Part VIII: Securing the island

The website bayonetpoint.150.com describes reconnaissance troopers in this way:
“The Squadron was constructed for fast, mobile operations, fanning out ahead of the Armored and Infantry divisions. Its somewhat light makeup proved less useful when, as was often the case for reconnaissance units, it found itself called upon to plug gaps in the line or hold terrain that would test an infantry battalion. It may also have benefited from an improved anti-tank element, as the 37-mm guns of its M8 Greyhounds and M5 Stuarts were obsolete in that role by 1943, and the M24 light tank, with its more capable 75-mm gun, did not begin to arrive until late 1944.”

When the recon troops were called to hold the line at Arundel Island, the going got tough.

July 1943
I went with a Marine captain and lieutenant to show them where an American bomber plane had crashed. While investigating the same, a sniper opened-up on us. We searched the area around us but there was no sign of the jerk. The Marines weren’t exactly too brave. I hurt my back when the sniper fired, so I had to miss our next patrol. The boys got two Jap officers, but one of our native scouts got killed.
Ybor got a beautiful sword, Passerlie a pistol, Gray a pistol and the Saint a watch. Six got away but we got their food, American rations and New Zealand butter. Sure was good.
Lt. Marcotte went out to see the booby traps I set and had the dubious pleasure of getting shot at by a sniper. The bullet made a nice nick in his helmet.
Ugli Village was really OK, in time. At full moons the natives came to sing and dance for us. Only the men. We saw their women, and they’re really not bashful. They wear only a cloth below. Up above their breasts stick out like headlights. However, we were warned not to mess around because they have their own ideas how to punish a foolish soldier.
Duncan and I went dove hunting, and while there I found four eggs, real chicken eggs, the first I’d seen in ages. So when I got back to camp I got bacon from Mooney and fried all four. Boy, what a treat. After eating dehydrated stuff for so long it was worth a million. Gave some to Gleason – the remainder of my squad – and he has a purple heart. Boy, my boys really caught holy hell. How I missed getting something will forever remain a mystery.
Rendova is getting bombed daily. On Munda our boys really hit something. The Japs were dug in so deep our tanks couldn’t blast them out. We had lots of our boys killed and plenty wounded. They finally had to use flamethrowers to get them out.
The Japs used to sneak up to our foxholes, drop in a grenade or jump in with a knife to cut or stab our boys. It’s times like this when nerves start to crack. Jake, another of my squad, went nuts and almost shot Sgt. Anderson and Lt. Marcotte. Two deserted us, and now I hear they’re back in the states. Sure a lift to our morale. Dodd, air machine gunner, deserves every credit possible. He stood by his gun and, although in plain view and exposed to Jap fire, kept his gun going. Sorry to say he, too, cracked, and he’s back home.
Out of almost 200 we still have 143 men. Our platoon alone lost 13 men for good. When Sherman said, “War is hell” he never heard of New Georgia.
Our censors relented, and now we can write home about where we’ve been. It would be pretty hard to let the folks know what’s really here, so most of write only about the good parts – and heaven knows that was very little.
Now we’ve been ordered to Banga Isle, a place where quite a few of our boys were ambushed. We had to go on O.P right opposite Munda Airstrip. Here we saw what a waste war is, equipment of all kinds, both ours and the Japs, were all over the Isle. There were plenty of dead Japs and Americans laying around. The boys had to bury them because of the stink. This sure must have been an awful battle.

Munda battle aftermath

Dad said shell craters were often used as mass graves after combat. Dead Japanese soldiers are being placed in such a grave here, likely on Banga Isle in 1943 during the duty described above. Note the men in the background apparently disposing of more remains. Photo taken with a Six-Twenty Kodak Brownie Junior camera, film souped in Dad’s combat helmet to avoid the censors. Photo Copyright 2016, John R. Moses

It seems funny to see one of our fellow Americans laying by our feet rotting away, and back home his folks are still believing he’s alive and well. At times one wonders of this isn’t a nightmare.
While on Rendova, at Ugli Village, our scouts brought in a Jap they caught. As much as we hated Japs, no one even thought of hurting him. His name was Yatai. He was about 5 feet tall, not too thin, black hair and a corporal. He had awful sores on his feet. We treated his wounds and I got him a cup of coffee. He must have never eaten the way he drained the coffee. We then asked him questions galore. For answers we got nothing.
We gave him this pen and he wrote his name and other things in Japanese. We turned him over to G-3 for a going-over by Jap interpreters.
If all Japs treated our boys like we treated Yatai everything would have been O.K.
I got a silver ring from Roberto Nenga, an ex-cannibal, for some cigarettes. He’d caught some Jap washing clothes, so he sank his tomahawk in his head and took the ring. Nice fellow. I got him and the chief to promise to keep Pap’s grave fixed-up, and if I know them, I’m sure their word is as good as gold.

August 1943
After our Banga O.P. we were ordered up to Arundel Isle next to Kolombangara. The north end was still in the hands of the Japs. We went on daily patrols but saw no action. We investigated about 50 isles around Kolombangara for any possible Jap O.P.s. On Kolombangara there’s an estimated 10,000 Japs trying to evacuate to Chiosel or Bouganville. Our air force was sinking barges by the score. Our 155 mm long rifles were hammering away at them day and night, and we heard the shells going over our heads whistling on their way.
Pistol Pete, our name for Jap artillery, opened up on us fairly often. Good thing he had a lot of duds. Our C.P. on the Diamond Narrows is directly opposite the new airstrip the Sea Bees are building.
They’re having trouble up north with the Japs coming over from Kolombangara so Third Platoon is set up there, and our platoon goes on the secondary line. Have Otto in my foxhole right by the barbed wire entanglement. The 3rd Platoon reported five wounded, including Lt. Atkinson, and three shell-shock cases.
They really had a tough time up there. Jap snipers were all over, and they tossed grenades in our holes all nite. It’s a good thing their knee mortar ammunition isn’t too good. Our 155s were hitting close to the lines too, boys really had their tails dug-in. A new mortar B.B. came up to try out their new 4.4 mortars. They’re really lulus.
On our line we stood 24-hour guard. For two men in a hole, that’s really hell after a while. Here’s where we had air raids galore. We had no anti-aircraft guns, so the Japs came in and bombed away at their leisure. We had 21 raids one nite. It’s really an eerie feeling to hear the planes dive, then hear the bombs whistling down at you. Then’s when you pray and hope for the best. One big 500-pounder hit about 200 feet from us. The only casualty was a big bat killed, and the Saint got a bloody nose.
We finally got Arundel secure, so we were relieved by the 172 boys. Sure was one hell on earth for a while.

October 1944:
From that secondary line we moved to the C.P. for a while. There was no bombing, but Pistol Pete came awful close. Then the whole troop moved to Banga again. There was plenty of work policing-up and fixing-up our new area. There were still plenty of air raids, in spite of night fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns. We got all of Kolombangara on the 6th of August without firing a shot. So now I believe Bouganville will get it somewhere around the 25th. We’ll probably have to take over Chiosel, too, because it probably has some Japs from Kolombangara there.
It’s rather discouraging for us not to get a rest. From all indications we’re here for the Bouganville push, too. Nice future ahead. Now I’m in charge of O.P. I have four men, Shein, Otto, Mike Lajoie and Gagmon. We missed the first movie because of O.P. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one. I let Gagmon and Otto sneak back to see it. Shan, Mike and I rowed over to see our second movie. It sure was nice to see one after five months of nothing.
Our second week on O.P. we had a peach of an air raid last night, Oct. 29. Heard these damn bombs whistle down past us again. I have two nice skinned elbows from hitting the dirt. The rumor is that Bougainville is about to change hands any day now. Hundreds of planes keep going back and forth to bomb the hell out of the place. I sure am glad I’m on Uncle Sam’s side.
We can get Welch’s Grape Juice now at the P.X. I should have a schoolgirl figure soon, according to Irene Rick’s promises over the air.
We’ve had a few more air raids and a few more eggs laid but little damage was done. We’ve been relieved of O.P. duty and now we’re back in camp. After three weeks of being on your own, camp routine is kind of tough. There are rumors of Bougainville getting hit twice now, according to Lt. Dall. They hit three isles nearby and now Bougainville itself got it.
Tonight’s rumor has the Jap navy catching hell; I hope it’s true. It’s going to be kind of tough getting the Japs out of Bougainville, but we’ll get’em before long.

November 1943
We can have lights on now at night, so we can see to read or write.
I’ve been working on a seaside latrine – cool breeze for your cheeks while you’re doing your business, and since the ocean tide goes out you never even have to flush the damn thing. It’s very convenient, to say the least.
We worked on the rifle range today, Nov. 2, and went on “patrol problems;” we had men shooting Jap weapons over our heads while we tried to spot their positions. It was very interesting, but darn hard. At least we had no casualties.
Then we saw a very good movie, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The next night we had one beaut of an air raid – our guns really went to town.
We started getting our Christmas packages Nov. 3.We’re still getting a few air raids. The other night our gunners threw up everything but the kitchen sink at the Japs They really screwed away, too, after that reception.
We saw a show at the Marines, Joe E. Brown in “Chatterbox.”
Pass, Mike, Gagman and I represented our platoon at the dedication of Munda Cemetery. It was really a beautiful sight, and one to remember. They gave a 21-gun salute for the dead from each outfit. I sure got a funny feeling when we heard Pap’s name called off as being the first killed in our outfit. They had newsreel men taking photos of the whole ceremony.
Later we saw a movie again at the Marines, Fred Astaire in “The Sky’s the Limit.” It was very good for laughs, and the gal with him sure had her bumps in the right spots. What a picture to show us here.
Most of the fellows got sick and had to be rushed by boat to Munda. They got ptomaine poisoning. I guess I was lucky because I didn’t get too sick. Neuman is going to Munda today to get a checkup. His nerves are all cracked, and gunfire affects him too much. I believe he’s due for the states. War neurosis. The poor kid had tears in his eyes when we shook hands with him, and with Pap gone it looks like the old gang is all busted up.

Later in November, 1943
Bombers and planes of all types are going back and forth to Bougainville. The Japs are really getting a pasting. We saw another movie last night. The trip to Kolombangara was called off due to ptomaine poising for half of the troops. We’re going to patrol Kolombangara tomorrow. I shot an .03 rifle today to qualify for team and got two bull’s-eyes out of three shots.

Later in November:
We went over to Kolombangara last Wednesday and returned Friday. We went on patrol over nite and saw plenty of bivouac areas and strong pillboxes, plus big guns on the coast.
Lt. Marcotte and Johnson’s patrol saw fresh Jap tracks near the waterhole, which proves there are still Japs there. My squad saw nothing. We had to carry H2O over five miles in five gallon cans, quite a trip.
I got nine more packages Friday and Saturday saw a movie. We’re hearing strong rumors of going to New Zealand to reorganize under Gen. Kreuger. A fine future in store if that’s true.
We saw a double feature Saturday and played softball at Geary Field on Munda. We lost 7-1… to the M.P.s, of all people.
Our softball team was still on the losing side, we lost two more. Lots of movies lately.
We’ve been hearing about a few Jap diaries that were read. Very interesting. They all knew they were doomed.
I saw a P.40 go overhead, the motor missing something awful. I heard it crashed. I hope the pilot is safe. The report is he has hit while up in Bougainville.

December 1943:
We’ve been seeing more movies, some a waste in taking-up cargo space. Packages are coming in very nice. I have more candy than I know what to do with.
The rumors are strong now for us going back to Caledonia and, eventually, on to New Zealand.
We hear the Japs are taking a beating up in Bougainville and elsewhere.
I got word my flag finally got home. Boys were on O.P. again, my turn next month.
There’s plenty of rain and wind but it’s sunny again now. We heard a 103 7G band play pretty good. I had to drop out of the softball league, there is no field for practice. Our basketball team beat the Navy 24-12.
Violet wrote a very nice letter. Now all I need to do is relax again.

Later in December:
The Japs are really catching holy hell now. All types of planes are going up to Bougainville and New Britain, and most of them return. New Britain has been attacked by our ground forces. Old Tojo says it has to be held by all Japs – or else. It’ll be ‘or else.’
We’ve been seeing a lot more movies and our basketball team’s O.K., only the damn Marines can beat’em.
On Christmas Eve we sang Christmas carols, then put on a show of our own, really had some fun for a change.
I’m playing a lot of horse shoes, and have a lot to desire in my playing. Christmas Day was spent very quiet again. That is, for us. Our bombers really went up to visit the Japs in full force.
Today, Dec. 26, we’re to see a USO show. I have my fingers crossed, because they’ll probably be some outcasts from Hollywood.
Part of the 1st Platoon is going to Wana Wana on O.P. duty. That’s where the dusky maidens cavort at dusk, but from rumors we hear they’re too hot to handle – that is, the consequences are.
Later:
I just got back from the USO show. Three men, one played a swell accordion. Buck Harris, ex-cowboy Hollywood-style, sang and played guitar and a big, fat guy sang quite a few nice songs and he was really O.K. One was Bob Dearborn and the other Paul Baxter.
I believe I’ll get a five days leave to the Russell Isles. Rumor has us going direct to New Zealand.
I believe our new Lt. Johnson is going to get the heave-ho to another outfit. Strictly G.2.
We saw two movies Monday. “Keeper of the Flame, Tracy-Hepburn and “Edge of Darkness,” Flynn –Sheridan.
The Marines hit Cape Glouster, New Britain with no casualties. Marines relieved on Bougainville, all Army now.
I’ve just been informed that I’m to get a Good Conduct Medal. Also got two cans of beer per man. Mail O.K. — more damn candy that Saunders in Detroit.

January 1944:
Well, 1943 finally went where all good years go. According to news commentators, 1944should see the end of hostilities. We had our annual turkey dinner. Pretty good. It seems funny we can have it once in a while and can’t have it oftener.

(And so ends the first of two Message Book M-105-A notebooks Dad had procured courtesy of the Signal Corps, U.S Army. The question I hope will be answered in the next book: How did a corporal who is about to get a Good Conduct Medal wind up a buck private and happier for it by the time he was discharged? Dad always said he didn’t always write down the ‘good stuff.’)

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