Service Journal Part IV: The Russells – Coconuts, malaria and air raids

00 Dad with machinegun

Pvt. John Steve Moses, 26, poses with a machine gun on an unknown South Pacific island.

The following is Part IV of a verbatim transcription of a journal my father kept during World War II while serving in the U.S. Army’s 43rd Cavalry as a Recon Trooper in the Pacific Theater.

Transcribed by John R. Moses

February 1943

Left camp about suppertime in trucks for Noumea, arrived about 10 and immediately got on Higgins Boat and was taken to S.S. President Hayes. Had to climb up landing nets and that with all equipment. That’s one climb to remember.

Got bunks just above water level. Hot as hell down there and just as crowded. The Hayes is a new ship and looks pretty fair. Got on board Feb. 12 but didn’t sail until the 15th. Had a detail to break out food for the trip. Kind of tough, but we had plenty to eat extra.

First day we got 5 gallons of ice cream. That alone was O.K., but that was all we got because every noncom we had got wind of it and the steward said no more, so that ended our ice cream. Banana flavor, too.

Had a few practice drills for abandoning ship. The rest of the boys had to climb up and down landing nets. Such cussing I never heard. Us boys on detail somehow managed to get away without joining them, even if Lt. Atkinson tried his darndest to make us. Poor Ack-Ack. Nobody seems to mind him.

Sighted San Christophe Isle after noon Feb. 17. From here on the waters are known as Torpedo Junction by the sailors. Lighted by a few flares around us. No one seemed to know where they came from and saw signal lights off the coast. Then came the alarm. Our convoy, consisting of 6 destroyers, the President Hayes, Adams, Jackson and Crescent City, the (illegible) was being attacked by Jap torpedo planes.

Tracers from the 20 m.m’s really lighted up their planes. Our ship, the Hayes, was lucky, they got three planes, the rest got two out of 7, so the final score was 5 out of 7 and no losses on our side. Don’t know now whether I was scared or not, but a few bombs did drop awfully close. Japs then turned tail and scrammed. Slept up on deck rest of the nite.

Saw Guadalcanal in the morning, lots of coconut trees and jungle. Landed by Higgins Boats on the 18th. Had a busy day unloading and sorting our supplies. Was really tired when nite came, ate C rations all day. Can see Florida Islands from here. Slept on ground and got soaked proper, everything wet in morning.

In morning loaded our stuff on Higgins Boat to move up the beach again. Unloaded about 10 miles up the beach near Henderson Field. Had to move stuff three times because of the damn tide coming in. Lots of Marines here. Saw one with a long Jap sword and another with a pistol. Not bad.

Had to load up again on big Barge No. 323, the Omaha. Sure is big, and can carry plenty, had all our vehicles on board and tons of stuff besides about 250 men. Slept in tent with Marines overnight, one gave me his own blanket and he was cold all nite. Slept on the floor and damn glad of it, outside it rained all nite. Slept next to Lt. Barnett.

Sailed off to another place, anchored right off Tulagi all day in a hot sun. Swam in 200 feet  of water and enjoyed it. Our Capt. Dall swims like a fish.

Started off about 9 o’clock on Feb. 20 for the Russell Islands, Third Platoon on another boat. Had 4 hour .50 caliber machine gun guard in a down pour. I cussed everything and everybody in sight. Later heard Tulagi was bombed the same nite we left. Arrived on Banika Isle of the Russell group. Nothing but coconut groves all over with a little two-by-4 jungle. Our Camp site is right by the jungle line.

There are millions of flys here on the coconut trees. Place is owned by Lever Bros. soap company. If you ask my opinion, they can have it. Have coconuts here galore. Tired of eating them and drinking their milk. Water is scarce. Have to dig wells, for no streams.

Celebrated my birth day in the army, 26 on Feb. 26. Wonder where my 27th will be spent.

Date of arrival here was the 20th. Rumor has it 1500 Japs evacuated just before we got here. Pier is bomb wrecked but so far everything’s peace ful here in February. Mail is coming thru, but no more parcels. Congress doesn’t believe we soldiers deserve anything from home. All we’re giving them is our life.

Finally got our place looking swell, policed-up coconuts and have our fox holes dug in case of an air raid. Listen to the radio on scout car every nite. News very good for our side.

March 1943

Russell Islands

3rd Platoon moved out with the 169th Infantry, so now we’re in three places at once. 3rd on Pavuvu Isle and H.Q. and 1st on Guadalcanal. Best news of Pacific War yet. On March 3, our air force destroyed 12 Jap transports, 8 destroyers and 102 planes. We lost one bomber and three fighters. Our convoy being bombed was in the news twice already.

(NOTE: From Wikipedia – The Battle of Bismarck Sea: All eight transports and four of the escorting destroyers were sunk. Out
of 6,900 (Japanese) troops who were badly needed in New Guinea, only about 1,200 made it to Lae. Another 2,700 were rescued by destroyers and submarines and returned to Rabaul. The Japanese made no further attempts to reinforce Lae by ship, greatly hindering their ultimately unsuccessful efforts to stop Allied offensives in New Guinea.”  The U.S. Army Air Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force carried out the attack. Japanese casualties: 8 transports, 5 destroyers sunk; 20 fighters destroyed, 2,890+ dead. U.S./Australian losses: 2 bombers, 4 fighters destroyed; 13 killed.)

March 6 we had our first taste of bombs. Don’t know how many came over but 7 never returned, met their ancestors in a hell of a hurry. A few of the bombs came too damn close for comfort. Since then we’ve had raids about 3 times a day. And in the middle of the night it’s not exactly fun getting bombed.

On the 10th we had a peach of a raid, saw a Zero get hit by only 3 bursts of a p-38 and it hit the ocean. Knocked down quite a few. Had to stand guard 2 hours last nite, 2 Jap pilots on island. At dawn we searched the jungle with no luck. The Navy finally got both. And walking thru that damn jungle is no picnic, so thick you can’t see 10 feet to either side or ahead. Full of big lizards, spiders and big swamps.

March 14 the 1st Platoon finally got in from Guadalcanal, and they sure brought some rain with them. Now we can go out and wash our clothes. Due to shortage of water here we have to catch rain water in cans and in shelter halfs to wash in. Have about 200 gallons now. Engineers drill for drinking water. Not bad.

Damn Japs flew over us three times at exactly 8 o’clock and ruined our listening to the 15 minute news broadcasts from Frisco. We use one of the scout car radios. Reception very good.  Sure sounds good to hear from the states.

Got two packages, one from Elaine and form Lizzie. Mom wrote Julius (Moses, Dad’s younger brother) is in (the service) from Feb. 11, 43 and that Pat’s in the WAACS.

March 15 H.Q. came in, now we’re all here and everything’s being reorganized by the looeys. So far they’re leaving us alone. Got paid $33.20 for Feb. Can’t spend money here except at the P.X. for candy. Got two more packages, Lizzy again and Mom.

Have quiet here lately, only 1 alert, but these parrots here are aping our signals and we are having a devil of a time telling them  from ours. Two whistles mean Jap planes over Solomon area, three means planes over island.

English left in such a hurry all their cattle was left behind.  Never saw such thin, scrawny cows and calfs. Shot one and ate it. Meat very tough. Gen. Hester heard about it. Now we stop eating meat, and he probably starts to.

Just now been informed of my second I.Q. I took in New Caledonia, final score 131, now Andy’s only got me beat by 1 point. Got some cookies from Mom, kind of crushed but made quite a hit with the boys and me. Sent $50 home.

Sat., March 20, 1943

No raids lately because of the full moon. Still policing up coconuts of all the screwy things to do. So far we’ve picked up a few million, usually pile them up, and one day we’ll never forget we had orders to pour gas on them and burn it. Really made a nice smoke, and probably was the cause for our first air raid.

Had a court martial about 150 feet from our tent, 3 privates, went thru all the usual pomp and ceremony but the all-officer jury probably knew the verdict before hand.

Some of the boys coming down with malaria and a few other diseases common to the tropics. Had a taste of malaria week after we hit Russell Islands. Took enough Atabrine to cure an elephant. Take half of an Atabrine pill every nite. Was to get water with Shan and like a dope dropped the water trailer on my left hand. Got deep gash but no bones broken. Better luck next time.

Have loudspeakers in trees for us to hear the radio nites, becoming a regular ritual. Everybody listens to news casts and argues about it later. I say the war will end in July. Of course, there are disbelievers all over.

Had two more air raids last nite, getting so a fellow can’t get a good nite’s sleep anymore. Got good and wet when Shan and I went past Blue Beach for water. Roads very muddy and slippery, hit two coconut trees. Sure was fun.  Been having plenty of air raids at all hours of nite and early morn. Recon plane flies over with motor sounds like an old washing machine. Nicknamed “Washboard Charly.” Sure is some feeling, always waiting for some thing, not knowing what. One minute we’re sitting here and not knowing if you’ll be alive the next.

Hear rumors of us invading New Georgia Isle. Bet that will be one hornet’s nest. Mail is lousey, haven’t heard from home in over a week now. Thunder last night woke me up and, so help me, I thought we were being bombed by the Japs again.

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