K Company 162 Infantry: First Two Days in Parai Defile

by K 162's Charles F. Brockman with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

                                                                                                    

About 0900 on Biak D-Day, K Company 162 Infantry's T/5 Brockman watched from an LCI while 186 Infantry landed first. Diving low, B-24 heavy bombers shook Biak Island as they impacted. While DUKWs of 641 TD and 121 Field Artillery followed 186 Infantry ashore, three rocketships cleared the way with a swish of death.

As K 162's LCI landed at one of the two Bosnek jetties, some LSTs were already beached with doors open and unloading. While "K" landed, a 1936 US Chevrolet was aflame on the beach. Our Navy still fired overhead at targets we could not see.

Passing several rocket duds on the beach, K Company with Brockman quickly hit the road west towards Mokmer Strip with I Company marching ahead. (T/5 Brockman was a cook who carried mortar ammo while he was in combat.) At first, Biak seemed like another easy Hollandia type of conquest. But after 1115, fire burst from Parai cliffs ahead. We took cover. Down the road leftward, we saw a captured Jap truck with a few of our wounded lifted aboard.

Now 5-6 tanks of 603 Tank Battalion rumbled and clanked past K  Company. Brockman never forgot two tanks' names - "Hi-Ball" and "Murder Inc." After tankmen helped drive the Japs from the first Parai cliffs, we caught up with the crews at a halt saw them taking a break over coffee with canned heat on the tank-fronts. While "K" filled canteens and rested at a spring, we looked up at the pink and gray and green of 180-foot Parai Cliffs. These retarded our March to Mokmer Strip.

Four times on this Biak D-Day, 162's attacking column was briefly checked by Nip fighters four times up to 1540. We lost at least two killed, six wounded. In K Company, Brockman helped dress the knee of seriously wounded Martin. Martin said that an I Company man had thought that he was a Jap, and shot a clean hole through his knee. Brockman believes that K's Sergeant Clarence L. Hanna was killed that 27 May. (Report has him "died of wounds" next day.)

Thus by 1500, with tank help, 3rd Battalion had pushed through the narrowest part of Parai Defile and occupied Parai Village. That night, "K" perimetered on the low bench above Mokmer Road. Cook Brockman and Mess-Sergeant Boyes had a shallow hole above coral bedrock inside K's perimeter.

That night, Jap planes dropped flares - but no bombs - to daylight the beach. Jap infantry probed our lines. "K" took several rounds from knee mortars; 3rd Battalion machine guns killed three Japs.

Brockman was concerned for Cook T/5 David I. Newman. Newman was marked for rotation home, but the order was not yet cut. Newman was to spend the last two nights of his life in K's perimeters.

On that disastrous morning of 28 May 1944, K Company came down from their beachland perimeter to the narrow beach area where tanks and men were already forming up. Brockman heard short, slender, energetic Colonel Haney tell 3rd Battalion's Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, "It's time to go." Roosevelt said, "My watch shows we have about 10 minutes." Haney dropped down in the shade with his back against a palm. One lone Zero fled seaward, evidently out of ammo. Navy and Army anti-aircraft seemed to hit him, but nowhere vitally. Shortly afterwards, the Zero hit the water just on the horizon edge. A cheer went up from our ranks.

            K Company moved out at that point with I Company following to inland and come up in line on our right flank. Because of the narrow coast road, T/5 Winkler of C Company 116 Engineers had to widen and level the tanks’ road with his bulldozer. He uncovered some cans of food. Brockman and another cook leisurely shared a can of pineapple. Biak still seemed a picnic.

 About 0845, "K" hit our first resistance of that evil day on Biak. Tanks easily cleared out those Japs. Perhaps this first little opposition was just to draw us deep into the jaws of the trap. Behind us, back above Mokmer Village, big Jap 90 mm mortars opened up on an LCI, a rocket ship, and LCMs. North of Mokmer Drome, a coast-defense gun fired on our destroyer out at sea. Destroyer returned fire.

Biak still seemed easy. Main body of K Company now pushed on mostly level ground with thick secondary growth inland while "I" pushed on our flank. Here, a ledge was 25-30 feet above the shore. Forward elements of "K" were now 200 yards from Mokmer Strip - as far as 3rd Battalion would reach for a week.

Then Jap machine guns suddenly cracked a path before K and 1 Companies: Jap 90 mm mortars hurtled down from Parai Ridge to our right and rear. As the shells first exploded, Brockman and Veach were on the roadside next to the water. Ahead, all the tanks' turrets shelled the high ridge to our right.

              Veach and Brockman ran for cover across the road, hit a shallow ditch where 1st Sergeant Joe Briskey and Staff Sergeant Charles his brother had huddled already. Looking up in a lull from the shelling, we saw three mortar duds back on the road.

 About this time, K's Commanding Officer, Captain Gehring, told the Briskeys that 2nd Lieutenant Francis S. Barnes was dead already, with other casualties. K's mortarmen got orders to fire into the menacing brush to our right - went into position at a dead run.

Good soldier Colonel Haney was up to "K" Headquarters for first-hand in formation. He also spotted a Nippo mortar position on the ridge and sent back to call down mortar shells on it. (Jap fire had cut all 3rd Battalion phone wires; the only radio left working belonged to I&R).

In still heavier Jap mortar fire, Brockman and other "K" men found a bomb-crater deep enough for us to stand in and watch across the road. The first Jap counter-attack came, but it failed to break through to us.

With a swish, a Jap mortar shell impacted close before the crater. The smoke blackened Brockman's face. A sliver holed Veach's helmet but did not hurt him. We tumbled from that hole; a Jap observer had almost pinpointed in on us.

After Jap heavy machine guns and heavy mortars halted "K" with "I" on our left near Mokmer Strip, all 3rd Battalion retreated 600 yards. We were under heavy attack by the Japs' 2nd Battalion 222 Infantry. At 0930, L Company and some of M's heavy machine guns were cut off from 3rd Battalion by intense fire. Contact was not made again until an hour later when "L" and "M" found a covered route back.

By 1100, however, all 3rd Battalion (less an "L" Platoon still cut off that had to fight their way back to 2nd Battalion) was down under the slash of heavy mortars. We were in an area stretching 200 yards inland from the coast and 500 yards long on Mokmer Road. We were down in an area of tall brush where Jap observers pounded us from the cliffs. But that brush masked their weapons from our observers. At 1135, 2nd Battalion was trying to come through from the rear and reinforce us. Beginning about 1201, 3rd Battalion had to use tanks, field artillery, and Navy with our firepower to repel a second Jap infantry attack.

About 1200, Brockman watched B-25 and A-20 bombers smash the Jap ridge in several flights. Lying on his back, Brockman saw the bomb-racks in the planes. A crewman later told him how much the airmen feared their own bombs. Fuses were cut so short that concussion might strike back at them through the open bomb-bays. But their air-strike failed to silence the Japs on the ridge.

Brockman and Beach helped some of K's many wounded down the road to Dr. Drexler's aid station. Among them was Staff Sergeant Hillman, shot through the foot. Brockman never forgot how intensely in that tropical heat, Captain Drexler and his Medics worked to save our wounded.

Our long, deadly 28 May wore on into mid-afternoon. Once a young man of another outfit asked Brockman to go forward with him to help with some shooting that he had in mind. Brockman said that he had enough trouble already, but to this day wonders how the young man made out in battle.

About 1400, a "K" runner ran back shouting, "Jap tanks are coming!" Our tank-radio ordered, "Deploy!" K's weapons Lieutenant positioned our bazooka men for close-range shots into tanks. Up front when some men began to leave their positions, Captain Gehring exposed himself to send them back into line. He assured them that we could hold where we were.

At 1200 yards, our tanks impacted the five Nip tanks with their 75s while our Navy struck at them also. These outranged Jap tanks with their little 37 mm cannon had only a small chance against our longer ranges, but they fought desperately. Our Navy and tanks drove them into low ground while "I," "K," and "M" men slew their accompanying infantry. In this fight, K's 2nd Lieutenant Small had done well with his platoon in breaking the Jap attack.

Jap tank fire did succeed in damaging three tanks and wounding three crewmen. One crippled tank had to withdraw. Its .75 cannon had sustained a direct hit and was unfireable.

Perhaps about this time, K's Tech Sergeant Rex Smith daringly led a 6-man patrol some 200 yards back into ground that "K" had given up during the infantry attack. His men recovered weapons and other important equipment that had been left - also bore back the corpse of 2nd Lieutenant Barnes.

By late afternoon, 3rd Battalion's position was untenable. Jap mortar and field artillery fire increased; patrols even briefly cut the road in our rear, until expelled. General Fuller ordered 162 back to last night's positions in Parai Defile, 2,000 yards east. K's Captain Gehring told us to destroy any abandoned weapons that the Japs could use. Dr. Drexler was not to give aid to any wounded whom we might find while retreating. We were to lay on two so-far empty litters to carry with us.

As the next-to-last tank fell back, Brockman sheltered on its coastal side. In almost no time, Jap fire crashed on it from inland. The tank halted killed that fire. In this retreat, Brockman saw just one Yank corpse - a young man down by the roadside with his glasses on the side of his nose - his body cold already.

Again, Brockman's tank moved, but stopped almost instantly while Jap bullets clunked from its steel sides. Now the tank fired both its .30 heavy machine gun and its .75 cannon.

After the tank silenced the Jap fire and marched again, it forced Brockman off the road because it moved to his side, He fell over the largest unexploded bomb that he had ever seen in his life. Looking up from the ground, he watched pink Jap tracers pass the tank, front and rear.

When tracers stopped, Brockman moved on with his beloved tank. Ahead, M Company’s Captain Bland waved him battalion across an open area. The tank came no farther with Brockman. He raced to a 20-foot drop to the beach and took his turn to climb down a worn tropical vine with his rifle.

Captain Bland now helped other M Company men carry a heavy machine gun - even shouldered the barrel to carry it himself. As the men hurried, Brockman saw a piece fall from a gun, and carried it for them. He remembers how courteously Bland thanked him when they reached a safe place.

"K" and other 3rd Battalion Companies retreated along the shore through 2nd Battalion's protecting lines and about dark perimetered in the new 3rd Battalion area along the beach. We had no water and no holes dug yet to sleep in. Brockman doubts that any man ever thought of eating.

Newman was still living - the man who was marked for rotation home. While Veach with Newman holed up, Brockman and a new man dug in closer to the beach. When field artillery walked protective fire around K's perimeter, a 4-inch fragment struck between Veach and Newman but missed them. "K" men tried to sleep between guard-turns with the deep thankfulness which a combat man feels after a day of battle.

On that 28 May, K 162 probably had our longest casualty list of World War II. We lost seven killed or dead of wounds, 21 wounded to hospital, one injured in action. Dead were Pvt Silas G. Richards, Pfcs Bryce H. Kiberd, Donald L. Binkley, Ezra Tanner, Jack R. Walker, Gilbert H. Jordan, and 2nd Lieutenant Barnes. Reported "lightly wounded" were Pvt Lawrence H. Norton, Pfcs Martin H. Maley, Ralph N. White, Ronald F. Toolan, Vernon A. Gebhard, and Staff Sergeant Hillman. Fifteen were marked "seriously wounded," three of them NCOs – Staff Sergeant James B. Leach, Sergeant Ernest C. Chappelow, and Corporal Henry Mathis. Also "seriously wounded" were Pvts William R. Eberhard, Leslie S. Flower, Lloyd W. Foley, Robert N. Gill, John C. Johnson, Pfcs Winfred T. Almond, Kenneth N. Dyson, Glen B. Gunter, Alex S. Kudelke, James H. Magness, Louie A. Martinez, and Thomas C. Welch. Pfc Byron P. Leake was "lightly injured" and hospitalized. Written under dire combat conditions, this list may not be perfectly accurate.

But K 162 was still almost helpless in the closing jaws of the Japanese trap in Parai Defile. On Parai Ridge over us, Jap mortarmen and machine-gunners slept by their pieces with piled ammo behind them. All battalions of 222 Infantry were concentrated against us, with seven tanks of 36 Division Tank Unit - all ready to strike tomorrow. On 29 May was coming the first tank battle of the SWPA.

Tomorrow also would come a murderous shell from our own Navy. Newman was doomed to death; he would never rotate home to America.

 

CREDIT: Indispensable source is Tech Sergeant Brockman's 8-page typescript, single-spaced, of which I have used just the first four pages. Other help comes from 162's Biak Casualty List, narrative, and Journal, with RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines. I used also Award Stories of Captain Frederick Gehring, 2nd Lieutenant Howard Small, and Tech Sergeant Rex Smith. I could not work in award stories of Staff Sergeant Darrell Clements and Pfc Charles Shaylor, because exact dates of their achievements were not specified in Award Stories. (Clements once volunteered to lead his squad on the extreme flank of any attack, where he overran many Jap positions. In absence of his Commanding Officer Shaylor risked his life under heavy mortar and machine gun fire to orient K's platoons, and also rescue a wounded "K" man. But Award Story spreads their citations over several dates, so that I do not know which to use.)