Extracted from"BLESS 'EM  ALL - the History of 2nd Battalion, 503d PRCT"







A Red Cross Man on Corregidor






"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 Corregidor .

For this operation we were part of Col. George M. Jones "Rock Force" which included his own 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and totalled some 4560 men. Col. Postlethwait added that army intelligence said we would face from 850 to 925 of the enemy, mostly service troops. This estimate may well have been the worst of the war, as we totalled around 6,000 Japs, mostly dead in the final counting.

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 Corregidor operation I simply reorganized my regular 3rd Battalion canteen on a skeleton basis to satisfy tight loading requirements. My assistant, "Griff" Griffiths, accompanied me and my other assistant, PFC "Betts" Bettinger remained behind to keep my other canteens operating.

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 Corregidor as the heaviest bombed spot (3128 tons of bombs) in the Pacific. Then light cruisers and destroyers of task force 77.3 moved in, shelling Jap held caves and resistance points at point blank range. Spectacular waves of rockets erupted ashore. P-47's, armed with high explosives and napalm (jellied gasoline) made surface existence ashore seemingly impossible.

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 10:28 AM , 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 Corregidor cliffs and a navy rescue boat patrolling nearby. A tattoo of enemy fire rang the side of our LCT, holing it many times. Our captain was critically injured and our helmsman killed as we headed in. Abruptly we beached, the ramp slammed down and nobody moved. The beachmaster strode up, yelling the proverbial "Come on, you guys, get moving! You want to live forever?"

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 Bataan .

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 everywhere.

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 Searchlight Cave , dispensed cigarettes and stayed that night. Lipstick and other feminine accouterments indicated the Japs had not been lonely there. The following nite the Japs attacked, killing all our men within.

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 United States and in non-combat situations abroad. However, under combat conditions disturbing information is withheld from the soldier. An emotional situation might cost him his life. Accordingly, my military welfare activity was nil on Corregidor .


Weldon B. Hester

Field Director, American Red Cross

34th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division






This account was written by Weldon B. Hester , Field Director, American Red Cross. Mr. 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.

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.

Bill Calhoun
& 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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