B Company 116 Medical Battalion: Medic Schooley’s Battle of Sanananda

By Staff Sergeant K. B. Schooley, B 116 Medics with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


At 0930 on 3 January 1943, 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry’s Medics emplaned from Port Moresby for the Battle of Sanananda. NCO in charge of 2nd Battalion’s Medics was Staff Sergeant Schooley, a well-liked leader of men. To Schooley, the half-hour flight was event-less, except for some rough weather above the Owen Stanley Mountains.

But when the plane door opened at Dobodura, we stepped into an oven of humid heat. With nearly 100 pounds’ equipment and rations, we floundered along a muddy jeep track. Heat was terrific, especially in those sunstruck kunai openings. In 30 suns truck, sweaty minutes, 2nd Battalion learned that the Army routine of 50 minutes’ hiking and 10 minutes’ rest was impossible. We slogged 20 minutes, rested 30 - took six hours to make four miles. Some of us had more medical supplies in 60mm mortar bags. A jeep loaded those bags for us. We never saw them again.

That night, our war began. About 2200 while miserably awake under buckets of rain, we heard shots and a scream. A trigger-happy guard saw a small tree fall and shot at it for a Nip. The bullets broke one man’s leg, mutilated another leg of a man lying in the line of fire.

Captain Harry Smith and 1st Lieutenant Burleson gave first aid. A litter squad with 12 riflemen to help, slopped into the dark to Dobodura Hospital. They returned sleepless, had to march all day with us.

At daybreak, we hiked five miles more to Soputa, ankle-deep in mud on a slippery trail. There we built beds above ground, and swam. To replace the supplies that the jeep carried off, we hiked to Buna for more.

About 2230 the night of 7 January, three shots alerted us for Jap raids. But another Yank was shot. A guard had panicked when his relief guard crept up in the dark. The three shots pierced the stomach of the relief guard. Despite three hours’ labor with poor facilities, Captain Smith could not save him.

Early next morning, he died of shock and loss of blood. Earlier on that 7 January, we detached a litter squad to E Company, which reinforced 1st Battalion in Musket Perimeter. PFC Verne Morgan guided Hibbard, Birkestol, and Donahue. A California Klamath Indian, Donahue was so dark that Papuans had chattered when they saw him.

On 8 January, when “B” and “C” disastrously attacked Perimeters Q and R, Staff Sergeant Pete Johnson merely ordered, “Go out and get a casualty.” Without direction or distance specified, Morgan’s men just hunted towards the firing.

They heard a call for help 200 yards out but could not see the man. Cutting away brush, Hibbard found a Yank with right arm almost shot off. Hibbard dressed the wound, helped lift him into the litter.

Carrying him across fairly open ground, we took fire from Jap rifles and a machine gun. We ran, but Donahue fell. The casualty rolled off our grounded litter. We hit holes.

Donahue said, “They got me.” He held up his holed forearm. Morgan crawled to find seven wounds on Donahue - the other six on legs and hips, probably from the machine gun.

Hurrying the casualty to the aid station, the other three rushed back to Donahue. Private Donahue was dead, a Klamath Indian whose name never appeared on 163’s casualty list. We pause to honor him here.

On 9 January, Morgan’s men rejoined Schooley to participate with 2nd Battalion 163’s most important strategy of Sanananda Battle. This was cutting the supply line to Jap Perimeters P - those formidable strong points that were crucial to victory, This was 2nd Battalion’s move past Musket west over Suicide Trail to cut Killerton Track.

Schooley’s men long remembered that hike under heavy packs in mud and water waist-deep. Heat was stifling. At 1100, firing began ahead. Prone by the trail, we got orders to rescue G Company’s casualties.

While still in the fire-lanes from a dominating Jap machine gun, Captain Smith and G Company Medics patched up casualties. Ten minutes after the fight, began, G Company’s Medic Mivelaz took a bullet in right chest while trying to save a wounded rifleman. Passing our Captain, he said, “I sure as hell hate to let you down like this, Smitty.”

Meanwhile, Schooley’s Medics improvised new litters from jungle saplings and ponchos. Exposed to the Jap machine gun, we rolled the wounded into litters to carry back to Musket Aid Station, then down to 17 Portable Hospital at Soputa. Even four carriers found it backbreaking to carry 170 pounds of wounded man through that mud waist-deep.           .

While we saved wounded, H Company’s Escobar climbed a tree to adjust fire on that heavy machine gun from H Company’s 81 mm mortars. Over the phone, he shouted out ranges so loudly that we could hear him at 500 yards. Our mortars killed that Jap heavy machine gun.

Bedded down in new Perimeter Rankin (named after 2nd Battalion’s Commanding Officer) 300 yards east of Killerton Track, we had a whole night without rain. On 10 January, rifle patrols and Aussie can-trenches into bathtubs with water up to our ears.

We heard swearing as men bailed out water with their helmets. By dawn, our aid station was a foot under water. Medic Scanlon stayed in his hole because the water was warmer than the air. Pillowed on his pack, he smoked his pipe and seemed thoroughly satisfied with life.

On 11-16 Jan, Jap rifle fire was scattered while 2nd Battalion and Aussies farther south of us overcame Jap Perimeters P. We heard a few Aussie shells hit stubborn Jap positions.

Casualty lists were low for 163, but malaria and dysentery threatened an epidemic. We had too little medicine for dysentery, and doubted that all men – unsupervised - took quinine for malaria. Mosquito nets became so heavy with rain that many were discarded the first day. Mosquitoes were as bad by night as by day; nets made little difference.

Our first action of 9 January was fearful, but caring for wounded eased our fears. Casualties shocked us, but it became routine to patch one man and go on to the next. Usually we worked just a few hours, and then had only scattered cases until the next large group maybe in a few minutes, maybe in a day or two. Always we had the comfort of Aussie shells over us, with astonishing accuracy.

So lived Schooley’s Medics on 9-16 January in Perimeter Rankin, sometimes called “Rankin Heights.” By 16 January, the formidable Jap southern perimeters had fallen, and 2nd Battalion was free to fight elsewhere.

On 16 January, 2nd Battalion and Schooley’s Medics made their second great tactical move of Sanananda Battle. Leaving Perimeter Rankin forever, we hiked 1500 yards north up Killerton Track to the Coconut Gardens, then turned east to seal off the surviving Japs in the Road-Bend Perimeters from escape to the sea.

While the Aussie 2nd Battalion 12 Infantry moved east on our left flank, we also turned east through swamp and jungle to Sanananda Road. Losing all traces of a trail, we had to hack many yards with machetes. Yet our move was so fast that we defied all jungle logistics and reached the Road 6 hours before 163’s staff had calculated that we could possibly arrive. Our 2nd Battalion’s march gave us the well-earned name of “Rankin’s Racers,” although later we were also called “Rankin’s Raiders.”

Scanlon stayed in his hole because the water was warmer. Last 300 yards to Sanananda Road was combat for our lead platoons. We had some casualties, but few compared to the kill of Japs. By dark of 16 January, Schooley’s Medics were on the Road among wrecked huts of a Jap hospital area. This hospital had held a Jap garrison with armed patients mixed with dying patients. Attacking G Company had to shoot every man who seemed to be alive.

That night, we Medics made pole beds again. Schooley and Arnold Harrison had five dead Japs around them within 10 feet all-around defense,” as Harrison called it. We slept poorly, hands on rifles. For breakfast, we had one Aussie emergency ration for nine men, but it sufficed in that place of corpses. Yet we were happy to find medical supplies for our depleted packs, and several complete sets of surgical instruments.

After the fall of the final Jap perimeters, Schooley’s Medics moved to Sanananda Point for a brief “rest.” This rest meant that we had no more wounded - only men with jungle rot, dysentery, typhus, and malaria - up to 40 malaria cases evacuated daily. Off-duty, we bathed in fresh river water or salt water and sunned on wrecked Jap barges.

But on 1 February, a small Schooley detachment joined G 163 for the Kumusi Patrol. This was a trek of under strength “G” for 22 miles up the Guinea Shore to Kumusi River Mouth. We were to disperse Jap survivors trying to regroup for another battle.

Besides Schooley and Lieutenant Burleson, four more Medics marched: Brownlee, Collesano, Germak, T/5 Bust, Corporal Katarzy.  G Company’s assigned Medics were “Red” Evans and Cincio. On 2 February, we slogged over bare beach under blazing sun.

Several men fell out with high fevers. Schooley and Burleson halted with them just long enough to write out evacuation tags for them - then catch up with G Company starting from a break to march again. We persuaded Commanding Officer Benson to slow G’s pace - if he wanted most of “G” to reach Kumusi Mouth.

Later that day, we had to slosh two miles in water sometimes shoulder-deep to avoid jungle covering our beach trail. Slogging across Killerton Bay, we had heavy marching with soaked uniforms and equipment.

And at 1400, we were back into battle at Kombela River Crossing. Believing that the farther bank was clear of Japs, Benson sent a 3-man point across on a native raft while others loaded in a small Jap assault boat to follow.

A hidden Jap machine gun drove two of the first three men to swim for their lives, killed Sergeant Ronald M. Bretzke. Ramsay and Aussie W/O Dixon swam far down the Kombela to escape. Jap fire scattered the men from the boat, wounded Gonzales there. Hiding behind a tree, Schooley watched G’s Sergeant Frank Hanson run for a hole and take a bullet through his helmet. Rushing to give aid, Schooley found that Hanson was only badly grooved in the head.

Next day, 3 February, with Sergeant Rennie’s M Company 81s to help, “G” crossed farther upstream to strike the Japs in deep jungle. They repulsed “G” with two dead, three wounded. In this fight, Medics Bust, Brownlee, Collesano, and Germak bravely carried out G’s wounded under threat of Jap automatic fires.

Not until 6 February with G 186’s help did G 163 force Kombela Crossing. Farther west near Buk Village, we had 2 days’ fight at an unnamed river crossing, but now two Aussie cannon helped us over with no casualties. On 10 February, 10 days after starting, we finished the 22 miles to Kumusi Mouth. While “G” and Aussies with Papuan Infantry mopped up the area, we had no more battle casualties - just tropical illnesses to doctor.

On 15 February, we were relieved from the Kumusi. It took us 10 days’ campaigning to trek 22 miles; now we returned by LCV in about three hours. Back at Soputa, we hungered for Australia.

Now Schooley was assigned to write the history of his 2nd Battalion 163’s Medics. (T/4 Clayton Erickson was to write 1st Battalion’s Medics’ story, and T/4 Ralph Taylor to write 3rd Battalion’s story.) He named those who were most remembered.

We had one wounded, two killed. Indian Donahue died on 8 January while carrying out an unnamed casualty of 1st Battalion. G Company’s Mivelaz was wounded on 9 January while aiding G’s wounded. F's Medic Jack Marcus died as he opened his medical kit to try to save one or more of F Company’s dead: Lieutenant Ogden, Sergeant Rausch, and Prinz.

Outstanding also was G Company’s Marshall serving G Company under fire when Mivelaz was hit. Often under machine gun fire for three days, F’s Bay saved four men from certain death because he stayed with them to help. H’s Colvin was the first Medic to kill a Jap. E Company’s Valentic killed 7 Japs, but had to be told to stick to his Medic’s duties.

Schooley cited also Captain Smith and 1st Lieutenant Burleson who worked tirelessly with battle casualties and sick men. Schooley cited others’ names without comment: T/4 Arnold Hanson, and T/5s Fuller, Becker, Scanlon, Clinton, with G Company’s T/5’s Bust and Presley “Red” Evans. These were the names of 15 Medics whom Schooley cited especially.

On 30 May 1943, 2nd Battalion 163’s men honored our dead ranked under white crosses wreathed with wild flowers. The Division Band played “Taps,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Major Sequiland and Captain Freeman conducted prayers and hymns. After General Doe’s and Colonel Mason’s speeches, a soldier recited Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” It seemed to be written just for Sanananda. Then a choir of the Band and 3rd Battalion 163 sang. Commanded by 1st Lieutenant Rottman, 10 other E Company men fired a rifle salute. While soft music played, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin read our roll of our dead - names that could make a man tremble. After dismissal, we read on crosses, the names of dead Medics Donahue and Marcus.

 

CREDIT: Core of this story is three unpublished typescripts by Staff Sergeant Schooley. These are 21 pages from single-spaced articles: "Here and There in the southwest Pacific," "Action Against the Japanese in the southwest Pacific," and Chapter V of "History 2nd Battalion Section Medical 163rd Infantry. "I used also my own G Company 163's "The Kumusi Campaign," (unpublished as of 5 December 1979), George Weller's Chicago Daily News Reports of 1943, and Dr. Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua.