C Company, 116 Medical Battalion: Clearing Company. on Biak
By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Dr. Leeon Aller, M.D.

             On 27 May 1944,C Company, 116th Medical Battalion Clearing Company landed near Bosnek Village on Biak. We were to support 2nd Battalion, 186 Infantry. Crossing the Bosnek- Mokmer Road, we set up quarters on a hard coral surface. We entrenched behind coral chunks and sacks of Japanese rice.

            From this low plateau, we watched other task force outfits landing. Soon came Japs' planes to bomb and strafe while our Navy dodged the planes and sea and ground fire blazed away at them. 1st Lieutenant Aller saw six Jap planes fly over, of which five were shot down, while the sixth seemed to escape.

            Four .50 mm quad-mount guns had just arrived from the states to send up a wall of bullets before every plane. Aller saw planes hit that wall of bullets and disintegrate in mid-air. But once he witnessed a U.S. tragedy. A twin-engined Mitchell bomber flew low and dropped a sack of maps. The crew was waving down at us from close overhead. Then a nervous gunner fired from the ground and triggered other Ack-Ack crews to shoot down the plane and kill the crew.

            Our Medics suffered a few minor wounds from flying metal fragments and pieces of coral. The Japs lobbed in a few light mortar shells. Only man reported lightly wounded was Sergeant Robert Baucom.

            After 162 Infantry was repulsed down the road at Parai Defile from attempting to take Mokmer Strip, 186 Infantry started overland on 1 June to bypass Parai Defile and capture Mokmer Strip from the rear. Badly needed C Company Medics drove or marched with 186

Infantry. We had a litter jeep, an ambulance, and a 3/4 ton truck pulling a full water trailer - and medical equipment. Our nauseous problem was to have to continue piling Japanese bags of rice around us at night because we could not dig into the coral. The rice was now fermenting and smelling about as bad as rotting bodies.

            On the night of 1 June, C's Medics dug in - piled up sacks of rice! - probably with the main body of 186 Infantry in high ground above Bosnek Village. At 0330 that night, one and a half companies of the Japs' 1st Battalion 222nd Infantry attacked 186's 3rd Battalion. Probably in this attack, two infantrymen in a double slit trench near C Company took a direct hit from a Jap mortar. They died just 15 feet from Aller's hiding place. Next morning, Aller had to clear fragments of their bodies from his pack to get out his "K" rations for breakfast.

            On 2-5 June, however, we Medics continued our trek with 186 Infantry through the waterless scrub desert. On 5 June, we were with 2nd Battalion 186 on the ground behind the ridge over looking Mokmer Strip.

            About 1600 hours on that 5 June, we Medics were badly needed. A surprise attack of about 16 Japs struck 2nd Battalion' s flank and rear with grenades, rifles, and knee mortars. A G 186 patrol cleared the area and slew 12 Japs. F 186 suffered most. Out of two dead and 17 wounded, "F" had the two dead plus 13 wounded.

            When the surprise attack came from the 15 Japs, C's Medics were probably out of sight behind a jungle of tropical scrub about 12 feet high. Suddenly there were explosions of grenades and knee mortars with rifle shots all around us.

            Fragments killed a casualty that 1st Lieutenant Aller was already caring for. Rifle fire perforated our water trailer. A mortar shell fragment knocked the wheel off the ambulance we badly needed to haul our wounded back down the supply road 1800 yards to 12th Portable Hospital.

            While G 186 men hunted down the Japs, we Medics were left alone to care for F-162's casualties. We were still in danger of long-range mortar fire.

            Staff Sergeant Thomas B. Williams with 1st Sergeant Joseph Stasiowski still were laboring at the job of replacing the ambulance wheel to haul back wounded and save their lives. Again a Jap mortar fired. Fragments penetrated Williams' abdomen and liver, but he was hard to kill. With devoted Stasiowski, Williams stayed on the job and attached the wheel. We then loaded him

with the other wounded whom he had worked to save. Tech Sergeant Maurice Hudson also helped treat the wounded. Then Hudson with Aller drove the ambulance back to 12 Portable Hospital. They had to drive unguarded through Japanese darkness! (Williams was shipped back to the States with his wounds. We do not know whether he survived.)

            By 6 June, all of 186 Infantry's 3 Battalions plus 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry were positioned behind Mokmer Ridge which they must cross to capture Mokmer Strip from the rear. But first, they needed to find whether there were Japs on that ridge and clear them out.

It was here that Task Force leaders made certainly the biggest mistake of the whole Biak Operation. Although Colonel Oliver Newman wanted time for his 186 Infantry to clear Mokmer Ridge from any Japs who might be positioned there, Major General Horace Fuller was impatient. Fuller was under pressure from Generals Krueger and MacArthur. Fuller ordered Newman to seize Mokmer Strip at once. So Newman did not supervise his patrols closely to make them thoroughly reconnoiter labyrinth of the Ridge.

            On 0730 hours 7 June after bombardment by 121 Field Artillery and 9th Air Force, 186 Infantry seemed to peacefully occupy Mokmer Strip. But at 0945, the Japs flailed us with a four-hour concentration of blasting from field artillery, dual purpose 20 mm guns, and automatic weapons. Fire came from ridges north and east, including formidable East Caves. In four hours, our Field Artillery counter-fired. It silenced six gun positions and reduced Jap fire by 40 percent. Although no Jap infantry attacked, 186 Infantry lost 14 killed and 68 wounded.

            Among those casualties were ten C-116 Medics. Two were killed in action: Arthur Hughes and Herbert Larson. Eight were wounded: Captain Nicholas Hatfield, Earl Belcher, Charles Babbitt, William Duffy (earlier wounded at Hollandia), Robert Hunt, Tech Sergeant Harold Johnson, George McGinn, Howard Wittmer.

            About these 8 wounded, we have data recorded only about two of them: data about the kind of wounds they had, and whether they were hospitalized. Only Belcher was marked "seriously wounded." He never returned after hospital evacuation. Hatfield was marked "lightly wounded," but a field artillery fragment in his leg hospitalized him.

            Lieutenant Aller writes that most of C-116's Medics never reported minor wounds. They saw that some comrades were not returned to C-116 at all. So they kept quiet about minor wounds. Aller today retains a small piece of coral shrapnel in his right thigh, but says that it does not trouble him at all.

            And speaking of wounds, Aller remembers giving a blood transfusion to the victim of one of our phosphorus shells that shorted. Other Medics gave blood many times. In fact, doctors even asked our Medics to give blood to wounded men who needed blood.

            Most heroism of C' s eight wounded men was unreported- but for Hatfield, Eitel Boettcher, and Roman Huelsman. Despite his leg wound, Hatfield was evacuated to the beach only after the Japs' four-hour bombardment. Then he repeatedly refused treatment for 36 more hours until other wounded were treated.

            During 7-21 June, other Medics besides Hatfield won awards. Litter-bearer Eitel Boettcher again and again risked his life under fire to give aid and help save our men from areas not totally cleared of Japs. Roman Huelsman likewise risked himself to give aid to man fallen in ground still under fire. (Huelsman would be wounded later, on 9 June.)

            On 8 June, C-116 Medics suffered no losses, although both 186 Infantry and attached 2nd Battalion 162 had hard fighting. Men of 2nd Battalion 162 tried to rejoin their Regiment back near Parai Defile but were pinned down. Later they were harassed by East Caves mortars and automatic weapons, all day and all night. During the night of 8-9 June, 3rd Battalion 186 Infantry endured Jap night attacks that killed eight Yanks, in return for 49 dead Japs.

            Main action of 186 Infantry on that 9 June seems to have been B-186's reconnaissance in force against Japs up on Mokmer Ridge. The 186th lost three killed and 15 wounded. C-116 Medics lost a large number - that is, for Medics who were not supposed to become casualties.

            Ten men were labeled lightly wounded: Tech Sergeant James Faber, Walter Ginevan, Russell Hill, Sergeant Bernard Green, Staff Sergeant Earl Hoernig, Roman Huelsman, Tech 4 Dale Jackson, William Latham, Corporal Robert Lynch, and Charles Pearl.

            While still at Hollandia before our Biak landing, William Shepherd had said that he was "fey." That is, he had predicted his certain death on Biak. Naturally men like that canny Medic George Jackson of another Company had hotfooted it down the beach to talk Shepherd out of his dangerous ideas. But he still was certain that he would die. A tumbling mortar shell murdered him on the seaside edge of Mokmer Strip - near where Larson was killed on 7 June.

            Seven days later, C-116 had the last of our six deaths on Biak - only medical Company that had any deaths in combat at all. On 16 June, 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry closed a 500-yard gap between 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion 162 Infantry on the low Mokmer Ridge just south of West Caves. Action was fairly costly with 50 Yank casualties - 15 dead and 35 wounded. Probably in this action, of 16 June, Anthony Dombrowski and Roman Wantuck were killed while on a litter evacuation of a seriously wounded 186 man who also died.

            During the next four days, we had our last three men wounded in action - but no more killed. Leavan Smith was lightly wounded on 17 June, other facts unknown. On 19 June, Gene Powell was wounded, and Walter Ginevan for his second time on Biak. Again, both were marked lightly wounded. They were probably wounded on the day when 186 Infantry Regiment easily got into the rear of the Japs' West Caves and cut off their supplies and chances to escape. Tech 5 John Orr was last Medic, with a light wound, probably in the aftermath of 186's 19 June Operation.

            On 9 August, 16 C Company men took a brief sea trip to Owi Island to help the personnel of 92 Evacuation Hospital as technicians or wards attendant. C Company's final military mission was the easiest of all that we had on Biak. On 17 August, we landed with 1st Battalion 186 Infantry (less B Company but with E Company attached) in the Wardo section of southwest Biak. This beachhead we made to disperse the final concentration of the defeated Japs who persisted in the Biak Operation. (The Infantry had just one casualty - Joe Nichetti, who was killed accidentally.)

            In 116 Medical Battalion, C Company's losses were largest in the whole Battalion. We had all of the Battalion' s killed in action, a total of six. We had 24 wounded, far above the number of 11, which had all the other casualties in the entire Battalion. We had more than 35 percent casualties.

            Cause of C Company's 35 percent casualties looks easy to understand. We had many new Medics who lacked training in actual combat. Our veterans knew how to use defilade, irregular patterns of moving to save a casualty of dispersing rather than bunching up.

            But our new men lacked that experience in battle. Biak's jungle and coral seemed to them too rough to dodge and crawl into for rescuing a casualty. Many men walked upright into Japs' fire-lanes to pick up our wounded. Too many were the cases where four to six men together went into a fire-lane to pick up wounded where never over two would have sufficed. Sometimes litter bearers were dispatched back along unguarded trails without riflemen to give them security. Our new men did need much more training to save themselves to save our wounded.

            But for the high type of men we had in C-116 Medics, every battle means training for a higher rate of survival and greater efficiency in the next battle. We are sure that Biak-trained C- 116 would have done gallantly on Miyazaki Beach on Kyushu Island when we invaded the Japanese homeland.

      

CREDIT: Important for this history is Dr. Leeon Aller's 2-page single-spaced typescript of C 116's days on Biak through 5 June 1944. I also used award stories of officers Hatfield and Aller and of enlisted men Boettcher, Chang ala, Hudori, Huelsman, Stasiowski, Williams. Useful also was 116's historian George Jackson's 4-page double- spaced typescript, "Commentary About Those 116th Medics Lost in New Guinea." Thorough background came from 13-page "Medical History/ 116 Medical Battalion" (Biak) with full casualty list, and R.R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines.