2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment: Chaplain Smith's Southern Philippine Campaign

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Chaplain (Captain) Robert C. Smith

 

            These are the highlights of 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry's Chaplain Robert Smith's career during his Southern Philippine Campaign - from Zamboanga Beachhead into the Pulangi River highlands of Central Mindanao. At 0932, 10 March 1945 Captain Smith landed from LCI 700 with G Company 162 Infantry in the second wave at Zamboanga. Like G 162's men, he went ashore through hip-deep water. A slight but energetic sunburnt man, Smith was still queasy from two days' voyage down from Mindoro.

            Chaplain Smith's duties soon began. At 1055 when advancing G Company lost 2 wounded and 1 killed from Jap machine gun fire, Smith was with Medics at the aid station. As ever, he offered a prayer for every wounded man, if the man consented. (During all of Smith's service, only one man ever refused that prayer.) He prayed for G Company's Pfc Robert A. Carr and S/Sergeant Frank J. Di Laura, who was shot in the leg. (Di Laura was reported lightly wounded, and Carr seriously wounded.)

            And with Chaplain's Assistant T/5 Sidney Stafford, Smith prepared his first combat burial service at Zambo. At the grave of G Company's Pvt. Gerald E. Gordon, he carried out the necessarily short rite of burial under combat conditions. Reading some portions of his Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, he performed a short ritual for Gordon, temporarily buried in an isolated grave near the beach. And that night, Chaplain Smith also slept below ground in a hole laboriously dug with Assistant Stafford.

            On the second day of his beachhead, Sunday, 11 March, Smith's life was comparatively peaceful. Except for detached F Company fighting for Caldera Point west of Zambo City, his 2nd Battalion patrolled for inland Jap positions, and awaited orders. Smith and Stafford bivouacked in the yard of a Moro family - even set up their pup-tent.

            That Sunday night, Smith held a General Protestant Service for men at 2nd Battalion 162 Command Post. Then he celebrated Holy Communion of his own Episcopal Church. He used a litter as an altar for his Episcopalians to kneel before.

            By Army Regulations, Smith had to have a General Protestant Service, and was permitted to have another for his own sect, if men desired it. (Army Regulations classified Smith as Protestant. In much of its ritual and theology, however, the Episcopal Church is much like the Roman Catholic Church. Smith himself is a member of an Episcopal monastic order, the Society of St. John the Evangelist. By permission of his monastic superior, Smith had volunteered for military service.)

            Next Monday, 12 March, Smith conducted services for men of E and G Companies in the forward areas whom he could not see on Sunday. "E" and "G" were on patrol inland to locate the Japs'   positions.

            By 15 March, 2nd Battalion 162 less "F" at Caldera Point was also committed for front-line action. While E Company with attached AT Company fought in the hills above the Japs' San Roque Village, G Company began pushing up East Ridge to capture Mount Capisan. With Assistant Stafford, Smith also moved forward to the action. While Smith set up their pup-tent, Stafford dug a hole which they named "Stafford's Cemetery." Smith had another difficult chaplain's duty. A sister of a 2nd Battalion Headquarters officer had died back in the States, and Smith had to break the news to the officer.

            Next Sunday 18 March, Smith jeeped alone to E Company, well forward on a mountain. Stafford was ill. (In E Company, Pfc Ralph W. Juhl had been killed near his hole the night before.) Smith's E Company congregation met safely below a rise in the ground. For greater security, the men took intervals so that no group would tempt Jap automatic fire. Relieved, Smith then jeeped down to G Company for his second service. The prayers and praise of his congregation were punctuated by firing at G Company's forward Command Post.

            Against Jap pressure from the north, AT Company had reinforced "G" with two 37 mm guns. So when Smith went to G's forward Command Post, he found "too much confusion" for another service. (That night, Japs would make an abortive attack on G Company.) That Sunday, Smith had four services - two General Protestant services, and one Episcopalian. He had once more endangered his life.

            On 21 March, Smith expected to relocate in a new 2nd Battalion forward area, but E Company's attack through a hedge of overgrown poplars was repelled with six dead, 13 wounded. Next day, 22 March, when E Company overran that position and 2nd Battalion closed in on Mount Capisan, Smith was on his usual duty at the aid station. He ministered both physically and spiritually to 2nd Battalion men. (In E's successful attack that 22 March, "E" had seven wounded, and "F" had 10 wounded. "H" had three wounded, and "G" one wounded.)

            Smith gave the last rites before death to a Greek Orthodox soldier with a frightful head wound. (This man was probably F Company's William Christodolov, shot through his helmet into his head. But his name does not appear on 162's death-list; we hope that he survived with total recovery.)

            In the next two days, 2nd Battalion 162 stormed Capisan. On 25 March, Palm Sunday, the day that Christ entered Jerusalem, Smith and Assistant Stafford early began their two-hour climb on foot to Capisan summit. After much needed rest, they gathered a con gregation of some 100 men. But as services were to commence, a Jap sniper decided to consecrate us with his bullets.

            After moving "Church" to a safer spot, he continued his rites. He blessed and distributed palm crosses that were made yesterday. He read the names of 2nd Battalion's casualties during last week - 20 killed and six wounded in that push which took Mount Capisan. After a lunch of "C" rations donated by E Company, Smith held services for that outfit. At Battalion Command Post, he conducted a third General Protestant service, and Holy Communion.

            On 26 March, he visited 2nd Field Hospital to counsel the wounded not yet evacuated from Zambo. On 28 March, he moved with Battalion Command Post to Mount Capisan, with a breath-taking view of the Zamboanga Foreshore. Next day, he celebrated communion to observe Maundy Thursday, when Christ instituted the Holy Sacrament. But bad weather kept him from celebrating Good Friday.

            Easter Day, 1 Apr 1945, was one of Chaplain Smith's greatest and hardest days of work in the Army. After sunrise services on Capisan, he celebrated Holy Communion. Third service was on another hill near Capisan, at E Company Command Post. Fourth and fifth services were in G Company's area. G Company gave Smith and Stafford an Easter banquet far different from "B" or "C" rations: fresh roast pig, corn, sweet potatoes. Sixth and seventh services were for F Company with attached "H" men. Finally, at 1600, he celebrated Episcopal Eucharist with a sizable congregation of his own Church assembled from many outfits.

            On 5 Apr, Chaplain Smith crossed to large, mountainous Basilan Island 12 miles south of Zambo mainland. At Isabella, he conducted a late Protestant Easter service for B Company. At Lamitan, he baptized three children of an Episcopalian Filipina mother, and served Communion which was for them the first time in four years since the Jap invasion. To give communion for another Episcopalian, he had to cross by native boat over a crocodile infested stream.

            He had indeed worked hard and risked himself to serve Christ. On 19-24, he suffered even more for his hard work - spent five days in 2 Field Hospital with dysentery.

            But on 1 May, recovered Smith took the field again when 162 Infantry was attached to campaign with 24 Division and 31 Division in the great half-wild land of central Mindanao across the Moro Gulf from Zamboanga Peninsula. Landing unopposed from LST 531 on the west coast of the Mindanao mainland east of Zambo Peninsula, he left Parang on 4 May to jeep south and bivouac outside battered Cotabato Town.

            Especially did Smith remember services at nearby Tamontaka southeast of Cotabato in the Roman Catholic church. Japs and Moros had desecrated it, but Smith rejoiced that Sunday of 6 May. It was a long time since he had heard God's praises in hymns in a real church building. Three days later, he jeeped some 10-12 miles to give E Company a service at Libungan on the edge of the great Libungan swamp. Because Stafford was ill, Smith traveled alone but for his organ. Moving from conducting ritual to his organ and back would make him smile later; he said that he felt like a jumping-jack.

            The mop-up of 2nd Battalion in the Cotabato area was finished. On 19 May, 2nd Battalion was attached to 31 Division and ordered to move inland to Sayre Highway, then turn north on it to guard Valencia Strip and nearby supply dumps. On 19 May in a motor convoy, he penetrated 44 miles inland to Kabakan, where 24 Division had seized a road junction, and separated the Jap 30 Division on the north from 100 Division in the Davao area to the southeast.

            Turning almost at right angles northwards when they hit Sayre Highway, Smith's 2nd Battalion drove over almost impassable roads, but after three days, arrived at Valencia.

            Mistakenly, Smith believed that he was settled for awhile near Valencia Strip. He even tried to teach a Bible class, but attendance was poor. By 26 May, he was erecting an attractive chapel - a squad tent decorated with a blue parachute brought from Biak. Assistant Stafford built an attractive altar, altar rail, pulpit, and credence table for the bread and wine. All were made of graceful, fresh green bamboo.

            So well settled had they become at Valencia that they had to move some miles south to Maramgag Strip 1 and rebuild "church" again. On 30 May, of course official Memorial Day, Smith had a sizable congregation despite torrential rain. Names of 2nd Battalion's dead since departure from Finschafen long ago in April, 1944, were read, and prayers said for them. By the time services were over, the rains had made the chapel floor into a pond. (At some time during the evening also, he had taught a Bible class of a fairly large number.)

            A few days later while returning from Protestant services from an E Company platoon several miles north, Smith and Stafford were briefly again in 2nd Battalion's front lines. A sniper made a near miss against them on the road, and they raced out of danger.

            While Smith with Stafford carried on their ministry at Maramag, all 162 Infantry except 3 Battalion and 205 Field Artillery got orders to move north from Kabakan. They were to drive north from Kabakan up Sayre Highway and assemble at Matamag to reinforce 31 Division's 108 Infantry against the Japs. But heavy rains deepened muddy, war-torn Sayre Highway and bogged down wheeled traffic. After five days' labor, 30 May to 5 June, order was rescinded. All 162 Infantry but Smith's 2nd Battalion went southeast to battle for 24 Division in the Davao area. But 31 Division needed our 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry.

            Smith became part of one of our 41st's final combat operations of World War II. Lt. General Gyosaku Morozumi's 30 Division had withdrawn east across Pulangi River into the mountain foothills. So 2nd Battalion 162 and 108 Infantry had to fight Morozumi there.

            On 13 June, Smith without sick Stafford accompanied 2nd Battalion eastward towards the high mountains of central Mindanao - a chain that runs north and south all the way across the island. Bivouacking that night by the Pulangi River ferry, Smith conducted a sunset Vesper service which the approaching storm caused him to cut to ten minutes. In the next two days, he carried out burial services for two guerillas who had been with them.

            During 13-30 June, Smith went with 2nd Battalion to penetrate 20 miles northeast from Maramag into the Iglosad-Namnam area. And 2nd Battalion fought the Jap delaying groups, but with only two casualties reported - Morris and Major Ratliff - both marked wounded lightly on 23 June. These casualties probably occurred when 2nd Battalion fought 200 Japs in a strong perimeter near Luminatao. Here mortars and planes helped E and G Companies to overrun this perimeter.

            By 30 June, Smith was in 2nd Battalion's return from the Glodsad area, taken over by Guerilla 112 Infantry to drive the Japs into a starvation mountain wilderness. He required only a day to cover a distance that had taken five days for the 20-odd miles across the Pulangi from Maramag. By 3 July, he was in a motor convoy north from Valencia to Bugo on the Mindanao coast. Here he boarded LCI 611 with E Company, happy to get back from the wilds into the Filipino-Army civilization of Zamboanga.

            Such was Chaplain Smith's Southern Philippine Campaign. He had inspired the troops by devotion to duty, steady courage, and coolness under fire. Often he had gone afoot over hazardous ground and climbed to crests of various hills to hold services and administer to the wounded. This Episcopalian member of a monastic order had been one of our many dedicated Army chaplains.

 

CREDIT: Prime source is Father Robert C. Smith's   6-page, single-spaced typescript; provided by his Assistant, Tech Sergeant Sidney Stafford. Smith also contributed letters of 8 April and 18 April 1982. Important also were 162 Infantry's Casualty Reports and Narratives of Zamboanga and Central Mindano - with background from RR Smith's Triumph in the Philippines, and Reports of General MacArthur: Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area. For the Maramag-Iglosad background, I have only a half-page from William McCartney's The Jungleers, which reads like a word-for-word transcript of a report which is not available to me.