162 Infantry Medical Detachment: From Zamboanga To Namnam

by Medic Donald Cortright

 

On Filipino Mindoro Island in 1945, my medical career began. Although coming to Mindoro as a rifleman, I was reassigned to 162's Medical Detachment. With five others including friends Turner, Schenk, and Kornbluth - high IQ exam ratings had caused reassignments to Medics.

On-the-job training at first was attendance for sick call with an experienced Medic to supervise. I painted sores and bandaged feet, learned names and uses of various medicines. We had medical lectures each morning. Next came classes on bandaging, injecting morphine, and giving plasma. We also had close-order drill, hikes, reveille, and retreat.

There was litter-bearer training for the coming campaign. Officially called noncombatants, we carried carbines "for personal protection only." Although unmarked as Medics on helmets or armbands, we would be identified by carrying medical kits and litters.

One windy, dusty day on Mindoro, I saw 162's first campaign "casualty." A rifleman blew off his big toe with an M-1. He said that he had shot it off accidentally.

I came in time to grasp a large severed tendon - kept it from retracting into the foot before the doctor came. I never saw the man again.

On 8 March 1945, 162's Medics boarded small LCIs ("landing craft Infantry”) for Zamboanga. Beaching on 10 March, 18 minutes after H-Hour, we landed safely.

Hardest work at first was carrying litter, carbine, and pack. The shouldered carbine would slip down my arm and try to fall off when I had to lift the litter to carry a casualty. We also had to carry a heavy medical kit. It held tourniquet, rolled bandage, triangle bandage, scissors, sulfa powder packets, and calamine lotion. We also had packets of 1.5 cc syrettes holding half-grains of morphine tartrate, and several large and small sizes of "field brown" dressings in sterile waxed paper for gunshot wounds.

On D- Day, I helped bear wounded to an aid station. I also helped move that aid station several times. It was set up a few yards behind advancing infantry. That first night, I lay in a hole and watched tracers overhead.

Medics' living conditions improved quickly - with hot food from a kitchen instead of "K" rations. The kitchen also had a few hundred Filipino refugees down from the hills every day. Most of them wore big grins and were very polite.

In late light of 13 March, a plane roared by, not 400 yards away. A soldier yelled "Zero!" Everybody scrambled for the little cover. Half a mile past them, it bombed and strafed the beach, then veered off under harmless anti-aircraft fire. Nobody had bothered with a slit trench, but two hours later, four were deeply dug into the hard ground.

I found three abandoned ponchos and connected them for a mosquito-proof sleeping shelter. On my second night in it, I heard the opening rustle, and leveled my carbine at the sound. It was just Episcopal Chaplain Smith's assistant asking for shelter from the venomous mosquito stings. I "smugly" let him sleep in safety.

Near one aid station were sweet corn fields and sweet potatoes, and nearby coconut trees. There were many vacant huts left standing by the Japs. With buddy Turner, I checked them for souvenirs. Because of possible stray Japs, we often approached a hut from opposite sides with fingers on carbine triggers.

Once we found eggs and sweet com that we guessed that the Filipino owners had left. While we carried this food out, the owners caught us. Boy, were we red faced!

We offered to trade C-ration cans for their plunder. The Filipinos happily agreed. They said that Japs seized their food but never offered to pay. That night, two Medics enjoyed a fresh un-rationed supper.

I traded a pair of suntan pants for a Jap battle flag, found another in the helmet of a Nippo corpse. I acquired a cache of Jap blankets covered with designs, but the Jap diaries I gave to "Intelligence" to translate.

But all the while, Zambo fight went on as 162 Infantry and other regiments drove the Japs deep into jungle mountains. We litter bearers endured the labor of carrying 150-180 pound Yank casualties up and down the foothills. All the while, with the menace of snipers trying to sight us through telescope attachments from tall trees. Like other Medics, we had to take our turn on the killing grounds. But none of us was hit while serving there. One troublesome sniper was indeed hard to kill; I must have fired 50 times without results. Automatic fire was useless against suspected trees. Finally, mortars silenced the sharp reports of his rifle.

Some days later, men bore a dead 2nd Lieutenant into the aid station. While leading his men up a hill, he took a sniper's bullet between his eyes - never knew what hit him.

After a fairly comfortable life in garrison beginning 2 April, I was sent to a Platoon up front. Heaviest combat was over, and F Company was mopping up surviving Japs. I now had to sleep on the ground in a poncho and eat front-line rations that had to be carried. Medics could become a sniper's prime target because a Medic casualty would leave the "F' Platoon without badly needed medical attention.

Yet I was pleased that other "F' men called me "Doc," and placed me for security in the middle of the column on patrol. At night, I slept on inner perimeter.

Suddenly there was a real initiation into duties of a frontline Medic. Asleep in perimeter with only combat boots off, I woke to rifle shots, then the call "Medic!" Back into boots with aid kit, I slipped into a trench with a wounded Yank.

With diarrhea, this man had crawled outside perimeter without telling anyone. When he tried to crawl back, his own squad leader thought him a Jap and shot him three times.

Before treating the wounds, I injected a 1.5 cc morphine syrette into the man. Then I powdered all wounds with sulfa, bandaged them under a flashlight. It was an ordeal to dress them. Every time I moved the man, I found another hole - three entrance and three exit wounds. One was in the chest, one in the side, and one in the elbow. Entrance M-1 hole was about the size of a little finger. Exit hole behind it was as large as a fist where a chunk of flesh was blasted out.

Trying to comfort him, I stayed beside him until daylight. Then came other Medics with plasma. They splinted his broken arm to a carbine and carried him back in a litter.

(Like this man, I was once almost shot accidentally. From sleep in a tent back in garrison, I went to the latrine in the dark. Returning to lift the entrance flap, I stared into an M-1 muzzle. Thankfully, the man was not trigger-happy.)

Although 186 and 163 men still hunted down retreating Nips in the Zambo mountains, I's 162 Infantry embarked to help 24 Infantry Division regain Central Mindanao from the Japs. By 4 May after voyaging some 150 miles east from Zambo over Moro Gulf, I debarked from an LST ("landing ship tank") at Cotabato. Here I spent two weeks on aid station duties - mostly treated Filipinos with nasty sores and ulcers.

Then I became part of 2nd Battalion 162's final fighting in World War II. While 62's other battalions reinforced 24 Infantry Division far southeast of Cotabato to fight north of Davao, I's 2nd Battalion moved on the Japs northwest of Cotabato. In mountains east of Pulangi River, Jap survivors of 30 Division still held out.

Jammed into a tiny LCM ("landing craft mechanized") on 19 May, I endured a torturing trip eastward up Mindanao River deep into the island. It was a dismal 10 hours in an open boat under hot sun as Mindanao River bored inland.

All along the banks, natives came out to stare at this liberating convoy. They yelled - clapped hands - danced jigs.

Most of their children were stark naked. Soldiers threw part of their K-rations to them, laughed as they scrambled for what we had rejected.

Our LCM voyage ended after about 50 miles east from Moro Gulf to near Kabakan Village where the river kept on east. For trekking 100 miles north to Valencia Airport, we boarded trucks of 1.5 tons - 6x6 trucks. Journey was hard labor - up twisted trails - through jungles and mountains, along cliff-sides and down gorges.

I's "six -by-six" dragged a three-ton ammo trailer, so was stuck in mud or on grades more than other trucks. Like the others, I's truck had a powerful winch on the front. Sometimes, they had to use the winch just to pull the truck a few yards at a time. Once they took seven hours to move 15 miles. I still remembers their camp in a rubber plantation. A gash in a tree would produce "rubber juice," a thin, white milky sap.

It took over two days to reach Valencia Airport, about center in wide Mindanao Island. I was now in Bukidnon Province, a land of grassy savannas and high mountains, much like West Texas, with its southwest continental climate. Days were hot; nights were cold. At night, I needed two wool blankets. But the chill did keep down the number of mosquitoes.

At Valencia, men had a "Jap scare." One night 200 men panicked before a movie screen. At the edge of the watchers, 10 men rose and crowded towards the center. Then men began to shove and scramble and crawl. They cowered - as if defenseless from a hail of grenades or a Jap bayonet-rush. Screen was knocked over; a major lost a tooth. The cause was that one man thought that he had seen a Jap - nothing else!

Expecting front-line Medic's action again, I finally solved the problem of carrying a litter with the slung carbine sliding down his shoulder. A passing soldier peddled me a .45 automatic for $50, with two 7-shot clips.

On 13 June, I's 2nd Battalion 162 was part of the Namnam move to help clear Japs from the Iglosad-Namnam area east of Valencia. Five columns advanced east across Pulangi River - elements of 31 Division with 180th Regimental Combat team and 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry attached.

Through rain forests and mountains, we floundered in knee-deep mud and across hip-high streams. Starting down a big hill above a valley before more high mountains, we were in danger. We were halfway down the hill when Jap fire broke out. We hit the ground and started to crawl back up, hoping that the tall grass would help conceal us. It was tough to have to crawl under heavy packs. As the sweating men rested, a burst of bullets thudded the ground nearby.

One slug struck near the heel of the man in front of me. That scared man crawled uphill to escape past three men above him. Exhausted and angry, I wanted to snatch an M-1 to empty down the valley.

This fight lasted several days while mortars and planes even with napalm impacted the Japs until infantry expelled them. Meanwhile, I was almost killed. On the hill-crest, I scanned Jap positions with borrowed binoculars. Maybe they reflected the light. A Jap sniper's bullet clipped so close to me that it threw dirt into my mouth. I rolled over to safety and thankfully returned the borrowed binoculars.

Yet only reported casualties for 162 Infantry were Major Ratliff and Pfc Morris. Native bearers had to carry Ratliff by stretcher all the way back through mountain jungles to Valencia.

After 21 days, 2nd Battalion 162's "Namnam Mission" was over. There had been a victorious three-day fight near Miligan, and five days more combat near Pulangi River. But field artillery and planes carried on most of the battles. Then the Yanks turned over the pursuit of the fleeing Japs to the Filipino Infantry, and marched 20 miles back to Valencia in two days.

My real war was ended. But to go home again, I had to return to Zamboanga and participate with 162 Infantry in the Japanese occupation.

For me, the war was great. Besides coming home alive and unwounded, I had gained an incentive through my Medic's experience to become a civilian medical professional.

 

CREDIT: Don Cortwright's book "A GI in World War II" is based on his diary.