Continued from Training in Australia...

On December 20, 1942 we loaded ourselves aboard. We laid out in the harbor all the next day, December 21, which was my birthday. Early the next morning we proceeded north along the Australian coast to Townsville where we picked up some contingent troops who had arrived by rail. Along with a naval escort we set sail across the Coral Sea to Port Moresby, spending Christmas day on the water. Our cooks helped the ship’s crew bake some bread so we could each have 2 slices for our Christmas dinner.

An eerie feeling was in the air as we passed through the Coral Sea. Not long before our passage the Coral Sea Battle had been fought. The battle, involving US and Jap aircraft carriers, was an effort to keep Jap forces from landing in the Port Moresby area. Our convoy arrived on December 27 and we quickly unloaded and moved to the inland side of the main airfield. We were soon informed that the Japs had raided here every day for 100 days. We did not know how long we would be here so we dispersed and dug in.

Very soon after our arrival Francis Titeca, a member of the 32nd Division stopped by and visited with me. Francis was a friend of mine from home who lived near Shawmut. He was over in Port Moresby spending time in the hospital. The next day after our visit he was ordered back to his unit over at Buna. Francis was killed the day after that.

I spent much of my time firing my 1903 Springfield rifle so I would be prepared for what was to come. On December 31, 1942 our unit began to assemble for the flight over the Owen Stanley Mountains to the combat zone. My brother Cliff took the trip this day. I was held back until January 1, 1943 because they didn’t want brothers to be on the same flight. Cliff’s plane landed at Popondetta, on an Aussie controlled airstrip, on December 31.

On January 1 my unit loaded onto a Douglas C47, the army’s version of the airlines DC3. At about 1000 hours we became airborne. The heavily loaded plane circled for several minutes in order to gain enough altitude to go through Kokoda Pass in these 14,000-foot mountains. During the flight I stood up front where I could talk with the crew. I noticed in each window a five-inch round hole with a rubber grommet surrounding it, and asked what they were for. The navigator replied, “They’re for you guys to put your rifles through to shoot at Jap Zeros if any show up.” This was not a joke. The Japs still had control of this air space and they frequently attacked our planes as they brought men and equipment to the north side.

As we traveled through the Kokoda Pass it seemed that the wings of the plane were about to touch both sides. After we cleared the pass the pilot began descending down onto the treetops, explaining that this was the safest place to fly because the Zeros would not come this low because they would have to go back up through our fighter cover. Ground fire was also a deterrent. As a safety factor our group was equipped with some B-25's and B-26's, which were armed with 50-caliber machine guns.

We landing at Dobodura, which was just a sandy strip of land where the Kunai grass had been cut away and the humps leveled off. The pilot taxied the plane to the end of the strip, turned it around and ordered us to start to deplaning. He said, “Get the hell off this plane, I’m not staying here any longer than I have to.” Before we could move ourselves or our equipment off the airstrip the pilot had sped down the runway and into the air for his return trip back to Port Moresby.

Our troops quickly assembled, picked up our rifles and crew served weapons and moved off into the jungle. We navigated using crude maps that we had been issued along with marching orders. We began an eight-mile march at a very rapid pace moving north from Dobodura towards Ango Corner where the trail turned west toward the Girua River. At that point a trail continued on to the northeast where the 32nd Division was positioned as the opposed Buna, which was held by the Japs. Several natives passed us carrying wounded GIs that were being evacuated to Dobodura for transfer over to the Port Moresby hospitals. The sight of these wounded soldiers only added to our concern. They were a glimpse of what was sure to come for us.

Upon reaching the Girua River Captain Sponnenburg decided that, because we were in unfamiliar territory, we would not cross because of the lateness in the day. We set up a perimeter and settled down for the night. We spent a very nervous night, not knowing what might take place, sitting back to back to each other. If one man fell asleep the other would know. We met no enemy and at first light we prepared to cross. The river was quite deep, ranging anywhere from your waist high to arm pit high, so we made boats out of our shelter halves. We crossed rifles and turned up at the edges and put all of our ammunition and anything else we needed to keep dry in these makeshift rafts. We then walked and swam to the other side. After wringing out socks and preparing our weapons for battle, we moved west a short distance to the Sanananda Trail just south of Soputa. As we went through Soputa the Australian YMCA was there and they gave us all some tea and a cookie. (Not the American Red Cross.)

We traveled on for about four miles until we reached our position. The position was about three hundred yards south, and off the trail to the right, of the Jap perimeter that straddled the Sanananda Trail. Here in swampy ground we established a perimeter of our own. We knew we were near the fighting because we could hear the sounds of weapons firing. A Jap Patrol hit our perimeter during the night of January 2, but they withdrew without doing any damage. Needless to say it scared the hell out of us.

On January 3 we moved out to the Huggins Perimeter, bypassing the Jap position. Huggins, also known as Musket, was occupied by Aussie troops. As we arrived here the Japs started a firefight with the Aussies. A gesture to welcome us to the area I suppose. We began relieving the Aussies by taking over their positions. As one of our men sat down on a log an Aussie Digger said, “I wouldn’t sit there if I were you.” The man asked why? The Aussie said one of their Cobbers had gotten shot there just a few minutes ago.

Snipers harassed our area. The first night was a bad one. One of our own was killed by our own troops when he got up to move around. The policy was to shoot at anything and everything that moved at night. We had to stay in our own holes at all costs.

The Japs tested our perimeter from all angles this night. They knew that we were fresh, inexperienced troops so they went at us aggressively. Our men stood up under this baptism of combat very well. They were unable to penetrate our perimeter at any point.

The next morning, as we tried to eat our breakfast rations, the Japs started a firefight. They opened up with a 50-caliber machine gun across our perimeter. During the day snipers became very active so, unlike the Aussies who seemed to just discount it and put up with it, we decided to do something about it. Our troops started to aggressively seek out these snipers and destroy them. We also decided that we would become the snipers. We placed some of our best marksmen out in spots where they would snipe on Jap supply trails and any other enemy movements. Soon we nearly eliminated sniping around our immediate positions, but the sniping never stopped as long as we were in a combat situation.

For the next several days our units probed and attacked every angle of the Japanese perimeter. These assaults came with limited success. Many of attacks brought very heavy casualties with no success at all.

My brother Cliff and I were in the same Mortar platoon during this campaign. On the third day Cliff and Sergeant McNight, a Piute Indian, went out on a two-man patrol. They headed toward the Jap 50 that kept harassing our positions. Once they located and plotted the bunker they returned. The next day Sergeant McNight noted that the machine gun hadn’t fired that morning. He decided to go and find out why. He went out alone and upon sneaking up to the bunker, discovered that it had been abandoned. Once he reported this we immediately sent out a combat patrol to secure the position. It was discovered that the enemy had abandoned the gun in good working order with plenty of ammunition. It turned out this gun was a water-cooled 50 Caliber, one of our own, probably captured in the Philippines earlier in the war. Securing this position got rid of the menace to our perimeter.

The patrolling, probing and attacking of Jap positions continued for the next several days. During this time we were busy bringing in supplies of food and ammunition. 81 MM mortar ammo and grenades were very heavy so it took many trips up and down the supply trail to bring in what was required. The native carriers who worked for the Australian Government carried these supplies for us. Unfortunately each day the Japs would fire on them, scaring them, therefore they would leave our stuff a little further back down the trail.

We always took an armed guard with us as we went to bring these supplies forward. On many occasions we had run-ins with Jap troops as our supply lines crossed. They usually supplied at night and us in daylight, but they sent snipers out along the trail to interrupt our movements as much as possible. Movement was difficult because there were only a few jeeps and what roads or trails that existed ran through swampy areas and were almost impassible. Edgar Langston, our Battalion Motor Sergeant, took on the duty of leading these supply trains to bring ammunition and other supplies forward from where the Natives left them. Because our mortar platoon was in the Musket perimeter we furnished a lot of the carriers.

One day, after picking up supplies to carry on forward, a Jap sniper fired on us. We were pinned down for some time. I was carrying two loads of hand grenades that came in wooden boxes with a rope handle. I piled one on top of the other for protection. Suddenly I realized that if the sniper hit either of the boxes I would go up in a thousand pieces. At this same time I heard Edgar yell as he got the heel shot off his boot. I said, “We better get the hell out of here.” Lincoln Backen, the Mortar Platoon Sergeant, replied, “Shut up, you’ll get us killed.” I responded that if we didn’t get out of there soon someone was sure to be hit. Disregarding his outburst, I picked up my grenades and moved on up the trail. Everyone else followed me and we got out of there with no one being hurt.

Our perimeters were mixed with the Japs perimeters in a leapfrog fashion along the Sanananda Trail. In some cases we were separated by only ten to twenty yards. It was very hard to move from one position to another without being fired upon. So it was with the enemy. During this fluid situation, M Company of the 3rd Battalion was attacked one night. They lost 3 out of their 6 mortars to the Japs, so it was decided that all of the mortars were to be placed inside the Musket perimeter. Normally we fired 6 mortars in unison at the same target. We decided after the attack that we could use the 15 mortars remaining and fire similar to an Artillery Battery. It proved to work very well, because we were able to fire with the entire battery on several targets at the same time.

The Aussies had five artillery pieces, and although they used them on a regular basis, they were unable to provide close in support to our men. Because of the low trajectory angle many rounds of the artillery would explode in the treetops above our positions. The Aussies calculated that 5 percent of their casualties were a result of the use of their artillery. The Americans, on the other hand, were able to bring mortar fire to within 40 to 50 yards of the forward troops. We found that we could also fire within 150 to 175 yards of our firing positions by holding a hand on the back of the mortar firing tube as we dropped the round in. The minimum range for 81MM Mortars was supposed to be two hundred yards but we were able to cut that down by this method. Most of the action was face to face, often 50 yards or less apart, and often 150 to 200 yards from our mortar positions. Mortars were an ideal weapon for this kind of action. Their high angles allowed us to fire up, over the trees, and back down without having the tree bursts as with artillery.

Things seemed to be in a stalemate because the 32nd Division was unable to take Buna from the south. The Aussies had three high-wheel, World War One Stewart tanks so they decided to put them to use. As they came from Soputa along the Sanananda Trail, the Japs jumped one and set it on fire. The other two tanks became bogged down in the muddy road so they became useless.

Even though we were firing our mortars everyday we still had managed to accumulate a good supply of ammunition. On January 15 we were ordered to prepare for a large-scale attack the following morning at 0900. Late that evening Lloyd Leppink and I strung combat telephone wire along the Sanananda trail. We went around the Jap perimeter and moved right, toward a position just northeast of the Fisk perimeter. Along the way a Jap 25 caliber bullet plowed up the sand by my feet. I reached down, picked it up while it was still hot, and put it in my pocket. I later incorporated that bullet into a model P38 airplane ashtray. The ashtray, which I still have, was made out of all Jap ammunition.

On January 16 I moved to the forward position that we had dug. It was designed to hold our telephone and two men. Shortly before the preparatory fires were to start I tried my phone. I attempted to call back to the mortar battery but all I could hear were Jap voices. They had tapped into my line and I dared not use it. My mission was to lend mortar observer support to A Company. I was no good to them without a phone. As I tried to move up to Howard McKinney’s A Company CP his company became totally pinned down by Jap machine gun fire. I had hoped to get through to our Battalion HQ and back to my guns on their line. McKinney’s Company soon had to be withdrawn because his men were passing out one after the other. It was incredibly hot out in that thick kunai grass and his men were pinned down unable to move. As the company withdrew I went back to my hole.

With A Company withdrawing, our D Company heavy machine guns began to displace and moved off to the left toward our Battalion HQ. I followed this action around to Bn. CP. Once I arrived here, where I could have a phone available, I decided to stay. Soon two Aussie Artillery Officers joined the CP. Within five minutes one of them had dug a small hole in the swamp, retrieved some water and started brewing a pot of tea. Almost all of the Aussies carried what they called a Billycan on their packs. They made tea anytime they could, even as the bullets were flying, as there were now.

Shortly after the tea was made Colonel Linstrom, our Battalion Commander, received a slight bullet wound in the buttocks. Before dark fell upon us our mess sergeant and another man brought up a pot of tea. Along the way a Jap officer jumped out of a hole and assaulted them with his saber. The mess sergeant, Dean Thorson, an original D Company man, promptly shot him and took his saber. Dean somehow was able to get that saber back home. The next day or two our CP remained here in what we named the Mud perimeter. We had to lie above ground, even during the night, because the water table was right to the top of the ground.

For the next several days the battle became intense and I stayed fairly close to Bn CP. Our troops were attacking one perimeter after another in all different directions. The Jap troops were attempting in vain to withdraw to the northwest. Their effort was unsuccessful and most all of the troops were killed. Even the General died trying to swim away in a river. We were not without our losses. On January 20, as our mortars fired a 750 round barrage against Jap bunkers, one of our mortar rounds fell short. The round exploded in the I Companies CP killing Captain Dupree and his first Sgt. James Boland.

During the early morning hours on January 22 a sizable Jap force blundered onto the perimeter manned by K Company and a hand-to-hand battle ensued with all of the Japs being slain. That same day one of our Companies came across what appeared to be a Jap Hospital. As they entered the ward the wounded, as well as some pretending to be, fired upon them. They threw grenades and shot at our troops. Our men systematically shot all occupants of the Jap hospital, some of them unarmed. This action, which could not be avoided, gave Tokyo Rose cause to accuse America of violating the Geneva Convention. They branded us the Bloody Butchers of Sanananda. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately the name stuck with us and Tokyo Rose alluded to it on several occasions.

By January 23 the main Jap force had been destroyed so I moved back into Musket perimeter. They next two days we took turns on burial detail with the D and C Companies, who were assigned to duty on January 24. Because of the jungles hot, humid weather dead bodies began to rot almost immediately. We were instructed to bury the bodies just 50 yards from the trail in order to get rid of the stench. The Japs had been under so much pressure, in addition to being sick and hungry, they had not buried their dead for several days. This was a very distasteful job, but it had to be done in order to minimize the chance of disease.

After the gruesome days of work were completed, my brother Cliff and Ray Overman cooked up a treat for the three of us. They made a concoction using rice, sugar and some hard jungle chocolate bars. We all enjoyed it but shortly after I began to feel sick and feverish. First I thought it might be the rice or better yet, the after affects of our day’s duty. When it didn’t pass, Cliff decided I should go to the first aid station for a check. It turned out I was having an attack of Malaria. My temperature was 106 degrees. They soon moved me by Jeep to an Aussie Hospital at Popindetta. The hospital was in the deep jungle near an airstrip. It consisted of old, flimsy, circus size tents that were almost transparent. To add to this, I was given one Aussie ground sheet for bedding. They served cold corned-mutton for every meal using Aussie square type mess kits, which were unwashed because there was no hot water. We attempted to try and clean them out with old newspapers, but because of the grease it was impossible to do. I soon developed a bad case of dysentery to add to my problems.

I would stay here for ten days waiting for a plane to come in and evacuate us to Port Moresby. During this time I was never seen by a Doctor or given any medication, other then Quinine for malaria. The weather had been nothing but rain and fog since I arrived, therefore keeping the planes grounded. On the tenth day two planes did made it through and they filled the planes with all of the sick and wounded Aussies and some wounded yanks. Then they tied a tag around my neck, put me in a Jeep, and sent me back to my unit, which was now at Soputa. I left as sick as I was when I went to the ‘hospital.’

As soon as I arrived back, Tony Mager and Jim Beley went to the Captain and told him that he had better get me down to the hospital at Dobodura or I might not make it. I was down to about 115 to 120 pounds from my normal 145. I stayed at Dobodura for 12 days before they would release me. Here, however I received as good as treatment as was available.

Back on duty at Soputa we were still manning outposts. There were still a few Japs, who had sneaked off into the jungle during the final phase of Sanananda, moving around.

One day Sgt. Blumer and some others shot a jungle chicken. They spent much of their time telling all of us who were not involved in the deal about what a great meal they were going to have. Unfortunately for them, after cooking their feast for several hours it was still too tough to eat.

Some men in our Company from California discovered an avocado tree not too far off the road. It was loaded with fruit, but it was not quite ripe, and so it was watched very closely. One day we noticed men from another Company looking at the trees. That evening we picked all the avocados, wrapped them in paper, and stored them in boxes under our bunks to ripen. This was my very first taste of avocado. It was quite a treat since our diet consisted only of Australian stew, corned mutton, Canadian packed herring and hard native crackers. As you can imagine those rations were beginning to taste pretty awful. Another man from California went into the jungle and found some hot peppers, which we added to the stew to make it more palatable. Hot, Hot, Hot!

Soon Tony Mager and I began to look like hippies (before the word Hippie was thought of) because the man in our Company who cut hair (not really a barber) was in the hospital over the mountains at Port Moresby. Tony and I decided to cut each other’s hair. The only tool we had was a pair of 1½-inch blade scissors from an army sewing kit. After the job was done we decided that we wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests, but we got rid of the hair.

One day as I and another man occupied an outpost, a Native, carrying a spear, ran up to our post. As he stopped he said “Good day,” a greeting the Aussies use. He reached up into his bushy hair and took out a cigarette and indicated that he wanted a light. We gave him a light and asked him where he had come from. He said Dobodura at sunrise. I remember thinking that was quite a trek since it was about one hour after sunrise and it was about 15 miles to Dobodura. He took a couple of puffs from the cigarette, pinched out the fire, stuck it back in his hair, said good day and was gone. He must have been the tribal runner.

Not long after I arrived back with my unit we moved back up the Sanananda Trail to Cape Killerton, between Buna and Gona. We established a temporary camp here and put outposts around the camp at all the trail junctions. These precautions were taken because there were still a few roving groups of Japs who were unable to make their way back up the coast. They had nothing to eat except what they scrounged out of the jungle.

Therefore some would daringly sneak into our camp during nighttime hours to steal food. A few were shot, but most were only interested in food and they slipped out as quietly they slipped in.

At this camp we were able to bathe in salt water, which soon got rid of the chiggers that pestered us all the time. We also built a shower, erecting a platform with a ladder going up and a barrel on top. Anyone who wanted to shower would carry water up the ladder to fill the barrel, turn on the water and shower. One evening John Tebay, who gave everyone a hard time about being dirty as pigs, took a shower and crawled into his bunk under his mosquito net. Just as dusk approached some Japanese bombers flew over our camp. They had just raided Dobodura and were on their way back to their base. One of the bombers apparently discovered that he had a bomb hung up in his bomb bay. Of course it was too dangerous to land this way, so he decided to circle around and try to hit something worthwhile by dropping it on the beach. As the bomb came down we could hear it swishing through the air. We all hit our holes that were dug in around the pup tents. Unfortunately for Tebay, because of the daily rain, all of the holes were half full of mud and water. We had the last laugh as Tebay came out of his hole with mud from head to toe. His shower had not done him a world of good.

Our days were filled with some funny and interesting situations. One day a 16-foot python tried to take residence around our kitchen. Because none of us were snake handlers we decided to kill it rather than try to capture it and return it to the jungle. One quite amusing event unfolded when one of our men spotted a wild pig rooting around where we were disposing of our garbage. He decided that we would do well with a little fresh pork. So later that evening he placed some ‘pig bait’ around the bottom of a tree and climbed up it with his rifle to wait for his prey. Sure enough the pig came back, but it came from the wrong direction. As the soldier squirmed around to get a shot at the pig the limb broke and he fell to the ground, face to face with the pig. Not relishing the idea of being slashed by the pig, he ran and so did the pig. No pork for us.

As we occupied this camp at Cape Killerton, G Company of the 163rd, under Captain Bill Benson, pursued the fleeing Jap forces. They followed them north, along the coast, to the Kumusi River in an effort to destroy any remaining organized resistance.

During the last days of February we listened to an old Jap radio that we had found intact. We could tune into our own radio at the Port Moresby Headquarters, as well as many others. On March 3 we received the following information. The previous day, March 2, the 5th Air Force had made a raid on Los Negros Island. On the return trip the Flight Commander, Major Larner, lost one engine on his B25 and he was forced to lag behind the formation. As a result of his compass being damaged, he drifted off course and subsequently discovered a Japanese convoy of 22 ships moving quickly toward the New Guinea coast. The convoy contained 10 naval vessels and 12 more vessels carrying troops and supplies, an invasion force, no less. Our regiment was down to 1,000, or possibly less, able-bodied troops. We sure didn’t need another 25 to 40,000 fresh Japanese Infantry to contend with. Needless to say all of our troops fought a major battle of nerves as this developed.

It turned out that the Japanese fleet had originated at Rabul. Rabul, on the northeastern tip of New Britain, was the main Japanese Naval and Airbase in the area. They had sailed northwest, around the west end of New Britain, out into the Bismarck Sea, and into the Solomon Sea. Since their first sighting they seemed to have disappeared. But on March 3 they were spotted and attached with heavy bombers. On the first strike one troop ship was sunk and on the second strike one tanker and one cruiser went down. By noon heavy clouds had moved into the area and the next bombing had to be aborted. By this time the Jap fleet was entering Huon Gulf on the last leg of it’s run to Lae Harbor.

It began to look like the remainder of this fleet would make it to Lae. As a last resort General Crabb, the commander of the 5th Air Force, consented to let Major Larner, the 90th Squadron B25’s Commander, try a skip bombing technique that he had developed. The B25’s and A20’s were all armed with bombs fitted with the fuses necessary for this type of bombing. The technique went like this. The planes would approach the ship, staying just above the water. When they were within 25 yards of the vessel, they would release their bombs, zoom up over the superstructure, and make off into clouds.

Soon the entire force with heavy fighter escort was airborne, headed toward the Solomon Sea and the Jap convoy. The bombing went perfectly. Because of the planes low altitude on the approach the Japs were unable to fire their antiaircraft guns at them. After the bombs hit the ship, everything was in turmoil and they were still unable to shoot any planes down. After crippling about half the ships, they returned to Dobodura to refuel and rearm.

In the meantime the Japs were busy picking up survivors. Now the remaining vessels were crowed with wet, scared men. The rest of the convoy was just getting back under way when the bombers hit them again. This time the bombers sank all but one cruiser, the Admiral’s flagship, and one troop ship. With the boats sinking we ran several strafing runs over the water, machine-gunning the survivors waiting in the boats and in the water. It was figured that if they made it to land we would have to try to kill them again anyway. Later this day our Navy PT boats went into this part of Huon Gulf and systematically sank all remaining boats and machine-gunned all survivors.

The two remaining ships then proceeded to Lae Harbor. The troops were so tired and worn out from being picked out of the water, some of them more than once, that they did not try to unload this night. During the night, three torpedo boats went into the harbor and fired several torpedoes into the troop ship lying in shallow water. The next morning a flight of B17’s flew over the ship hitting it mid-ship to finish sinking it in the shallows. Only the Admiral’s Flagship escaped.

Needless to say, we of the 163rd were jumping with joy over this operation and had nothing but praise for the 5th Air Force and it’s victory over the Jap fleet. It was haled as the greatest victory of land-based planes over naval vessels during the entire war. In 1967 Lawrence Cortesi published a paperback book titled, “Mission Incredible: Battle of the Bismarck Sea.” I have a copy of the book. It gives a very good account of the action that developed as we sat listening in our camp at Cape Killerton.

In March Colonel Doe, our Regimental Commander, was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned as Assistant Division Commander. Lt. Col. Mason assumed command of the 163. (Later back in Australia he shot and killed himself. Reason?) We soon began moving towards Oro Bay and other units of our division took over our positions. We moved out in small units, some went by road from Dobodura and others went down the coast by coastal luggers, which were supplying troops further up the coast. I was one of the last to leave, spending one night with Capt. Bensons G Company then catching a lugger down the coast of Oro Bay.

Our camp at Oro Bay was seven miles by road from the bay, but only about two miles as the crow flies in the hills high above the bay. Here we set up camp on steep hillsides, building platforms for our tents. During the time here we did steavadors work, unloading ships as they came in. The Japs bombed several ships as they sat in the harbor or as they made their way in or out. We witnessed many of these raids because we had a good view from our camp high above the bay. We could see dive-bombers peel off right above our camp as they made their runs on the bay.

One day an old Dutch ship bringing our extra personal things from Port Moresby was hit on the way in. Quite a lot of stuff was ruined along with my barracks bag, which was burned quite badly. The only things left were an old writing folio, one pair of socks and a wool sweater with a hole burned in it. While we were unloading, we were tossing many things in a garbage pile to be burned as it was either ruined or unidentifiable to the owner. One man picked up an old guitar that had its neck broken. As he was about to throw it in the pile and I said let me have that, I may be able to repair it. Thus I came up with a guitar, which I did repair using glue and the steel wire that we used with our combat telephones. Not the best but it worked. I had left my good Gibson Guitar back in Australia with a girl I knew at Rockhampton.

While at this camp we did put a few programs together for our own entertainment in an effort to relieve the boredom. On a number of occasions we watched Jap planes being shot out of the air. We also witnessed some of our own being shot down. This was not necessarily entertainment however.

The other thing that I remember vividly about this place was the nice stream of clear water that ran behind our camp. We had big pool in the rocks that we could swim in and there was also a place to wash our clothes in the rocks below. This was a fairly comfortable camp as tent camps go.

We had arrived here in March of 1943 and we stayed busy everyday. Construction crews were busy building roads from Oro Bay to all forward areas. They also worked on upgrading the airstrips at Dobodura by adding tar surfaces. Our Company had a crew building a bridge over a river between our camp and Oro Bay that would shorten the distance from seven miles to two. We also had crews unloading ships almost everyday.

During the battle at Sanananda I would have given a five-dollar bill for a can of Vienna Sausages. One day a ship arrived with tons of the little sausages, and because it was needed in other areas, it unloaded all of its cargo here. Because our camp was the distribution point for the majority of supplies, we were issued a large amount of sausages. Our cooks tried to use them in everyway, even frying them for breakfast. Soon we were as tired of these as we were of the C rations or the stuff the Aussies supplied us.

One day we had the duty of unloading a ship that was flying a Chinese flag. The ship, which was full of 100-octane aviation fuel, had been bombed on its way into Oro Bay. One bomb had hit the ship, blowing a large hole out of the side of the ship. Several other bombs had exploded in the water, puncturing dozens of small holes in the hull under the water line. The terrified crew was allowed to go ashore, with the exception of the Captain. As we arrived to assist in unloading, Navy divers fearing that the ship would sink, went in under the water and drove wooden pegs into the hull to slow the water coming in. We tied flat cargo barges alongside the ship to carry cargo away. Since the ships crew was ashore, we had to learn how to run the ships winch hoists. As we went into the holds to hook sling clamps on the gasoline barrels, we had to swim in the seawater. The gasoline fumes were so stifling we could only work for a few minutes at a time before coming up for air. Many of the barrels were leaking from the bungs. When we went to work, we had to leave all matches and cigarette lighters ashore. We even had to remove our shoes for fear of making a spark. Tough Duty!

To make matters worse, as we continued to unload the crippled ship a red alert air raid alarm was sounded. We all came out of the hold but we couldn’t load onto the barges because they were full of gasoline drums. No refuge there. Two boats were dispatched from the shore to come pick us up. As time went by it seemed like they were barely moving. We speculated among ourselves if the Japs were coming back to finish off this ship. There was no panic because we had all been in tough spots before. We discussed whether we should stay on the barges or jump into the water. Both options could be very dangerous. As time passed we could see the Jap planes coming from the south. They were heading toward the bay and the boats from shore had still not arrived to pick us up.

Much to our relief, the twelve bombers passed over the bay without dropping any bombs. It turned out they had bombed Harvey Bay about 60 miles southeast. The boats finally arrived and they took us all ashore. Other crews finished unloading the Chinese ship. Later, they poured concrete in the big hole in its side, pumped out more water, and it was returned to Australia for repairs.

We had another close call while unloading ships. One night, as we were unloading barrels of tar used in paving airstrips, Jap planes appeared. We were in the tar dump area so we decided to hide among the tar drums for protection. We all knew that you couldn’t shoot a rifle bullet through a barrel of tar. As it turned out the Jap planes did not drop any bombs on this trip either. They must have already used their bombs.

That was not the case when three nights later a force of 25 Jap bombers raided Oro Bay. They dropped their bomb pattern starting right at the edge of the water, right through a Negro Quartermaster camp and over to the tar dump. From our camp up in the hills we could see fire and smoke rise immediately above the tar dump. Thermite bombs had set the tar afire like gasoline and the fire and smoke elevated to above 10,000 feet. We thanked our lucky stars that this had not happened three nights before as we took what we thought was refuge in this same dump. What was left of the Quartermaster camp moved a mile or so toward the hills.

One day Dean Thorson talked to the Captain to see if he could go to Port Moresby to try to secure some different type rations from the Navy. The Captain said he couldn’t authorize this, but if he didn’t get caught he would look the other way. Dean went to the Dobodura airstrip, and got a ride over and back. When he got back he had baking powder, sugar, flour and other necessary items. The next morning the D Company had pancakes for breakfast. This was really a treat; we ate, ate and ate. The word got around to the other Company’s in our Battalion. Before our troops were through eating, others from around the Battallion had begun to show up in our chow line. One of our cooks, Joe Berdar, told Dean that these weren’t our guys. Dean said, “If they don’t look like Japs feed them, they are on our side aren’t they?”

Another incident here. We had a dentist in our outfit by the name of Banks who had lost his medical license in California because of alcoholism. Since our unit was desperate for a dentist, he was allowed to practice. They obtained an old foot ran drill machine and the necessary dental supplies and he was put to work. He was the dentist for the entire area of Oro Bay, still drinking when he could get it. I needed two teeth filled so I went to him. He didn’t have an assistant so I had to pump the foot pedal while he drilled and filled my teeth. Later in 1944 the Japs at Hollandia, a later operation, captured him. Fortunately our troops captured him back and he was returned unharmed.

About the middle of July we went to Dobodura, flew back over to Port Moresby, loaded on Dutch ships and returned to Australia.