"I arrived at Milne Bay
in December in a group of sixteen lieutenants.
shipped to Oro Bay
to catch the 503d as it came through staging for the Cape Gloucester jump.
mission with the 1st Marine Division and the 32d Infantry Division to invade
New Britain at Cape Gloucester was cancelled, though the amphibian landings proceeded. With the cancellation of the this jump, the 503d
Port Moresby and we new lieutenants arrived there just in time to go on a
three day field problem.
We young green
lieutenants were not joining a happy outfit. To
those who haven’t been there, this is difficult to understand. The
Rose has announced on the radio that the Japs had prepared a welcome
at Cape Gloucester for 'my old
friends in the 503d,' and that the landing zones had been specially prepared in
defense against our arrival.
Hell, yes, we'd been primed and ready! Why
would any sane person want to rush into a life or death situation which
might be their last act? After spending
untold hours, weeks, months, and even years in back-breaking, gut-wrenching,
physical labor training to kill the enemy, the alert had sharpened us, given
us focus, purpose and good cheer. In our case as parachute infantry the
training had been intensified to an unbelievable degree which, though almost
an institutional torture, had been a necessary hardening process.
Gloucester mission was cancelled disappointment almost consumed the 503d,
and from the pinnacle of readiness, the great drop in morale presented problems for we new arrivals. 
At this time the
unit was the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment with a strength of about 1824
men, 5 warrant officers, and 140 officers. Our camp site at Port Moresby was about seven and a half miles inland and about half a mile
from the 5th Fighter Command Headquarters of the 5th
Air Force. This was a large complex with many facilities. The closest route
to the theaters at this headquarters was down a trail, over a log spanning a
creek, up the hill passing a barbed-wire fence enclosing worn out airplanes
waiting to be salvaged, and up a hill to the headquarters area.
The country was
not a tropical rainforest buy
rolling hills with lush grasses, scattered trees, heavier along the streams. Rainfall in this area south of the Owen Stanley Mountain is too little to support heavy tropical growth. The trees are
mostly the Eucalyptus type.
The roads were
surfaced with gravel or coral. Port Moresby, a small town on number of small hills overlooking the bay, looked out of place in New Guinea, because it was built in open country with neat looking, painted
frame buildings and homes. Native soldiers from the Papuan Battalion guarded the Australian Army
Headquarters at the edge of town. When any officer passed the guards snapped
sharply to the position of attention. Even though they were barefooted you
could almost hear their heels click.
Officer’s Club extended out over the water built on silts or piers.
The walls were made of palm thatch including the hinged window coverings.
These covers were very long and formed most of the upper half of the wall.
The roof overhung several feet so that the covers were seldom closed.
officers went there mostly to play cards. Sandwiches made with some bland
tasting paste were available on order. Australian cigarettes were
available. They were terrible. Little alcoholic beverages were available.
Lemonade was plentiful. I don’t remember, there may have been Australian
whiskey for sale, but who could drink that varnish remover? I never found
any good alcoholic beverages such as beer there. It was a good place to
relax and play cards.
plentiful, so were centipedes, and scorpions. There was an asp which lived
on the Eucalyptus trees, just as they did in Australia. The furry worms had
quite a sting and a disquieting effect on a person’s nerves
Captain Harold R."City" Parks was commanding officer of "F" Company.
1st Lt. William N.
McRoberts was executive officer, 1st Lieutenant William E."Red" LaVanchure
was the 3rd platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant
Arthur E. Schruder was the 1st platoon leader, and 2nd Lieutenant Clinton D.
Miller had joined the company about a month before I got there. I was
assigned to the 1st platoon as assistant platoon leader. As I said
before these were not happy times, so the best thing a newcomer could do was
On 11 February "F"
Company went aboard the “SS Robert J. Walker” about 1600 hour.
Approximately half the regiment loaded on this ship. The rest loaded on
another ship. Our destination was Australia. The “Walker”
was a cargo ship, I believe it was a Liberty ship. There were no troop
facilities aboard. The battalion mess section set up their field ranges on
the deck to prepare our food, and it was just as bad as it had been ashore.
It was not the cooks or the ranges, it’s just hard to make dehydrated
potatoes and carrots taste good and impossible on bully beef patties.
Latrines were simply built, 2” x 6” boards hung over the side of the ship.
We had our choice of sleeping quarters. We could go down in the hot,
airless holds and sleep on the bottom of the ship, or we could sleep on the
covers over the holds. Large sheets of canvas had been strung from boom to
boom covering the hold covers. The trouble with this was that it rained
almost constantly and the canvas sheets caught water and sagged down on the
hold covers. The passengers were a happy lot, though. We were going to
On 17 February
we arrived at Brisbane, Australia. The concrete arches of Grey Street Bridge were a beautiful sight
to behold. We unloaded from the ship and onto rear wheel drive trucks
operated by a colored transportation battalion. Passing through Brisbane we
quickly noticed the large number of places advertising American hamburgers.
We soon found out, to our chagrin, the Aussie idea of a hamburger bun was a tough English
Soon we were out
in the country traveling on a two lane asphalt surface road. We would pass
through an area of farms and then several miles of no habitation or land
use. We were told there was still land here which was available for claim.
We continued on to Camp Cable. This camp consisted of hastily thrown up
kitchens, latrines, and a few other auxiliary buildings. The troops were
quartered in pyramidal tents. It was a great place, though. We were just
about thirty miles from the city of Brisbane.
the 503d had arrived about two weeks earlier. Among them was a new
first sergeant to replace 1st Sgt. “Pinkie” Wilson who was
being rotated home. The new topkick was 1st Sgt. Albert
Baldwin. There was some resentment over a senior non-commissioned officer
coming in to the company direct from the States. Baldwin took some diplomatic
action and settled this resentment in a hurry. Capt. Parks and Lt. Schuder
were soon rotated home. I became platoon leader of the 1st platoon.
1st Lt. McRoberts became the company commander.
Unknown to me, Schuder remained in the rear base section for some time.
The conduct of
jungle warfare was alien to the conventional US military doctrines of the
time, and rather than learn by limited experience, it was clear that the
better means was to learn from the experience of the Australians, who had
been doing most of the fighting in New Guinea. Shortly upon our arrival at
Camp Cable, half of the platoon
leaders and assistant platoon leaders were sent to Land Headquarters
Training Centre (Jungle Warfare
School) operated by the Australian Army since 1942 at Canungra, up amongst
the cedars and rainforests of the Darlington Ranges. The area there closely
resembled the New Guinea environment, and the training was both intense and
The remainder of the junior officers, along with the rest of the regiment,
proceeded to enjoy themselves. This was real rest and recreation, R&R.
There were nightly trips to Brisbane, some taking the train which took
almost a day, but most went by military vehicles, jeeps or trucks, which took
about one hour. Some visited nearby townships. Beaudesert was on one side a
few miles away and Logan Village was a few miles away on the other side.
They each had a pub which operated at odd hours. They both had a large
general store. The owner of the store in Beaudesert was kind enough to
spend part of an afternoon searching his large, cluttered stock room for a
case of canned coffee had he received by mistake several years before. Most
Aussies do not drink coffee, but the ones who did at that time though
chickory was a necessary ingredient. He received the plain coffee by
mistake. He finally found the coffee and sold it to us.
After about two
weeks the officers who had completed the Jungle Warfare School returned to
Camp Cable, and the rest of us junior officers were sent to Canungra. We stared 20
March and ended 1 April. It was go, go,go - all day and well into the night.
Even as a paratrooper, I had never been through a more intensive training. This was an excellent school
taught by Australian soldiers, most of whom had been with the AIF’s 8th
Division on the Malayan Peninsula. They had escaped through the jungle and
made their way home, some in small boats, island hopping and others through
China. The latter group had spent some time as military advisors to the
National Chinese Army. There was training in setting ambushes, defense
against ambushes, assaults in the jungle, patrolling, camouflage, use of
explosives, and survival in the jungle. Problems lasted days, involved climbing
mountains and living in hot, steamy rain forest, It was a real test of
physical stamina, but this created no problems. We were airborne trained.
They would issue
us a few bars of compressed fruit, and we could get by on these and be
hungry. If we were hungry enough, they told us, there were carpet snakes
which were plentiful. We found bones of this type of snake around some of
the old camp fires, so there were those who had come before us tried this form of rations.
Carpet snakes were members of the Boa Constrictor family. The reached length
of about six feet. They were very slow moving, not poisonous, making them easy to catch.
There was more
to "jungle craft" and "jungle lore" than fighting and acclimatization. Everyone became
an expert at tea making. We learned to build a fire of twigs, boil a
quarter of a cup of water in a canteen cup, drop in tea leaves, and drink in
ten minutes, or we could finish it on the walk. The Aussies were very
punctual with their ten minute breaks, which they called "Smokos".
A lightly constructed tin "billy," Australian style, with lid and carry
handle, soon became a part of the US paratrooper's equipment in the SWPA,
quickly learned to drink the tea without touching our lips to the canteen
Some of the
trails twisting along the tops of the mountain ridges looked down into the
valleys far below dotted with farm buildings reminded me of pictures I had
seen of the European Alps. In many places the forest covered the higher
portions of the mountains. In the open areas the grass was about knee
high. In places where the grass was continually wet, leeches were prolific.
In camp the few
meals we ate were in the Australian mess hall. Lamb was always served in
some form. All except a couple of meals were breakfast. Creamed lamb on
muffin was the breakfast meal. This was very similar to our creamed beef,
SOS, with the exception that the Australian food was very bland with little
seasoning. We were in camp only the latter part of one afternoon, the last
day. Beer was available then. It was not at all the good Australian beer
we liked. It was green and drew your mouth up like green persimmons.
Before we leave the creamed lamb, let me add the worst. It was dehydrated.
ended with a firing problem using live ammunition and appearing and
disappearing targets. We used their weapons and there was much argument
over collation of the BAR and Bren guns, the M1’s and the Enfields, etc. We
hated it when we had to take time out from the fun and revelry in Brisbane,
but "jungle craft" would mean so much to us all and our men in the months to
come. We would spend much time drilling the fundamentals of jungle warfare
into our men in the hot, humid, mosquito infested swamps of Oro Bay and
Learning jungle craft
made a practice jump while we were at Camp Cable. The regiment moved to
Archerfield, Brisbane's secondary
municipal airport. We had a long wait for the C-47’s to come
in. While we were waiting a B-25 came in from the north moving fast at low
altitude straight for the control tower. At the last instant it veered off
and up, circled the field, and landed. A Jeep with the Army Air Force
operations officer tore out to the B-25 as it taxied to a halt. The LTC
who was the A-3 dressed the pilot down asking him, “Major what do you think
would have happened if a motor had cut out during your pass at the tower?”
Soon the B-25 took off heading north, then suddenly he did a 180 degree turn
and came back on the same path he had originally used, again heading straight
at the tower. Near the tower he cut off an engine and feathered the
prop, veered off, turned, and headed north. The 503d had just
witnessed an exploit of the legendary "Pappy" Gunn.
When we left
Archerfield we went out some distance and jumped in the
country. Many Australian families were gathered out there picnicking
waiting to see our jump. Captain Charles "Doc" Bradford, 2nd Battalion
Surgeon, was a large man. When he landed it sounded like an automobile
collision. Those of us nearby were surprised to see Doc rising up from the
dust. One of his medics came running up calling for Doc to come tend to a
trooper who had broken his keg in landing. The last thing we heard Doc say
as he went off to tend the casualty was that he could not understand why in
the world experienced jumpers could not land without getting hurt.
Soon after we
arrived in Camp Cable several of the old 501st Battalion members
who had been in Panama were rotated home. With the
addition of our group of replacements the company had a lot of new faces, but the
majority were still the old veterans. The officers were now 1st
1st Lt. Tom Clyde,
company executive officer,
1st Lt. William
3rd platoon leader,
2nd Lt. "Sleepy" Miller,
mortar platoon leader,
2nd Edward T.
platoon leader and
we left Camp Cable the 462nd Parachute Field Artillery moved in. Soon
"C" Company, 161st Airborne Engineers would be there, too. After the
Noemfoor operation we would become the 503d Parachute Regimental
While we were
enjoying Australia there were numerous wrecks of vehicles. Col. Jones
really laid the law down. Anyone involved in a wreck would not drive again
plus other assorted penalties. That same night Col. Jones wrecked his own sedan
car. This did cause some chuckles.
CO, Major John Britten, was issued a C&R Car. Captain Lawson Caskey,
battalion ex., was issued a jeep. They preferred to use the jeep, and Maj.
Britten let his staff use the C&R. One Sunday afternoon we were riding
around in Brisbane. The car was packed with six of us. We had beer iced
down in two large insulated cans. Lt. Wilburn “Bitsy” Grant was driving.
On the edge of town he passed through a speed trap and were pulled over by
Brisbane police for speeding. Grant was an extremely gifted speaker, and
had talked the policemen out of the ticket when those of us in the car broke
out with a loud rendition of “Jesus Loves Me.” Grant got the ticket which
meant a visit with Col. Jones, and we got Grant’s wrath.
McNerney, Battalion S-1, had the car assigned to him one Saturday night. A group
of us went up into the mountains to a two story frame hotel and spent the
evening singing WWI songs with a group of elderly ladies. McNerney drank
too much beer, but he insisted on driving 'his' car. All of us helped him
drive down the mountains around the sharp turns until we reached the flat
lands. We all breathed a sigh of relief and then sat back to relax. Tom
promptly straightened out a curve, bounced across a deep, wide bar ditch,
and ended up in a pasture. The car was driveable, but with a struggle. The
front wheels angled out. Tom got to visit with Col. Jones, too.
On 7 April the
regiment was in trucks headed for Brisbane and Bretts Wharf where we loaded
on the “USAT Sea Cat”. Compared to our last ship, the “Walker”, this was a
luxury liner. It was outfitted to transport troops. The food was good and
the trip pleasant. The only distracting factor was the Merchant Marine’s
crew. Their inclination to strike on a moment’s notice did not sit well
with the troopers who looked at this as a serious matter. There were two or
three times when strikes of a few hours duration occurred. I believe at
least once we went without fresh water for a short time. All in all,
though, we had a pleasant trip on a good ship.
The ship put
into Townsville for a few hours and then proceeded to Cairns for a few
hours. Security was heavy here. The old timers who had been stationed here
would have given anything for a short time ashore. We traveled on to Port
Moresby for a short stop, then to Milne Bay for a short stop, and finally to
our destination, Oro Bay. We offloaded onto Docks and were taken directly
to our camp site at Cape Sudest.
This was an old
and cleared camp site, so all we had to do was to set up our pyramidal
tents. We went into intensive jungle warfare training in a heavy rain
forest adjacent to our camp. It was an excellent training area where we
could practice using the principles we learned at the Canungra school.
Day after day we would set ambushes and then run the platoon through in
squads. The principle taught here was “if they can see you, you can see
them”. The men became quite proficient at their work and gained a lot of
confidence. It was hot, wet work, and the mosquitoes were fierce, and
everyone carried a bottle of citronella. The anopheles mosquitoes had been
virtually eliminated by sanitation engineers, but they had not bothered the
weeks at Cape Sudest we moved inland toward Dobodura to a camp site across
the road from the 31st Infantry Division. There were good rainforests with several streams
running through them just behind our camp, and these made a good
training area. We were introduced to the bazooka here. In one class the
instructor loaded the weapons, pressed the trigger, and to everyone’s
great surprise the weapon fired. Those near the front thought they had
been incinerated. The round headed straight for a tent in the 31st
Div. Hq. complex. No problem though, the instructors assured us. The safety pin had not been pulled,
and the round could not explode if it hit a solid object. The HQ area was
enclosed by a burlap fence about six feet tall. When the hole in the burlap
was examined there was the arming pin caught in the burlap. The round was
armed! Fortunately it had dropped just enough to go under the wooden tent
floor and had come to rest without hitting anything too solid.
A number of
replacements were assigned to "F" Co. Among these was Lloyd G. McCarter. I
was looking for scouts. If 1st platoon had a weakness at that time, it
was in experienced scouts. The
old scouts had rotated home, and there was a definite lack of promise in
the ones we were trying to train. I examined the records of the new
arrivals and McCarter’s jumped out at me. He had grown up in rural Idaho and
was a professional lumberjack - a woodsman by gosh! I called him
in and told him I wanted him
to train as a scout. He replied that he had no Infantry training, as his
training had been in Field Artillery. Actually a mistake had been made
and rather than being assigned
to the 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, which had come into
Brisbane shortly before we left,
he has ended up in my infantry platoon. Furthermore, he had never fired
a Thompson Sub Machine Gun, I told him I had made my decision, and that he
was to try out as a scout, and he said he’d
do his best. I suspected that in finding a place where he was valued, he was tickled to death.
We were preparing to have
our scouts tested by putting them through a course which had been set up by
regiment. The test course followed a stream with high banks through the dense
rain forest near our cantonment area. I had one of the sergeants take
McCarter into the rainforest and familiarize him with the Thompson
sub-machine gun. The first time
I ever saw him fire the gun, I noticed his unconventional, yet natural
approach to the weapon. He used a unique method which was very effective
for him. A short, stocky man, with the powerful arms of a lumberjack, he fired one handed with the stock resting on his very large and
muscular forearm. He always fired two or three round bursts, and he was
very accurate. I don’t know if his instructor had taught him this
method or not, but it did take a powerful man to handle the gun in this
manner, and there was never any doubt as to McCarter's power.
The problem was
set up with appearing and disappearing targets. Several light machine guns
were set up along the course to fire bursts in front of the approaching
scouts. The gunners had deep foxholes dug alongside their guns for their protection. The
first LMG was set up in a “V” formed by the junction of two streams.
The banks were high and the position was about fifteen feet above the
streambed. It was planned so that as the 1st scout rounded a
bend in the stream the LMG would fire a burst into the six inch deep water
in front of him, throwing water all over him. The set-up was very impressive.
McCarter as my first scout and Nevit Powell as second scout on the first
team to go through. As the two started the course General Walter
Krueger, 6th Army Commander, and Col. Jones came up and followed
them. McCarter went into a fast moving skip on the balls of his feet
which would always be characteristic of his movement in scouting. The
course was much too easy for him. He was amazing, negotiating the
terrain like a gazelle. This short, heavy built
man moving like a ballet dancer, was a natural. His reactions were lightning fast. His
marksmanship was great. Soon after entering the forest he threw a short
burst of TSMG fire. What was he shooting at? The first target area was 50
yards away - and in dense jungle! The man at the 1st LMG was sitting
beside his gun, unprepared, outside of his foxhole. Suddenly he was under fire. One
slug knocked the bolt handle off his gun. McCarter had spotted him and,
thinking he was a target, fired. They stopped the problem until all gunners
could be warned to get in their foxholes and stay there. Powell scored high
as a second scout. We had a platoon scout team. General Krueger was most
complimentary in his praise to the two men, to Col. Jones, to Maj. Britten,
and to me for doing such a good job training them. It made up for the
times that, in Army parlance, shit rolls downhill.
went on an overnight problem and bivouacked in a charming little green valley
below a general hospital perched on a hill top. We moved in mid-afternoon and pitched our pup tents along a small swift
running stream of crystal clear mountain water. Heavy, dark clouds hid the
mountain tops in the distance, but the local sky remained clear. My tent was on the bank
of the stream.
After dark I laid down for the evening. With my head down only about 15 or 20 minutes, water
suddenly washed up
against my face. I jumped and ran to McRobert’s tent to alert the company.
Right on my heels was a wall of water 6-10 inches deep. The race was on
for the battalion to get to the safety of the hospital access road at the
top of the embankment near us. From this point it ascended
rapidly to the hill top. We got to the road in our underwear, with
whatever we could carry at a race. The
battalion had lost its weapons, equipment, and clothing. A few of the men
did not get out in time and spent the night in trees. The entire valley was covered
with a raging torrent of flood waters. By now heavy rains were falling to
add to our misery.
Two of the men
in the 1st platoon, who would not be with us long, were missing at
chow that evening. They showed up fully clothed. McRoberts spent the
better part of ten minutes chewing on them. They stood at attention and
“Tiger” was in his underwear. Even though we were in a driving rain the
dressing down was a masterpiece. After a wait of some time we moved up to
the hospital and were allowed to go into the hospital mess halls. They were
tents on wood frame with screened sides and wooden floors. We were wet and
shivering, but it was better than being in the rain. Sometime just about
dawn, they brought us new fatigues.
After a few
weeks our regiment was moved again. As
an independent regiment not specifically attached to a regular chain of
supply, the 503d often found that moving camp meant that special means were
required to "make ends meet", supply wise. We were nearer the air strips and at
the foothills of the mountains. We had to clear a new site here. Second
platoon leader, Ed Flash, was a great procurer. He and John Pulos and
Angelos Kambakumis, along with my reluctant aid, transferred a lot of
government property. An MP unit at Oro Bay had been issued lumber to build
tent frames and floor their tents. The lumber was stacked in the middle of
their cantonment area. After the Greeks located the lumber Ed organized a
group of us, we “secured” a deuce and a half
one night and got away with a full load.
We went back for another load and were almost caught and had to take off.
One certain 1st Sgt. almost did bodily harm to an MP
that night. We had enough lumber to build overhead storage racks in all the
tents but no nails. Pulos and Kambakumis located nails. An Australian Air
Force unit had plenty of nails, and the lance corporal in-charge was a
Greek. The Australian supply officer did not wish to part with any of his
nails, but the corporal stacked some against the fly at the back of the
tent. We came in from the rear and obtained several sacks of nails.
Flash had the
ability to bull his way through. He caused me many anxious moments. Many
times I swore I was through, but as I said, Ed was an excellent talker. At
one of the camps at Oro Bay or at Dobodura, the regiment was issued a 220 volt
generator. We had bulbs for 110 volts. Base commands habitually gave us
the cast-off equipment which no one else wanted. The light bulbs we needed
were not to be had. The Greeks searched the base. If they were anywhere
they would find them, and they did. They were in a large RAAF supply depot. There were several large buildings here with roofs
supported by posts and heavy gauge wire covering the sides. They did have
wooden floors. The light bulbs were in a very secure place. The entry was
to a long room across the front containing desks for the various clerks.
The rest of the building was walled off by a fence about thirty inches tall,
with a gate in the middle. A supply officer’s desk was sitting by the
gate. The Greeks had located the shelves holding the bulbs. It was near
the fence. This was a tough one, but Ed rose to the occasion. Ed told me
to go in and engage the supply officer in a conversation about blue goose
ammunition, .30 cal. incendiary bullets, and not to know him when he came
in. We'd picked ammo, because we knew they would not have ordnance supplies
here. I went in and introduced myself and told the officer of our need for
blue goose ammo, necessary for sighting our hits. The man was
very nice and helpful explaining to me where the Air Force ammunition was
located. It was a plausible story, because only the RAAF
used .30 cal. MG’s. As he was showing me exactly how to get to the ammo
storage Ed walked by and through the gate unnoticed. Ed walked back out
with an arm load of bulbs. The Australian officer noticed Ed as he got to
the entrance. He jumped up yelling, but it was too late. Ed drove off.
The Aussie asked me if I saw what happened, and I said "yes," thanked him
for his information, and left.
When we set up
camp at Dobudura we needed a shower system for the outfit. There was a
heavy rainforest to our rear with a clear mountain stream coursing down
through it. The Greeks located a large water pump with a GMC truck
motor to power it and along with this pumping unit was a complete shower
system. This was the shower system at base headquarters. The
Greeks said the best time to strike was noon while they were having chow.
Ed organized the raid. He and I, the Greeks, and a truck load of men
standing in the back of a deuce and a half with two large iron pipes to use
as skid poles drove up, unhooked the pump and motor, took the system apart,
loaded up the truck, loaded back on the truck covering its contents and
drove back out past the mess tents. We set up the system and got
orders to prepare to change stations. We were going to Hollandia.
The showers we'd set up are probably still there today, so well did we hide
MP’s were nosing around our area
almost every day. Many of
our private jeeps were
discovered although they too had been well hidden in the grass. We
even had to keep our extra typewriters for the orderly room hidden.
One day an MP stopped me in our company street and asked me who the man was
at the desk, that he looked like a man he’d almost caught stealing lumber
from them. I told him that was out of the question, that man was 1st Sgt.
Baldwin. He apologized and left.