Dad’s Service Journal, Part V – Dogfights above

March & April, 1943 — Hurry up and wait

Notes from a son: After one particularly crappy day during my teenage career as a clerk in a hardware store I let off a disgruntled rant to my Dad about some of the managers and the poor quality of training there. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy. He said, “If you’re working there, you’d better make sure it’s the best store it can be, because you’re part of it.”

He was 61 then, and 24 when he wrote this account of World War II in the Pacific.

Clearly, the older version of my Dad would have smacked his younger self for complaining about officers the way he did in this journal. A little research did indicate that the General Hester he sometimes complains about was relieved of command after this campaign for getting bogged down, and he never had another combat assignment. And he’s no fan of commissioned officers for the most part. This entry period, the time just before the New Georgia invasion, is below.

Repainted 37 and helped dig garbage pit. Had most of Saturday afternoon off.  Eight men transferred to H.Q from second platoon, Little Red, Cook and Strife. Going out on a mission tomorrow morning to capture Jap radio system in jungle. Had one swell time going through jungle. Everyone was exhausted, but not even a trace of Japs. Found one Parker pencil in gun emplacement.

Saw two movies, “Prison Farm” and “Saints double trouble.”  Shows how much we care for Japs when they have large concentrations on New Georgia only 30 miles away. Plenty of Japs overhead flying at all hours. Washboard Charlie came over at 4:35 Wed. morning and we were up at 4:30 so he got screwed this time.

Killed a 4-foot snake.

Baglio's Home Sweet Home

A soldier named “Baglio” poses next to his new foxhole, possibly on Benaki. The wooden sign reads “Home Sweet Home.”

Photo by John Steve Moses

April 1943

Got paid $33.20, mail call, letters and about a bushel of papers. Had a swell raid before noon. 5 Japs down, 1 of ours lost. Pilot bailed out safe. Sure hit the dirt when one dived at us, got hot reception our .50 cals. Later found out it was one of our Grummans. Heard G-2 radio report of actual dogfights from pilots. Some fun. Right now, April 1, 12:30 noon, we’re seeing one hell of a dog fight, there are planes all over us, the whole damn skies are full of them diving all over the place. Motors whining and their machineguns really making a racket.

One now going down in flames. All are cheering here. This is really like a movie scene. Seems hard to believe. Wonder if Benaki will hit the news tonight. Watching this sitting by my foxhole. If I had to get in I’d sure get wet. The damn thing is half full of water.

April Fools Day really came in nice, saw a double feature already. Wonder what Mom would say if she knew where her Sonny was, 35 miles ahead of Guadalcanal, closest outpost to New Georgia. Only the Navy and Japs know we’re here.

Next step New Ga.

Sure have lots of rain lately, mud ankle deep and a cement pavement here would be next thing to heaven. Heard some G-2 stuff form a Lt. at H.Q.  During the second air battle we saw 5 Jap Zeros on the tail of a P-38. The pilot was heard to scream thru radio, “They got me Russ!” They did, as was later verified. If anyone tells me the Jap Zeros are no good there’ll be a murder committed. They can out-climb anything we have.

April 1943

Air raid again 10:30 Sat. morning. Listening via radio to pilots up above. Using all kinds of code words. The flight C.O. is called Knuckle-head. One of the planes reporting leak in gas line, ordered back to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal.

Starting out on mission to other islands for four-day search for Jap radio. Should be fun living with ants, scorpions, spiders, crabs, flye frogs and even alligators. One of the pilots just reported, “This God-damned thing is starting to sound like a threshing machine.

Marched to beach and loaded our things on Higgins boats. Was supposed to land on small isle next to one where Japs are, but no place to land so we landed on Takina Isle, the place where we’re supposed to find the Jap radios. Me, Pap, Mike and Newman built shelter with four shelter halfs and leaves to sleep on. Rained like hell all nite. Damned the one who made the shelter halfs. All they do is strain the rain into smaller drops. Somebody’s sure making money out of this war.

All day Sunday we searched isle. Rowed to point in engineers rubber boats.  Used oar for first time in life. Our 511 radio went on the blink. (Note: The SCR-511 was a radio on a pole designed for the U.S. Army Cavalry, even though there were not a lot of uses for horse charges in the Second World War. The Mechanized Cavalry apparently inherited these radios for use in the jungle.)

No Japs. Had jungle rations for supper, very good cans of meat, cheese, powdered milk, sugar coffee, cocoa, cigarettes, crackers, candy, peanuts, gum and even dried fruit. Only trouble was we had to split it 8 ways. Our “C” Rations are lousy. Hash, stew or meat and beans. Other can has dog biscuits, sugar, simulated coffee, “D” rations one candy bar. 600 calories one meal.

Searched Isle again Monday, same result and soaked again at nite. Tuesday walked over hell and back, found one bivouac area recently evacuated, probably by Malta troopers. Got jungle hammocks to sleep in, sure are tricky. Shanahan fell out twice.  Have ample protection now, so no rain. Got 16 letters Wed.  Have plenty of cuts and bruises already. Climbed a cliff yesterday that was a honey.

Got very warm and (illegible) so stayed behind today. Left for camp 2:20 during one swell air raid while we were on open water. Had ack-ack fire over our heads, watched dogfights most of the way over. Hiked back to camp. Sure felt great to wash up and put on clean clothes. Mike killed one snake and IU saw two big lizards 3 feet long. Toads kept us awake there with their singing. To sum it all up it was hell and our Capt. Didn’t help matters a bit.

April 9, 1943

On alert. Rumor has it the Japs are going to launch an attack on Benaki. What a Welcome they’ll get.

Japs disappointed us, thank God.

Officers made our platoon build them a shower. I hope someone fills it with tar. Sunday, still no mail from Guadalcanal, 7 of us in a tent now laying around and arguing. Got Jeff Mernet, Pap, me on one side, Mike Newman, Shanahan on the other. Argued about “Care of Babies” last nite.

Having 2-3 air raid alerts every nite, getting used to it now. Two radio men had a dream and saw what they called a Jap prowling by officer’s latrine. As result we now have 18-man guard 2 hours on & off. Sure is the nuts.

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