Continued from R&R and Training in Australia...

On April 16 all of the Task Forces were aboard their respective ships ready for departure. It was a sight to behold as the large convoy got underway. The fleet of troop ships, tankers, aircraft carriers, cruisers and battleships was impressive. There were ships as far as anyone could see in all directions. We traveled out into the Solomon Sea and headed north. The convoy steamed north from Finschhafen to Manus Island. Here we rendezvoused with the remainder of the attack group. We headed out again this time going west. After dark on the evening of April 21 the 163rd Infantry, called Persecution Task Force, left the Convoy and turned south toward Aitape. The rest of the large group continued on until they reached Hollandia and Tanahmerah. The rest of our Division landed at Hollandia and the 24th Division landed at Tanahmerah.

The 163d arrived on the shores of Aitape at dawn on April 22. We disembarked with our weapons and loaded into the landing craft. As we circled around getting all of our crafts into position, Naval guns began bombarding the enemy on the shore. At the same time the carrier based aircraft attacked, creating a shambles of almost everything that was near the beach. All firing stopped when were within 300 yards of the shore. As our craft hit the sand, we dropped the ramps and quickly moved across the beach into the timber. Because of the earlier attack there was no immediate opposition. The enemy had either fled inland or been destroyed.

While on the beach I witnessed an incident that I never will forget. A crew was bringing a tank ashore and it lost a track as it came through the sand. The crew went to work and tried to solve the problem. There was one man who tried to clean the sand out from between the drive sprocket and the track. Suddenly the tank settled in the sand, crushing his hand in between the track and sprocket. The medics had to give him shots for pain while a cutting torch was used to cut the track in order to get him loose. I am sure that every bone in his hand had to be totally crushed. Seeing an accident like this seemed to bother a man worse than seeing a man killed or wounded in battle.

War seemed to be barbaric at times. As we advanced we ran across a log-covered bunker just off the beach. Noises were coming from inside. We called for the hiders to come out and made many attempts to get them to show their faces. Unfortunately they ignored our calls. A tank was called over and it ran up onto the bunker and spun around. The bunker and the tank caved in on those inside. We never did know for sure if those people crushed were the enemy or some of their forced laborers. A sad event.

By early afternoon our Battalion had moved further inland. We captured and secured the Tadji airstrips and the Air Corps Engineers began repairing and upgrading them. Our forced continued moving and by evening we had reached the Raihu River. We sent patrols across the river and no Japs were spotted. It was decided that we would not cross because it was too late in the day so we dug in near the bank.

As we settled in for the night Lt. O’Donovan and I began digging a two-man hole, lining it with banana leaves. I was cutting the leaves with my trench knife, which I kept sharp as a razor. When Lt. O’Donovan walked up behind me I was jerking the knife upward, over my shoulder. As my arm came up, I hit him right across the throat with my wrist, narrowly missing stabbing him in the throat. Even though he was an officer, I gave him a damn good scolding. As everyone knew, I didn’t like him. If I had killed him I probably would have been court-martialed. War does create an almost perfect setting to commit murder if one so desires. As night began to fall everyone began to get in their holes. Again our policy was to not move after dark and shoot everything that did move. Sadly one young soldier, who had been down washing his socks in the river, came back late. He was shot and killed by one of our own men as he entered the perimeter.

That next morning patrols were sent out again and they found few enemy. We all crossed the river and quickly moved toward Aitape. As we moved toward Aitape we discovered a 500-pound bomb lying on the trail in the mud, still intact. One GI in the lead patrol had written a profound message on it, don’t F--- with. By 1300 hours that day we had taken the native village of Aitape and the nearby airstrip.

In Aitape we spent two day consolidating our positions and then we turned the village over to the Air Corps and moved back to the Tadji plantation. Here another tragedy occurred. We set up positions in the coconut grove and decided to take time to train some of our new Sgts. as mortar observers. Six mortars were set up on a flat area where an old native hut had been burned. It was a close set up, strictly against the normal procedure, which was to separate the guns by at least 35 yards. This arrangement was decided upon because of convenience of control. The H Company from Billings, Montana was running the guns. I was up on a high hill instructing the new observers how to adjust a sheaf of fire.

We were trying to get all of the guns to fire at exactly the same instant, so we could show how the rounds looked as they hit the ground. After some preparation we finally heard what we assumed were all of the rounds leaving the guns at the same time, but as they landed only five rounds exploded. We realized that something had went wrong and we hurried down to the guns. It turned out that a round on one of the end guns had exploded just as it cleared the tube. It left behind a horrible scene. Almost 30 men lay dead or wounded. Three men were killed automatically, four men died later, and twenty-one others were injured. Our whole battalion was sick over the incident. It took half of the H Company’s mortar platoon. Ironically, our D Company mortar platoon had been firing out of that same pile of ammunition the day before. We never knew what caused the round to explode.

There were a few occasions when the Japs had luck on their side. One night as the New Guinea rain was coming down in sheets, a Jap plane dropped a bomb on the beach. The desperation bomb hit a landing ship tank, which was nosed up on the beach. There was no way he could have seen the target in the rain. This was one of the few times when the impossible odds actually favored the Japs.

The 32nd Division landed in the area on May 3. They were brought in to relieve the 163rd. My brother Cliff, who was an officer in the 126th Infantry of the 32nd Division, borrowed a jeep and came to where my unit was camped. He stayed for a fair amount of time and we had a good visit. This was the second time that I had seen him since he left our unit at Oro Bay to attend Officers school in Australia. I invited him to stay for supper because we were having fresh meat. He was unable to do so because his unit was beginning to take up positions.

Supper that night was a milk cow that the Japs had brought in. We were looking forward to the meal because we had not had fresh meat in a long time. Somehow the medics found out about the cow and they sent word not to eat it because they had to inspect it beforehand. We didn’t want this to happen because we figured they would condemn it, take it, and eat it themselves. Therefore, we killed and butchered it, rubbed it down with pepper and salt, and hid it in a cave. We told the Medics that we had fed the carcass to the crocodiles and avoided having to hand it over. The beef was pretty tough but it tasted very good so not one of us complained. The next day we were relieved by the 32nd.