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THE ADJUTANT'S JOURNAL

 

What Jerry B. Riseley called an official journal is hardly that.

 

2nd Lieutenant Riseley was the 2nd Battalion S-1, at that time a position called 'Adjutant', during the period covering the Nadzab operation until after the death of Colonel Kenneth Kinsler. As a part of his duties, he kept a Journal, which was supposed to be an ordinary record of daily events an Adjutant was responsible for keeping. Riseley, a maverick of sorts who at times used the self imposed honorific "adjutant emeritus," had other ideas.   He completely rewrote it and  greatly expanded it, partly reflecting the Army's penchant for trade in rumor and gossip. His perception and intelligence are astute, though he was not without personal bias.  His understanding of the personnel is outstanding, though some of his more caustic comments, which identify personalities to little historical credit, are omitted.

 

Riseley was a  member of the 158th Infantry Regiment [a National Guard unit called the "Bushmasters"] in Panama and then transferred to the 503d and took jump training there.  He was a Poelau Laut immigrant to Australia, and fell in love quickly with the country and one of its lassies, marrying a local  gal from the Gordonvale area. He jumped at Nadzab and thereafter commanded rear detachments as the 503d marched north. He was returned to Gordonvale to prepare for the arrival of the regiment from New Guinea. The 503d PIR never returned there but several hundred replacements allocated to replace Nadzab casualties came north out of Brisbane on the Royal Mail,  arriving there in October 1943.  He caught up with the 503d again at Noemfoor and, being a Panama original, was returned to the US when his points were up. After the war, he became an attorney and published author of at least one book,  "When Sex is Illegal ...no Adult is Safe from Archaic Laws That Try to Govern Private Sex Habits"  and perhaps another about Henry Miller's obscenity trial. He survived his Australian-born wife, and died in 1998.

 

 His journal is an intimate part of the 2nd Battalion 503d PIR's Heritage.

 

1 August 1943

 

   
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2 August 1943

 

 

 

On August 1-2 a tentative problem was received calling for movement of the 2nd Battalion Parachute reinforced from its base at Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia, to Mareeba. By reinforced was meant  all of the facilities of a separate battalion   such as parachute maint, motor section, kitchen, personnel section. The proposed problem was a move to Mareeba, logistics test, and jump involving 6 planes on Robert H. White field. Robert H. White was jump field near Green Hill. Green Hill is a hill near Gordonvale and Edmonton. It got its name when General Douglas MacArthur was watching a jump with Colonel Kinsler. “Look,” said General MacArthur, “there is a man’s whose chute did not open.” “No,” corrected Colonel Kinsler, “that is just a kit bag.” At that moment parachute soldier Robert H. White* bounced ten feet and then he bounced five feet. General MacArthur awarded him a posthumous Purple Heart. Ordinarily an injury or death happening in a training jump does not merit a Purple Heart, but General MacArthur was not ever an ordinary soldier.

 

 

 

It is only natural that stories circulate involving the clash of personalities and characters in command positions of a Parachute Regiment, and in the case of Col. Kinsler, a number of them tend to reflect upon his apparent lack of concern for the safety of the men in the course of training.  

Gordonvale was not a benign training area, and training was hard, the men had to be toughened up, and kept at their peak.   But there were a number of fatal training incidents in Gordonvale, many of them the result of less than prudent planning and preparation.  Pvc. Henry J. Blalock drowned on 23 December 1942;  Priv. John Kobiska drowned while crossing  the Little Mulgrave River, 21 February 1943 while outward bound on a march; Pfc . Bernard R. Petrie drowned while re-crossing  the same river on the return leg, 24 February 1943; and S/Sgt Bernard drowned 12 April 1943. Pfc. Robert White was electrocuted when he hit a live power line on 5 or 6 May 1943. Priv. Donald Wilson was killed in a training jump on 25 June 1943.

To better come to grips with Col. Kinsler's character, his morning talks "were not endearing."  Chet Nycum recalls:

Kinsler didn't know the boundary between simply being unpleasant, obnoxious or offensive, on the one part, and being what the Australians scorned as "a bastard". Offensive, we could put up with. Obnoxious, we could learn to get used to. It was when Kinsler debased us,  that it rankled.  One morning talk he gave us, I recall, started with "Did you sleep well last night? Did you get any mail?  Did you tear it up like men or did you act like the bunch of babies you are and read it?"

This type of tongue-lashing meant very little to the troops, but as time went on, Kinsler's actions and demands on the Regiment seemed to become more counterproductive of any espirit. Thirty mile cross country marches (day or night) over mountains and rivers were common and on one occasion this involved crossing a very swift river by hand walking a rope that one of the Officers had succeeded in swimming to the opposite shore. One man lost his grip and was lost to the river. The following day, Col. Kinsler posted a notice on the bulletin board stating that the drowned man would be held responsible for his lost equipment and the cost would be paid for from any monies he may have due him.  Being the CO of a Parachute Regiment was not a popularity contest, and it appeared that Col. Kinsler was indeed giving the men a reason to unite - in a dislike for its CO.

Riseley's journal tells the story of the death of Pvt. White and some unfortunate comments ascribed to Col. Kinsler.  We have, however, some alternative information which calls into question not the comments involving Col. Kinsler, but the identity of the Trooper involved.

Pvt. White was killed on  5  May 1943, when he was electrocuted by a live power line during a practice jump.  The presence of the power line had been well known, and the troopers had been told that power to the line would be cut during the practice jump. Chet Nycum, who witnessed White's death, recalled:

"White Field, north of Cairns, was named after Bob White.  Green Field was at Gordonvale;  I was already safely on the ground and saw that Bob White was drifting towards the power line. I watched as he drifted closer, wanting to see how he would deal with slipping through the wires. I was stunned when I saw the flash as he contacted them, and saw him fall heavily without any recovery.  The chute followed him down gracefully, settling gently to the right of his body. I ran towards him, finding his still, pallid body, already grey-blue with the burns he'd suffered, just seconds before. Nearby was a detached sole of a Corcoran boot, separated from the boot itself when its nails had literally melted their way out of the material which had once held them together.

White's blue-grey death, young and in a cane field under blue Australian skies, has never left me.

There was a lot of bitchin' going on afterwards as we had been told at briefing and on the flight in that the 55,000 volt power lines had been turned off for the jump. Apparently someone 'didn't get the word.' "

The death of another trooper in the presence of Col. Kinsler, Gen. MacArthur and Gen. Blamey,  involved  not Pvt. White, but Pvt. Donald Wilson.  Based upon Wilson's recorded date of death, this incident occurred on 25 June, 1943.  Chet Nycum also recalled:

There are always rumours about everything in military camps, but we took with particular seriousness anything which dealt with the death of one of our own, particularly when it occurred in the course of doing something which was normal -  for us, jumping out of an aircraft was entirely normal, and our entire training was designed to make it all the more normal, and habitual, like a second nature. Wilson had fallen directly to his death when his 'chute opened too late - that much we new, and many of us had seen.  It would not, could not have happened had his static line been hooked up. It was an article of faith amongst us that each man would check the static line of the man in front of us, and that the man behind us would see after our safety. Those who jumped behind Wilson were adamant that he had hooked up. Our only consolation became the rumour that Wilson had indicated to someone, prior to the jump, that he intended to do something, and for that purpose he may have palmed his static line after the "Check Equipment!" reply had been given so that he could make a dramatic late opening in front of the VIP's.

In assessing Col. Kinsler, one surely cannot fault him for attempting to toughen his men, or to make them more hardy. However, to  allow a slackness  of safety planning and checking, and to place men in a position where a simple error (such as falling from a rope while crossing a flooded river) resulted in a drowning, shows recklessness. Then, to allow circumstances to be repeated (after already losing a man drowned), was certainly unlikely to engender confidence in his leadership and command abilities. It would be that lack of confidence in his leadership abilities, which would ultimately see  officers from the Investigator General visit Gordonvale.

 

 

*The details of the incident are 'damaged in transit.' On 25 June 1943, we know from numerous historical sources that Gen. MacArthur visited Cairns to inspect, amongst other things,  the state of readiness of Australian and US troops in the region.  We also know from the records of his death, that Pvt. Donald Wilson died in a training incident on 25 June 1943. Ergo it was not Robert H. White but Donald Wilson whom MacArthur witnessed being killed in the training incident.

 

Dodge ambulance 4 X 4 awaits possible jump injuries near "The Pyramid" at Gordonvale, Australia. The 503d would spend nine months in Gordonvale, and practice jumps were a necessity to keep skill and proficiency - and to maintain the currency of parachute pay. Practice jumps were made into unimproved fallow sugar cane fields, and broken ankles would become the bane of an orthopedic surgeon posted at the local station hospital - Dr. Charles Bradford,  enjoying the paratrooper camaraderie, would transfer into the Paratroopers, and despite being a big man, never broke any bones. He became invaluable, and saved the lives of many friends.

 

 

3 August 1943

 

   
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4 August 1943

 

   
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5 August 1943

 

   
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6 August 1943

 

The week of 2-6 was spent furiously preparing equipment and racking bundles for the problem. An inspection was held one afternoon. This inspection was of all combat equipment, organizational, and personal. All members of the battalion stood the inspection, including approximately 112 men and 11 officer which were assigned to be borrowed from the 1st battalion for the problem. The advance party detail did not start on schedule. This was the first indication that the move had been postponed.

 

 

7 August 1943

 

 

     

Images are courtesy of the Gerard F. Weber Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  In the am. the Bn Comdr (Lt. Col. George M. Jones) announced an intensive training schedule included the firing of all weapons, combat firing of all platoons, bivouac occupied and booby trapped with live grenades. These were Australian Grenade and they had a center metal core about a quarter for an inch in diameter which shot out when the pin was pulled and handle released. This program was slated to end 16 AUG 1943 and according to the Bn Comdr was required for each battalion to determine which would accompany the 42d Australian Division on a problem. Capt. Walsh, 1st Prcht Medical Officer, who had joined the 501st Prcht at Fort Benning, left out for HQ 6th Army.”

[Note: see appendix for the full transcript of the failed court martial of Capt. Walsh]

 “The original 501st Parachute Battalion was picked up in Panama by the 503rd, and became the 2nd Battalion 503rd Parachute Infantry. It replaced what was called Raft’s Battalion (Edison Raft) which had been dispatched from the 503rd forever when it was selected to make the jump in North Africa. 2nd Lt. Riseley was the first officer of the 2nd Battalion to marry in Australia (on 31 July 1943). The next one would be 2nd Lt. Schuder (not yet married.)

 

 

 

RISELEY'S JOURNAL WAS LOCATED BY JOHN LINDGREN AT UCLA

(HIS ALMA MATER - CLASS OF 1943) AR COLLECTION FILE 944, BOX 4.

REFERENCES ARE NADZAB 7234 1:12500 UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED

READ ARTICLE ABOUT THE AUSTRALIANS WHO JUMPED WITH THE 503D PIR