Continued from Wakde...

While the 163rd was fighting on Aitape and Wakde, the other two Regiments of our Division secured the Hollandia area. Next they were loaded onto landing craft for the trip to Biak Island, which was off the coast of New Guinea, far to the northwest. They landed on Biak on May 27 amid great confusion. The confusion was a result of the swift currents and coral reefs present in the landing area. Due to a pre-landing bombardment they didn’t face much opposition at first. Soon, however, they found that they were at the mercy of the Japs who were hidden away in caves high in the coral ridges. The ridges paralleled the beach and were about 500 yards away. They soon found that they needed help so they sent for the 163rd. On May 30 the 163rd loaded onto LCI’s again and headed west to join our Division in the Battle for Biak. We landed on the island on June 1, 1944.

Once we reached Biak we disembarked, moved in and began to dig in rapidly. None to soon let me tell you. Half way through this process Jap Zeros flew in low over the coral ridges, undetected by our radar. As they came into view over the ridge, their guns were already blazing. We hit the ground and scrounged for any protection we could get. Thankfully the Air Corps had brought in a bunch of multiple 50-caliber machine guns for the protection of the Mokmer airstrip. Since we had not captured the strip yet, they set the guns up for action within our beachhead. In the first two days these gunners shot down 12 of the first 17 Zeros that came across our position on the beachhead. The Navy proceeded to shoot down all of the rest, showing the Japs that it wasn’t a good idea to attack our beachhead.

On June 4 we moved to the east edge of the beachhead. Here we dug in and put out outposts that we had brought in during the night. That night several Japs came up the trail, heading right towards Dean Henry’s machine guns. He opened fire on them but the elevation clamp on his gun was too tight so he couldn’t depress far enough to get them all. They hit the ground and crawled away. The next morning we searched the area and found one dead. We saw where they had drug off two others. All of the sudden we stumbled onto an officer who was wounded but still alive. He was hidden behind a log so we were right on him before we spotted him. He rose halfway up and pointed his pistol at Wilbur Erbe. Wilbur shot on impulse and hit Jap in the hand and in the head. The shot tore part of the grip off of the Jap’s pistol, proving that he had his sights on Wilbur. Wilbur picked up the pistol and to this day he still has it.

Late in the day on June 4 we received word that a large Japanese Naval Force was headed toward Biak. Our Captain sent Tony Mager out with a patrol to see if he could find any shelter in the caves or other low areas behind the coral ridges in case of a bombardment against our beachhead. Later we were informed that the Japs had continued on toward the Philippines. This was a great relief to us because we had not yet been subject to naval gunfire and were not looking forward to the possibility of it.

Within a few days our unit moved north past a water point, then west just north of Ibdi Pocket. Our Battalion began probing and testing Ibdi Pocket. For the next several days we made attacks from one direction or another on the area. On the evening of June 25, the 1st Battalion received orders to prepare for an early morning attack on Ibdi Pocket. The attack was to begin at 0315 while it was still dark. Our policy up to this point had been not to move at night under any circumstances.

This time I went with B Company as a mortar observer. That evening I drew what wire I would need for my phone and then contacted B Company to coordinate where I would meet them in the morning. Things seemed eerie and strange as I moved out to join B Company for the attack. Things were going pretty well as we slowly moved up the trail. We bypassed several unmanned Jap pillboxes, which they manned during the day but pulled out of at night. Had they been there it would have been much tougher getting to the bottom of the ridge. As we approached the bottom of the coral ridge just below the pocket our lead patrol tripped a booby trap, alerting the Japs. It was still not daylight so we deployed along the trail and waited for light.

As daylight approached our scouts spotted small groups of Japs above us and to our left. We shot most of them as they moved or manned their guns. After several such encounters we finally made it to the top of the first ridge. Once there we looked over and saw Japs on the next ridge about 35 yards away. All hell broke loose as we saw them and they saw us. Since they had been here for months, they had every place in these ridges plotted on their maps and they knew the exact data to give to their mortars in order to hit anywhere they wanted. As a result everywhere we moved mortar fire followed us. We returned mortar fire on them, but they had coves and bunkers to protect them. We on the other hand were spread out along the coral ridge, which was covered in trees but had no topsoil to dig a hole in. Within an hour B Company had lost 2 dead and 7 lay wounded, including myself.

A Jap mortar round hit about six feet in front of me as I lay down among the jagged coral outcropping. Shrapnel become embedded in my hands and face and as I took stock of myself, I realized that everything had gone quiet. Although I was bleeding in several places, I didn’t feel that I was hurt too bad, but not being able to hear scared the hell out of me. I remember thinking that perhaps my eardrums were broken. If I had put my finger in my ears to see if there was blood I would have known this was not so. It is a spooky feeling being in the middle of a firefight and not hearing a thing.

I soon found a medic and I asked him to look me over. He wrote me a note, beings that I couldn’t hear, and told me that I would have to go out. I told him I had to get up to A Company to see Sgt. Larson. I had to let him know that he would have to try to cover the observing for both A & B until they could get another man up here to take my place. As I reached A Company Jap mortars, as well as machine gun and rifle fire, were still shelling us. I told Larson what had happened and he wrote me a note telling me to get the hell out of there before I got in worse trouble. I went back to B Company and told the Company Commander I had to go out. I told him that I would get him another observer as soon as possible.

There were several wounded soldiers waiting to be carried out and, since I was able to walk, I helped carry the stretchers. On the way out mortar shells were still bursting around us and I remember wondering if I would make it out of here alive. I could feel the percussion of the rounds and see the explosions. It was slow work getting off the ridge but it went much faster when we finally reached the bottom. On the way down the trail I met Sgt. Dean Henry, who was bringing his machine gun platoon up to join the battle. We paused for a minute and Dean seemed more worried about me than I was. Later that day Dean was wounded for the second time in a month.

When we got down to where the ambulances were picking up the casualties my Company Commander was there. He was very concerned about me and told me not to worry, that he would see that someone took care of my personal gear. When I arrived at the field hospital I was given a bunk and a doctor came and looked me over. He picked some small pieces of shrapnel from my face and hands and then prescribed me 22 pills that I had to take immediately. Two days later my hearing began to return. I stayed at the hospital three more days, and since I had no serious wounds, returned to my unit.

Two unidentified men from the B Company were killed during this initial phase on June 26. Those wounded during this initial phase were myself, Hugh Reynolds, S/Sgt. D Company, Paul Mory, PFC B Company, Gerald Basset, PFC B Company, George Camble, Sgt. B Company, Gean Brosted, PFC B Company, Edward Seeger, T/Sgt. B Company, and Harold Smith, Sgt. B Company. Other Companies also had several soldiers killed and wounded.

When I arrived back in the unit Ibde Pocket still had not been taken. Since it was the only enemy stronghold in the area, we began to set up a semi-garrison camp with squad tents, kitchens, latrines, and showers. We had outposts on all trails leading into our area. Some elements of our Regiment were still out on the line contesting Ibde Pocket. On July 22 the Air Corps were called in to put an ending to the long ordeal.

At dawn the 155MM, 105MM artillery and our 81MM mortars laid down a barrage of high explosives and smoke rounds to disguise our units’ withdrawal from the ridges. This barrage continued long after our troops had disengaged so that the Jap would not know what we were doing. At about 0850 hours we lifted the barrage and eight B24 Liberators flew over Ibde Pocket. They showered the area with 1,000-pound blockbuster bombs, releasing them at about 4000 feet. They made several runs until they had dropped 64 on the target below. The assault platoons, under cover of our 81MM mortar smoke rounds, moved into the Pocket to clean up whatever may be left. They found a few dazed Japs still alive, but they were unable to put up any organized resistance. They were quietly disposed of and we took no prisoners.

On about July 25 I became feeling very sick again. It turned out that I had Yellow Jaundice. This time I went to a hospital down on the beach. I was there for several days before being returned to my unit. As I left the doctor said that I should drink all the juice I can and eat a lot of hard candy. I looked at him and said, “Where do you recommend I get this stuff. There is none of that on this Island.” He just looked at me and threw up his hands.

On the way back to D Company we met some trucks coming down towards the beach area and I recognized Dean Henry as one of the passengers. I didn’t know what he had been doing so I asked when I got back to camp. I was told that Larry Ortwein, a cousin of Dean’s, had been killed on an unauthorized patrol up to Ibde Pocket. The burial service was down at the beach. It turned out that there were still a few Japs in the Pocket area that had somehow escaped the bombing and the cleanup sweep. Sad!

After this, some units continued to push the scattered Jap units into the northwest corner of Biak. Things were pretty quiet around our area. We spent time licking our wounds, so to speak, and getting back into a regular military routine. During this time details were sent to the piers to unload ships. One night when we weren’t being watched too close, we were able to sneak off with a good bunch of beefsteaks.

On October 3, 1941, I left Biak on a rotation program. My days in combat were coming to an end. We flew to Hollandia where they took us out to an open area and said, “You will set up a camp here.” Because there were no officers in our group the senior noncoms took charge. They brought tents, cots, kitchen gear and anything they had available to set up a camp. We organized our own crews, made rosters of personnel and began setting up a camp. There were several kitchen personnel in the group so our camp became livable on the first day. We left this camp about a month later.

On November 15 we loaded on a liberty ship named the Sea Ray and headed for the states. We went down the coast of New Guinea to Milne Bay. We left here on November 18, carrying about 400 hospital patients. We spent Thanksgiving Day aboard the ship. We had a great dinner, one like we had not seen for a long time. (I still have the menu.) Since the sea-lanes were now considerably safer, we ran without Naval escort. Early in the morning on December 1, we arrived back under the Golden Gate Bridge. The entire city was covered in a cold fag and since we only had our tropical uniforms, we felt like we would freeze before we could unload at Angel Island at Fort McDowell. Finally we went ashore where we were given warm quarters and wool uniforms. We were given access to the PX where we were able to buy hamburgers and malted milks. What a treat!

The following day I was given traveling orders for my 21-day furlough. I was put on a train headed towards Fort Douglas in Utah. As I arrived here I was surprised to see that young girls were doing most of the work around the station and rail yards. That was something you wouldn’t have seen before the war. Soon I was on my way home to Harlowton for an enjoyable vacation. We were greeted by a reception committee of local people who welcomed home all service men and women. It was a great day to say the least.

As time passed some men who had long service records were being discharged. All discharges were put on hold when, on December 15, the Germans attacked Europe, starting the Battle of the Bulge. Because I didn’t expect to be released I had no misgivings about the discontinued discharges. As my leave was about to run out I asked for, and received a nine-day extension from Fort Douglas.

On January 4, 1945 I reported to a Redistribution Station in Santa Barbara, California. I stayed here for ten days in very pleasant surroundings. We had a lot of freedom, good food, and great entertainment. Next I was reassigned to the Army Air Corps and sent to Sheppard Field, Texas. Here at Sheppard I took a series of aptitude tests to help them determine what they should do with me. Most of us spent every evening at the Noncommissioned Officers Club drinking beer, eating sandwiches and talking with our buddies who had also been assigned to the Air Corps.

After my tests were evaluated they sent me to Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. I attended airplane mechanic school, where I learned all aspects of the job, all the way up to pre-flighting four motored aircraft. After graduating I was assigned to help run a rifle range, training Air Corps recruits. This job was a gravy train for an old Infantryman, but unfortunately it didn’t last too long. The war was over in the European theater but there wasn’t an end in sight in the Pacific. Soon I was transferred back to Sheppard Field, Texas.

For a short time I was assigned to Military Police, a job I would have gladly traded for more time in combat. One day I was the Sergeant in charge of the west gate on the post. It was Armed Forces Day and the base was full of civilians. I was told not to let any military people off the base until all civilians had cleared out. Soon my gate had traffic piled up for a mile, as I tried to turn back GI’s who had not been told they were not supposed to leave. Soon I saw that it was a hopeless situation and waved them all through. Soon the phone rang from the Provost office. I heard, “Sgt. What the hell are you doing? You were told not to let any GIs out until all civilians are off the base.” I informed them that they should have told the GI’s about it also. I never heard anything more about the incident but by the following Monday I was reassigned to Post Processing. I guess they didn’t want anyone in the MP who had the guts enough to make a decision on their own.

Soon after that, an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan and the war was brought to an end. In order to get discharged I had to compete with Air Corps personnel on a point system for discharge credits. Some of the people in the Air Corps had been in the service for less than a year and had up to 160 points because of one six month stint overseas. I, on the other hand, had been in the service for five years, with nearly three years overseas, and had accumulated only 103 points. Each branch of the service allotted points in a different way. It seemed liked this was very unfair to the Infantry people who had been assigned to the Army Air Corps, but I couldn’t do a thing about it.

Finally, I received orders to proceed to Fort Douglas, Utah for the purpose of separation from the service. I arrived there on September 14, 1945 and was counseled on what would happen after arriving home and what to do about the situations I would encounter. That same day I was called in to receive a physical, which occurred every time you made a move in the Army. The physical consisted of the following question, “Is there anything wrong with you that a discharge won’t cure?”

The next two days consisted of processing paperwork and turning in all of our equipment, except for what we were authorized to keep. On September 18, 1945 I received my discharge from the Army. Five years and three days after entering the services for a one-year stint. Boy, what a longgggg year! After 10 days of partying in Salt Lake, I made it home. Upon returning home I was welcomed with a tremendous welcome back, soldier!