G Company 163 Infantry (2nd Platoon): Combat in the Zamboanga Ridges

By Staff Sergeant Kermit Dulian with Dr. Hargis Westerfield Division Historian

 

After G 163's 2nd Platoon's four-day fight against Japs in "Death Valley" at their Pasananca stronghold, we had to battle them again on the Zambo ridges. On 17 March 1945, 2nd Platoon advanced again into that deadly defile with a ridge holding pillboxes 10 feet apart and a 40 mm gun emplaced. This time, no tanks marched with us, but the valley and its gun were forever silenced. Past hundreds of shell-tor Japanese corpses, 2nd Platoon climbed our first ridge while laying wire back to Commanding Officer Captain Braman.

With E Company on our right, "G" was to push against Japs still holding the ridge running from southeast to northwest above Pasananca. We were also to contact and support 162 Infantry operating against Mount Capisan to our left. With two air-strikes and shells from 146 Field Artillery's 105s and 218 Field Artillery's 155s, we moved safely into the ridges. The night was quiet but for a 146 field artillery "short" that landed too near S/Sergeant Dulian's hole.

On 18 March, E Company passed us climbing high, steep hills. In a park-like valley, we found a Jap Headquarters’ with motor pool and switch board for detonating mined hills. We destroyed the board.

On a four-man patrol up a steep trail to a hill-top, Scout Lamb saw four men with backs turned who sat eating coconuts. With "E" to our right, and 162 to our left, Lamb thought that the four were 162's Yanks. But Dulian knew that even the most careless Yanks would watch a little.

Tommie gun ready, Dulian slipped into the clearing and shouted, "Hi, fellows!" Four Japs leaped up to face us - and drop under Dulian's Tommie and Lamb's M-1. Later we found two helmets and blood. Probably a fair-sized Jap outpost had fled with the four bodies.

Captain Braman had "G" occupy that ridge. Now Tech Sergeant Reece saw movement at a cliff-base 60 feet below. Going down with Ford and McInerney to clear the brush near the cliff, Dulian saw leaves shake. He reached for a grenade. Suddenly he realized that he was a target for a concealed Jap 30 feet off who might have a bead on him that very instant.

As he whirled to run for cover, a Jap bullet went all the way through his left forearm, near where another bullet had wounded him last year on Biak. All three took cover; the Jap escaped. Dulian's arm burned and stung and bled freely, but the wound was too minor for him to earn a hospital rest.

While Braman and radioman Armstrong examined Dulian's wound in a seemingly safe spot - but in the open - we heard a loud "Crack!" A Jap bullet in the shoulder felled Pvt Garland Armstrong and did hospitalize him - and not Dulian.

About 1405, a 30-man "G" patrol from another Platoon contacted 162's men on our left flank across a 500-yard gap. Although pressing Japs before us, "G" was again in a hot spot.

About midnight of 18-19 March, Japs struck 3rd Platoon below 2nd Platoon - killed Staff Sergeant Raymond A Utigard, wounded Tech Sergeant Deloyd A Rudningen. G and H Companies slew probably 19 Japs. Firing continued until daylight.

On 19 March, G's 2nd Platoon had some bloody little fights. Early that morning, we heard Jap rifle fire below. Fields' squad was working through brush to scare out the Japs.

Meanwhile, 2nd Platoon's Bleck and Staff Sergeant Waskovich were neutralizing booby traps 30 feet apart. Wasko looked around just as Pvt Robert A Bleck crashed to the ground as a rifle cracked. Bleck saved himself by crawling back to a stretcher.

Now five shots rang out like a Jap heavy machine gun. Scared Ford ran from out-guard back to Dulian trying to eat a "K" ration. As Ford reached for a cigarette, he had seen a Jap trying to kill him from the brush. Without aim, Ford fired five shots fast as a Jap machine gun, and ran. Dulian took Abramowitz back to support Ford on his guard, and returned to his “K" ration.

Then Sergeant Reece and 2nd Lieutenant Beall asked for Dulian's help. Scout Pfc Anthony E Fiorillo of Staff Sergeant Fields' squad lay wounded in brush under hidden Jap riflemen. Stanley W. Fields himself had tried to save Fiorello and had died with two bullets in his head.

Dulian heard that Fiorello lay in jungle on the right of the trail, but we could not see him or hear him. The Japs were somewhere left of the trail - but probably only a few of them.

Dulian had his BARman Tony and Bates from Wako's squad take a 50-foot interval between them and spray the brush left of the trail. They fired several clips low in the brush. We waited 10 minutes to give the Japs time to leave.

With Tony and Whip covering, Lamb and Dulian went in for Fiorello. The Japs were gone, but Fiorello could not be heard. Lamb finally saw Fiorello; Dulian softly called to him. At first, Fiorello would not answer. But he was still alive!

Later, Fiorello said that every time he cried for help, the Japs shot him again. He had lost much blood, from a bullet in the right leg, and three in the chest. But after plasma and bandages, he survived in hospital.

Stanley Fields, David F. McCorkle, and Eugene H. Bombardier were dead, and other sick or wounded - out of action. G's 2nd Platoon was down from 38 to 16 men - "the 16 fighting fools," as we called ourselves. Fields' disbanded squad joined with Dulian's and Waskovich's squad to bring both up to seven men apiece. Pressing on into the hills on 20 March, 2nd Platoon narrowly escaped from a dark night trap. That morning, 2nd Platoon worked carefully down a steep slope into a village that the Nips had just left. Returning villagers gave us tomatoes and fresh eggs tasting wonderful when we boiled them. F Company sent a patrol up a ravine into the next hill and brought back their dead - a handsome blond young man, blood-covered. The "F" Lieutenant said that Jap dugouts and pillboxes were everywhere. Filipino refugees also reported Japs in force a mile up the ravine.

About 1400, 2nd Platoon got orders to advance up that ravine. G Company's Sergeant Kosing already held the hill shoulder on the left. "E" was trying to push up the shoulder on our right.

In 2nd Platoon, Dulian's squad moved out first. His two BARmen were in front for heavy fire instantly on any Jap who might open up. The BARmen were Dulian's Tony and Fields ' Bowers.

After 100 yards past Kosing, a Jap light machine gun fired, with several rifles. Dulian's squad dropped under fire. Our glasses spied pillboxes on both sides, but not the Jap light machine gun, which Kosing's BARs could not kill because the gunners could not see it.

Around the ravine bend, Dulian dodged back to the main G Company, and brought back withdrawal orders. They left, a man at a time, while H Company covered with a heavy machine gun barrage.

Orders now were to entrench in the throat of the ravine for the night. We might as well have had our graves dug in advance.

It was a downhill lie where Japs could roll grenades on us in the dark. We were drawing occasional sniper shots; the light machine gun was zeroing in on us. And to hold this ravine, we had only 1st Lieutenant Brandon's detachment - Beall's 16 men of our Platoon, part of 3rd Platoon, and a section of light machine guns. Japs cut our wire behind us. When Griffith and Goodman went to splice it, a shot missed them from a pillbox cleared earlier. Around a bend, Goodman with his tommie suddenly faced a Jap with a Yank BAR across a boulder. The surprised Nip ducked. Goodman and Griffith raced back around our bend to tell our little detachment that we were cut off.

Brandon sent Wasko's nervous squad back to clear our rear and repair the line, if possible. They reconnected the wire without firing a shot. There Battes found a Jap pistol lying on the trail. We were sure that we were deep in a trap - high ground on both sides, Japs everywhere, and dark just an hour away.

Thank God that Captain Braman phoned with orders to leave as fast as we could. E Company on our right had retreated. In the falling light, F Company reported a Jap force in the ravine.

Back in last night's perimeter, we had no supper. Our kitchen party had drawn fire on the trail and had to turn back. About daylight, a Jap 75 shot at our hill hurt nobody.

On 21 March, our Platoon against cleared the water-hold down by the village. No Japs had reoccupied the nearby pillboxes. About 1200, our Platoon had to clear out those same pillboxes in the ravine that we had cleared yesterday. While "E" moved uphill on our right, we climbed also while leaving Waskovich's squad to guard a demolition crew for those pillboxes.

Once while climbing in the open, we saw a Jap patrol some distance across the ravine. We were fine targets in the open, but they did not see us. When Wasko's squad forwarded from behind, they drew rifle fire the last 100 yards but arrived unhurt. Jap fire continued for an hour. On the next ridge (probably "Brown Nose" Ridge) that 21 March, Kosing with 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon had to retreat under heavy Jap rifle fire, machine guns, and mortars. Here 3rd Platoon's Kenneth Hoffman took a little bullet hole in his forehead - the last man killed in G Company. Pvt Morris A Vanderwelt of the machine guns was paralyzed for days with a bullet near his spine, but recovered for duty. Before dark, our H Company 81st seemed to make a direct hit on a pillbox. Bodies and a bundle of rags flew up. (By 1643, E Company did seize Brown Nose Ridge.)

On 22 March, G Company was almost destroyed. After a barrage on the hill next to where "G" was dug in, Marine Corsairs dived on it, bombing and strafing. Then a Corsair dived for the wrong hill - for G Company's hill!

G Company's warning flag was not up, but we were out in the clear to be seen plainly. A lone Corsair decided that "G" was Japanese. Its first 500-lb bomb missed and fell into a ravine below us. He had missed from a high altitude, but he carried a second bomb. He circled and dropped that bomb on us from a lower level.

This 500-pounder seemed to plummet directly into the middle of G Company. Then, at the very last second, it missed our summit completely. It fell over a sheer bank to strike far below. It just grazed the bank-side.

The explosion knocked standing men into the ground. A few of us had minor cuts from fragments - could not hear for days. Two men were bomb-happy a day or so, but recovered. Luckily Dulian's BAR team had changed position just a little while ago. In the position they had just moved from, a fragment had tom a tree apart, just two feet above the ground.

Back on the flats at 2nd Battalion Headquarters, Colonel Munkres howled, "There goes my G Company!" Men heard him call over the radio: "I don't care if you are a Colonel! Get your damn planes to hell out of there." While "G" was calming down after its near miss, Father Lynn came up with our supply party. He came to take Hoffman down for burial. (He did not have to dig in the ruins for our bodies.)

Munkres then humanely ordered G Company to defer our next attack until tomorrow. From our hilltop, Sergeant McInerney saw a Jap with leaves on his helmet try to crawl across an open spot to Jap Headquarters. Mcinerney picked him off at 600 yards. Occasional Jap return fire totally missed us.

On 23 March, 2nd Platoon pushed towards Coconut Hill where Hoffman had died. This was the second hill from where the bomb had missed us. Climbing the first hill in line of skirmishers, Dulian's squad saw no Japs. Then we waited for a barrage, and Kosing's Platoon to reinforce us.

From this hill, Dulian's squad led out to take Coconut Hill, two miles off at the end of a saddle. Our first 500 yards was through open brush. Three mortar shells impacted close. Moving more carefully, we soon climbed at a 45-degree angle. We saw mouths of two huge caves and a deserted 20 mm gun just off the trail. Three more Jap mortar shells exploded nearby. A dud fell nearer still where a live shell could have hurt us. While Dulian's men watched the caves, Wasko's squad took over the advance. Barrages had cleared Wasko's move to the hill summit. They found only deserted shacks. Kosing's 1st Platoon then dug in on Coconut Hill after we took it.

And except for picking off a few stray Nips back at those two large caves, our Zamboanga Battle was over. On 25 March when B Company replaced us, we trucked back to Santa Maria for a hot meal, a bath, and clean fatigues. That night, we bedded down above ground on cots under ponchos. After 16 battle days - eight of them in the Zambo Hills, we rejoiced in our brief rest.

But by 2 April, G Company was landing at Sanga Sanga Island 200 miles southeast of Zamboanga in the Sulu Archipelao. We were to cross Sanga Sanga to storm Bongao Island peaks if we had to. G Company's 2nd Platoon was lean, under strength, combat hardened. We were indeed seasoned veterans for what could lie ahead. But for Japan's surrender, we would have had to storm Miyazaki Beach on Kyushu Island.

 

CREDIT: Main source is a 15-page typescript by G 163's Staff Sergeant Kermit Dulian. Other sources are from 163 Infantry's "Journal" of 18-25 March 1945, and from 146 Field Artillery's Robert Allen's "Battle for the Ridges," in Allen's sheaf of stories headed by the title "Zamboanga Recaptured."