2nd Battalion 186 Infantry LST to Hollandia
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, and Unnamed E Company 186 Infantryman

This is what life was like for men of 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) when bound for the Hollandia beachheads. Arriving in trucks at Finschafen Beach in a cloud of red dust, we threw out heavy duffle-bags and hit the sand. Knees buckled with weight of rifle, bandoliers, belt, canteens, and full packs. Shouldering bags, we sweated through dunes to form up before the lowered ramp of the LST.

As the Top-Sergeant called our names, we lined up in order - then waited four hours. At first, we lined up ready to move. We wanted freedom from our heavy equipment. Sun-heat permeated the sand and shimmered in waves before our eyes. Ammo belts cut off circulation of the air that might evaporate our heavy sweat. Sweat-darkened packs cut our shoulders; bandoliers hung down like warm chains. The hot sun weighted our backs. Finally, we stripped off equipment and propped rifles on our backs to keep them clean from the sand.

As the fourth hour ended, we heard, "We're moving." Some promptly struggled into gear. Others sat on packs until the first men climbed the plank, then hurried to "saddle up." Shouldering barracks bags, we shuffled a few feet at a time until the officer called off our names. We mounted the ramp into the seeming restful dark of the loading hold.

Dumping our heavy gear, we at once got a hard loading detail back on the sun struck beach. For two hours, we relieved the crew to load 105 Field Artillery shells and push them on rollers to a mound at the far end of the LST.

The ramp lifted; the ship's engines vibrated below. But our loaded LST could not loose itself from the beach. We herded aft to the fantail to shift weight. The engines eased the LST off a few feet at a try. At last it slipped quietly into deep water, then anchored to wait for other ships.

We ate hungrily from 10-in-1 rations - cans of peas, beans, and tomatoes passed from man to man. Then we inspected our LST. It was merely a deck built over a hold - a hollow flat-bottomed shell. The hold was stacked with ammo and other supplies to within a foot of the deck over-head. On the deck, 6x6 trucks were chained hub to hub, their green tarpaulin backs humped high with supplies. (We did not carry buffaloes for landing because these two companies of 2nd Battalion 186 were not to land until D+1.)

The parked trucks did not occupy all the LST deck. At the rear, the fantail was clear, but reserved for officers' mess, and cordoned off by guards. Down steps on both sides, were compartments reserved for sailors and maybe 200 of 2nd Battalion's men. These privileged 100 were officers, first-graders, orderly room staff, guards, cooks with KPs, and some senior Staff Sergeants. They ranted bunks and a roof from the Guinea rains that would hit us four out of five days on board.

And 800 of the 1000 men of the two companies were confined to life on the crowded open deck. The first who boarded were a little better off. A very few of the most knowing rushed to seize the narrow nook between the rail and the walled entrances to the hold.

Here they spread ponchos on the painted-over rusty deck and inflated flotation bladders for pillows. They could take a pocket book from the pack and read - and hope for a rain-free ocean passage. A number of still comparatively lucky men spread ponchos and inflated flotation bladders under the trucks. Greatest worry here was the flow of rain water down the decks - or to chance little rivulets of dirty water over rusty steel if the deck was hosed.

Truck drivers were lucky, out of the overhead rain with their equipment. When wind drove the slanting rain in side-ways, they huddled behind their ponchos. Other lucky men found crannies to lie among supplies sheltered under the cover of the truck. Others curled up on hoods or fenders. After dark, about 200 of us still had to use less safe spaces. We had to take over the narrow paths that the guards held open in daylight. While the moving LST creaked in the seas beneath, we stretched out gratefully on the clean sides of our ponchos - if no rain was falling.

We hoped that nobody going to the latrine, or early riser, would step on us. With too short an interval of dark, and light sleeping, we had to wake half-rested to men walking over our heads and the glare of another New Guinea day.

This was how 2nd Battalion 186 men boarded an LST battle-loaded for Hollandia. This was how we sought to find a space for a man to lie beside his pack.

But after boarding it, how did we live in this jam of cargo, crew, and soldiers on this LST! How did we endure our five days from Finsch north to the Admiralty Islands, then south in the dark to land at Hollandia? How did we try to keep clean? What did we do to relieve our boredom mostly on we those open decks under Guinea sun and Guinea rain? How did go about eating and sleeping?

Brought up all our lives to keep clean, we had dire problems on this LST with too many men and too little water. If lucky, we had a chance to enjoy fresh water - perhaps. Water was turned on from 0600 to 0700, 1100 to 1200, and 1600 to 2100. We had just eight wash basins (besides some for the privileged officers and men in their compartments). We lined up impatiently waiting to wash and shave in the cold water of unsanitary basins. There were also two fresh-water showers and a salt-water shower - if we had time to use them. (The LST had 10 toilets for us – four below and six topside and a urinal six feet long.)

We were now short of drinking water. To fill canteens, we had four spigots - one to port, one to starboard, and two more amid ship. We were monitored to keep from using up the water to wash. Occasionally, of course, a man did get away with some water, when unwatched. Or if patient enough to stand in line, he could empty his canteen into his helmet concealed somewhere, then line up at other spigots for more canteen fills. Then he could wash and shave in his comparatively clean helmet.

In those days before beards were stylish, it felt glorious to have a smooth, clean face again. The soapy, used water was left in the helmet to fight off the continuous accumulation of grime on the hands.

Getting a bath in one of those three showers was still more enjoyable. But any kind of cleaning was always hard, time-consuming tedium to line up and wait. Some men sat passive all day and never washed. Others managed to get a shower and shave every day.

One type of personal cleanliness, most of us carried out religiously every day. This was caring for our rifles, BARs, machine guns, mortars, and pistols - if we had pistols. To counter salt-water rust, we spread our ponchos and disassembled weapons on them. Carefully, we cleaned and oiled those weapons that our lives depended on. Faithfully carrying out this task relieved our fears. We caressed our weapons affectionately; we knew that we couldn't live without them.

We still fought boredom on this crowded open deck bound north to the Admiralties and south to Hollandia. Of course, we talked a lot about furloughs and 3-day passes to Australia and back in the States - women and drinks and hotels when we had been free from the camps. Always, we remembered our lives Stateside. Even the bare barracks at home now looked good to us - with an American PX around the comer. Beyond those posts were paradises of our homes. Almost any town you named in America seemed like home as we leaned on the rails and watched the dark outlines of the great attack fleet stretching over the horizon.

We spent plenty of time reading. We had letters and pictures - pictures that we passed around. Some of us had Time or Newsweek or Yank. Or we had comic books, "Superman" especially. Or we drew from our packs the oblong "Council" paperbacks with fiction and biography. Reading awhile, a man lost touch with this crowded world of men going to battle. As the waters seemed to flow past the LST, he looked happily over the rail to sunlit blue waters. He forgot war - even the dark silhouettes of over 100 amphibian craft, or destroyers or cruisers or flat-tops around him in almost countless numbers.

Like trying to keep clean and trying to sleep, trying to eat on this crowded LST was another difficult maneuver. We had two meals daily, the first at 0800 for breakfast - lunch, the second at 1530 for lunch-supper. (Thus we could have "lunch" twice daily, if we took both meals!) With maybe 16 hours between supper and breakfast next morning, a man might tap some of the K-rations he was to save for the beachhead.

At chow-time, we took up every bit of space on the deck with our mess-gears. We formed in a long line winding around the ship. We overflowed the narrow, hot passage-ways below. We stood like an unending column for the two-hour periods twice daily that were needed to feed everybody.

We remember one rainy suppertime forever during that five-days' imprisonment on the LST (when it rained four out of five days).

This day had alternated dark clouds with sunshine, but about 1530 with chow-call, a thin shower began. Most of us expected that it would halt. But as we waited in the line, the shower became a heavy drizzle. Wind blew it in misty gusts around the ship.

With backs already splattered, we tried to crowd below, but the narrow door and steep, dirty, slippery stairs retarded us.

We could only button collars, shake out caps, and pull the bills over our eyes. We huddled our shoulders against the chill. Others waited in the open and pressed against a truck, hatchway, or gun-turret while hoping that the wind would deflect some of the water.

Finally we reached the counter where the KPs ladled out food from the big marmite cans. Perhaps it was a heap of dehydrated potatoes and canned beef - tasteless or repellent, but food anyhow. We actually had bread and coffee. Then we were out in the rain again and slipping through the crowd over the wet deck, where you had to watch out for the many chains trying to trip you.

The heated mess-gear burned our hands, yet rain fell into it. We rested it on the deck and ate as fast as we could while the Guinea rain cooled the coffee. Then we worked our way aft to the fan-tail to try to sterilize our gear in the rain-cooled cans of soapy water and rinse water. It was another meal we preferred not to think about - the next coming 16 hours off.

With the falling light, the rain stopped for awhile that night. If the rain had quit during sunshine, the deck and part of our fatigues would have dried. Now we had to spread our ponchos on the paddled deck and warm our soaked uniforms under our ponchos wrapped around us with our clammy body-heat. The cloudy, darkening night made us feel even colder.

The rains hit us again on the deck. We could not dash below, for we hit another jam in the hatchways. We had a door and a black out curtain to pass through so that a Jap submarine might not spot us miles away and come in to kill. The guard dared to let in only three men at a time into space between door and curtain. Then he closed the door and blacked out the space until the three men had passed the curtain.

Finally inside, we floundered in dim, red light down steps and a passageway among blurred, sprawled bodies. Here we nestled on the floor on our wet life preservers and dried out and tried to sleep until the tropical heat drove us back on deck again. Rain still fell; we huddled shivering under dripping ponchos and tried to warm ourselves with our breath.

Thus went our nightmare trip to Hollandia Beach-Head. Although part of our 2nd Battalion 186 landed on 22 April and went into general reserve on the Pim-Hollandia Trail west of Pancake Hill, we did not unload until 23 April. But by 25 April, we were deep in the Hollandia mud when we followed 3rd Battalion west on the north shore of Lake Sentana to Nefaar Village that night. On 26 April, we boarded LVTs on Lake Sentana at Nefaar and landed at Ifaar two miles west. Pushing about a mile inland, we had secured wrecked and abandoned Sentani Strip by 1215.

After monotonous discomfort for long days aboard our LSTs, Finschafen to Hollandia, 2nd Battalion 186's operation was mostly just muddy jungle marching with only slight Jap contact. It was, however, disciplined training for our great days in battle on Biak - the waterless overland marching, and closing the Great Gap for 162 Infantry on Mokmer Ridge.

CREDIT: Source of these memories is a 40-page, handwritten manuscript, probably written at Kure for the original Division history, although it never gets into combat. Author was surely from E-186, because he mentions these E 186 names in a May, 1944, payroll: Sergeants Rodansky and Suanter, with Nixon, Paulie, Musulin, Sawyer, Rogers, and Suttles. For Hollandia history, I used R.R. Smith, Approach to the Philippines, and some of my own experiences as a rider of LSTs.