On the 22nd of May 1945, under the command of Lt. Whittig, I was lead scout of a "G" Company, third platoon patrol into an area feeding a trail which went by the name of "the Secret Trail." The patrol, ordered by Lt. Whittig, was of squad strength, with Staff-Sergeant John Guthrie in charge. My second scout was Andy Pacella.
Now, whether this "Secret Trail" had ever been a genuine secret, I cannot say, but certainly by the time I was scouting the area, it was no secret at all, especially from the Japanese. I had been told that there were no friendly troops between our positions and the river, the course of which was not far away to our left flank. Our patrol was to check the extreme left flank of the 503d PRCT's position, and to deal with any Japanese forces which might attempt to out-flank our line.
The mountains in the interior of Negros were steep, varying from two thousand to six thousand feet, and the Japanese had had ample time to choose their battlefields ahead of us - some positions were covered by as many as two dozen pillboxes aligned in three supporting lines, and always above us. Nor did they appear to have any shortage of automatic weapons, heavy machine guns or mortars.
There were Japanese forces still occupying Hill 3355, many dug into positions where it was impossible, because of the terrain, to flank them. Throughout the sector, they had chosen their positions in such a way as to ensure that only means we had of dealing with them was to attack them, day after day, from lower ground.
The patrol had gone off without any contact being made, and we were still proceeding on an outward leg. It was mid-morning when I saw a few men crossing from my left to my right, some two-hundred yards away. They were on the "Secret Trail" moving towards my right. The trail itself sloped upward towards the left of our positions steadily increasing grade. At some point before my patrol had made it to that very spot, this 'lost' patrol had crossed in front of us traveling to my left, and presumably were returning whence they had come. They shouldn't have been there between us and the river.
I was damn surprised to see a patrol of Americans come from the left across our front, crossing to my right, on higher ground. Being of the 3rd Battalion, and situated at the far left of the entire front occupied by the 503d and the 40th, they had no business being there.
I could see them clearly. They were in US fatigues, wearing US helmets, and were carrying M-1's, and I assumed they were from our second battalion who had strayed out of their area following the clear trail through the dense rainforest. They must have crossed our path some hours before we had gotten to our position, following along the trail. I held my tommy-gun in my left hand and raised right arm in a wave signal and called to them, "Hey, we're Americans!" Simultaneously, they started shooting - their guns were going off and bullets were flying towards our position. Two or three of the men of my patrol were bunched up near me, and had raised up about to wave. "Americans! We're Americans!" The distance between us was approximately 200 yards, visibility good.
It all happened in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Instead of any response, our patrol attracted an instant hail of gunfire. When we'd raised up to identify ourselves, they'd started opening fire, it was just that fast.
I knew all too well the sound of the Jap 25's, and I was hearing M-1's. There' a big difference in the way they sound. They turned tail and ran to the right, and even though they had the advantage over us, they were running from further contact. When they started to run, we stood again.
As I faced the men near me, we all heard the good-solid bang of a hand-grenade detonator igniting. It had been on John Guthrie's webbing, close to his left shoulder, and I figured in that instant of a second that one of their rounds had dislodged it and set it off. We were bunched up, standing with him, and he was no further away from me than four feet. We exchanged glances, and everybody scattered and hit the dirt.
Guthrie had a very short delay before making his decision, it must have been an eternity for him, but it was an instant for me, and he then dived upon the grenade to protect the rest of us.
There was nothing more clear to me, nothing in my life, not before, not since, than that he had made the conscious decision to protect us.
None of us were hit, not by the patrol which had fired on us, nor by the grenade which destroyed Guthrie's life. It had all happened so quickly, and we had not fired a shot.
We carried Guthrie home.
We talked it over since, and came to the view that the 'lost' patrol had been from "E" Company, which had been at our immediate right flank. At some point earlier in the morning, their patrol had crossed in front of us, and were returning to their perimeter when we surprised them.
We reported the contact as Americans who had fired on us, and run.
Later, word came down to me that the contact had been "with Japanese in American clothing." This was completely false in my eyes, but I figured that there might be some justice in the way that the Army would recognize Guthrie's heroic act of self-sacrifice. Maybe, I thought, that if the patrol was identified as Japs, then the contact was a contact with the enemy, and not just a friendly-fire incident, and Guthrie could get recognition.
It didn't happen.
Fate had decreed that there wasn't an officer around who witnessed it, or any officer who could write a commendation supporting Guthrie.
If anything was ever written down, then it was sure to be wrong.
What makes it worse through the years was that "E" Company claimed that on that day they had a contact and had killed "one Jap". That's just another bit of the official record that Regimental HQ got wrong, for posterity's sake, maybe not even knowing either way.
If only for his family, his bravery should be recognized.
There's no doubt in my mind that S/Sgt. John M. Guthrie, late of Arkansas, who died on 22 May 1945, saved my life, and the lives of others, and got not enough recognition for his selfless act. I recall him often. Like I said, it sticks in my craw, and it'll stay sticking there until I am gone to meet him again.