116 Medical Battalion: Medics’ Tales

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian and Medic George Jackson

 In the Salamaua Operation, A Company 116 Meds. endured hard labor. This was long before we had our own dead and wounded in the disastrous attack of A and C Company of 162 Infantry on Mount Tambu. On 1 July 1943, our hard, painful work occurred two days after 1st Battalion 163's "shipwreck landing" at Nassau Bay. Following the night fight of 30 June-1 July - the attack on the beachhead perimeter - we dug probably 21 graves. We buried four officers and 17 enlisted men, from A or C 162 Infantry and A-116 Engineers.

Afterwards, when 162 moved inland up Bitoi River, we too slogged inland, up and over Bitoi Ridge, which some called "Heartbreak Ridge." We cared for their wounded when 162 outfits pushed against the Japs to pinch out the Buigap Creek Salient. Rations were short, of course. We slept in wet clothes every night.

            But some of A-116 Meds' finest hours came on 30 July 1943, when A and C Company attacks failed aginst the highest peak of Mount Tambu. Here Colonel Taylor lost a third of his four platoons. Besides losing nine dead, he had 36 wounded that A-116 had to rescue under Japanese fire. (This was the attack that Colonel Taylor believed the Aussie commanding officer -probably Colonel Conroy - ought never to have ordered. Taylor said the Aussie colonel sold him "a bill of goods" to make this deadly attack.)

            During these assaults of 30 July, from 0905 to 1225, we meds labored to save our 36 wounded. (We did have some great help in these rescues. DeRooy remembers an Aussie bull of a man who helped us mightily. Name of this man was probably L.C. Allen, a Corporal of Captain L.A. Cameron's Company of 2nd 5 Infantry Battalion. (Aussie historian David Dexter credits him with advancing 12 times under fire to rescue 12 Yank wounded.)

But in that black jungle among razorback ridges, in an area some 200 yards long, our 116 Meds of A Company saved most of our wounded. They paid a price in their own wounds and death. In many places, the Jap machine guns were invisible.

Without covering fire, Medic Cpl. Byron Hurley tried to save a wounded man. He crept too close to a Jap machine gun that killed him pointblank. We could not recover his body until days later, when we found his skull.

DeRooy and Ron Jones were more lucky. They crept under a Jap machine gun nest and pulled out a wounded Yank. Both returned unscathed and saved their casualty.

Another four-man litter squad of meds answered a call to extricate a wounded man. He lay near the left flank of Taylor's attack where A Company had advanced, and later, near that lone platoon of C Company that had been our final hope of the assault.

Crossing a clearing on our return, this litter squad with its wounded man came under a sniper's lash. A bullet in the back killed Staff Sergeant Samuel A. Sather. Another bullet clipped Major in his ankle. Carrying the litter beside Sather, big, wide Lysecki was untouched. We conjecture that the sniper first aimed at Sather because he was the leader of the party.

To get some 36 wounded back to hospitals was a hard job. We were short of GI litters, and GI handles were too short 'for those steep, tortuous carries. We improvised more effective litters from jungle poles and gunnysacks. It took eight carriers to lug a wounded man down through almost impenetrable mountain jungle. Our carries were slippery, sloppy, steamy. Boat service was usually lacking at Nassau Beach. Native black "angels" then carried our wounded eight more miles to a jeep-head and transportation to a hospital of sorts.

Such is the medics' tale of their valor in the abortive attack on Mount Tambu and the rescue of the wounded that followed.

 

In the fight for Scout Track Ridge, on the approaches to Salamaua, A Company 116 Medics' Balch distinguished himself. On this day, Japs lobbed in howitzer shells on our ridge positions and wounded four men. Our aid station was a shell hole that could contain only three of the four men. The medic giving first aid had to work outside, exposed to Jap fragments and bullets.

Staff Sergeant Balch ordered the other meds to take cover, but one med delayed and was seriously wounded. Balch continued to work at his station - now with five casualties to care for. Having given aid to the wounded, Balch then toured front-line positions. Although exposed to fire, Balch pried into our holes for men too seriously wounded to call for help. (Date of this citation, 3 August 1943, is probably erroneous, for we can find no report of action on that day. We only know that it occurred while 162 was pinching out that long Scout Track Ridge extending down from Salamaua.)

 

 

CREDIT: George Jackson, Secretary of our 116 Med Chapter, has credit for these stories which appeared in Jackson's "Pill Roller," published in 1970.