It took me a little time to get my gear together, about three days, but that was about all the time it's taken to find myself in the midst of
another preparation for a combat operation. Having just enough time to get my gear together and my barracks bag put away, and the tents dropped,
we're moved to the air strip where we don chutes and make ready for the jump
There are some new faces around
me, and they make me feel like an old pro.
I make the time about 7 AM. There's the usual
undercurrent of tension as we
load on to the planes and taxi, which the take-off doesn't do anything to
relieve. All is normal, and I am praying once again that my
personal angel is at my side protecting me, as before. But there is
something occurring on the aircraft though which is not usual. After about a
half hour in flight the
jumpmaster announces that the jump is off. The tension recedes but
not for long, for his next words are, "Remove your chutes!
Leave them on the plane, we are landing at Iloilo on the island of Panay and
we will move to Negros by boat."
There are some new faces around me, and they make me feel like an old pro.
I make the time about 7 AM. There's the usual undercurrent of tension as we load on to the planes and taxi, which the take-off doesn't do anything to relieve. All is normal, and I am praying once again that my personal angel is at my side protecting me, as before. But there is something occurring on the aircraft though which is not usual. After about a half hour in flight the jumpmaster announces that the jump is off. The tension recedes but not for long, for his next words are, "Remove your chutes! Leave them on the plane, we are landing at Iloilo on the island of Panay and we will move to Negros by boat."
Arriving on Negros we board trucks and head out I know not where. The ride to our destination is quite lengthy and we move through grassy hills and across beautiful rivers until we reach the town of Bacolod, where we proceed through the town and headed up toward the high ground we can see in the distance. The rocking of the truck settles me down, as does the constant noise, and as soon as the noise runs out, I wake. The road we were on is dirt but shows no heavy signs of traffic. There is some milling around at the unloading point, and much shouting of orders. Once again I hear the order I have learned to dread, the scouting team's introduction, "NYCUM, TAKE THE POINT!"
I breathe one more prayer and move out at a careful pace, heading toward the high ground.
So began Negros.
My senses bristle, but I move about a quarter mile up the road before I pause to look back to see how far my second scout is behind me. Andy Pacella is following me at about 100 ft. All is well, God is in his heaven, my angel is with me and I continue on.
A short time later I can see a wall with an arched opening, and within the opening I can see people peeking out at me. As I approached, they appear to be Filipino kids, and as I get closer they disappear somewhere behind the wall, as I reach a point in front of the opening.
I am alive today because of a disproportionate amount of good fortune, a good fighting team with me always, and a talent for noticing whatever is unusual in a natural setting. The latter, which the Aussies called "tracking, mate" meant looking for the unnatural, a skill taught me by Umberto Poppi, my good Aussie friend. Anything which had been disturbed in nature tends to leave something unnatural, an unusual angle about it, something different, and skill in tracking was noticing whatever looked unnatural.
As I reach a point in front of the opening I notice a small mound of sand, off center of the road. It does not look natural to me, and I signal to Andy to come up, and point it out to him. He will, in turn, direct the others away from it. In my mind it has to be a land mine, and I treat it that way. Moving on about a hundred feet there is another small sand pile on the opposite side of the road. The mines are planted to take out tanks or trucks.
I have moved us about three miles before I am directed to move off the road to the right, crossing into a shallow valley and then up on a hog back ridge running to the top of a domed shaped hill. This valley is covered with heavy tropical growth, typical bush, trees, brush and jungle vines. We move into position around the hill, and settle in for nightfall. My position is about three foxholes to the right of a machine gun which is located to fire directly down the trail we have just traversed. I am actually in the rear, and looking down on the trail we had just came up. We dig in for the night, with our foxhole just deep enough to allow the three of us in the hole to lay prone and fire, with only our heads above ground. When I had first learned the soldier's craft, there were two to a foxhole, so that one could always remain awake. Experience eventually taught us that individual fatigue was less with three to a hole. Actually we felt pretty safe for the night, knowing we were not on the front line, and settled in. It was a very quiet night, field discipline was tight, and there were no sporadic firings, just silence, for some hours.
Suddenly the force of an explosion shatters the quiet, making the skin on my entire body seem to shrink, for it has occurred directly in front of us, but a few merciful yards short. Without a wristwatch, I can only estimate it is about three oíclock in the morning, as I tense and begin the wait. Never has a group of men been more alert nor more on edge. I lay on my left hip with my Tommy gun at the ready, shaking not from any cold but from stark fear and anxiety. We wait, and I shiver for almost two hours.
The noise and concussion in the air instantly herald the arrival at our perimeter of grenades and mortars, and within seconds Japs wearing camouflage rise up in front of us like shadows, fighting with whatever they had. They are so close upon us that there's very little time to fire, and our machine gun never opens up. I glance and see our BAR man Joe Syracuse standing, shoving a Jap away from him with the barrel of the gun. Apparently he has been caught with the safety still engaged on the gun. McLemore, in the hole next to me, cuts the Jap down with a shot from his rifle.
I fire bursts of three, trying to concentrate my fire toward the trail and at a point about three feet off the ground. (Bursts of three is the minimum I could fire, due to the speed of the bolt. Longer bursts brought a risk of missing the target, as the gun had a tendency to climb to the right. Some fellows claimed a skill of being able to fire single rounds with accuracy, though I have difficulty believing that.) I exhaust my first clip, and replace it with another. It too becomes empty, and yet I do not realize how long this contact has lasted. Yet it seems that it is over almost as soon as it started, and dawn comes eventually. With the light, we can now move. I stand and realize that I have developed a sore on my left hip, from shaking so hard and for so long in the wet mud of the foxhole. The others are out of their foxholes, trying to piece together what has happened and who needs help.
Over there are several Jap bodies laying where they fell, but here is one of our own men who is beyond help. Having given in to panic, he broke our cardinal 'no movement at night' rule and attempted to fall back to an adjacent foxhole. He has been killed by a trooper, who thought his position was being stormed by an attacking son of Nippon. His body lays desperately sprawled, with his head and shoulders face down in the foxhole he was trying to get into. As we are viewing the bodies, and thanking our personal gods that our buddies are not looking down at us, one of our men happens upon the scene and remarks callously, to no one in particular, "Look at this Bastard," pointing to our man.
Three troopers grab him, and only a penitent apology saves him an early morning meal of his own words being shoved down his throat. The trooper expressed his sorrow for his mistake in identifying the victim, and the incident soon passes. A tally is made, and the score is passed around in hushes and whispers - seven troopers and seven dead Japs.
As we continue surveying the situation, attempting to rationalize our personal survivals, our medic walks over to the Jap bodies and spots a well kept fellow with well trimmed sideburns, moustache and goatee, laying flat on his back. With his trench knife in hand, he reaches down and flicks the knife through the Jap's goatee, At this, he notices a pulse beating on the Japs neck. "Look at this SOB." He dropped down, putting his knee on the Jap's chest and presses his trench knife against the Japs throat. The Jap starts calling, and waving his arms about, and the medic, plunges the knife through the fellow's Adam's apple and into his spine, giving it a twist. "Now the score is even!", he pronounces finally.
To this day I do not know who set the booby trap that exploded at the start of this incident. I was told some time later that some enterprising troopers had dug up the mines that I had spotted earlier on the road and somehow moved one to the spot just below our position. What I thought was a mine had turned out to be a 500 lb. bomb with 40 lb. detonator. A grenade was tied to the detonator and a trip wire was stretched across the trail. Whoever was responsible for turning that bomb into a booby trap, saved my life and many others on that perimeter. After the attack and the anger subsided I went down the trail to look at the area where the bomb exploded. There I could see many blood trails where the wounded crawled or were carried away. Only seven had survived to attack our line.
It is at this point that I shall describe the terrain we are crossing as we press the attack.
We are continuously moving up hill on a grassy plain and our path is made more difficult by hills that continue to extend across our front like giant fingers gripping the earth. They disappear into the ground to our left and grow higher to our right. It is the perfect place for snipers to pick off our men as we press the attack across the top of a finger. From our rear there are steep and deep gullies extending towards these hills, made deeper by years of tropical rains. Even digging in for the night or arising in the morning we must remember to stay below the military crest of our hill, for the peril of sniper fire is always with us. Even if one can't admire the skill of the snipers, you had to respect their patience.
I soon fall into a timeless state of mind, where time ceases to exist in any continuous line, and instead runs through my memories as a series of short episodes, perhaps strung together with a common thread of emotion. I cannot describe the action on an individual day, for time is now become lost, and only singular events make it possible for me to continue.
We are moved to our right across a wide gully and up on to a hogback ridge, along a well worn trail. I am the lead man as we start to move up toward the higher ground. Moving about 300 yd. up the trail, the ground erupts no more than three feet to my rear, with a sound from the gully like no other gun I know of. I hit the ground and roll off the trail and lay there waiting but no other shots were fired. Orders come to me to hold my position while a squad goes down into the gully to silence the gun. A short time later, word comes that the gun they have destroyed was an aircraft machine gun positioned to cover the trail, fired remotely by a wire. No Japs were found.
After this incident and having spent sufficient time on the point, I am rotated and moved to the rear of the column, the second scout always taking the last man position. It is a comforting feeling to me to know Andy Pacella is watching my back. He was my second scout throughout all the missions.
After we advance for some distance, I am called on to take two men and carry a wounded Lieutenant back to base camp on the other side of the gully. The Lieutenant has a gunshot wound across the back of his neck. During the trip down the ridge one of the carriers stumbles and I warn him to be more careful. The Lieutenant tells me me it's OK, not to worry, "because I can't feel a thing." We continue carrying him to base camp, and when the medics come over to look at him they pronounce him dead, I feel hit by a thunderbolt. Apparently the bullet had hit his spine. I didn't even hear him leave.
Returning to the front I find that we are starting an advance across a wide basin. Trees rim the basin to our front and to our right. We spread out across the basin and start the assault. As we are about half way to the tree line in front of us, machine guns started firing. All of us to a man hit the grass and lay prone, trying to flatten our bodies as low to the ground as possible. Laying there I can see tracers passing just a few feet over us. It then dawns on me that the Japs have dug their guns into a position where they can't lower them sufficiently to rake the bottom of the basin. Our rifle grenadier, in the stress of the moment, attempts to fire a grenade and forgets to put a blank cartridge in his rifle prior to firing. The rifle explodes and shrapnel wounds pepper his back.
I felt we can roll out of the basin and started to do this. I am rolling out but as I do, I see the man next to me laying on his back with his legs sticking straight up in the air. "Get your damn legs down!" I call at him. "F... You! Mind your own f...ing business!" He is looking for a "homer" and taking a bullet in the leg is as good as any. He is not the only one that day, and I question myself whether this is the spirit of the unit I came back from Hollandia to go into battle with. Perhaps amongst these few old timers, on their fifth campaign, the odds of living seem that much shorter with each new day of combat. Was I the crazy one or were they? The question is with me still, unanswered.
In a short while two tanks show up, positioning themselves between us and the Nips. They then slowly walked us out of the predicament we had gotten into. As I move away from the tank and into safe cover I come upon Malone our grenadier laying on a stretcher grinning like a fox eating grapes. "Hey Nyk! I got a homer this time!" Accidentally chambering a live round instead of a blank in a .03 is a hell of a way to fire a grenade, or get a homer.
After reassembling, Lt. Marshall comes to me and instructs me to take the squad and wade a stream that flows from the rear of the Jap gun emplacements and on down past our right flank . I move to the stream and wade in. The water is about knee deep initially but gets deeper in places as I progress toward the turn to the left. The turn will put me directly behind the guns. Water is now at upper chest level, and there is a large boulder just ahead of me at the point where the stream turns left. I move cautiously to the bolder, with only another few feet to a point where I will be able to see around the bend. The guns are quiet but my heart is beating just as loudly.
Lt. Marshall calls "OK NYCUM! THATíS FAR ENOUGH!"
Well that did it for me and the Japs. I could hear the guns falling down the cliff ahead of me so I push through the water hoping to get the guns, but as I make the turn there is no one, and the guns may be in the water. The job is done and the guns are no longer a threat, and there was no need for my pushing those few feet out of safety to find out. I am totally disgusted. Why I had to take that risk, I will never understand. When the tanks showed up to rescue us, they could just as easily have knocked out the machine guns. But Hell! Then we would have no casualties, and no medal on the commanderís chest for our accomplishment!
Again I am on the point, this time I am approaching a hill that runs across my front. We are receiving artillery fire from a forest covered area further out to my front, and lucky for me the shells are bursting to my rear. As I reach the military crest of the hill I am surprised by a loud roar directly overhead. I dive to the ground and roll on to my back to see what it is. To my surprise a B-25 Mitchell has passed over me, not more than 100 ft off the ground, with all guns firing. Looking at his direction of travel I realize he's used me to line up on the target! I don't know what scared me most - the racket of twin radials and multiple .50 cals, or my short career as a target marker.
Recovering my composure, and then my concentration, I move forward where we come under mortar fire. As scout, I figure somebody has to be in front, and am used to the company being spread out in the valley behind me. A trooper named Getchell is passing grenades up to me and I am tossing them over the crest at whatever may be there. I am having no luck reducing the intensity of the mortar barrage, and am calling back for more grenades.
A trooper slides up beside me. He looks over at me, rises into a crouch, gestures ahead of us and calls "Come on! Lets get em!" Oh God in heaven, it's Maxie! I start to rise with him, but instantly there is a sound much like a bass drum, and Maxie falls to the ground as if swatted by a giant hand.
"There must be mucho Japs over there..." he says as he looks at me.
We get the command to pull back, and I turn to Maxie and say "Go!" thinking he heard the command, but Maxie does not move. I roll myself over to his side and pull him onto his back. I can see blood on his right side and that his eyes have rolled back until only the whites are showing. I called to Getchel to help me carry Maxie back, and though everyone else had moved back, Getchel shows great courage in staying close to me. Getchel takes Maxieís legs and I take his shoulders, and we carried him back through the mortar fire. Getting him to the safety of our line, he is pronounced dead, and I am shattered. My closest friend is gone and I am feeling enough rage to take on the whole damn Jap army, but opportunity and good sense hold me back. Maxie was hit just below the right shoulder and the bullet exited out his left side in the area of the lower rib.
Later we find a Jap trench that terminates in a tunnel that allows the defenders to locate a machine gun or individually fire from cover.
As I move among the men trying to learn if any others are hit I see a man standing at attention in front of a Lieutenant. I figured he's getting raked over the coals for something, as I near them the Lieutenant slaps the trooper across the face, a resounding broad handed rebuke with the palm of the hand. I have had more than enough at this point, and such conduct I will not stand for, even by a Lieutenant. I charge up to the pair shouting "Don't hit him again!" The Lieutenant steps back, shocked, I expect, to hear such words from a private. He turns immediately towards me, steps back a mite to regain some space between us, and cautions me "Hold it!"
"This is the way a man shows fear!" he says to me, gesturing at the same time to the trooper, who is rock solid and has not moved.
"If he were a woman he would be screaming!" I look at the trooper, who is not steadfast, but absolutely helpless and totally incapable of moving or speaking. The Lieutenant says it is sometimes possible to shock a man out of that state by slapping him.
It did not work for this man.
We spend the rest of the day trying to spot snipers, and keeping our heads down.
Late that same afternoon we see a flight of four Marine Corsairs coming in, as beautiful as their name suggests. The first plane makes a pass at the Jap positions, and as he pulls up the Jap ack ack hits him and he goes down behind enemy lines. The second plane makes his run and he too is hit. Fortunately, after dropping his bombs, he turns towards our lines and bails out, hitting the ground about halfway between us and the Jap positions. Everyone opens up with everything we have to cover him, and he makes a run towards our line. No football game or Olympic race was ever so exciting, and he falls into the closest foxhole he can find. No 503d guest was more welcome, nor arrived with a more exciting introduction, nor had a more dangerous night.
The last two Corsairs come in together, drop their bombs and turn toward us. Neither looks to have been been hit ,but the second plane had a bomb hanging from the shackles under its starboard wing. We see the pilot working desperately to free it as he heads back toward our lines, when the bomb shakes loose and falls in the direction of the C.P. and a convoy of trucks bringing in replacements.
I am told that 12 or 13 men are killed. The mood amongst those who know of the episode is sombre, generally summarized by one comment that I heard passed "The poor guys, they didn't even get a chance to get into the fight."
As night conceals us, there is no moon and no starlight, just pitch black. Fear tension and anxiety come to me again, for where we are tonight we can expect them to come to us. We're too much of a challenge, too much of a target to be left alone. The attack opens with the mortars falling, and the waves of Japs soon follow, charging at our line, yelling and firing, the sounds so close I can hear rifle bolts slamming rounds into their chambers. How long it lasts, how much ammo I expend, how I stay alive, I have no recollection. My universe has contracted to the point where I am aware only of my own actions, and those of the men immediately around me. How we fight, whether we fought well or badly, we shall have time to think of that later. The line holds, and we are then the unwilling audience to the sounds and the cries of the dying. One man out in front of my position keeps crying "Melikan die!" and for some reason I do not consider him worth a grenade, so I put up with the irritation.
Morning comes and all is quiet. Still as it might be, none of us will challenge the patience of the snipers by raising our heads over the crest of the hill, for we've learned that the Japs leave snipers behind to get in the last word. Well after sunrise, when I do feel it sufficiently safe to steal a look towards no man's land, there are no dead or wounded to be seen. Silently and skillfully, the Japs have quietly collected their dead and wounded comrades.
Our Marine pilot, rising from the foxhole, can be heard swearing to one and all that he will gladly ride the next plane to hell before he will spend another night on the front line.
Our activity changes and we are now sending out patrols to try and locate any enemy that may be a hazard to our advance.
The Japanese in their clever way, take the opportunity to move after dark to the sloping face of a grass covered hill, dig in and wait for daylight. Dawn comes and, though you think there might be some way to avoid it, the first man that ventured beyond the crest of the hill is killed. We immediately take firing positions and begin to try to spot the hidden Japs. It's relatively easy to spot them if one wants to become a target in target practice, but there's no future in it. Over to my left a machine gun opens up, sending out a stream of "to whom it may concern" greetings to no fixed address. Firing on dug in troops is often a wasted effort, but today someone is smiling on us. Tracer shells firing into the grass hiding the Japs caused the grass to burn, and it is not long before we have a raging fire covering the hill ahead of us. Japs are jumping up, trying to put out the fire , or to evade it and we were having a turkey shoot. A hell of a way to have fun, but we surely enjoyed the morning's good fortune.
Having cleared the Japs from the hill we begin patrolling the wide expanse of grassland in front of us. Progress is good for a time and there appears to be no opposition until I lead our patrol over to our extreme left, and a machine gun opened up upon us. We hit the ground and slide away from the gun on our bellies. Estimating the distance to the gun from our position, I judge it to be well over 300 yards. We are about a 1000 yards from our perimeter and in no position to take that gun, so we returned to our lines, to report the location of the gun. I try hard to show it to the Lieutenant, but he just can't make it out, and tells me he will call for a sniper.
"A sniper!" I laugh to myself as I walked back to my squad, where a few words to them shares the amusement, and soon we are all smiling broadly. We have nothing much of anything happening for a while, and there is much mocking as to just who is going to be our saviour sniper. It was not too long before we see a bulldozer making its way towards us, dragging a long barrelled cannon. Some one yells "Hey Nyk! Here comes your sniper!" and there is now more amusement, but at my expense. I'm not a big guy, but I've got broad shoulders, and can take it.
I soon learn what a 90mm is like. The dozer uses his blade as a shield, and pulls the gun up towards our line, and then sets to work leveling a spot to place it. With the gun in place they call me over to identify the Machine gun emplacement. I stand back of the gun and tell the gunner how to move the gun until we have it pointing in the right direction. The Lieutenant who arrived with the gun is chipper and businesslike, and asks me to see if I can spot the bunker if I looked through the barrel of the 90mm. He opens the breach and I look down that long shiny rifled barrel. The opening looks small but there is ample space for me to line up and tell them how to lower the gun until the target comes into view. The Lieutenant has been following the moves of the gun using a small scope mounted on its left side and as the target comes into view for me he calls "Iíve got it!" I step back from the gun, for my role is about over. He makes a few corrections aiming it, then asked me to look through the small scope and confirm the target. After I confirmed the target he called for a shell. It looked to be at least 4 ft. long and has a yellow tip, which the Lieutenant tells me means high explosive (H.E.). The gun is fired, I see the hit, and surprisingly the Jap gun opened up in reply. Some of these bushido types just don't know to quit when they're ahead.
The Lieutenant looks at me, sides of his mouth turning down, shoulders shrugging. "We'll get him.." he comments, sounding a bit like a mad professor. He orders up another shell, this one not as tall, and with a short short nose. "What's that one?" I ask.
They load. I press both hands to the side of my ears as they fire.
There is no response this time, not even when my hearing comes back to me.
Later, as we patrol out to the gun position, we confirmed that neither the machine gun nor the three Japs inside will be giving us any further trouble.
As I rack my mind to put these events in order I feel it was from this position that we are roused in the middle of the night and each man holding to the webbing or a piece of equipment attached to the man in front of him, we move to a new area told to hold our position and wait for daylight.
As I lay there thinking about the move I determine it had to be to our left. Probably the Japs are flanking us, and daylight might be trouble. Daylight comes without incident, patrols are sent out and we started our advance again.
We are now approaching the mountains, on our left there is a cliff dropping down towards a river. During one of the patrols we locate a well worn trail that comes from our right and extends across our front and uphill away from us. We decided that this will be a good place to ambush Jap Patrols. On our second day out, while hiding in ambush, we spot a patrol of American troops coming from our left. Seeing that they are our troops we break cover, shout and waved to them. They respond by opening up on us. We yelled at them and they take off running. We did not give chase.
Though Sgt. Guthrie (footnote S/Sgt. John M Guthrie - KIA 22 May 1945, received no medal other than a purple heart, to my knowledge) is not hit, but he has a hand grenade shot loose from his webbing, and everyone hears the detonator fire, and hits the ground as far away from it as we can. Sgt Guthrie in the bravest and most selfless act I had ever seen, threw himself on top of the grenade. No one else in his vicinity is wounded, not even a scratch. Even 56 years on, as so many times over the intervening years when I am reminded of it, this event brings me to tears.
Upon reporting this action to our command we are told that what we thought was Americans were really Japs in American clothes. Though it did not occur to me at the time, I wonder where they got their M-1 rifles. I guess this is all part of war.
The next incident occurs late in an afternoon. I am called to the C.P. and asked if I would go up and see if I can retrieve one of our men who had been killed.
Assignments such as these are never easy. If a patrol has left a trooper's body somewhere, you can almost guarantee that there is a damn good reason for it. The Japs know we don't leave our buddies behind, and all it takes is one good sniper or a M.G. crew to ruin a guy's whole day.
I should try to describe the terrain I am moving through. It is uphill, on a hog back ridge with typical jungle-like vegetation, a rain forest off to my right and a cliff dropping to the river on my left. I start climbing, my heart pounding. I am extra careful now, finding myself looking for any excuse to turn back, but there is none. I move up to the large tree, as described to me as the place. I ease my head around the tree and I can see him curled up on the ground between two large root fins of the tree, his left arm is stretched out in front of him. I can see that his ring finger has been cut off. I ease myself around the tree and get hold of his fatigues at the shoulders, and as I start to lift him, his head falls against my chest. The odour is almost more than I can stand. I keep pulling but I do not have enough strength to get him over the root of the tree, I cannot and will not expose myself any further. In total frustration I relax and ease him back, not slumped forward but in a sitting position with his back against the tree, and return to our C.P. and report my failure.
We did not dig in this night but spent the night where we were. The following morning I am ordered to lead the way up the hill and try to take the position. It is early morning, I would guess 5 or 6 AM. With a swallow of coffee someone gives me, I start up the trail, proceeding to the tree where our man was killed, and find his body is gone. I reach a point where, with head lowered, I can see over the hill, directly where the Japs are dug in. Cautiously I straighten up to my full height, and I am looking at four Japs. One is an officer wearing a sword, with his back to me, facing three soldiers with their rifles slung on their shoulders.
Without hesitation I fire bursts of three first into the officer and then into each of the three standing soldiers. They each fall as my .45s find their targets. I step higher and strafe their bodies on the ground, to be sure they are not playing dead as I had seen one do before. Worrying about my remaining ammo, I release the 100 drum and replace it with a 20 clip, jack a round into the chamber and started to turn toward the machine gun. As I start this move I catch movement in the corner of my eye. Spinning to my right, I am looking down the barrel of a Jap rifle.
I know immediately that this is the time of my death, so I do not take time to aim. I just let go a few rounds from where I am, hitting him chest high, and he collapses towards the ground like a bunch of old clothes. Why that soldier hesitated, I will never know.
They say that many a true word is said in jest. Years after the war, when our company was doing business with the Japanese, I overheard a colleague say "the Japanese are the most polite people I ever met."
When I agreed with him, he asked me why, seeing as I'd been in a war against them, I'd formed that opinion.
"They always let me shoot first."
Having made it nearly to the brink of the hill, I now have to concentrate on that damn machine gun, now only about 50 ft. to my right. I ponder how to approach it safely and call for our BAR man, Joe Syracuse to come up. When he arrives, I tell him to give me cover as I move across toward the gun.
Joe asks "Do I have to stick my head up there?"
"You canít shoot from down there!"
I take a W.P grenade from my webbing, pull the pin with my right hand then hold the handle down as I transfer it to my right hand. I start moving towards the gun emplacement, making it to the top without any problem. At this point I can see the top of the bunker, but I know that I am fully exposed to anyone that is not in the bunker. Suddenly I hear Andy Pacella calling me, and I look towards him, seeing that he's motioning for me to come back. Looking at the troops behind A, I can see that they are moving to the rear. Without knowing what was happening I back down to A. It is at this point I realize that I still have the grenade pin between my teeth and a live one in my hand. He tells me we have been called back. He then removes the pin from my teeth and reinserts it in the grenade.
Together we returned to the C.P.
I reported to Lt. Hewitt told him of the encounter and he tells me he will recommend me for the Silver Star. That either never happened or Col. Jones did not think I earned it. I didn't realize how the great strain of the encounter upon me until I sit with Lt. Hewitt and he hands me a canteen cup of coffee. As I reach for the cup I find myself shaking so bad that I cannot hold it to my lips. H takes it and holds it steady while I drink, and lights a cigarette for me. Boy! did I love that cigarette!
Once again we spend the night in the same place. Morning comes and again I am called upon to take the lead. This time our second platoon is assigned the task of moving off to our right and then circling back to the left , staying out of sight of the Japs on the hill for the night, and at daylight to attack them from the rear. I would now for the third time attack from the front.
I lead the way up the same trail we had been on until I was just about to cross the top. Suddenly the Jap machine gun opens up, and I spring forward to get into the fight. As I cross the top, one of the second platoon men waved a caution at me and points to my left, where I see one of our men laying crumpled on the ground. The Japs had moved the gun from the bunker and had it placed ready to fire on the lower left side of the hill. When Karsten Hall, the platoon scout, crossed the top they gunned him down. Neither we or the 2nd platoon men got any of the remaining Japs or the gun.
I wasn't to know it, but this was my last encounter with any Japs. We were moved to Demaguete and made camp in a large corrugated steel building. My duties were to lead patrols around the area and to relieve the men manning a machine gun at the crossroads on the road coming down from the mountains.
Each day was like the one before, except for the entertainment we had fighting roosters. Mike Levack. had a rooster and when I found a good one while on patrol, I just could not wait to get back to camp and challenge Mike. The fight was set for the next day I had a patrol in the morning, so the fight had to wait until afternoon.
During that patrol, we pass in front of a Spanish-style home, where I am beckoned inside by a charming Spanish gentleman. He has a very cute Filipino girl mix me a drink, which tastes like it's made from Sugar alcohol and bitters, but it is very tasty and does a fine job of making me feel friendly. I am introduced to his Spanish wife, who weighs at least three hundred pound. This is because, he explains, she has a severe craving for chocolate. Their home is lavishly decorated with Chinese statues, and she proceeds to offered me my choice of anything in the room if I would get her some chocolate. I had no doubt in my mind that these people had to be Japanese collaborators, for there is no surely way any items of value could remain out of Japanese hands during their occupation.
As luck would have it, when I get back to base we have just received a supply of tropical chocolate, so I grab one box and take it to my bunk, hiding it in my blanket to keep it safe until I get back to that family.
Outside Mike is waiting with his rooster. In the Filipino way, we immediately form a circle, there are bets made and insults of roosters passed. A steel blade is strapped to the cock's leg. We then let the birds get acquainted, tossing them in, letting their nature take its course, and witnessing the melee. It is a great fight, all noise, feathers and the glint of sharpened steel, and I think I have it won when Mike's rooster lands on its back. My rooster leaps high with steel spur pointed downward, but before it can strike, Mike's rooster kicks upward driving his blade into the breast of my rooster. Mike's bird winds. Ah, such is the way of the cockfight.
Next day I have another patrol in the same area, which will give me an opportunity to take the chocolate to the Spanish Lady. As I approach the home I see the man of the house coming out to greet me. With a big smile he hands me a butterfly knife, a beautiful thing with a caribou carved into the wood. The stiletto-like blade folds into the handle, as the wing-like handles swing around to clip together. We go into the house and I present the chocolate to the lady. She is so excited she cannot speak, and pulls the box apart and removes a chocolate bar, takes a bite and lays back in her chair and allows the candy to melt, smiling and moving her head up and down demonstrating her satisfaction. She motioned for me to take anything in the room I wanted. I hesitated for a bit and then thought, what the hell why not! I move to a fat bronze Buddha to inspect it more closely, and see it has eyes of Jade. Yes, that is what I want, but when I pick it up I cannot not lift it.
I looked around for another object, and spy a carving of a Chinese holy man standing at a dais. He looked like Foo Man Choo, with the long draping moustache, and I walk over and picked it up, not even looking for markings. I just tuck it under my arm, take my leave of them, and go. The woman is too happy enjoying her chocolate almost to notice. Back at my bunk I wrapped the statue in a blanket and stowed it under my bunk.
The following day I have duty on the machine gun. I board the truck and ride to the gun emplacement. It is quiet, in a certain Philippine way, and I am there about an hour before the truck returns with another of our guys. He tells me he has been sent to relieve me, and I ask why
"You have to get your stuff packed, you're going home."
Boy! He did not need to say any more. I crawled out from behind the gun, grabbed my kit, and climbed on the truck.
Getting back to base I start to pack, and J, one of the squad, says we ought to get some pictures. Good idea, seeing as if I'm leaving and won't see many of them again. Mike Levack now has a camera I go over to where he's quartered and ask if I could borrow it, and he readily lends it to me. We proceeded to set up for a photo, and just as things are about ready, somebody asks "Nyk, where are your flags?" Now I know why they want pictures, not that they care about me, they just want to pose with the flags. What's it matter, better leave 'em happy, so I race to get them. We hang the garrison flag which Maxie had picked up on Corregidor, and the personal flags I had collected.
Mike takes the first picture, which is of the members in our squad, and as the others get into the act, I take the rest of the series.
The next morning, for me the war is over. I hand my Tommy Gun and the .38 cal. pistol I have carried throughout the war to my replacement (replacement name?) I board a truck with several other men, a Jap prisoner, and a few Taiwanese laborers, for the ride to Bacolod and the ship that will take me home.
I do not realize it then, but for me the war did not end that day, or any other. The pieces of shrapnel continued to finding their way to the surface of my back clear through into the mid-1950's, and the memories of the deaths of my friends, my colleagues and even those of my enemies all continued to invade my dreams, even until today.