Continued from Sanananda...

When we arrived in Australia we moved back into our previous camp area. We began a very hard training program and we started receiving replacements to bring our unit up to strength.

One day the father of the girl I had left my guitar with came by and told me she wanted me to come by and get my guitar. As I walked from the road towards the house I saw her running from the garden. I knocked on the door and went in and waited for her for what seemed like an eternity. When she finally arrived I noticed that she had gone upstairs, changed clothes, and prettied up before coming back down to say hello. It turned out that she wanted me to teach her to play the guitar. I did as well as I could before leaving to go back to the islands again. When we departed again, I gave the guitar to her and this time I didn’t return to retrieve it.

In November we were given a weeklong leave. Lloyd Leppink and I went to Sydney for our days off. After a good time we headed back to our unit in Rockhampton. We had about a two-hour layover in Brisbane on our way back. My brother Cliff had left us while we were still in Oro Bay to enroll in Officers Candidate School at Camp Cable, which was located 40 miles from Brisbane. I wanted to see if I could find him but we didn’t have enough time. So Lloyd and I decided to go downtown and get something to eat. As we turned the first corner we ran face to face into whom else but Cliff. It turned out that this was his first trip into town since graduating from OCS. What a coincidence. We proceeded to eat, drink and have a good visit.

As soon as we reported to duty again we headed back to Toorbul Point near Brisbane for amphibious training. We trained alongside a unit of Aussie Commandos. The commandos were a tough bunch of men who ran two miles to wash their face and two miles back to the camp, all before eating breakfast.

The training at Toorbul Point allowed us to practice making beach landings. The training consisted of many phases, starting with loading and unloading ourselves from a small landing craft. Next we would go down over the side of the large ships using nets, taking all of our weapons with us. We then had to get into the landing craft, go to the formation area and then come back to the ship to do it all over again. After this phase, we began making actual landings onto the beach. When we landed we had to set up our crew served weapons and deploy our troops. We did this routine many times a day, often working late into the evening.

One night as we were about to make our last run, a violent storm blew in. The ocean began to churn with giant waves and the sky turned dark as if someone had pulled the curtains closed. Soon we were being beaten by high winds and lightning started flashing on the horizon. We found that we were in a very perilous situation. The waves started pounding the boat and when we got down in the troughs between the breakers, the water would come in faster than the bilge pumps could pump it out. In order to keep the craft afloat all of the crew had to take off their helmets and help bail water. There were only two life jackets aboard the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel) and there were 22 crewmen aboard, including the Coxswain.

When the lightning would flash the Coxswain was able to straighten out the LCVP so it could ride the swells, but when the darkness rolled in the waves would break over the sides of the craft dousing us with water. Finally, in the distance, we spotted a light. The Coxswain shouted to us and said that if that light was on Bribie Island we might make it. But if the light was coming from the ship we were in trouble because there was a reef between the island and the ship. We didn’t have many choices so we decided to head towards the light. As we got closer to the light we could see the outline of trees being illuminated by the lightning flashes in the distance. We realized that we had made it to the island. As the craft came in on a big swell the Coxswain opened the engine throttle wide open and we hit hard on the sandy beach. He quickly threw out the kedge anchor and we started to unload. The waves continued to break over the top of the craft and it was turned sideways.

The first step was to make sure that everyone was accounted for. After that was accomplished we began preparing a fire to warm our soaking bodies. We headed back to the craft, hand in hand, to retrieve two five-gallon cans of diesel fuel. One man had a cigarette lighter that was still in working order, so after gathering a big pile of driftwood from the beach, we finally got a fire started. We had to use both cans of fuel to do so because everything was soaking wet.

By this time we were all cold, wet and miserable. All of the cigarettes were soaked but there was one man who smoked a pipe so he had a pouch full of tobacco. That night all of us smokers passed the pipe around to pass time. It turned out to be a very long night. The search crew didn’t find us until 1100 hours the next day. As the morning came you could see how high the waves had been the night before. The landing craft was lodged onto the beach, right up to the edge of the timber, which was about 150 yards from the water. They had to bring an LCI, a much larger craft, to drag it back into the water. We all felt very lucky that we had survived this ordeal. Unfortunately this day was not the last of the incident. I wound up in the Army hospital for 25 days suffering from pneumonia.

After my stay in the hospital, I was released to a replacement center located at a racetrack called Camp Ascott. The Colonel who was in command here was very mean as well as arrogant. We called the place Camp Gestapo. The majority of the new GI’s that arrived in Australia came through this camp. In addition, all of the soldiers who were temporarily separated from their units, like us coming from the hospital, were funneled through here. During our stay here we were used to unload supply ships arriving from the states. This duty was a nightmare for Sergeants like myself because we had to handle hundreds of men, none of whom we knew, in the cumbersome duty of unloading the ships. Finally I was released to go back to my Unit because we were preparing to return to New Guinea. The thought of rejoining my Unit, even with the knowledge that we would probably encounter more combat, was much more appealing to me than remaining at Camp Gestapo.