Observations & Reflections
Letters and memoirs of a World War II veteran
William P. ("Bill") Adams
98th Chemical Mortar Battalion
Bill Adams joined the 41st National Guard Division in early 1940. The division was activated in September of 1940 and he was assigned to the 218th Field Artillery Battery. On 7 December 1941, the 218th was on a transport ship 600 miles out of San Francisco on its way to the Philippines (see photo at right - click to enlarge), with a planned stop for supplies in Hawaii, when they learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. The ship promptly returned to San Francisco and, on 18 December 1941, the 218th FA Battery became part of the 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion that was activated at Fort Lewis, Washington, that day.
Within two months, the 641st TD Bn crossed the country by troop train to Fort Dix, NJ, and soon went by troop transport from New York down through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia where it underwent extensive training. Its role was soon changed and it became a chemical mortar battalion, the 98th, armed with the 4.2inch chemical mortar.
The 98th CMB served with distinction in New Guinea and the Philippines, where it completed many tough missions against the entrenched Japanese. Bill Adams served with the unit from its beginning in 1941 to the end in 1945, earning a field commission as a forward observer for his company.
The photo at right (click to enlarge) is of Bill Adams on Luzon just before the war ended. Below are some of Bill's letters home and extracts from his memoirs that have been kindly supplied by his son Jim Adams. Readers can also see the extensive History of the 98th Cml Mortar Bn by the man who was its S-3, and a personal accoount of the Five Musketeers by Clare Prendergast
December 4, 1941 to Mom
December 4, 1941 to Gran
December 7, 1941 to Mom & Gran
Late December 1941 to Mom & Gran
Extracts from Memoirs
Life in a foxhole
How I became an FO
On to New Guinea, 4.2s and gas masks
Oro Bay, bombs and malaria
The Hollandia Operation
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay
Thursday Eve, December 4, 1941
Tomorrow morning we leave so I figured I'd better write before it's too late.
I had an unlucky break. Your swell Christmas package came today. They made me take it, so I had to unwrap it. Gee it surely was swell of you folks. It really made me wish I could be home for the holidays. I don't think we'll be gone too long though. If the situation doesn't get any worse, we'll be alright. Anyway, thanks a lot for everything.
We get up at 3:00 tomorrow morning. Load at 10:00, sail at noon. We've had beautiful weather the last few days. Last night it was a full moon. I have never seen a more beautiful night. The island that we are stationed on gives one a complete view of the harbor. All the colored lights of town combined with a full moon & clear night really made an impressive sight. I believe I'd like to live in this town. It's certainly different.
Say, I'm mailing a picture. It was taken at the Streets of Paris in Frisco. It cost $1.00 so keep better care of it than I did. The girl on the right is the one I had out for the night. The picture doesn't flatter her at all. Maybe you can see what I meant when I said she was beautiful.
I got a letter from Aunt Molly a couple of days ago. It was a nice letter and made me feel rather good that she thought of us before we left. I'll try and return it soon.
I have a favor I'd like to ask. Would you send all the Christmas cards you can think of that I should send, and all that you can find addresses to. I may be able to send some but if we double up O.K. Pick out a nice one for Aunt Molly and Uncle Will, Helen & Ned Henderson, etc.
We stop at Honolulu 6 days from today. At that time we're supposed to get a pass on leave to see the town. If I don't get too seasick this trip might be quite interesting.
Jamie and I are sending some money for your Christmas. I'll send more from Honolulu. I sure hope you folks spend a joyous Christmas. I think you'll have a good time with Sadie Jones. Tell her I think it is swell of her to have you down.
I went to an interesting place here in Frisco. It's called "Monas". Seems it's the queer hang-out if you know what I mean. They get around it by calling them women impersonators. It was really a laugh. They were so clever that you didn't know which were men and which were women. Boy they were fruity as a Christmas cake.
Well Mama, tomorrow I'll start my diary you sent. And also your letters following the same form. I'm writing Gran tonight also, so all my correspondence will be caught up except Aunt Molly.
Well old dear, it's time to close more news later along with lots more love, so keep a stiff upper until it no longer is desired.
Yours with love,
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay
Thursday Eve, December 4, 1941
I was surely glad to get your letter. You don't know how much a letter from home is appreciated. It won't be long now before we'll be leaving the good old U.S.A. behind. We sail out tomorrow at 12. It will be wonderful weather for the leaving day. You can say what you want about California, but the winters are really nice. Sun has been shining for the past three days. Now it's just like summer up North. The hills are all green, everybody wears light clothes. I could almost stand to live here.
I was telling Mother how I got my Christmas package today. It was premature for Christmas, but it was certainly appreciated. Every little package carries real Christmas cheer, and when the actual day rolls around there will be just as much feeling in me, as if I had received it then. Thanks a lot for everything Gran. I told Mother that I'm sending a little money home and more will follow from Honolulu, at which point we're supposed to have a leave. I ought to have something of interest to write about. You know it doesn't seem quite even possible, that we, who've never been away any distance, are going clear to the tropics. This is really going to be an interesting trip.
Several times we've had an interesting experience by stopping at Alcatraz. That is really an interesting prison. I hope that's as close as I ever get. There are hard looking guards all around the place, lots of watch towers and everything bristling with guns. It was really quite a sight.
Every time we take a trip to the city we take the most beautiful boat trip. It takes us clear across the harbor. We pass Alcatraz go right by the famous Golden Gate Bridge & the enormous bay bridge. It has really been an interesting experience.
I surely hope I don't get seasick. I hope my short experience on water at Seattle will save me from the uncomfortableness of boat sickness.
Gosh Gran, I've just about exhausted my information. I wrote Mother first before this one & combined between the two just about everything. I hope the two of you consider that each letter is for the other. That way you can get everything complete.
Well Gran, it's time to quit, so until the next time, which will be soon it's so long for now.
Aboard the S.S. Etolin
Sunday, December 7, 1941
Dear Mom and Gran:
This letter will be more or less to the both of you as the news I have to write would not be interesting if told twice by two people (myself and Jamie).
We left Angel Island about 7:00 A.M. Friday morning and loaded on our ship the "Etolin" about 11:00 A.M. It's an old Matson liner and really big. Our quarters are down on E-deck which is right next to the bottom. Crowded isn't the word for it. Each bed is 18 inches above the one below and they are stacked 4 high, with practically no aisle at all. We have the privilege of coming on deck any time we want. It really helps to be able to move around and see the water, even tho that is all you can see. Our food isn't bad; in fact considering the facilities it's quite good. They furnish steel plates so it isn't necessary to use our mess gear.
The first day out, just after we sailed under the good old Golden Gate Bridge, the going got a little rough. Boy! Am I glad my stomach could take it, for a lot of the fellows were really sick. The rail was really crowded for several days and it wasn't for sight seeing reasons. It was quite a mess for awhile, especially in such close quarters, but the men are gradually getting their so called sea legs.
It's surely a strange feeling to be moving along every day farther from home. A short time ago I'd never have believed it possible that it would be a foreign country for me.
A period of time (about 4 hours) has elapsed since my last writing. During that time all hell has broken loose. We were sitting on the foreward deck, when the boat began to noticeably change her course. As we watched, the ship turned completely around and began to travel at full speed. Black smoke poured out of the funnel & everything indicated speed. Next, an order came through the loud speaker system ordering all men to stand by in life preservers. At the same time our battery commander called a short non-com meeting giving us the most shocking news I've ever heard. He said "Pearl Harbor was severely bombed this morning. We're at war with Japan, and the ship preceding us has been hit & is sending S.O.S. Boys, things from now on are sure serious." With that on our minds we started to whip the men into some sort of order. Life boat drills & procedure to man ship. All life boats are lowered half way, fully provisioned. Black outs on all parts of the ship. We're about 400 miles out at this point. I think we'll head to San Diego or the nearest port. Probably there wait for a strongly protected convoy. We didn't make it after all. It could have been worse of course if we had gotten almost there we'd be in a hell of a fix. More later.
Well it's about 9:15 P.M. same day. Hell is poppin. Everything is blacked out. We got more dope. Manila, Midway, Wake and Pearl Harbor were all hit simultaneously. The USS Oklahoma was sent to the bottom. Last S.O.S. we heard from our sister ship was 4:00 P.M. It was still afloat at that time. This ship is really under full steam. It's so hot in the hold that it's almost impossible to sleep. Many men have taken their blankets on deck. Everything is quiet and orderly. We can't quite realize that this is the real thing. We're zig zagging our course. If we can get through the night I think we'll be alright. Most of the men still don't realize what is happening. More later. Incidentally, we're making 18 knots (in naval parlance, a knot is one nautical mile per hour; 18 knots equals about 20.7 mph. - Editor).
Well folks it looks like we made it OK. Its Monday evening 6:30 P.M. We're about 100 miles out of Frisco. We'll be in by morning. We had probably one of the closest shaves I ever want to have. If we had left one day earlier I probably would be writing this from a life boat, if I was lucky. We were a little over 600 miles out when this all happened, so it was pretty hot water. I don't know what will become of us now. It's rumored that we will stay at Presidio for an indefinite period of time. Also rumored that we'll wait in the harbor for a strong convoy & try again. I don't think anybody knows definitely. We won't ever come back to Lewis though. That's one thing everybody is pretty sure of. Jamie or I will probably call you from San Fran as soon as we get a chance. I imagine you were a little worried.
Well folks, it is 30 for tonight. Will mail airmail as soon as the boat docks. So until you hear from me again, so long for now with lots of love.
From your Bill
In San Francisco
Late December 1941 (exact date unknown)
Dear Mom and Gran:
I imagine you've been a little worried, well, don't because everything is OK. The letters might be a little spaced, but they will get there sometime. I hope you got the one I mailed from the boat when we hit dock. Since that time we've moved from here to there without, believe it or not, time to even think. I haven't been to town, bathed or even had my clothes off for two or three weeks now.
When the boat docked, we were moved by bus to Golden Gate Park. We stayed there (on the ground) for two days. It poured rain the last day and since then we've never been dry.
Now that it's all over, we realize what a close call we had. All the rumors we heard were true. The ship two hours ahead of us was hit. It was her SOS we heard. If our skipper hadn't used his head and turned when he got it, instead of waiting for orders, we'd be swimming now. The tension was really noticeable, quite an experience.
When we sailed in to the old harbor and the destroyer guarding the entrance pulled up alongside, they hollered over, "Boy, are we glad to see you". Made us feel mighty good.
While we were at Golden Gate Park, we heard all kinds of rumors. First we were going to return to our former stations which would mean Fort Lewis for me. Then we were going to Mexico. Well, the Fort Lewis rumor was almost a fact. For we loaded all our freight on to freight cars. Just as we completed the loading, the order came to unload, so here we sit. Now we're at Fort Mason. Our battery is being used as harbor defense, until we are relieved by the 53rd infantry. This is really war. Two nights ago, our battery was issued our 50 cal. machine guns. I am now machine gun sergeant. I really got a tough job. I and my crew of 7 & both guns are stationed on 24 hour duty over the docks of Frisco. We have 1000 rounds of ammunition. Both guns are loaded & ready to go. All my men have rifles with live ammunition, so have I for my pistol. They are really expecting an attack from the air. These guns are really beautiful models. We'd sure show the Japs one hell of a time if they came over us.
There have been several blackouts here. Last night we had some relief. This job is tough. We're situated up on a lawn. Sand bags have been stacked around our guns. We sleep as best we can. But we don't. It's poured rained ever since we've been here. There is no place to keep dry & no place to dry after we're wet. We'll be sitting right here night & day until our Battery moves from San Francisco. There is no relief and it's our job until an entire new company moves in. Some job. This is my first chance to write because it's been raining so badly that the paper would get wet. You'll probably find it a little damp as is.
The first boatload of wounded men came in yesterday from Pearl Harbor. The transports are lined up as far as you can see down here. It sure looks like a big convoy is forming. We won't know until the day we move when or how we're going.
Before all of this happened I met the most beautiful girl here. You probably have her pictures there by now. What do you think of her? If I were going to be here long I might get to like her a lot. In times like these though, a fellow's a lot better off with women out of his mind.
As I'm writing I can see the center of town about 8 blocks away. Boy! What I wouldn't give to get there for about 2 hours.
I haven't seen Jamie for about three days. I'm sort of separated from the battery.
Well I have to close as it's starting to rain again. I don't know why I haven't had any mail from you folks. Don't be afraid to write. Same address. Say thanks to Mrs. Hansen for me. I got a flat of Luckies as a Christmas present. Well it's good-by with love for awhile. Please write soon.
Life in a foxhole
Finally we were able to overcome this tie-up and moved on to either the next hill, a point of resistance or nightfall, whichever came first. It was a combat ritual. Hike until we met resistance or had to spend the night, then dig our two man fox hole with our only tool, a small folding shovel that hung from a web belt alongside our canteen and pistol. It was important to dig in as quickly as possible as you always planned on incoming fire at any moment. It was also important to complete the job before dark. At dark everything shuts down after perimeter defense is established and nobody or nothing moves without being shot. You can understand why infantry needs to be replaced often when engaged in this type of combat. There is no hot food, no change of clothes and no bath. We had just enough water to drink and perhaps brush our teeth once in a while.
We carried a small pack with food, toiletries, poncho and anything else that was light and important to our welfare. We also had a fairly heavy backpack plus our rather large radio for sensing fire. After my radio operator and I dug our fox hole before dark, often in tough soil with a very small ineffective shovel, we would stand guard duty till dawn at the rate of two hours on two hours off. Many times I would slap, pinch or bite myself to stay awake during my watch. One of the toughest tests of a combat soldier is sleep management and along with the daily hard work involved with this type of duty, it is a real physical test for even the hardiest of troops. It sometimes seemed to be a pleasant diversion when we met enough resistance which would force us to hold up for a few days until our infantry unit could take care of the problem.
How I became an FO
We had a casualty with one of our forward observers, so we needed one observer pretty quick or we would be operating at two thirds strength. I applied for the job and told our battalion commander that I had played golf and had a good sense of distances and that I had some experience sensing rounds during visits to forward infantry positions that were supported by our mortars. I was friends with all of the observers and knew all the shell sensing commands. They even let me fire a few rounds on some of those visits.
I told him that I could handle the job if he would give me one week with an experienced observer. He was pretty hard up to fill the position and since there weren't too many guys volunteering for the job, he sent me out the next day to spend a week with my good friend and a great observer, Pete Able. As operations sergeant I knew Major Batlin (our battalion commander) very well. By being Captain Saunders sidekick in his travels around the area, as well as working out of headquarters a lot of the time, I think he kind of liked and trusted me.
The next day I joined Pete at a forward position on a ridge held by the infantry company we were supporting with our mortars. It was a pretty active spot. The infantry company was being held up by an estimated squad of determined Japs. When we finally advanced through them about a week later, it was found there had been only four Japanese soldiers holding up an entire infantry company. These four soldiers had a bit of help, however, from a couple of Japanese howitzers that kept up enough shelling to keep us holed up longer than planned. We learned later that they were not Japanese howitzers, but captured American 75mm guns. They were very accurate with them and seldom very far off our positions.
You probably wonder how four Japanese soldiers could hold up an Infantry company for a week. It was easy and happened many times. They didn't dig foxholes for protection like we did. They dug caves in the sides and behind ridges which made it difficult to figure out how many were opposing you as well as making it very tough to pry them out. In this case they were dug into a ridge that ran perpendicular and adjoining the one we occupied, but slightly below us. They sniped at us enough to keep us on edge and when they got bored with that they would fire six to ten rounds of their small knee mortars, and then duck back into their caves before Pete could bring mortar fire on them.
They were so close to us they could hear the mortars firing from our gun positions which gave them about thirty seconds warning to get back into their caves before the shells hit. We could almost hit them with rocks they were so close, but they were good soldiers and stayed active enough to make it appear they were a much larger force. The infantry sent out several patrols to take care of the matter but were repelled by machine gun fire and rifle fire and were forced back with casualties. Pete finally solved the problem. He called for two rounds per gun of white phosphorous shells followed by two rounds of high explosive shells at the time of one of their knee mortar attacks. The burning hot phosphorous fell around them and into the cave and drove them out. When they exited the two high explosive rounds solved the problem.
My week with Pete was time enough to get me assigned to the platoon needing the observer. When I arrived, it was another ridge position that had been occupied by the infantry for several days. We moved forward the day after I arrived and in the next several weeks we moved to several new positions until we got stuck for five days on one pretty hot spot. We drew machine gun fire and frequent mortar fire while we were dug in on a ridge, but unfortunately the ground ahead of us was a bit higher. Immediately in front of our position was a short valley that dropped down about 50 or 60 feet before it rose up to become a higher ridge in our front. Of course the goal was to take the higher ridge, but we finally stopped as far as we could go.
The Japanese troops occupied deep bunkers and caves and made it tough for us to make any further progress. We pounded them with our mortars but with little effect. The next day they peppered us with machine gun fire when we least expected it. Though we were dug in on the back side of our ridge, they had enough elevation to reach us with small arms fire. They would pick a time of their choosing, haul out a light machine gun from their cave, and give us a quick spurt of fire, then pull the gun back into the cave. I could never bring in mortar fire in time to catch them. On once such occasion they shot a man about fifteen feet behind and slightly to one side of me and both he and I were out of our foxholes at the time. He took three bullets in the legs and I got one through the canteen fastened to my web belt. His wounds were not life threatening, as the machine gun in use was a 25 cal. model and left a very small wound. On the other hand my canteen was killed. God was with me on several occasions during my war experiences, for what reason I do not know, but you take all the breaks you are given in war and thank him profusely for his selectivity.
On to New Guinea, 4.2s and gas masksIn the spring of 1943, most of the 641st was finally leaving Australia and on their way to New Guinea. Sgt. William Adams remembers the trip to Oro Bay and his unit's first encounter with the Japanese at Milne Bay while in route:
We left on schedule from Rockhampton, Australia on a very small ship, which before the hostilities began, served as a banana boat between New Guinea and Australia. The ship could only carry about one hundred and fifty men with their equipment. Our battalion would be shipping on several small ships over a several week period. The destination of Oro Bay, New Guinea, was only accessible for small ships, as the Japanese had total air and sea control of the southwest pacific. Small ships such as ours would travel only at night and during the day they could pull in very close to the shore of small islands or along the coast of New Guinea as we drew closer to Oro Bay. When the boat was parked close to shore, we would disembark and take shelter inland and if our ship was unharmed we would embark again for another nights travel. As I recall it took about three days to make the trip traveling only at night.
The second day out we pulled into a small sheltered harbor in southern New Guinea at day break and we had pulled so close to shore that we could disembark on gang-ways directly to land. During unloading we received our first taste of war when we heard an air raid alarm from our anti aircraft defense at the harbor and they soon opened fire on enemy planes. Looking up we could see a "V" formation of silver planes high in the sky. We learned those were high altitude bombers that dropped their bombs in unison on a pre-chosen target such as an airfield or our anti-aircraft gun positions. The high-flying bombers were usually accompanied by dive-bombers whose job would be to pick out various individual targets. And both bomber groups were usually accompanied by fighter planes which served as protection against our meager fighter plane defense. Our fighter planes at the time were not only limited in number, but they had a hard time shooting down the very nimble Japanese Zeros. The air raid was providing us quite a show until we realized we had better move inland to safer positions.
A larger supply ship had anchored further out in the water from our ship during the night and we saw a dive-bomber make a solid hit on it causing heavy smoke and loud explosions. We learned later that it was one of our battalion supply ships. We were told later that they probably could see our ship but could not make a bombing run on it due to our proximity to shore which was lined with palm trees. It was reasoned that they were afraid their planes might hit the trees when coming out of their bombing dives. This apparently was one of the reasons that our much smaller ship always parked close to shore.
It seems at times that humor became a strange bedfellow of impending tragedy. That was the case with this Japanese air raid. I failed to mention that we learned in Rockhampton that we would receive new weapons consisting of 4.2 inch mortars after arriving in New Guinea. Consequently, our battalion would no longer be an anti-tank battalion and would eventually become the 98th Chemical Mortar Battalion. These weapons fired high explosive, white phosphorous and chemical gas shells. The gas shells contained standard World War I type gasses such as mustard and phosgene. We had barely arrived at suitable positions of safety ashore and were enjoying the Japanese air show, when an army truck roared by filled with a black quartermaster crew frantically waving and yelling at us to put on our gas masks because a ship close to us in the harbor was carrying new 4.2 mortar shells, some of which were Mustard and Phosgene gas. This of course was our supply ship which we could see was on fire and we could hear continuous explosions as the ammo it carried detonated. They excitably told us that the wind was blowing our way but unfortunately, our gas masks were in our duffle bags aboard ship. To a man we rushed back to the ship (the air raid was still in high gear) and attempted to accomplish two things as fast as we could: find a gas mask and get back to safety on land.
I'm sure you can visualize the urgency these two needs demanded and appreciate the sudden panic this caused. Couple this panic with the added emotion of this being our first air attack and you can imagine the wild stampede to the ship for gas masks. Speed suddenly became a most important factor. We had to reach the ship and retrieve our masks before the Japs sunk the ship with our masks, or get gassed by exploding shells. Multiply these motivations infinitely and you have a fair picture of the activity that took place. If we could have photographed the next 30 minutes and choreographed it, we could have put Mack Sennett out of business.
First you have to understand how our gas mask worked. They come in two parts; the upper mask fits the face while the breathing mechanism, that pulls air through a detachable filter, is located below the face mask. It is simple to operate. You just attach the mask to the filter and slip the holding strap over your head and breathe. We had been highly trained in their use for several months, but you would never have known it to watch these guys handle those gas masks during the crisis at hand. And I was as bad as all the rest. When I think back at my own panic trying to find my duffle bag mixed up with so many other duffle bags that were thrown on deck by the ship crew and with all the frantic soldiers, you can understand the eventual course of action taken by all. It was quickly noted that the chance of finding your own bag would be like trying to stuff an oyster into a slot machine. The problem took little time to be solved. With typical American ingenuity, we rifled any bag we could find. The effort was made at high speed, as a threat to our life was imminent. It didn't take long for the deck of the ship to be strewn with clothing and personal items. Covered with almost everything you could imagine, except gas masks.
I failed also to mention one other very important detail regarding those early gas masks. At the bottom of the filter was a plug similar to a cork in a bottle of wine. It was a common sight to see winded guys with puffed red cheeks from the long dash to the ship, hastily putting on their mask and trying to take a breath with a cork in place. They are out of breath already from the run to the boat and the sensation of no air coming through the mask is a shock. They rip off the mask and throw it to the ground, or hold it in their hand, take a couple of breaths and try it again. Whoops! They forgot the cork again, so the process is repeated until a mental light bulb goes on reminding them to remove the "plug". During all of this mask retrieval operation, every second away from that life saving gas mask kept reminding you that every breath you were taking might be carrying damaging amounts of deadly Phosgene or Mustard gas.
I remember the valiant captain standing at the end of the gangway directing traffic between those coming on board and those leaving. He was doing one heck of a job shouting out orders and trying to maintain some discipline. The humor lay in that his mask was properly attached to his face but he forgot to attach the filter. Breathing was simple and his mask was filled with the sweet odor of the sea. Thank goodness for him that was the only odor he was breathing. And he was not alone. I was one of the idiots that tried that for a short time as well. And one more thing. We eventually found out that there were no chemical shells on that ship.
After this exciting day was over and we had cleaned up the mess on deck, night fell and we were again on our way to Oro Bay. In addition to some sobering thoughts about the panic reaction to our first air raid, we had a few laughs about our response to "the deadly gas attack" from our own shells.
Oro Bay, bombs and malariaWe unloaded quickly early in the morning at Oro Bay, New Guinea. The harbor was a sight to behold. There was evidence of many sunken ships littering the entire bay. It was pretty evident that the Japanese air force was dominant and aggressive in the area. On landing, trucks were waiting and we were immediately taken to higher elevation several miles away on newly bulldozed roads so we would be well out of the way of the routine bay bombings.
We slept in hammocks with mosquito nets attached for several weeks until we felt it was safe to put up tents. Our new location provided us with great views for watching enemy air attacks. During the time we spent at Oro Bay, air battles were numerous and we became quite expert at identifying different types of planes on both sides. The Japanese bombed the harbor frequently and when we first arrived the frequency of attacks would occur two or three times a week. After about three months, close to the end of our stay, the bombings dropped to once a week to once every two weeks.
Usually the high "V" formation bombers would come over and drop their load of bombs on ships in the bay, but the real show was the dive bombers and the Zeros with their prominent rising sun under the wing. There are probably few soldiers during the war that saw as many air battles involving bombings, dogfights and dive-bomber attacks as we did. We were camped high on a hill that gave us visual coverage of the entire bay and witnessed dozens of planes shot down on both sides. Originally, our fighters were Bell Airacobras and P-51 Mustangs and they did not fare too well against the more maneuverable Zero. Inside of several months we saw the introduction of the American P-38 twin fuselage fighter planes and the air battle over Oro Bay changed immediately. The Zero was no match and we began to see large scale destruction of Japanese aircraft of all varieties. It was pretty much evident to us that Japanese air supremacy would soon be over.
The remainder of our stay at Oro Bay was uneventful but our health was not faring too well. The early Atabrine tablets that were intended to protect us against malaria were apparently not doing the job. In spite of taking one pill daily, as prescribed, quite a few men were coming down with the sickness. For a while they thought some of the guys avoided taking the tablets so they could get an easy ticket home. To ensure this was not happening, officers lined us up every morning after reveille, and personally observed each man taking the pill. Apparently we were honest as the men continued to come down with malaria. It took several months to fix the problem with new improved pills which dropped the malaria count to normal, but the guys began to look like Chinamen as they took on a yellow tinge. New Guinea was highly infested with the Anopheles mosquito which is the major source of this miserable re-occurring sickness. I was very fortunate and was one of the few in our outfit who never had a bout with the fever during almost three years in New Guinea.
Within four or five weeks after arriving in Oro Bay, our new self-propelled anti-tank weapons arrived. They were deadly looking vehicles that fired a 75 mm shell in a tank body. Of course they were useless as there was nothing to be deadly with. There were no tanks in New Guinea that we ever saw, and if there had been, these vehicles would have been bogged down in the wet jungle soil right along with the Japanese tanks. We had already been assigned 4.2 inch mortars and were soon to be designated as a Chemical Warfare Battalion, so those good looking new self-propelled anti-tank weapons were sent somewhere else. I hope they didn't wind up with a Mountain Division in the Alps. They would have been just as "good looking" yet ineffective there as they would have been in New Guinea. Soon after, we received our mortars and happily kept these weapons until the end of the war.
The Hollandia OperationThe Hollandia landing was the most notable combat experience of all those we made in New Guinea. It was a masterpiece landing and an extremely successful campaign. Like all of our landings in New Guinea, the area selected was pounded so severely by ships and planes that we walked ashore with no problems. There was eventually fairly heavy resistance as we reached the Japanese positions of defense as Hollandia was a larger Japanese base than any we had attacked to that point. It was a base that held great importance to the allies, as it would become a major embarkation and supply point for our planned invasion of Luzon at a later date.
One bonanza we found awaiting us at Hollandia was the large quantities of supplies the Japanese had stored there. This was no big surprise as Hollandia had also been a large supply point from which they serviced their troops in New Guinea. We found millions of dollars in Japanese occupation money which was used to finance their occupation of the provinces of New Guinea. Some of this money was in Dutch, some in Papuan and I'm sure they had some already printed to use in their planned Australia invasion. We also found small boxes containing the ashes of Japanese soldiers. They were about five inches square and covered with white silk with Japanese inscriptions written on the sides. After the war I brought several of them home and after I showed them to my Uncle, he contacted a professor at the University of Chicago, who informed us of the importance these remains had with the families in Japan. We immediately mailed them back and received very appreciative letters of thanks in return.
Part of my duty during the Hollandia operation was to accompany Captain Bennett Saunders, our operations officer, on visits to mortar positions during active firing periods to check on operations and handle any problems that arose. He never failed to take me and I privately held the thought that he felt I was a good shot and might offer him more security in case of trouble. My weapon at the time was a 30 Caliber Carbine rifle which could be fired as a single shot or automatically. On one such trip, which we were making on foot, we passed a small rainwater lake and saw a duck-sized bird flying over it. He bet me I could not hit it, which I did with one shot. The bird was about forty yards away on the fly which I must admit was quite a feat with a single shot rifle. I knew it was mostly luck, but he never believed it was anything more than my expert marksmanship. He bragged about this for a long time to anybody that would listen. From that point on he would never visit a gun position unless I was with him. When I attended my one and only army reunion in Portland, Oregon, twenty years later, we embraced and the first thing he said was: "Do you remember that bird you shot in Hollandia?"
End-of-war ruminationsHere are some random thoughts near the end of the Luzon campaign in 1945. It is strange, but small arms fire did not seem to instill the fear in most soldiers as that of artillery or mortar fire. Small arms fire sounded like small firecrackers or a snapping noise. By the time you heard it and if you were still standing, it was all over and you were safe. Artillery and mortars were a different matter. You could hear them coming well before they arrived so you had time to hit the ground and worry a little as to whether it had your name on it. These shells could come right after another, or just intermittently enough to really get on your nerves. Troops on the front line talked little and listened a lot. We walked around with our ears cocked constantly listening for the "Swoosh" or "Buzz" of incoming shells. You could always tell by the sound what kind of weapon was firing, but that knowledge was of little help if you happened to be in the wrong place. I must admit that toward the end of the war, I began to really dread that kind of attack, and during the last shelling we received before we were relieved for a short break, I found myself shaking in my fox hole awaiting the next incoming round of artillery shells. They make a loud incoming noise and several rounds prior were pretty close and I had the feeling the next one was mine. I was getting combat goofy. Thank God, we were relieved two days later for a rest. And not long after that, before I ever got back into action, they dropped the "Little Boy" on Hiroshima and it was all over.
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