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AN EASY WATER CROSSING  - Gordonvale was not a benign training area, and training was hard, the men had to be toughened up, and kept at their peak. The watercourses could change their nature in a minute, with tropical rainstorm torrents sweeping down through their narrow banks.  There were a number of fatal training incidents, the result of less than prudent planning and preparation, and a certain recklessness of command.  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. Ultimately, the officers of the 503d would lose confidence in Col. Kinsler - but that is another story.

 

"Forty river crossings had to be made on a rope crossing. We had to go cris-cross across and drag ourselves across on a rope. Three paratroopers fell off the ropes and were drowned. Others have told me there were about seven drownings. One body was recovered on the bank of the Mulgrave River near Aloomba some months later. A lot of equipment was lost in the river. Lieutenant Dick who was in charge of us obtained a Burra (mule) from somewhere to pack A 60mm mortar. The Burra went up the first hill all right, but then sat down and refused to any any further, so we had to carry the mortar ourselves. We started off about 30 dogs and came home with three. They just seemed to vanish. It was a very wet year in Babinda, the rainfall being 360 inches."  O.P Russell, 503rd PIR at Gordonvale.

 

2010 Susan Stoger & 503d PRCT Heritage Bn