Extracted from"BLESS 'EM ALL - the History of 2nd Battalion, 503d PRCT"
A Red Cross Man
"The boats will land you on Black Beach. You will cross 100 to 200
yards of mined beach and climb Malinta Hill. The only reason you will not reach
the top will be because you are dead or incapable of putting one foot ahead of
the other. There will be no retreat as the boats will leave immediately."
These, essentially, were the words of Lt. Col. Edward M. Postlethwait, CO of the
3rd Battalion reinforced of the 34th Infantry Regiment, as he briefed K Company
on the coming take-back of the fortress
For this operation we were part of
I was the Red Cross Director
assigned to the 34th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. We had recently completed
over 75 days of combat on Leyte and 3 days
in Zig-Zag Pass, on Bataan. I normally
operated a canteen in Regimental
Headquarters Company and one in each Battalion. For this
Shortage of supplies was a problem as previous campaigns had exhausted
them. I had sufficient Red Cross comfort supplies but lacked critical supplies
of coffee making materials and cigarettes. Normal Red Cross sources had dried
up. Army was no better. Seabees was the answer, with a trade of coca-cola syrup
(on Red Cross account) for needed coffee supplies. A visit to ships at anchor in
Subic Bay, with a good story and Red Cross money secured me nine cases of
cigarettes and a prize, a case of chewing tobacco. Soldiers in perimeter
foxholes can chew when they can't light up cigarettes at night.
After loading our supplies on an LCT (landing craft tank) at Subic Bay
on the afternoon of February 15th, 1945, we headed southward, turned into Manila
Bay and anchored around midnite some 2 or 3 miles south of Black Beach on
Corregidor. Rumor had it that Jap "Shinyo" (suicide) motorboats, each
loaded with a ton of high explosives, would issue forth at night from waterlevel
caves on western Corregidor in search of victims like ourselves. This rumor was
true, as the quiet, dark night was suddenly torn apart by a fiery explosion,
perhaps a mile away. A moment of quiet was followed by a rising crescendo of
cries for help. In spite of his blackout orders our captain slipped his cable,
turned on his searchlight and headed for the disaster. Instantly radio orders
flashed in, "Put out your searchlight or we'll shoot it out." No
choice and the captain complied. However, we did help a bit, operating in total
darkness. Hearing nearby calls I swam out and made rescues of three wounded men.
The first man, I recall, said "Thank God you came. I prayed you
would." He had a broken arm and leg.
Sunrise brought us a front seat for a continuation of the softening-up of
the Rock. B-24, B-25 and A-20
bombers from nearby Nichols and Carter Fields plastered everything in sight.
Later reports were to claim
Then came a parade of our C-47 troop transports, some 51 planes in two
columns, from Mindoro, to deliver their human cargoes and supplies.. Postage
stamp jump sites (parade ground and golf course on Topside), were usable in the
25 mph wind only by dropping half a stick (6 or 7 chutes) at minimum altitudes
of 300 to 500 feet. What a sight, a veritable deluge of colored chutes - red,
blue and green for supplies and white and camouflage for personne1. A few chutes
failed to open. The first wave of landings started at 8:32 AM and were completed
by 9:40 AM, putting the 3rd Battalion of the 503rd on Topside.
Around 8:30 our LSMs (landing ship mediums), carrying personnel, left
nearby Mariveles (Bataan), formed into 5 assault waves, rounded the west end of
Corregidor and headed for 200 yard Black Beach, at 3 minute intervals. Our first
wave landed at
, meeting light enemy fire. However, a
heavily mined beach claimed victims of personnel, jeeps, tanks and other
vehicles. Our first wave closely followed a lifting curtain of naval gunfire up
Malinta Hill, with following waves attracting stronger enemy fire.
Now our 6th wave moved in. Our LCT was loaded with vital supplies,
including some 50 tons of mortar shells, 50 drums of gasoline, 2 ambulances and
assorted personnel, an accident looking for a place to happen. We caught hell.
Twice we pulled out, because of intense enemy fire, but made it the 3rd try.
Foolishly I had my head up watching this fascinating show. A sideward glance
showed two parachutes hanging on
I had a reputation for serving coffee to the troops within an hour on
several beachheads, and Corregidor was no exception. I was the only guy moving
above the beach as I filled the 32 gallon GI can with water, fired up the
immersion heater, and dumped in 6 pounds of coffee. At the call "Coffee's
ready!" several men came out of foxholes, cups in hand. Too many of them
and it attracted enemy fire. After that it was one man at a time, crawling up,
getting his coffee and cigarettes and returning to his hole. Succeeding GI cans
of new coffee were brewed by adding 2 pounds of new coffee to the original
grounds. Real character, that brew.
That evening Griff and I stacked our supplies alongside a knocked-out
ammo truck just above high water mark, then started digging in. Some guy yelled
"Hey Red Cross, you better join us. The perimeter is up here!" Good
advice and we followed it. Dame rumor had it that Jap suicide swimmers would
leave water level caves, swim out, then come in with the tide. This happened.
Bare naked, armed with a TNT block belt with battery and switch and wearing the
divided toe shoes, they came in trying to blow up the nearby ammunition dump and
the portable water tanks. A heavy nearby explosion knocked Griff and me around
in our foxholes. No sleep that nite.
Daylight showed 27 Jap bodies along the waterline near us, all big guys.
They were Royal Marines. The nearby explosion had been caused by a Jap setting
himself off under the knocked out ammo truck, and scattering my Red Cross
supplies. The explosion had driven small bits of Jap flesh and bone into the
very pores of the immersion heater. I had to scrub it several times with coral
sand to make it usable again.
Precious single cigarettes were examined closely and the unperforated ones
smoked. A dozen times that day soldiers came up, their eyes widening as they
recognized me and exclaimed, "Hey Red Cross, we heard you were dead!"
Our Red Cross canteen had the only hot coffee and cigarettes available on
the beach. A loading snafu, the day before, had resulted in all company kitchens
being left at Mariveles, on
Plans changed and First Battalion of the 503d came in amphibiously
about 2 PM that second day. Anticipating a hostile beach, they charged out of
the LSMs, only to receive a ribald greeting of "Hit the dirt" and
"This is a rough beach". Then some dumb officer yelled, "Line
up!" Expecting trouble, two steps and a belly slide put me on the bottom of
my foxhole as Jap machine gun fire broke out. Three more guys piled in on top of
me. As firing eased two left me for better shelter. The remaining man was
cursing, steadily and in a heartfelt fashion. I felt dampness, turned my head
and discovered him to be naked, wet and mad. He hesitated, caught a breath, then
said, "…and to think I could have joined the Navy." He had been
taking a salt water bath at the waterline when firing started. This incident
resulted in seven casualties.
The principal enemy on the beach was the vicious swarms of flies. We
found the Japs had no established toilets. Later, in preparation for MacArthur's
visit the island was twice DDT'd. Results, nearly an inch of dead flies
Realizing that K and L companies couldn't visit us, I borrowed a
packboard and packed a case of cigarettes up Malinta Hill. As I approached the
CP (command post) something hit my helmet and struck halfway through. I had me a
souvenir from our Navy shelling of nearby Jap strong points. My cigarettes and I
were most welcome. I visited nearby
The following night the enemy tried to blow the top off of Malinta
Hill, to kill our troops up there and hoping to escape eastward from the east
portal of Malinta in the confusion. Long tongues of flame and smoke darted from
the cracks and crevices. Death hovers above us on the beach as rocks and debris
showered down. Griff outran it down the beach and my salvation was the shelter
of a nearby tank overhang. Weeks later in the cleanup of the tunnels, several
hundred Jap bodies showed how badly the Jap engineers had miscalculated.
The ninth day was a
combined cleanup, by the 503d and our 3d
Battalion, of the area eastward from Malinta Hill. I had
backpacked additional cigarettes up the hill that morning. Someone yelled and I
looked around to see a Jap
soldier a few feet away, struggling to pull the stuck pin from a hand
grenade. I dove behind a rock and someone else polished him off with a .45.
Shortly after I saw a figure at cliffs edge, observing battle progress
below. Someone said he was Col. Jones, CO of our Rock Force operation. I joined
him and he described the action below as it developed. We saw one of our mounts
stop on the north road, swivel its gun and fire into a cave mouth. Almost a
dozen Japs boiled out, beating on our mount with sabres and homemade spears. Our
mount machine gunner wiped them out in seconds. In another incident we saw
flamethrower personnel burn three Jap soldiers from a rocky pocket. They
perished aflame, almost instantly.
That was our last day on Corregidor as we shipped out that night for
Subic Bay and Mindoro for R & R (rest and recreation). Unfortunately for me,
five of the next six weeks were spent in a hospital recovering from hepatitis.
A few words on two items of Red Cross policy seem to be in order here.
First, Red Cross policy is that Field Directors do not bear arms. However, I
did, carrying a carbine and a .45 caliber automatic pistol (I held an expert
rating in its use). I was often in front line combat situations and these
weapons saved my life on several occasions. Second, it will be noted that I have
said nothing about soldier welfare situations in which the Field Director is the
expediter in situations affecting the soldier, his family and the military. This
function is important in the continental
Field Director, American Red Cross
34th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division
This account was written by
, Field Director, American Red Cross. Weldon B. Hester was assigned to the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, and they were justifiably proud of him. History, like coffee, is well served by those who take the time to preserve great moments as they occur, even if at the time the circumstances did not seem to justify it. Mr. Hester
Since the war, there has been criticism of the American Red Cross direct aid to combat soldiers, because such aid was said 'to detract from the neutrality of the Red Cross.' Anyone who fought in the Pacific soon learned that theoretical concepts of neutrality meant little, for the Japanese fighting man killed everybody, no questions asked. Anyone who was in the vicinity of combat unarmed would have to be considered a foolish person, and Weldon Hester was no fool. In such circumstances, the 34th Infantry was indeed fortunate to have a Red Cross field director who risked his life in serving them. In so many units the field directors served their unit from their headquarters. To have a director who back packed cigarettes up to the front line companies is above the normal expectations.
& Paul Whitman
©2001 By Permission the Author and William T. Calhoun. The article is part of the publication "Bless "Em All"
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