F Company 163 Infantry: Our Wakde Hell-Hole

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Staff Sergeant Ralph Marlow, Corporal Clyde Plummer, and PFC Lloyd Schulte

Driving for Toem Beach in the fourth wave, F Company 163 Infantry, only one sign of Japs on silent Wakde to port. A small gunboat drew Jap fire, which Navy shells quieted. Smoke from Wakde's flaming dumps obscured Toem, where Naval planes bombed and strafed for us.

"F" landed unopposed and hiked two jungle miles behind 1st Battalion and dug in near Toem Village. A patrol 300 yards on a trail from 2nd Battalion command post, found a small Jap bivouac and a .77 cannon with shells and fuses. Gun had not been fired. (The harassed Japs had withdrawn another gun with a 224 Infantry detachment.)

On guard that night, Lloyd Schulte saw a Jap column loom on the trail before his hole, bayonets fixed. With awaking Etchingham and Reeves, he fired and saw them drop to earth. Other Japs ran. One moaning Jap died at daylight. Of an estimated 12 Japs, we found one dead officer, two dead privates.

About 0900 that great battle morn of 18 May, "F" with "B" abreast on our right, was jammed in assault boats chugging from Toem to Wakde. Smoke and orange flashes of explosions rose from Wakde shaking like being torn apart from bombs of 36 A-20s of Fifth Air Force, 2350 Naval 5 or 6-inch shells, and our 167 Field Artillery, 218 Field Artillery, and Cannon 163. Small craft shot 850 rockets, 20mm and 40mm guns, while 641 TD mortars and all 163's heavy weapons fired from Insoemanai.

Then the Japs fought. Bullets at 600 yards sprayed our barges while "F" flattened on the bottom. Staff Sergeant Marlow heard the wounded coxswain scream from the barge leftwards. He fell forward. The barge circled unguided until another man steered it inshore.

In 2nd Platoon's barge, Staff Sergeant Plummer held dying Pfc. Other E. Dickson in his arms. A bullet knocked out Sergeant Al Brown's front teeth and burned his lips. Water in the boat reddened with blood from other men's wounds. When the ramp fell, we expected a machine gun to pile us up dead inside the barge.

Suddenly, 50 yards from the beach, the Jap fire lifted, for reasons unknown. Barges grounded; ramps fell; "F" dashed onto the beach and dropped among stumps and logs. Only 2nd Platoon's ramp jammed. Men swarmed down ramp and sides and raced  through shallows and fell prone. We tried to form a skirmish line with "B" on our right.

A  B Company man screamed that he was hit. Looking over our shoulders from the sand, we saw the second wave of "A" and "C" in a death storm. As the ramps dropped, men fell into the water or on the beach. Then Jap fire ceased again!

Leaping down the side of 2nd Platoon's barge, Plummer saw a large concrete blockhouse leftwards, but gunports were silent. Dashing from shell crater to shell crater up the beach, he found himself alone, under intense Jap fire too high to hit him.

Returned to the beach, Plummer found scared men bunched together like grapes. "Follow me or get killed here!" he warned. As they rose and went with him, Plummer thought that he had sprung all "F" from the beach. By now Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Kenneth Liebach lay dead, and four more "F" men were wounded. Sellick was shot in the right leg, Serby in left shoulder, Edgin in left wrist and elbow, and Staff Sergeant Charles Larsen in right wrist.

Now "F" moved slowly north from the beach, but for 3rd Platoon assigned to clear southwest Wakde. Nip fire on our left flank grounded our main body.

Plummer saw a tank land from a barge. As its treads hit land, it pumped two shells into that silent blockhouse. With another tank, it drove for three Jap pillboxes firing intensely. The two tanks blasted all three pillboxes into the air. Now with tank protection at first, we advanced as skirmishers on Wakde Strip. The tanks left us to fight for C Company on our right. A sniper wounded Sartibonez in left shoulder.

Meanwhile, 2nd Lieutenant Thomas' detached 3rd Platoon fought hard on southwest Wakde. Trying to clear nearly destroyed remains of old coconut plantation buildings, we battled formidable pillboxes among them. From Captured Rhodes Ridge to the southeast, A Company reinforced us with the two tanks recalled from C Company. It took 30 minutes' battle around noon, with rifles, grenades, tank machine guns - and even bayonets - to clear the plantation houses. Probably here Corporals Jack P. Von Hoene and Everett Shields died - Shields with a bullet in the head. We had six more "F" men wounded by bullets: Lyons in shoulder, side unspecified; Filippone in left shoulder and neck; Galindo in right shoulder; Valles and Sergeant Gilley both in left knees.

F's main body now turned west 'along the south side of Wakde Strip. But we made only a few yards before a machine gun halted us 150 yards from a revetment (a semi-circular mound of earth to protect Jap planes from bombs). We halted and set up a machine gun because we had orders to protect C Company trying to cross the Strip northwards. Major Wing wanted to cut off Jap attempts to build up a new line on western Wakde. While we waited, a bullet entered Kraus' head just over the ears. Medic T/5 Malanca saved Kraus to go home for honorable discharge.

"C" started across the Strip. Two Japs dragged a machine gun from a revetment and fired on "C" men in the open. Machine-gunner Thomas and assistant Rutzatz and BARman Schulte leaped on the Strip and drove the Jap machine gun back into hiding.

Jap fire from the east kept half of "C" from crossing the Strip, but "F" had orders to fight west again, all three platoons in line of skirmishers, right flank on the Strip.

Jap fire grounded us again from a ravine in high weeds, but the machine gun shot too high to hit us. Sergeant Williams' grenades drew two Jap grenades in return. One exploded between his legs, but the fragments missed him. Williams, Staff Sergeant Lamb, Reeves, and others charged with grenades and heavy fire and smothered the Japs' wild return volleys.

To the far right, we found the four Jap machine gun crewmen who had shot at "C" crossing the Strip - in a shell hole just a few feet in front. Miller and Corporal Feigar threw grenades and attacked with M-1s. Hunter dived in with BAR bursts. We slew all four Japs.

In that silent ravine, we found 11 mangled bodies on the sides of a long trench two feet wide, and seven bodies in another 2-foot trench. Several rifles were there, machine guns, and a pile of unexploded grenades.         

Orders came to turn back southeast and help B Company in heavy fighting. Out of water, we had only milk from green coconuts, if we were lucky to get them. A few of us had time to fill canteens from a coral quarry pool - milk-white water almost boiling from the sun. Too soon, we were hurried south to reinforce B Company.

While trying to press the main Wakde garrison into small northeast Wakde, "B" was having a hard time. From thick brush, machine guns with grenadiers and mortarmen had stopped "B." Japs were slipping around between B's right flank and the sea to menace our crowded beach-head with its supplies and wounded.

Marching 650 yards south, we crouched passing B Company's rear and saw men baking in shell-holes under blazing sun. We crawled among pieces of corrugated tin and splintered lumber among smashed buildings.

Orders came to jump up and charge to a new line, two at a time. Running across a wrecked, tin-covered wreck of a building, Schulte dropped into a small depression. Jap Bullet No.1 hit nine feet before him. Bullet No.2 hit six feet before him. Bullet No.3 hit three feet before him. Schulte rose and ran back and saved his life.

"F" had pushed too far ahead of B Company. Corporal Plummer found six men alone in an L-shaped Jap trench, and got them back to the shell-hole that was Battalion Headquarters. "F" then pulled back to fill canteens from a water-tank drawn by a jeep. After a cool, liquid moment, "F" deployed farther south. Orders were to dig in for the night, but Jap fire was heavy.

Dashing under fire around a rubble pile, Plummer jumped into a shell-hole and took a deadly bullet as he knelt to shoot. His chest seemed to cave in. He straightened up, and shoo like a snapped bow-string. He collapsed, head on his knees. Blood gushed from his mouth - a pint or so on that white coral in seconds. Able to move only his head, he thought that he called Cowan to bring Medic Malanca. Two stretcher bearers bent double for safety ran in and dragged out Plummer. He lived, but was paralyzed from the waist down.

Meanwhile, 1st Lieutenant Ferguson our Commanding Officer, had convinced 2nd Battalion Headquarters that "F" was advanced too far. We had to crawl back across the north-south road to dig in for the night. Soil was too rocky for holes, but shell-craters were plentiful. That night, our field artillery kept us awake with 20 harassing rounds hourly. Nips screamed, crept close, fired a few machine gun bursts. When they sniped from debris piles, we had to stand and empty guns at them.

Next morning, 19 May, without breakfast, we crouched waterless in front-line shell-holes under a sun blazing by 0800. South near the beach-head, a huge smoke-pall arose where Nip raiders had burned six 5-ton Air Force Mack trucks.

About 1100, our three tanks clanked up to help us. The Nips now put up the last brave fight of their group. They shot heavily into our perimeter center; we shot back. Crawling from heaps of tin, rock, and lumber, they fought prone, often just a few feet from our line. Tucci rose to his feet and slew a Nip officer creeping in on us.

The Japs had perfect cover behind a riddled coconut log fallen across the road last night. Rowe stood to fire; a Jap shot him over the temple. While bandaging him, Malanca was hit in left shoulder, but refused aid until Rowe's life was saved.

In fighting groups around the tanks, "F" fixed bayonets and advanced on a 3-company front, "B" on our left up to the Strip, and "C" on our right down to the sea. Nip fire ceased. Our tanks crawled over huge debris piles and blazed down with machine guns while we searched out what they had missed.

2nd Lieutenant Cammenca suddenly jumped sideways before a dugout mouth and pointed his carbine. But he pressed magazine release instead of his safety and dropped the clip. He tossed in a grenade. The muffled explosion told us that the Nip had clasped it to his stomach. When Sergeant Reeves threw a grenade, a second Nip died in the same way. Another grenade slew two more Nips in a connecting tunnel.

Resting on a coconut log, Schulte saw the elbow of a supposedly dead Jap move under the log, heard a grenade tapped to arm it. Schulte's BAR jammed, but he worked the lever and got off just one shot to kill the Nip.

At the beach ahead, all companies almost stampeded for water welling from a bottomless Jap drum sunk in the sand. We drank deep and turned to the heavily timbered cliffs of northeast Wakde where Japs still lurked. As we passed a burning Jap dump, a. 50 shell exploded and wounded Staff Sergeant McGowan in his left hand.

While trying to mop up the cliff area, 2nd Platoon had trouble. A bullet from a cave struck Sergeant Herbert Lisiecki in the chest; he died in the ambulance. A bullet hit Sergeant Cameron's right elbow. Another smashed 2nd Lieutenant Houser's .45 in his shoulder holster, and knocked him down. But the pistol deflected the bullet and saved his life.

As darkness fell, "F" quietly returned to our holes of that morning. Weirdly quiet was the dead Jap line ahead. We last ate 24 hours back. Now our kitchen served hot beans, salmon, and coffee. Next morning, 20 May, we woke in our holes and felt much better. Breakfast was corn flakes, grapefruit juice, coffee - with filled canteens and cigarettes.

We returned to northeast Wakde for the last Japs. When 2nd Platoon took fire from the caves, we needed special weapons. A bazooka failed. A tank could not approach on that narrow beach, nor depress its 75 from above to shoot into the caves. We poured half a Jap gas barrel over the cliff, dropped the other half to the beach, then lit it with a flame-thrower. After a blaze, we advanced down to the beach, shooting or grenading any suspected dark places on the slope. We saw no more Japs, only huge piles of equipment.

After hot supper again good news cheered us. We were leaving Wakde for Toem aboard an LST. Staff Sergeant Marlow pitied his men with their exhausted, dirty faces under 3-day beards. Fatigues were blackened and torn. Only a few talked, even to a buddy nearby. Rationed for just eight hours on Wakde, we had fought for three days.

In three days' battle, "F" lost four dead, 17 wounded to hospital, of whom three died and 15 were wounded the first day. Wakde was costly for "F ", despite aid of tanks and field artillery. But we slew 87 Nips on 18 May alone. Despite thirst and bloodshed, ours was a well-fought battle for Wakde - on the beach and in front-line shell-holes. 

CREDIT. F 163's historian, S/Sgt Marlow, provided a 10-page typescript.  Corporal Plummer gave me a 13-page handwritten manuscript, and Lloyd Schulte a 7-page letter of 30 Dec 1978.  Useful also were Corporal Frank Feifar's and T/5 Medic Malanca's medal stories, Colonel (then Major) Leonard Wing's "One Step Westward" from Infantry Journal, RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines, 163's Journal 17-30 May 1944, and Casualty Reports 17-30 May 1944.