HARVEY W. SIENKO
Harvey W. SIENKO
Pfc, Machine Gunner, HQ Company, Light Machine Gun Section, 503rd PRCT
K.I.A., Battle at Banzai Pt., Corregidor
18/19 Feb 1945
It was sometime after one o'clock in the morning when nearly 900 Japanese
marines under Lieutenant Endo assembled near the western end of Cheney
Trail. The column quickly and quietly climbed up the winding trail, cut out
of the steep western wall of Cheney Ravine and finally reached Topside 500
feet above the rocky western beaches, they had left more than an hour ago.
Lieutenant Endo must have been greatly pleased by his good fortune when he
reached the high ground at Topside without being discovered. His attack
column walked to within 50 yards of the two 2d platoon squads, looking down
from their perches high above Cheney Trail in the rear of Battery Cheney,
but the men neither heard nor saw the Japanese attackers in the black
At 2:30 AM the Japanese suddenly stumbled onto the squad deployed across Cheney Trail south of Battery Cheney. So sudden was the onslaught, the startled riflemen had neither heard nor seen the marines until the head of the Japanese column quickly went through the position before a shot could be fired. The surprise was so complete that no alarm was sounded immediately, and the lead Japanese marines, moving swiftly, ran into the 4th platoon position in the crater in the middle of Cheney trail. By that time the men defending along Cheney Trail were alerted. There were some subdued voices giving commands and a few rifle shots sounded in the deep darkness, but other than that it was strangely quiet. In moments the enemy was now well within the positions along the trail. It was as if the Japanese had blundered into the squad's positions, so black was the night, and for want of something better to do they merely went ahead on Cheney Trail. The Japanese were fired on shortly after they were discovered and as the attackers and defenders mingled in the darkness the D Company men couldn't tell friend from foe.
It takes time in the telling but it happened very quickly. The Japanese struck the 2d, 4th and 1st platoons in that order. In the chaos the survivors fell back to the bunker. The mortar men managed to get off a few 60mm rounds, a gesture more than anything else during a confusing fight where nothing could be seen. The men who had been overwhelmed at their defensive positions along Cheney trail were drifting slowly back toward the north side of the bunker at Wheeler Point. They fired their rifles at the vague shapes which were shouting and milling about in confusion in the utter black darkness in front of them. The Japanese were talking loudly now, as if their leaders were urging their men to move forward on the trail. The surviving men from the two squads of the 1st and 2d platoons and the 4th platoon, who were driven back to Wheeler Point joined with Company Headquarters' men. From their position north of the bunker, this brave band fought the attackers through the seemingly endless night. Most of the casualties the Company suffered that night occurred at the bunker as the defenders poured heavy fire into Endo's column now stalled on Cheney Trail where it crossed the promontory at Wheeler Point.
It is difficult to imagine why Endo did not maneuver around the company but he did not; instead they chose to attack the riflemen head on in the coal black darkness. There were about 40 men now in place around the bunker pouring fire into the column stalled on Cheney trail. The Japanese had attacked on the narrow trail, a tactic that gave them considerable control of their column while attacking at night. However, once the head of the column stops the whole column stops, and confusion becomes inevitable. If the attack is to continue you must either destroy the obstacle and move through it or maneuver around the blocking force. The head of the column must keep the attack route clear at all costs. Only a small part of the greatly superior force could be brought to bear on the defenders, who were now backed around the concrete bunker. Immediately behind the bunker were the cliffs, so there was no retreat for the defenders.
A simple decision can often pre-ordain the result of an entire battle, and such was the case here. Had Endo chosen to advance by way of Black Trail, there would have been nothing to stop him, nor even to give warning of the column's approach until it reached the parade field and its objective, Topside Barracks. Once committed to the Cheney Trail route there was no choice except to mount attack after attack in the restricted area of the Wheeler Point headland to destroy the roadblock.
Except for flares fired
throughout the night by warships laying off shore, there was no artillery
support; D Company's men did the job themselves with their rifles, BAR's and
carbines and stopped the charging marines. The light machine gun platoon
from Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion was at Battery Chaney and could not
support the beleaguered defenders at Wheeler point, only a few yards away.
The fighting there was done by roughly the equivalent of two rifle squads, one from the 1st platoon and one from the 2d platoon totaling probably less than 20 men, 19 men from the 4th platoon and 8 men from company headquarters. The rest of the company for one reason or another was not involved in the fighting that night. This small band fought at Wheeler Point, stopped frenzied attack after attack in wave after wave by Japanese marines trying to break through to the south. The defenders suffered terribly; 14 of them died that night and 15 were wounded. A bitter loss when you consider probably less than 50 men had held the cream of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces at bay. This would be the last attack of any significance by the Japanese on Corregidor The terrible losses suffered by the Japanese forces in this violent clash of arms, in part, surely weakened their ability to launch another major attack and in fact they never did.
During the savage encounter,
which probably lasted less than three hours that black night at Wheeler
Point, more than 250 corpses of Japanese marines were strewn along a bloody
200 yard stretch of Cheney Trail where it passes through the promontory at
Wheeler Point and around the bunker where the combatants were locked in
close combat in the dark. For the men of D Company who were there, Wheeler
Point will always be called Banzai Point.
At about 9:30 on Monday
morning the litter party from the 161st Engineers left Topside and finally
got through to Wheeler Point. They left with seven litter cases and
fourteen walking wounded. As the column moved slowly up Chaney Trail it
passed by twelve of the company's riflemen covered with green ponchos.
The long terrible fight was finally over.
John L. Lindgren
(The full version of John Lindgren's account, with maps, can be found at "An Outline of Events at Wheeler Point on 18 and 19 February 1945." Lindgren, who was one of the 15 wounded, revisited the battlefield in 1995 and writing "Night at Wheeler Point" describing his return.)
Pittenger, the section sergeant, was put in a very poor position on Battery
Cheney behind the 2nd and 3rd platoons, unable to fire effectively on
the attackers coming up Cheney Ravine. He believes Sienko was killed by fire
from the "D" Company riflemen to his rear.
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