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 …
Posted on November 30, 2012, in Letters home, SMITTY, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged 11th airborne, Army, family history, History, Leyte, Military, Military History, Military humor, Pacific War, paratroopers, Philippines, veterans, war letters, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.