G Company, 163 Infantry: The Marches of Aitape
By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             Before dawn 22 April 1944, the 163rd’s G Company’s riflemen sleepily waited orders overside from a great "Landing Ship Dock" off Aitape. In the black well behind us, G Company's Weapons platoon crowded into LCVPs for the sea to rise and float them out.

            Suddenly, we saw yellow flashes landward in gray light. Tremendous red shells thumped the beach; planes dived into reddening light below. Smoke of burning oil rose straight into the sky. Point-blank, a destroyer broadsided Tumleo Island [with] an endless chain of red-ringed shells. Now came G's orders overside.

            Crushed with our weight of steel and packs, we sagged down landing-nets. Bruce Baird held my net away from the heaving side of the ship. Jammed with packs against LCVP bulwarks, my 3rd platoon had room only to stand. Already it was broad daylight, the sky a blue washed clean by the New Guinea rain before dawn. Forward, a gunner joked, "Let 'em send a plane now. We're ready!" But no plane struck. Through a crack in our ramp, miles off, I saw a clear stretch of sand with barges nosed into it, a dark-green jungle wall.

            But G [Company] did not go in then; for 3rd Battalion in the first wave was securing the beach for us. Our craft slowly turned in a wide circle. Lieutenant Kreiger said we could light cigarettes. My right arm took a pack from my chest pocket, but my left was jammed into the next man away from my matches. Giru lighted my cigarette. After long waiting, Kreiger called, "Lights out! Fix bayonets!"

            In that jam, Giru and I had to reach atop the other man's pack and latch on bayonets. We smelled diesel fumes and brine. Our LCVP straightened for the beach. Through my forward slit, I watched the empty beach, our closing into an ominous silent jungle wall. Even with 3rd Batallion inland, I was afraid.

            Our Barge grated the sand [and the] ramp took too long to fall. I leaped out first, happy and scared. But with no training at Toorbul Point, I made a brave leap that was laughable. I sunk deep into wet sand, fell and jammed my rifle muzzle. Lieutenant Kreiger, [and the] 3rd platoon sprinted across the beach past me.

            Up and running under heavy pack, I crossed open beach [and] dashed through brush past two Jap bunkers [that were] thatched and sand-covered. A hole was stove in the top of one. I saw my first Jap dead, a crumpled little pale corpse in white, the bare delicate feminine arch of a foot [and the] red star of a bullet; Cortez had killed here.

            We riflemen landed unhurt, but down shore, Weapons platoon dashed in under Jap rifle-fire. Old-timer Gorsline took an arm-wound [and] never fought again. Other Weapons men panted safe[ly] into cover. Samuel Cappuccino lost contact [but] turned up with Amphibious Engineers three days later. (A Jap sniper would kill him on Biak.)

            In a shaggy Kunai meadow, I found 3rd platoon making combat packs. Sweating profusely, I yanked from my pack that foolish heavy jungle hammock [and] raced through a labyrinth of straps to reassemble my gear, [then] fearfully [began to] ram-rod sand from my rifle muzzle.

            The surrounding meadow seemed a confused mill of green-clad men and piles of rubber bags. Yet long, orderly, lines of rifles were filing into the jungle. Out-guards with slanted rifles crouched at jungle's edge. Further off, M-1s splattered as [our] 163rd's rifles hunted for stragglers. (And the fresh, clean smell of crushed mint comes back to me from my first beach-head).

            My line of riflemen struck up a faint jungle track. Tough lawyer vines hooked our packs. One green vine ran into my useless stacking swivel [and] halted me until I yanked it loose. I learned to keep a hand over that swivel. Bent low at a pause, I saw a yellow man moving parallel at a crouch. I slipped off [my] safety. It was a Yank lineman. "Take it easy," warned Tex Fowler behind me. It was good that Sanananda vets had us rookies sandwiched in line between them; Fowler behind, Mayberry ahead.

            G [Company] came out on a rain-pooled macadam road. We looked into a cavernous Jap kitchen. Clean utensils hung in orderly rows. A steer carcass lay by the road. The Japs were gone.

            From the G [Company] point, guards brought two prisoners. "Who caught him?" asked a correspondent. "Bronis Kiselus of Brooklyn, NY," 3rd platoon's Staff Sergeant Daugherty replied. This was untrue, just an Irish trick to get Kiselus' name in print. But we never saw that paper.

            G Company halted among native huts. Automatic fire from the rear drove us to earth. Surely a Jap machinegun had ambushed us. Wriggling in grit, I tried to aim my rifle on the unseen target. I thought, "He's searching for me. If I don't shoot on sight, he'll kill me!" But officers' shouts halted fire. A misguided Yank souvenir hunter was taken for a Jap and shot up badly. And me, I hiked on angrily nursing abraded skin where sand in sweat cut my tender stateside flesh.

            We marched to Tadji Dromes and found them unguarded. The maneuver of our great invasion fleet had sucked in General Adachi's men to garrison Wewak for an attack we never made. Tadji Dromes were not worth taking. Like most Jap fields, it's just a bit of coral surface in the kunai with a few wrecked planes.

            Orders were to dig in; [our] field artillery would shell the jungle before us. With my flimsy little shovel, I dug in fear. I dug a fox-hole waist-deep, and kept on. Black with sweat, I saw veteran Kiselus idly grinning at me. We moved on; [our] field artillery never fired. I still resent what happened to my fox-hole. It hid three unarmed Japs later until an E [Company] detail, perhaps under Lieutenant Rottman, found and slew them.

            Our hike went into wetter ground. Many a Yank threw off his terrible sweaty pack and flopped against a log. For besides [our] M-1, [and] regular combat pack with shovel and poncho, we had two days K rations [and] one days C rations. (Captain Braman left most of his aboard the night before.) We had [a] gas mask, full ammo belt, [and] extra bandolier. Banging my side was more torture, a big canvas pouch with [a] grenade launcher, a kit of five anti-tank bombs. (Never in the whole war did I fire that launcher in action.)

            Water was short; we had just one canteen. But we heard that trailside water was poisoned from phosphorus. We nursed a few pallid drops from our canteens.

            We moved so fast that by 1044, we were at the fighter strip. By 1300, we crossed [the] First Phase line, a low bridge over the muddy canyon of Waitanan Creek. At the creek, I rebelled. That gasmask weighed as much as my whole pack. Officers had promised we could drop it here. Orders never came. I splashed mine into the swamp. Losing this weight seemed to save me from collapsing.

            The trail became a chain of logs over shallow water. Halts were frequent, to make us stand and balance full pack on those logs. Our feet ached. Some of us sat on the logs with water over our uppers.

            The afternoon darkened. Crossing another creek past the pale, stained bodies of two Japs, the field artillery had tossed [out] dead, we made [a] perimeter in the coconut grove by Pro Mission, a big native hut under a cross. Here we dug a circle of two-man slit trenches. Louisianan Anderson and I carried empty canteens back to the stream where out-guards watched. After the Halazone took effect I drained two full canteens.

            Back at the slit trench with Fowler, I heard "Giant" Harrison, 3rd platoon T/Sergeant, call, "You're on your own now!." Out-guards fell back to their holes, eyes still on the trails they had guarded.

            While Fowler slept, I had first watch, grenade in right hand. I knelt very much alone. Thick brush tangled around me; I could not see even the next hole because of brush. Only in front could see any distance, our field-of-fire a wide gray void down slope between coconut trees.

            My tired eyes played tricks. Tortured eyeballs jerked; I saw Jap grenadiers creeping up. I knew that I had better throw that grenade first. But the grenadiers turned back into bushes. After two dazed hours, I roused Fowler to take my grenade [and] fell dead asleep.

            Only a minute later, as it seemed, Fowler awoke me. "I can't hold my eyes open," he whispered. "You gotta stay up awhile." And something must have stirred out front; another Yank had thrown a grenade at it awhile back.

            Strangely enough, it made me feel good to take his guard for another two hours. Fowler had spent the afternoon on that excruciating job of scouting before G Company. And now, for the first time since I joined G Co, I felt good for something. No Jap troubled us, and I finally took my turn to die asleep again.

            After troubled sleep, we packed at dawn to march. Sun blazed as we hit the trail. After the first sweat, we settled into the slow, wet plod onward [through] the jungle over ported rifles. Our shell craters secured the route. We saw no Japs.

            That second night, G Company dug in under coconut trees before Raihu River. On inner perimeter with Staff Sergeant Murphy, my squad-leader; we could sleep all night without turns on guard. We dug a deep, dry trench. Fowler had let us sleep boxed in our shoes, but Murphy told me we could get rid of ours. Nobody would be fool enough to fight above ground, said Murphy. I never wore shoes in a hole after that.

            Murphy hoped for a good night's sleep, but a G [Company] grenade sparked like a pistol. "The Battle of Raihu River," began. As giant land-crabs "attacked" over dead coconut fronds, a long series of grenades blasted and knocked sand down on our ponchos. Once Hardesty loosed his great machinegun “Fifty” at the jungle. (Conforti had fired on a Jap at sunset, then hit a hole.) But we had too many green men on [the] outer perimeter. It was an almost sleepless night.

            Next morning, Captain Reams assembled G [Company] and swore hard: "If any Japs were there, we'd be pinned down under knee-mortars right now." But we forgot his just anger when he finished with, "Intelligence says the Japs withdrew two days ago."

            It seemed that we had a third day of sunstruck hiking to look forward to. And I got another hot jungle lesson. Sitting waiting orders on a dead coconut branch, I felt my back pocked with fire. A chain of great scarlet ants was biting me. Peeling off pack and jacket, I slew them viciously. I swore like Reams.

            G Company forded Raihu River in a long winding line around step-offs, while our tall men marked the underwater trail and looked after our shorter men. Water came to my arm-pits, but I kept dry my M-1 and ammo atop my helmet. And now, despite Reams' assurances, I felt danger. We crossed the Aitape River on the beams of a half-wrecked bridge. Our line of rifles curved uphill past a cumbrous Jap automatic anti-aircraft gun with a clip of live shells in the breach.

            Shots rang out at the head of G Company's column. Around my right shoulder, Sergeant Slaga's M-1 fired uphill at a target I never did see.

            In the green Aussie hospital atop Windy Ridge, Scout Mese had surprised two Japs at breakfast. They reached for their rifles. Mese's tommy-gun blew out a Jap brain. The other Jap fled across the ridge-brow while our M-ls chased him and missed.

            Such was G Company's "battle" of Windy Ridge. It was one of the few actions in the whole main operation to seize Aitape, although 3rd Battalion did have a murderous assault from escaping Japs on a back-trail three days later. But when we inspected the network of Jap trenches defending Windy Ridge, G [Company] was happy that we never had to attack. Those slopes were perfect for grazing fire.

            Thus ended G Company's beach-head at Aitape, except, of course, for wilderness patrols and the sad landing at Marok Village where Frank Vivorito drowned. At Aitape, we had defeated the Japs by marching. After [the] 32nd Division took over, the Japs came boiling back out of Wewak and did the long Battle of the Drinumor, but G Company was long gone for Toem and Biak where we had eleven killed.

            G Company had lost only Gorsline, no doubt grateful for the wound that got him out of the lines forever. Like G Company's other recruits, I had learned about front-line action without undue agony. I had not fired a shot nor thrown a grenade. And our campaign had ended as I wish all campaigns would end, with a long bath in the sweet, cool, rain-sweetened River of Aitape.

 

Credit: Prime source is my own manuscript, collated with 163rd Infantry Journal of Aitape Operation. Original manuscript was given the editor of our first history book but not used and could not be relocated in Federal Archives. But I brought a carbon copy home with me.