Rounding out the ROCK FORCE, as the liberating troops were designated, was the
3rd Battalion of the 34th infantry Regiment which was detailed to make an
amphibious landing at Bottomside at 10:30 AM on 16th February. This regular line
Infantry Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Postlethwait.
Attached to the ROCK FORCE were various other units such as a Tank Platoon,
Antitank Platoon and Air and Sea support groups.
One of the out-of-the-ordinary features of the first wave to drop on Corregidor
affected the writer who served at the Executive Officer of Company "E", 503rd
Parachute infantry. It was decided to send the XO's from the 1st and 2nd
Battalion in with the 3rd Battalion. We were to attach ourselves to 3rd
Battalion units in the area that our own companies were to operate in after they
had made their jump. Thus, I was to be among the first one-third to land on the
island rather than with the second wave.
Promptly at 8:30 the Third Battalion began its jump. Leading the first stick out
was the John Erickson, the Battalion Commander followed by T-5 Arthur O.
Smithback and PFC Stanley J. Grochala who had won a lottery for the honor of
being the first to jump.
As the first jumpers from the first wave of jumpers crashed down on the
miniscule landing zones it became very evident the wind had exceeded initial
estimates and was blowing at least 20 knots. Colonel Jones passed the word for
the jump altitude to be lowered to 1050, to 500 feet above ground level, thus
reducing the time in the air and the amount of drift. The count beyond the
Initial Point was increased to six seconds.
Jumpmasters in succeeding passes had the benefit of the experiences of the first
pass. I watched the first pass of the plane I was in drifting dangerously close
to the cliff at the southern end of Landing Zone “A”. In fact, a number of men
from the first pass from other planes had gone over the cliff because their
jumpmaster had gone too early. Even though the count had been increased from
three seconds to six seconds, I extended the count to ten seconds. I landed
within the Landing Zone but well to the southern end, within a few seconds drift
of the cliff. The remainder of the stick, which followed out the door, landed
closer to the designated area than many earlier or later jumpers.
While the time in the air could not have been more than a few seconds, I vividly
recall several observations. The first thing a jumper does is to look up and
check his canopy. The canopy was fully open so the chute would be doing the job
it was designed to do. Then I looked in the direction we had come, the south, to
see where the cliff was. Battery Wheeler stood out very clearly 200 or 300 yards
away but, being so large, it seemed closer. Beyond the Battery the drop-off of
the cliff was very evident because PT boats in Manila Bay were coming into view.
My immediate conclusion was that while the Battery and the cliff were close they
should not be any real problem as far as the landing was concerned.
Looking to the east, toward Malinta Hill, the hill was just barely visible over
the top of a layer of smoke which was being laid down by, what appeared to be
A-20’s. If we had been told of smoke being provided, it had slipped my mind.
Flashing through my mind was the recollection
that smoke had been laid when we jumped at Nadzab. As I watched, a flight of
A-20's crossed Bottomside dropping bombs and strafing. That was a good idea
because the Japanese in that direction certainly would be down in their holes.
I landed amid rubble of a burned and blasted building floor, and bounced and was
dragged another 20 or 30 yards. The parachute was still full and dragging me
further. Fortunately, a couple of men who had been on the ground from the first
pass lent a hand in collapsing the chute. Unhooking myself from the harness I
began to work my way to the Third Battalion Headquarters assembly area around
the Lighthouse. Although I wore glasses, I had always made it a practice of
carrying my eyeglasses in an empty grenade case. I had reached for the case from
where I had stored it for the jump and found it was gone. Thinking I'd be
without them for the duration of the mission, I was very relieved to spot the
case near where I'd first landed.
The first pre-war buildings I reached were the old officers quarters which
stretched from the parade ground off to the east. These buildings were without
roofs. It was evident they had been blown away because a few sheets of
corrugated iron were still in place but most of the corrugated sheets were
laying around the area where they had been shed as a result of concussion from
the bombs and shells which had landed nearby. All of the outer walls were pocked
where bullets had impacted. It was surprising to see paved streets and curbs.
During the advance of the 503rd through the Southwest Pacific from Port Moresby,
through Nadzab, Oro Bay, Hollandia, Noemfoor, Leyte and Mindoro we had never
seen paved streets. The 503rd had, finally, reached civilization.
A short distance beyond the first Officers Quarters, to the left, was the
remains of the flag pole, laying off at a 45 degree angle because some of its
guy wires had been cut by shrapnel. Across the street was the Fort Mills
As the troops from the Third Battalion landed they spread out towards the
perimeter of the Landing Zones. Of course there were already many who had landed
outside that area.
At first there appeared to be no opposition and it looked as if this might be a
very peaceful mission. It was not long, however, before firing began, to the
east and west of the two fields. By the time the last of the first wave had
landed, there was a good deal of fire.
About this time two fortunate incidents took place which, undoubtedly, were the
most significant factors in the success of the liberation.
Captain Itagaki had observed the 34th Infantry loading on landing craft which
would take them to a Corregidor invasion. Assuming they would land on the most
logical beach, the south side of Bottomside, he and his staff made their way to
the vicinity of Breakwater Point to observe the event. One stick from an early
pass at Landing Zone “B” had landed far below the field and landed near Itagaki
and his staff. The paratroopers proceeded to wipe out the whole group except the
Captains orderly, who was taken prisoner and was able to tell the story of the
Captain’s death. The Japanese Commanding Officer had been eliminated.
The second important event took place when a small unit of paratroopers spotted
the telephone exchange near the Mile Long Barracks. This key facility was only
lightly defended and the exchange was rapidly wiped out.
With the Commanding Officer dead and telephone communications disrupted, the
Japanese were, with a few exceptions, unable to mount large, coordinated attacks
on the invaders.
Eventually, I made my way to the Lighthouse and Erickson’s Command Post.
Information was coming in from his units reporting on fighting taking place and
on the status of the units as they reached their assembly points. Since Company
"E" would eventually have responsibility for a pie-shaped area of the Western
end of Corregidor stretching from James Ravine to Grubbs Ravine, I cut through
the center of the Mile Long Barracks where that area could be seen.
A crew from the 462nd FA had manhandled one of their 75 mm Mountain Howitzers
through the barracks and had it set ready to fire. Although this was probably
not much over an hour after the first troopers landed, the crew had already
found a cache of Japanese liquor and were working on a bottle of brandy. Being
very friendly by this time they offered me a swig. Figuring they would all be
dead by that time if the brandy had been poisoned I tried some. It was not bad
but there were more important things to come.