116 Engineers Combat Battalion

by Sergeant Ken Gwin with Frank Turosik with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

Continued from Salamaua Campaign…

In 1944, A 116 Engineers was on the Toem mainland after 163 Infantry wiped out the Wakde Island garrison. Now 163's combat team needed water purification units, but the Quartermaster detachment refused us even one of them. For needed water, we had to bulldoze troughs in the sand.

To get the purification units, Gwin called on Saylor Hayden. Hayden had been a carnival fire-eater.

With two more Engineers, Hayden and Saylor trucked to Quartermasters. Hayden did his fire act to distract the guards' attention. He safely singed hair from his arms, put fire into his mouth, put it out, and relighted it still in his mouth. While guards watched, our truck drove by, loaded three purification units, and drove them back to our perimeter. We set up two water points, even a shower piped in by bamboo joints.

The night the Japs struck, Gwin had gone with McMillen to the latrine just before bedtime. This was behind a long pile of brush that the bulldozers had left. Bill Mossman and Canadian Indian Paul were outposted in a hole around the end of the brush heap about 90 feet away.

When the Japs charged, Bill Mossman died before he could empty the whole clip from his tommy gun. Paul saved his own life by hiding all night under Mossman's body.

For McMillen and Gwin, life became tense. McMillen went towards the kitchen to fight, whistling "Yankee Doodle." Gwin broke through the brush back to his tent for his M-1. The main Jap charge was coming through a bit to his left. He guesses that he slew maybe 11 Japs on the shower floor.

When a Jap was hit, he squealed like a pig. Of A 116's five dead and two wounded, Gwin remembers just two casualties. Staff Sergeant George Eichenlaub's shattered arm was dangling by strips of flesh. Without a medic to help, Staff Sergeant Delbert Martin and another Engineer tried to use a belt for a tourniquet, but could not apply it right. Eichenlaub died. Ronald Robertson was hit in the jaw, but Morris Adams did find a Medic to give him first aid and help him to a ship where doctors could save his life.

Next morning while in a group with Captain Casper checking for casualties, Gwin saw a Jap officer lying on his back between his hole and dead Mossman's. Although motionless, the Jap held a hand grenade in his right hand poised just above his helmet. Gwin's M-1 shot from the hip. The bullet hit the Jap in his left ear and came out behind the helmet. His helmet liner contained a map of Jap emplacements, which was sent to Intelligence. Headquarters had those emplacements shelled and bombed.

All night, Gwin had no thought of being killed. But he had left his air mattress inflated for a good night's rest. He expected that the mattress would be riddled, but the bullets had impacted under his cot.

 

Continued in Zamboanga Campaign…