G Company 163 Infantry: Death Valley at Zamboanga

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, (with another G Company man)

After 3 days' seasick voyage down the Sulu Sea on an LCI, G Company 163 Infantry's 2nd Platoon saw Zamboanga Beach-head under heavy naval-air bombardment. At daybreak 10 March 1945, G's veterans grimly scanned three miles of rice-paddies and coconut groves to the Japs' jungle ridges. After 162 beached, we waded through water armpit deep and safely landed at San Mateo, eight miles west of Zambo City. We crossed the beach before Jap mortars and cannon began blasting the beach and the shipping.

While G Company waited for orders, Staff Sergeant Detzel's squad of 2nd Platoon detached to secure battered Jap gun emplacements on a hill until 2nd Battalion could bring demolition charges for silenced naval guns and anti-aircraft pieces. From here, Arlie Jackson and Sergeant Dulian fired at four Japs crossing a clearing. Dulian felled the front man, and Jackson the rear man. With two more men's help, we slew the other two lying prone. At 200 yards, Dulian's and Jackson's first shots missed a 2-man machine gun crew on the road. Dulian's second shot killed the man with the tripod; Jackson dropped the man with the barrel, who crawled into the brush.

On 11 March at 1400 - after F Company captured Santa Maria under fire - G Company turned south through light rifle fire to help 3rd Battalion seize Zambo City. Under heavy fire from a 3-storey stone building in the business section, we summoned tanks with 75s. When the guns failed to cause a surrender, tanks' and G's fire held the Nip garrison from accurate grenading from windows. Bleck and Jackson of 2nd Platoon lobbed concussion grenades into the lower floor. Sergeant Dulian led a 3-man team in through a window, with Staff Sergeant Waskovich’es men following. With tommie-gun ready, Dulian and Ford behind him climbed half-way up the stairs to smash the door. The Japs then waved a white flag from the window. Fifty-five Jap men and three officers surrendered, of which 55, 15 were wounded, maybe two of them seriously wounded.

 On 12 March, "G" left Zambo City for real combat. Past wrecked Santa Maria Village with 1st Battalion on our right across Route 8-A, we headed for the hills - over open ground with Jap field artillery and heavy mortars exploding shells around us.-We advanced through a coconut grove where field artillery snapped trees off like matches. Mortar shells were mostly tree-bursts. A 20 mm gun pounded terrifically on our left front; machine guns lashed out.

A clump of 75 mm shells hit among Detzel's squad and wounded Staff Sergeant Detzel in arm, shoulder, and leg. Hurrying up to take command, Sergeant Dulian passed 2nd Lieutenant Tower of another platoon bleeding heavily, his shoulder slashed wide open.

Dulian's squad moved 200 yards farther to a road, crossed it in two leaps, and dug holes in the protection of a shallow gully. Waskovich'es squad dug in left of Dulian's. We lay at the edge of a coconut grove with 400 yards of rice paddy' ahead, then another coconut grove. Jap shells now slithered over us for the easier target of E Company in support.

Jap field artillery fire ceased. After lunch, G Company pushed again, beside F Company on the right on Highway 8-A. Crossing the rice paddy into the coconut grove, we gained about 12 feet before , pillboxes too close fired suddenly and drove us to earth. They cut off Dulian's scouts Ford and Muirfield. Behind a coconut trunk where two pillboxes' fire crossed, Dulian had an machine gun shear off bark within inches of his face. Jackson took machine gun bursts in both feet; G Company never saw him again. All G Company was stopped in our tracks, but A Company 716 Tank Battalion killed the Jap pillboxes.

On 13 March, "G" in reserve moved out behind "E" and "F" after 146 Field Artillery shellfire. Probably by now, our tanks had destroyed six 20 mm guns and an ammo dump, but bullets still whistled close. A steady stream of wounded passed us.

We saw a low hill ahead with an E Company Platoon on top, and tanks about 200 yards back from it. As we reached the tanks, a terrific blast lifted the whole hill into the sky. The ground shook; flames shot up 100 feet. Men like sacks of old rags and chunks of rock and equipment flew through the air. Through choking smoke and dust, we heard the call for Medics.

Despite falling debris, and the rock chunk that missed" G" by 20 feet, we rapidly deployed astride Highway 8-A while 2nd Battalion's Medics all hurried to aid E's casualties. Now Waskovich got orders to take a 5-man recon patrol up 8-A and around Blow-Up Hill. We never expected to see those five men again.

While we grimly hoped for their return, a Jap dual 40 mm gun and heavy mortars knocked tree-tops down on us. Peterson in Fields' squad took a wound from a fragment in his shoulder. Another fragment slashed machine gun-man Heidt in the leg.

The fire ahead almost ceased. We saw four of Wasko's five returning. Mortars had impacted all around them; BAR man Pvt. David F. McCorkle's body was left behind after a direct hit. Although Bates was untouched, Corporal Mechlinski had a bullet in his hand, and Bernie Jones had fragments in his back. Wasko was scratched and bleeding.

Captain Braman then sent Dulian with three men and two medics with a litter to bring out McCorkle's body. Wasko warned that machine gun and 40 mm and mortar fire covered the road, with two snipers. With Ronny leading and Lamb in the rear, Dulian with Bleck worked up the roadside ditch and around the curve to McCorkle's corpse. Dark hills ringed us, where the pillboxes were. McCorkle sprawled by a tree, badly mutilated, his BAR belt blown up, but his face untouched. We retrieved him without a shot, from Jap or Yank.

On 14 March, Sergeant Dulian got orders to outpost that deadly curve of Highway 8-A around Blow-Up Hill where McCorkle died. He was to locate Jap positions in what we now called "Death Valley." After preparation from field artillery, mortars, and Marine Corsairs, Dulian, Ford, Bleck, Lamb, and BARman "Tony" started up the road. From Platoon Headquarters, Griffiths and another unnamed man unrolled wire to set up a phone.

Moving about 400 yards with the cover from roadside brush, we positioned in a thicker clump of brush in that open amphitheater which we had named "Death Valley." Our place was almost perfect for safely hidden observation. An open coconut grove gave a field of fire on our left. We could see 100 yards up the ditch - and all Death Valley to our right.

Suddenly through glasses, Dulian saw a Jap enter a pillbox to the right. Pillboxes lined the opposite side of the valley. BAR man "Tony" moved and drew rifle fire. From our left, a rifle cracked a near miss. Machine guns from pillboxes sprayed; a few mortar shells fell. But no Jap patrol sallied out.

Dulian counted 11 pillboxes and some machine guns. Mines were on the road. Several Japs were leaning on the edge of a hillside trench. Although he cupped hands over his glasses, they must have caught the sun. A sniper bullet passed through his sleeve.

Two General Sherman tanks clanked up the road. Dulian showed the pillboxes to the tank Commanding Officer in his open hatch. The tanks charged the Jap lines 200 yards ahead. A "waterfall" of bullets glanced off the tanks; they took direct hits from 40 mm shells. After machine gun fire, they shot with 75s. The Jap fire suddenly halted. The tanks returned with the Commanding Officer's report that all pillboxes were dead, and the 40 mm gun on the road also. (That gun or another gun were soon back into action, however.) AT Company men with a truck and a 37 mm gun relieved Dulian's men, but Jap fire drove them from this position.

Dulian's men then joined 3rd Platoon in reserve and followed F Company with the tanks on the other side of the hill. (Other 2nd Platoon men were already there.) Two air-strikes and tanks failed to pierce Nippo lines. A Jap rifleman fired most of a clip at Dulian, but missed. A 20 mm shell shot two fingers off Sergeant Zowara's hand. Gilbert Smith of Dulian's squad took fragments in knee and back.

On 16 March, we heard that Japs were retreating on our right – before 1st Battalion across Highway 8-A. Roads were jammed with hundreds with drawing. But on our own right, 20 mm guns opened up again. So at 1000, "G" tried a 2-pronged at- tack on Death Valley. While Tech Sergeant Kosing's 1st Platoon pushed on our right around Blow-Up Hill, Reese's 2nd Platoon would fight up Highway 8-A.

Our 2nd Platoon's 2nd Lieutenant Beall ordered us to advance down the road until fired on, then call the waiting tanks. When Waskovich's and Dulian's squads led out abreast on either side of 8-A, Beall then ordered the two scouts out from each squad.

Already 2nd Platoon was in the open before hundreds of Japs in those hills ringing Death Valley, our scouts moved out 200 feet until 100 yards from Jap lines. Then a Jap rifleman shot at 2nd Platoon from the rear, and missed by only a few feet. Our scouts hit the ditch. Because the Jap fired too soon and grounded us, their 20mms and some mortars opened a few seconds too late to wound anybody.

Waskovich and Dulian must crawl up to recall their scouts. Muirfield and Lamb of Dulian's squad were caught on the wrong side of the road grazed by Jap fire. Muirfield leaped across and drew only a few rifle shots. Told to wait a minute, Lamb then jumped to safety, but bullets ripped open his pack. Waskovich's men also escaped.

Beall called for the tanks. Some mortar shells were impacting the road. Beall sent runner Bombardier to clear the phone wire off the road so that the tanks could not cut it.

As the tanks marched up, Dulian's squad flattened into the best of the meager cover they could get against the searing fire that the tanks would draw. Bates, Varney, Sergeants Dulian and Beckman, Tech Sergeant Reece, 2nd Lieutenant Beall - all huddled in a little circle 12 feet wide.

About 30 feet from us, our tanks opened fire. Jap bullets skipped over us. A 20 mm shell glanced from a tank and heated the seat of Dulian's pants and hit the bank a few feet away. Another 20 mm shell plunked a tree three feet above ground nearby and broke it in half. One Jap mortar dud thudded into the mud near Beckman and Dulian and stood upright. Beckman turned white when he saw it unexploded over his shoulder.

All fires halted after 20 minutes, but we could not advance. On our right, Kosing's 1st Platoon could not kill that 20 mm blocking the road. And our 2nd Platoon's Pfc. Eugene H. Bombardier was dead following the tanks. A mortar fragment the size of a bullet had pierced his helmet into his brain. Under heavy rifle fire, 2nd Platoon returned sadly to last night's perimeter.

Suddenly on 17 March, 2nd Platoon advanced through Death Valley unopposed, past pillboxes 10 feet apart, a silent 20 mm gun on the road, bodies of dead Japs in hundreds. On 18 March, with E Company on our left, we entered jungle ridges. Lamb and Dulian found a 4-man Jap outpost unhelmeted on a ridge while eating coconuts, and with their backs turned. Lamb and Dulian killed all four.

While scouting towards a Jap reported in the brush under a cliff, Dulian reached for a grenade. Suddenly he realized that he was out in the open where the Jap might be drawing a bead on him. Dulian whirled to run, but the Jap bullet left a painful flesh wound in his forearm. While checking the wound with Captain Braman and radioman Armstrong, he saw Armstrong felled by a sniper wound in the shoulder.

After other "G" men repelled a night attack, 2nd Platoon had more Jap trouble next morning. Bleck of Dulian's squad crashed to earth with a rifle wound while Waskovich and he took up booby traps in early morning. While lighting a cigarette, Dulian's outguard Ford saw a Jap rifle aiming at him from the brush. Ford shot five un-aimed rounds at him and ran; nobody hit anybody.

But Staff Sergeant Stanley W. Fields died with two bullets in his brain while he tried to save wounded scout Fiorello. Dulian now tried to rescue him. BARmen Bates and "Tony" sprayed the brush low, then waited for the Japs to leave. Then Dulian, Lamb, Whip, and "Tony" found Fiorello with a shattered right arm, a bullet in left leg, and 3 more in his chest. But Fiorello survived.

Now down to 17 men of 39 who had landed on 10 March, 2nd Platoon still agonized in mountain patrols on 19-22 March. Just before dark 22 March, we escaped from a hill position too far advanced where Japs could roll grenades down on us.

On 22 March, 2nd Platoon endured with all G Company on a hill what was our lifetime scare. A Marine pilot with two 500-lb bombs decided that G Company was Jap - even out on an open hill. Bomb No. 1 missed in the gully below us. Bomb No. 2 narrowly missed the hill edge, grazed the almost sheer slope below, and exploded. It knocked down all G Company - wounded a few men with fragments, deafened them a day or so.  Dulian's squad might have died from a shell chunk that shattered a tree two feet above the BAR crew. But luckily, the squad had moved a short time before. Later, Sergeant McInerney picked off a crawling Jap 600 yards away.  

On 23 March, with Waskovich'es squad leading, 2nd Platoon captured Coconut Hill, where two G Company Platoons had failed the day before. Only opposition was four Jap mortar shells. We lost no men. B Company then relieved us.

G Company's 2nd Platoon's Battle of Zamboanga was 16 hard days, but we had soldiered well. But we still lament our dead: David F.McCorkle, Stanley W. Fields, and Eugene H. Bombardier.

 

CREDIT: Core of this history is 42 pages of typescript by an author who wants his name withheld, Other sources are 163 Infantry’s "Zamboanga Journal," "163 Infantry Officers' Roster/10 March ,1945," "V-4 Zamboanga Operation" (Casualty Lists), "Narrative Report" (of 41 st Division Artillery at Zambo), and my own "G Company 163 Infantry's Last Battle, " from Jungleer, October, 1963), My sources leave me uncertain about some names, I cannot find last name of BARman "Tony," I preferred to spell name of Bieck with an "e," rather than an "i." This history is more accurate than my 1963 G Company Zambo story-which lacks any mention of "Death Valley,"