"MY RECALLOF EXPERIENCES ON NEGROS ISLAND"
_________________

Lou Aiken

 

 

               

MY RECALL OF EXPERIENCES ON NEGROS ISLAND

Louis Atkin



        Some time in early 1945, "G" Co. and others boarded several C-47 planes in an attempt to save the world's largest hardwood sawmill from being destroyed by the Japs, but some minutes away from our destination, advance planes radioed back that we were too late. The Nips had already set fire to it and we were to abort this jump.

        We returned to base camp and boarded an L.S.T. boat. We landed next day at ( ) Port, then hiked several miles up a gravel and dirt road toward the mountains. This road was lined bumper to bumper with hundreds of motor vehicles of all types. They had been riddled and burned by machine guns, apparently planes'.

        That first night told us this would probably be our last night for quite a while in which we would not have to pull guard. Sergeant (I think it was "Fowler') asked if I thought we should pull guard since we were the advance platoon. I said to wait until 10:00 p.m.; then if all was quiet, we would let our boys get a last good night's sleep for a while.

        At about 10:00 p.m. (fairly bright moon) he and I walked up and across the road from the troops and proceeded to relieve our kidneys when we heard someone walking down the road (neither of us had a weapon with us). We squatted behind a bush where we were. It was a lone Nip with fixed bayonet (which was chromed). When he got even with us, we could tell he was watching the other side of the road.

        We both decided to jump him at the same time. Sgt. Fowler grabbed his gun and I grabbed at the Nip. He screamed so loud. (the Nip) that I guess I relaxed my hold and he took off like a scared rabbit. Sgt. Fowler kept the rifle, though, and displayed the shining bayonet to our buddies who wanted to know what the hell happened out there.

        The order of the following events I'm not sure of, but I think:

        The 3rd battalion hiked into Lusirago, a village owned by a very wealthy Cuban woman (she graduated from the University of California). Her husband had been missing for 2 years or more. She had several houses scattered about the country. Her large colonial style, elegant home had been sabotaged and burned by guerrillas who just plain looted for their existence. She had her own army -- about 1200 natives -- all armed. She also kept her lawyer (an Englishman) with her wherever she went. The lawyer smoked a pipe but had been unable to get tobacco.

        The way I found out (I smoke a pipe) was when Rodriguez and I came to town, two natives approached us and said, "We have a warm shower fixed for you." We went in, stripped off while someone poured warm water on us through a tub or bucket with holes in it. When we came out, our clothes had been washed, dried and ironed. Next we were invited up to the only brick house left standing. The woman introduced herself and her lawyer, who invited us to the wine cellar which was hidden underground. It was huge and full. We had our pick. I became curious and asked why she picked us. She said, "My lawyer has had no pipe tobacco in over two years and he would like to buy some if you can spare it." I was the only one in Co. "G" that used pipe tobacco. I gave him some and we became good friends.
Our battalion divided the perimeter of the town into several so-called "gates" or guard posts. This woman (above) had a 100-piece band and every night would bring a few band members around and we would dance with some of the natives. She explained that her army was out in front of us and would know well ahead of us if we were to be attacked. In fact, one morning she sent me word there were two Nips sleeping in a hut just 4 doors from my gate. She offered to have her men kill them but I said we would like to capture them if possible. We had to kill them in the long run.

        Soon after, the word came for the 3rd platoon and one officer (a 2nd Lt. just arrived) to go up about 30 kilometers in the mountains and relieve 1200 guerrillas who were to come down and be trained in jungle warfare. The day we arrived at our destination, one of our men had an appendix to rupture, so we called (radioed) for a small plane. When it came, the 2nd Lt. got on the plane with the patient and we saw him no more.


        After we set up camp, I went out with half of the men on a 3-day scouting trip. We returned to camp for one day and I went back 3 more days with the other half. The half that stayed behind secured food for us and they did a jam-up job (best eating I had in a long time). When the scouting party (we always hid our helmets, shirts and knapsacks and put on straw hats, dodging close contact with natives we might see) did locate a large body of Nips on a return trip, we radioed headquarters and pretty soon a flight of B-24's would come over and pattern bomb the coordinates we gave. Sometimes when it was convenient for us, we would watch. It was hard to imagine how any human being could survive such onslaughts, but they did. We never went in close to observe the damage because we knew we would still be outnumbered about 100 to 1. About 36 days after going up, we were ordered to return.

       
        I believe next we made a forced march until about 10:00 p.m. that night. The order came to pull off to the right of the trail and everybody get a good night's rest. The moon was bright but there were clouds scudding across every now and then. I got part way under a bush and stuck my machete in the ground beside me as I was fairly close to the trail. About 1:30 a.m. I woke up because someone was standing over me partly on my jacket where I could not turn over. I figured someone was going to relieve himself. Just as I went to ask him to get off me, the moon came out from behind the clouds. I looked up -- it was a Nip! He had his rifle with fixed bayonet in his hand, little billed cap on his head, knapsack on his back and uniform. As the moon came out, he gave a loud gasp. I began stealthily trying to reach my machete without his noticing me move, but he was as surprised as I was and took off like a scared rabbit. I woke up the guy next to me while I could still see the bushes shaking in the direction he went, but the soldier said, "You must have been dreaming -- probably someone going to relieve himself," and he rolled over and went back to sleep. Me, I didn't sleep any more that night.


        Sometime later while the company was on a reconnaissance, we had just dug in for the night. I dug a shallow foxhole because there was a lot of gravel in my position. As I was putting mosquito dope on, Hendren called out to me and said, Rebel, there is a Jap just came over the hill above you and squatted behind that bush about 30 yards in front of you. As it was almost dark, we did not fire our weapons unless absolutely necessary because it would give away our exact position. We still had the 5-second grenades then, and I jerked the pin out of a grenade and made a perfect toss. You could follow the course of the grenade by the trail of sparks from the burning fuse, but just before the sparks got to the ground, they arced right back over the exact route I pitched from. I knew he had caught my grenade and returned it. All I could do was get as low in my foxhole as possible. The grenade went off just as it touched the ground. I got some dents in my helmet and gravel all down my back, and I was stone deaf with one heck of a headache for the next ten hours.

        I jerked the pin out of another grenade, held it almost 3 seconds, and tossed it. Evidently it went off just as he reached to catch it. They said he called "Medic" all night long (I couldn't hear). The next morning Keith went out, finished him off, came back and offered me his sabre. I said 'no soap" -as a scout I wanted nothing that might hamper my movements or make a noise. Neither did I care for souvenirs. One other time I refused a sabre souvenir. In fact, the only thing I was going to bring back was two small flags. However, one time when I hid my musette bag back in the bushes while I went on patrol, some native (I guess) must have spotted me, and two days later when I returned, my bag was empty.

        Now that I think back, I believe one thing that made me feel the way I did about souvenirs was that it might make me remember some things I did not want to remember. For when I shipped out of Finchhaven, the ship I was on had about 60 G..I.s who were all right physically but were mentally pitifully crazy, and we had to file by their caged quarters each time we went for our meals. I often wonder if many of them were ever really healed; if they were able to return to their normal lives; and how it must have affected their family and loved ones. War is hard on so many, whether they saw action or stayed at home and prayed for their loved ones to return safe and sound.

        There were those shallow graves we found in one village that the Japs had evacuated. I believe they were some of our pilots who had been captured, and pinned down with bamboo bars so close they had to face that awful sun till they died of heat and torture. It looked as though the Nips even used their shallow prison for their slit trenches.

I believe next we went past Baccolod (the capital of Negros Island) and worked our way up a tall mountain. This time two tanks - I think from the 42nd Armored - accompanied us. About 2/3 of the way up, we came to a narrow ridge and found 3 machine guns on our right flank holding up our advance. We promptly knocked out the two in the banana grove, but then the third one would take everything we could throw at him and still jump up just like a jack-in-the-box and give us about 30 rounds of light machine gun fire, then disappear before we could get him. I finally motioned for one of the tanks to come up; then I fired a tracer bullet into the location. The tank fired a round of 75 mm. directly into that position and before the dust settled, that jack-in-the-box was back firing at us. So about four of us slipped over the side quickly with the others' covering fire till we could lob a second grenade in on him. He attempted to come out then, but never had a chance.

        Close to the top, we came upon a once cultivated field with a steep drop-off on either side and a narrow gauge railroad running part way across the west side. The field looked to be about 400 yards wide and 350 yards deep and at that point 3-inch shells began to burst about 20 feet above ground. I spotted, I think, about 5 different flash locations above us. The tank commander said if I would sit on his tank and mark those locations out with trace ammo, he would silence them. That he did... . a couple with only one round. Their accuracy was utterly amazing to me.


        We then discovered the field was mined and the tanks said they could not risk any men till we secured the jungle way on the far side of the field. We all knew there had to be some automatic weapons in that hedgerow. The colonel sent word for me to take 10 men and secure that hedgerow; then I knew exactly how another sergeant in the 3rd platoon felt the day before, when he was ordered to take, I believe, 8 men and check out a deep ravine on the right flank. We all knew that the Nips could see anybody that came down that steep incline before they reached the heavily jungled bottom. Only three came back, and how they managed, shot up like they were, I don't know.


        I asked for volunteers and the whole 3rd platoon answered. I believe that bunch would have followed me into hell itself if I asked. There never was or will be a closer knit group than the original 503rd, and certainly no better fighting group. I picked out 10 men, or I believe it must have been 11. I pointed out places where I felt machine guns would most likely be, and had them spread out about 20 ft. apart, stay abreast and keep one eye out for any dead grass, which meant a mine was there. I gave orders that at the first shot everyone was to hit the ground and empty at least one clip of ammo at the nearest fire flashes as quickly as possible because even the tank could not fire the first few seconds. We advanced almost half way when a large Nip came out of a spider hole, threw a grenade and tried to run out, but he never made it. About 75 yards from our destination, a fine mist fell -­then directly in front of me I saw this tracer bullet from a machine gun coming straight at me. Knowing I could not beat a bullet, I still squeezed the trigger as I started diving for the ground. About 10 feet from me, the tracer suddenly rose up and went over my head as if deflected by some unseen hand, and at the same time I saw my explosive bullet explode as it miraculously hit some part of that gun. Three Nips piled out -- one, I believe got away. As the tanks and troopers then opened up, we crawled to the railroad and out. When I took inventory, I only had 6 wounded and all conscious -- four crawled out on their own. The other two we dragged out as we retreated. There were seven automatic weapons in that hedgerow, including a 40 mm pompom, but thank goodness he could not lower his sights enough to hurt us.


        One of the tanks seemed to think I was still out there (I was on their extreme left flank). He rushed out, hit or set off a mine which blew a large enough hole that when he slid off in it, only the very back end was sticking up. The other tank followed his exact tracks to where he was and somehow grabbed that tank without opening his turret and pulled him back to behind our lines. I never saw those tanks again.


        This mine field had given General Coney and his Imperial Marines enough time to slip away. We continued on up to the top of this mountain. Rodriguez and I were trying to find out where they went to, when we discovered a rope tied to a bush on the east and steep side of the mountain. When we climbed down the rope, we saw some 20 or more cave openings on the face of the cliff. We picked out one of the larger caves and climbed in. As we climbed through the opening, we found bunk beds two high on either side of the cave. I lifted up the mattress on the first bunk top and there were some Japanese coins. One was a large silver coin a little larger than our silver dollar with a replica of Mt. Fujiyama on one side. (Shortly after the war, I lost my wallet while dove hunting on Mr. Ertle's farm, and in it was my Nip coin.)


        Rod and I continued back into the winding cave for maybe 150 feet. There were candles placed at intervals that we lit as we went. We went through several large rooms; one had all sorts of hardware supplies; another had what I estimated to be 150 lb. bombs they were cutting open to make explosives out of. Then when I saw some plastic explosive, I had Rod put his candle out and we exited. I told the colonel if he would send down a demolition team with some primer cord and a fuse going to that room, we could blow the whole mountain top off. He did, and we moved back about 500 or 600 yards. There was a large tree standing about where I figured the top of that room was, and when the explosion set off, that tree went so high we lost it in the sunlight. It came down about 50 feet from us.


(EARLIER)

        At one phase while advancing up the mountain, A-20 dive bomber planes came in on our left flank and strafed and bombed a deep canyon. It proved disastrous for our planes. We watched three shot down-in a cross fire. The Nips had machine guns dug in high into the cliff sides.

        One plane that was hit and caught on fire turned and came down the center of our ridge. As it passed overhead, I was amazed to see a man crawling out on each wing. As the plane touched down, they rolled off to the ground. I was later told they both survived, but were broken up some.

(LATER)
        While searching for the Nip concentrations, "G" Co. 3rd platoon was asked to take a narrow but high ridge called Hill 99. We had just received a few new replacements. One that I remember in particular was so eager. He said he had a hard time getting the Army to take him because of his job and he had a young wife and small kid. Then the morning we started up Hill 99, he came to me with his wallet in his hand and said, "Rebel, I have a strong premonition I am going to get killed soon." This gave me a sickening feeling because he was the 5th man to come to me with that premonition. All had died soon after. I tried to convince him that was not so since he had not even seen any combat yet, and as a forward scout, I was much more apt to get hit than he was, but that I had bought me a round trip ticket before I left home. Besides, only the chaplain could send or handle his personal stuff. (I always wondered why these men came to me with those premonitions -- my life as a scout was rated at 8 seconds once enemy gunfire opened up.)

        Later I had two more men come to me with the same feeling. All were killed within two weeks of that declaration!
       
        About halfway up the mountain, the officer in charge asked me to drop back and relieve the man carrying a case of grenades. I always traveled as light as possible and was stronger than most. About 600 yards on up the trail, the officer, anticipating an ambush, had us swing off the trail to the right while going through some lantana grass. A Nip appeared in front with a white flag, then suddenly fell forward with a machine gun on his back (an old trick). His man behind him opened up about 100 rounds, killing my new recruit instantly. The officer called back for me, but by the time I got up there, the Nips had disappeared.

        We advanced more cautiously to the top and called on the 4.2 mortar with phosphorous shells to give us a few rounds on coordinates. It did not take the Nips long to evacuate, especially when the splatter from the phosphorous burned through and disabled most of their machine guns. We used some of their foxholes, making all two-man holes and using their machine guns that were still workable, along with ours. We had just got settled in good, when way off to our right an artillery unit came in on the radio and said, "I donut know how strong you are, but we just spotted about 5,000 Nips..advancing up the slope toward the top." They said "We can give you some support till dark." They did. (The left or east side of our mountain was almost straight up and down, so any enemy attack had to come from the south or west.)

        Promptly after sundown, we backed off down the mountain about 1500 yards to a short spur that ran off to the east. That night we could hear the Nips crawling and jabbering all night, looking for us (practically no moon). At one point (I was dug in a shallow hole on the inside of the spur) I heard two Nips close to me. They jabbered a bit, then started throwing rocks toward us. The first rock hit my helmet with a metallic clank. I quickly took off my helmet and put it under me. After that, I was hit with several more rocks but no more clanks because I had my helmet and gun beneath me. The Nips stayed there about 15 minutes, jabbering some more, and then finally left.

        When morning came, we asked for the rest of "G Co. and returned to the top. Strangely enough, the Nips had left the top. The artillery unit to our west side sent over two observers to direct their shell fire. That night the Nips threw in knee mortars and anti-personnel bombs, causing several casualties, the two O.P. observers among them. We received two more. In a couple of days they had to be replaced, along with several more of our guys. The next two O.P. observers spotted a Nip sitting down behind one giant pair of binoculars on a bipod, watching us from a hill to the east of us. The hill was almost as high as ours, and according to them, over two miles away. Some of our boys fired several rounds, from a 50 caliber machine gun at him but could not make him move. Then one of our replacements came in with my original Ml that I had mounted a scope on just before the Markham Valley jump. They sent for me to see if I could do anything. At about the same distance to the Nip's right was a straight up and down cliff with a large white rock or something about center ways. I used this as a target to zero in on, using blue-goose ammo from an A-20 dive bomber plane. Through the scope and field glasses we could see the bullets explode where they hit.

        Next I switched over to the Nip. My first shot exploded a little beyond him. He got up, looked around, and when my next bullet exploded in front of him, he turned and started trotting toward a cave. At my next shot, his helmet flew off his head and he pitched forward on his face. Two Nips came out of the cave and dragged him in. We never saw anybody else at those huge field glasses again.

        While on that hill, we stayed two men to the foxhole. Within 16 days I had three different men killed in my foxhole. The first man.... I was asleep and the other occupant fell on top of me and woke me up. It was his turn to watch (it rained almost every night). He had insisted on stretching a shelter half overhead. I cautioned him to be sure and take it down before daybreak. I never was able to locate that sniper.

        The next replacement must have just stood up, I guess, but I had heard the rifle report after the bullet struck, and I located that sniper in a tree branch about 500 yards off. When I shot, he dropped his rifle and swung head down for the rest of the day. He had tied a rope around his waist.

        These first two men were new replacements and did not know how to prop your head up on your helmet to keep water from getting in your ears. You pulled a banana leaf over your face and were thankful for the rain because it not only washed your exposed clothes, but also the smell.

        The last man killed in that foxhole was my B.A.R. gunner. He was stationed in the foxhole to my right and asked to jump over and talk. I told him just to keep down low. What I didn't know was that sometime during the night some Nips had come about midway of the clean slope about 300 yards directly in front of me. When my B.A.R. man was squatting on his heels facing me, the bullet went completely through his helmet, splattering his brains all over. The man never fell, though; he just stayed propped against the side of the foxhole breathing hard. A medic yelled down to find out if I needed help. I told him it was too late -- just pass me down some field glasses and give me time to find that sniper. Then I wrapped my buddy up in my shelter half I always carried (this would prevent the flies from getting to him right away).

        I determined the angle of the bullet but all I had was 1000 yards of open field out in that direction. After a few minutes of careful scrutiny with the glasses, I decided I could see the tops of two rocks at about 300 yards. Just to the right of a little weed I could see something with my naked eye that looked like the rock on the right was a little bit larger than the one on the left. Next time it was vice versa. I passed the glasses to the foxhole on my left, then on my right. They said they could see no variation of size. I made up my mind that those rocks were helmets so I had my machine guns on each side of me line up on the weed. First I fired two anti-tank grenades at the weed, but they were both duds and neither shot far enough. Then I took my machete and sliced a "V" in my parapet, took Kentucky windage to the right of the weed, and squeezed off a round. One Nip raised up, pitched forward on his face and his rifle went off as he fell. Two more Nips jumped up and ran for the woods. They never made it.

        A day or two later someone passed the word around for Rod and me to go down the south slope and check out some big rocks. We were losing 2 or 3 men every day from some sniper in that direction. Rod and I went down checking out the big rocks, some as big as a large room. About 300 yards down, we decided this was not the ideal sniper's lair, and started back up. Around 2/3 of the way up, I looked up and saw Rod disappear over the top. I made about 10 or 12 more steps when suddenly I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise up. Instinctively I whirled and moved to my right, looking across a shallow ravine. Right in the open there was movement, a rifle barrel sticking out from under a camouflage net about 150 yards from me. I never gave him time to get me back in his scope. He pitched forward on his face and his rifle slid down the mountain side. When I got back to the top of my mountain, I told the nearest foxhole to watch that Nip with glasses and if flies did not swarm in 10 minutes, do a little target practicing. I heard no more shots.

        At the end or beginning of the 16th day, the artillery unit radioed us and said they were low on shells and could help us no more, so we pulled back to the rest of the 503rd. Evidently the Japs overheard that message, because as we started evacuating they started up our mountain in full strength. I was to be the last man and a certain medic (I would say the bravest man I ever knew) was to be the next to last man. I have seen this medic volunteer to crawl out into no man's land on several occasions, and drag back the wounded when personally I thought it was plain suicide. He would not wait for the area to be secured -- he'd say that man needed help NOW. As we were waiting for everyone else to evacuate, we could hear the guttural commands of many Nips coming closer and closer. About 30 yards down our side of the mountain there was a narrow ridge with a straight drop-off on each side, but no cover or concealment for nearly 20 yards. Everyone had to cross. The Nips knew this and hurriedly set up a couple of machine guns below in order to try to stop our retreat.


        Finally there was only this medic and myself. I told him to get up and make a run for it. I said, "I'll follow as soon as you get across, but if I don't make it, don't stop, because I can already see the bush tops shaking as the Nips are pulling themselves up the slope." He said, "Rebel, I'm froze -- I can't move.' I said, "Man, this ain't the time or place to freeze." The Jap voices were now so loud they were about to drown my low voice out. He still couldn't move. I pulled and tried to drag him, but there was not time and I knew I couldn't cross that opening dragging him. In desperation I pulled my knife and stuck him in the buttocks quick. That did the trick and he came up. He ran the ridge and I could see the machine gun was firing behind him. As soon as the firing stopped, I took off in high gear. I heard the popping of the bullets close to me even louder than the sound of the machine guns. I felt a tug at my belt and my left leg, and thought maybe I was hit, but when I got into cover I checked. My canteen had a hole in it (thank goodness that time it was empty) and my left boot string was shot in two along with part of my boot tongue, but no blood. We were some few minutes catching up with the rest of the company, but finally did.

        Not long afterward we joined up with the rest of our 503rd. I always felt we paid a high price for that 16 days on Hill 99.

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