Service Company - 27 Feb. 1941 to 27 Dec. 1945
Written in 1998
In the memorial park at Camp Blanding there are many pieces of Artillery scattered around for anyone to get a closeup look. There are even some from foreign armies. This is a scene of a small part of the memorial park.
After induction I was assigned to E Company 124th Infantry Regiment, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division. The 124th was a Florida National Guard Regiment which had been called into active service 25 November 1940, along with all the nations other Guard units. They remained in their home towns for several weeks while construction at Camp Blanding continued. During this period of time, many of the local youths faced with fulfilling their military obligation, decided to join their friends and neighbors in the National Guard. On arrival at Camp Blanding they found their new home to be a wooden floor, covered with a tent and a pot-bellied stove in the middle, all of this accommodating six men. At one end of the Company Street was the Mess Hall and at the other the Latrine. Some work had to be finished up by these guys like building boardwalks along Company Streets.
In addition it was now time to begin 13 weeks of basic training for the recent recruits Those of us who came in a little later found ourselves five weeks behind in our training. It was ordered that we be trained separately but in the same Company with our 13 weeks being crammed into an intensive 8 weeks. This was accomplished and at that time we all joined together in one Company. During the balance of May and June we experienced more advanced Infantry training. From March through June we had lots of close order drill, hikes of 10-15-20 miles. Sometimes with light packs and at other times with full field equipment. Many days of maneuvers, participating in War Games, which seemed to be all over Camp Blanding. At other times being called out in the middle of the dark night for marches through various wooded areas. It seemed to me that we were at times hiking in our sleep. Of course there was the rifle range with the 1903 Springfield, as we had not as yet received the M- 1. The Springfield was a bolt action which, in my opinion was more accurate than the M-1 but it also had a more powerful kick. At other times we were schooled in map reading, compass use, bayonet training, field hygiene and possibly other things which at the moment escape my mind.
We were now ready for a 120 mile hike with full field equipment. Marching 20 miles a day for 3 days and bivouacking in the Ocala National Forest. Next was into Ocala (I believe July 4th) and a parade. Back to the forest and maneuvers, then 20 miles per day on the return hike to Camp Blanding. We were certainly in excellent physical condition as several of us went to a dance that night, I must mention that the entire Division was in on this hike.
During the months of August and September 1941, we participated in Louisiana maneuvers. We moved from Camp Blanding to Louisiana by train and after that it was walk, walk and walk some more. I am convinced that we walked from Lake Charles to Shreveport at one time, in just 2 or 3 days. The weather, I believe, was even hotter than the hike to Ocala. These 60 days were spent sleeping on the ground in a pup tent. Once we got in on the tail end of a hurricane from which we received plenty of rain. My partner and I had our pup tent well situated and staked good, with an excellent trench and dirt piled around the edges. This got us through the storm high and dry but most of the others had every bit of their gear soaked. One highlight for us was a week-end pass to New Orleans for a little R&R. A special train picked us up and brought us back. We then returned to Camp Blanding and remained there for the rest of October.
In order that one may better understand these hikes and the physical condition required to complete them, let me explain full field equipment. This consisted of the back pack, cartridge belt, gas mask, rifle, bayonet, shelter half, blanket, poncho, shovel, mess kit and canteen. This is all that I can think of at the moment but I think you get the idea that this was not a picnic. My memory is that all of this weighed about 50 pounds. Of course that was at the beginning of a 20 mile hike. For some strange reason as the miles passed this equipment became heavier and heavier. Then on top of all that the rain or sweat made those back straps very uncomfortable and that's an understatement.
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Camp Blanding today is a Florida National Guard training site. At the main gate there is a WWII museum and memorial park open to the public. Anyone interested in WWII should definitely see it, if in the area. This picture is of the memorial to the Florida National Guard Regiments that served in WWII which includes the 124th Infantry.
I suppose the brass figured we had enough of the summer heat so off we go for the month of November to take part in the Carolina maneuvers. This time I rode in the command car while our trucks were hauling troops and supplies. To this South Florida guy the Carolinas were really cold but you learn to cope rather quickly. I found that a poncho, blanket and the ground let you sleep quite warm. Much of the time I was in the command car as the Motor Officer went all over the place, tending to his duties. Once in this mock war, our side had been withdrawing all day. We also had been informed that the tanks had priority on the roads and we were to keep our vehicles out of their way. Late in the afternoon or early evening we stopped at a gas station or country store. While there General Patton came up and Lt... Parker ( a very brash sort of guy) went over to talk with him. The General already had a tough reputation and I thought - oh man Lt.. Parker is asking for much trouble. Anyway he approached in the proper military manner and inquired as to why our side was withdrawing as we usually don't do that. To my utter surprise the General took the time to explain that we were holding on the flanks and that the opposing force was moving into a trap. The reason the tanks had priority on the roads is that they were moving into position to spring the trap the next morning. I guess it worked as mid-morning the next day the mock battle was over.
Our vehicles in those days were not what they later became. But in spite of their sad condition we moved all of the 124th's vehicles both ways without a break down. We were the only Regiment to do so and it was recognized as a stellar achievement.
All this training and physical conditioning seemed to be worthless at the time. However let me hasten to say that in my opinion it enabled me to, withstand the rigors of combat in the Southwest Pacific. I saw lots of guys who only had their basic training and were shipped out and had a difficult if not impossible time of dealing with the hardships one experienced in the jungle. Then even worse when they had to face up to a Jap soldier shooting at him.
Our very first week-end back at Camp Blanding the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941. 1 was away from camp on a week-end pass when I learned of the attack. We turned on the car radio and heard various units calling for their soldiers to return to camp immediately. We were expecting at any moment to hear the 124th calling for us to return to camp but the call didn't come. When we arrived back at camp late that night other units had already moved out. They were strung along the coast of Florida and Georgia with the mission of defending our borders against infiltration or whatever. The 124th was not called out as we had already been selected as demonstration troops at the Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia.
This move was completed in early January 1942 and we remained there until the Fall of 1943. While there I received promotions up to Master Sergeant which rank I held for the balance of my military service. At that time there were only 5 M/Sgts in an Infantry Regiment (about 3 500 men). Each was chief of a section. Mine being Transportation, the other 4 were Supply, Operations, Records and Communications.
Our activities called for us to put on demonstrations of various Infantry tactics as well as supply. In addition to a few demonstrations we in Service Company put on, our trucks were dispatched for the purpose of hauling troops and supplies. Among Service Company demonstrations were moving a Jeep across a deep stream by stringing cables from trees. Another was one man righting a truck that had turned over on it's side. He accomplished this alone by the use of block and tackle. There were other demonstrations from Service Company and many more from the Regiment. The most memorable one was B-188, an Infantry battalion in attack. The Battalion was capturing a hill with supporting units and all using live ammunition. It began with the bombing of the hill from the air. Then as the Officers and OCS groups sat in the viewing stands, live Artillery was fired over their heads and into the hill. Very few if any had ever heard Artillery screaming over their heads before. I feel quite certain that later on in combat they came to appreciate this sound. Next came the tanks moving on each side and Infantry ground troops in the middle moving on the hill, with all firing live ammunition. Tracer bullets were used which made it easier to follow the action from the viewing stands. It was quite an impressive sight which the viewers would probably remember for a long time.
While at Fort Benning many of the men from the 124th went out on Cadres forming the nucleus of new Infantry Regiments. If other Regiments sent out as many Cadres as the 124th, I can readily see that the National Guard became the backbone of the Infantry during World War II. While we were sending men out we were receiving replacements all the time. The majority of these had just received their basic training. The end result of all of this was that very few of the original 124th Soldiers were still in the Regiment.
This photo of Paul Tillery was made in either late 1942 or early 1943, while I was in Fort Benning, Georgia with the rest of the 124th Infantry Regiment. We were demonstration troops there at the Infantry School
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Leaving Fort Benning we went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While there we went through some training and rifle range firing. The Regiment was deactivated, all men shipped out to other units, I went to Camp Pickett, Virginia and a return to the 31st Division, 154th Infantry Regiment. I don't recall very much activity at Camp Pickett as they had already gone through amphibious as well as mountain training before I arrived. It seemed as though we were just waiting to go overseas. It was December and snowing, which was new to me, as I had never experienced much snow. In early January 1944 we moved to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, a Port of Embarkation near Norfolk. We were there for about a week and snow continued to fall all the time. Then on 16 January 1944 we became the first unit of the Division to sail for overseas. We were aboard the USS Cape Neddick, an American Fruit Company vessel (Banana Boat) that had been converted into a troop ship. Now we were on our way to we knew not where at that time. At some point we had been issued summer uniforms, which was confusing to us in the cold. It seemed logical that sailing from the east coast meant going to Europe. Surely not going to Europe in winter with summer uniforms but if not - where? This was a point which was much discussed aboard ship for a few days. We had a Destroyer Escort with us and one night there was a Submarine scare but nothing happened. We passed through the Panama Canal and had no further naval escort until we were near our destination. Those 37 days aboard this ship were memorable due mostly to the monotony of it all. We were served only 2 meals a day as the shipboard facilities could not accommodate any more. Many men were seasick and had dysentery, often at the same time. What a sight, with a man on the toilet, sick at both ends. Fortunately all of this by-passed me.
The only showers we had were salt water and that can certainly get old very quickly. A little horse play was in order as we crossed the equator, thereby breaking the monotony momentarily, as we were initiated into The Royal and Ancient Order of the Deep. We stripped down to our shorts and were painted all up with flour mix and coloring or whatever. Next came a run through the belt line with many getting a whack at us. I noticed that they seemed to be trying to pick on me more than the others and wondered why. I later learned that in marking us up, the NCO's and Officers were identified by rank so the Privates had the opportunity for a moment of revenge.
We sighted some islands such as the Easter Islands, Pitcairn and Bora Bora as well as others. Our ship anchored in the lagoon at Bora Bora for one night but we were not permitted off ship. It was a beautiful sight that still remains in my memory. We bought some bananas from the natives who came out to the ship in their little boats.
Finally we arrived at Goodenough Island but the rest of the Division was diverted to Oro Bay on the New Guinea mainland. We had some work while at Goodenough, assembling vehicles and sending trucks to haul cargo from the dock to dumps. Mostly though there was idle time which led to some horse play. We had live ammunition and some of the guys had been shooting parrots and possibly some of the rare birds which this area is noted for. Even after orders from headquarters to cease someone in Service Company shot a parrot. This caused quite a fuss but it was never discovered who did it. Then gasoline was used to pour a stream from the jungle to a nearby tent and encircle it. The gasoline was set fire and quickly encircled the tent. Can you imagine waking up in a strange place with people yelling fire and your tent is encircled in flame. An yet another time gasoline was dumped into a stream that flows by the Company. In the middle of the night as the gasoline was set fire the cry went out, "the rivers on fire". Very strange in a strange land.
While on Goodenough Island the Regiment was redesignated the 124th - so in reality my entire Army time was with the 124th Infantry Regiment and my only Division was the 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division. After being on the island a few weeks we shipped over to Oro Bay and joined the rest of the Division. The old ship we were on, named the West Cactus, I thought surely would sink as we were listing all the way. However we made it and some training followed in getting accustomed to the jungles and the climate as we prepared for combat.
As a soldier in the 124th Infantry Regiment, I gained some of the information that follows, from personal experience and from others in Service Company as well as the Regiment. Much was also learned from various Army publications. One book was written solely about the battle along the Driniumor River near Aitape in New Guinea. The writer of this gained some information from daily unit records. These records were not very well written as the conditions in the jungle were not suited for this type of work. He also interviewed, many years later, soldiers who were there. We did not have cameramen and historians with us and because of a lack of information the writer of this book had a most difficult task. In my opinion he did and excellent job, in spite of the sparse information available to him. In the jungle a soldier would know what was happening only where he was, while just a few yards away he would have no idea what was going on over there. Let me assure you that no one person had an overall idea of what was happening along and near the Driniumor River in New Guinea. Not even the Generals, which I'll refer to later.
The 124th participated in three campaigns which were essentially three different types of warfare. 1. New Guinea - in dense jungle and swamp along the Driniumor River in a defensive position. Plus a 10 or 11 day offensive across the River. 2. Morotai - An amphibious landing, taking only part of the island, forming a defense line and protecting the base against any enemy ground attack. 3. Mndanao, Philippines - Advancing along a dirt road through jungle and mountains in an offensive battle.
It is my intent to convey to the reader the extremely difficult conditions under which my Regiment (124th Infantry) operated in the above campaigns. The Foot Soldiers in the Southwest Pacific, without a doubt, fought in the worst conditions of any soldiers in any part of the world during W.W.II. I read somewhere that it required (I believe 7) soldiers to supply 1 Foot Soldier in the Southwest Pacific. My job in transportation was a part of this supply group. Thus this is a little about me and a lot about the 124th Infantry Regiment and it's Foot Soldiers. It is now time for our first combat.
AITAPE, NEW GUINEA
The stage for this battle shaped up a few months before it actually occurred. The Australian Army had advanced overland to the Sepik River in pursuit of the Japs, who were withdrawing to their major base at Wewak. The Japs had been deluded into thinking that our next assault would be on Wewak and had moved the major part of their forces, which included the 18th Army, in order to defend this base. On 22 April 1944 American troops bypassed Wewak and captured Hollandia, some 200 hundred miles farther west in order to establish a major supply base there. On the same date the Japanese base at Aitape was captured with its three Air Strips. One Air Strip was in fair condition and fighter planes would be able to use it within a couple of days. The other two were unfinished, as the Japs could not accomplish the tasks with the equipment they had. These were known as the Tadji Air Strips and were located about eight miles east of Aitape. Since this was about halfway between Wewak and Hollandia it afforded Air support for the landings at Hollandia until Air Strips there became useable. Furthermore this screened the Hollandia base from the Japanese 18th Army with its estimated 50,000 to 75,000 men, which included possibly 25,000 first line combat troops. These daring operations, deep into once held enemy territory, were a success and effectively isolated all these Japanese troops at Wewak. The Navy and the Army Air Force were in control of the Sea and the Air thus blocking the Japs from receiving further supplies or reinforcements. The Japanese General decided that while he still had combat effective troops and some supplies, to attack the American troops deployed along the Driniumor River which was the outer defense of the Aitape base a few miles to the west. It would seem that his plan was to break through this line of our defense and destroy these troops. Then move on to the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) east of Aitape, destroying it as well as the Air Strips. Then on to Hollandia in hopes of joining up with other Jap forces and finding a means of acquiring supplies.
The 124th Infantry Regiment, with supporting units, Artillery, Engineers, Etc., formed the 124th Regimental Combat Team which was ordered on short notice to ship out of Oro Bay to Aitape. None of the other Regiments of the 31st Division were in on this operation. The loading out was frantic but we got the job done and I remember being on a ship 4 July 1944, heading for Aitape. This is where the part about the Generals not knowing what was going on was demonstrated. The 124th had been ordered to go ashore east of the Driniumor in an effort to make contact with Jap 18th Army troops. Then the day before this was to take place the Japs launched a surprise attack the night of 10-11 July 1944 against the Driniumor defense line, which was lightly defended. The enemy had succeeded in moving two Divisions with Artillery into attack position without being detected. The attack came as a complete surprise to our Generals as well as everyone else. The defense line ran about five miles along the river from the ocean to the mountains. The Japs, as was their custom, did not attack the entire line but concentrated on a few hundred yards section with wave after wave of suicide charges. Despite heavy losses they continued these attacks and were successful against this section of the defense line. Our troops had to withdraw as they ran out of ammunition. The Japs had successfully completed the first part of their plan and had many soldiers behind our lines where they were capable of wreaking havoc among us. Including attacking our river line from the rear, plus supply lines, communications, Artillery and anything else they could find. With all these enemy troops behind the lines it behooved everyone to be extremely wary of any unusual activities one might encounter. They were back there with one purpose, to destroy anything that they came in contact with.The 124th was ordered into combat at this point in the battle, with the mission of reestablishing our defense line. In a few days the line was restored, however there remained a large number of Japs between the line on the Driniumor and the MLR at the base. This group, which was behind the lines, continued to cause problems for us. At this time and in the extremely dense jungle it was most difficult to define behind the lines. It was easy for them to hide in the jungle during the day and cause trouble at night. Our troops had a very difficult mission in attempting to find and destroy them. However in a couple of weeks this situation had eased somewhat as many had been killed and others had infiltrated back to their own side of the river. In spite of all efforts and after two or three weeks there still remained an estimated 300 or 400 Japs" behind the lines In addition to the problems they caused between the river and the MLR, an ammunition dump, which was inside the MLR perimeter, was blown up. I recall explosions there for about two days before they finally subsided. I dont know if the Japs were responsible for this or not but given the situation it certainly seems a possibility. I never did learn for sure and dont know if anyone else did. It was also imperative that one be aware of Jap snipers as they used this type of warfare in unique ways..One such way was for them to climb a palm tree at night and with the use of a rope, tie himself up there. The guys on the line had to be especially careful in the early morning daylight, after emerging from their pillbox. It became almost routine for them to spray the trees around the area with rifle and machine gun fire in an attempt to get the sniper first. Of course a GI had no idea which tree or trees might contain a sniper. If one was killed the rope kept him from falling, so everyone had to continue to be wary.
In the meantime the formidable Jap forces continued their nightly suicide assaults on concentrated sections of the Driniumor River line. The most difficult thing for me to comprehend about the Japanese soldier was their suicide charges. It seems to me that they were needlessly throwing their lives away, as two or three hundred would come screaming across the river. Our men in the pillboxes with their rifles and automatic weapons could hardly miss even with unaimed fire. One night in particular stands out in my memory as they charged across the river at our third battalion. The illuminating mortar shell was used against these charges at various times and with great success. On this night our third battalion soldiers in their pillboxes waited until the Japs were almost across the river then our mortar shells illuminated the area. Now our guys opened fire and its no wonder the river was choked with dead Jap bodies. This was not just an isolated incident either as it happened time and again. The three other Regiments on the Driniumor line experienced the same at various times in sections of their areas.
At times during these nightly attacks the Japs would come in screaming a phrase which had evidently been taught to them by some of their comrades who spoke English. I heard of one time when they were screaming to hell with Babe Ruth. I suppose their purpose was to make the American angry and he would come out of his pillbox and expose himself to their fire. Another ruse was to yell Medic or help Im Dying. Of course this was an attempt to get a Medical Corpsman to think that it was one of our soldiers in need of help and expose himself to their fire. I never heard of any of this stuff working to their advantage at any time. There were times when our Artillery was firing that they would come as close to our line as possible. This was an attempt to avoid the exploding shells as they knew our troops were suppose to be a safe distance away from the area being shelled. At other times they would open up with their mortars in an attempt to make our soldiers think they were being shelled by their own Artillery.
It quickly became apparent that the Japanese soldier would rather die than surrender. I read somewhere that 100 Jap prisoners were taken in the Aitape campaign. If you figure 15,000 killed then 100 prisoners is not very many but I believe this number is too high. It would seem to me that someone just selected a nice round number. I am aware of instances where a single Jap might surrender with a grenade concealed on him and would attempt to kill himself as well as his captors. The instructions given us was to take a prisoner by having him strip naked and come in with his hands on his head. I believe the 124th took less than ten prisoners at Aitape but I dont know about the other Regiments. I wouldnt be surprised to learn that all three of them had less. The Japanese soldiers had been led to believe that if he died in battle that he would go straight to heaven. He had also been told that if he was captured the Americans would torture him. Of course this was not the case as he would be given food and any needed medical attention thus living a life of ease compared to his life in the Jungle.
After about three weeks of nightly Jap attacks along the Driniumor River the situation eased somewhat. The 124th plus one battalion from the 169th was ordered to cross the River and go after the Japs that remained in the area. This group had the code name Ted Force after Col. Edward Starr, Commanding Officer of the 124th as well as C.O. of this endeavor. Much has been written about this Ted Force but Ill just touch on it briefly. These four battalions moved in different directions while eventually meeting at a given point. They had to move by use of a compass as maps were not of much use in the jungle. About all you could recognize was the ocean, the river, the mountains and perhaps a stream. It was very slow going, as they had to hack their way through the dense jungle growth with machetes. This was an extremely difficult maneuver in enemy held territory that lasted from 31 July 1944 to 10 August 1944. It was difficult not only because of enemy soldiers but also from the rough terrain. Torrential rains came every day making footing almost impossible at times, with soldiers slipping and falling everywhere. Under such extreme conditions there was still an enemy out there fighting at every occasion that seemed to offer him an advantage. Unfortunately this is war and we had casualties and being so deep in the jungle its impossible to get them out at that time. Our litter cases had to be carried along and under these extreme conditions this was not an easy matter. Not having enough litters, some were improvised by using two saplings, with a poncho stretched between them. With such adverse conditions it was extremely tiring on men to carry litters. They would have to trade off and rest awhile which often made it a job for ten men to carry one litter case. The dead were buried along the trail and when the battle situation permitted details were sent in to bring the bodies out. I often had to send trucks out for the purpose of hauling these bodies. Naturally the odor was unpleasant and the truck drivers hated this detail, even though all they had to do was drive the truck. In spite of such difficult conditions the mission was a success with the destruction of the Japs from the ocean to the mountains while others fled back toward their base at Wewak.
Along the Driniumor River was a totally different environment than these soldiers were accustomed to and this took almost all of their energy just to exist. Yet in spite of this hostile environment, enemy soldiers, dense jungle, torrential rains, terrible heat of the day, cold wet nights, diseases and jungle rot, our foot soldiers prevailed. Being in transportation, I did not have to endure the trials of the foot soldier but the conditions made it a terrible experience for anyone who was there. As we think about our conditions and the 440 (87 from the 124th) American Soldiers killed in action in this battle; the conditions for the Japanese soldiers were much worse. With little food, hardly any medicine, plus a shortage of arms and ammunition and no hope of any more supplies. The 124th first contact with the Japs along the Driniumor River found these soldiers in good physical condition with many being much larger in stature than the typical Japanese man. As time passed the shortage of food and medicine began to take its toll and their physical condition deteriorated rapidly. I have seen estimates that they suffered anywhere from 10,000 to 18,000 killed here at Aitape. Dont know if this includes those who died from disease and starvation but I suspect that it doesnt. I read in one publication that in all of New Guinea 148,000 Japanese soldiers perished in these jungles. It is my opinion that most of these died of starvation and disease. Many fell dead while attempting to move through the harsh jungle to some hopeless perception of a better condition for them in western New Guinea. In any event the end result of this battle along the Driniumor here at Aitape was the destruction of the Japanese 18th Army as an effective fighting force.
As we began to prepare for the invasion of Morotai, the 43rd Division relieved the troops on the line. Then a few weeks later Australian troops took over and sporadic fighting continued, with casualties on both sides, until the Japanese surrender at the Wars end.
The defense line along the Driniumor River extended from the beach to the mountains, which was a distance of about five miles. The river was a twisting stream that could rise up very quickly when rain water came pouring down from the mountains but would subside very soon back to the normal flow of a shallow river. The river was of varying widths being about 200 yards wide in places and narrower in others. Heavy jungle growth ran right up to the river bed. At places there are a few islands scattered around in the river. With this jungle growth so heavy, it was a fact that enemies could be within a few yards of each other and neither being aware of the others presence. The mountains rise up very quickly to elevations of over 16,000 feet and are almost impassable. At times a few enemy soldiers would come around the mountain end of the defense line but it was such a struggle for them to do so that it was hardly worth their efforts. Then too the line was extended for a short distance at a right angle and parallel to the mountains, thus making it even more difficult for them. It just wasnt possible for them to move any large number of troops around the mountain end of the defense. Being confined with our defense line to such a small area (beach to mountains) and in this very heavy jungle growth, a modern Army could not deploy a large number of troops and certainly no way to use tanks or heavy equipment. In addition to the 124th there were three other Regiments on the Driniumor River defense line. Each of these had at least one Battalion in reserve; so at most at any one time we had eight battalions deployed. This jungle war was quite different from any normal war as it had to be figured out as you went along; therefore much depended on small units such as squads, platoons and companies. In addition to the Jap soldier the enemy was the jungle, rain, heat, dark, diseases and cold wet nights. The American Soldiers friends were his rifle, ammunition, food, daylight and the Artillery but not necessarily in that order. The Navy and Army Air Force had complete control of the ocean and skies for hundreds of miles around; thus keeping the Japs from receiving any appreciable amount of supplies or reinforcements. If a large group of the enemy could be spotted in the jungle then the Navy or Army Air Force could be used to attack them. Perhaps this may have happened a couple of times but highly unlikely as it was too easy for the Japs to hide in the jungle.
Supply to the guys on the defense line was extremely difficult as trucks could go only part of the way. Native trails were dangerous to use, as ambush was a distinct possibility. Landing craft were put to use moving supplies up along the beach near the river but at times these details had to fight off the Japs. At other times and farther inland the Riflemen were supplied by air drops, which became known as Biscuit Bombers. The Soldiers on the ground would send up smoke signals designating a drop point for the guys in the planes. This became a problem at times as the enemy would also send up smoke signals which was confusing to the men making the drop. The result sometimes was that the Japs received some much needed supplies that were meant for our men. At other times they would wait in the jungle near a cleared drop point and fight with our soldiers over the supplies.
The Japanese were cunning in many ways in their efforts trying to trick our Soldiers. They would cut our telephone lines and set an ambush for the repair crew that came to repair it. Of course these American Soldiers learned to run a new line rather than going out to fix the old one. Our troops on the line would also try different things in an effort to outwit them in combat. One thing I heard about but cant verify whether true or not, but seems plausible, back-fired on the GIs who tried it. With the Japs attacking our defenses at night it was extremely difficult to know where he was out there in the jungle darkness. These Soldiers got the idea of stringing a wire in front of their pillboxes and attaching empty C-Rations cans, with rocks in them, to the wire. They reasoned that in the darkness a Jap would bump into the wire, rattling the cans and they would know about where he was. It seems the Japs found it, tied a rope to the wire and went back into the safety of the jungle. They proceeded to jerk the rope, rattling the tin cans with the rocks in them, all night and yelling, you silly Yanks. But of course these GIs removed all of this stuff the next morning.
Besides the suicide charges the Japs at other times and for no apparent reason committed suicide. I recall one night when a Jap soldier climbed into the cab of one of our Service Company trucks and exploded a hand grenade. Pieces of him were scattered all over the cab. Some surface damage was done to the truck but not enough to put it out of operation. I suppose his thought was to destroy himself and one of our trucks at the same time. Of course he was only half right as he just destroyed only himself. The driver of the truck (John Kohl from Pennsylvania) wasnt aware of the incident until that morning when he crawled out of his pillbox and went to his truck. He wasnt too pleased about it either, as it was his unpleasant task to clean up the mess.
Few Soldiers in the jungle can say for sure that they killed one of the enemy as most are hit by exploding Artillery shells or Mortar fire. A Machine-gunner and a Rifleman (whether an M-1 or BAR) were usually firing at a sound or movement in the dense jungle foliage. Most often at he same time and nearly always in the very dark night. Ed Baird from Texas, a buddy of mine who was also in Service Company, is certain that he killed one. The Japs almost always attacked at night and we remained in our pillbox or foxhole thus anyone outside was an enemy.
On this night a Jap armed with a bayonet leaped into the hole with Ed who wrested the weapon away from the Jap & killed him. The irony is that the Jap was killed with his own bayonet. The 31st Division WWII book on page 38 contains a picture of Ed with the dead Jap. In 1989 Ed attended our Service Company reunion in Montgomery and brought the bayonet with him.
Gene Vann, a buddy of mine from Montgomery and also in Service Company, was the Warrant Officer in the transportation platoon and ran the Motor Pool repair shop. He tells me the story about Louis Hecht (2nd Battalion Supply Officer) looking for a Jap flag as a souvenir. It seems he came upon this Jap body and was searching it when an enemy sniper, hiding in a tree, took a shot at him. Hes one lucky man as the bullet went through his shirt sleeve, leaving two nice holes on entry and exit, but not touching any part of him. Gene says the Jap sniper was killed, but not by him. Im sure Louis Hecht was more careful about souvenir hunting thereafter.
Cecil Hughes, a buddy of mine from Birmingham and also in Service Company, refreshes my memory about the time he was in charge of a detail consisting of about a dozen men to move a load of supplies on a landing craft and unload them on the beach near the river. The craft was fired on while they were still out on the ocean and they backed off. Then decided that perhaps these were just some stray bullets. Knowing too that they had to get these supplies unloaded they came on in. While unloading they were attacked by some of the Japs who were behind the lines. Our guys found some holes for cover and began firing back. One of our Service Company men, Neil Kartez from New York, was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his actions that day. Kartez was a tailor by trade and his talents were continuously put to use by the Regimental Officers. He wasnt the type of guy that one would expect bravery from but bravery is what we got!. Many of the guys there that day told of him moving from one hole to another with a pistol hanging down between his legs. They tried to get him to stay put but to no avail as he moved from one hole to another bringing ammunition to our guys. His actions were deemed essential to this details success. My recollection is that approximately 20 Japs were killed in that action and no one in Service Company took a hit.
I recall the day that this happened and that the guys who went along were volunteers. I was planning on going with them but some duty came up that prevented me from leaving at that time. This all happened in broad daylight which was very unusual as most Jap attacks occurred early morning, late afternoon or at night. Service Company men were not supposed to be combat troops but even so we got into other fights along the beach and supply dumps. I guess someone forgot to tell the Japs not to shoot at us. It seems to me that all the shooting we Service Company Soldiers got into just proved that which we learned in Infantry basic training. No matter what your military occupation may be, you are first and foremost and Infantryman and this applies to everyone in the Infantry.
Doctor Tom Deas, a Major from Louisiana, was Commanding Officer of the 124th Infantry Medical Detachment. The Doctors and Medical Corpsmen are held in high esteem by me and on a level with the Foot Soldiers. Major Deas writes about a Jap beach attack that occurred 17 July 1944.
Their target was an Ammunition Dump and Motor vehicles situated on the beach between the Driniumor River Defense Line just a few hundred yards east and the Artillery a few hundred yards to the west. There were men from Service Company, Anti-Tank Company and Cannon Company as well as the Medical Detachment who were and had been guarding this Dump and the Vehicles for the past three or four days. A Jap force estimated as one hundred men, waded out into the ocean, by-passing the River Defense Line, and attacked the Supply Dump and Vehicles. Besides Rifles they were armed with their Knee Mortars and 25 Caliber Machine Guns, known to us as Woodpeckers. At one point in the ensuing battle, Major Deas related that a Jap soldier had taken dead aim on him but one of his men (Buck Moore) killed the Jap before he could fire his rifle. The end result of this action was that we had 4 or 5 Americans killed and 10 or 12 wounded with no one from Service Company taking a hit. Over 60 Japanese dead were counted and a number of uncounted enemy bodies washed out to Sea with the tide or were dragged away by their comrades. The 149th Field Artillery, a part of the 124th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, was also attacked that same night. Their location was a few hundred yards west of the Dump area but I dont have any information on this action. I suspect the attack came from some of those Japs who were behind the lines.
June 6, 2000