I Company 163 Infantry on Jolo: Tommy Gunner Gonzales on Mount Mabusing

By John Zanier and Dominic Gonzales with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

            This is the story of I Company 163 Infantry's main fight on Jolo Island against Mount Mabusing and of Staff Sergeant Dominic Gonzales, champion Tommy- gunner. After A and C Companies secured 163's beachhead on 9 April 1945, "I" had to storm 823-foot Mount Patikul above the road south to Jolo City. Despite 12 500-lb Marine Air Force bombs on Patikul, "I" still had a small fight.

            Two Moro guerillas guided our combat patrol. When five Japs lashed out automatic fire, we fixed them with a platoon in their rear, then mortared them with 60s. We slew nine Japs, had Grate slightly wounded, and took Mount Patikul.

            That night, I Company had to slog through dark to regroup with 3rd Battalion near Mount Mabusing, about four miles south of Patikul Beach. The night was black. We had to hold to one another to keep from losing contact. Zanier held onto Barnard with a bag of mortar ammo on his back.

            Suddenly Zanier heard a snap like a twig crackling underfoot. Then a grenade exploded. Barnard cried, "Help me!" Barnard had carried grenades in the same pouch with his mortar shells. The pin had worked out of a grenade and detonated it. Yet the .60 mortar shells did not explode! The blast almost split open Barnard's side, yet Zanier holding onto the pouch was unhurt. Staff Sergeant Gonzales and some men remained behind with Barnard until dawn, and the rest of "I" slogged on in the dark to rejoin our 3rd Battalion. Barnard probably recovered; his name is not on 163's death list.

            Later, I Company had to bed down in the dark. We formed a protective circle. Our 1st Lieutenant Robert L. Amans lay shivering like a poplar leaf in a wind because of chills from malaria. Zanier lent Amans his poncho for covering, but the chills kept on. Next morning, however, Amans refused to turn in to the Medics. Perhaps this was when Amans signed his own death warrant, for a Jap machine gun would slay him two days later.

            Probably on the night of 11 April, I Company had a Jap shoot-out. Shortly before daylight, Sergeant Cunningham heard a great amount of human noise outside I's circle of sleeping men. Believing that the noise was from a crowd of Moro refugees, Cunningham still crawled up on them to be sure. To his surprise, early light revealed a group of Japs preparing for breakfast. Somehow or other, no one had strayed off to see I Company's men.

            Cunningham crept back to range in our mortars and a machine gun, the last probably manned by Petersburg. Shortly afterwards, we had 17 more dead Japs.

            I Company's biggest fight against the Japs was against Mount Mabusing, altitude 874 feet. About four miles south of Jolo City, Japs of 54 Infantry Mixed Brigade held a line of low Mounts - Mabusing, Pula, Agao, and Dato (also spelled "Datu"), according to guerilla reports. Our third Battalion had to storm Mabusing, easternmost of those Mounts. While I Company on 11 April had rested from Mount Patikul and the night march, "L" had assaulted Mabusing and was thrown back - with an officer and 11 men wounded. 

            Although "L" had easily fought their way to the summit of round-topped Mabusing, heavy fire repelled them from an unnamed low ridge behind Mabusing and connected with it by a saddle. An estimated 40 Japs with at least three heavy machine guns and two mortars struck back at "L." The Japs knocked out two light machine guns and repulsed "L"'s 2nd Platoon - even cut off a whole squad for three hours. Because the Japs had cannily dug in on a reverse slope, 146 Field Artillery's 105mm guns could not arc in on the Japs; the guns would overshoot the target.

            On 12 April, the second day of 3rd Battalion's attack, it became I Company's turn to try to conquer Mount Mabusing. This time, we had help from an air-strike, guns of 146 Field Artillery and 716 Tank Battalion, and our own 60mm mortars with 3rd Battalion's 81s.

            Neither air-strike nor guns nor mortars expelled or even weakened the Nips to leave Mabusing, however. We tried to move on them with tanks and two I Company PIatoons, to one of which Staff Sergeant Gonzales belonged. But the tanks could not climb the steep slopes of Mabusing. One I Company PIatoon had to attack alone, with Gonzales' squad in the lead. Ahead of him, Gonzales now saw Jap trenches connected by foxholes.

            Suddenly, Gonzales observed a Jap machine gun positioned forward with its two-man crew. For some reason, it did not fire on him. When he moved towards the Japs, they put down their heads as if they were praying. Gonzales slew each of them with a burst of 5-10 shots from his tommy. They slumped down in their same positions, dead.

            When 2nd Lieutenant Thompson came up to find out what had happened, Gonzales warned him to stay back in a safer position. Gonzales said that every time he killed, he would lift one, two, or three fingers to signal the number.           

            Now Gonzales led his squad with the rest of his platoon inside the Japs' perimeter - long connecting trenches in the brush, with many foxholes. Following a trench and crouched low, he saw two Japs crawling towards him on hands and knees. When they noticed him, they started to back up - a look of total surprise on their faces. Gonzales shot them dead.

            Meanwhile, the platoon was attacking with fire right and left of Gonzales. But he was so close to the Japs that he began to fear that men behind him might take him for a Jap and slay him.

            Crawling low with his Thompson ready, Gonzales could see a long Jap rifle with bayonet slanted above a head in a hole to his right. Taking cover behind a tree, Gonzales watched that brave Jap in his last fight. The Jap lifted his head and picked out a Yank target. Then he stood up, fired a few shots, and dropped back down to the safety of his hole. Again the Jap stood up.  With perfect timing, Gonzales emptied a full 20-round clip into his body.

            All the while, the Japs were firing rifles and machine guns at the I Company men firing back at them. They threw grenades also. One grenade exploded near Gonzales; the blast knocked him down. But he was up unhurt and throwing grenades himself. As Gonzales' own grenades ran out, men of his squad passed more up to him.

            Handling his tommy gun like a part of himself, Gonzales had a field day of killing through the brush among those Nippo foxholes and trenches. Mostly he fired from the hip and at short distances; he triggered short bursts of 2-5 rounds and hurled back dead men. When he made a kill, he raised a finger on his right hand for a signal.

            Still unhurt but for the grenade concussion that had knocked him down, Gonzales kept on fighting. Carried away by the magic of combat, he wondered why he was not killed or wounded.

While he was firing his last of six 20-round clips, his Thompson jammed. He fled from the fighting front. One of the observers from the tank Company donated another tommy and five more clips, and Gonzales hurried back to battle. By now, the battleground was quiet; dead Japs were contorted everywhere for the souvenir hunters.

            Forty-five Japs were killed by I Company that day. Of these forty-five, Gonzales was sure that he had killed eleven, but he had stopped counting with that number. Shooting from the hip with his tommy, he had needed instant coordination to aim and fire and stay alive. Watching Zanier, however, credited Gonzales with fully 22 of the 45 whom "I" killed that day.

            By 1300 on that 22 May, mainly by Gonzales' fire, I Company had overrun Mount Mabusing. Besides 2nd Lieutenant Thompson slain, I Company lost at least Marek and Newton wounded by rifle-fire.

About 1542 that same 12 April, 1st Lieutenant Amans also died. Although he was due to be rotated home, Amans and L Company's Joe Walters went to examine Jap corpses. They now believed that the area was safe for them. Walters was also a souvenir hunter.

            Amans already had a beautiful Jap saber among his many Jap souvenirs. L Company's Walters was something of a loner - known throughout 3rd Battalion as a man who went by himself into the jungle on souvenir searches. Often he would be gone for hours - a thin, shortish man, a little stoop-shouldered. He always carried a tommy gun slung over his shoulder.

            But we doubt that Walters this time had a chance to fire his tommy. A Jap machine gun waited in an ambush one that we had bypassed earlier - which the Japs had set up after we had stormed Mabusing. Walters lost an eye when the machine gun flamed out - a wound unreported in 163's 1010 casualty list. (Zanier would later see Walters stateside, at O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, in the last months of 1945.)

            When Amans was mortally wounded, the Medic tried desperately to save him. He used his own T-shirt to staunch the burst of blood, but Amans died.

            Such is the story of I Company 163 Infantry during our first four days on Jolo Island - from the beach to Mount Patikul to Mount Mabusing, highlighted by Staff Sergeant Gonzales' gallantry.

 

CREDIT:  I-163's John Zanier is responsible for this history with two letters totaling 29 pages written 9 Oct and 10 Nov, 1981.  After the San Jose Reunion, Gonzales sent me a four-page letter on his shoot-out on Mount Mabusing.  For background, I used two earlier Jungleer stories  from Jan. 1979 and July 1980.