Two 162 Infantry Histories
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

I. A 162’s First Combat at Nassau Bay.
      A
t dawn 30 June 1943, wet, tired, under strength A Company 162 Infantry slung our rifles and strode north from Nassau Bay into our first battle. Even sleepless men came wide awake. Everything stands out stark and clear before the first day of battle.

Soon came a warming sunrise over us. Behind, an easy surf washed around the sides of 18 landing barges that had broached and soaked us after midnight.

Ominous were flashing Jap mirrors from heights behind us. They were alerting Japs to fight. A PT Boat scouted down the coast towards the heights. Rifleman Bill Adams heard the Nippo light machine gun fire on it. The blasts from the PT Boat seemed to blow up the light machine gun.

Our A Company was short a full platoon plus a squad that heavy seas had turned back last night. We had only 90 men and five officers landed. But these included Lieutenant Gray's mortar men and a D Company heavy machine gun. Also attached were sleepless, tired riflemen of Aussie D Company (3rd Battalion/ 5 Regiment.) They had lighted our landing last night at 2440 hours. About 1100, heavy Jap fire blasted on A Company in the north shore jungle. Some 50 Japs of Major Oba's machine gun company (3rd Battalion/ 102 Regiment) volleyed rifles, light machine guns, heavy machine guns, knee mortars. Letting rifle squads pass unhurt, they had fired at company headquarters.

Like professionals, our two platoons applied their M-1 s. We faced Jap attempts to strike our flanks. We then fell back 200-300 yards to position for our next fight.

Captain George now ordered Captain Urquhart's Aussie Platoon to come up on the seaward side to lessen pressure on "A." They met a fire that halted them before they could form line with A Company. The Japs threw a command into the gap that they left.

Only D Company's heavy machine gun saved the day. Their belt-fire stopped the Japs until "A" men doubled back and shot their attack to pieces.

Lieutenant Gray's three 60mm mortars set up just outside the jungle for clearance to fire. To relieve pressure on our flank, Captain George indicated a target about 500 yards off. Gray liked this mission where his observer could stand by the barrels and pinpoint the fire.

We still got some fire. But Gray now credited Sergeant Burkhartsmeyer for fine shooting. (Mortarmen' s names were probably Blank, Bradley, Brayko, Cates, Wiectorek, Pearson, Goodwin, Beebe, Warnock, Olsen, Arocho, Elliot, Van Wyck, Gilbreath, and runner Becker.)

An Aussie slipped up to say that because of some men's falling back, our mortars were now the front line. Our crews pulled back. The Aussies were running out of ammo. George ordered them to hold out until we could get Yank reinforcements.

The Aussies had fought well. Their Corporal G.L. Smith had been first to shoot a lone Jap on the inland trail to alert "A" where to deploy. (He would later guide Lieutenant Noble's men on Komiatum Track in the mountains and be badly wounded.) When machine gun fire halted Aussies from near Duali Village, a mate with his Bren gun and Private Skuse ran up and cleared the track. Barwise saw two Japs setting up a machine gun on the beach. His two rifle grenades killed both Nips and smashed their gun.

Our 116 Battalion Engineers and 532 Amphibs replaced our Aussie allies. More important, C Company's Captain Newman brought up more combat troops (less his platoon that would be routed to suffer deaths on Bitoi River.)

With support of Captain Fague' s D Company mortars, C Company and Engineers advanced with us, and by dusk the shore was cleared inland to Bitoi River. We dug in and ended all threats to Nassau Beach ahead from the north. On that day of battle, A Company counted 29 dead Japs, but we lost only two killed in action and four wounded in action. Of these dead, we can find only Corporal William C Michael's name. Communications man Manley was wounded either in hand or wrist, Flores in leg or thigh. McFallon was wounded, place not known. (No casualty list of 162 Infantry in the Salamaua Operation was ever found.) Juarez was lucky to be shot into his M-1 about two inches from his muzzle.

A 162's first fight is still pride today - a fight like Regular Army veterans. We had passed a prime test to cut Komiatum Track and defend George Ridge in later actions.

 

     II.G 162 Seizes Fisher Perimeter
     
For 162 Infantry, the heavily defended strong point, later named Fisher Perimeter, was tactically the most important position on Roosevelt Ridge. It was so narrow that it channeled all attacks; we could not deploy effective firepower from the west. And it also guarded the seaward nose of Roosevelt Ridge. No advance could take Salamaua until this nose was captured.

Roughly triangular, "Fisher" was a low "pimple" about 25 yards wide, covered by thick bushy brush. There were foxholes with connecting trenches, and pillboxes. At least 100 Japs held it; they had one heavy machine gun, three light machine guns. We would have to climb and face heavy fire.

Before G 162's first attack of 2 August, we had been in reserve, a little lower down the Ridge. But every night around dusk, just when we readied to try to sleep in our holes, Jap mortar shells exploded around us.

On 1 August, at dusk, our executive officer, 1st Lieutenant William O Silvey, was killed. He was ordering the men to take to their holes - which were mostly filled with water. He was standing in his hole. A    mortar fragment took off part of his head. (On another date unknown, Sergeant Ayers took a slight head wound and was evacuated.)

On 2 August the day after Silvey died, 2nd Battalion planned a three-pronged three-platoon strike to storm that scary peak high above us.

Starting from the lower side slope which E Company had bitterly held since 27 July, E's Lieutenant Powers was to advance and draw fire on our right flank. At the same time G's 2nd Lieutenant Swetka's 2nd Platoon would draw fire on the left flank. When most Japs were committed on our flanks, 2nd Lieutenant Foley's 3rd Platoon would drive directly up the side ridge between them and storm the height from which most of the Japs should be drawn off. Actual Commanding Officer of Foley's 3rd Platoon then became G Company's new exec after dead Lieutenant Silvey. 1st Lieutenant Hal C Fisher would not live out this day.

About 0630 2 August 1943, the three under-strength platoons moved out from a little pimple below Roosevelt Ridge. Down a low draw we silently trudged in single file until close to the Japs whom we could not see. Sudden Jap fire struck our ears.

      On our right flank, two machine guns drove Powers' Platoon into earth. On the left, Swetka's G Company Platoon drew heavy fire and was grounded.

Fisher changed the direction of Foley's Platoon. Foley did not drive directly up between the other Platoons. Foley's Platoon headed by Fisher moved to the left flank to reinforce Swetka.

Over us, we saw only heavy brush to fight - only 10-15 yards away, so close that we heard the Japs giving orders. They had their holes a little way back from the edge of the ridge above us. When you stood up to look for them, they fired down on you while you tried to aim an M-1 or arc a grenade at the unseen sources of many men firing.

Soon our wounded began to slip back to the rear. Blind heavy brush held us back from almost any M-1 fire. We had to hurl grenades, but the Japs crouched in foxholes. They had connecting traverses with bends around which they dodged if grenades landed in their trenches. Even with three grenades per man, we began to run out.

We were stopped dead, but Swetka kept pressing Corporal Attig to forward his men into the brush above. But when Attig stood up to lead, a Jap bullet pierced his lung. Attig did get back alive, but did not rejoin G 162 until over six months later.

      For an hour, we fought but only had more casualties. Then 1st Lieutenant Hal C Fisher moved to our left flank where Jap fire seemed weaker. He started to crawl up from lying beside Swetka. Runner Beitler tried to slide over to help Fisher. But a fast firing light machine gun caught Fisher to convulse him into death.

A Jap grenade burst where Beitler had left. Swetka got a leg wound from it.

As our front thinned with wounded coming out, Swetka said on the phone, "It's no good. We can't take the ridge. We're out of grenades." From the rear, the other officer promised more grenades. Swetka answered, "That won't do any good. We're losing too many men." Then the phone voice said, "Make an orderly retreat." On that 2 August, G 162 had five men killed and about 20 wounded. Rifleman Joseph Rondo died from a small grenade fragment in his neck which must have pierced an artery or even his jugular vein. He would bleed to death internally. Corporal Jessie L. Miley was slain from the machine gun which struck his head. Pvt Donald L. Wolff, like Fisher, was first marked "Missing in Action" because we had to delay bring out his body. The fifth dead man was probably Pvt Joseph E. Galus.  

Twenty men were wounded on that 2 August, and more on 12-13 August, but we do not know all their names or the dates of their wounds. Besides Lieutenant Swetka and Corporal Attig, Leuschel may have been wounded that day by small grenade fragments. Other names are not known.

Not until 10-11 days later, on 12-13 April, could we find a way to clear the Japs from "Fisher." Then G Company's Lieutenant Herbst guided protected field artillery observers up to a hogback behind "Fisher." Here field artillery shells could blast this position and Fisher's body be recovered.

But before this date, some men were briefly relieved from Roosevelt Ridge. Coming down, Larry Carpenter walked into a little river in his fatigues. He washed the red clay out, laid his clothes on the bank, tried to bathe. He resumed his wet fatigues to dry on his body.

On 12 August, Larry Carpenter started up again with Sergeant Ramey's patrol. Before that, he drank from the river. Upstream, he later found two bloated Japs afloat. That night, Sergeant Ramey positioned Larry in a hole with cook Virgil Johnson and "Motroist" - spelling uncertain.

After dark, two Japs came down the track. We killed them with grenades and tried to dig in. More came, and we kept on digging in. Soon we were out of grenades and had to fire rifles. This gave away our position.

About 0400 hours before dawn 13 August, a Jap machine gun fired 250- 300 rounds. The last three hit Larry in three places - one below his knee, one in his thigh above the knee and a third in the buttocks.

That night, Quinton Burcham was accidentally killed. BARman Dennis Roberts hit in the forehead, and Poluszney somewhere else. Next day, Sergeant George Ramey was also hit in the forehead but lived. Presti was wounded also.

About daylight, Larry's wound began bleeding heavily. Medic Weis stopped the flow of blood.

When the ridge was secure, four natives carried Larry down to the hospital. His squad leader and others told him how sorry they were. Larry told them to think of themselves; they had to go on.           

Larry was permanently disabled. After his first malarial attack, he got "restricted duty" and became a clerk at Camp Ascot in Brisbane.

On an old map of Roosevelt Ridge, you can still find the cross marking 1st Lieutenant Hal Fisher's place of honor in Fisher Perimeter. His cross is above the edge of the slope that he could not storm, and before what were surely Jap pillboxes. There was his first grave.

 

CREDIT: G 162's Sergeant Grant Ramey is most credited for G-162's history. He sent me a list of 162's dead here. From Colonel MacKechnie's papers, I had 2nd Lieutenant John Foley's official report. Much personal interest comes from Gaetano De Mayo's letters of 7 May and 5 December 1982 and 22 February 1983 - with Samuel Beitler's letters. One is undated about January 1983, the second 29 January 1983. Lewis Weis' letter of 1 February 1983 mentions Fisher's burial. I used also a map of Roosevelt Ridge and a watercolor, both from Colonel MacKechnie's papers. I thank G/162's Larry Carpenter for his two letters beginning 1 July 1993 which make my history more personal. A Company's Nassau Bay history seems to be Captain George's final official report. Morning Reports are totally missing from most of 162 Infantry's records at Salamaua. The World War II Roster of 162's dead is mostly without dates.