Night Fight at Toem A Company 116th Engineer Combat Battalion

by PFC William J. Murray

             On May 17, 1944, A Company Combat Engineers of the 116th Battalion, landed on the Dutch, New Guinea, shore at Arare following the 3rd Battalion of the 163rd Infantry Regiment. Arare was approximately two miles across the water from Wakde Island. Company A settled at Toem, an area near Arare, and before long was engaged in construction of a two-lane truck road, along with the 27th engineer Battalion, and clearing areas for tents, etc.

During evening hours, listening posts were occupied to warn of any Jap activity in the area. Sergeant Mitchell Wisniewski, Pfc Ellsworth L. Nichols and I were assigned to a pillbox constructed mostly from coconut trees, with a covering of the same. Nichols and I had gone through Infantry training at Camp Wheeler in Macon, Georgia, and had machine gun and 82 MM mortar experience, as well as other weapons.

We were each assigned a certain number of hours during the watch, to be on the machine gun, a 30-caliber water-cooled gun with a flash hider.

On May 27, 1944, Wisniewski and Nichols were on watch in the pillbox. At this time I was in the tent waiting for my time to be on watch. I had my mosquito net down, my M-1 rifle close by and my helmet with two grenades inside it. I was to relieve Nichols on the gun when it was my time.

While I was waiting, darkness began setting in and sometime before it got real dark, I glanced over at the opposite side of the tent, and thought I was seeing things. A person had lifted one side of the tent flap, and without making a sound, had entered the tent. His movements appeared to be going through the barracks bags of the tents' occupants, who at that time were engaged in card games, etc., lighted by homemade kerosene lamps. It appeared as though the person who had entered the tent was using a rifle to poke into things, but made no commotion while doing so. About this time, I realized that things were not right in the tent, so I slowly removed the netting and got my rifle, helmet and hand grenades. It was about that time that all hell broke loose.

It was my understanding, from information I later received, that a lot of the explosions that followed were from the polished steel. At that point, I saw the outline of a person and fired my rifle. I can't recall anything else occurring during the remainder of darkness. With the coming of dawn, I saw a dead Japanese with his head blown off and part of it on our tent. The Jap's body was partially resting against a coconut tree next to our pillbox. His rifle was leaning against the tree with a white sock covering the bayonet.

            Upon looking through the aperture of the pillbox, I was amazed at the amount of dead Japanese, who were spread all over the place. At the opening was a Jap machine gun, which we called a wood chopper. Had the Jap been able to fire this gun, he would have killed the three of us. But because of Nichols sticking by his gun, he was able to kill this Jap machine gunner and many more.

There was an estimate that about 35 Japs were killed by our company, but there may have also been many more because it was known that the Japanese hauled away many of their deceased during the night and buried them.

Most of our company officers recommended Nichols, Wisniewski and myself for the Silver Star, but since each of the recommendations made were accompanied by a statement that none of them were present during the night of May 27th and the morning of May 28th, these recommendations were referred to commanding General Jens A. Doe, who turned them down with the comment "not favorably considered."

It is believed that the most decorated commanding officer in the Pacific area turned down the award recommendations, due to the fact that the officers were not in the area at the time of the action.


Editor's Note: George Moore writes: "I am sending you a story that should be printed in the Jungleer. I think it should be printed exactly as written. There are many members of the Association from "A" Company still alive to corroborate this story. The question I have, did the presence or absence of any officers detract from these men's performance of duties?"