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Chapter 4

 

 TO INDEX

 

 

 

 

Our flight to the jump zone was uneventful with us sitting along each side of the aircraft, each one appearing to be looking at his feet, in an attempt to hide the fear of the moment displayed on each face. Occasionally in catching one’s eye we would give each other a thumbs up gesture. It’s amazing how this little contact could ease the strain of the moment.

Our flight took us over the Owen Stanley Mountains. It grew extremely cold, lips started turning blue, looking around at the faces of the jumpers, they looked like aliens, pale white, blue lips, chin strap pulled tightly across the chin to hold the helmet in place and wearing the mask of the unknown fear we were about to experience.

Word came to stand up and hook up, and each man stood and fastened his static line to the cable in the plane. We checked our own gear, and the gear of the man in front.  The plane lost altitude for the jump, and at 500 feet the go signal was given. Out the plane we went.

It was like leaving an icebox and stepping into a furnace.

Our landing site was a field of ten foot high kunai grass. It was extremely dusty from the dried out grass of years gone by, its saw-tooth edges cutting.  The temperature had to be 120 degrees, and we soon found that the only way to get to the edge of this mess was to fall forward, let the next man walk over you, and then for him to fall and you in turn walk over him. Many of our troops passed out in the heat and had to be carried to the shelter of the jungle.

After regrouping patrols were sent out to collect as many natives as possible and get the kunai grass cut to create an airstrip. Security was set up around the field, and an Australian battery of 25 pounder (equivalent to the us 75mm Howitzers) was dropped to give us support fire power. The thirty-four Aussies jumping with their cannon had never made a jump before, but in the tradition of the Aussie to prove his manliness, guns and men came out of the planes like professional jumpers.

Meanwhile, back on the field, things were progressing nicely. One native, who was the Number One Boy (this being his definition of his title) kept the other natives working. He had some knowledge of English, having worked for an English banana grower. It was a joy to hear him giving orders in Pidgin-English. His definition of a P-38 Fighter was "Big Bird with twin ass."  He referred to his employer on the banana plantation as "Boss Man" and the employer's wife as "Missy." In Pidgin-English he told us he always carried Missy when they went anywhere, when asked Why? He stated "No get Missy ass wet."

 

 

(Photo: Model 92 7.7-mm (0.303 inch) Heavy Machine Gun, under proud new management. It is a gas-operated, strip-fed, full automatic, air-cooled, modified Hotchkiss-type weapon, and was the standard Japanese heavy machine gun. The trooper sitting at the gun is "Hardrock" Hamel. )

With the completion of the air strip, the Australian Division came in and the operation was turned over to them. Loading on the planes that brought the Aussies in, we were flown back to Port Moresby and from there to our previous camp site. Things went back to normal, taking Atabrine tablets to ward off malaria and getting medicinal shots and being inspected for hernias. (Bend over and spread your cheeks.)

Ordinance crews were brought in. Guns were inspected and repaired to as-new condition. End Markham Valley.

Our dress was boots and GI shorts, which allowed the tropical sun to tan and the Atabrine tablets to yellow our bodies. Without clothes we looked Oriental. It was during this stay in camp that I tasted Kick A Poo Joy Juice, another name given it was Jungle Juice. The stuff smelled and tasted awful, but was supposed to have an alcohol content, but this I doubt. The concoction was made up from stolen canned fruit from the Mess Hall (apples, peaches prunes and mixed fruits) poured into a five gallon gas can and hidden for several weeks, to allow it to ferment.  After fermentation we strained it through a clean sock and drank it. The strained debris in the sock was full of the strangest insects imaginable, nonetheless it was relished as though it were a good Scotch Whisky.

It was during our stay at this camp that we learned of the death of our Commander, and the takeover by Col. Jones.  If my memory serves me correctly, we moved from this camp back to Australia, spending several weeks at Brisbane. The troops were given the freedom to roam the town, in an effort to relieve their anxieties. My initial excursion was to find a good meal, and with the help of a taxi driver, locate the Zoo. Having found the Zoo to be within walking distance of our camp I spent each day enjoying the varied animals, and the fish in the Aquarium. In a large open air bird cage containing a variety of different birds I found a Cockatoo that could speak a few words. He or she would walk around the railing inside the cage, and when approached would cock it's head to one side and say "Scratch Cocky." I found this to be quite amusing and decided to see if I could get it to say other words. Being the Devil I am I started repeating "Scratch Cocky's ass" each time he would say “Scratch Cocky”, and on the third day he said it, and kept on saying it each time someone approached him. Well, the men that heard it laughed aloud, but the women were shocked, especially if they had youngsters.

I spent the better part of my free time sitting on the grass back from the cage enjoying the reaction of the people who heard the bird say "Scratch Cocky's Ass."

Well, our short stay at Brisbane suddenly came to an end. We loaded our gear and headed for the Docks, boarded a ship and once again we were on our way, this time back to New Guinea to a place called Hollandia.

Arriving at Hollandia we climbed down rope ladders to the assault boats that were waiting to take us ashore. We landed unopposed and moved inland.  This was some of the thickest and most ominous jungle I had ever seen. I led the way moving inland on a road that had seen many trucks, based on the depth of the ruts in the road. As I moved inland I saw two birds standing on the ground off to my left. They stood roughly three foot tall and were shaped like owls except for the head and beak. The head was wide roughly 10 or 12 inches and just slightly rounded, and the beak was as wide as the head with bright yellow edging. I deemed that they were fledglings and I wondered what the full grown bird looked like. The birds were brown in color with small white or grey spots appearing randomly over their bodies. I told myself they had to be scavengers and let it pass.

Continuing on I came upon a Japanese supply depot. This area was in a valley with caves in the hillsides, but no Japanese could be seen. Being very early in the morning they might be sleeping, I thought. Making as little noise as possible I moved toward the caves. Approaching the first cave, I could see a pair of hob nail shoes with soles toward me. Apparently a Jap soldier sleeping. I quietly pointed  to let my second scout know I had spotted Japs. Lt. Phelan came up to observe, after a few seconds he turned to me and told me to hold my position, he then pulled his combat knife and entered the cave. I heard no sound while he was in the cave, but I did see the hob nailed boots make a sudden movement.

After a few minutes Phelan reappeared, and he immediately moved to the next cave and entered, spending about the same amount of time inside.  Coming out he paused, knelt down, wiped his knife on the side of his jump boot, and restored it to its holster. He arose and walked back to his position. I learned later that he had cut the throats of all the sleeping Japs. I heard later there were six. *

Moving further inland we came upon numerous Native villages and large fields of yams. It was at the edge of one of these fields I saw a Trooper (Stormy) make the most accurate shot I have ever seen made with a M-1 rifle.

As we stood looking out across the field of yam plants, we observed a Jap wearing potato vines raise up look around then lie down, (the Japanese would creep into these fields and dig Yams.) He did this twice before he spotted us. Having seen us he leaped to his feet and started running across our front. 'Stormy' Gherhardt brought his rifle up to his shoulder and fired, hitting the Jap in his left ear, killing him instantly. We estimated the range from 'Stormy' to the Jap to be between 400 and 500 yards.

Having completed our mission we moved into a large valley, probably one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. Here we dug fox holes and set up a perimeter with the yam field to our front and a Native village to our rear. The young Native boys enjoyed spending their time with us, and showed us how to make shelters from banana leaves to cover our fox holes and protect us from the rain. In the time we spent with them, we taught them to speak a few words of English (“Hey Joe”, etc.) and to sing “Pistol Packing Mama.” It was funny to hear them sing. Their version came out “Peestola pawking mama, lie dots peestola down.

It was in this valley rumor had it that Gen. MacArthur had a mansion built for his personal use.1

With time the contact with the Japanese grew less and less. We enjoyed complete freedom around the village and the jungles of the area. Having become friendly with the natives they introduced us to their most popular alcoholic beverage, Tuba.

Tuba was the fermented juice from a coconut palm. Their technique to extract it from the tree was to climb a coconut palm and cut the new shoot of a forming stalk of bananas, hang a jug under the cut end and allow the sap to drip into it. After several weeks, remove the jug, strain it's contents and drink the fermented liquid. The taste of this drink reminded me of rotten fruit, but I must admit it had a kick.

Well, as with all good things our stay ended we were assigned another mission.

 

      

 TO INDEX

 

*  Lt. Phelan was, to my figuring, a soldier's soldier. He wanted to be a company commander, but there were to be no openings for him within the 503d. He was transferred out to the 511th, which later got into the thick of the fighting on Leyte, where he was killed. 

 

 

(Extracts are from 'Yanks Down Under 1941-45, the American Impact on Australia' by E. Daniel Potts & Annette Potts, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1985). 

 

ED'S FOOTNOTES

1 Several airfields and other military facilities were constructed in the Hollandia-Lake Sentani area during the summer of 1944, including a sprawling headquarters which was erected on a hillside overlooking the lake. The various headquarters were situated on tiers up the side of Engineer Hill, with MacArthur's advance GHQ at the top level. Eichelberger maintained his HQ there, and MacArthur moved his GHQ there from Brisbane. Eichelberger and others who resided there considered the setting to be one of the most beautiful they had ever seen.

The house in which MacArthur lived, which was also occupied by several members of his staff and held his and Sutherland's office, a conference room, and the staff dining room, was located on the top of a hill about eight hundred feet high overlooking the deep blue waters of Sentani Lake and the airdrome on its shores, about ten miles south of Hollandia village. The house was made of three Army-type prefabricated houses joined together and was quite comfortable. From MacArthur's office in Brisbane had come a few rugs and some furniture and, while not luxurious, it was quite good for New Guinea. Admiral Kincaid's headquarters on the same hill a half a mile away was, in General Kenny's opinion,  "quite a lot better."  Though his official diary showed that MacArthur spent a total of four nights at the headquarters overlooking Lake Sentani,  stories persisted that he had spent months residing in what some War Correspondents gleefully named the  "White House of the Southwest Pacific." <BACK>