The 503rd Parachute RCT had occupied a hastily constructed camp on the shores of Leyte Gulf since its non-combat landing on 19 November 1944.  We were awaiting orders for our next combat assignment.  Finally, in the first week in December  orders came down specifying an important assignment for us.  We were to make an amphibious landing on Mindoro Island and secure sites for new airfields.  These fields would be needed in order to support further advances in the Philippines.

 Construction of the only major airfield at Tacloban on Leyte was taking much longer than anticipated because of the swampy land in that corner of the Island.  Even if the fields had been constructed on time it would have been very difficult accumulating the numbers of C-47 aircraft necessary for an operation such as this.  C-47 transport aircraft had become the work horses of the Southwest Pacific Area, moving troops and ferrying freight.  Airborne troops did not have an exclusive hold on the transports.  Thus we were to make an amphibious rather than a parachute landing.

"REMEMBERING MINDORO"
_________________
Don Abbott

 

 

 

  As a bridge between the two types of operation, we trained as amphibious troops, by having the LCI carrying paratroopers head in toward shore, hit the beach with the bow and drop its ramps to Port and Starboard.  It took us a total of 3 1/2 minutes to get off the LCI.  I don't know how long it takes straight legs but I'll bet we beat them in our first try.  Our troops scampered down the two ramps into three or four feet of water and headed for a dry beach.  It appeared to us as if the Navy crew of the LCI deliberately beached further out than needed so they could get the hell out in a hurry.  This resulted in all our men and their weapons getting far wetter than would have been needed.  This did not set the stage for friendly relations with the crew.

 On 12 December 1944 the Combat Team boarded a fleet of small troop transports, mostly Landing Craft Infantry (LCI's).  This was the real thing.  It was a new experience for us.  We were accustomed to having wings on each side of our transports.  We were a bit apprehensive since we knew amphibious operations were a completely different matter than the airborne tactics we had trained for.  But if "straight legs'' could do it so could we, only better.

 We had been briefed in our mission to land on the Island of Mindoro, secure the area around San Jose, on the level Southwest plain, and provide security as Engineers and construction personnel build airstrips. 

 The long road back to the Philippines had proved that air superiority was an absolute requirement in the accomplishment of a strategic objective.  In this case the objective of the operation was, really, the main Island of Luzon and the City of Manila.  The toehold in the Philippines, with the partially completed air base at Tacloban, on Leyte, was too far from the important parts of Luzon for effective sorties.  Without airfields closer to Manila it would be nearly impossible to seize and maintain air superiority in northern Luzon.  Airfields in the Southwest of Mindoro would be much closer to the targets on the big island.  San Jose, Mindoro is, roughly,  150 miles from Manila.

 A fleet of Naval craft was assembled instead of the aircraft.  Guthrie enumerates the craft in the assault force as follows:

 

 1 Light Cruiser

 12 Destroyers

 9 Destroyer transports

 30 LST's

 12 LSM's

 31 LCI (L)'s

 16 Mine sweepers

Plus a number of smaller craft

             The Assault Force was only part of the story behind this mission.  One cover fleet consisted of 3 Cruisers,  7 Destroyers and 23 Motor Torpedo Boats.  Another Fleet of Naval craft stood by to provided air cover and support and were there if the Japanese attempted to block the Assault Force.  Guthrie says this force consisted of:

6 Escort Carriers

 3 Battleships

 3 Light Cruisers

18 Destroyers

As ''landlubbers'' the sheer number of these ships boggled our minds.  Never had we seen anything like that number of ships at one time.  One report told that the total fleet numbered over 150 ships of all size.  Since  this was, relatively, an insignificant operation we wondered what a major fleet operation would be like. 

We pulled out of Leyte Gulf and into the Strait of Surigao after dark on the night of 12  December.  Even in the dark it was still possible to make out the shore of the Island of Mindanao on the Port side of the LCI and the shore of the Island of Leyte on the Starboard side.  We could not help but reflect on the battle waged here, in these very same waters, just a short time before between the attacking Japanese Naval force and our Naval ships.  Many, many, people had died that night.  Thankfully, they were mostly Japanese.  This remote corner of the Philippines had become important for a short span of time.  

Next morning we emerged from the Strait of Surigao into the Mindinao Sea.  This was a much wider expanse of water but with a large force such as ours there was not much maneuvering that could be done.  It seemed as if we steamed in a straight line to the Southwest.  On our LCI at breakfast time we expected to be fed but this, it turned out, was not a part of the Naval crew's duties.  In fact, they left the feeding of our troops to our own men.  Cases of C Rations were opened and spoons came out of hiding.  I  carried a spoon in the knife pocket of my right pant leg of my fatigues where it would be handy at any moment.  Somehow cold C Rations in the morning are not an appetizing way to start  a day.  This was a far cry from the treatment we had received from the crew of the Custer on our voyage from Noemfoor to Leyte.  Then nothing was good enough for our men.  Now it was up to the 503rd, not the Navy.

The crew of our LCI had been instructed to keep our troops below deck any time there was any enemy action taking place.  That turned out to be a good deal of the time.  Watching some of the shrapnel from our convoy's Anti Aircraft Artillery falling around us and slamming into the water the Navy was probably justified in issuing that edict but all our men wanted to see what was going on outside and when there is enemy activity one does not like the feel of being cooped up under deck where it would be virtually impossible to get out if we were hit.  The edict remained in force for most of our voyage from Leyte to Mindoro since we were under attack, or expected to be under attack most of the time.

At this time let me explain that the whole of ''E'' Company of the 503rd had been loaded on one LCI.  I don't believe anyone else were among our passengers.  Captain Sam Smith was our Company Commander and I was the Company Executive Officer.  I had been promoted to XO after we had emerged from the jungles of Noemfoor at the end of the fighting on that Island. 

Sam and I became good friends and palled around often.  The two of us, at this time, stretched the Navy edict considerably.  We remained under deck when we were under attack -- sort of.  We'd edge our way up the steps leading from the troop deck to the main deck a little bit further every time we could get away with it.  By the time the voyage was over we were on deck all the time.  To Hell with the Navy.

Sam and I had our heads far enough above deck we had a pretty good view of one of the first encounters with Japanese airplanes early after daybreak the first morning.  A large, twin engine plane came out of the sky to the North.  To my knowledge no one knew where it came from .  We were within easy reach of enemy flights based on Bohol,  Cebu and Negros.  The Japanese in their three years of occupying the Philippines, had constructed many airfields throughout the various islands.  Many of these fields were primitive but were adequate to act as bases from which their attacks could come.  Later we were to see a number of those strips on Negros.

The Jap plane headed relentlessly toward the cruiser USS Nashville.  It, apparently, had sneaked through our radar warning system.  It seemed as if it came as such a surprise the Navy did not have time for effective antiaircraft fire to be established.  The plane came in at a thousand feet or so and there was no doubt in any minds where he was headed.  He kept pretty much on a straight course toward the Nashville.  Finally, it plunged nearly vertical into the cruiser, hitting just behind the bridge.  There was a huge bursting ball of flames.  Surprisingly, it was only moments before the plane and the ball of fire had been swept overboard.  From our vantage point the Nashville seemed as if it was unscathed.  We did not know until some time later that the cruiser had been badly damaged.  The task force Chief of Staff had been killed along with many other people on the ship.  The Command of the task force was transferred from the Nashville to one of the destroyers and the Nashville returned to Leyte Gulf for necessary repairs.

  With this air activity as a beginning the next couple or three weeks provided the men of the 503rd had an almost constant show.  Having been interested in airplanes since I was a small boy, this seemed to be the greatest show on earth.  We knew there were many people, both American and Japanese, being killed but from our vantage point, they could not be seen.

The Second Battalion Adjutant, Tom McNerney, described the engagements which followed during our days in the convoy.

 ''1745 hr 13 Dec 44:  Intense ack-ack at 8,000 feet heralded the arrival of more Jap planes.  Many bombs are being dropped at the left flank, but no damage realized.  1800 hr:  4 Jap bombers are directly overhead, pursued by  6 P-38's.  One Jap peeled off from 5,000 feet at a cruiser, but a burst of fire from a 38 set him afire, and he crashed in the sea, far astern of the  convoy.  The sky is now filled with ack-ack, and the P-38's are up above It, to ward off any Nips coming in high.  1830 hr:  The attack is over for the present, and no damage inflicted on the convoy.  Half an hour remains 'til dark.  There is no moonlight these nights, and  we hope the convoy is not visible during hours of darkness.  In the morning the Japs will most likely expect us to invade Negros.  It should be quite awhile after dawn when they pick us up far out  in the Sulu Sea.''

 ''0800 hr. 14 Dec:  We had no air or sea attack during the night.  1000 hr:  After patrolling over the horizon since yesterday morning, our large Task Force is again visible, and now has 6 carriers, 3 battleships, and numerous  cruisers and destroyers.  Today Admiral Halsey is due to inaugurate 4 days of intensive air attack on Luzon and the lesser islands.  This may well account for our lack of air opposition today, augmented by our carrier based hellcat cover, and  P-38's from Leyte which arrived soon after dawn.  1100 hr:  We are now in the Sulu Sea, west of Panay, and in the eyes of the Japanese High Command, capable of striking any of the numerous enemy held islands surrounding us.  1400 hr:  A light attack by Jap planes on the rear of the Convoy was driven off by heavy ack-ack.  1945hr:  Darkness has settled, and no further air attacks have materialized.''

 "During the night of 14/15 1944 it was necessary for the task force to reveal its location.  The task force had intended to keep the Japanese in the dark as to our destination.  We had made feints toward several possible objectives, such as Panay or Paluan.  Unfortunately, radar picked up a small Japanese freighter off the West Coast  of Panay.  Although it probably posed no threat to our convoy the ship had undoubtedly spotted us.  The ship was fired upon and set ablaze.  It was burning furiously as we passed it in the middle of the night.'' 

'Reveille and breakfast was at 0430.Tom McNerney's journal says there were  doughnuts and coffee.  I think Tom was whistling Dixie.

 Reveille was early on the morning of 15 December 1944.  Our men were anxious to be ''up and at them'' and get our first combat amphibious landing behind us.  We have no idea whether our landing will be opposed or not.  The Japanese have seemed to adopted a strategy of pulling their defenses inland, allowing our forces to land unopposed, then attacking the troops who have landed.  Maybe they will follow the same approach here, but, then, who knows?  Maybe this is the time they will try to defend the landing beaches.

As we came on deck well before the 0700 HR on ''U'' Day (15 Dec 44) the invasion fleet had reached their assigned positions off shore.  The LCI's were lined up in rows consisting of the order they would be landing.  Far to the right, or South, were the landing craft bringing the 19th Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Division.  To the left, North, of us were landing craft with the 1st Battalion of the 503rd who were to land on the North side of the Bugsanga River and represent the Left Flank of our invasion.  Nearby were the LCI's of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd.  Behind us, further out to sea were craft with the 3rd Battalion, acting as Combat Team reserve.  

As 0700 approached landing craft, including LCI's rigged as Gun Ships began launching rocket salvos.  That was the first time I had seen Gun Ships and their array of rockets.  Each gun ship would fire many rockets at a time.  They would leave with a high pitched swoosh!!  The rockets could, clearly, be followed all the way to the point of impact.  Hundreds of these rockets plastered the beach line and a short way inland.  I'd have hated to have been in the shoes of anyone caught on the beach at that time.

Although I did not check my watch we must have hit the beach at almost exactly at the 0700  HR.  As in the case of our practice landing on Leyte, a few days earlier, our LCI hit the beach very softly after having dropped an anchor a few yards out so they would be able to winch themselves off.  When the landing ramps were dropped the water was chest deep on the taller men.  Shorter men were over their head and woe be a short man with a heavy load.  He was in danger of drowning.  At the very best, men making the landing had their weapons and loads thoroughly soaked.

As soon as we hit the beach our lead platoons began to move inland, only to discover we had not landed at the exact spot which had been intended.  The whole invasion fleet had landed about 400 yards  to the right of where we supposed to have landed.  There followed about an hour as the Companies shuffled around getting themselves into their assigned positions.

''E'' Company was to be in the van of the Combat Team as it moved inland.  A narrow gauge railroad, used in pre-war days to haul sugar cane to a sugar mill, guided our advance inland.  It was obvious to us that the railroad had not been used during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Grass grew up around the ties and the tracks were dull as if no traffic had used them for a long time. 

A large corrugated building could be seen in the distance.  This was adjacent to the village of San Jose.  The village must have been a Company Town with the sugar mill practically the only industry in peace time.  Housing, occupied by the workers, ranged from very small to quite large, representing the status of the employee occupying the home.

The Company had Scouts Out from the lead platoon.  As we had always done, the scouts searched for suspicious looking areas where the enemy might be waiting to ambush our advance.  This, of course, took more time than a simple march inland.  The problem was that an Engineer Construction Battalion had come in with all their equipment not too long after our landing.  Because of the delay getting our companies straightened out after our landing the Engineers were right behind us and kept nipping at our heels hoping to get to the place where they would begin construction of Elmore airstrip.  Having D-8 Caterpillar tractors right behind you and trying to pass does not make for a very orderly infantry advance,

We managed to keep the D-8's behind us and, eventually, we reached San Jose and the Company carefully moved in.  The small Japanese garrison had moved out and had taken to the hills.  This had been a hasty evacuation as they left their morning meal uneaten and abandoned their living accommodations.  Since our objective was to clear the area of any Japanese so the airfields could be constructed, we did not pursue the evacuating troops.  We sent outposts to make sure they did not return and, then, began to assume the positions we would occupy while the construction crews took over the area.

The civilian population came out of hiding and welcomed the invading Americans.

 ''E'' Company was to occupy a position on the perimeter located along the Bugsanga River which drained a large area to the East of San Jose.  The river was a well defined boundary for the perimeter, forming the Northern boundary of the outposted invasion.  ''D'' and ''F'' Companies also assumed a part of this perimeter.  Over the coming weeks the companies developed their positions, from a line of temporary foxholes to one including bunkers and emplaced heavy machine guns,  even 50 Caliber Machine Guns.  This was the first time the 503rd had any experience with water cooled 30 caliber Machine Guns or the air cooled 50 Caliber Machine Guns.

The Company CP was set up a hundred yards, or so, to the South of the river.  As the Elmore airstrip construction progressed it turned out the CP was not far from the end of a major landing strip.  Nearby an Anti-Aircraft Artillery outfit set up a 40mm emplacement.  This facility became the designated ''Alert'' gun for a large part of the area of occupation.

The Bugsanga River ran from East to West along the Northern edge of the occupied area.  The gravel bed was several hundred yards wide with the stream itself running along the Southern part of the bed.  The river varied from a foot to several feet deep.  The water flowed swiftly several miles an hour.  This was the first time the 2d Battalion had manned a perimeter with a stream in front of it.  The water was clear and cool and appeared usable without treatment but we had, long ago, learned to always treat our water before using it to drink.  The penalty for drinking untreated water was not worth contemplating.

We never had a significant rainstorm during our occupation of Mindoro so we had no way of knowing what the river was like under those circumstances but we suspected the stream bed could be a raging torrent.

Beginning almost immediately after our landing on Mindoro we were subjected to Japanese attack from the air.  Being a relatively short way from their airfields on Luzon, including Clark Airfields, North of Manila, the Japanese had plenty of planes to use against us.  The Japanese bases were closer than our base at Tacloban, Leyte so they hit us often.  At one time I saw and ''A-2'' (Air Corp. Intelligence) report which told of 182 raids over a two-week period.  That is ''Raids'', not single aircraft.  Our air defenses consisted of carrier based planes from out Navy task forces, Army Air Corp planes from Tacloban and AA fire. 

 We had seen a good deal of air activity;  bombing and dog fights while on Leyte and during our convoy attack on Mindoro but the shows on Mindoro were awesome!  Some days the sky teemed with air battles.  One encounter comes to mind.  One day we were having a big raid with a lot of Japanese planes.  There were a lot of our planes in the air, mostly P-38's, holding the Japanese off.  Since this was a real good show the people from the CP climbed on a gravel pile left by the construction people, to get a better view. 

The CP group were all watching one fight going on up high to the North.  For some reason I happened to look over my shoulder, toward the South and commented, ''Boy, that P-38 is low!''  One of the sergeants looked back, said "38 hell, that's a Jap,"  then dove off the gravel pile.  I looked again and sure enough it was a Japanese twin engine light bomber heading our way low.  Right behind him, however, was a P-38.  About that time the Jap leveled off at about 200 feet and passed overhead.  As the Jap was going away I could see a tail gunner open up at the P-38.  The P-38 now opened up with all his guns and we could see the tracers hitting the Jap plane

 One trick film makers use to show a ''kill'' in a dog fight is to have the pursued plane go behind a hill, then show a big ball of flame coming up.  This is, exactly, what happened in this case.  The Jap went behind a low hill with the P-38 following him.  There was a big ball of flame and the P-38 came zooming up from behind the hill.  A big cheer came from the observers on the gravel pile.

Japanese kamikaze planes were in evidence on a daily basis.  One day a kamikaze hit an oil tanker in front of the occupied area, presumably carrying aviation gas.  A huge plumb of black smoke went up thousands of feet high.  The breeze happened to change direction from the East to the West and the smoke passed over our heads.  As it did a black rain began to fall.  Afterward an oily sheen covered everything under where the cloud had passed.  That ship burned for a number of days.  We could only imagine it formed a great landmark for the Japanese and American planes coming together for their dog fights.

Another time a big air battle was taking place.  We could see Japanese planes trying to get at the supply ships waiting to be unloaded off shore.  I do not know if it was a bomb dropped or a kamikaze but an ammunition ship was hit.  Mind you, we were something over two miles inland from where the ship had been.  The concussion was such that we were nearly bowled over.  After the shock, all there was left was a sea covered with debris.  Not a soul aboard the ship survived.

Whenever our planes from Tacloban were above us they kept most of the Jap planes away.  This, of course, was during the daytime because most of our airfields were not set up for night activity. 

When our planes were not overhead Anti Aircraft Artillery batteries, the 40 mm, the 90mm and even 50 Caliber MG's made the Japanese planes steer clear.  At night searchlights were also effective for making it difficult for Japanese planes to bomb or strafe our airfields.  It was interesting to hear a Jap plane approaching at night only to be caught in searchlights then AAA fire.  It sounded similar to a bee approaching and being stirred up.  The sound would go from a steady drone to a high pitched scream as the pilot attempted to evade the light. 

Unfortunately, the ammunition ship which had been vaporized in front of us was loaded with AAA ammunition.  So the guns were left with practically no ammunition.

By this time a squadron of nightfighters had arrived on the Island.  They flew P-61's, twin engine planes guided to their targets by radar.  These planes were put up as our night time air defense.  Since our planes would be in the dark sky that night, orders were given forbidding any anti aircraft fire from the ground.  In other words the P-61's would be our only defense.  This led to some very hectic nights until a ship got through with AA ammunition.  Being near the approach to Elmore field where the P-61's were based, we would hear a plane approaching.  We would not know for sure whether it was one of ours or a Jap.  If it landed, it was one of ours.  If it began strafing and dropping  bombs, it was one of theirs.  The P-61's were very ineffective at keeping the Japanese planes away at night. 

The 40mm AAA outfit near us gave the air raid warning in our area  On the night mentioned the gun was constantly sounding a BOOM,  BOOM, BOOM (alert).  Then after a quiet stretch the all clear BOOM would be fired.  Every time this gun fired I would nearly jump out of my skin.

One night when the orders against ground fire were in place, a twin  engine Jap bomber who had dropped his bombs was caught in the lights and tried to get away, heading out over the river in the ''E'' Company area.  A gunner manning one of the 50 caliber MG, opened up at him and a number of rounds hit the Jap.  I was watching this and could see the tracers slamming into him.  If you consider there was one round of tracer to six rounds of ball ammunition, you know he is being hit badly.

The Jap was hurt critically and crashed on the North side of the river.  We were still under orders that anything moving was enemy so no one ventured to the crash site that night.  Early after daybreak I went from the CP to the line.  Since they had shot down a Jap plane it didn't seem to make any sense to chewing out the machine gunner for disobeying orders not to fire.

As daylight dawned an Australian truck drove up to the river.  It had a load of Aussie airfield construction workers on it.  The truck driver started to ford the river to get near the downed plane.  Our men yelled at them ''What the hell are you doing, you can't go over there!''  The driver yelled back ''We're going over there to get souvenirs from that plane, Yank'' and started across.  Our machine gunner fired a burst in front of the truck and called ''You're not going over there, cobber!" The burst changed the Aussie's  minds.  They turned around and went away. 

After full light I, along with a big group from ''E'' Company, went to the crashed plane.  The two pilots were dead but there was documentation for the plane which was deemed to be valuable for our Air Corp intelligence.  It was a new type of plane, similar to our A-20, for which our Air Corp welcomed information.  When the brass came down to find out who had fired at the Jap against orders, no one in ''E'' Company had heard any firing from guns in our Company area.

Incidentally, the MG may have been fired by Pfc. Munoz who was assigned to ''E'' Company from Second Battalion HQ.  This was the man who was badly wounded in the shoulder while with our company on Noemfoor.  Not long after the incident with the Japanese plane Munoz was, once again, badly wounded, this time in the head by falling AAA shrapnel. 

 The 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team saw only limited ground action while on Mindoro.  The Second Battalion saw none but ''B'' Company, in the First Battalion was ordered to make an amphibious landing on the North West corner of Mindoro.  They moved inland and attacked an enemy garrison at Paluan, sent there by the Japanese to set up an early warning outpost to tell when American planes were headed toward Northern Luzon.  Paluan was a small and short mission but a fierce  battle took place during which most of the Japanese were killed and ''B'' Company lost five men.

On another occasion, Lt. Ewing from Second Battalion Headquarters was sent with a small group to investigate a small Island off the Northern coast of Mindoro where a black market center had been established.  Ewing told me there were many cases of cigarettes and other military supplies which had not been available in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation.  These illegal good, the cigarettes in particular, were like gold, a matter of great value.  Ewing said he had been offered many thousands of Pesos of American Victory currency if he would look the other way and let the dealers off the hook.

There were something in the order of 300 Japanese on Mindoro, other than those at Paluan.  We did not know, for certain where they were so they could have presented a threat.  In addition there was always the potential for Japanese troops to be sent from Luzon to interfere with the airfield operations around San Jose.  So informal patrols from the Second Battalion ranged out to the North of the Bugsanga River even after it appeared the base around San Jose was secure. 

 On several occasions I would gather up a squad of men, tell HQ what I was doing and patrol a few miles into unoccupied territory.  A number of the local Filipinos, who had made for the hills as we landed on December 15th returned to their homes in the area and I became friendly with several of them.  It was an interesting experience.  Most of these people had been educated around the sugar mill property at San Jose and most were quite bright and intelligent.  Their homes ranged from primitive nipa huts to good size buildings, set up in sizeable compounds.  One particular farmer always insisted they should kill a chicken and prepare a meal for us.  I felt a bit guilty about taking food away from their families but they would insist.  After the first such experience I always took some food with me which I left for them.  It would be something they would not have been able to find otherwise and they appreciated whatever we could take to them.

On one of those patrols we had finished the meal and were talking when I heard a small explosion.  It was no surprise because there were a number of small streams, or sloughs, in the area which held fish.  Some of our men would come out with grenades or blocks of TNT to stun the fish they could pick up.  In this case one of the men and a buddy were setting up a block of TNT when it went off in his hand.  The explosion had blown off both his hands and we had to apply tourniquets to keep him from bleeding to death.  This happened shortly before we left for the Corregidor mission and I never learned his name or what became of him. 

Our time on the perimeter around the airfields built on Mindoro did not last long.  As was the case we, shortly, began to set up a more permanent camp.  A large, level, area was laid out for us and we set up a tent camp.  It was, really, at this time the 503rd became known as ''Colonel Jones and his 3000 thieves''.  Parachute units throughout World War II were set up with Tables of Organization and Tables of Equipment as if we flew everywhere we went and had no use for garrison supplies.  In the 503rd Regiment, for example, there were fewer than one jeep per line Company.  Trucks and other supply vehicles were also in short supply.  We were ''officially'', authorized a very limited supply of materials we could draw from the Quartermaster Corp.  Even if we could draw lumber for tent frames (which we couldn't) we could not haul it because we did not have enough trucks.  The 503rd learned how to steal trucks to haul the materials we had stolen.  In some cases trucks already loaded with materials were stolen.  This was considered good because we didn't have to load them.  There were even times when truckloads of beer were stolen.  This  was considered very ''cool''--a term unknown at the time. 

While we were still on the perimeter and the Anti Aircraft Artillery gun crew were still very active Sam and I began to be a bit concerned that our oversize foxhole did not protect us from the shrapnel from their fire.  As we had gone past their camp we noticed they had a few sheets of corrugated iron.  So we swiped a sheet, put it over our foxhole and tossed about a foot of dirt on it.  That would protect us from the smaller bits of shrapnel and we felt a lot safer.  Unfortunately a detail from the AAA outfit came over, picked up the end of the sheet of corrugated, dumped the dirt and left with our stolen material.  There wasn't much we could do about it.

When ''E'' Company began to set up camp we needed something for tent frames.  Lumber was out of the questioned.  Then I recalled a Filipino farmer I had met who had quite a large plot of bamboo.  This took up quite a bit of land where he could have been growing cane when they started up the sugar mill again.  I didn't know this guy well but took some beer and went out to talk with him.  He welcomed our cutting in his bamboo patch.  So I organized a detail and we went out and cut down a lot of bamboo suitable for tent frames, probably in the range on 200 pieces.  When we had the supply back in camp and the tent frames nearly completed this guy came in with a piece of paper charging us two Pesos (1 US Dollar) per piece.  I had made a mistake in not having him agree to a price before we started cutting.  We did not pay for the bamboo.

Mindoro in short order had many planes from a number of different units; Air Corps, Marines and an occasional Navy plane.  On the way to Regimental Headquarters, the easiest route led past revetments set up along the airstrips of Elsmore field. 

We would see P-38's and P-47's with large numbers of Japanese flags painted on them, indicating a kill.  Several of the leading ACEs were stationed on Mindoro at one time or another.  I think Bong was one of them. 

One time, I think it was Bong. A plane was taxing and got a wheel stuck on the railroad.  Without a thought of who might be effected, he reved up his engines.  The props threw up a painful amount of dirt and gravel.  At that moment an ace would have been shot down if we had one of his guns.

Another time we passed some revetments where the ground crews were working on a B-25.  This model of the B-25 had two 50 caliber Machine guns on each side of the fuselage.  As we passed in front they were working the bolts of the guns.  All they would have needed to have was ammunition and we would have been hit with many rounds per minute of 50 caliber stuff.

A unit which flew P-47's also was stationed at Elmore field.  At the end of the East end of one of the main runways the sugar mill was left standing.  It was an, at least, two stored corrugated iron building.  One day, as I was going to Battalion HQ I could see where a P-47 had crashed into the building.  The odd part was that the hole in the corrugated iron was in the exact shape of a P-47 faced head on.  I never knew what happened to that pilot.

The fighter aircraft always buzzed the strip to see that everything was clear for them to land.  At the end of the strip they would pull back on the stick to gain altitude quickly, get into a pattern, come around and land.  If they had shot down a Jap plane they would do a ''Victory Roll'' as they climbed.  We saw planes with as many as four rolls, indicating four Japs shot down.

One day a P-47 pilot buzzed the strip, hauled back on the stick and his motor began to sputter.  The P-47 was a huge, ungainly, looking aircraft.  It had an enormous radial engine.  It had a very low glide ration.  In other words when its motor conked out it couldn't glide far, it had to crash.  As I watched, the pilot tried, unsuccessfully to get the engine running smoothly, all the time trying to maintain the landing pattern.  About half  way along the down wind leg he crashed with his wheels up.  A lot of dust was kicked up but no fire.

We all headed over to the crash site to see if the pilot was still alive and to help him If he were.  Much to our surprise the pilot was headed across a field toward us, lugging his parachute over one shoulder.  He was not even limping.

One of the many aircraft to be based at Elmore strip was a Navy version of the Air Corp B-24.  Early models retained the twin tails of the B-24 but the models stationed here had a huge, single tail.  These aircraft were used by the Navy for long range patrol.

Late in the afternoon of the day after Christmas 1944, one of those Navy planes came in to report a Japanese task force consisting of a battle ship, three cruisers and seven destroyers.  Reports days later scaled back the size of this fleet but the mere fact the Jap task force was off Paluan Island and headed our way was a scary thought.  There was, also, unconfirmed reports of Japanese troop ships following the attack force.  The possibility of a landing of troops, which had always been a consideration now gave more concern.

 The reported task force stirred up a flurry of activity. 

 Unfortunately, the US Navy, which had maintained patrol activity around Mindoro, had been drawn back to Leyte (we thought they may have run out of Ice Cream mix and had to go back to Leyte to get a new supply).  At any rate the sum total of a Naval defense was the small contingent of Motor Torpedo Boats (PT Boats) which were still on station.

 So the American base had to make do with what it had.  First, the troopers, who had their positions pretty well hardened dug a bit deeper and any gaps were closed up.  Sam and I dug our oversized fox hole even deeper to the point we had to chin ourselves to get out.  We had done all we could.

While we had no heavy bombers on Mindoro, such as B-17's or B-24's we had a number B-25 light bombers. 

 The B-25's began their bombing of the Jap fleet as soon as they could be gassed up and loaded with bombs.  At first the planes were gone for an hour or two because the fleet had been 200, or so, miles away when they had been spotted.  As the ships came closer in the twilight hours of December 26 the B-25's were gone only a few minutes before they returned for more fuel and more bombs.  As it began to be darker, a couple of things happened.  First, we could see flashes from the Jap AA fire from their ships.  Second, the B-25's were joined by nearly anything else that would fly and could carry a bomb.  The fly boys were hitting the  Japs with everything they had.  But darkness made operations more difficult.  The airfields were not prepared for this many aircraft to operate using, more or less primitive, radar facilities.  It was necessary for returning planes to use their navigation lights so they could avoid each other.  Again, as we awaited developments planes came in to land on our nearby airstrip and we never knew if it were one of our or one of the Jap's. 

 The Jap task force was moving rapidly.  By the time it was fully dark their AA fire was clearly seen along with the flashes of bombs exploding.  This was a thrilling sight.  In retrospect it was, probably, one of the most sensational events in my life.

The base at San Jose, Mindoro had been reasonably well stocked with fuel and  bombs but as our planes continued to operate at full tilt supplies began to run low.  We were told that to gas up the B-25's fuel, tanks were lifted on one side so every last drop could be taken from the tank.  It may be a bit hard to believe but we were told the last B-25 to leave on the bombing run had bombs without detonators.  They were dropping the bombs just because they were heavy.

As the fleet drew close to our airfields the planes were told not to come back to the Mindoro  base but to head for Leyte and safety.  It was 250-300 miles back to Tacloban and many of the planes which by that time were flying on fumes did not make it.  It is thought that more pilots and planes were lost due to running out of fuel than were lost to the enemy. 

Finally, as we all watched, the Jap ships came abreast of our base on Mindoro.  About that time a sound powered phone we had hung on a tree in the CP rang.  Being JOP (Junior Officer Present) Sam sent me to answer the call.  On the phone was Lawrence Browne, Battalion S-3.  His message was that the Jap fleet was off our beaches and could be expected to shell at any moment.  This came as no surprise to me, particularly when I heard the first shell woosh, woosh toward us and burst into a star shell.  A star shell burst can make a person feel naked as a jay bird with the whole world look down on him.  I said, ''Larry, what the Hell do you think we have been watching for hours?''  Then I made a leap for the fox hole where I had the presence of mind to check my watch and saw that it was 2325 hr.

 After the first star shell went off the next round, a high explosive one, followed quickly.  The shelling went on and on with an occasional star shell mixed in among the HE.  Strangely, I heard nothing hitting close to us or the nearby air strip.  It finally dawned on me all the shells were landing in the gravel stream bed of the Bugsanga River.  Apparently Japanese spotter planes told them that the stream bed was an airstrip.  They did not even hit any of our defensive positions on the Southern side of the river.  The shelling stopped after 25 minutes at 2450.  Then the Jap fleet began a withdrawal Northward followed by our PT boats which continued to launch  torpedoes at them.

The next morning we were all gathering to discuss what we had been through.  I then noticed my right big toe was hurting.  When I got out of our hole to answer the phone I was bare foot.  Apparently when I dove for the hole I'd stubbed the toe.  By morning it was badly swollen.  I went to the Battalion aid station and told Doc Charley  Bradford I might have broken my toe.  He looked at the toe and agreed, I'd broken it.  So he fashioned a cast on my foot with my big toe  sticking out.  He also gave me a pair of crutches.  I had never used crutches before and found them very hard to navigate.  Every few steps I would stub the big toe on a rock, or something.  With the heavy cast adding weight it hurt more when I stubbed my to than it did when  there was no cast.  I went back and had Doc take off the cast.  I hobbled around for a few days but with no  cast or crutches.

Shortly afterwards we began to set up our ''permanent'' camp.

 

  September 2000 All Rights Reserved
by Don Abbott 
(Reproduced by permission of the Author. )
May be reproduced for educational non-commercial use
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