A Company 186 Infantry's Only History
T/Sergeant Charles Platko
with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            On the evening of 12 September 1944, A Company 186 Infantry's Platoon Sergeant Charles Platko got orders to patrol against Japs on Soepoeri Island who still had not surrendered after their Biak defeat. A native patrol reported fire from a garden about 1800 yards north of Soepoeri Village. (Soepoeri is the mountainous island across the shallow tidal strait west of Biak.) At that date, A 186 was stationed in the Wardo area in southwest Biak, 23 days after Biak Operation was officially ended.)

            Native scouts said that the Jap group numbered 20 - had only one rifle. But Platko took no chances. With four BARmen and three Tommy-gunners, Platko had more riflemen or carbineers for a total of 16 men. He had also five natives as guides and scouts - three of whom had been in the patrol which first contacted the Japs. Also with the patrol were two observers -Captain Anderson of 1st Battalion 186 Headquarters and Lieutenant Bee.

            Important equipment also were two "300'" radios. One with the patrol. Another would be on the beach to relay information back to A Company at Wardo. On the beach also were six litter bearers waiting for possible casualties.

            At 0715 Hours 13 September, Platko's patrol left A Company's perimeter and followed the beach for 2500 yards north to Soepoeri. Here they took their first break at 0800 Hours and set up their beach radio and medical detachment.

            At 0820, this combat patrol turned inland. Three natives scouted ahead, with two more at the rear for security.

            Our real patrol began up a steep ridge 500-600 feet high. Then ahead we slogged over small ridges with swamps between them - rough going, especially for the radio carrier.

            At 1020, we halted about 500 yards from the native's gardens - our last break before Jap contact. Then Platko cannily asked the native chief whether we could bypass the native gardens because the Japs were camped on the ridge behind the gardens. Platko had noticed that most Yank patrols attacked only from the front. These attacks meant that patrols could kill just 2-3 Japs while the rest escaped. By using signs and a few words that Platko understood, the chief showed that he agreed with this plan.

            We now headed into the jungle to the left of the trail. Platko had feared that this patrol would be another "dry run," since previous patrols had found no Japs. But now when he saw how quiet the natives were, he knew that we would have some shooting. He passed word back to his men to be as quiet as Yanks could be in the jungle.

            There were no trails into this jungle, and the natives had to cut their way. By sign language the chief cautioned them for quietness. Instead of swinging their arms to cut the saplings and branches, they grasped them with one hand while they sliced them off noiselessly with the other.

            Finally we passed the east side of the gardens and found the ridge of the Japs. This ridge ran about northeast with another native garden behind it. The Japs would have a fine view of both sides of their ridge and all possible trails leading across the garden.

            Our patrol advanced up the eastern end of the ridge. We followed what seemed to be the trail of wild pigs. The head native was slow and silent. He looked just like a ghost in that twilight jungle. It seemed that he even smelled the Japs' locations. Platko again passed back signs that the enemy was close and to make no noise.

            The lead native beckoned Platko to come up beside him. The native was lying just below the crest of the ridge, and a little to the left of that Crest. Just his eyes looked over the top. When Platko and Staff Sergeant Jeter his second-in-command came up, they froze in surprise.

            Not more than 20 yards down the ridge ahead of them, three Japs lay under a lean-to hut of canvas and palm thatch. Behind that hut down the slant of the ridge for about 40 yards were many more shelters. There were many more than the 20 Japs reported by the natives. There were many rifles lying where Platko could see them. (So much for the native reports that they had only one rifle!) We were indeed lucky that we had not patrolled toward the ridge from the front or the rear.

            (It is hard to understand why the Japs failed to post outguards below the end of the ridge up which Platko's men had come. Platko mentions no reason for the Japs' false sense of security.)

            By now BARmen Wiseman and West were forward with Staff Sergeant Jeter. Although expecting to be discovered any second, Platko took the smallest possible chances. He brought up the third of his four BARmen, all three tommie gunners including himself, and all the riflemen which the space would allow. (Probably the fourth BARman was back with radioman Patrick to secure the rear of the patrol.) Now one of the Japs in the first lean-to happened to turn around and see us. Instantly Staff Sergeant Jeter yelled "Fire". The Japs had no chance to give the alarm; we caught them totally by surprise.

            Wiseman with his BAR jumped onto a log and stood straight up and fired from his shoulder right down the ridge. Platko heard him yell, "Christ, they are going down like sheaves of wheat!" He claimed hitting six out of eight Japs from his first magazine.

            Our line of men firing advanced down the crest of the ridge through the Japanese camp. It seemed that there were live or dead Japs down on the ground everywhere. We kept our fire and movement to prevent them from organizing real resistance anywhere. They did fire 15 or 20 shots, but all went wild.

            One Jap in a pile of logs on the left side of the ridge was firing on Wiseman, but Platko gave the Jap a full magazine of 45s from his Tommy gun. He didn't want any more, Platko saw.

            Jeter ran up on one whom he only grazed with his Tommy gun. With no time to reload, Jeter leaped on his back and rode him down the slope a few feet, drew his trench knife and stabbed him in the throat.

            Collins was too close to a Jap rifleman to reload. He grabbed the Jap's rifle from his hands just as the bolt was already pulled back to put another bullet in the chamber. He smashed the Jap to the ground and pounded his head between two large tree-roots and finally slew him.

            Corporal Patrick with his "300" radio on his back was next to last in the column, and it was a few minutes before he topped the ridge. Just past the first shack, a Jap ran at top speed down the side of the ridge. At about 20-25 yards, Patrick's .45 pistol knocked him down twice, but the Jap escaped.

            As the firing line moved down the ridge, two or three men ran to the right or left of the ridge and fired on Japs fleeing down the side. Results were undetermined, but it's hard to hit a man running down a slope. When our firing stopped, Platko posted security guards at all danger points. Then we carefully checked out the ground. We counted 25 corpses - including one who had died three or four days earlier whom we rolled from a shelter. We estimated that there had been a total of 34 Japs in the ridge strong-point - 25 killed, five wounded, and four we seemed not to have hit. We found 12 sabers among the lean-tos, and maybe 22 rifles which we gave to the natives.

            At 1120, Tech Sergeant Platko radioed in his report of the action. Meanwhile, Sergeant Jeter with two other men tracked down a wounded Jap. They followed his blood trail about 150 yards until Jeter slew him. Since he would have died anyhow before we could have got him to medical aid, it was really a mercy killing.

            We destroyed the shelters and a large amount of cooked taro root. The natives punched holes in all the water containers and mess gear which they did not want. We also gathered letters, diaries, and documents for S-2 (Intelligence) to examine.

            At our second radio which we had left to relay our messages from the beach, we learned that one sick Jap had actually turned himself in as a prisoner. After taking a few minutes break, we sent prisoner, radio teams, and litter bearers back to 1st Battalion Headquarters by outrigger canoe. We infantrymen had to wade most of our way back across the tidal channel from Soepoeri to Wardo in water up to our waists. At 1700 Hours, Platko made his oral report to Battalion and turned over the collected Japanese papers.

            Nobody in Platko's patrol was even grazed in their surprise attack on that wilderness ridge. The men acted perfectly, just like a trained football team at the height of their season. They had their orders to carry out their parts perfectly. A Company 186's men's patrol fought efficiently on Soepoeri Island.

 

 

BRIEF RUNDOWN OF A-186'S HISTORY.

            At this late date, Platko's patrol seems to be the only A-186 story that can ever appear in the Jungleer. Even so, A Company 186 Infantry deserves all that credit that we can give that outfit. In the Papuan Campaign (1943), we merely helped out Regiment to replace 128 Infantry (32nd Division) among the corpses on Maggot Beach in the Gona battleground of New Guinea. We helped mop up Jap stragglers in that area.

            But A 186 saw much action in the New Guinea Campaign (1944). In first phase of Biak Operation, we were detached to reinforce 162 Infantry at Mandom Waterhole and Parai Defile Ridges.

            When Japs on 1 June expelled Cannon Company 162 from Mandom Waterhole defense and blocked the main coastal road, A 186 fought. Lightly wounded was Staff Sergeant Yokom. On 2 June, we assisted Cannon Company 162 to regain the waterhole, and drove the Japs back into the ridges. T/5 Fichtner was lightly wounded. We then guarded the water hole and had orders to patrol daily up to the first ridge where the edge of Ibdi Pocket was found.

            On 6 June also, A 186 aided 162 Infantry's efforts to try to clear Japs from Ibdi Pocket ridges. With AT 162, we struck west from Young Man's Trail over the ridge-tops and gained 900 yards. We were stopped before new Jap positions.

            On 7-9 June, we failed to gain more ground with "AT." Roy was killed, Stukel lightly wounded, on 7 June. On 8 June, Banks was lightly wounded. On 10 June, both companies were withdrawn from the ridges. We rejoined our Regiment.

            On 17 June, we helped our battalion outflank Mokmer Ridges and strike directly for West Caves. That day, Coleman, Corporal Barnes, Staff Sergeant Thomas were lightly wounded. Next day, Pfc. Lloyd J. Blakemore was killed. Such was our Battle for Biak.

             A 186's casualties were light - surely because of our efficient fighting. Platko's Soepoeri patrol is an outstanding evidence of our expertise.

 

CREDIT: 186 Infantry's Honorary Colonel Christian Hald obtained for Jungleer, T/Sergeant Platko's 8-page 8-1/2 by 11 handwritten manuscript.