Notes from a son: The events that happen next and those that follow pretty much shaped the rest of my father’s life. This was the beginning of a long-term and untreated case of PTSD, the foundation of a deep rage that lived in him just below the surface. He never left the house if he could help it on the Fourth of July. He didn’t watch war movies. I wasn’t supposed to play with toy guns around him, or have friends over because they’d make too much noise, or startle him. Ever.
He hated fireworks, allowing them only occasionally. His July 4th, like most other nights, involved a lot of Phenobarbital. He shared some of that annually with our freaked-out beagle-basset, dachshund-schnauzer dog, who also hated July 4th.
And he had nightmares.
When I first read this journal at age 16 I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what I was reading. Transcribing this section now at age 51 after decades of studying military history was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
So here we are, at that point in the 1940s-vintage Hollywood war movie when the hero is supposed to find great glory. Former Pvt. And now Cpl. John Steve Moses was an untested and low-level leader in an Army Recon demolition squad that had just been moved up for its first real action. The date header was changed from June 12, 1943 to Oct. 7, 1943, because he checked the notebook in with his personal belongings before moving out to combat. This was his first chance to record what had happened. He might not have known that this was called Operation Cartwheel, a battle to take Munda that would last into August and cripple the Japanese air operation http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_munda.htmls .
October 7, 1943
The reason the date was changed was because I just now got back this diary. I had it packed away because we were moving up to New Georgia to see just how tough the Japs really are.
I’ll begin with July 2, when we loaded onto an L.S.T. Sure had fun with those 105 shells. We started out in early evening, and a choppier sea would be damn hard to find. We really had our ups and downs, and I was a bit seasick and pulled Corporal of Guard from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. That was hell in itself.
Our convoy was spotted by the Jap fleet and only God himself helped us get away. We headed back for the Russells during the nite, but at dawn we again started toward Rendova. We stayed in Wickham Anchorage all day, exposed to any Jap recon plane, but luck again was on our side. We started out to Rendova again and this time dawn found us in Rendova Harbor.
Our 155s were already zeroing-in and we could see dive bombers blasting the hell out of Munda Airport.
This was July 4th, the day to celebrate back home. Believe you me we certainly got our share of fireworks. Immediately after lunch while still onboard ship waiting to unload, a nice formation of bombers came over the mountains of Rendova. I counted 16 and for all we knew they were ours, but when all our guns and guns around us started shooting, we knew we were in for some fun.
Bombs fell right alongside our ship, six in a row. I dived underneath a truck but I was no safer there because after the raid was over I saw the truck was loaded with T.N.T.
It sure was something seeing those big bombers get hit and blow up in the air. One had his tail shot off, and floated down for what seemed like ages. There were burning planes all over the place. I saw the first shot our boys fired hit the first Jap, and down she came. This was the first time these Navy boys ever saw a Jap plane, and they really did damn good.
The final score was 13 knocked down and our fighter planes took off after the three that got away. Never heard how they made out.
Note: An official tally counted 12 planes shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The 16 were part of 100 bombers that had started out to defend Japan’s Munda installation. The others didn’t make it to the battle.
After the raid we saw the Japs had hit the ammo dump and quite a few Sea-Bees and sailors. One had both of his legs blown off, the other had a hole in his back you could put both of your two fists in. He died about an hour later. Also had quite a few shell-shock cases.
Our Captain met us and we loaded onto two small barges for Ugli Village to relieve the 172 boys who were up that way on O.P. duty. Upon nearing the place we saw some men running around on the beach but no one seemed to know who they were, so we headed to the pier of the village. We lowered the ramp and went off about 100 yards to put our packs down so we could unload the barges when all hell broke loose.
Jap machine gunners hidden in the village opened-up on us. Bullets flew all over and around us,
God only knows how I got behind a big hunk of coral right on the beach. Jap bullets were whistling right over my head, and where they hit close, pieces of coral really flew. Most of the boys were still on the two barges, so they fired their m.g.s as best they could, but most of the time we were in between two lines of fire and in equal danger from both.
Pap Morrel was by me when the Japs opened up and got hit in the gut. Seeing as how he fell on the beach where the Japs could still see him, Shanahan and I crawled over to him and pulled him where we were. Boy, those bullets came close. On checking-up I saw Shan didn’t have a gun, Allen lost his and Keith besides me had only his .45 pistol. I almost had to knock him out because he had the damned thing aimed at me and I was in more danger from him than I was from the Japs.
I had a couple of clips from my Tommy gun and got ready to fire. Upon pulling the trigger I found the damn thing wouldn’t fire, so that was really nice. All I could do was hug the sand and listen to bullets fly over my head.
Saw G.J. Collins get hit in the leg when he tried to get to the barge and also saw D. Senna get hit over the left kidney. Poor kid really had a gaping hole there. As for medical aid to Pap, all we had was some sulfa powder we sprinkled on. He really was in a bad way.
Senna was again exposed to enemy fire, so Gray and I crawled over to him and dragged him out of the water. Couldn’t do a damn thing for him. Sure is something to hear the two boys moaning, and all we could do was pray for them, and us, too.
Sgt. Anderson was going on the barge, so I took his Tommy gun. Imagine how we felt when the two barges took off and left 7 men stranded on the beach. Had about 11 men on the other side who crossed the river when it started getting dark. They thought we were on the boat, so they never even bothered looking for us.
About an hour later I heard a noise on the pier. It was kind of dark, but I could see a big Jap outlined against the sky not more than two feet away. He evidently thought we were gone because he wasn’t too curious.
He kept poking his bayonet into the shadows, and when he was coming too close for comfort I decided to shoot.
I had the Tommy gun on full automatic and aimed for his guts. I squeezed the trigger, but, again, my second Tommy gun failed to work. Luckily for me and the rest he didn’t hear the gun click because the surf was too loud. After a time he finally decided to go away. By that time I wasn’t in the mood for anything.
The Thompson is a wonderful weapon, but for me the things are a jinx.
After it really got dark I decided to try and go and see if we could get help. I knew the boys were somewhere around. Couldn’t go across the river because I honestly believed that, too, was held by the Japs. So Glen and I took off and sneaked around the pier for the ocean.
Shan didn’t have a gun so we gave him Gray’s “03.” That left us with no weapons at all. Gray and I swam fully-clothed down the beach about half a mile, went past our own guards and as luck would have it no one spotted us. We crawled on the beach and decided to stay there until morning. It started raining and, even though we were in the tropics, we were cold. We huddled close to try to get warm but gave it up finally as a bad job.
At daybreak July 5 we moved and hid along a trail. Gray slept while I guarded. Heaven knows why, neither of us had any weapons. I saw four men go past, but it was too dark to see whether they were ours or not. About 10 minutes later I saw a few more go by, but I didn’t take a chance because I still couldn’t see for sure.
When it got lite I heard noise again coming down the trail. I crawled closer to see for sure and when I saw the U.S. canteens on the web belt I yelled at them.
Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be our Capt. Dall, Lt. Marcotte and some 172 boys on patrol. The captain sure was surprised to see us. When I told him there were five more men behind he sent out men to find them.
Pap Morrel was already laying on a table when I came back. I tried to cheer him up and tell him he’ll be O.K., but he only smiled and didn’t say anything. He died a few moments later. I couldn’t quite realize he was gone. In fact, things happened so fast I doubt any of us even knew what was going on.
Gray, Todd, Gagman and I dug Pap’s grave. That was the one of the hardest details I ever had, or in fact any of us had. All of us there had tears in our eyes because Pap was a man anyone could be proud to call a pal. To Newman and me he was like a brother.
They’d found Newman, Garret, Shan and Allen when they went to look where I told them. They were O.K., but Senna was hurt pretty bad. “Hollywood” Holmes got hit with the other bunch and Echols and Otto Gleeson caught some ricochet bullets. None serious.
The boat came back at about 10 with Lt. Hall. The rumor back at Rendova Harbor was that we were all dead. And it was only with God’s help that wasn’t true, because later on we captured a Jap who said there was 90 Japs there on the 4th fighting against 7 of us left on the beach and 11 who crossed the river.
Set up “booby traps” all around camp and dug in 2 men to a hole. I teamed with Newman. We took turns at guard at nite and heard Japs yelling in the jungle.
We saw lites on the island across from us. Porky Wishard opened fire and the Japs screwed-off. Left signal lites and equipment by the barge they left grounded in the canal. It really was some nite. Men were panicky, shooting at every sound. I didn’t fire, but I can say I wasn’t feeling any too good.
After our initial encounter with the Nips we saw them every once in a while, but they never did even try to come close to our area. Had two patrols out daily to recon the area, but they were up in the hills, so no one had a bit of rest.
2nd Platoon ran into 13 Japs and believed they got them all. 1st Platoon came to reinforce us and they were more than welcome. After 2 weeks they were off to Munda, but before they left they ambushed one Jap. About 14 got away.
Lt. Marcotte, Kal and I took our squads and went out with natives to scout an area where Jap tracks were found. After walking about 6 miles we found fresh trails so we sneaked in and saw 8 Japs in and around a lean-to.
Kal’s squad went to the left, mine went to the right. When we opened up it was really a sight to see these Japs get hit. Two of them opened up on us but they didn’t last long. One not too anxious to meet his ancestors took off to my right. Took one shot at him with Pap’s rifle and had the satisfaction of seeing him hit the dirt.
Our total was six Japs dead, two wounded that got away. I got a flag, a bayonet and a small radio from there and numerous other souvenirs. But Capt. Dall turned my radio in to the signal corps, so there went the best thing I had.
We felt pretty good when we came by Pap’s grave. Newman and I made a cross for Pap, carving in his name, July 4, 1943 and Chester, Pa, his home town. I bet his folks were really shocked to get the news.
Here’s how the U.S. Army summed up those days in the official regimental history book:
On July 4, the 1st Battalion, 172d Infantry had completed
its advance to the Barike River, leaving its Anti-Tank platoon
and a detachment of heavy weapons in security of Zanana.
During the period of July 4 to July 6, the balance of the 172d
Infantry, and the 169th Infantry (less Anti-Tank Company)
and two Engineer companies moved to Zanana by daylight
with only minor artillery opposition during the boat movement.
Patrols were sent north and west from the beachhead
covering the right and rear of our advance.
No serious enemy opposition was encountered enroute to
the Line of Departure until July 6, when the 3d Battalion,
leading element of the 169th Infantry, encountered serious
opposition in its zone approximately 300 yards west of the