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.
From my father’s description of his transport ship out of San Francisco and the approximate number of soldiers that were aboard, I can speculate that it was a Heywood class ship, as seen to the left. As the ship lumbered out to the ocean swells, many of the young men took their final glance of the USA. Smitty thought that his most boring time in the army was while he sailed on this cruise, although he did well in learning how to play cards – as did many other G.I.’s.
As they boarded, the ship’s crew immediately began enforcing the security procedures. All portholes and hatches were covered and no lights were allowed after dusk. The heat below deck would become intolerable. The arrival of the “ditty bags” filled with toiletries, cigarettes, gum and a harmonica brightened their spirits; although many of the mouth organs were sent flying overboard when the noise made from the tin-eared soldiers became too much for the ship’s officers to endure. This cruise would take 28 days.
When they passed the equator, as per naval tradition, the ship’s crew donned their apparel of King Neptune and his court in preparation of handing the “Pollywogs” (the soldiers) their certificates of crossing. The Royal Barber tried to cut the hair of the crew-cut troopers and the Royal Executioner paddled a backside with an oar if the receiving line moved too closely to a snail’s pace. (which one can imagine was every G.I. derriere that went by!) Smitty was one to really enjoy this sort of tomfoolery — even if it was with the navy! The water damage you see to Smitty’s certificate (pictured below) is one of the reasons I began to make a facsimile of his scrapbook onto the computer. The more research I did, the more people I discovered who were out there, also looking for data on their own relatives, ergo – this blog. I have re-typed the contents of the certificate to show the humor involved — despite a war.
To All Sailors, Marines, Whatever Ye Maybe: Greetings: and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Eels,Dolphins, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters and all other Living Things of the Sea: Know ye, that on this June 15 ’44 in Latitude 00000 and Longitude Cape Mendacia there appeared within Our Royal Domain the bound Southwestward for the Equator, the South Sea Islands, New Zealand and Australian ports BE IT REMEMBERED That the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourselves and Royal Staff: AND BE IT KNOWN By all ye Sailors, Marines, Landlubbers, Soldiers and all others who may be honored by his presence, that Pollywog Everett A. Smith 32816491 Having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks he has been duly initiated into the SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP Be It Further Understood: That by Virtue of the power invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show honor and respect to him wherever he may be. Disobey the Order under Penalty of Royal Displeasure. (bottom left) Given under our band and seal this Davey Jones, His Majesty’s Scribe – (bottom right) Neptunus Rex, His Servant – the signature appears to be Gregory Cullen
Click on photos to enlarge.
Letter III Somewhere at sea at a loss
Dear Mom, We have been on this tub for quite some time now and I must say that although the army doesn’t go to any great pains making you comfortable, they sure do go to extremes making it unpleasant. I can’t tell you as much as I would like to about the trip or what we are doing. One reason is that we don’t know where the heck we are anyway and as for what we are doing, well anything we might like to do would be stopped sooner than it got started. It has gotten so that now we have to play cards, if money is displayed, down in the hold. Seems as though the sea gulls over this ocean are the pious type and the sight of men gambling is revolting — or they think it is food.
To try and describe the food or the mess hall would curtail the use of profanity the like of which I wouldn’t attempt to use. To call it food in the first place is flattery at its best. Mess Hall is very appropriate — it is some MESS. This is the first time in my life that I can truthfully say I dread the thought of eating. We are supposed to tell you that on board ship we can purchase cigarettes for 4 1/2 cents a pack, also candy and a load of other stuff at cost price. We can also buy bottles of coca cola, but the blame stuff is so hot that we are of the opinion that loaded down with this coke in our stomachs, we might be used as depth charges if a sub should show up. We did receive free, with no strings attached, a bag full of necessary things from the Red Cross. It really was worthwhile going after.
Where we might be bound for is still a very big question that will no doubt be answered only when we finally arrive there. After all, if we knew, we might tell it to the stars and that would be just awful. I realize this doesn’t sound like a very pleasant letter, but then you must take into consideration this isn’t a very pleasant trip. None of those romantic moonlit nights. Well, that is all for today, so until later on when I will be back to add to this, I’ll say so long for now and all my love, Everett
Letter IV Still at sea in a quandary
Dear Mom, Well, here I am again as promised. Yesterday we had a little something different to sea besides the sea. Notice that I’m getting so that I can only spell the sea when I mean to write see. Early in the morning we had the pleasure of seeing another ship and must say it sure made one feel good. Why it should though I can’t say unless it is the thought that someone else is having it just as tough. Guess there is some truth in the saying, “Misery loves company.” We also had the pleasure of watching some islands in the far off distance. I won’t try to describe them to you, as that would be too much to expect to pass. (Censorship) You will kindly take notice that I used the words “pleasant” and “pleasure,” if I keep that up you might get the idea this is getting to be that kind of voyage. Some amusing things do happen though, such as the boys sleeping out on the deck getting caught in the rain or some clumsy ox slipping and sliding his way along the boat. By the way, I forgot to tell you that we get the regular news everyday in a printed form resembling a newspaper. Also music by record sounds tinny, but anything out here is good.
You can readily see I haven’t much ambition for writing today, which reminds me
Everett was blacked out by censors. Matter of fact, the way I feel right now, I don’t care much whether I do or not. Well, that is all for today’s report on nothing, so with all my love, I am your ever obedient son, Everett
Letter V Yep! Still at sea
Dear Mom, I was seriously thinking of tearing this letter up, as I couldn’t for the life of me locate an airmail stamp aboard ship. I kept at it though until finally fortune smiled down on me and success was mine. I have been pretty lucky so far at my card playing activities and should it hold out until we reach some civilized port, why I’ll be ahead and you will be pleasantly surprised when you receive my check for like amount. We can cable home money from abroad so might just as well take your advice — surprised? — and send it home for that day when we shall all return.
We have a large map of the world hanging up on the wall, which supplies us with as much amusement trying to figure out just where we are. According to figures, dates, times and patience, we should be hitting a port sometime real soon. In fact there is a rumor being whispered about that we will hit one tomorrow. Now this rumor comes from good authority seeing that it came from a fellow whose first sergeant is a second cousin to the uncle of the father of the first mate whose brother is third cook on this boat. Now, can’t you see why we are so glumly overjoyed? All kidding aside though, we should be nearing one soon.
We saw a movie last night down in the mess hall. It was quite an old picture, but luckily for me, I hadn’t seen it before, so therefore I spent my most enjoyable hour so far on this trip. The officers on this trip haven’t been having it quite as tough as us, but rough enough. In order to pass away their time they have taken up the game of badminton with a zeal and I must say have really kept at it until now this regiment can boast it has not only badminton players, but experts as well. By the way, I have also learned how to play the old card game of Cribbage. Ever hear tell of it before? Well mom, that is all for today, so once again I’ll sign off, but before I do, give my regards to all and I’ll write again soon. Love and kisses, Everett