Smitty and Leyte

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.)

US Army Engineers on Leyte

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Unfortunately, Smitty did get to know some of the natives better, as I was to discover one day as we watched the news about Vietnam.  When it was mentioned that the soldiers found it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, my father grunted and slowly shook his head.  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.

US Army soldier being operated on, Leyte.

“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 the 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 didn’t feel normal.  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 a detail 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.”

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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.

Rain and mud of Leyte, another enemy.

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 replenishment 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.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Charles Achatz – Center, CO; US Navy, WWII

Tom Amberry – Grand Forks, ND; US Navy, WWII

Walter Collins – Dorchester, MA; USMC, WWII, PTO

Robert Fatum – Grand Rapids, MI; US Army, WWII, PTO, Purple Heart

Donald Knode – Albuquerque, NM; US Navy, WWII, Intelligence translator

Kenneth Mitchell – Cleveland, OH; US Navy, WWII, ETO & PTO

William Schaf Sr. – Albany, NY; US Army, Korea, 187th ARCT, Medic, POW

Selwyn Thompson (102) – Kerikeri, NZ; 2NZEF # 062165, WWII

Harry Tye – Orinoco, KY; USMC, WWII, Pvt., KIA (Tarawa)

Kenneth Weihl – Tucson, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, 451st Bomb Squadron, radio/gunner

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on April 6, 2017, in First-hand Accounts, SMITTY, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 86 Comments.

  1. Enjoyed the article. Agree…you dad had good instincts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m just catching up with you here, GP! Your Dad had good instincts that something was wrong. Somehow they know. I’m sure my own father had a number of those “feelings” about things and it probably helped him survive.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bringing to life the hell those troops endured … the weather and resulting conditions being as detrimental as actual combat. It’s a wonder they persevered … I don’t think the snowflakes of today would last one minute in the conditions our troops slugged their way through then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a whole different breed. That generation had to fight to survive through the Great Depression, then go through this ! Their survival instinct was strong, there was no time for ‘bleeding hearts’.

      Like

  4. I distictly remember that episode of Five o’clock Charlie out of MASH, right on time and more of an entertainment than a threat.
    The story of the grenade in the hut has similarities to other incidents in Vietnam.
    Cheers gp.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank for sharing your father’s story GP. Very sad and a million stories like them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Would that the memories would deter the world’s leaders from sending more young soldiers into yet more battles, but as long as we have politicians, I reckon we’ll have wars.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most politicians wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about history – which is why they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I can truly understand your concern, Maureen, and thank you for coming by.

      Like

  7. Oh, dear, what a difficult story to hear and especially to tell, I’m sure. War is certainly a hell all its own.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The POWs in Thailand suffered dreadfully from the mud, living, sleeping and working in it. They, too, had the foot-rot problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It must have been so bewildering and so difficult to know who to trust in such an alien environment – particularly at that time when knowledge of other cultures was so much less than now

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I read a new great story with a lot of respect for all soldiers

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The grenade story underlines the terror, G. Scary. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The 312th Bomb Group’s ground echelon had their own “Washing Machine Charlie” to deal with in February 1944 at Gusap. Didn’t do much damage, just caused the men to lose a lot of sleep. He was shot down one day when the 388th returned to camp during one of his harassment missions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe it! I think every major area of war has a story of at least one “Washing-machine Charlie”!! I wonder if he’s the “Flying Dutchman” of the skies….?

      Like

  13. Those Marstens mats were one of the greater engineering marvels of the war.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sometimes the comments on here are as interesting as the story itself! Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. There is something fundamentally wrong about killing a man by putting a grenade in his bed. It reminds me of the Irish IRA sympathizers during WW2 who sabotaged parachutes as they packed them away. Not the way to fight a war.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I was touched by your Dad’s concern for the soldiers in Vietnam. His story helps us to empathize and understand the confusion around who was friend and who was foe.
    I also noted his reluctance to immediately talk about it–I’ve found that to be the case with most everyone that I’ve known who has seen combat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Back then I think the men felt they would be showing weakness if they talked about the war very much. Even conversations between fellow soldiers was usually just a bragging contest of who’s unit was better and saw more action. They felt they should deal with any psychological problems by themselves, just as they did through the Great Depression and going out to a world war.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Powerful story. Makes us so proud of our fathers.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My father told stories about the rain and the mud. As if being in a warzone wasn’t bad enough. We will never fully comprehend what they went through…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It appears that the real tough part of your dad has begun with today’s episode of the war. From a security point of view, It is incomprehensible that a local woman was employed to do any type of work in an American camp and that her ‘husband’ was allowed in to do the dirty work

    Liked by 1 person

    • The locals were helping them since they arrived, doing whatever they could to earn food, clothing, etc. Most of them were loyal, but it only takes one bad apple…..

      Like

  20. It sure made life rough when you can not tell the good guys from the bad guys

    Liked by 1 person

  21. War is hell! What a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Poor Smitty. Good at him for keeping positive in his letters!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Julia C. Tobey

    Very interesting, especially your father’s recollections.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Grenade in the tent!
    In the battlefield, it is natural that nobody trust and be sick for PTSD…

    Liked by 1 person

  25. My dad’s unit went to the Philippines but he did not go with it. Instead he was sent stateside with an illness that took sight in one-eye, his sense of taste and smell. He finished the war as a guard in a POW camp in Roswell NM.

    Still, he considers himself lucky. He said that very few members of his military police unit made it out of the Battle of Manila. They were assigned to direct traffic and lost to snipers, many of whom were locals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Despite your father’s harsh sacrifices, he luck out by not going to overseas. Did he happen to tell you any stories about the POW camp?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry, I should have mentioned that he got sick in New Guinea. He had quite a few stories about the POW camp.

        I will tell you a quick one. My dad, his sergeant and their Lieutenant were assigned to transfer a mentally ill German POW from the camp in Roswell NM to a sanitarium in New Jersey.

        At Saint Louis, the Lieutenant excused himself and arranged to meet the other two in a couple of days. At Chicago, the sergeant did the same, so that left my dad alone with a raving and at time extremely violent prisoner.

        Dad was a devout Catholic and frequently prayed the rosary. When the German POW saw him praying, it settled him down. Dad gave him his rosary and had no more trouble with him.

        Dad always reflected after the war…..”I would hate to think of the things he had seen.”

        Liked by 1 person

  26. Wow….reminds me a bit of when I asked my brother something about Vietnam and he just turned his head and looked far away. I knew to drop the question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It has happened to far too many of our men, I’m afraid. They achieve such a strong bond and watch each other’s back, and then in the blink of an eye – it’s gone. I’m sorry your brother experienced it.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. I remember that MASH episode. I loved MASH. It delivered such an effective message about the cruelty and futility of war.

    I assume, though it’s left unsaid here, that your father’s buddy was killed by that grenade. How devastating that must have been for your father.

    Like

  28. That mud sounds awful. We never think of ‘different’ mud like that, I suppose.
    Not knowing who is friend or foe makes war even more difficult than it is. A problem that continues today, in modern theatres of war.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you, Andrew.

    Like

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