Monthly Archives: November 2012
Guard Duty? Letter XVI part one
15 January 1945, all of the 11th Airborne Division was back on Bito Beach where they rested for a short time. As Japan experienced an earthquake, they took advantage of their position to re-organize, get re-equipped, re-trained and with a little time left over – they wrote letters home.
Letter XVI Guard Duty Monday 1/15/45
You have received many notes from me in the past that always seem to contain one line that went something like this, “Have to go on guard duty tonight ____.” Now in this letter I hope to be able to picture for you convincingly enough my first night on guard duty. Please remember, all through this letter, that this place at the time was threatened at ALL times by the Japs and never for one moment were we allowed to forget it — especially at night.
My first trick on guard was posted for the hours of 9 to 11pm with a four-hour sleep period before going on as second sentry relief. We were to be ready for immediate action. This was also the first time I had to stand guard with a loaded rifle, so instead of feeling safe and secure, it tends to make me that much more nervous and apprehensive.
At eight-forty-five sharp, we were called out, inspected and told the password and counter sign. We were then marched away, in a body, to our respective posts, told the special orders pertaining to that particular post and then left alone. The quick, short steps of the guard soon grow faint and they rapidly walk on until all you can hear is the beat of your heart.
As soon as I realized that I was alone and on my post, I tried vainly to pierce the darkness and see just where I was and what was around and near me. It generally takes from five to ten minutes before your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, but before that happens, I found out that your mind sees things and imagines most anything from a Jap standing or crouching down. You try to shake off the feeling, but damn it all — how can you?
After a while, you begin to see things in their true form and you notice that the standing Jap is nothing but a small palm tree and that sinister apparition is only some old debris or fallen tree. As these things unfolded before in their real form, I heaved a great sigh and relieved my tightened grip on my rifle. Boy! What a relief I thought and was just about to sling my rifle over my shoulder when suddenly I heard a noise.
I crouched down trying desperately this time to see what my ears had just heard, when again, I heard a faint sound — only this time it was in back of me or maybe on the side. All sorts of thoughts run rampant through your mind at this stage and mine were really running wild.
You try to remember things you were taught about for situations such as these, but at the time the lessons were given, they seemed boring and so you didn’t pay much attention. Now I wish I had listened and desperately tried to recall to mind what little I did hear. Seconds seemed liked hours, my legs were getting numb, but I was too damned scared to move a muscle for fear of giving away my position to whatever was around. “Where the hell is that man?” I thought to myself. Gosh, it sure was quiet and still that night. I even tried to stop breathing for fear it would be heard.
Suddenly, your eyes pick out a strange object that wasn’t there before, or so your memory tells you. You watch it for a while, then — oh, oh — it moves, sure as hell, it moved — there it goes again.
I could see it then, just an outline, but that was clear enough for me. I held my breath and at the same time brought my rifle up and aimed it. Now, I was in a mess. What if it was an American soldier out there or the next guard? The book covers this well, you remember it says, “Yell out, in a clear distinctive voice, HALT, at least three times.” That’s fine I thought, but dammit, the guy who wrote that isn’t out there with me now and I’d bet he wouldn’t yell “HALT” at least three times.
Well, I won the bet and only yelled once and waited for the password. Again, minutes seemed like hours, suppose he didn’t hear me, should I yell again? Suppose it is another guard and he thinks I’m only kidding or it’s nothing but a swaying branch, what a mess, what do I do? All these thoughts flash thru your mind and you are about to get up and yell again, but it moves back — that’s a Jap. Without hesitation now, you pull the trigger and then in excitement, before you release your finger, you hear instead of one shot, three or more ring out.
Flash lights appear from nowhere as men come out anxiously looking about and trying to find out what the noise is about. In the dim rays of their lights, you find that what you thought was a hoard of Japs surrounding you is nothing or was nothing more than a dog or wild pig prowling about. You feel about the size of a ten cent piece, I sure did. Inwardly you are proud to note that what you aimed at in the darkness, you hit and that a few are even remarking about that wonderful feat. You aren’t even shaking anymore. In fact, you notice to your most pleasant surprise you are no longer afraid.
Soon tho, you are left alone again, but this time the loneliness isn’t so bad and you know that soon you will be relieved and another “first night” will come along and make the same mistakes you did.
to be continued …
Short war stories
Caribou were often used as pack animals in the Philippines, but with the constant monsoons, they often became bogged down in the muck. The troopers of the 11th discovered one other difficulty that no one apparently thought about previously – keep the males and females separated! When the occasion arose that a female went into heat, the chaos that erupted between the males turned out to be more than the G.I.s could deal with.
The region west of Ormoc Bay had a difficult range of mountains that subsequently created a barrier. The terrain was a combination of broken ground and low hills in the north with fields either under cultivation or covered with cogon grass. In the southern high hills and rocky ridges were grasslands that emerged into dense forestation. This would become the only possible route of escape for the Japanese.
It seemed that General MacArthur’s promotion to General of the Army would require assistance from many sides. It posed a problem in the respect that there was no such object as a five-star insignia in existence in the Pacific. A clever Filipino silversmith created one from a miscellaneous collection of Dutch, Australian and Filipino coins.
Being the tomboy that I was, I often pestered my father for more war stories. I had read and re-read the scrapbook countless times but I wanted (for some strange reason) to know exactly what war and the combat experience my father went through was REALLY like. Certainly Smitty wasn’t too thrilled to tell his “little girl” the horrors that went on, but after sizing me up he started talking.
“I’ll only tell you this story because the guy deserves to be remembered. I didn’t really know him, maybe he was one of the replacements. He was just a kid, but he probably saved my life and the rest of the camp too for that matter. He had guard duty on a little nothing of a bridge. No enemy was supposed to be in the area. We weren’t expecting any confrontation, but I know from experience that the poor kid had to be a nervous wreck. Best we could all figure was, he heard something out there. It could have been anything. Lord knows there are enough birds and animals around, hell – the bugs are big enough to rustle the leaves and the jungle gets blacker than you can imagine. More and likely he yelled out for a password and didn’t get one back or didn’t like what he did hear. The Japs used to call out ‘Hey, Joe’ a lot; they thought we were all named Joe. Maybe the kid was so scared that he just pulled the trigger. Whatever happened, he began shooting into the jungle on the far side of the bridge. The rest of us guys shot out of our bed so fast we nearly came out of our skins – grabbing our rifles and scrambling to get out there.
“The Japs were storming the bridge and that kid kept shooting till he finally fell. We think we finished off the rest of them and we made a count. (Counting how many enemy dead) I came back across that bridge and looked down. The kid had nearly been shot in half. All I could do was salute.”
Smitty always had a “far-away” look when he spoke about the service and the war, but you really had to pry the stories out of him.
By the end of December, the enemy had suffered 113,221 casualties and lost 2,748 planes. The American loss was reported at 11,217. This time also marked the point when Japanese General Yamashita sustained perhaps the greatest defeat in his country’s history. Ninety percent of enemy troops on Leyte were killed or committed suicide.
From Saipan, Allied B-29s were beginning to make their bombing runs over mainland Japan.
21 December 1944, General Swing and Col. Quandt flew to Manarawat in cub planes. Upon landing, the general was said to look “as muddy as a dog-faced private.” (Swing would often be in the thick of things and this description of him was common.) He slept that night in the camp’s only nipa hut, which ended up being destroyed the next day.
(click photos to enlarge)
YANK magazine. November 26th
Click on photos to enlarge.
Try viewing the videos on YouTube by typing in : 11th Airborne Division
I am certain you will enjoy the actual footage available on this site.
11th A/B and Ormoc, Leyte
During November alone, 23 inches of rain fell and the battles for Leyte were being won amidst four typhoons. Roads began to collapse and wash away, mud slides abounded and distinguishing a rice paddy from a campsite was impossible. Foxholes were completely flooded.
The Saturday issue of the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, QLD.), on 9December 1944 had bold headlines splash across the front page:
Daring American Landing In Rear of Ormoc
Ormoc Harbor, the enemy’s rear, an amphibious operation with air and naval support went three miles south of Ormoc and headed north catching the enemy unawares.
They seized the center of the Yamashita line from the rear and split the enemy forces in two. The enemy landed parachute troops during the night in the vicinity of San Pablo.
The latest landing was one of the most daring tactical moves of the Leyte Campaign.
On the evening of 10 December, the Fifth Air Force found themselves under attack. The Headquarters Company set up a strong perimeter around the 44th Station Hospital as surgeries were being conducted. Nineteen of the enemy were killed and the on-going surgical operations never missed a beat. The following day, patrols were sent out and they discovered Japanese soldiers lying in rice paddies in front of the hospital pretending to be dead. Another seventeen of the enemy were eradicated. (By tradition, the Japanese soldiers tried to always lay face-down, even if dying, so as to protect their private areas.)
The 11th Airborne Division went up against extremely heavy resistance at Rock Hill. Not until five days later, after intense combat, did the area fall into American hands. It was 18 December 1944. After continued patrols and forward motion, the 11th managed to catch some of the Japanese unawares and others sound asleep at Hacksaw Hill and the area was secure by 23 December.
They had cleared a treacherous pass from Burauen to Ormoc (see map in previous post) which resulted in leaving 5,700 enemy forces mortally wounded in their wake.
During this campaign, on 12 December, Smitty turned thirty years old. One day as a youngster I asked him what he could possibly be feeling at that time. I expected him to say something to the effect that he was surprised to be alive, but knowing my father as I do, I should have known better. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I was about to turn thirty, most of the officers were younger than me, I was older and wiser, but – there I was still in a mud slide and tripping over caribou dung. What can you do?”
While some of the men were confined to fighting up in the mountains, the division’s newspaper called the Static Line, used a piper cub plane to drop bundles of the publication down to the men. This was the only news of the outside world that the troopers could receive. One day, a roll of the papers was dropped with a note attached addressing it: “To the girls, with the compliments of Art Mosley and Jack Keil, Phone Glider 3.” It was discovered later that the WAC camp received the roll meant for the 11th airborne.
Though hungry and tired, there were those who still found the time to locate something humorous. In The Argus, out of Melbourne, on 7 December 1944, a correspondent reported a cute story that Smitty, somehow, must have read, for I remember him telling me this story as a youngster:
The Sad Case of Tokyo Rose
“The Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club raised $500.oo to buy “Tokyo Rose” some new phonograph records. Tokyo Rose is the name Americans in the Pacific have given the Japanese broadcaster who gives Americans swing music between propaganda items. The club learned that “Tokyo Rose” has only six pre-war records, all badly scratched. Many Americans who cannot tune into the United States rely on “Tokyo Rose” for music.
The club asked President Roosevelt to deliver the records by ‘bomber’ over Tokyo.”
The real Tokyo Rose was Iva Toguri D’Aquino, an American citizen of Japanese and Portuguese decent and a graduate of UCLA with a degree in zoology. She had been caught in Japan while visiting her sick aunt when the war broke out. She also claimed that she did not care for Japan or have an amiable relationship with the rest of her family. The moniker, “Tokyo Rose,” was attributed to her by the American troops. The name she originally used was “Ann,” short for announcer. She would go on the air and call herself “Your Little Orphan Annie.” Her salary equaled $6.60 per month. D’Aquino was sentenced to ten years in prison and given a fine of $10,000.
Ruth Hayakawa, also an American, substituted for Iva on the weekends.
Thanksgiving – then and now
And so it begins …
22 November 1944, the 11th Airborne Division received orders to relieve the 7th Infantry Division along the Burauen-La Pag-Bugho line and destroy all enemy on their way and in that sector. While the 77th and 32d divisions converged on the valley, the 11th moved into the central mountain pass from the east. During this time on Leyte, the 11th A/B was under the command of the Sixth Army.
Field Order Number 28 instructed them to continue through a very rough and densely forested area called the Cordillera. The rainy season dragged on and on and the mud not only caked on their boots (making it difficult to walk), but it ate clear through the footwear within a week. The uniforms began to rot away. The men were quickly beginning to realize why the natives wished to be paid in clothing rather than food or cash.
One part of the Headquarters Company was left guarding the perimeter of Mawala and the remainder of the unit went upstream to Manarawat to defend that perimeter. Here, the 221st Airborne Medical Company, with two portable surgical hospitals, took nip-thatched huts and lined them with parachutes. Despite the trials and tribulations of the troopers after they landed between Abuyog and Tarragona just four days previous, they proceeded in their mission to relieve the 24th and 37th infantry divisions.
Considering the advances the U.S. forces had already gained, especially at the ports and airfields, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters sent an edict to their troops demanding the destruction of Dulag and Tacloban airstrips. Japanese paratroopers immediately set out to jump on the Burauen airstrip; some missed their targets and landed on other airstrips.
At approximately 1800 hours on 6 December 1944, the American troopers heard and sighted Japanese bombers circling San Pablo airfield, but only a few bombs were dropped. Shortly afterward a large “V” of transport aircraft went overhead flying at 700 feet and 300 paratroopers of the Katori Shimpei Force landed and spread out. The Japanese command had named this operation, Te-Go. The Americans were taken by surprise. The only units stationed at the airfield were the 127th Engineers, the Signal Company and Headquarters Battery of Division Artillery. Many of the Japanese troopers died or were wounded when they jumped on Leyte due to a flaw with their quick release style parachute. Some of the men were being released 400 feet above the ground only to watch the earth rise toward them in their last seconds of life. Nevertheless, this did not stop the Japanese or even slow them down.
The enemy troopers commenced at once to set fire to the planes and supply dumps, but they appeared to be less than organized. Colonel Hildebrand arrived on the scene with the 187th RCT and the 674th Field Artillery division and they began to clear out the area. Many of the Japanese escaped into the jungles.
All ashore that’s goin’ ….
As the ships drew closer to Leyte, the American soldiers already on shore were being hampered by logistical problems which caused a severe delay in capturing the island. When the 11th A/B division arrived, General Hodge was finally able to move General Arnold’s 7th division and their plans came together.
Letter XV Landing Somewhere in the Philippines
We landed here in the Philippines yesterday morn, but before leaving the ship, the Japs treated us with their honorable (?) presence in the form of bombing planes. Shore batteries kept hammering at them in the gloom of a misty a.m. and the tracer’s bullets reaching up to the planes made a very pretty but gruesome sight. The way those tracer shells can pick out the planes you would think that they had a score to settle and just can’t wait to even it.
We landed finally on the beach, being taken to it in those much touted and not highly praised enough landing boats. How boats can ground themselves on land the way they do and still get off again unscratched is really a marvel. Those boys who handle them also deserve a lot of credit and, as Winchell would say, “A great big orchid is due.”
The natives here were real friendly and helpful in a dozen different ways. They ran up to the landing boats as soon as the bow of the boat sunk its bottom into the beach and helped us carry off our burdensome equipment. It reminded me of Penn or Grand Central Stations with porters running helter-skelter all over the place. The only thing missing to make the picture complete were the tell-tale red caps on their heads.
It wasn’t long after landing that we were organized into work groups and sent off to our chores. Work kept on until we were hours into the night despite the fact that again, Jap planes came over. I am happy to report that they will not be able to do so again, that is – not the same ones.
During the day we were handed K-rations for our dinner and after the excellent food we had aboard ship, they sure tasted like hell. Just before dark last night, we were allowed a few moments to ourselves and at once set to work getting our tents erected. Here again, the native men came in handy helping us to either put up the tents or dig our slit trenches. Of course they don’t do any of this work for nothing, but for items such as undershirts, trousers, soap or most anything in the line of clothing.
I will write more about the people in a later chapter. After all, you can’t do well to write about them on so short an acquaintance. Right now we are busy setting up a camp decent enough to live in. Having a few minutes to spare in between tents. I thought I’d write this down before it completely slipped my unrententive and feeble brain. There goes the whistle calling us back to work now, so until the next ten minute rest period, I’ll close with loads of love and car loads of kisses,
There were a few dogfights everyday above Bito Beach between Zeros and P-38s, but at night there was a rather unique spectacle watched by the men. Some of you might remember an episode of the television show, “M.A.S.H.” entitled “5 o’clock Charlie” – this had to be where they got the idea for that particular episode. The 11th airborne had their very own “Washing Machine Charlie” routinely chugging overhead. On a daily basis, his old engine coughed around so loudly he could be heard for miles. His flight path was so predictable that sounding the air raid alarm seemed ludicrous to the troops. The bomber only succeeded in landing one shell after his many raids and it happened to hit the causeway. The engineers were forced to return and rebuild the breach.
My father told me that he would just shrug it off when he heard “Charlie’s” plane overhead. He only hoped that all of the Japanese planes were in such rotten condition and the pilots had the same cross-eyed aim. (Too bad it wasn’t true.)
Unfortunately, Smitty did get to know some of the natives better, as I was to discover one day as watched the news about Vietnam. When it was mentioned that the soldiers found it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, my father grunted. When I questioned him, he replied that he was very concerned about the welfare of our troops. Not one to discuss combat, I needed to prod him for an answer. He looked at me once and after that I could see that he was reliving the event.
“In the Philippines it was the same way. You couldn’t tell an ally from a makapili, that was one of the Filipinos who decided to side with the Japanese. We woke one morning and our usual Filipino woman who came to clean up the tent reported ill and her husband showed up to do her work in her stead. I had to go on patrol, so I didn’t think too much about it. My buddy was assigned to some detail and stayed back. When I returned to camp, things felt off. I knew something was wrong and I headed straight for my own tent. I don’t know why, I just knew the trouble was there. I found the cleaning debris out of it. The Filipino husband had straightened out our tent (lord only knows why) and left my buddy a surprise in his bunk – a grenade. They pull that same crap in Nam.”
Between his last letter and the following one, the 11th Airborne Division went through combat enduring some of the worst weather imaginable. The four days of monsoon rains made the smallest hill a slope of greasy mud and the flat terrain into knee-deep quagmires. The mud would cause a condition of the skin, especially their feet that the men would refer to as “jungle rot or swamp rot.” The troopers bivouacked under palm fronds in the coconut groves near Abuyog and Balay Baban villages trying to stay as dry as possible. The supplies, ammo and other war materiel had been separated and camouflaged and stayed dryer than the men. Natives and Filipinos worked to help accomplish this task and they were paid in pesos, food or clothing – whichever item they found most necessary.
It had been reported by The Courier Mail in Brisbane, Australia, that the mud was unique, “… a thin yellow soup, porous like quicksand and sometimes bottomless, yet the Americans made headway …” The heavy humidity soaked everything they possessed, including their meager rations, but they were hard-pressed to remain on alert at all times. The conditions proved beneficial for the enemy; their replenishments of food and ammunition were only hindered, while it became near impossible for the troopers. Making matters worse, there were no fixed battle lines and the Japanese were getting their supplies through the blockades. Wherever our men went, they encountered Japanese marines and suicide guards.
Click image to enlarge.
Bito Beach, Leyte & Letter XIV
When the 11th airborne landed at Bito Beach, Leyte, they immediately began to unload the ships. The troopers worked around the clock, even as the tail end of the convoy was being attacked by Zeros. (The Japanese did have other planes, but the G.I.s tended to call them all Zeros.) The beach gradually became an ammo dump as Bito Beach was surrounded by water on three sides and a swamp covered the fourth, it was technically an island and therefore they were unable to move the crates out until the engineers built them some bridges. Throughout all this, air raids were being called which impeded progress all the more.
19 November 1944 – a kamikaze sank one of the transport ships only 1,500 yards offshore. It was left where it sank, sticking partway out of the water. The men used it as a sight to adjust the artillery aimed at the sea.
Letter XIV “On the Move” (again)
undated due to censorship
Dear Mom, We have been at sea now for three days heading toward someplace the Land and the great white father in Washington only knows.
As I sit here writing this, I just can’t help but feel like a very small insignificant part of something so vast that the mind can’t in any way begin to comprehend what it is all about. Here I am on a ship heading out to something, someplace, and it was all planned probably months ago, miles and miles away from anywheres near here. Suddenly it all takes form. Transports and other ships stream into the harbor and just as quickly and quietly we are made loose and moving out. It all happens so fast and so smoothly that you can’t help but admire it all.
Of course, as serious as it all is, the army just can’t help but be the cause of many amusing incidents. When we first landed in New Guinea we got lost looking for our camp and coming down to the boats, the trucks again got lost and so we had to travel up and down the beach until finally, instead of us finding the boats — the boats found us. Climbing up the gangplank with our packs and duffel bags always provide an amusing incident or two, but at the time seem pretty damn dangerous.
On board ship, we are once again packed in like sardines down in the hold. Once shown our bunk, we proceed at once to get rid of our equipment and dash up on deck to pick out some spot where we can spend the night, It isn’t long after this that the details are handed out — and so — what could have been a very pleasant voyage soon turns out to be anything else but. I was lucky in that I was handed a detail that only worked for an hour each day, but the poor guys that hit the broom detail were at it all day long. All we could hear, all day long, over the speaker system was: “Army broom detail, moping and brooms, clean sweep down forward aft, all decks.” They kept it up all the time until soon one of the fellas made up a little ditty about it and sang it every time we saw a broom coming down the deck.
The food was excellent and really worth talking about. On the first trip coming over from the states, we dreaded the thought of eating, but on this ship, it was more than a welcome thought. Generally, when you go to a movie there are news reel pictures of convoys of ships and the men aboard. They always try to show you a few playing cards or joking and say that this is how the boys relieve the tension they are under. Well, I don’t know about the seriousness of the situation was anything like what the news reels portray.
Of course, it was a strange sight to see the boys at night line up at the side scanning the sky and distant horizon. This was generally though at night and early dawn. What we expected to see, I don’t know and what our reaction would be, if we did see something — I hesitate to predict. It won’t be long after this letter is written that we will land or at least sight our destination, so wishing to be wide-awake when we do, I’ll close this letter now and hit the hay hoping I sleep an uninterrupted sleep.
Till next time, “Good night and pleasant dreams.” Love, Everett
Prelude to combat
Jungle training for the Second World War was held for the benefit of the soldier’s immediate situation, but its effectual results led into the establishment of the Special Forces. This is typified by the creation of the Recon Platoon of the 11th Airborne Division and the Alamo Scouts. Out of these units we witnessed the outstanding operations of today’s special troops. In New Guinea and later during their actual combat experience, what these men learned went on to be vital assets for the future generations of soldiers.
The advantage of being acclimated to a different climate and acquainted with the strange terrain served to aid them in their survival and the success of their missions.
Although the 11th A/B was small in size and short of arms and staff, they accepted orders normally issued to full size divisions. At this time, many people believed that MacArthur was obsessed with recovering the Philippines from the Japanese and perhaps he was, and with good reason. FDR had promised him serious military assistance in 1942, but it never arrived. As a direct result, MacArthur was ordered by his president to abandon his men on the islands and escape to Australia. The Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. had not only lied to one of his generals, but caused the forced surrender of American and Filipino citizens and military personnel. The infamous Bataan Death March and ultimate fall of the Philippines into Japanese control was the end result.
But here — the invasion of Leyte — would be, by far, the greatest operation of the Pacific. For the first time, the combines forces of MacArthur and the overseas bomber commands would be joined with the vast armada of Admiral Nimitz. Land and sea would simultaneously explode into action. The Japanese government also knew in their heart of hearts that the battles fought over the Philippine islands would decide the outcome of the war. Field Marshall Hisaichi Terauchi communicated orders for additional men and supplies, while General Yamashita attempted to convince his superiors otherwise. The general did not wish to remove men and arms from the more important island of Luzon, especially as transportation would now be a major problem — thanks to the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, intentionally or not, FDR not only found a way to leak the plans of Leyte’s attack, but diplomatic sources in the Kremlin gave the Japanese a forewarning and the the enemy became determined to make the Philippines an all-out effort.
Certain matters would need to be dealt with by the soldiers, Allied and Japanese alike. For the Japanese, the concept of using retreat as a strategic tactic was confusing and unheard of by their standard of protocol. The very thought of retreat was a disgrace and therefore forbidden. The American G.I. was equally befuddled by hara Kiri and kamikaze techniques. The purpose that suicide accomplished in a battlefield was beyond their comprehension – yet these and many more differences had to be confronted. (The official name of kamikaze was Tokubetsu Kogekitai and was not quite as popular in Japan as some have been led to believe. This topic will be discussed in a later post as the action unfolds.)
Admiral Halsey led his famous fleet in the battle to clear Leyte Gulf and neighboring waters, thereby opening the way for troop landings. It was during the battle for Surigao Strait that Admiral Mitscher turned in early for some sleep and said to his aide, “It’s alright. Admiral Halsey is in command now.” But, all kidding aside, the Japanese had a very formidable navy and it would take more than one admiral to complete and win the last large sea battle of the war. Many historians , looking back on these ensuing battles, compared the forces of Nimitz with throwing a right cross and MacArthur’s troops following through with the left punch – the enemy did not stand a chance.
As General Eichelberger said more than once: “The 11th Airborne Division are the fightingest men I’ve ever seen.” And the largest and most violent armed conflict in history was about to start for these men.
November of 1944 arrived and with that came packing up for the next destination, Leyte, Philippines. It also meant the arrival of the rains, an understatement to say the least. Such downpours are alien to those who do not live in the tropics. Even the darkness is unique when it arrives in a flash and the blackness envelops everything like a sweeping shroud. A man’s eyes can no longer be trusted; he stands as though blindfolded.
Nine APA’s (naval transport ships designed to attack) and AKA’s (cargo ships designed to attack) would be required to carry the 11th A/B on to their target. Due to the constant barrage of weather, the journey lasted from Nov. 11 until the 18th. The Battle of Leyte was officially code-named “King II Operation.”
Being as their cruise took so long, Smitty had a chance to write home once again, Letter XIV will be included in the next post.
Personal note – Most acknowledgements will be at the end of this blog in the Bibliography; such as the photograph above which came from “The Pacific War Encyclopedia on-line.”
More G.I. work … Letter XII
Back in the states, people were still dancing to the tunes of The Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. They listened to the songs of Doris Day, the Andrew Sisters, Lena Horne and Rosemary Clooney. But, some others weren’t so lucky, in the army there was always latrine duty, as depicted in the following letter from Smitty.
The cartoons were thought of and drawn by Pvt. Smith. (They scanned in rather light, so you may need to click the photos to see them clearly. Sorry for the inconvenience.)
Letter XII Latrines Wednesday 9/5/44
Many are the times you have heard me refer to the latrines. Never before had I any conception or realized the amount of genius and mathematical figuring that was necessary for the building of one of these casual looking comfort stations.
Yesterday I had the dubious honor of being selected, with four other disgruntled G.I.s, to labor on a detail whose sole aim and mission was the digging and building of a latrine. It seems that in order to get a latrine built correctly there also has to be present a lieutenant and a hard to please sergeant. Their presence is essential due to the fact that if they weren’t around, it would never get built, no less started and to supervise the completion and finesse details of the finer points necessary for sanitation and the comfort of the men. You can most generally find these two worthy in some far off spot, away from all the work.
To begin with, a place is chosen suitable for a latrine, generally about a half mile from the nearest inhabitant and well hidden in the brush and woods. This is done for the very simple reason that it affords the stricken G.I. a chance to brush up on his long forgotten tracking and compass reading lessons, also the hike involved tends to make up for the many he has missed.
You wait then while the Lt., in a very business-like manner, marks out the length and width desired. When finished, he gives you a short speech on the importance of the detail and the time limit allotted, ending with: “Good digging fellows. I know you can do it, as you are the picked men!”
You pick up your shovels and picks and gloomily get to work. First, the picks are put into play loosening up the stubborn ground. Then, the shovels get to work removing the loose dirt, making sure to pile it evenly around the hole. This procedure is followed until finally you have now a hole six feet long by five feet in width with a depth ranging anywheres from six to eight feet. Try as you may to dig less than six feet, the sergeant always has a ruler handy which he guards with his life. One would think that a latrine hole that size would last forever, but as I found out, in the army — they don’t.
Next step is to lower into this hole oil drums whose both ends have been removed. This end cutting process is something foreign to us as they had another detail doing that the day before. I understand though that it is a highly skilled job in that keeping the ax blades from chipping is quite a problem. These drums, once lowered and set side by side, draws to a close the crude laborious end of the job.
Boards, saws, hammers and nails now appear along with some overbearing would-be carpenters. They proceed to build a coffin-like box which looks more like anything else but a box. This affair, when finished, is fitted over the hole, covering completely the hole and part of the piles of loose dirt spread around the outer fringe. This type of latrine box is called the settee type. It is very comfortable to sit on if rough boarding isn’t employed. When the box is completed to the satisfaction and sitting height comfort of all present, holes are then cut in the top. These holes are oval in shape, but of different width and shapes. The rear end of a G.I.’s anatomy, I’ve found, has many varied shapes and sizes.
The next thing to put in an appearance is the latrine blind and screen. This is very simple, although at times men have leaned back into it and got tangled up in the canvas, bringing it where the blind should be. While the blind is being put up on a long pipe, funnel-shaped at one end comes up and demands a lot of detailed attention. The height of this pipe, when set, is a trial and tribulation to all and never satisfies all who use it. This funneled affair is intended for what all funnels are. The directing of a stream of water.
The Lt. and sergeant now come out of hiding, inspect it and proclaim it a job well done and worthy of their time and supervision, strutting off gaily chatting, leaving us to find our way alone, unguided and without a compass, back to our tents. We, in the building of this latrine were fortunate in that we only had to erect it once and it was the correct position. Generally, you dig three or four only to find out that it is out of line somehow with the next latrine a mile away.
Generals, colonels and majors all visit while you are at work. Their presence is also needed for the fact that when they are around, you stand at attention and in that way get a moment’s rest. The captain generally comes out to see how you are doing and always tells you to hurry it up as the boys back in camp are prancing around like young colts and doing weird dance steps all the while hoping that they can hold out until its completion.
When once finished and back in camp, you are kept busy giving the boys directions as to where it is and then have to listen to them gripe about the distance away from their tent the blame thing is. It is, I have found out, a thankless detail and one I intend missing the next time there is one to be built.There are of course different types of latrines as the illustrations show, but most of those are for troops on the move. Now, why they should say, ‘troops on the move’ I do not know, for certainly no matter whether in the latrines or on the wat to it, you are most certainly moving.
Before any G.I. finds the latrine, the flies are already there. No latrine is a latrine until after a family or two moves in. They too are necessary in that without them as an annoying element, some men would never leave, others would fall asleep, while others would use it as an indefinite hiding place from some hike or detail. Latrines are also necessary for rumors. Until a good latrine is built, rumors around the camp lay dormant. Many new and strange acquaintances are made and the souls of many a man have been saved while sitting in this sanctuary place of appeasement.
No place in the army gets the care and attention of a latrine. Orderlies are assigned daily to see to its cleanliness. Medical inspections are twice a week, while on Saturdays it has to stand a general inspection. It is the haven of good-fellowship, conversations and a relief to all men in the end.
Hoping I have portrayed for you the army’s version of a rest station, I’ll close, as the flies in here are very annoying and the fellow standing and waiting for me to leave is going into a rage and walking up and down all the while eyeing me up and down as if to kill.
Ending this in a hasty departure and on the run, I am always, Your son, Everett
Smitty did not write home about his experience with the showers. (Unfortunately, I do not remember which island this story occurred on.) He was coming back into camp after having a nice cold shower. He walked back with a towel wrapped around his middle and held it closed with his left hand. The jungle appeared quiet except for the buzzing of the insects whizzing around him. He said, “You know how annoying just one mosquito can be when it’s hovering by your ears. This was like a swarm and I tried like hell to use my right hand to swat them away from my face. When I began to approach our tents there was not one man to be seen and I couldn’t imagine where they all went. As I got closer I could hear the G.I.s yelling and they were waving their arms as they crouched in their tents, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Besides, I was too preoccupied with swatting the bugs. When I got back to my tent complaining about how aggravating the bugs on the island were, I asked them what all the hooting and hollering was all about. All they kept doing was checking my skin and asking if I was alright. Somebody yelled, ‘Those were no jungle bugs — that’s shrapnel!’ When they discovered that I had been hit, someone happily said that I could put in for a Purple Heart.
After a good laugh between dad and I, I asked if he ever put in for the medal. He laughed again and said that he was too embarrassed. “For one thing I felt stupid for not realizing what was going on and second, I didn’t want to be grouped into being one of those guys that put in for a Purple Heart every time they nicked themselves shaving. It would be like taking something away from the men who actually did get wounded and deserved the medal.”