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Chapter 8.2

 

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Focus is such a relative thing. 

Memory is always playing some tricks, and though I am in the process of auditing mine, I am still hazy on some of the sequences myself.  The overall sequences across the entire island, across several days, which I need to memorize as if I was some omnipotent witness from the clouds, omnipresent at every action, still give me trouble.  

The passage of time on Corregidor is so difficult to remember --  there were two sorts of men on Corregidor - the ones who lived (and died) assiduously by time, recording its passage by the minute, writing it down in their diaries, on the backs of little pieces of paper, on the backs of maps etc. - and the rest of us, who let it flow over us like a tide, unrecorded, in which we were immersed by its passage around us, inundated by the fact that it continued for us, yet ceased to run for so many men on both sides - Time was a current in which we were swirled around by happenings in which the days and the minutes, the seconds and the hours seemed to have no meaning anymore, and no relationship to each other. We marvelled at  how for some it came to an end all too briefly, bushido spirit be damned! Corregidor was even then a place where my own measurements of time were  registered in now's, next's and suddenly's, rather than days, hours and minutes. After it was all over, the experiences were melded simply into a single measurement of passage called "my time on Corregidor."

As daylight of the second day unfolds, I scan the area for any sign of our enemy, and see none.

We arise from our cover and prepare for the day, and the prospect that this day we will not be ‘in reserve’. There are some sore heads still from the night before.

  As I walk out onto the road I hear someone next to the truck calling me over.  “Hey Nyk! Look at this!”

I walk over to the truck and see a Nip lying crumpled on the road. It is the first Jap body I have seen here. 

“Who’s trophy is this?”

“He took him with his knife,” someone says, and points to our medic.

The medic, clearly not as shocked now as he must have been earlier, replies to no one in particular, “I don’t understand why he came to me to help him commit suicide.”

We all laugh the laugh of the nervous, and move on.

 

 

Our day is spent patrolling topside and cleaning out pockets of Japs wherever we find them.  

In the afternoon, towards 4:00pm, we are ordered to a position directly above Black beach, and told we are there to give cover for a landing.  There have already been landings the prior morning, so I am not expecting too much of a show. 

 As I am laying there looking at the destroyer, now just off the East end of Bottomside,  I see a small landing craft making for the beach.  A Nip heavy machine gun opens up about 200 feet below my position. I see  splashes up in front of the landing craft and sparks flying off the metal hull as the rounds strike on steel. The destroyer reacts to this threat and starts churning white water as her skipper puts her into reverse. The large craft backs gently until she is laying in line with the machine gun, and it then dawns upon me that I too am along that same line, and that I am not in a good place to be for what shall likely happen next.

I roll back from my dress-circle view on the rim of the crater, and wait. It does not take long, for the Rock beneath me shudders. I hear the machine gun return defiance, and a further naval volley shakes the ground underneath me. There is no further noise from the Jap MG in the orchestra stalls, though "to make sure", the blasts continue.

   

                 

 

The landing craft reaching the beach, now drops the ramp and I see a man run down on the beach, where he squats down and appears to be waiting, guiding the men who are there and too anxious to go ashore ashore. I don't know who he is, but he is one of the bravest men I have ever seen.  As dangerous as being a scout might be, he can have that job, I'll not trade.

Men engulf him from the LCI and together with the others on the beach, they move towards Malinta Hill, like soldier ants with a solitary purpose. I see them scale the giant hill opposite me, quickly at first and then slower, and in several minutes I see men atop Malinta. It's still better to jump from a plane, I think to myself.

  We then move down to the cave housing the machine gun.  To ensure it is knocked out, we blast  the cave shut. Our 2nd Battalion is now on the Rock and is being moved into position.  "G"Co. is moved back to it’s earlier position on the road sloping down toward North Beach. We patrol from this station throughout the next day.

On the night of the 19th we  hear signs of a possible Banzai off to our right front, towards Wheeler battery. Someone's dying over there, that's the case with those Banzais. I hope it's just Japs. 

(I later learn that a scout called McCarter is being nominated for a CMH.)

Time starts to blur on me.  At some time between the 18th and the 21st I witness a major explosion of Malinta Hill.  I forget what I am doing, because suddenly there is a large explosion and as I turn to look towards Malinta Hill,  I  see fire flaming out of  the air vents on the sides and top of the hill.  Smoke from the blast moves towards top side, and  I wonder how many men who had been atop the hill are now dead, and how many Japs died in the Hospital that was inside the hill.

 The tank followed by men of the 34th moves around the north side of Malinta hill,  and we are directed to follow and patrol their left flank. As I move down the road sloping down to North Beach I pass Trooper B standing over two dead Japs and laughing at the position they had fallen, almost as though they were in love. I paused long enough to take a series of three snapshots of the incident. then on to the job ahead.

  As we pass Malinta hill we came upon a number of dead Japs lying along the road, I don’t know if the tank’s machine gun killed them or they were killed by the troops following the tank.  It was not hard to determine that the Japs had charged the Tank.  

We move towards the left after coming around Malinta Hill, the Bataan side, and start searching for caves or dug-in troops.  The constant danger is wearing me thin. I pretty much lose all recollection of time, as if my memory is playing tricks on me, refusing to work for me.  For the next seven days we search for the hidden Japs, finding them only after they had fired at or killed one of our men. Our patrols are scattered like ants across our area of concern.   As time passes on we stop trying to determine if there were any Japs in a cave, that's just too dangerous.  It is safer to close a cave than to care what is in there. That's if we can get there to close it, and not get ourselves killed in the process.  

At one time I come upon my closest friend “Maxie.”  He's standing just above a cave tossing WP (White Phosphorus) grenades and firing into the cave.   He truly looks as though he is enjoying the fight.  

  On 26 February, as we are working the Bataan side of the island clearing the area north of the air strip,  we feel the air press in upon us, and then hear a tremendous explosion.  I turn towards where the noise came at me, and find a huge ball of dirt and smoke in the air above where the 1st Battalion are today.  Debris is flying high in the sky,  and boulders are coming  crashing down around us.  Logs are flying through the air, and huge rocks too.  It looks like a mountain is broken up and flying through the air over us.  We look out towards the north channel, and we could see huge logs and rocks falling towards a destroyer patrolling the waters between Corregidor and Bataan

  It doesn't seem long before we are ordered to take over the lead, and I hear the words "Monkey Point".  As I am running forward I chance to look down.  In among some broken slabs of concrete there below me  is our commander Col. Jones.  He's hunched down passing orders to his radio man.  This surprises me because  Officers of his status never put themselves in danger, don't they? Kinsler didn't, that's for sure.   The Colonel must have brass ones. 

We're now in an area that has man-made gullies.  I expect they're  to carry the heavy rainfall  towards the ocean, without scouring the landscape too bad.  A road runs through the area and passes over a culvert.  As I start to pass in front of the culvert  I am fired upon from someone in the culvert.   I am glad to know this, because I have seen guys who never even had a chance to know they were shot.  

I hit the ground and look for a way to get in a position to lay fire into the culvert.  

The culvert is under the road and the gully runs parallel to the road.  The gully drain  then makes a left as it heads toward the sea.  I drop  back and call for a bazooka gunner.  Earl Shelton comes forward to me and  I place him in a position at the left turn where he has good cover.   

"See if you can hit the corner of the culvert without exposing yourself," I tell him. 

 He takes one quick look around the corner and gives me the nod. Second looks around corners on this island are often fatal, and you don't even get to know you're shot they're so quick on you.  

 "Wait 'til  I'm in position to jump into the gully," I say.  He knows by now that I'm going in to kill anything that survives his shot. 

I move to a point directly above and in front of the culvert, but where I'm protected by the bank of the gully.  I give him the signal.  As soon as the round explodes I leap into the gully and spray 45 slugs into three Japs I see.  They are still moving, not in a effort to fight, rather, their bodies are falling forward as life leaves them. One, an older man, has half the top of his head blown away. The bazooka gunner has proved his expertise.   I see a pistol hanging from the closest Jap's neck.  I take my jump knife and cut it loose.  I carry it back towards the bazooka gunner. 

"Nice shot, here’s a souvenir," I say as I  give Earl the pistol.  

As I climb out of the gully I  see a piece of sheet metal laying against the hill, slightly west of us.  I shouted to the trooper closest to it  "Look out ,it may be a sniper!"  I watch him intently as he cautiously moves up to a position directly in front of the sheet metal.  He reaches down,  grabbed the sheet metal and slides it to the side exposing a small cave occupied by a Jap.  The Jap comes out swinging a bolo or bayonet.   I look on as the trooper  falls back trying to shoot  his assailant, but his rifle misfires. He rolls down the hill with the Jap after him until one of the other men shoot sand kills the Jap.

My next object of concern is a group of 55 gal drums stacked two high forming a half moon barricade against the face of the hill.  In a crouch, I move up to the drums and place my helmet on the barrel of my Tommy gun and raise it above the drums, hoping that if there are any Japs hiding in there I could draw fire.  After several seconds with nothing happening, I extend my left arm holding the gun and helmet,  intending that if any Japs are in the enclosure, they will be watching the helmet and allow me time to take a quick look inside. 

I popped my head up, am looking directly into a large cave.  I see  slight movement from the corner of my left eye, and duck down safe, where I can ready a phosphorus grenade.  It's my last WP grenade, so I'd better get it right first time.  I pull the pin, wait very briefly and toss it toward the area where I saw movement.  The grenade goes off and before long, a lone Jap comes over the drums,  his clothes smoking, running towards the tail of the island.  The patrol are nearby and will cut him down.

As I move back toward the rest of the patrol, something hits my right shoulder.  I look down and see a small something falling to the ground.  I have no trouble reaching down for it, and see it is an anonymous chip of shrapnel.  As I attempt to draw my arm back to me,  I get a severe pain in my shoulder.  I suspect I am wounded, and try to move my arm to find out why it is just hanging off me.  The pain becomes unbearable as I tried to move my arm.  Trooper E, who is standing not far away, and who has seen something that I have not,  shouts "Medic!" 

 The medics arrives and without as much as a "Howdy!" he sticks me with a needle.  We've been on this island long enough for me to know that he knows what he's doing, and is too damn good at it.   I am sitting behind cover, whilst he hovers around me.  He quickly strips me to the waist and binds me in adhesive from my neck to my lower stomach.  

"Do you think you can walk?" he shouts at me, as if I am hard of hearing, simple, or worse - in shock.  They help me to my feet and point me towards the west.  Trooper E comes over and calls at me. 

 "Nyk, how many Japs  in the enclosure?"  I think for a moment, just long enough to realize that I have no idea anymore, other than it is still a place of danger, a place that can still kill him as it almost did me.  

"Forty."

He'll be careful now.  

( I met Trooper E at a association gathering, pleased to know he was still alive.  He chided me that there were no more Japs in the compound, but I couldn't help but feel he was still alive because, dazed as I was, I loved him enough to refuse to allow him to drop his guard even for a moment.) 

I stumble myself out of the gully and proceed west.  I no longer recall how far I walked.   Time ceases to run, and distances contract  too.   I pass the area where I saw Colonel Jones with his radio man some time ago.  How long ago, I can no longer recall.  Ahead l  see white objects, incongruous,  laying around the path that I am walking.   I get closer and see they are shaped like cocoons.  

"Body bags," I think, "but why? We don't bag Japs."   

It hits me worse than shrapnel.  We don’t bag Japs! These are our guys.  As I pass  through this honor guard of dozens and dozens of our dead,  our squalid,  battered and glorious dead,  a tightness develops in my throat, and tears smear my vision.  It starts hitting me, hurting me, and  I sob “Oh God!” as my ears hear nothing but a ringing sensation. I  crumple to the ground between the rows of bodies as my vision fades and darkness comes... 

 
 
 
 
  
 

      

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