41st Military Police Platoon: Soldiers and Policemen

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Colonel Paul Wendell, Sergeant Lewis H. Clark, and other MP’s

     Outsiders normally expect Military Police to have routine police duties - like directing traffic, arresting drunks, and guarding prisoners; but 41 MPs had plenty of front-line action.

     Just like at Hollandia, our Biak landing endangered many MPs. Like 186 Infantry to whom we were attached, MPs of two groups beached on the wrong shore, miles west of our assigned landing. An unexpected western current and the smoke of the bombardment which hid the beach - these caused the Coast Guard pilot to squish into mangrove swamps five miles west of' Bosnek was in danger of drowning. MP Welch leaped overboard and saved this Engineer's life.

     The Senior NCO of one of those misplaced groups, Corporal Clark was in command. Ashore only 10 minutes after H-Hour, Clark led 48 MPs with 186 Infantry east towards Bosnek, out of Jap country.

     Just as Clark had posted flank scouts as security for the long hike east, an MP remembered only as "Fred" collapsed with a burst appendix. We made a litter of poles and jackets and carried him with us.

     Bosnek road was menaced by our own bomb runs. In rising tropical heat, we hiked grimly through swamp water and brush eastward. Clark insisted on total radio silence for safety.

     After some four miles, we gladly met 1st Lieutenant Colvert with L 162 pushing west towards Mokmer Strip. Like the other misplaced MP detachment, Clark's men arrived safe at Bosnek.

     Now based at Bosnek, all MPs worked hard. Some of us had beached in the LSTs and begun directing traffic even while holds emptied of their trucks. Besides taking control of all traffic as it came ashore, we picketed several large Nippo dumps nearby, and improvised a Jap prisoners' stockade.

     Finding several 1,000-lb craters near our bivouac behind the jetty, we surrounded one crater with barbed wire. Only one Nip was taken the night of D-Day, but he tried to escape tomorrow, and died trying. On D+3, we had another prisoner then two on D+5. By 20 August, we had impounded a total of 220, but we never had more than 12 at a time. We continually forwarded them to greater safety, at Base Section in Holandia.

     Although MPs guarded the Jap liquor dumps, some bottles got out - as you would expect, In the first week or so, especially, we had to deal with a number of drunken GIs. Later, we consolidated the dumps to make them easier to secure. Wisely, we destroyed some 500 cases of saki. Later, 41 QM took charge of the beer and rationed it out - about a bottle a day per man.

     Such is the official story of how 41 MP Platoon safeguarded Nippo liquor. But Clark admits his theft of four cases of Nippo red wine that he buried in the chilling sand. Every night, he took a bottle of saki to a nearby QM bakery and traded it for a loaf of fresh bread. Then his buddy and he feasted on red wine with new bread. Robinson unofficially issued beer to front-line troops. An officer could take out beer if he signed a chit, but enlisted men rated no chit. But Robinson let infan- try come down from the ridges, and hike back with cases. Robinson said that there were so many back-packers that they looked like a safari returning to the ridges.

     But MPs' main action on Biak was to perform humdrum police work to make victory possible while other men fought in the front lines. More and more supply and convoy trucks crowded the narrow Biak roads. The Division needed us for traffic cops, especially where the roads were one-way lanes. Three MPs were wounded on road-duty. Ivill was wounded when a Jap mortar made a near miss on a truck. A muzzle-burst of one of our own 155 mm howitzers wounded Witbeck. Martinsen suffered the worst wound of all. When his jeep hit a mine, it turned over on top of him. He still drew a total pension when he died in 1980.

     When Division Headquarters moved to Mokmer Drome after Parai Defile was cleared, an MP detachment went along. Often MPs went to the front to escort back prisoners. Back at Bosnek, our stockade held several officers - one even a Lieutenant Colonel. We built a larger stockade for our US prisoners. Besides 41st men who had gone wrong, we imprisoned Merchant Marines and Air Force men. We had caught them riskily souveniring in restricted areas. Fed on "C" rations and worked at digging graves, they lived unhappily.

     On 22 July - the day that Ibdi Pocket was bombed out- MPs' Corporal Sheible performed bravely back of the lines on a US Army transport. An ammonia bottle exploded in an engine store-room. Sheible ran below to drag men on deck whom the fumes had overcome. Sheible himself needed medical aid.

     On 5 October, Robinson and Sergeant Weske fought for a man's life. When MP Ostrowski was draining gasoline from a 55-gallon tank, his 5-gallon pail exploded, and wrapped him in flames. Although only in shorts, Robinson wrapped Ostrowski on a blanket and with Sergeant Weske rolled him away from the burning sand around the drum. Luckily, the drum did not explode and kill all three. Ostrowski died later, however.

 

CREDIT: Personal reports are from Col Paul Wendell's 7-page handwritten MS of late 1982, with Lewis F. Clark's letter of 6 November 1976, undated letter early 1981, and letter of 24 April 1981. Other letters were from Don Hedburg on 12 January 1978, and Paul Robinson on 29 April 1981. I used also Award Stories of Colonel (then Major) Paul Wendell, Corporals Joseph Sheibie and Matthew Trummer, and Jack Welch. Basic archival document is "Historical Report for the Year 1944" of 41 MP Platoon. This document discovered on my Division Assn Grant to Dwight Eisenhower Library at Abilene, Kansas.