G Company 162 Infantry: Breaching Roosevelt Ridge (12-13 August 1943)

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Gaetano De Mayo, Colonel Herman Steenstra

On 12 August 1983, G Company 162 Infantry began our second dogged thrust to breach stubbornly held Jap Roosevelt Ridge, which had repulsed 162 Infantry since 22 July. Ten days ago, G's first assault had failed with deaths of 1st Lieutenant Hal C. Fisher, Corporal Jessie L Miley, an Pvt Joseph E. Galus, and Rifleman Pvt Joseph Rondo. Sometime during 3-11 August, Jap mortars had killed 2nd Lieutenant William O. Silvey and wounded Sergeant Ayers. 2nd Lieutenants Herbst and Steenstra had replaced dead 1st Lieutenants Fisher and 2nd Lieutenant Silvey.

On 12 August, F Company relieved us from our side ridge above "F," but we knew that our "G" would soon make our second thrust. But this time we did not expect to make the main attack. Our mission was to support F Company's assault on our left while "E" pushed on the right. Yet G Company finally fought the main battle to breach Roosevelt Ridge.

G's first move was to send 2nd Lieutenant Herbst with four men to climb to find the best position to support F's attack tomorrow. Sergeants George Ramey and Hutton were two of the four men known to accompany Herbst up the deadly ridge.

Climbing back to G's forward position, we bore left uphill into the jungle ridge. Unaware at the time, we crossed unhurt a Jap machine gun fire-lane cleverly hidden in brush. On the flatter summit of the ridge itself, we checked out what "Intelligence" had said was a ravine. We were in luck!

The "ravine" was a small ridge - a narrow curving-edged hogback usually about 15 feet wide, but in places dwindling to three feet. About 100 yards long, this narrow hogback stretched .from near the rear of Jap Fisher Perimeter to the north edge of Roosevelt Ridge. We saw Japs supplying Fisher Perimeter - almost level with us. From the north side of the hogback, we looked straight down into Jap Dot Inlet. Japs peacefully walked the beach or climbed trees or dug holes. We were between two Nippo outposts on the Ridge - one 50 yards off, the other 150 yards away.

Captain Munkres at once ordered Herbst to hold that hogback with all of his men. 2nd Lieutenant Steenstra joined Herbst with his whole platoon - now shrunk to about the size of a reinforced squad. Munkres counted us as 41 men, four officers. De Mayo remembers that we had three field artillery observers - an officer and two men.

Prone on the hogback behind Fisher's perimeter, we saw dark fall. Beside our rifles to fight at dawn, we thought of our orders for the long night of fear and silence. Munkres had told us not to dig in. We must not eat, smoke, or talk. If Japs crawled in, we were to club or choke them.

But like any man of common sense, De Mayo disobeyed the order. De Mayo dug in - and Mundy on his left. Mundy had soft ground for his hole. Gaetano De Mayo had to grub among rocks and roots.

But G's narrow little hogback turned out to be on the main Jap supply line from C Ridge. Suddenly in semi-dark, Sergeant Hutton discerned Jap carriers walking the hogback towards us. Despite orders for silence, a BAR shot down the carriers.

About 10 minutes after lying on his back in this unauthorized hole two inches below the surface, De Mayo heard that BAR fire. A crossfire of four Jap machine guns opened up over G's men mostly on the surface on that hogback.

Watching machine gun tracers fly harmlessly above him, De Mayo thanked God for his hole. Came then the pistol-crack of a mortar shell detonated from the barrel. He began counting to 60 - the approximate time for one of ours to hit a Jap position. At his count of 25, he heard "Boom" above him. The shell impacted into the three feet of space between his hole and Mundy's. It knocked out De Mayo for awhile. At dawn, he would find rifle, ammo, grenades, and pack in a shattered mess - only his photos untouched. Mundy was unhurt.

That same shell that knocked out De Mayo caught nearby Lieutenant Steenstra on the surface. Desperately he pulled web equipment over his head when he knew that the shell would hit close. Fragments riddled his canteen but missed him.

The shell that nearly killed De Mayo was really ours, probably H Company's, although De Mayo never knew it until 39 years later. A second shell from that salvo also struck among us on top of the ground. Concussion blew several men 20-30 feet down the slope. Either Medic Weis or Knopp clambered down into pitch darkness where Japs might lurk, to aid these men.

Now everyone dug in desperately. Cunningham said that he dug in deep enough to be called a deserter. When about  halfway under, Hutton felt a sickening crash from a fragment breaking his shoulder. He lay helpless in that half-dug hole all night. One shell killed gunner Pfc Carl P. Morales in a burst of fragments. About that time, Captain Munkres was wounded - circumstances unknown. Immobilized, he could only direct our fight.

After that first erratic mortar salvo, our mortars and field artillery were extremely accurate. We believe that their fire finally killed the Japs' automatic weapons that had defeated the assault of 2 August of G Company's Lieutenants Fisher, Swetka, and Foley with E's Powers.

Now Sergeant Cunningham sensed Japs coming down from Fisher Perimeter towards our hogback. Our mortar barrage stopped them. The Japs then attacked with small arms, grenades, machine guns.

Grenades rained down on our hogback. As they fell, Japs yelled, "Hey, Americans!" maybe four times. Or instead of grenades, they threw rocks. For Steenstra, rocks were harder.

One machine gun seemed to position itself 30 feet from us until it was knocked out, perhaps by our mortars to endure than grenades. When a rock or grenade thudded to earth, we flattened and waited tensely for the explosion. After an actual grenade blew up, we were briefly relieved when the fragments missed us. But nothing was more nerve-wracking than to wait for the explosion that never came.

Battle fatigue made four men unfit for duty where Japs seemed to batter us from all directions. One man panicked from his forward hole closest to Fisher's Perimeter and ran sobbing back to Lieutenant Steenstra. The Lieutenant calmed him to return. During the panic, Pfc Quinton R. Burcham was killed by a shot in the brain. Steenstra spent all night on guard in the hole beside dead Burcham.

Steenstra estimated that the Jap attacks lasted less than an hour - although Cunningham thought it was three hours before Nippo carriers quit pushing up from C Ridge the other end of the hogback. But finally we had silence among our dead and wounded. Men craved sleep but feared to sleep.

Gray daylight found us still surviving in our holes. We were to stay low because our field artillery were about to barrage the Japs, until F Company would make the attack from the other side. At first, we thought we would only have to pick off stragglers after "F" overran Fisher's Perimeter. At 0745, our field artillery and mortars roared down. Like last night's mortars, first field artillery hit close, within 50-75 yards of us. For nine minutes, we writhed below this menace while the ground shook. The guns deafened our telephone men trying to lift the range. Better adjusted salvos at irregular intervals blasted again - from 0745 to 0920.

 At 0920, Steenstra reported that shellfire had stripped brush from concealing positions on the Japs' strongpoint. Then when support fires lifted, the Japs tried to set up their guns again. Running back to wounded Munkres by his phone, Lieutenant Steenstra suggested that F Company be called up to assail the Japs. Munkres first told Steenstra to pin down the Japs by fire.

 Then Steenstra offered to take five men and wipe out the Japs. Instead of five men, Munkres gave eight more men to Steenstra, and added Lieutenant Herbst with seven men. Two officers, 15 men would attack.

 Despite intense shelling and our superior morale as assailants, the Japs were still strong. Four emplacements cored Fisher's Perimeter, with three light machine guns, one heavy machine gun, and two Jap-type BARs. (We did not yet know that field artillery had disabled their automatic weapons.) "Intelligence" said that only 30-40 Japs faced us, with two pillboxes; but Tech Sergeant Barksdale said later that there were over 100 Japs with four pillboxes.

 While Cunningham, Sessions, and Ferguson secured the far end of the hogback with a light machine gun, Steenstra's and Herbst's men rushed single file up the narrow ridge. Japs popped up everywhere screaming and firing alive and counted to three before we blasted into the Jap holes. With Japs all around us, we drove into Fisher Perimeter. Steenstra had time for just one order, "Spread out!" Then every man struck for himself. We threw grenades, but Japs hurled them back to explode among us. We then released the pins and held them.

 De Mayo of Steenstra's men grenaded two Jap holes. We saw two Japs crawl out to die. Without more grenades, De Mayo fired three clips into two more holes and heard moaning.

 Steenstra's eight men blew up Emplacements 1 and 2. Short of grenades, however, Herbst's men sealed up Nos 3 and 4 with rifle fire until two bags of grenades arrived. Then they gouged out the last two emplacements. Sergeant Grant Ramey shot a Jap out of a tree. He took two bunkers single-handed but dropped with a Jap bullet in his left ribs. Yet he lived.    -

 All this time, "G" fought unaided. But we had struck at the right time; most Japs fought back only from cover. Once, three Japs charged with bayonets; our bullets riddled them.

 Below us, F Company was looking up but not climbing to help us. Our fire-fight had made them hold back. By Steenstra's order, De Mayo went over the ridge-crest and signaled to F Company, who moved up to reinforce us. Then De Mayo returned into battle.

 Japs still hid in dense jungle around Fisher's Perimeter. One at a time, they tried to dash across open space into a cave on the north side of the Ridge. Borrowing rifles, Herbst and Steenstra hit Japs, just as they squatted two jumped into the cave. Others dived in without halting to squat; we do not know how many more of them we shot on the wing.

 Back into the fight, De Mayo saw two wounded men: Sergeant Scar with a bullet in his left side 'into the ribs, and Robertson shot square in the forehead. Both men lived - even Robertson with full mental power, although the Medics dared not remove the bullet in his brain.

 From a kneeling position, De Mayo fired on Steenstra's order at the heavy leafage of a tree 30 yards away - from which we thought that Scar and Robertson were wounded. Unable to see the results of his fire, De Mayo turned to ask Steenstra whether he had seen results.

 As he turned his head, De Mayo took a Jap bullet in the back of his neck. Narrowly missing his brain, the slug knocked out two teeth and passed through his open mouth. On the way through, it missed his windpipe but partly paralyzed his esophagus. It would take De Mayo three weeks' intravenous feeding and continual efforts to swallow before he could work off the paralysis.

 Despite some Jap mortar fire, Medic Weis knelt in the open to give plasma to De Mayo. Two men bore De Mayo back down the Ridge, Summers and a man nicknamed "Pluto" from Hamtrack, Mich.

 We had seen Platoon Sergeant Ramey unconscious and thought that he was dead, but he walked back down the Ridge. Medics removed three splintered ribs, although they could not extricate bits of lead in him forever. One piece remained in his heart muscle, another close to his spine. But Ramey lived many years after.

 Besides Captain Munkres and Hutton wounded last night, and Robertson, Scar, Ramey, and De Mayo wounded that morning, we know only a little about the other wounded. A Jap rifle knocked out Meidell when he charged a hole. Persinger lost an ear-lobe. T/4 Virgil Johnson had a Jap machine gun bullet up his right arm. (We are unsure of the dates when Johnson and Persinger' were wounded.) Captain Munkres said that G's total casualties were two dead, four made unfit for duty, and seven wounded. (The number of wounded which Munkres reported, does not jibe with the number of names above; but no Casualty List of 162 Infantry in the Salamaua Operation has ever been found.) By 0953, F Company had sweated up on G Company's left to hold the ground with us. E Company with a Cannon Company Platoon had topped the Ridge also. We "G" survivors could now lie holed up safely and our own dogged valor. And tomorrow, 13 August 1943, the Japs cut off on the eastern end of Roosevelt Ridge, would be annihilated. Shellfire would lift off the ridge-top.

 

Such was G Company 162 Infantry's epic of close combat on 12-13 August 1943: our night defense of the hogback on Roosevelt Ridge, and our morning charge into Fisher's Perimeter. As for 1st Lieutenant Hal Fisher, killed in our first attack of 2 August, Medics Weis and Knopp found him and buried him in a place of honor before the perimeter which he had tried to storm. G Company 162 Infantry's breaching of Roosevelt Ridge is one of the greatest sagas of close combat that 162 Infantry ever had.

 

CREDIT: G Company 162's Cook Grant Ramey triggered this history with his personal list of G's dead in this action, and an official list of Commendations (41 Division G.O. No.9, 23 February 1944). No roster of 162's Salamaua Operation casualties can be found in Federal Archives. Much was missing from 2nd Lieutenant John Foley's report on the 2 August fight for Fisher's Perimeter, and Captain Garlyn Munkres' report on breaching the ridge, 12-13 August 1943. Core of this history consists of Gaetano de Mayo's letters of 7 May and 5 December 1982, and 22 February 1983; and Colonel Herman Steenstra 's letters of 7 September and 5 December 1982. Useful also was Ramey's undated letter of about December 1982 - with Medic Lewis Weis' letter 1 February 1983, and Samuel Beitler's letters both in 1983 - one undated, one of 29 January. Ramey reinforced these letters with cassettes of Sergeants Chuck Cunningham and Harvey Hutton made in late July 1982. Data from 162 lnfantry's Narrative and Journal of Salamaua Operation were limited, however. Ramey's love for his brother George is primarily responsible for this history - with the fine help of De Mayo and Steenstra.