Page Header - A Small Piece of War




Button, return to contents




From this position the Main Post Hospital stood out very prominently below me to the north. It was to be one of Company "E"'s first objectives once it arrived and had assembled. A little closer to the Barracks was the old Commissary building. This stood on a bench which would be a good place for the Company to set up its perimeter defense the first night on the Island. The elevated terrain would provide a commanding view of the area in front of it.

Looking to the northeast, far enough away they were too small to identify, some men were running across an open area on Morrison Hill. All of a sudden there was the sound of rifles and a light machine gun opening up. The men I had seen began to stumble and fall, laying still. At first I was shocked we would be losing men so fast to enemy fire. Suddenly, it became evident the men I was seeing were not ours but were Japanese troops running away from third battalion men who were firing on them. There must have been ten or twelve Japanese who had died for their emperor right before my eyes.

Near a part of the Barracks, which had been demolished by an explosion, I found a loca­tion where we would set up our Command Post when the people in Company Headquarters ar­rived. This was well to the west of the center of the building. It would place us close, but not too close, to the Battalion and Regimental Command Posts, which were both located in Mile Long Barracks.-

As the time approached 10:30 the sound of shelling could be heard in the direction of Black Beach at Bottomside. There were too many buildings in the way to be able to observe the landing but from the amount of small arms fire, in addition to the shelling, it was evident the 3rd Battalion of the 34th Infantry were landing according to the schedule.

The overall plan for the Rock Force was for the 34th Infantry to immediately attack up the slope of Malinta Hill, secure the top and to move on beyond to cut the island so that Japanese reinforcements from the east end of the island could not reach the west end. This could be a difficult assignment for these men because Malinta Hill was a steep, treacherous looking place. From the end of the Mile Long Barracks the entrance to Malinta Tunnel could just be made out. There was a lot of fire being poured into it. Shells were exploding nearly constantly.

Having no official duty which needed attention, I had a little time to look at the buildings and the layout of Topside and reflect on how they must have looked in the days when Fort Mills was one of the regular duty posts of the Army. The buildings were badly pocked from bullets. Some of the buildings had been hit by shells or bombs and had big parts missing or collapsed. Practically all roofs had been blown off by concussion. Regardless, the place had a majesty about it which held a person in awe. The Mile Long Barracks, in particular, was a wonder. One felt it must have, certainly, been the largest single barracks building anywhere. The whole build­ing was three stories high. Although little remained it was evident the first floor held the various headquarters for the 59th Coast Artillery Batteries, along with the kitchens and mess halls, the showers, storerooms, etc. The second and third floors, reached by concrete staircases, had large squad rooms. It appeared the Non Commissioned Officers must have been quartered elsewhere because there were no smaller rooms, such as the temporary wooden barracks had at the end of each squad room.

Across the road from the Mile Long Barracks were the remains of a tram stop and the ties of the rail system. The rails apparently had been taken up by the Japanese invaders. There was a large building near the tram station which was the movie theatre. It had a very substantial looking ticket window, much different than the flimsy glass and light metal affairs of the theatres back in the states. Somehow the rumor made the rounds the last movie to play at the Topside theater was Gone With The Wind. I doubted this since I remembered having seen the movie in 1940, well before the last film would have been shown on Corregidor.

The last C-47 which had dropped the first wave had not left the area until 0940 for its return flight to Mindoro to pick up the second wave. Mindoro was 150 miles south, or a bit over an hour's flying time, point to point. Of course there would, likely, be time in the pattern over the two airfields used by the 317th. To make the scheduled 1250 second drop would take some doing. Each plane would have to be refueled, time could be spent rigging the artillery packs

Where they needed to be mounted.

There would be no need to worry about the Second Battalion being ready and anxious to board when given the go-ahead by the Air Corps crews. They were at Hill and Elmore strips waiting when the planes returned from dropping the first wave. The heavily loaded men would take a bit of shoving and hauling, however , because they carried so much weight it was about
all they could do to waddle            to the ladder leading to the door. Then it was a case of men behind them on the ground giving a shove at the same the men in the plane offered a hand and pulled them aboard. Each man, in his eagerness to get under way, had forgotten how hot it would be in the plane as it sat in the scorching hot tropical sun. The minute the men got in the plane the sweat would pour from them and not just because of their nervousness. As soon as the plane would get in the air and up to the eight or ten thousand feet altitude they would fly at it would be so cold each man would be near freezing. There seemed to be no happy medium.

The planes, after take-off formed into an echelon formation to make fighter coverage more effective. The flights continued in that order until a few miles south of Corregidor when they again formed into two, evenly spaced columns and steered toward the two landing zones. The lift began to drop its troopers at 1250 and completed their mission at 1342.

During the time the first wave of jumpers had been on the ground, the wind had picked up. As the time for the second jump approached the velocity had passed 25 knots in gusts. Since it looked as if it were going to get stronger as the day went on, the people on the ground wished for the second wave to get there as soon as possible.

Jumpmasters of the second wave had been instructed to count 10 seconds past their Initial Points because of the increased wind velocity. Even with this correction, a number of men were blown over the cliff, landing on the steep slopes below the rim. Staff Sergeant Harry D. Clearwater was one who landed well down the slope, breaking both legs. Staff Sergeant Robert V. Holt, Jr. landed somewhat below Clearwater and somehow lost his weapon. Climbing toward the rim, Holt found Clearwater and borrowed his Thompson Sub Machine Gun, promising to send help. The help came, but not until 36 hours later.

The wind seemed to have shifted to a little more from the east than for the first wave. Some of the aircraft did not compensate fully for this change and flew a course too far to the west over the jump fields. As a consequence a number of men were blown off the western edge of Landing Zone “A”, landing around three large, two story buildings which housed senior Non Commissioned Officers’ families prior to the war. Others landed near a large building which been a radio station. Even from my vantage point two or three hundred yards away, I could tell these buildings were effective anti-airborne hazards with ragged concrete and exposed reinforcing-rods ready to impale or mangle a man.

Standing on the edge of Landing Zone “A”, next to the Mile Long Barracks and watching what was happenig I knew what should have been done but, of course, was powerless to do anything because I did not have contact with people in the planes. If someone could have told them to fly about three hundred feet to the east, these misses would not have happened. It is a very helpless feeling to watch disasters happen and not be able to do anything to help.

While I watched, one man with almost a complete a streamer (his chute pulled from his pack but not opened) crashed into the Mile Long Barracks with an impact no man would be able to survive. But there were medical people in that area to do what they could for him.

The first men hitting the silk seemed to be the sign for Japanese troops to commence firing, particularly down in the Battery Wheeler area and in the upper Cheney Ravine -area. Rifle and Machine Gun fire had been heavy east of Landing Zone “B” ever since the first wave had landed and, particularly, since the 34th Infantry had landed at Black Beach. Now that fire seemed closer and heavier than ever.

I would be watching a man over the drop zone, with his chute full and doing its job, swinging his arms and legs around trying to control his descent so as to land where he wanted to. More than once I would see the man, suddenly, slump in his harness as he had been hit by fire from the ground.

Several of the airplanes were struck by the light anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese. I heard about that a bit later. It was not immediately evident while watching from the ground.

When we landed with the first wave the Japanese were, mostly, in their shelters to avoid our Air Corps bombing and strafing and were not out in the open ready to shoot at us in the air. I was very lucky to be in the first wave. Because men from the first wave were spread out over a large area of Topside, the Air Corps fighters and bombers couldn't cover the second wave. By that time the Japanese were ready for them and the jumpers were met with constant rifle and machine gun fire.

Shortly, men from Company "E" began to work their way to where I was waiting for them. First Lieutenants Joe M. Whitson, Jr., Roscoe Corder and Second Lieutenants Lewis B. Crawford and Emery N. Ball arrived. I told them to head down to the Western end of the Mile Long Barracks which was the Company’s assembly point and try to keep the men spread out as they came in.

Having been on the island for around five hours I felt like a Corregidor veteran as the Company began to arrive. Although it had been an exciting period, the nervousness of the first few minutes, not knowing what to expect, had worn off and I was as cool and collected as could be expected under the circumstances.

The 503rd had been in the tropics for a long time and the men had become as well acclimated to the heat and humidity as anyone from temperate climates could expect to be. Everyone had worked up a good sweat and pulled out their canteens for a swig of water to freshen their mouths. On other operations we had gone in with only one issue canteen. This time the planners had smartened up. Every man was issued a second canteen and landed with each of them full. For some unknown reason I had always been able to survive with less water than most. I had begun using water out of my right hand canteen. Now I shook it and found it was at least three quarters full. Some of the men coming in from the Landing Zone had started on their second. I reminded them they had better slow up because we didn't know when we would get any more. We had been warned that we could not expect to find water on the island and that it could be as much as several days before we could receive our first resupply. First priority for resupply during the first day or so would be given to ammunition and weapons to replace those which might have been lost or damaged.

I kept expecting First Lieutenant Hudson C. Hill, the Company Commander, but he did not come in. I kept trying to raise him on the Walkie-talkie SCR 536 Company network but to no avail. The SCR 536 had been notoriously fickle since they had first been issued. They were of absolutely no use unless there was a perfect line-of-sight between the two instruments. Apparently Hill was in a building or behind a knoll where we could not see each other.

Finally, we made contact. Apparently Hill had moved so he was within range and had a line-of-sight. He was asking me to get some artillery fire down in the area of the NCO Quarters to take the pressure off him so he could get up to the CP. Upon his insistence I went looking for an artillery officer but couldn't find any. As near as I could tell the only completely assembled artillery piece, at that time, was the one I had seen on the other side of the Mile Long Barracks. There had been no officer with them. After quite a lot of scurrying around looking for someone with authority in the Artillery, with no success, I gave up. Shortly afterward Hill made his way to the CP very upset that he had not received the artillery fire he wanted.