D Company 186 Infantry: Palawan

by Nick (Leroy) Wheeler and Other D 186 Men, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

On 9-25 February 1945, D Company 186 Infantry staged on barren Mindoro Island across the narrow channel from Luzon to fight for Palawan and Zamboanga. South Mindoro near Progreso Village was a flat, dry plain with a few trees. Despite wind, dust, and water shortage, our tents and cots seemed homelike. Native hucksters sold our kitchen corn on the cob, although our Iowa farmers thought it poor and we joshed them about it.

For Palawan Beach, D's two heavy machine gun platoons were to load on different LCls - one platoon with AT Company, and one with B Company. These machine guns would be in the first wave. Our .81 mortars would beach in the second wave. On 24 February, we pre-loaded mortars into alligators which went on LCTs, attached to C Company in reserve. Mortarmen carried two firing units, and Battalion A&P had a reserve unit for us.

Like all 186's Companies, "D" was far under strength - just 133 enlisted men. We had few replacements during and after Biak action. To save their lives for rotation home, we transferred 11 "D" men to Service Company to unload cargo after the beachhead. While we waited for trucks to the beach, replacements arrived and filed off our little squads. These rookies were very scared men.

Just before dark 26 February, 186 departed Mindoro to seize Palawan, that long, narrow island southward in the Sulu Sea. At dawn, we got an idea of the size of our V-3 Task Force - 80 ships, three protecting light cruisers, four destroyers. Our convoy's Ground Force Engineers were to build three air-strips.

PALAWAN At daylight 28 February, we waited to land while Air Force, Naval guns, and LCI rocketships battered the beach. A and B Companies then hit White Beach 1 at the end of the peninsula east of Puerto Princesa Bay.

When our second-wave LSTs unloaded vehicles, they stuck in the soft sand. Transport Corporal Marv Johnson called the alligator drivers to tow all of our jeeps off the beach.

             Landing was simple but for the LST with our rotation men aboard. The tide changed. The sea vanished below us and left us on wet sand. Our LST was a sitting duck for Jap shells. A destroyer threw a line but could not tug the LST into water.

From northward, a valiant Jap 20 mm gun fired on the LST and sprayed the forward gun-mount with vicious little exploding shells. But we know of no casualties. Our cruisers wiped out that gun-crew. Later, "C" found three abandoned 20 mm guns.

Although some 1800 Japs had held the Puerto Princesa area, 1st Battalion did not fight until the third day ashore. On 2 March, when E Company had a few casualties on flat-topped, sheer-sided Hill 1125, "B" and a "D" machine gun platoon relieved E Company.

While B Company had a fire-fight, 1st Battalion's Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, Captain Nelson (Battalion S-3), Sergeant Major Pharr, and D's Commanding Officer Captain Gates scouted on B's left to find a way to advance A Company. Sudden Jap heavy machine guns grounded them for 15 minutes. While B Company tried to save them, D Company's mortar observation party' arrived with Lieutenant Rodgers.

Rodgers ordered our base mortar to fire a round to help adjustment on the Japs. By pure luck, this first .81 round impacted a Jap ammo dump. The area just over hill-crest seemed, to erupt - a wild fireworks fountain for some 10 minutes. Then D's 1st Platoon's two heavy machine guns targeted and silenced the Jap machine guns. The 1st Battalion scouting party of officers escaped unharmed.

Three times after preparatory shelling, B Company pushed but did not drive home with their M-1s because they would lose too many men. Amazingly accurate Jap fire countered D's heavy machine guns. At 1730, a machine gun slug wounded Fersch in left biceps while a second machine gun slug hit McKenzie in right knee. ("B" lost one killed, four wounded.)

By 4 March, Cannon Company had up 105 mm guns on self-propelled mounts to help the attacks on Hill 1125. While 167 Field Artillery fired 100 rounds of 105s in three concentrations, "D" spent a whole fire unit. They destroyed 2 20 mm gun positions; riflemen captured two heavy machine guns. The dazed Japs withdrew from Hill 1125.

Lieutenant Saucier's rank was painted on his helmet. Last night, a sniper had laired in a cave behind our front. Next day at close range, the sniper's bullet cracked Saucier's helmet and knocked him down, but did not kill him. Although "D" men tried to take the sniper prisoner, he preferred death and died from a flame-thrower. Another sniper grazed machine gun-gunner Franke, but only lightly.

Amusing was 2nd Platoon's gunners' discovery of four full barrels of alcohol in the tall grass. They carried off half a barrel.

On Palawan, D Company endured no more near misses. On 5 March, our 81s with Cannon 186 and Battery C 167 Field Artillery barraged the Japs from their Firm Hill Headquarters. On 6-8 March, our mortars teamed again with 167 Field Artillery and Cannon 186 to enable G Company to storm the Japs' strongest position - the Hill 1445 hogback. The stubborn resistance of the outgunned and outnumbered Palawan Japs was ended. Core of their resistance was 174 Infantry's 4 Company, with 131 Airfield Battalion, and 1st Independent Maintenance Unit.



CREDIT: Overwhelming credit is due to a 34-page single-spaced typescript researched and composed by Nick Wheeler and reviewed by 1st Sergeant Wayne Strebig, both of D 186, D's contributing authors were Commanding Officer Captain George Gage, Ross Kreager, Marion Criswell, Lloyd Sabby, and Albert Hannegan - with all three platoons and Headquarters represented, I checked also 186's two Casualty Lists from the Southern Philippine Campaign - one from 28 February to 27 March 1945 (on Palawan) and another from 30 May through 20 March 1945 (at Zamboanga - less 2nd Battalion and Cannon Company), This last list seems to me inaccurately kept, Where Wheeler and this last list disagree, I have relied on Wheeler, (I may have made unavoidable errors, for the typescript has been nearly unreadable - in some places.) This is the fifth and last of Wheeler's stories - the only full history of any weapons Company ever to appear in Jungleer. First four were reprinted in my Fighting Jungleers, Originally, they were published in Jungleer, in December 1973 (Campaign in Papua), June 1970 (Hollandia), March 76 (Biak), and January 1977 (Biak also),