Lt. Col. Carlos A. Keasler
Table of Contents
LEST WE FORGET
My family and friends have suggested that I write an account of my early life and the World War II years while I was outside the CONUS (Continental United States). I have not been altogether convinced that my life story would be so different from the average to be very interesting.
So many people have stories which, if told, would be much more interesting than mine. Men and women who answered our countrys call when her existence and our very lives were in peril.
There were periods of boredom, the separation from friends and loved ones. Times of despair, when it seemed there was no way to stop a ruthless and powerful enemy. Times when the danger was so great you feared that you might not come out alive, or worse, badly crippled or blind and a burden to the ones who were waiting. Times of trauma, seeing how the Filipino peoples, civilian prisoners of war and our military were treated from the fall of the Philippines to the time of the Liberation.
In a way, this terrible and unbelievable experience had the opposite effect the Japanese warlords had in mind. In military tactics we were taught that to win a war you must punish the enemy so that he loses his will to fight. The Japanese carried this practice too far by punishing a nation of innocent men, women and children caught in the middle of warring giants. It only increased the determination of the American GIs to overcome this blot of evil, which if unchecked would impose its will and actions upon our country and its peoples. There would be no compromise. The enemy would be trampled into the dust. The die was cast. There would be total victory whatever the cost.
Now, gentle reader, after sharing these thoughts with you, I will continue with the story.
I was born September 3, 1913 near Quinlan, Texas in the little community of Stringtown to a young couple, Aubrey Carlos and Mary Isabel Keasler. Dad had chosen farming as a livelihood. My early years were happy and pleasant. Mother said two teenage neighbors, my cousins Gladys and Vera Ryan, spoiled me by playing with me for hours on end.
Mothers slogan was "spare the rod and spoil the child." For example, we had a cat and mother had a trunk where she kept her best clothes and prize linens. One day every one noticed a smell coming from the trunk and upon opening it they found the cat that had passed on into the great beyond. I can still remember that peach tree limb switch on the back of my legs.
We had a hen and baby chicks that were pets. That is, they would surround me when I went out to play. They were friendly and trusting. Mother occasionally cooked chicken for dinner and her way of dispatching the hapless chicken was to wring its neck. Dad and his Uncle Willie (William) were working in a field nearby when they heard me yelling and screaming like I was badly hurt. They rushed to the house and there I was all covered with blood and mother was about to start her second peach tree limb It seems I had pulled the little chickens heads off one by one and flung them on the wall of the house.
I got these switchings very often until I started school, but I cannot remember getting a one I didnt deserve and I cannot remember resenting or holding it against Mother. I do believe I was a better person because of it. Mother changed her thinking as our family grew. Replacing the switch with love, kindness, patience and reasoning. It worked very well, as I dont remember any of my siblings getting switched.
In the following years three more children were born into our family, Garland Edward, Mary Anne and John William. We were a typical East Texas family, with the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of life.
In 1929 the Great Depression caught the country in its grasp. About the same time a drought hit east Texas and Oklahoma. The soil turned to dust and was blown away. Dad along with everyone else lost everything. We moved off the farm and cut wood in Caddo and Sabine River bottoms (flood plains) for the cotton gin boilers, to earn enough to live.
This went on until about 1935. I had finished high school and the winter of 1935/36 was especially harsh. Dad had gotten a job at a business in town, but it only paid a pittance. He had never complained about the hard times or our poor financial condition. He had a long talk with me (a strong, healthy 22 year old) and pointed out that there just wasnt enough to feed the family, that we were almost on the verge of starvation. I could see his point and went looking for work in the neighboring towns of Greenville and Terrell but no jobs were to be had. I did get a job in Kaufman repairing radios but it lasted only through the winter.
I got some work at a large farm owned by the Saner family in Dallas, but it was only during the hottest part of the summer baling hay. My hope for the future was to become an electrical engineer, but it wasnt to be. I was unable to save or borrow the money for the entrance to Texas A & M, my school of choice.
A couple of my friends told me that the Army was accepting a few men and they were going to Dallas to see if they could enlist. I went with them. We were accepted, sworn in and put on a waiting list. I was called in January 1937. First Assignment was to Company K, 1st US Infantry (Rock of the Marne), a unit of the 2nd Division at Ft. Francis, E Warren, Wyoming.
The country was emerging from the Great Depression. People were getting their lives back to normal and picking up the pieces of their financial disasters. I will not dwell on these years except to point out that we in the services at that time were able to see and be concerned about the gathering storm that was poised to strike and change the lives of everyone.
I will move ahead to 1943. My assignment was as radio officer, 60th Signal Battalion, Ft. Lewis, Wash. Our mission was to furnish communication support for an infantry division. We were not yet assigned to a division, but under Col. John Snoor we were undergoing training for what was ahead.
It was while stationed here that I met the girl of my dreams, Margaret Dexter. She was very pretty, bright and lots of fun, had a great sense of humor and worked for the Federal Social Security Adm. as a claims adjuster.
After a brief but heavenly courtship, we knew we were in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I arranged for a 3-day pass and on July 9, 1943, Dr. N.E. Moats married us in Seattle at the First Methodist church. My friend Lt. George Guernsey was our best man. After a very brief honeymoon in Victoria, B. C., we went to Anacortes, Washington, to visit Margarets wonderful family. When I reported to my outfit, I found that shortly after I left, orders were received to stage for movement to an undisclosed location. All our equipment, vehicles, communication gear, weapons, etc. were loaded on a troop train and would leave in 24 hours. Everyone was confined to the post. My company commander was very understanding and covered for me to slip back in for a last good bye. That was the last time we were to see each other for two and a half years.
We left Ft. Lewis in the early morning hours of July 16, 1943 without any lights showing and a minimum of noise. No one was there to give us a send off. We rode the troop train to Camp Stoneman near San Francisco. We were there about 10 days. Then, while it was still dark, under the utmost secrecy, we loaded on a couple of 1890 type paddle wheel ferries that took us up to the Alameda Army Depot where we loaded ourselves, equipment and vehicles on the USS Uruguay, a deluxe passenger ship that had been converted to a troop ship. No one would tell for sure, but the guesstimate was about four thousand plus or minus a few hundred SOBs (Souls On Board).
Because of the secrecy surrounding us, we thought we might slip out of San Francisco Bay in the dead of night. But about noon a large Army band gathered on the dock and started playing send off music. The ships crew threw off the lines and a tug nosed us away from the dock. As we went under the Golden Gate Bridge fireboats threw up curtains of water and blew their whistles. A Navy blimp paced us as we headed west and stayed with us for about three days. So much for secrecy. We had been ordered to wear woolen uniforms so were sure we were going to Alaska. But after three or four days heading west, we had a feeling that we were headed for the PacificTheater.The trip was both boring and exciting at times. We were concerned at first about submarines, but were assured the ship could out run subs and most other ships. We were unarmed except for three 3-inch gun turrets on the bow, stern and midship.
After several days we sighted land. It was the island of Oahu. We anchored off Diamond Head. Oh well, Hawaii will be good duty. But in a few hours, some Navy barges pulled along side and loaded about a hundred very burned up soldiers onto the ship. We got underway again and in a day or two we ran into a fair-weather storm. This phenomenon occurs when a tropical storm has passed and is over the horizon. There was not a cloud in the sky or any strong wind. The bridge was about 70 feet from the water and the waves would at times slap the front of the bridge. This kept up for about three days. Almost everyone got very seasick. To compound the situation the temperature ran in the 90º - 100º range.
We came out of the storm into a calm sea and passed through the Great Barrier Reef into the harbor of Townsville, Australia. The Australians got us unloaded and transported to Armstrong Paddock, an Australian fort in the edge of Townsville. The weather was great, and the Australians were so glad to see us. The welcome mat was out everywhere. It was here that I developed a taste for fish and chips, steak and eggs, apple pie and kangaroo hunts.
The aborigine people were fascinating. The weather there is tropical much like Hawaii or southern Florida. In the heat of the day these people would sit in a shady spot without moving a muscle or batting an eye. Sometimes the flies would collect on their face in the corner of their eyes, mouth and nose. They did not blink or fight them off. Their way to combat the heat.
This happy situation came to an end for me when I was appointed Battalion Mess Officer. I found that it was to decrease my popularity to an all time low. The Aussies under the lend lease agreement in effect at that time were supposed to furnish among other things rations for our troops when we were in their country. This was OK except for one important item on our menu, the meat items. About the time I took charge they started issuing mutton as the meat item. We would receive large ungainly carcasses of sheep who were a large tough breed or very old. This was something our GI cooks had never had to cope with. It was amazing what they and their fertile imaginations came up with. Mutton roast, mutton chops, mutton stew, mutton steak, even mutton SOS (Slop On a Shingle) for breakfast.
It got so bad that anyone who had any money left after payday would go off base and eat the good food in the restaurants and carts gathered outside the gate. My popularity had sunk so low that I found myself avoiding crowds and slinking from place to place like I had committed some horrible crime.
Welcome relief came to me when orders came for us to board a Liberty ship in Townsville Harbor. We cleared Armstrong Paddock and its smell of mutton and I was relieved of (among other duties) the joys of being Battalion Mess Officer. Where we were going could not be as bad as facing hundreds of mutton haters.
We joined a convoy forming just outside the Barrier Reef and headed north after about a day and a half. We were briefed on our mission. We were to land and secure the area at Oro Bay on the North East Coast of New Guinea. It was important because there was an airstrip that the Japanese were using to harass shipping and establish bases.
The assault troops went in first, followed by support units, such as our signal unit. The landing was not opposed. The area had been secured earlier by an Infantry Division after suffering heavy casualties. We off loaded from the ship by rope ladder nets into assault boats called LCPs (Landing Craft Personnel).
The tactical troops secured the beach quickly. The Japanese had withdrawn into the jungle. They had also suffered heavy casualties. This was to be our easiest beach landing.
We proceeded to set up near the airstrip and got all our equipment offship and to camp. Radio circuits were set up to units in the operation and to GHQ (General Headquarters) at Port Moresby.
We settled in to a fairly comfortable stay, under palm trees on a beach you see only in brochures of deluxe vacations. But this was not to last.
We found that we were to be involved in another operation. As usual, we had no idea where we were going until underway. We loaded our equipment on an LST and were told that we were to land at Lae. Our mission was to furnish communication support to the units engaging the enemy around Lae and Finschhafen. We would also establish communication to GHQ at Port Moresby. The Landing was unopposed, and we were in operation in a very short time.
The wire section was building a pole line through the jungle toward Finschhafen when friendly paratroopers started dropping on them. Some got caught in palm trees and our pole climbers and cherry pickers rescued several. It seemed that the construction crew had gotten ahead of the tactical units. This situation was to occur again and again, sometimes with unhappy results.
We had settled in and everything was going smoothly when we got a notice that Lt. General C. B. Akin, General MacArthurs Chief Signal Officer, was setting up a friendly intercept station to assist MacArthurs intelligence staff, designated G-2, in gaining intelligence. It was to consist of a radio station capable of monitoring 15 to 20 radio circuits used by units engaging the enemy. A message center capable of decoding these messages and delivering them to G-2 in clear text. Headed by a senior officer. The bombshell was that I, a pipsqueak Second Lt was to be in charge of the radio station. Lt. S. Rehbock had the message center. Capt. O. Pace was the Officer in Charge. Other radio officers were also named. Four were assigned under me. I discovered that two of them had a higher rank than me. I immediately decided this was an impossible situation but was assured I would be promoted soon and not to be concerned about it.
The Aussies had a song that was popular at that time, "Bless Them All." It goes "There will be no promotion this side of the ocean, so cheer up me lads bless them all." There was to be no promotion until just before the Leyte invasion. The differences in rank posed no problem and we all became good friends and pulled together.
I could pick and choose my operators so naturally I wanted the men I had worked with so long. To my surprise I got everyone I asked for. The others, needed later, came from other signal units in the area. During the Philippine operation the number reached over one hundred and fifty.
Our group was ordered to GHQ (General Headquarters) at Port Moresby to form and organize a friendly intercept operation under G-2, the intelligence staff. It was a real challenge because it had not been done before. We had to establish our guidelines as things progressed. A C-47 carried us south over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Port Moresby. There we were attached to a Signal Service Company for administration, rations and quarters. The engineers built us a 100 X 30 foot building and set up 2 100 kw engine generators for power.
We were in service in about a month and started with 10 circuits on frequencies used by units in contact with the enemy. As time went by we began to learn how valuable our work was to the general staff. The messages told G-2 several things. Whether a landing or attack was successful or our troops were taking a beating, casualties suffered, enough supplies and/or ammunition. The units did not know they were being monitored but wondered how GHQ knew to pull back unopposed units to reinforce units that were taking a beating, supplies appeared when needed, air cover or naval support was there also as needed. An officer from G-2 told me that this information came through from us several hours before coming through regular channels.
Things were more relaxed now when tactical operations were slow. We had fewer circuits and everyone had longer time between shifts.
Port Moresby was a beautiful spot. It was on a protected bay surrounded by coconut palms and hourglass sand beaches. The sunsets in the evening put on shows of spectacular colors. The moonlight nights made you want to just stay awake and wonder why God put such a masterpiece of his creation in this land that time had forgotten. Port Moresby was the principal city (settlement) in Papua and was a protectorate of Australia. The principal commercial enterprise was the gathering of copra. The coconut when it falls and starts to sprout forms a white spongy mass inside its shell, which was and is still, used by soap companies such as Lever Bros. and the Palmolive Co. to make fine soaps and cosmetics.
The Australians used the natives to gather the copra, paying them two shillings (about 32 cents) a month and allowing them to buy trinkets and bright colored cloth from their stores. The coming of American GIs and the Yankee dollar put this cozy arrangement in jeopardy. A GI would give a native two bob to climb one coconut palm and throw down a few coconuts.
It was amazing how they did this. Their body never touched the tree. They held to the trunk by their fingers and toes like monkeys. The climb looked as effortless as walking.
These people have lived undisturbed for thousands of years, practicing cannibalism, fighting each other and depending on the natural environment for all their needs. They seemed to be immune to the insects, heat and diseases that plagued any white man who ventured into their world.
The adult men wore a loincloth, seldom any other clothes. The women wore grass skirts, or skirts from the Aussie stores. The children were almost always naked. Occasionally one would have a loincloth or skirt, just to imitate their elders.
Their shelters were grass huts framed up with bamboo secured with grass of vine fastening. The floors were bamboo logs with cracks between so as to be self-cleaning. Tribes near the water built their huts on bamboo piling and decks over the salt water reached by walkways or outrigger canoe. A benefit of this was that flies and mosquitoes seldom flew over salt water.
The people did not seem to know the meaning of clean or sanitary. You could tell if a native was nearby by the stench like body odor they emitted continually. They never took baths and the layer of filth took on a grayish look making some of them look almost like ghosts.
Their hair looked as if it had never been cut. It was black and like sheep wool. The hair just grew straight out from their scalps and made their heads look like a large round ball with a face. The only trimming it got was from wear and tear of every day life going through the jungle rubbing against it, and of sleeping on it as a pillow. Some of them had permanent resident insects in their hair. You could see them crawling in and out of holes in the wool. It did not seem to concern or bother them at all.
I sent Margaret one of the grass skirts (after being sanitized in boiling water). It was plain grey grass and crudely made, nothing like the beautiful grass skirts of Polynesia. Margaret was gracious about it. But she didnt like it enough to wear to any fancy ball.
After about an hours drive through the jungle from Port Moresby, Capt. Pace, Lt. OBrian and I visited Leloki Falls. We were told that Leloki was Papuan for water. Part of the way was through a canyon, which had been carved by the stream that powered the falls. When we got there the scene was unbelievably beautiful. The roar of the falls was deafening. The falling water kept a heavy mist in the air. The cascade started several hundred feet above. There were several falls and rapids leading down to the final falls over a rock outcropping. We could walk across under the falls, a solid rock wall to our right and a curtain of water to our left. The place had palm trees and tropical flowers everywhere. Multicolored parrots added their screeching to the roar and crash of water creating a cacophony of sound.
We came away soaked and awed by the power and beauty of the place. Our opinion was that it would be a world vacation spot some day.
Since then I have not seen any reports or accounts about this jewel of nature. It has probably has been swallowed by the jungle and forgotten.
During this time we were getting training and equipment we needed to carry out our mission. We were monitoring tactical traffic of units in combat in the Finschhafen / Lae campaign on the north coast of the Guinea. Due to the distance across the island some messages were lost due to poor reception. It was decided that we would move into the combat zone near the action.
We loaded our equipment and personnel onto several C-47 airplanes and took off for Finschhafen. While flying over the jungle and Owen Stanley Mountains, the round holes burned into the jungle floor were quite noticeable. The plane crew told us that they were caused by plane crashes caused by mechanical trouble or shot down by enemy fighters.
No effort was made to rescue survivors because it would take days for a rescue party to hack their way in. The environment was so hostile (heat, insects, unfriendly natives, and undrinkable water) that the life expectancy was very short, only a few days. Helicopters were still in the future.
On our arrival at Finschhafen we installed our transmitters on the "Belinda," an Australian freighter, and most of our personnel were quartered on this ship.
The receivers were installed on the "Geoanea" (Jo-anna), a 96 foot tall ship type sail boat which had been owned by the president of the 7-Up Bottling Company. We used the ships generators for power and her masts to support our antennas.
It was thought we would be more mobile and could move from place to place as the tactical situation changed. The enemy resistance was quite strong and the units facing each other had slowed down to close combat. We had not gained air superiority and air raids went on day and night. When a raid was over, Tokyo Rose would come on the air and in perfect English describe the damage done and who was killed or wounded. It was very disturbing and made you wonder about the guy next to you.
Our intelligence did the same to them and a lot more. It was said that Gen. Yamashita had his HQ at the Manila Hotel, and sometimes our propaganda broadcast would give the seating order around the dinner table and what was being served.
The radio traffic became more and more intense. I did not have enough operators to cover all the circuits so some messages were missed. This upset G-2 and the General staff. So Lt. Gen. Akin paid us a visit. He inspected our installation then asked me what I thought was needed to get the coverage wanted. He was very nice to talk to and listened intently to every word I said. I had given the problem lots of thought and told him I believed that we could cover all the needed circuits with 35-40 more good operators and supervising non-coms. He agreed that the idea sounded good and said I would have my operators. This was about mid-morning. About noon a small convoy drove up on the dock and 40 of the most burned up soldiers I have ever seen boiled out of the trucks.
Gen. Akin had sent me the best operators in the area along with 4 first-three-grader supervisors. We put a few on the Geoanea and sent the others to the Belinda to put their belongings away and report back for duty assignments. Well, a couple of hours went by and I was down in the ships galley having coffee. None of the operators had reported back. They were still getting settled, lunch, etc.
At 2:00 PM Gen. Akin returns. The first mate came down to the galley and said that Gen. Akin was up on the deck asking for Lt. Keasler. And warned that he was very upset.
When I got up on deck I could see "that he was very upset" was the classic understatement of all time. His first questions were "Why were the circuits not covered? Where are the operators I sent you?" I explained that they were getting settled. He said he wanted the circuits immediately covered, and for what seemed like hours, I got the most skillful and thorough chewing out I had ever experienced; there had been nothing like it in my entire career. He said that he would give me another chance but implied that my transfer to the infantrys most forward unit would probably reward any incompetence. All this was not lost on my outfit. There were several observers to my humiliation and everyone seemed to have an immediate attitude change. The circuits were covered almost before he cleared the dock. They worked real hard and two or more operators covered the hot circuits so nothing was missed. GHQ sent someone to inspect us every day for a week or two (from Colonels to Captains) but we produced and the crisis passed. There were no more foul ups and the outfit became a hard working and highly skilled team.
So, in a way, the Generals displeasure was good for us. Every one could see that their work was important and could affect the progress of the Pacific Campaign.
Things settled down to a semi-boring routine. The main off duty activity was swimming in the crystal clear water. The sharks were always prowling about and we heard of an attack or two. So when swimmers were in the water, someone was posted on the bow with a rifle. Sharks were pretty smart and would take off when shot at.
The ships crew had an interesting story about their trip in a convoy from the US. Since they were traveling in a convoy, they had no navigator. They were using their engines, and when going by Goudenuf Island, they had engine trouble and stopped in a bay on the island. After getting the engines working again they couldnt sail, because no one could navigate. They inquired around and were told a native in the area could guide them to Finschhafen. He came aboard and it turned out he could not speak English. He just sat up in the bow and would point when a correction was to be made. After a few hundred miles and several days land came into view and there was Finschhafen. The ship dropped anchor and the native disappeared into the jungle and was never seen again.
Margaret and her friend Ruth Packard were comparing notes and from what they could gather we were in the same area. She wrote her husband, Gail, and he called GHQ and they gave him my phone number. I took the ships gig and went down river about 30 miles and brought him back to the station. We spent the day getting acquainted, and after the war we were neighbors and friends for two or three years. Then they moved from the area and we lost contact with them.
This lazy life was about to end. Japanese resistance was ending in the area and mopping up had started.
We got notice to stage for Hollandia, on the north shore of the Guinea. We were to leave the ships and go by air to an airfield, Cyclops Airport, cut out of the jungle north of Hollandia. We boarded a C-47 again. After we loaded the plane with about 35 men and a truckload of equipment, the pilot said he didnt believe the airplane could get off the ground. The crew chief said it could so we moved everything up against the firewall and everyone got as close as we could to the front. The plane seemed to use up most of the runway before the wheels cleared the runway. Then we rose slowly, just barely clearing the palm trees at the end of the runway. We were on our way to Dutch New Guinea, the last stronghold of the Japanese in New Guinea.
We landed at an abandoned Japanese airstrip about 30 miles from Lemock Hill on Hollandia Bay, our destination. All our equipment was loaded aboard a small convoy of trucks and we started off through the jungle. I was on the lead truck in the passenger seat. After we had been under way for about an hour the driver to make conversation remarked that only yesterday a sniper had got an officer riding where I was sitting at about this spot in the jungle. Made me wonder about my choice of seats. Nothing happened and we arrived at our destination on a hilltop overlooking one of the most beautiful bays I have ever seen.
We pitched our camp on an old banana plantation surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants. Right below us ocean going ships were anchored against the shore, unloading directly onto the beach, indicating that the waters edge was a submerged cliff.
Hollandia had been abandoned by the Japanese Tactical Forces but in their haste they had left many of their service people, supply, medics, transportation, etc. Those left behind had taken cover in the jungle and after a time they would come out and try to surrender. But the American soldiers would shoot the Japanese when they saw them. As a result the Japs would watch for an unarmed soldier and come out with their hands in the air. This way they could get into a POW stockade without getting shot.
About a mile away a Japanese ammo dump was burning, setting off bombs and artillery shells at random intervals, sometimes sending shrapnel zinging overhead, sometimes falling in the area. Lucky no one was hit. The natives had their little village set up around the bay on poles in shallow water. They went up the river and around the bay in outrigger canoes, which in their language was "semi semi prow." Most had a carved wooden figurehead on the bow. The theme was a fish eating a bird that in turn was being eaten by a larger fish, until the figurehead contained several fish and bird combinations.
I tried to barter with them for one but they wouldnt give them up. One day one of the officers and I were walking along the beach and there was a canoe with a beautiful figurehead hidden in the under brush. Well, to make a shorter story the work of art was fashioned into a lamp on a black palm (ebony) base and sent to Margaret. I worried a while that a curse might follow me home but, as my throat has not yet been cut, Ill escape any revenge (I think.)
Lt. Boyer, Sgt. Docken and I decided to try our luck fishing with grenades. The Japanese grenade is set off by pulling the pin and hitting the grenade on a hard surface. A fuse is ignited and you have six seconds to throw it and duck before it explodes. We got ourselves about a dozen and went looking for natives to take us fishing for part of the fish. Boyer had removed the TNT and exploding cap from the inside of one of the grenades and put it under his shirt.
We found a couple of boat owners who would take us out. I was in one boat with two native rowers and he in the other. We would set off a grenade and throw it in the water. The resulting explosion would bring dozens of fish of every description to the surface, which were loaded into the canoes. When we decided there was enough fish, Boyer retrieved his disarmed grenade. The natives thought it was a live one. He banged it against the canoe and the fuse started burning. Then he got the awful look on his face of a person who was suffering a heart attack or something just as bad. He grasped his throat with one hand and held on to the grenade with the other. The natives all dived into the water and started swimming away for dear life. When it became clear that a joke had been played on them, they came back and we went ashore. Now we knew that lots of the fish were poisonous or inedible. We told the native to pick out the fish they wanted. They would pick a fish here and there from the pile until they had a small pile of fish and indicated the big one was ours. We took half the small pile. As you can guess, the big pile of fish got left on the beach. We sure got dirty looks and scowls, but when the cooks fried our fish they were delicious. We did not try any more tricks on the natives.
It was here that Special Services set up movies to show to off duty troops in the evening hours. A few of the abandoned enemy soldiers were caught watching the films. Also some were caught going through chow lines after dark.
Hollandia was secured and we were settled into a routine existence when orders came sending us back to Finschhafen. The area was now clear except for mopping up. Here we started staging for the Philippine Invasion. After endless inspections all weapons, equipment, clothing, vehicles, which were not in perfect condition, were replaced with new. Everyone was examined for medical and dental problems. Here we were briefed on what was about to happen. We were headed for the Philippines but the landing site was not disclosed. We would only know just before we got there. This was for security reasons. This also kept the enemy guessing, by not knowing he would have to spread his defense effort thin to cover all likely sites.
We boarded an LST (Landing Ship Troop) and rendezvoused with our task force at sea off the northwest coast of New Guinea. The ship had our Intercept Group, an Australian Airforce Liaison Group, a naval detachment that manned the ships anti-aircraft and 3 and 5-inch cannon mounted on the deck. The task force contained several LSTs, Liberty Ships, Light Cruisers and Destroyers.
After we got underway, other units such as ours started appearing, and in less than 24 hours, the armada had grown so that there were ships in every direction as far as the eye could see: Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, LSTs and troopships.
We had some Aussie Airforce officers aboard who were attached as liaison officers to GHQ. The Canberra, a battlewagon type ship, was in position a short distance from us. It was the cornerstone of their navy and they were very proud of her, and rightly so for she inflicted great damage to Japanese positions during the landing.
As we neared the Philippines other task forces joined us, making the armada all the more formidable. When we were about two or three days out, we were briefed on what to expect. The landing would be on Leyte Island. Our target was to land and secure the Leyte Airstrip near Tacloban. When we were about a day from Leyte, we came under intense air attacks by Japanese Zeroes (fighters) and Mitsubishi bombers. The carriers sent up planes to engage them and all the ships anti-aircraft batteries opened up to fight them off. The sky was filled with flashes and smoke from the shell bursts. The curtain of fire was so thick it seemed that it would be impossible for anything to get through, but most of the planes did get through to attack the ships. Planes, theirs and ours, were being shot down. When they took a hit they would go out of control and crash into the sea.
When a Japanese pilot still had control of his plane after it was badly damaged or on fire, he would try to fly it into a ship, sometimes causing great damage or loss of life. I did not see any ship sunk but some were set on fire or crippled. Many Japanese planes were shot down, but a lot got away to fight another day.
In the early morning the day of the landing, October 20, 1944, the skies were clear and the sea was calm. The Japanese shore batteries opened up on us. Then our BattleWagons, Heavy Cruisers and aircraft from carriers began their work of softening these positions. The 16-inch shells from the ships and the bombs raining from our planes soon had the desired effect of silencing most of the gun emplacements. An exploding 16-inch shell from a battlewagon is an awesome sight, and you wondered why the island did not sink. When they lifted their fire, surprisingly some gun emplacements started firing at us.
The destroyers now had their turn. They went in close and engaged the holdouts. After they had reduced the remaining resistance, the LSTs and troopships moved in and landed the infantry and field artillery units who engaged the enemy ground troops who were in the jungle.
We landed about mid afternoon of the first day. The LST pushed her bow up close on the beach lowered its flap, which served as a ramp for our vehicles and men. We unloaded very quickly and the ship withdrew. We moved off the beach into the jungle. The beach was being bombed and strafed continually. Our aircraft were being shot down by the Zeroes. The Zero was faster than our planes and they had air superiority. It didnt look good.
It was here, I discovered that when an attack started I could hit the dirt headed toward the attacking planes, crawl into my helmet and be safe as at home in bed.
I and several others in our sector were assigned beach master duties. That is, we were given maps and jeeps and helped the units find their equipment and get themselves to their sectors.
After most of the units that were to land that day had landed, and there was a lull in strafing and bombing, there was a flurry of activity down the beach. A Signal Corps photo unit was setting up facing the sea. My First Sgt. Docken and I went over to see what was going on.
We got close to the photographers and here came a LCT (Landing Craft Troop) that drove onto the beach and let her ramp down into about two feet of water. Out came Gen. MacArthur down the ramp into the water followed by several important people connected with the fall of the Philippines. Gen. MacArthur was dressed in a khaki uniform wearing his old, beat up scrambled egg cap. He was not armed. After they were all ashore, he made his "I have returned." speech.
We were only about 50 to 100 feet from him. I felt real awed and proud to have this ringside seat while history was being made.
The next day most of the units were ashore and off the beach. The fighting had moved into the jungle. Someone said that Tacloban was secure. It was only five or ten miles away. I and another officer and our jeep driver decided we would run into Tacloban. When we got there the Filipinos greeted us with money, fruit, flowers and victory signs. They were shaking our hands and telling us how glad they were to see us. We asked someone where the Americans were. They informed us that we were the first they had seen. We whirled around and got back to the beach as fast as we could travel. We were lucky that the Japanese were busy elsewhere or we would have had a real problem.
At this time a liberty ship anchored about a hundred yards off shore started unloading large crates and stripped down fighters onto barges. They were dumped onto the beach and crews started assembling P-38 fighters, the first we had seen. They got five or six assembled and running between raids. Maj. Richard Bong and five of his pilots took them upstairs and when the Japanese came over for their turkey shoot, the P-38s dropped out of the sky and shot most of them down without losing a single plane. Things began to change and we could move again.
Gen. MacArthur presented Major Bong the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and leadership in gaining and maintaining air superiority. He presented the Medal to Major Bong on the Tacloban airstrip with these words "Major Richard Bong, who has ruled the air from New Guinea to the Philippines, I now induct you into the society of the bravest of the brave."
We moved into Tacloban and set up our camp on a hillside on the edge of town. I mention this because some interesting things happened here while we were waiting for the town to be cleared of Japanese defenders. First of all we were on a Filipino farm. The colonel in charge decided the farmhouse was in the way and ordered the family moved and the house and outbuildings burned and the area smoothed by a bulldozer. The crew detailed to do the job were very burned up almost to the point of mutiny. After all, the Japanese didnt burn the Filipino homes.
That night a hurricane type storm struck and leveled the camp. Tents and anything loose were scattered all over the landscape. Some of the ships that were still unloading were blown aground and stranded. Most of us just wrapped ourselves in our panchos and weathered the storm in the lee of trucks, crates or trees. The storm was over by daylight. I found a cot and lay down on it and went to sleep. I was completely exhausted. About midmorning we were all awakened and alerted by loud popping sounds like a .22 caliber rifle being fired near your head. Everyone knew a sniper had our camp as his target. Surprisingly, no one was hit. We determined his location, by the muzzle blasts and smoke from his rifle, in a tree about four or five hundred yards away. Most everyone with rifles opened up on him and silenced him real quick.
The sniper was a Japanese soldier who had tied himself in the tree. He wore real thick Coke bottle like glasses. He was just shooting at our camp. Im sure he couldnt see individuals.
While at this camp the Japanese would fly low over our heads going in to attack Tacloban. When they came over, everyone with or near a weapon would shoot at them. They were so fast our puny fire seemed to have no effect.
The kitchen trucks had .50 caliber machine guns mounted on a ring mount over the driver and passenger seats. One of the drivers fired a burst and hit a Zero head on and set him afire. He crashed into the hills on the other side of town. The driver was credited with downing a fighter. He painted a small Japanese flag on the side of his truck.
This restful camp life was not to last. We were ordered into town to set up our intercept station in a garage and bowling alley across the street from Price House, the house MacArthur chose for his headquarters.
We got real busy and set up our receivers in a garage. In about 24 hours we had antennas up, power plant running, equipment in operation, operators busy receiving tactical traffic. Our message center was decoding and sending the clear text copy to GHQs G-2 across the street. We took up quarters in abandoned stores and other buildings in the area.
I found myself in a bowling alley. It was pretty neat. We had a roof over our heads and with mosquito nets over the windows which kept out most of the ever-present flies and mosquitoes. The engineers dug us a six foot deep trench alongside the building. As the Japanese bombers were overhead almost all the time, when they got close we would get out of our cozy quarters and into the trench.
This went on for quite awhile and no bombs had hit close. I had been without sleep except for naps for several days, was so tired and sleepy I could just stop moving and go to sleep. Well, I decided I would stay in my sleeping bag raids or no. The very first night about 3:00 AM they dropped a block buster on the street intersection near our bowing alley. It lifted a piece of asphalt paving about the size of a living room rug and dropped it on the end where the pins were. It flattened that end of the building. As you can imagine, it spoiled my nights sleep because I and a couple of other guys were sleeping at the end where people start the balls rolling. After that we got under cover when the fireworks started.
During these raids, Gen. MacArthur would come out of his quarters and watch the action. Sometimes he would shake his fists at the airplanes. He never wore a helmet and did not wear side arms. He would ride around the area in an open jeep with a Filipino driver and a Filipino soldier in the back seat with a Thomson submachine gun, which were notorious for their short range and inaccuracy. Numerous snipers were spotted and killed in the area but none were able to get him. It was said that God would protect him because he was being used to rid the world of the evil that was opposing us.
The Filipinos almost believed this also and that he did indeed lead a charmed life. One thing everyone agreed upon was that Gen. MacArthur did not suffer from an inferiority complex.
One night Sgt. Docken and I got the word to come to the mess hall. Sgt. Kruger, the mess sergeant, had a surprise for us. It seems that he had gotten a sack of apples from a Filipino in the area and he had made a large pan of fresh apple strudel. It was the best dessert I had tasted since leaving home. We who got to eat it felt guilty because others didnt get to taste it. There was not enough to divide among the two or three hundred people who ate there.
We could see from the messages we were receiving that a big naval battle was about to take place in Leyte Gulf. The Japanese were sending two units in a pincer maneuver to converge on our landing area. They were expected to land a task force to try and take back the beachhead that we had established.
Orders were received to evacuate Tacloban and take up defensive positions in the hills. Key codes and equipment were loaded on trucks and we moved into the hills. I had not slept except for catnaps for days and was completely exhausted. I took a blanket, a rifle and canteen and found a comfortable grassy spot in a dry gulch. That night the Japanese Airforce hit Tacloban with everything they had. The pounding went on for hours. The Filipinos had been warned but most chose to stay with their homes.
There was nothing we could do but wait and see, so I rolled up in my blanket and went to sleep. When I awoke in the morning everyone was gone (They couldnt find me!) and all was quiet. Turns out the naval battle had gone in our favor and the Japanese task force had withdrawn.
I got out on the road to hitch a ride back to the station. An army Colonel came along in a jeep. He gave me a ride into town. We were in the edge of town and an air raid started. As a vehicle was a favorite target to strafing fighters, we ran into a schoolhouse. The scene that met our eyes was unbelievable. There were people in the halls and rooms, most of them wounded or dead. Some of the wounds were grievous and the floors were red with blood. They were trying to help each other. The most heart breaking were little children torn apart or in some cases weeping over a wounded or dead parent. We expected soldiers to be wounded or die in battle, but at least they could fight back.
These people chose to stay in their homes while the town was bombed. I was so touched. I was actually sick and couldnt help shedding tears for them. Even now I cant recall that scene without feeling a deep sense of sadness.
On that day a voice was heard in Rama
We went to the field hospital and told them of the situation. They sent a doctor and medics to help the wounded. This scene was repeated all through the town.
In a few hours we were back in operation. The threat had passed and things went fairly smooth except for snipers and bombings.
On January 4, 1945 we boarded an LST for the invasion of Luzon. We joined a task force off the coast of Leyte and went through the Mindanao Straits into the Sulu Sea then north past Panay Island into the South China Sea.
The ships PA system failed one morning and the communications officer asked me to look at it. I was lucky to find a bad tube and after replacement the system was OK. The C.O. was showing me around the bridge. The sailor at the wheel said a formation of planes was approaching from the north and that he thought they were Zeroes, but the leading destroyers were ignoring them so they must be ours. About that time General Quarters sounded and battle stations were manned. All ships with anti-aircraft weapons started firing. Small blooms of black smoke and flashes of the shell bursts blanketed the planes. They kept formation and flew toward the rear of the convoy where the troop ships were.
These were Liberty ships carrying about an infantry regiment. The Japs had done their homework and maintained an altitude at which our artillery was not effective.
When they got to the troop ships one peeled off and went into a power dive toward a ship. But before he could reach it, the navy gunners blew him apart and the airplane fell in burning pieces into the sea. The second dived for his target but met the same fate as the first. The third one was set afire by tracers but the pilot was able to guide the flaming plane into his target. There was an explosion and a gaping hole appeared aft of amidships. The ship caught fire and started turning in a tight circle with a damaged rudder. They started lowering lifeboats and men were jumping overboard to escape the fire.
The fourth airplane circled a couple of times and flew off toward Luzon. He was there to see that the others did their duty. It was a Kamikaze attack, a group of pilots who volunteered to fly themselves and their airplanes into an enemy (us) target.
During the time of Genghis Kahn when the Chinese warlords set out by ships from China with an army to invade the Japanese homeland, the Japanese were helpless to stop his overpowering war machine. But before he could reach Japan a mighty tempest formed on the face of the deep and wrecked most of Kahns ships and drowned thousands of his men. He pulled back to China and the Kamikaze or Divine Wind saved Japan.
The Japanese suicide pilots chose this name for their group.
The convoy did not stop to help the crippled ship but continued on toward their destination. We were told the ships crew put out the fire and made repairs and reached the landing site about three days late.
On the ninth day after leaving Leyte, January 13, 1945, we entered Lingayen Gulf. The naval battlewagons rained their big shells on the town of Dagupan, the hills and the beaches. This had gone on for three days and should have reduced any resistance the Japs could muster. But when we started in to the beach, they started shelling the beach from the surrounding hills. It seems they had their artillery on railroad tracks and could pull them into caves during the bombardment. The shells were causing all sorts of damage to our ships and landing parties.
Our airplanes saved the day by setting the Jap installations afire with napalm, a jelly like incendiary that burned or suffocated any living thing it hit. This silenced their artillery and the landing progressed with only weak opposition. There was lots of floating debris in the water. The Japanese were sending men under the floating boxes with magnetic mines which they would attach to a ships hull below the waterline and the explosion would blow a hole in the ship. To counter this threat, everything of any size floating in the bay was riddled by rifle or machine gun fire.
We got ashore and I had maps of where we were to set up our station. When we got into the little town of Dagupan we found that the naval gunfire had just about leveled the town. When the bombardment started the Japs pulled out and the Filipinos stayed in their homes. As a result there was much loss of life and grievous wounds among the civilian population. It was much like the bombardment damage of Tacloban. I wont detail the scene except one incident that I shall never forget. Sgt. Farmer, Sgt. Docken and I found the place we were supposed to set up. A high security wall surrounded it. We saw a large hole where a shell had hit. We went through the wall and lying on the grass was a Filipino woman in a white Filipino dress. She had been decapitated by shellfire. Her body was mangled and covered with dried blood and her head was about 10 to 15 feet away. The neck wound was down and it looked like she was sleeping, her eyes closed, a peaceful look on her face and her upswept hairdo did not have a hair out of place.
The messages we picked up at the intercept station were almost all encoded in letter and sometimes number groups that were meaningless to anyone without the proper code. They were rated according to their importance, Classified, Confidential, Secret, Top Secret. Classified being mostly about administrative matters to Top Secret which was information which if disclosed to the enemy would endanger the national security.
Our message center was located on the second floor of a building in the middle of town. They decoded the messages and sent them to MacArthurs' G-2 or intelligence staff. The building was heavily guarded by MPS at the entrance and around the building. One day a Filipino came to the front door waving a paper and wanting to talk to the Officer in Charge. The guards told him he couldnt go in and to go away.
He kept insisting. Finally Lt. Rebock came out and talked to the man. It seems he saw the paper he had fall from the second floor window and he wanted to return it. That piece of paper had one of our Top Secret codes on it. Of course it was now compromised and everyone had to quit using and destroy all copies of this code. There were some red faces around the message center for a few days.
This incident recalls one at Hollandia, New Guinea, when MacArthurs housekeeper on Lemok Hill sent an order for lace curtains back to the states classified as top secret. We never knew how that one came out.
We left Lingayen by convoy January 24, 1945. The Japanese ground forces were being driven south toward Manila. We were to stop at San Miguel, a settlement in the middle of a sugarcane plantation. There was a big brewery there that turned the sugarcane juice into rum. When the Japs moved into the area, they took it over to make alcohol to power their vehicles and airplanes. The alcohol worked very well for them. The engines had fewer problems than with fossil fuels.
I was in the lead jeep leading our radio section convoy. Well, about mid-afternoon we ran into a little village. The excited Filipinos were loading us with fruit, money and flashingVictory Joe signs. It seems that I had failed to turn left at the last intersection and we were the first Yanks they had seen. We were in enemy territory. I turned the convoy around and we got out of there and back to San Miguel. This time I had the red face.
When we got to San Miguel, we were going down the main street and we passed a house with a woman and a small child laying in the front yard. They had been shot. We found out later that the woman had been living with a Japanese soldier. The Filipinos killed them when the Japs pulled out. When asked, "Why had they killed the baby?" They said that it was half-Japanese.
We didnt set up the station in San Miguel because the situation was very fluid and we were on alert to move at very short notice. There were other units around us in the same state of alert. We just marked time for about three weeks. Nothing really happened except some of the surrounding units reported that a man here and there had his throat cut while sleeping. This made everyone a bit nervous and most everyone slept with a loaded rifle or with a pistol with a shell in the chamber. We doubled our guard and made sure everyone knew if you had to move about at night for nature calls, etc. The Japanese commandos did a good job of disrupting our routine.
One day we were informed that a Japanese infantry company was moving in our direction. Most of the infantry and other combat troops were beginning the siege of Manila. It was up to us to defend the area. We along with the other outfits spread out on either side of the road the Japs were supposed to use. Our outfit was deployed in a dry gulch with a good view of the road.
After a few hours the alert was called off. An American infantry company had ambushed the Japanese about three or four miles away.
On February 5, 1945 we were ordered to move out to Manila and set up in Quezon City just off Rizal Avenue in the northern part of the city.
From San Miguel to Manila the road was clogged with refugees, families fleeing the city to get out of harms way. They were carrying their most treasured possessions and any food they had. Some of the more fortunate had pushcarts or carts pulled by animals such as donkeys, horses, goats and water buffalo. There were women, children and old men. The younger men were in guerilla groups or had joined the Americans to fight the hated invader. As we entered the city from the north, we noticed that the ditches on the side of the road were running with a liquid which looked like a heavy rain flow, but the day was clear, not a cloud in the sky. On closer inspection we discovered that it was beer. A brewery near by had taken an artillery shell in the wall of its vat. The vat covered about a city block with about four to five feet of beer stored in it. Some of the soldiers were scooping it up in their helmets and dashing it on their friends. What a mess.
Rizal Avenue runs from the northern outskirts in a straight line to the heart of the city. About three miles from downtown there was a monument in the middle of the street to President Rizal, an early day president and statesman who did much for the Filipino people. On the east side of the monument there was a large cemetery. Our orders were to set up in a house a few blocks to the west.
There were several large vacant lots around the place that gave us space to set up camp, antennas, engine generators, cooking area, etc. The house was large and spacious and we used it to set up our radio station. The wire section started laying wire to G-2 at GHQ and in a few short hours we had our circuits operating and were feeding information to MacArthurs intelligence at G-2.
It was now clear that the Japanese were making their stand in downtown along the Pasig River. The artillery set up emplacements north of us in a large arc east to west. The closest were about a half to three-quarters of a mile north of us. We had no way of knowing how many, but there must have been hundreds of 155 mm Howitzers and 75 mm field pieces each firing a round a minute over our heads into downtown Manila. This went on around the clock. To add to the din a Japanese ammunition dump was burning within sight of our installation sending shrapnel whizzing overhead at random intervals. The artillery sounded much like a thunderstorm. We could see the shells coming about 500 - 1000 feet high and watch them go into their targets. As they went overhead they sounded like someone crumpling newspaper.
This went on for most of the time we were there and believe it or not we got used to it and began to hardly notice. Occasionally, a shell would fall short when the propelling charge was defective or measured wrong. We were very lucky none fell on us.
Our neighbors were very friendly and glad to see us. Their food supply was almost non-existent and inflation had made their money worthless. The Filipinos are a proud people and would not ask for food. But their children would come and just stand around while we were eating. Almost everyone saw that enough was left in his mess kit to help fill the childrens pans and pails. They even wanted our used coffee grounds.
After being under the heel of the tyrant for so long, suffering untold humiliation, indignities, loss of worldly goods and seeing their country ravaged by an unfeeling conqueror, they had little time or sympathy for those who collaborated with the Japanese.
We needed some plywood to build operating positions. We found out that a Mr. Sun who had a lumber yard and hardware store had the plywood we needed. MSgt. Docken and Sgt. Smigelsky started out to find the place, which was not far away. They came back and said a group of Filipinos had Mr. Sun captive and were making him dig a grave. We went back and, sure enough, he had been collaborating with the Japs and they were going to bury him alive. I told them we would take him off their hands because we needed him. They turned him over without question. An officer was to be obeyed at any cost.
The man was so grateful that he opened his store to us and said he could get anything we needed. As a result we fixed our station up with all the comforts of home. He also said he wanted to put on a Chinese dinner for his rescuers.
True to his word in about a week he had us to his place. The dinner started about 8:00 PM in the upstairs part of his business. The place was something out of the Arabian Nights. Deep carpets and wall hangings, dazzling Chinese art objects were displayed artistically. We were served dish after dish of exotic food and drank birds nest soup, ate squid, shark and on and on. There were bottles of American liquor in stamped unopened bottles, wines and liqueurs from America and Europe. This went on until after midnight. We could only take a bite or two of each dish. When it was over and we were ready to go we found that he had guards with Tommy guns guarding our jeeps so they would not be stolen.
I took notes during dinner about the different dishes but they have been lost.
One of the neighbors, a Filipino couple, had two children, a boy about five years old and a girl about seven. They were over almost every day at mealtime. The father told us that the little girl could speak and understand 7 languages: Chinese, Japanese, English, Spanish and three Filipino dialects. She was a natural linguist, being able to learn a language by just talking with someone.
We had a USO group come to the area. For an afternoon and an evening they had a piano and a couple of brass instruments and a vocalist. When the program was over the MC asked if there were any amateurs who could play the piano. One of the radio operators who was a bit older than everyone else and who quietly kept to himself, stepped up to the piano. He sat down and played for about 30 minutes, beautiful classical music. Everyone was spellbound. Turns out he was head of the music department at a large eastern university. Just reinforced what everyone knew. The army had a lot of round pegs in square holes.
A landmark near by which should get a few words was the cemetery across Rizal Avenue. It was large, covering two or more city blocks. It was beautifully landscaped and had cobblestone roads throughout. All faiths were represented from simple crypts with little more that the name, birth and death date to elaborate Buddhist temple-like tombs for one person or entire families with quarters for a caretaker. The cemetery was owned by the city. All crypts and tombs were above ground and the deceased and family rented their crypts from the city. All was well as long as the rent was paid. When there was no one to pay, the persons bones were removed and thrown on a large heap near the entrance and his resting-place was made ready for a rent-paying occupant.
The fighting was block by block and was moving toward downtown. It was clear the Manila, the "Pearl of the Orient," would be in ruins when it was over.There was a small Protestant Church located in a residential area about five or six blocks toward downtown from our position. One Sunday morning two friends and I decided to attend the Sunday morning service. We got there just as it was starting. The Church was almost filled with members and soldiers such as we.
It was communion Sunday and the pastor had chosen the 91st psalm (The soldiers psalm) as his Bible reference. Every one knelt at the rail before the altar to partake of the bread and the wine. We were closer to the fighting now and the noise was very loud. Our artillery was shelling the Japanese positions and a shell dropped close by. It shook the earth and a shower of dust came down from the ceiling. But everyone stayed in place as if nothing had happened, and there was no panic.
This reminded us how appropriate the 91st Psalm was, now, just as it was when the psalmist wrote it so long ago.
We came away assured that Divine Providence was caring for us and would continue to do so until the end of this nightmare we were passing through.
I got several letters one afternoon. Margaret wrote almost every day and Mother about once a week. In a letter from mother she said that the way the war was going I was probably in the Philippines and might get to Manila. If so, two people she knew were imprisoned at "Santo Thomas" University. They had been taken prisoners when the Philippines fell. They were Mrs. Linnie Hodges, mothers teacher when she was a girl, and Mrs. Bowman, her sister, who was visiting when the Japanese attacked.
Well, "Santo Thomas" was about ten blocks toward downtown from our position. I got in a jeep and went down there. The Cavalry had the place surrounded and had made a deal with the Japanese commander to allow him and his men safe passage to the Japanese lines rather than take the place by force and endanger the prisoners. It was learned later that the Japs were going to kill the prisoners if the Americans attacked.
There were some very tense moments while the Japs marched down the street to their lines. One trigger-happy shot could have caused a bloodbath. The Americans kept their word even though they could have massacred the Japs after they cleared the prison.
I got inside and in a short time found Mrs. Hodges and Mrs. Bowman. They were just skin and bones and could hardly walk. The Japanese had quit feeding them when we landed on Luzon, systematically starving them to death. The punishment for breaking the rules was death by beheading. All prisoners had to watch. They cooked weeds and any dog or cat that ran through. The Filipinos threw food over the wall when they could, at the risk of losing their own lives.
It turned out that Mrs. Hodges birthday was the next day. I got our cooks to make her a cake. Docken and I took it to them. They had a party with about 30 of their friends. Each of them had a small piece of cake. It was the first cake or sugar they had tasted since being imprisoned.
The medics went right to work. They had had no medical care and were on the verge of starvation, but most responded well.
When they could travel Mrs Hodges wanted to go home to Panay Island but they had to get there on their own. I had several months pay coming so I found a finance unit, drew out the pay that I had coming and gave it to them. They took passage on a small inter-island boat and found their home and business burned, but recovered much of their jewelry from a store they owned. They had buried it before the Japs took them prisoner.
Mr. Hodges escaped on a submarine and spent the war in the states. This is a long story in itself. Mr. Hodges paid back the money to Margaret that I had given them and after the war they went back to Panay Island and rebuilt their home and business. They asked Margaret and me to come over and they would give me a job. We never accepted because I couldnt see living there. Life is too short.
We saw them after the war was over. Mrs. Bowman said she might write a book about their experiences. Dont think she did.
The fighting moved on at a slow, block by block pace through the business district across the Pasig River into the Intramuros, or Walled City. We watched as these historic buildings and walls were pounded to rubble because the Japanese chose to make a stand there. One church was unscathed during the siege because G-2 found that it contained refugees. Our artillery carefully avoided shelling close to it.
This contrasted with another incident in a residential area near the Walled City. The Japanese moved into the area and rounded up all the people and imprisoned them in a firehouse. Then doors were locked and windows boarded up and the building was burned. This apparently was done to be sure no one escaped to reveal where they were hiding. After this the weapon of choice for the GIs in close was the flame-thrower.
The Manila Hotel was located across Dewey Boulevard from the Walled City. The Japanese High Command had their headquarters here and had been driven south by our advance. The place was in a shambles. Dewey Blvd. had been mined. The mines had been placed at random intervals along the waterfront drive, but they were ineffective. They had cut the holes in the pavement and dug holes for the mines. When they placed the mines they put all the dirt on top of the mine then placed the pavement patch back on top. It stuck up above the rest of the road and could be spotted a block away and avoided because they should have disposed of the soil the mines displaced.
The fighting moved out of the city and we moved into a small barrio south of the city where we went into a semi-permanent mode.
We had about ten circuits, monitoring our units which were mopping up holdout Japanese units. We also set up high speed teletype and voice circuits to San Francisco and Washington D.C. The area was secure and we could relax and sleep soundly at night. We had cots to sleep on. I traded a typewriter for an air mattress with a navy unit that shared the site with us. Such luxury!
It was while we were here that the two Japanese commanders in the area, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita and Gen. Masaharu Homma were captured and tried as war criminals, The Military Tribunal convicted Gen. Yamashita of failing to prevent the massacre of Filipino civilians and the wanton destruction of Manila. After appeals to Gen. MacArthur and the US Supreme Court were denied, he was put to death by hanging on February 23, 1946. Gen. Homma was convicted of not preventing the horrors inflicted on American and Filipinos during the infamous Bataan Death March. He was executed by musket fire in April, 1946. Execution by rifle fire is considered a more honorable death than by hanging.
Now the Filipino people were more relaxed and relieved to know that these two men who allowed such terrible things to happen were gone and could no longer harm them.
Mail call was every day now and Margaret, Mother and Mary Anne managed to have a letter reach me almost every day. Mary Anne said that Earnest McCasland was in the Philippines and could be near me. Earnest was her brother-in-law and RCs (her husbands) brother. She wrote me the name of his outfit, an infantry combat unit. A check with GHQ revealed that they were only about 30 miles away. Their mission was to take a dam in the hills that was held by the Japanese. The dam impounded water for the Manila water system.
I got a jeep. Sgt. Farmer found out where I was going and wanted to go along to ride shotgun. We found the area and about the last five miles there was a sign saying this road is under enemy sniper fire. Well, we decided to step on the gas and go real fast to make a poor target. It worked, because I dont think we were fired on. When we arrived we found some soldiers dug in about 100 yards from the dam in a ravine. The sergeant said he thought Earnest was up closer to the dam. We stayed low and went in closer until we came to another group, an officer and a squad of men.
The officer said that Earnest had been sent back to the rear to guard their supply dump. He drew us a rough map and we had no trouble finding him. He and a Filipino boy about 12 years old were there alone. The boy was a homeless orphan that Earnest had taken under his protection and said he hoped to get him to the states and adopt him as his son. We spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting and talking about home and loved ones.
We left just before sundown and got back to base without incident. Earnest told Mary Ann later that he was worried about us because the road we took was under sniper fire most of the time.
He also told me that, along with himself, only a handful of men were left of the original company he was in. Being an infantry company it stayed in harms way all the time. The only men that went out were those who went out feet first, replaced by new people as needed. He was unable to adopt the Filipino boy because of unreasonable and endless red tape.
At Batangus, a barrio south of Manila, we kept busy setting up long-range high-speed circuits to San Francisco and Washington D.C. We were also getting new equipment, electronics and weapons and being briefed on our next operation, the invasion of the Japanese homeland.
Our mission would be to furnish electronic surveillance of the troops, and our landing would be on the southeast side of Honshu. We were to gather information, decode it and pass it to G-2, MacArthurs intelligence staff.
The Japanese army, the civilian population, old men, women and adults would fight to the death with clubs, knives, farm tools or any kind of weapon. Little children were to be rigged with grenades and caused to run to groups of soldiers and blow themselves up. Estimated casualties for us could reach 80%.
The prospect of this invasion seemed to be the most dangerous we had had to face in the last two and a half years. We paid very close attention to all the briefings and checked and rechecked our equipment and what each of us was to do.
Then the bomb (Little Boy) fell, and Fat Man delivered the final blow. The war was over. Japan surrendered and the world had entered the atomic age, like it or not.
It happened so suddenly, we couldnt believe it was over. But soon all we could think of was getting home to loved ones and thanking the Lord God, mighty in battle, for bringing strength and success to our arms.
My thoughts are that President Truman was right to order the atomic attack, because it saved untold massive loss of life on both sides. Gen. MacArthur handled the campaign and the peace process as no other. When the war ended he turned a dedicated, cruel and efficient fighting machine into a submissive and docile nation. I think he should have been given a free hand in the Korean takeover by the Chinese. It would have assured an undivided Korea.
Other thoughts that come to mind are words of some great men of the past. They are:
Keep our armed forces strong.
Keep our promises to the men and women who have stood and will stand between tyranny and us. Most of all, we must look for and stop the moral decay that is creeping over us like a malignant cancer, remembering that a nation not ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants.
Vaughn, WA USA
I would like to express my thanks for the following people, without whose love and support, this account could not have been created.
Dexter and Kathy Keasler, who assembled and set up a computer, then introduced and trained me in the world of word processing.
Bill Keasler who spent hours working on and making sense of the material and photos. His invaluable constructive criticism and web site know how along with his publishing experience made the pieces mesh and become a finished document.
MSgt. Orien Docken who was my best friend and strong right arm through out the entire campaign. He furnished the photos and an outline of dates and sequences of events that happened over a half century ago.
My wife Margaret whose love, encouragement, help with my writing, spelling and grammar was invaluable. She got me started and would gently urge me on when at times I wanted to stop. Margaret also created the map by hand.
Don and Peggy Peterson, our dear friends who spent hours proof reading and correcting spelling. Their work and constructive criticism were of great help.
Our friends Les and Harriet Dooly, who offered valuable suggestions, proof reading, corrections and encouragement.
The text for this page was adapted from the hardcopy book
of the same name and author.