Lieutenant. Mac McCracken's story!
The Patrol to River X!
By Jim McCracken
This essay was compiled from several documents written by my father relating to his experiences in one of the major, if little known, battles against the Japanese in July of 1944. His writing usually took the form of letters to my Mother, my Sister or me. I edited out any personal references.
My old man was a 2nd Lieutenant. at that time, they called him "Mac", and he was best friends with another 2nd Lieutenant. named Dale Christensen who won the Congressional Medal of Honor in that battle. When Mac refers to "Chris" or "Dale" that is who he means. Furthermore, my father contended, to the end of his days that Chris won his medal trying to get in and rescue him after learning that he (Mac) had broken through to help a troop of cavalry surrounded by Japs. Though I never doubted that was so, any hope of confirmation of the truth of the assertion died with Dale Christensen. Still, the facts of his deeds during those days are now part of the historical record. I came up with the name of this story after the fact. To wit: The Patrol to the River X
These words of James E. (Mac) McCracken, 2nd Lieutenant
at the time, E troop, 112th RCT.
Sketch of the area made by his son in 1994. See Jim McCracken's Trip to New Guinea. Click image for larger view
|I do not know the date. The situation was that MacArthur had bypassed an army of Japs in Wewak New Guinea and made an easy landing in Aitape and Hollandia. Out from Aitape there were three rivers, the one in the center of the three was called the Driniumor, the one closest to Aitape was called the "River X", with one outpost that came into play in my story. The Driniumor river was the main part of the American defense. Here you had my outfit, the 112th Cav. RCT, which held the right flank looking toward river "Y". There were one or more US divisions on the Driniumor River. These units were put there for the obvious reason of not letting an army of Japs get to the American headquarters. The headquarters that had control of all these American units on the line was a corps HQ which was in Aitape. I never saw Aitape so can't in any way describe it. The village of Afua was a small native village with only|
one large house and one small house. The only definite trails that I know about were along the river "X" and the Driniumor river where we had troops with one trail running from the river "X" to the village of Afua. Troops moving down this trail had made it wide and clear of jungle growth.
About 200 yards to the rear of the village of Afua is where the Americans had been forced into a position that was circled by the Japs. Christenson had won his medal of honor knocking out Jap machine guns around this area. I think his citation read 18 machine gun nests. But he and "E" troop could not break through the Jap stronghold.
I can't describe the jungle, it is so thick that I am sure anything four feet into the jungle from you is lost to you if it stays still. I spent nearly three years in the jungle in New Britain and New Guinea. Birds I saw and heard by the millions. I saw two snakes, one at least 20 feet long the other nearer to 10 feet which were called constrictors. I was told of other type snakes that lived in the jungle included one that was small and full of poison, but I never saw one. I saw one animal high in the trees; he was called something like a wallaby. They stayed clear of us.
All we were coming into contact with were small Jap patrols between the river "X" and the river "Y". I was called to go on the only type patrol I ever heard of that was not combat - a "reconnaissance in force." Here you went to look but you had to get to a point and if it took fighting to get there you had the power. I think there was a platoon from each of the troops in my squadron. We left from the Driniumor river headed toward the river "Y". My platoon had the point and we never hit one thing. Toward darkness we dug in a large circle, the command in the center.
Sometime that night all hell busted loose on the Driniumor River. When morning came, the platoon leaders were called to the hole in the center. We were told then that the Japs had attacked, running all Americans off the Driniumor. We had to get back, hit the Driniumor, get across and get to the river "X" where all the Americans had fallen back to.
I was at the tail of the column this time. We did collect and get set to attack just before we hit the Driniumor. We hit the Driniumor at the village of Afua. Got across without much trouble and then we started up the trail from the village of Afua to the river X. It was hell at times, but the Japs never suspected a large force at this time. I had two men hit, but we carried both out. They were hit by snipers who must have been stationed somewhere along the trail to protect it.
We got to the river X OK but, man, I was beat and so were my men. I insisted to the troop CO that he give those men one full night's sleep; we did and ate hot food. I talked to Chris. He told me our troop was not hit at all but was ordered back to the river X. But from what he could gather the Japs had played hell with only one regiment. Chris said that the fighting sounded constant for several hours. Then all Americans were ordered off the Driniumor and back to the river X making it our MLR but that our squadron had not been hit or hurt.
The next day orders came for us to go back and take from the Japs our old MLR on the Driniumor River. As I recall, only one division went. The regiment took a part of the river back. We had to do very little fighting to get our part, but I could hear stiff fighting toward the ocean and up toward Afua. We had gotten new machine guns back at river X as the ones left were gone or ruined. Before we got into holes, they were examined for mines and any other explosive. This time, knowing heavy Jap forces across the Driniumor toward Wewak plus what had busted through and were in the jungle to our rear, made us cut the jungle back so we had good fields of fire. The river offered that to our front. We were told that the whole river front was heavily built up. I do not know what infantry divisions were used but believe it was the 32nd Infantry Div.
The day we got back to the river I was called to the squadron headquarters. My orders were to take a patrol back to river X and proceed out on a compass course never varying more than 5 degrees. The reason was that all units were sending out patrols and, if we all stayed where we were supposed to, anything we ran into would be the enemy. I picked two good sergeants and five other men to go with me. We left in the morning. From here on I don't know about days. Usually I stayed back in the patrol watching my compass. I had one good Sgt. as the 2nd man also with a compass plus the last man in the column a Sgt. with a compass. My point was a good soldier and a very careful man. Anytime he was in doubt he called by arm movement for me to come forward and look. Shortly after departure, I was motioned forward. There was a clearing in front of us that could fill with water ran when it rained. To the left of us was a distinctive trail that looked well used. I went into the ditch to the far side and looked good in all directions. I saw nothing because of the jungle growth but heard something to my rear on the trail. About this time, I see two men, one with a BAR (American Browning Automatic Rifle) but he was carrying it backwards. They both wore American camouflage fatigues. I knew that if they were rally GIs, they were damn lost. I pulled the pin on a hand grenade keeping the pin so I could replace it and stepped out into that trail and called. As they turned, I noticed their shoes: three-toed jungle boots that the Japs wore. I knew no American would have them on so I threw the grenade. It hit something and bounced right on them. It went off just as one of my men fired one shot. I could see this jungle trail went no more than 50 feet then turned to the left. I had seen one heavy black wire going up the trail like the Jap telephone used -- one wire with a ground return.
I motioned for my men to follow me as I had to see where this trail went if I could and still stay on my compass course. I was tense and ready for action, and I'm sure my men felt the same. I walked that 50 feet with no incident but then I could hear noises that were definitely not normal jungle noises. I could not make out what they were until I got to where the trail turned to the left. This is hard for me to realize and believe, but suddenly I saw Japs all over the place -- some eating. I lowered my rifle and fired, hoping if nothing else to frighten them so we could retreat. My Sgt. Behind me cut loose with his 45 cal. grease gun. I turned and got out of there quick. All my men followed me into the jungle. All hell broke loose in the area we just left. We beat it through that jungle for at least 100 yards. Then I stopped to collect my men. Not one of us had been hit! Why those Japs were not alerted by that grenade and rifle round still defeats me. The two men we killed must have been walking guards.
Later I called the Jap position into corps headquarters. I got a medal for this action and it stated that I had run into a Jap division headquarters. Later one of our divisions found them just where I said they were. I had no maps of this area but I did know the direction because of my compass course. I guessed a distance and must have hit it close. I do not know how I got this medal as I could not get in touch with my HQ. I did call by phone Corps in Aitape and talked to the G-2.
We moved on to a perfect fire lane leading up a
hill. I was called forward. I could see nothing but this was a perfect
trail to cross. I jumped and rolled into the jungle and the rest of
my men did the same. Nothing happened! This was repeated several times
but we saw nothing and nothing happened.
|We found trails here and there but could use them only a short spell or we'd get off our compass course. It rained several times and in the jungle when it rains you simply can't get across some of the streams. But this gave us no bother. My point stopped and waved me forward. He pointed to a dry stream and a trail visible on the other side of the stream. We had to cross them both. I could see the stream bed easily but had to rise to up to see the trail. I needed to study that trail well. I crawled up to a bank in the jungle, and I rose cautiously up on my knees. That's the last I remember! One morning later, I woke up clearheaded. We were in an American compound. One of my Sgts saw me come awake and came over and said, "Mac, how are you feeling?" I said well but why and where are we. I still didn't know what happened. The Sgt. said, "Mac, when you got on your knees to have a look something exploded over your head. I thought you were dead but got your foot and pulled you back. You were not dead just out cold." I asked if it were a Jap grenade or small mortar round. The Sgt. said that he did not know. That||
I know the grass skirt picture of my Dad os a little flip, but I think it is a better shot of him and kinda catches a certian aspect of the American character.
there seemed to be no shrapnel from the blast and neither he nor anyone in our patrol had heard the first lick of a Jap grenade. A Jap grenade was armed by hitting it on something soundly, a tree trunk etc. Then it would explode upon striking anything. This left lots of dangerous duds in the mud, sand or water. But a Jap Grenade had lots of shrapnel and usually caused lots of damage. No one was hurt by this explosion but me. Somehow I did get cuts on my face but not deep. The mortar they used was called a knee mortar. It was small and could be set on your knee. But it too made a noise when it went off on your knee and no one had heard any noise but the big explosion that went off over my head. From what I have seen of Jap mortars and grenades, my head would have been blown off had it been one of the two. The Sgt. said they neither saw nor heard anyone. They pulled me back and carried me out of the area. He said it was not long till I could walk, following in the column but I could not think at all. I continued out of it till I woke up in that American compound.
I went to the HQ of this outpost to use a radio or phone to send my report back. I could not reach my headquarters but did phone G-2 in the headquarters of the Corps in charge. I gave him my report; he told me to stay there for orders. That afternoon a Lieutenant. from the other squadron of my Regiment came into the outpost. Ray Cherninsky he said that he had run into nothing but small stuff. He also phoned the G-2 at Corps.
Later in the day a light aircraft came overhead and dropped orders to Ray and me. They sounded simple but we thought tough as hell. We were to combine our units and come back to the Driniumor River by the Afua trail.
Then got an order from the Col who was the CO of the American stronghold we were in. Ray was to go down river a couple of hundred yards and I was to go up the river a couple of hundred yards then turn in about 25 yards and meet at the trail. He had been getting fire from across the river and had artillery support from the coast. My point man lead as we crossed the river. This is hard for even for me to believe but before we went 10 yards we bumped into at least 25 Japs. My point fired his automatic and I shot my rifle yelling, "Back across the river!" This river was only knee deep unless it was raining. Fortunately, it was not raining but the river was at least 100 yards wide. Those Japs continued to shoot at us the entire time it took to cross it and get back in the jungle. I had only one man shot in the back. We went back to the outpost where I left my Sgt. I never heard how he came out. How in the hell those Japs missed seeing us cross that river, then doing no more damage to us than they did, still defeats me. Ray made his patrol across the river and was standing in the trail to Afua waving for me to come on. I went on with six men leaving one Sgt. shot seriously in the back
This Afua trail was wide and well worn. Ray and I changed on the point often. We were surprised at not running into anything. But from a high hill top or mountain above the Driniumor River and the village of Afua we heard heavy. Ray took the point of the patrol down the hill. Ray started drawing fire from both sides. We heard yells like "Keep coming Yanks!" I had to follow Ray. One man in front of me was shot. I pulled him down the hill into the perimeter of Yanks but he was dead. We got into holes. A little later I yelled to Ray and we crawled to the command post. The Major in charge had radio communications with the Regimental headquarters. He said he knew we were on the way but doubted that we would get to him. Besides, such a small force as we had would be of little help to him. Ray told me he had one man killed another shot badly coming down the hill. I told him of my losing a man, reducing my patrol to myself and five men. Ray was down to himself and six men.
Ray and I were both given different sections of the perimeter to command; I never saw Ray again and think he was killed.
I placed four men in one hole some five to ten feet behind the line for rest. I kept one with me manning a machine gun. Both of us napped now and then. The heavy fighting ceased at night except for flares, sporadic gun fire and hand grenade bursts.
The next morning, the heavy fire fight started again. One round of something landed in the hole to my rear where I had placed four men. The calls for Medics and the screams made me know some of my men were hit. I left my hole on all fours heading to my rear and my men. Barely clear of my hole another explosion to my front slammed into me. All I remember of this explosion was vivid color (orange comes to mind). When I came back to awareness, I was back in the hole. How long I was unconscious I'll never know. One of my men was wiping blood from my bloody nose and face. His only statement to me was, "That one got you good, Mac, and blew you back in the hole." I have no idea what hit me in the face besides shrapnel, rock, scrap metal, etc. but I had a severe headache for days. My nose bleed stopped in several hours though several small cuts on my face continued to bleed for some time. When I finally reached the hole I had started toward, I found two men dead - literally blown to bits and a man with shrapnel in his back that had already blown through one of the dead boys. He was dazed and bleeding from numerous cuts. The other man in that hole was not hurt physically but was dazed. Since there was no medical help available there, I had my men come to the machine gun pit. We sat tight. This went on for days; we could hear all kind of action nearby but none got to us. At long last, an infantry Regiment busted through and routed those Japs.
I took the wounded man to a field surgical unit. I remember some corpsman wiping at my face. He asked me my name, rank, and serial number. I answered him but he kept on cleaning up my face and never wrote anything down. But I bet someone wrote it down because they wrote up a purple heart for me. Later when we were out of the storm and in a rest area, there was a formation of the unit, and I was called out to get a purple heart and a Bronze Star. Both were a definite surprise to me, as I knew that I had not put myself in for any medals.
It was like I told it.
June 6, 2000