116 Medics at Hollandia

By DR. HARGIS WESTERFIELD, Division Historian and GEORGE JACKSON (116 Medics)

 

            Slipping into Humboldt Bay in the dark before dawn 22 April 1944, A Company, 116 Medics, waited landing orders from the Aussie liner Westralia. Suddenly next to Westralia, Cruiser Boise let go in gigantic red flashes and swirls of smoke. From seven carriers Navy Hellcats whacked the beaches. And at 0705, A Company, 116 Medics, scrambled down boarding nets into LCMs, with Yanks of 162nd Regiment's 3rd Battalion. One Yank lost footing and fell into the calm waters. We never saw him again.

            Instead of landing at supposedly well-defended Hollandia itself, we had hit the west beach of Humboldt Bay; just one small bay south of Hollandia. North of us was Pancake Hill where Yanks found an undamaged anti-aircraft gun abandoned. It could have butchered many of us deploying on the beach below.

            Wading ashore, Jackson tripped on submerged wire and got more ankle sprains from concealed holes on that beach. We then hiked north up a thousand-foot hill on a slippery clay path. Every time a Medic stood still, he lost footing on that rain-wet clay and fell. Some Japs fired at us from caves, but 162nd Regiment's bazooka teams quickly bounced rockets into holes and shattered them.

            The night of 22 April, A Company, 116 Medics, dug in with 162nd Regiment's 3rd Battalion on Jarremoh Hill overlooking Hollandia. Some die-hard Japs infiltrated and picked fights with us. Boucher took a slug through both cheeks and upper jaw. One Jap tried to wrest Howard Williams' carbine from him but failed. One large Mongolian type was seen by the water-hole. On the east edge of the perimeter, two Japs died.

            On 23 April, A Company's Medics went to work twice before we moved out. First, one of our own mortar muzzle blasts laid out some Yank casualties for us. Second, as we stood up full pack, the final round of the 105mm bombardment of Hollandia struck a branch overhead. It burst with a terrific concussion: Jackson's hearing was addled for weeks. It had struck down the Yank between Devaney and Jackson. When he reached for his medical pack, he found that a shell-fragment had slapped through the pack and scrambled his supplies. With not a Jap in sight, we had fifty killed or wounded that hard morning before Hollandia.

            Now A Company, 116th Medics, marched with [the] 162nd Regiment down on Hollandia. It was a town of some eight blocks of scattered buildings in a shallow valley through which a creek meandered. A jetty stretched over shallow waters into the harbor.

            Our riflemen chased a few frustrated Japs on up the cliff projection toward the sea on the opposite side of town. In organizing the position, we had to take extreme care; Hollandia was heavily booby-trapped by us, and counter-trapped by Japs.

            A Company, 116th Medics, set up shelters on the beach and helped evacuate twenty-to-thirty wounded Yanks. Jackson accompanied the detail with them on an LST back to the west beach of Humboldt Bay where we had first landed. At the beach, we made much effort to give some shade to the supine wounded who could not move. Jackson even held his own helmet over one Yank to give the suffer a little shade

            Back in Hollandia, we and the sailors dug into the buildings for souvenirs. The Japs had abandoned even jelly candy and tangerine pop, and beer, and whisky. Men found Sake, and they lost all inhibitions. One Yank swallowed so much that he loaded up with weapons and went out to kill a man he hated. MPs halted him and then took charge of all the liquor they could extract from us. Zirk, with other medics, made a financial killing from gullible sailors. They discovered bales of Jap cloth and dye. Out of this cloth, they sewed together countless Jap flags, and sailors bought them wildly.                 

            Such was A Company, 116th Medics, a risky but light two days combat duty at Hollandia with only Boucher wounded and a near miss from our own 105mm [artillery] and no Medic dead. Came then a month of garrison duty with 162 Infantry. Meanwhile, 163 Infantry was painfully working its way up the coast from Aitape to storm Wakde and fight a war of nerves on the Toem foreshore. But on 25 May, A Company, 116th Medics, boarded LCI’S for that hellhole that Biak would become.

 

Credit:  For the A 116 story, I used George Jackson's diary; his stories of Sanananda and Biak were full-length and have appeared previously. For [the] 167th Field Artillery on Biak, I wrote from Unit History, 167th Field Artillery Battalion, BIAK Island Campaign. Also useful were Headquarters, 41st Division Artillery (Hurricane TF) - Biak Island Open Narrative Report, and RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines.