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Spearhead II

Bill Mauldin must have seen the same newspaper photo I put into the last post. His cartoons helped to keep moral high among the American G.I.s.

bill-mauldin-jeep

General MacArthur, seated in an old American Lincoln that started up with a bang and chugged like a Toonerville Trolley, and the rest of the 11th Airborne began their procession to Yokohama 15 miles away. The roadway was lined with Japanese troops and police who turned their backs in respect as the vehicles went by. My father, Smitty, said that this was expected to happen and was discussed in the lectures on Okinawa. The Japanese officers were at the scene to call the order of ‘about-face’ and to ensure a peaceful passing of the “conquerors.”

Yokohama

Yokohama

Each regiment was given an assigned area to cover. The 511th was given the Yokohama-Tokyo road; the 188th went from Atsugi to Fujishawa and the 187th held the perimeter of Atsugi airfield.

Each zone maintained both motorized and foot patrols. The Antitank Company was to care for the Allied POWs that continued to show up and the band would perform for the former prisoners. The 187th regimental command post was in the Japanese Naval School, but rumors had it another move was in the wind.

Japanese tunnel used for kamikazes - Atsugi

Japanese tunnel used for kamikazes – Atsugi

Generals Wainwright and Sir Arthur Percival, after being held in a POW camp in Mukden, Manchuria, were flown to Manila. MacArthur ordered them to Tokyo so they would be present at the surrender signings. They landed at Atsugi on 31 August.

tunnel found under Atsugi

tunnel found under Atsugi

It is well known how the First Calvary Division landed in their LSM crafts at Japan’s shores as they would invade a hostile beach – but – what they came upon was the 11th Airborne Division and their band playing “The Old Gray Mare She Ain’t What She Used To Be.” When they continued to march inland, they were faced with a sign that read: “Cavalrymen – Welcome to Yokohama – from the 11th Parachute Infantry.”

As you can see from the photo that newspaper pictures that sit in a scrapbook for 68 years do not always appear clearly, but I could not resist including this particular one, even though, the 11th A/B troopers were forced to eat some crow when the Calvary hoisted the United States Ensign and the band was forced to play the anthem.

Marines land in Japan

Marines land in Japan

From 31 August until 2 September, (3 Sept. in Japan), hundreds of Allied warships pulled into Tokyo Bay. Along with the Missouri, the South Dakota and the British battleship Duke of York were present.

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A FAREWELL SALUTE – Major Thomas C. Griffin (1916-2013), was a navigator for Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Japan. He and 80 other volunteers were told it was “extremely hazardous” and considered a suicide mission due to lacking enough fuel to reach a safe return. But, the 16 B-25 bombers took off from the USS Hornet 18 April 1942 to put their mission into action. Many of the men were captured, but Maj. Griffin successfully parachuted into China. This month, the four surviving veterans of the Raiders will meet for the last time and finally open their bottle of 1896 cognac, that Doolittle bought before his own death, for the men to toast the 80.

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Resources: Rakkasans and Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division, by E.M. Flanagan; Everett’s scrapbook; The Week newsmagazine; Bill Mauldin cartoons.

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Remember- you can click on a photo to enlarge and view more clearly. Thank you for reading, gpcox

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Jump on Aparri

Luzon

Luzon

With his thoughts still focused on his R&R in Australia, Everett “Smitty” Smith landed back at Lipa City, P.I. only to discover that a mission was scheduled. The last remaining organized Japanese group, the Shabu Forces, were hold up in the northeast corner of Luzon and General Swing had organized the Gypsy Task Force to take them out. On his orders, this unique unit would include “all Camp MacKall veterans.” This would include men from the 187th Infantry, the 511th, the 457th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, a platoon from the 127th Engineers and two platoons from B Company. Despite Gen. Krueger’s disapproval, Lt. Col. Henry Burgess, now 26 years old, would be the commanding officer. (Smitty was at the ancient age of 30, one of the oldest paratroopers besides one other soldier and a few of the officers.) Col. Lahti (31) would be CO for the reserve unit.

C-47 Skytrain ("Gooney Bird")

C-47 Skytrain (“Gooney Bird”)

Col. John Lackey, CO of the 317th Troop Carrier Group, with very little notice, began loading 54 C-47s and 13 C-46s at 0430 hours, 23 June 1945. His plane was the first to leave Lipa airstrip and the constant rumbling of the planes soon became “Vs” in the open skies. Within the transports, every man appeared as a clone to the next. Individuality was lost among the uniforms, bundled parachutes and rucksacks filled to capacity with ammunition, first-aid, water and C-rations.

Each man stood and checked the chute of the man beside him when the “Gooney Birds” lurched at 0900 hours; the smoke flares from the forward Pathfinders were spotted and green lights flashed for the paratroopers. The stick of men hooked up to the static lines and proceeded to jump into vertical development. With mandatory, disciplined silence, the traditional battle cry, “Geronimo,” is only heard within the imaginative faculty of 1,030 men. All these diverse personalities would react separately to the same experience.

1,030 men jump on Aparri, Luzon

1,030 men jump on Aparri, Luzon

Each man, for his own reasons, volunteered for the perilous duty that might end his life. Each man went through various stages of development and arrived at the same destination. Each man had been chosen for their good health, general toughness and honor. A jump into combat is reality in its most crystalline form.

As the ground races up to meet the troopers, they see the tall, thick fields of the sharp kunai grass, flooded rice paddies, carabao ruts and bomb craters – all would prove dangerous. The Task Force would lose 7%, two men killed and 70 wounded as they landed in 25 mph winds. The battle-hardened paratroopers collected their flame throwers, howitzers and rifles from the gliders and reassembled with “Espirit de Corps.”

C-46 Commando

C-46 Commando

The 11th Airborne battled the Shabu Forces on a 75 mile hike in 120 degree heat to connect up with the Connolly Task Force. The combined goal was to prevent the enemy from escaping into the Cagayan Valley and out to sea. Lt. Col. Burgess met Gen. Beightler, on 26 June, and received a rather snide remark about how his men had saved the 11th A/B. Burgess became quite red-faced and replied that he was under orders to save the 37th Division. Gen. Swift, standing off to one side, laughed and said, “Well, you SOUND like one of Swing’s boys.”

The Gypsy Task Force marched away to the 37th’s Headquarters to request C-47s to transport the unit back to Lipa. Burgess was denied and told to countermarch to Aparri and have the trucks take them south to Manila. That would mean they would still need to march another 55 miles from Manila to Lipa. Instead, the men bribed the C-47 pilots with Japanese swords, guns and various other paraphernalia in exchange for a flight back. (Necessity is the mother of invention.)

Bold headlines exploded in the Australian newspapers: U.S. Paratroopers Land In Northern Luzon – “After the 11th A/B Division made their air-borne landing near Aparri on June 23rd., using their gliders for the first time, carrying howitzers, jeeps and mobile equipment. Each trooper jumped with 100 pounds of gear strapped to his body.”
In the 26 June 1945 issue of The Army News – “On Saturday, from 600 feet into paddy fields, the 11th Airborne dropped near the port of Aparri in a surprise move against the Japanese forces in northern Luzon. They used their gliders for the first time in the southwest Pacific…”

"Jumpin' Joe" Swing

“Jumpin’ Joe” Swing

3 July, General Swing made an offical note stating that he had implored the higher echelon of the Sixth Army two months previous with a plan to drop the entire 11th Airborne Division onto northern Luzon back when Gen. Krueger’s men were having so much trouble with the Japanese in Balete Pass. He expressed his frustration that his own plan to attack Aparri had gone unheeded. The Japanese had been given the opportunity to withdraw just enough to unite with reinforcements.

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Resources:
Angels: History of the 11th Airborne Division, Rakkasans (both books by Gen. E.M. Flanagan) and The Pacific War (John Davison),Trove Australian archives. photos : AOL images

Sorry to be reposting this, but it has NOT shown up in the Reader under my Tags. So, I’m trying it again. Thank you for your patience.

And so it begins …

Leyte operations

Leyte operations

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.

appropriate Bill Mauldin cartoon, Star and Stripes

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.

Prelude to combat

men of the 11th A/B just prior to Leyte

men of the 11th A/B just prior to Leyte

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.”

Gilliam-class APA

Gilliam-class APA

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.

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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.)

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Letter XII                               Latrines                        Wednesday 9/5/44

Dear Mom,

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

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various latrines

WAC invasion

 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.”

Letter XII – You think you’ve got problems?

The 11th Airborne Division, still in New Guinea  and continuing to specialize their training are coming closer and closer to their time for combat, unbeknownst to them.  Their commander, General Swing, awaits the word from General MacArthur.

Backpacking the good ol' fashion way

Backpacking the good ol’ fashion way

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Letter XII                                                       ?? Problems ??                                           0800 Sunday 9/3/44

Dear Mom,  We will start off first with “Webster’s” definition of the word — problem.  “A question for solution, and a proposition to be demonstrated.”  This is all very true, only in the army, although it is demonstrated, it never turns out in a satisfactory solution.

For some unknown reason, the hint of a problem soon-to-be gets around long before it is ever officially announced.  When once you hear about it, you begin to wonder just how you will get out of going and wonder if going on sick call will help.  The best thing is to try to get on some detail, but generally, the details floating around loose at that time are of such a nature that going on the problem is much easier.

No one likes or cares for problems including the officers and non-coms, except maybe a few who are bucking and hope to show their leader that they have tactical and sure-fire P.F.C. abilities.

No matter how easy or simple the problem, you always have to carry around a load of unnecessary equipment.  On the day set forth for the problem they put up a list of the stuff you are to take with you.  After an hour or two spent trying to get everything into the pack, just big enough to hold a pair of socks, a tent, poles, rain gear, poncho, insect repellent and your toilet articles, you are pretty well tired out and lie down for a few minutes rest.  You no sooner do that than the sergeant will come around with a revised list of equipment and again you unpack and re-pack.  This goes on through the day until finally in utter despair you pick up your duffel bag and carry that on your back.

Finally the whistle blows.  You hurriedly put on your pack, pick up your rifle and dash to fall in the formation forming outside.  After standing there for 30 or 40 minutes, you realize that all your rushing was in vain and that you have a chance to untangle yourself from the pack harness and straighten it out.  You no sooner start to do this than the order comes to pull out and get going.

While marching out, it suddenly dawns on you that a quick visit to the latrine would have helped, but is now impossible to get to.  After walking for two hours, your pack feels like a ton and your five-pound rifle now weighs twenty.  The heat is slowly getting you down and you begin to wonder, is it all worth it?  Soon the Lt. comes prancing alongside of you and walking just as easy as falling off a log.  He says a few words to you, such as, “Close it up.” “Keep in line” or “How you doing fella?” as he passes by.  You wonder how the devil he can keep it up, until you take a good look at his pack.  Many are the times when I wondered what would happen if I stuck a pin in it.  Wonderful things these basketball bladders.

When finally you arrive at the next to last stop, the Lt. calls his men around him and proceeds to try and tell them what this problem is about and what we are supposed to do.  We are all too tired to listen in the first place and in the second place — don’t give a damn.  All this time you watch the Lt. and soon you realize that he didn’t much care for the problem and is probably just as annoyed as you.

When you finally hit the place where the problem is, confusion takes over and the problem is started.  Orders are given and not carried out, cause generally the G.I. has been told before to do something else, so that by the time order is restored, all is in a worse shape than before.  The Lt. takes out a map to try and locate himself and is only to find that the map he has is the one relating to last week’s problem.  No matter, from then on, where the C.P. and assembly area were to be, now, wherever you are at that particular moment will become the C.P. and assembly area.  If the rest of the company was fortunate enough to locate the right place — the hell with them — let them find us.

You are then assigned to different spots and told to dig in.  Now, digging in calls for some thought.  If you just dig a slit trench, it doesn’t call for much work, but you can always be seen and so you can’t sleep.  But, if you dig a larger hole, called a foxhole, you can safely sleep away the night and also — the problem.  Myself?  I go for the foxhole on the slit trench side as it affords me the opportunity of sleeping in a horizontal position.

002 (530x800)

Soon the whistle blows announcing the end of the problem.  You awaken to find that it is the next day and that once again you slept through the whole mess.  Questions are asked as to who or what side won, did the enemy get through and a thousand and one others.  Before leaving the place, you now have to shovel the dirt back into your hole, as leaving blank open holes around are dangerous to life and limb.  When that is completed, you put your backpack back on and trudge your weary way back.

Upon arriving back in camp, critiques are held and then you find out what you were supposed to have learnt while you were out there.  I have always been of the opinion that if critiques were held before going out, it would save us all a lot of trouble and also make going on the problem — unnecessary.  Once back in your tent, you unpack and think that now you will lie down and have a little nap, only to find out that the detail you tried to get on in order to miss the problem has materialized and that you are to get up and get on it.  Oh, weary bones, will they never have any rest?

Don’t give up, for after all, the war can’t last forever.  One thing you can always count on though, problems are the pride and joy of the army and will continue on being as long as there is an army.

Hope I’ve confused you as much as we are.  I’ll leave you as that damn detail has come up and so I’ll have to carry my weary body out and hope I last out the day.

Confused as all hell,    Everett

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But training goes on …..

New Guinea, training. Notice the date on the picture – 9/4/44

New Guinea – part 2 & Letter VIII

Pyramidal tent - soldier unknown

Pyramidal tent – soldier unknown

You may notice in Smitty’s letters that he does not mention his rigorous training or even combat in his later ones.  I am unaware as to whether it was concern for his mother’s feelings, censorship restrictions, just plain denial or all of the above.  As a child I asked if I would ever catch him in one of the old news reels and he said that he surely doubted it.  He made a point to avoid any photographers in the event his mother caught sight of the pictures of him in combat.  No matter how hard things had become, he found something else to talk about, but he did have a tongue-in-cheek humor that could both amuse someone even while he was complaining.

At this point in time, the jungle war training had live firing and everything was becoming a bit clearer, a bit more realistic.

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Letter VIII                                G.I. Labor                                         6/17/44

Dear Mom,

Work!  Work!  And more work.  After a week here, we still can’t figure when it is all going to end.  We put tents up, then take them down.  That is our biggest problem — tents.

The War Department in Washington has its offices in a large air-conditioned building costing hundreds of thousands of the taxpayer’s money.  In this building, they have all the inventing geniuses of the land.  All they do is design equipment and little what-nots for us.  After that, it is submitted to the boards of Strategy, Health, Welfare, etc.

Now, some poor weak underfed inventor designed in a moment of frenzy and excitement, the Pyramidal Tent number M.6606.  It passed everything and every board with flying colors — until finally — we got hold of it.  We put them up with the loss of tons of perspiration and energy, only to find out later that someone, someplace around here didn’t like the way they looked.  That job of putting the tents up was simple and much too easy.  They sent down a set of blue prints that reminded me of the Empire State Building with the Holland Tunnel thrown in.

Well, next day, bright and early we arose wearily to find that we were to be split up into different sections such as log cutters, tent putter-uppers, log setters and log finders.  We, the pole setter-uppers, sat down and pondered over the blue prints.  We had to raise the center pole 16 inches, while on the four corners erect eight-foot poles.  Then, connecting these  poles at the top of 16-foot logs.

Sounds very easy, but for some reason or other, the trees grew in the jungle across a stream which all in all made log cutting and finding an exasperating business.  Undaunted though, the men went in laden down with axes, saws and prismatic and soon logs were being cut — also fingers, arms and legs.  It wasn’t long before we had the amount of lumber necessary to start work on the first domicile, house or tent.  We were all set and ready, four men were holding up the corner poles and one man steadied the center pole.  The whistle blows for us to fall in and be counted.  We fall in, the corners fall out and the blame tent fell down.  Oh Well!!  What the heck, tomorrow’s another day and after all, the boys that belonged in that tent can sleep out.

This routine kept up for days until finally all our tents were erected and set.  “Looks good,” we all said and good it was, but not to some of the higher-ups who again decided the tents were now too high and would we please, under threat of court-martial, lower the 4 corner posts to 5 feet.  (Oh death, where is thy sting?)  Upon completing this last detail, they then decided the tents should all be moved and then lined up on a new line.  This has been going on for so long that each morning we have to stop, think and hold ourselves in check, for a few times we caught men automatically tearing down tents or putting up poles where there wasn’t anything to put up.

“The heat!” they said, and then gave us half a day off, only to try to squeeze it out of us the next afternoon.  Well, maybe they can get blood out of a stone.

“Well, that’s all for that in this letter as I don’t want to tire you out completely listening to some of our other minor details that are stuck in here and there, such as digging latrine holes, building officer’s tents and officer knickknacks, polishing up, which we are experts at, K.P. duty, inspections, washing clothes and at night making little things for ourselves such as tables, desks, clothes racks, rings out of coins, wristwatch bands and loads of other do-dads.  I guess though the hardest thing is trying all day not to do all this work and go on the gold-bricking standard.  That last line would be understood by any buck private or G.I. as absolute fact and truth.

Wearily I end this letter and sleepily say regards to all.  With love and kisses,  Everett

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Major Burgess left the units temporarily to set up a jump school.  This would give the glidermen and Burgess himself an opportunity to qualify as paratroopers.  The parachutists began their glider training at Soputa airstrip that was no longer in regular use.

Everybody out!!

Troopers going up at Soputa airstrip

 

 

 

New Guinea

U.S. Army Air Forces recruiting poster

U.S. Army Air Forces recruiting poster

For a period of five months the 11th Airborne Division would receive jungle warfare and intensified combat unit ground training in the primitive land of jungles and mountains and thatched huts.  Many called the native population, Fuzzy Wuzzies, but this was considered a derogatory term.  The Papua brigades and Allied forces that constituted the Cartwheel Operations before the troopers made this landing possible.

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Letter VII          6/8/44          Land

Dear Mom,     Well, here we are on the island of New Guinea.  From what we can see if it so far, I know we’ll never go hungry as the coconut trees are as thick as a swarm of bees.

We started for our area in trucks after all the rumors said we’d walk and we “Oh!” and Ah’d” all throughout the trip.  Not wanting to show the natives here how smart we are, the driver proceeded on his own when lo and behold — where were we?  I don’t know, no one knows, so right away we all knew that wherever we were — that wasn’t where we were supposed to be.  Now, of course, we weren’t to blame, as after all, this is a strange and new place to us and they didn’t give us a Socony road map or a compass reading, so no matter — drive on — come what may.  Of course, some large and strange appearing trees which grew in the road had different ideas and no matter how hard we hit them, they consistently set us back.  How they ever managed to find a road to grow in is beyond me, but then they were here before us.  Naturally, after the way they treated our truck, we gave them a wide berth, eventually leaving the road al together.

When after what seemed like hours, we finally found our area, much to the delight of the lower hind part of our anatomy.  Then, our shoulders and backs had to haul our bags around until we found our tents.  This was done very systematically: someone had the idea of first asking the captain just where we belonged and he proceeded to take us there.  We could see at once that this place was no place for us and got right down to thinking up goldbricking alibis.

Work here is the main word we soon found out, and might I add we are all still trying to duck, but it seems that as soon as one finds a spot in the woods, oops I mean jungle, the tree-chopper-downers come along and there you are not only up to your neck in work, but also find out that now your haven is so exposed as to make it useless again as a hideout.

You might wonder what all this labor is about and also expect to find out in this chapter or letter, but no, it shall never be.  I’m saving that for the next installment, which I’m sure you will be breathlessly awaiting.  Regards to all.

Love, Your son,  Everett

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Everett Smith, reverse side of photo states: New Guinea 10/24/44

The origin of the nickname, “Angels” for the 11th Airborne has always been up for debate.  At Dobodura, New Guinea, while unloading the supplies off the ships that were constantly pulling into port, it became well-known that the troopers of the 11th A/B were a bit more light-fingered than the other units.  The distribution of the food and war materiel was severely unbalanced, with the bulk of it going to the troopers.  It was definitely at this time that they acquired the title of “Swing and his 8,000 Thieves.”  My father and many other troopers believe that the title remained with them up until the release of the internees at Los Banos prison on Luzon, when a nun looked up and said that the parachutists looked like “angels sent to save us.”

One other theory I found, while still on New Guinea, a senior officers questioned General Swing about the uneven delivery of supplies.  Swing , with a rather tongue-in-cheek attitude, replied that it could not possibly be due to his “angels.”

And yet, there is another idea on the subject.  The troopers, with their antics, were often in trouble.  After a rather rough weekend, a senior officer asked just how many of the 11th airborne’s “little angels” were in the stockade.  The reply, of course,  was, “none of my angels are.”

No matter what the reason or nickname, this undermanned and under-equiped division trudged on.

Camp Polk & the Louisiana Maneuvers

Army Town - Leesburg, PA

Army Town – Leesburg, PA

It took 22 trains and one week to transport the proud and cocky division to Camp Polk in the west-central area of Louisiana.  This was the home of the armored forces and it would not take long for the two units to clash.  But first, they planned to enjoy the improved living conditions and the 3.2 beer.  They found time to “hit the town” and often it was a place called “Scotty’s,” just outside of Southern Pines.  The tank units did not take kindly to the finely tuned troopers who were in the best shape of their lives (and they knew it!).  The 11th would often “unboot” the tankers when they were in town, forcing them to return to base barefoot and find their footwear neatly lined up in their barracks.

building a pontoon boat in Calcasieu Swamp

building a pontoon boat in Calcasieu Swamp

Beginning Jan. 10, the men underwent harsh training in preparation for the tests at the hands of the Third Army.  The Louisiana Maneuvers began Feb. 5 with the troopers bivouacked near Hawthorne, LA.  There were 4 tactical maneuvers lasting 3 days each.  First, they jumped and marched immediately after.  Then they attacked and defended using an attack sequence of “flags & umpires.”  Finally, the “enemy” broke through and they would retreat.  The weather in the Calcasieu Swamp was snow, hail, sleet and enough rain to swallow a jeep.  The men joked that the camp should be a naval base.  On Feb. 20, the 11th airborne division took and passed their infantry tests.

About this time, Gen. Swing was pleased to be told that the troopers were being sent to the Pacific and MacArthur would consider the unit his “secret weapon.”  This turned out to be one reason for the lack of newspaper coverage for the division until they landed in the Philippines.  I discovered this after an extensive search in the Australian library and newspaper archives.

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Click on photos to enlarge.

The 11th was restricted to base for one month.  Swing decided the men should travel to their POE (Port of Exit/Entry) Camp Stoneman, CA incognito as Shipment # 1855 in an effort to bypass the Inspector General’s men.  Orders were to look and act as a “straight-leg” unit; ALL paratrooper I.D. and clothing to be stowed away.

News from home:  The Banner (Broad Channel newspaper sent to servicemen) reports:  NY Governor Dewey signed a bill that would allow fishermen of Jamaica Bay to shoot an unlimited amount of eels, but the shooting had to be done with bow and arrow.  Smitty’s mom says:  everyone is still trying to figure that one out.

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Fellow blogger, Carl D’Agostino at “i know i made you smile”, sent me his father’s pictures and information.  Arthur D’Agostino had been with the 8th Armored Division.  They were stationed at Camp Campbell, KY until 1943 when they were moved to Camp Polk, LA to prepare for combat.  The division was sent to the European Theater on 5 December 1943, but Mr. D’Agostino was in recovery from surgery and was spared the journey.  Carl’s blog can be found HERE.

Click on images to enlarge.

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