A Company,163 Infantry: Combat Tour of Wakde

By DR. HARGIS WESTERFIELD, Association Historian

 

            Jammed into LCVPs striking for Wakde Island at 0915 18 May 1944, A Company 163 Infantry expected no Japs. But at 500 yards, bullets slapped the water like New Guinea rain [all] around us. Bullets pierced gunwales and two navy coxswains died in Weapons platoon and HQ boats.       

            We hit the beach in the third wave at 0930. We dashed off barges [and] dived into sand below bullet level. The first two waves of 163rd Infantry flattened out and blocked us almost completely from attacking. Machine gun slugs hit flesh; Pfc Pete Hererra died at once. Sergeant John J. Behuncik was shot in the back to linger dying until 5 July. Stevens took bullets in his leg and hand. Lieutenant Rhodes was wounded and Lieutenant Jensen became Company Officer. Already Sergeants Russ and Davenport scouted inland, returned to guide first and third platoons on our primary mission.

            We had to take "Mount Wakde," a knoll 20-25 feet high on the southeast spearhead cape which commanded our beach-head. Weapons and E Company men on Insoemanai had been shot from there; Major Wing expected heavy resistance.

            We cut the neck of the cape, then slowly bombed out pill- boxes. From a pillbox, a Jap fired and grazed Hendrix' helmet. As the Jap raised his head again, Sergeant Russ killed him. On top of Mt. Wakde, we destroyed a troublesome machine gun nest. A bunker held us briefly but we bombed it out and killed just 12 Nips on the heights.

            Leaving third platoon's third squad to garrison Mt. Wakde, A Company went to help F Company clear out the nearly destroyed plantation houses 300 yards northwest of the beach. Here Nip machine guns had halted F Company and pinned it down. F Company was in a bowl with Nips firing down their throats from the rim.

            While building up a line behind F and waiting for tank assistance, we found several cases of Sake, wine, and whiskey, which we stuffed into our packs. While Lieutenant Jensen was briefed by F Company’s  platoon leader, T/Sgt Russ got angered at Jap riflemen firing at us. He scaled the steep slope and slew all nine. Now the tanks helped us help F Company out of trouble, half an hour of violent in-fighting. Sergeant Krushevsky guided a tank against a pillbox. In the debris, he advanced before the tank, drew fire, and then blasted the pillbox with his BAR until the tank killed the pillbox.

            Meanwhile securing our rear, Sergeant Mandy's Weapons platoon killed three Japs overlooked in trenches behind us. Hearing suspicious noises in three bunkers on our right flank, Humphrey volunteered to secure the bunkers. In a bunker, a Jap was manipulating a machinegun bolt. Humphrey fired, threw six grenades into the bunker to quiet it. When he poked a bayonet at a "dead" Jap, the Jap revived [and] tried to wrestle Humphrey's rifle from him. Surprised Humphrey finally unlatched the safety [and] killed the Jap.

            Now A Company continued its tour of Wakde. Moving past the rear of F Company, we rounded the north end of Wakde Strip to clear the west end of the island. While first and second platoons moved abreast of F Company on our right, and third platoon's two squads covered our rear, we pushed ahead. Past the north end of Mokmer Strip, we extended our line leftwards and combed the area thoroughly. Heat was almost unbearable. We had no water, and coconut milk had to quench our thirst. With F Company, we attacked the northwest curve of Wakde Island.

            Pushing down a dispersal lane southwest of the air strip, we found three Jap bunkers to our right. At twenty yards, tank 75s smashed them; but from foxholes to our rear, Japs threw grenades and attacked. Our Barmen dispersed them or dropped them dead.

            Parting with F Company, which went to assist B Company on the south side of Wakde strip, we probed eastward 500 yards in the narrow space between the north shore and the Strip. We found coral crevices and rocks, caves and thick brush, and a congeries of wrecked planes, trenches, and other equipment. Here A Company found wounds and death in the confused battle of the revetments at the east end of Wakde strip. On first contact, Commanding Officer Jensen formed a temporary perimeter, and then sent first and third platoons to fight the Japs. We advanced up a narrow coral dispersal strip flanked by revetments into Jap rifle-fire.

            Fletcher took a head-wound as Jap fire pinned third platoon down. When first platoon formed as skirmishers immediately before three revetments, Lieutenant Thompson was out of action with a hand wound. T/Sgt Hansen took command; but both platoons remained flat under rifle fire.

            Then Staff Sergeant Byrum Jones' squad moved in to scout a revetment. As his patrol fanned out into the brush, Jones came in behind seventeen Japs with three machine guns in a large hole in the side of a revetment. With John A. Adams volunteering from a light machine gun crew to help, Jones attacked them. Jap machine gun fire from the opposite revetment cut them off, wounding both men slightly. With rifles and grenades, they cleared out the Jap position. But when they tried to rejoin their squad, heavy machine guns killed them. Jurasin assumed command of Jones' squad, pulled it back and redeployed on the flank of the deadly revetment. With BARs and grenades they silenced that revetment.

            Here first platoon's Sergeant Adolph L Gibbs won honor and death. Called to A Company's Command Post to bring information, he was told to take four men for protection. Gibbs refused to weaken the firing-line, [he was able to] evaded machine gun and rifle-fire to go alone. After giving Jensen his data, Gibbs again returned unguarded.

            About 200 yards from [the] Command Post, Gibbs saw three Japs mounting an light machine gun on a wrecked plane. They were about to shoot up A Company's Command Post; but Gibbs bombed them out instead. A rifleman killed Gibbs.

            Meanwhile A Company's Weapons platoon fought its own action in the Command Post's rear. When Japs killed our D Company observer, Sergeant Mandy, with Tombleson, P. Jones, and other Weapons men scouted rearward. We spotted Japs behind fallen palms. Mandy chose a position where he could observe any movement [and] he killed five Japs. One of them stood up with a rifle in his hand and called "Me no Jap!" Mandy killed him also.

            Now Jensen sent runners to call in the tired platoons to form [a] night perimeter. Jap fire had died down; first and third platoons could pull back. Now dangerously exposed north of the strip with nothing on our left flank and B Company too far to our right across the open ground, A Company dug in for the night. Eight Japs walked into first platoon's field of fire. Gordy, Zirkle, Sergeant Charles Jones killed them a few yards from our holes. Our night was pleasantly quiet.

            Our second day on Wakde, 19 May, was much easier. All morning, we crouched in our perimeter to wait for B and C Companies to contact us. Light sniper fire peppered us all morning but Sergeant Curry was the only casualty with a leg-wound. In late afternoon, B and C Companies arrived. We had the Japs in a pocket. The tank with B Company knocked out the Jap position. In the ensuing wild shooting, Devine, Whetstone, [and] Sergeant Wilson picked off five Japs.

            And 19 May's fight ended when we pulled back into the battalion perimeter. While the last Wakde Japs died of wounds or cowered in holes, we had a surprise hot meal under Major Wing's auspices. On 20 June, we returned to the revetment area to flush out more Japs. When our skirmish-line found some out of reach in a cave on the northeast beach, Fallinger helped. He climbed into a precarious position and killed the cave with a flame-thrower. Tom Moore teamed with B Company men to rescue B Company's mortally wounded Sergeant Loren E. Case.

            On 20 May 1944, after three days, we left Wakde forever; but trouble waited for us on the nearby New Guinea mainland on the Toem foreshore. On 27 May, a week later, A Company sent 100 men to Hurricane Task Force headquarters back up the beach to unload LSTs. At 1930, air-raid warnings caused our party to be sent ashore. About to entruck for camp in the dusk, we learned that Japs were fighting back in our first battalion lines. We spent that night protected by a few Engineers at the beach and wondered what had become of our buddies left back at the camp.

            Back in camp next morning, we learned that the main Jap thrusts were on both sides of us, C Company on our left and A Company 116 Engineers on our right. In the A Company street, the Japs set up machineguns and sprayed our tents. Yet all the A Company men in camp regrouped in the rear, but four men on outpost, LaRoue, Denny, Hill, Bud Einboden. The Japs missed these men who came back alive at dawn. A Company had no casualties; but we spent

the next two days building positions and manning them all night.

            On 30 May we boarded LCIs to fight the Japs who were rumored to be defeating the Division on Biak. Leaving flat, wooded, Toem Foreshore in our wake, we had shell-withered "American" Wakde on our starboard before we turned west for Biak. We were glad to leave that spooky Toem foreshore. And our combat tour of Wakde was a tough little action, the machine-gun blast on the beaches, helping F Company out of that frightful little hollow, the battle of the revetments. We had been lucky to lose only five Yanks killed in action. Eleven would die in the coral ridges of Biak compared to five in the brush of Wakde.

 

Credit: Prime source is "History of Company A, 163 Infantry," which is complete through Biak. Dale Adams and Col. Howard A. McKinney both submitted copies. Also important are "Awards Lists," although I could have missed some stories because I could not link up every man's name with the company where he got the Award. Also indispensable were "One Step Westward, by a Battalion Commander" (attributed to Major Leonard Wing, which appeared in Infantry Journal and is used by permission), and RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines.