Back in 1942, Gordonvale was skimping along on a wartime footing--living by barter and doing without. A shortage of everything, especially combat sol­diers and money. Suddenly--INVASION; Not by Japanese but by three thousand horny, brash, rich American paratroopers dropped into the quiet rural area of North Queensland.

The Aussies love to recount the effect of our arrival and tell with great relish how ignorant of their currency we were. They remember how they trucked in great quantities of watermelons when they discovered how well we like them.

Scene: An Aussie standing behind a pile of watermelons. A paratrooper approaches, holding up a    5 note: "Will this do?"

The Aussie, smiling a shark's smile: "Yes, Yank. It will do."

Girls of great beauty and girls of more ordinary appearance--old girls, and young...followed by kids and sharpies of every description come to the campsite--some only to view with awe the crazy Yank paratroopers. The term "Yank" seemed to infuriate many an American soldier who'd cut loose with a stream of language that was incomprehensible; surely not English!

Coming back in '79. I stayed with Arthur Hest and family of Aloomba for a couple of days: Like other cane farmers, his house sits on a modest clearing, shaded by palms and surrounded, to the distant hills, by cane fields. The house is one we'd all recognize. Tongue and groove walls, glassed-in and louvered porch, and a "Casablanca" ceiling fan in every room to move the tropic air. Standing on pilings, to help cool the place, I'm reminded of our camp with the bayonet-height stilts that kept our tents out of the flood waters... most of the time. This year they had one hundred inches of rain in the first week of January.

The Hesp family and the Morton family whom I spent much time with, reminded me very much of their counterpart farm families in the U.S. Conservative in politics, concerned about the future of their country--"aren't we 20 years behind you?", worried about their children's education, about drugs, the price of sugar, petrol and all the other universal problems. Boredom seemed the most pervasive feeling of the teen-agers. But most noticeable was the loving concern and easy humor between members of the family. The old-fashioned virtue of a close-knit family was clearly here.

They quickly added me to the family--I've never felt more welcome, anywhere.

"Bill, you'll like what we've done with the $500 the 503rd sent to build the memorial--it's red, white and blue," said Arthur Hesp. I winced, and said, "You've made a barber pole to commemorate us?" He laughed, but I was a bit worried as we stood beside the shrouded monument.

Andy Amaty and others in the 503rd had raised the money to place a plaque in Gordonvale to commemorate our 9-months stay. (My Australian friends were quick to point out the probable reasons we had to leave town...9 months after arriving. Perhaps Mother's Day would have been more appropriate.)

-2-

 

 

Saturday March 17 -- Dedication Day was blazing hot and dry. Brenda and Arthur Hesp had every possible detail under control for the events that were about to unfold and the tension rose slightly as the phone rang contin­ually with last minute reports. Alan (9) was slightly miffed at being shunted off to neighbors. Alison (14) gladly slipped away and Helen (19) and her man, Robert, jumped into the utility truck to lead the way downtown to Gordonvale. Townspeople turned out with their umbrellas for the ceremony--mostly the older crowd with a smattering of 40-year olds who were starry-eyed kids in 1942. The 503rd they remember, was a kind of crazy-circus-under-canvas where candy and money and friendships were to be had.

Seated next to me was a gnarled veteran of The Great War. He turned a fierce eye to me as the ceremonies began and not knowing that I was about to have my turn at the audience, said "Now we get the bull."

The speeches by Ken Alley, Chairman, Mulgrave Shire Council, other digni­taries, and the U.S. Commercial Attache from Sydney, and myself were mercifully relaxed and brief. I whisked off the cover for the clicking cameras and the delighted audience, which now numbered nearly 300--even some of the new "old regulars" from the Gordonvale pub wandered over--looking exactly like the old "old regulars" of 142.

You should see the monument they've made...it's beautiful--and not a barber pole! The base is a dark gleaming red tile, the pillar a rich deep blue and the bronze plaque rimmed with white.

It was difficult to recall the dangerous, rugged days of ‘42, standing before this cheerful group of prosperous Australians..., but I did. How all Australia lay nearly defenseless before the Japanese advance. The majority of their army was in the Middle East fighting Rommel--the rest of their men in Japanese prison camps in Singapore. North Queensland had the 503rd Parachute Infantry and very little else. I thanked them (for all of us) for their open hospitality and friendship and how good it had been for us to continue our training and preparation for combat in such an atmosphere. It contrasted with some areas of the states where our own soldiers were sometimes unwelcome.

Reviewing the highlights of our campaigning through Papua, Dutch New Guinea and the Philippines, like a long-lost relative, I was able to give them a little of our unit history and assign some credit to their supportive atti­tudes that raised our morale and helped make our later combat missions successful.

We adjourned then to the RSL hall (Returned Soldier's League), once the old movie house, for a delicious buffet luncheon of generous proportions.

The gathering toasted the 503rd and I returned the toast--in beer, in the name of the 503rd, of course.

More speeches, more cheers, more sweat... Many older people came forward to enquire of someone they remembered. Old Shopkeepers, The Village Chemist and The Hairdresser: "If an Australian girl came to my shop to have her hair done, it was easy to tell if she was going with an American or Australian. If she said--"Leave my hair long; don't cut it"--we'd know at once she had a Yank.!

-3-

 

 

 

Although I was with the 503rd from North Carolina, all the way to Monkey Point on Corregidor, there were so many guys I didn't know, it was depressing. Later, it was a pleasure to distribute Certificates of Appreciation to all the Australian individuals and organizations that helped in the dedication ceremonies. The framed certificates made handsome gifts to leave behind.

Also to salute those who were on hand to greet us back in December 1942, that night we arrived, stunned from the 44 days on the Pola Laut and just not believing we were being dumped into the North Queensland bush.

The women who once packed our parachutes had several representatives on hand. I think we'd all agree, we never felt safer than when jumping a 'chute packed by an Australian girl! Memories revived and stories I hadn't heard in years were recounted. John Corcoran recalls (as a young boy) the last day before we left for the Markham Valley jump. Three, 3rd Battalion soldiers asked him to mind their bikes until they got back. One bike was a Royal-Enfield (The Rolls Royce of bikes) and John was thrilled with the assignment. Bikes were very hard to come by and here were three on what looked like "permanent loan." That evening the three troopers returned--having slipped out of camp for one last fling and needed the bikes to get to town. They left and never returned. The bikes may still be at the pub or at some girl's place...who knows?

Frank Deal: "After a group of you jumped from C-47's at Green Hill, the roadway was filled with paratroopers, 'chutes and equipment of all sorts. An old cranky cane farmer came fuming down the road trying to weave his way through the crowd on his bike, yelling: “Get off the bloody road. The war's not here; it's up in bloody New Guinea!--Off the bloody road!!”

Today, John and his wife, Ronwin, live in a handsome new home perched on a small knoll overlooking our old campsite. He can look down and point out each battalion’s location.

In the distance, the sugar mill chimney in Gordonvale reminds me of marching back to camp after a steaming day in the field, that landmark looked so good. After showering and wrangling a pass or slipping out of camp, to head for the healing pleasures of town.

In the Dedication Booklet which Clive Norton wrote so well, and in the speeches, there was a lot about the fights between the Aussie soldiers and us... and very little about the actual war--hardly a surprise, but when Chairman Ken Alley called us "the 503rd Airborne Battalion," I borrowed a trick from General Jones and used it to counter all this talk about Yanks and Aussies continually battling each other. "I'm glad of the chance to correct you, Mr. Chairman, but we were a regiment of 3,000, not a battalion of 500, an understandable mistake. The 503rd was such a well-disciplined outfit of superior warriors and hand-picked representatives of the U.S.A., that it was natural to think there were fewer of us than there actually were."

 
-4-

   

 

 

This sort of gentle banter was the rule--we teased each other and adding to this happy mixture, the unbelievable warmth of friendship of the Australians to me as your stand-in, made the trip particularly wonderful. I urge you to go and sample the delights of this most unique and friendly country.

Clive Horton cautioned me as I left for home: "Don't tell them we'll be able to put on a full-scale show like we have for you every time a Yank from the 503rd show up--but we'll do our best--our very best, to make them welcome." They will.

 

 

 

-5-

 

Bill Bossert finished the war as a Captain with the 1st Bn.

 

 

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