions. "What's your name, soldier, where you from?" Are they reporters, or photographers? Don't they realize there's a war on, and we're in the middle of it?  

I return to the safety of my Thompson, and take up my position. There, on Topside, I am playing tourist, with nothing much to do. I scan the view, and take in the beauty of the invasion before me. I see the Navy ships to the South of the island, and wonder what the name of the Destroyer might be. There is also a minesweeper, running paravanes off the bow. The other boat is running straight towards the shoreline directly under me. It looks like an LCM, but with a series of tubes pointed skywards. I do not need to ponder as to its role, for shortly it starts spitting projectiles into the air, and in an instant I calculate their trajectory as directly towards my position. I roll down into a pile of broken concrete slabs, and wonder if it's possible to get any closer to the ground as a few projectiles hit the ground on either side of me. Their disintegration sends whistles and clanks against the concrete near me, but I am entirely unharmed, though a little disappointed to find myself as a target without first even seeing a Jap.  

The action of the day moves us towards the beach, where we know the 34th Infantry are landing and I find myself resting directly above bottom side , where I clearly see Malinta to my left front. I congratulate myself on the show I am sure to see, but my cheer is too soon. There is a large explosion to my right, I feel it on my cheek. I look to see if one of our Navy friends has been hit, and for the instant recognize the destroyer which I had been looking at earlier. I realize that the mine-sweeper is nowhere in sight, and I cannot even see a ripple where she once was. Is that the way it is, one minute here, and the next gone? Does it matter whether by shore artillery, or mine?  

I look out on the waters and see a flotilla of ships coming around the island and heading towards the south beach , and I know it is our team coming to reinforce Malinta Hill.  Some are already ashore. We move down the slope to be ready to cover the troops as they come ashore. There are LCI's and two LST's.  The LST's unload two tanks and and a mobile water carrier. One of the tanks does not get far for it strikes a land mine and becomes immobile as it tries to move across the beach.  There are our comrades of the 34th Battalion reinforcing the assault on Malinta Hill. 

The race to the top of Malinta is over, and we are pulled back across Topside to clean out enemy pockets.

 Suddenly there is a large explosion and I look over my shoulder to Malinta Hill, where I see large billows of smoke emerging from one the main entrances. As the smoke from the explosion moves towards topside, I wonder how many of our men on Malinta Hill are dead, and how many Japs in the Hospital inside the hill have died. I mourn just our men, and move on.

On Topside again, I am now together with my platoon, and we are waiting briefly to ensure that our landing is secure. 

We start moving towards the north, "towards the ice plant," I am told. The patrol puts us on a road that crosses past the Hospital and then  in front of the parade ground on Middleside, and as we move down the road we can see Lt. E, one of our officers, standing alone out in the open, to the left of the ice plant. He has his field glasses to his eyes, and is intent on his inspection of something that interests him. We shout at him to take cover, but he does not seem to hear us. Then, as I am looking at him, he falls, dead. Clearly a Japanese soldier, hidden somewhere in the landscape through his field glasses, perhaps at the ice plant, was looking back at him. 

Through him I learn to avoid any lingering affection for the Corregidor landscape.

We fan out to cover the ground ahead of us, and come upon an ammunition dump on high ground east of and above the ice plant. The storage area faced NW and SE, and all the shells are stacked with their projectiles pointing north-west into the hill. As we move across this storage area we can see that the Japs have wired the dump with explosives. We quickly move back and report the find. 

Some demolition men arrive, and after a short delay, they set off an explosion. After the explosion, small fires burn in the area well into the night, and we move into a position that slopes down towards bottomside and the ice plant. There, about half way across the face of the road, is a wrecked truck. It looks all the world as if our air corps friends have been sporting with it, but some of the men decide to seek its shelter for the night. 

It being the end of the day, some of the men, feeling relatively safe inside the G Company sector, set to trying some of the sake and the whiskey which had been found in our journey across Topside. The whiskey has four roses on the label, and with a sake chaser the two made a powerful mix. Now and then, a round from the ammo dump opposite us explodes as the fire cooks it off, and the shell casing is blown high into the air directly over our heads and into the bay beyond us. As the shell casings would turn and tumble in flight above us, they made a sound "kalk kalk kalk kalk kalk," sounding for all the world like wild turkeys flying overhead. 

Some of the troopers, for we are now well into the night, are feeling pretty wild and brave, and on hearing the turkeys, start shouting and shooting at them. I don't know whether they are target shooting, or expecting to have turkey for breakfast. The firing at the turkeys doesn't last very long, for there is much bitching about wasting ammo, and giving our positions away. 

Either way, in the morning, there is no turkey for breakfast, but more than a few sore heads.


As we try to rest, the sky lights up and we hear our .75s firing salvos. We do not see the explosions though the star shells keep bursting towards the east for about fifteen minutes, and once again all is quiet. I will learn later that a group of Japs, in the hundreds, assembling somewhere east of Malinta Hill, never did have an even chance to form their Banzai charge. I like those odds.

After the barrage, it becomes quiet with only isolated sporadic firing as Japs try moving through our lines, or as nerves and anxiety gets the better of us. It doesn't help that we know by experience how well the Japs can move at night into our positions. Sometime in the night's wee hours, one of them manages to crawl under our water-carrier, and blows himself into glory, destroying our water supply as he departs. I have had a good day, yet a disappointing one. Ready for anything, I have not even seen one live Japanese.  I know many men have not had an easy day of it,  for I know that those men who dropped short, or dropped long, have had to fight for their lives towards safety, and lost.  There are  missing faces, the area is alive with the sound of gunfire, and the aid station at Topside is doing a sad and busy trade. 

Morning comes of the second day and we cautiously move from our cover, expecting all the while to draw fire, but none comes.





(Extracts are from 'Yanks Down Under 1941-45, the American Impact on Australia' by E. Daniel Potts & Annette Potts, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1985).