I Company 186 Infantry At Zamboanga, II: BARman Wins DSC at Anungan

by Dr. Charles Solley, Ph.D. with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


 

Before he slugged it out with his BAR to win his Distinguished Service Cross near Zamboanga, Charlie Solley had already fought well on Biak. Still under 20 years old, Solley was a dedicated combat soldier of high morale. Earlier, although he had thought of becoming a minister and hated to think of killing anyone, he fought governments that murdered German Jews or Americans at Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war, he bore a New Testament in his pack.

Charlie's Southern Philippine of 1945 actually began before the real campaign. It started up north on dusty Mindoro Island near Manila where the 41st staged for Zamboanga. I Company 186 Infantry sent a platoon on security patrol for Japs. As we walked on an air strip, U.S. soldiers fired on us. A bullet wounded Gilbert in his left arm. We dropped and yelled to cease fire. Gilbert survived his wound, rejoined us at Zambo.

On Palawan, this Platoon had another small action during our pursuit of fugitive Japs on the rocky surf swept coast of western Palawan. In some places, the only trail below the ridges had to be along slippery rocks dashed over by the waves. We hiked on GI shoes with rifles, extra heavy ammo, extra rations. Some men almost slid into the surf to drown, but we grabbed them and saved them from being carried out to sea and battered to death against the cliffs. (Thus died K Company's Campbell.)

One I Company Sergeant and six men were still lost in the mountain wilderness. Solley, Sergeant Shrimp, Wissel, and three others sought them for three nerve-wracking days. Japs had cut the phone line and hidden the wire under rocks. We never found them, but they escaped the Japs and returned to life.

Then "I" with our 3rd Battalion left Palawan to reinforce 186's 1st Battalion who had already helped 162 Infantry to storm Mount Capisan, Jap stronghold of Zambo Province's western defenses.

First combat of Solley's 3rd Platoon came on 1 April 1945 when we relieved K 186 fighting for Sugarloaf Mountain north of Zamboanga City. Ten die-hard Nips held 3rd Platoon from crossing the low ridge before the mountain. Our field artillery and Marine bombers had bared the ridge of jungle. Every time we tried to crawl over the rocks, rifles and a machine gun stopped us. Knee-mortar fragments holed Solley’s helmet. Finally at 0710, field artillery shelled again, and 3rd Platoon dashed across the ridge. Other I Company men found the 10 Japs in three pillboxes on the reverse slope of the Mountain. Two Japs were persuaded to surrender; the other eight were dynamited to death.

Next sharp action of Solley's Platoon was on 3 April when 186 attacked Moroc Pocket. This was a plateau some five miles north of Zambo City, held by mortars and machine guns, on 3-5 April.

On 3 April, Sergeant Shrimp's squad patrolled near Moroc Village. After crossing a wide trail with big trees to our right, we sensed Japs. Then two machine guns and 20-30 rifles fired on us. We flattened to the ground, hid behind the trees. Now we had to retreat across the opening back to our officers. 

While we took turns drawing fire, a man at a time would dart across the trail and drop behind an old dead tree. BARman Solley ran last. Nobody was wounded; Solley and three others got holes in their fatigues.

While we hugged the ground, 2nd Lieutenant Pierce, surely a rookie, stood up behind us in plain view. We heard the Japs talking. Pierce ordered us back across that deadly ground. He threatened to "bust" us and jail us when we refused.

A Jap bullet shot Pierce in the throat. We had to crawl to pull out the badly bleeding Lieutenant Pierce seems to have survived, but we never saw him again.

After stubborn resistance on 5 April and a Jap counter attack, 186 overran Moroc Pocket. Probably next day, 3rd Platoon patrolled down the narrow trail. Men in Shrimp's under strength squad were BARman Solley, assistant Wissel, Steward, Johnson, Wieczorek, and a man nick-named "Swede." Like a mountain goat's footpath, our narrow little trail followed the edge of an 80-foot drop - so narrow that we had to hang onto any brush that would support us. The drop was almost straight down.

Stewart's helmet fell off his head, made alarming noises as it bounced down 80 feet. Lower down, the trail grew easier and wider. We found many Jap "houses," brushy lean-tos, small saplings and leaves. (Stewart recovered his helmet.) The Japs had fled but for a sick man. Some men wanted to kill him then, but Solley prevented them. Solley talked to him in the few Japanese words that he knew, gave him food and water. The Jap said that there were nine Japs close by near the river. Solley thought that the prisoner said, "Nine Japanese," but he had actually said, "Ninety" - Solley's deadly mistake.

Slowly we patrolled down the riverbank: trail. Johnson ran first scout, with Sergeant Shrimp next in line, then BAR team Solley and Wissel, then "Swede," Wieczorek, and Stewart.

Suddenly Scout Johnson sensed death in the brush ahead, and dropped into a crouch. A Jap Nambu (light machine gun) fired. It seemed to fell Johnson, but he wasn't hit. Solley knelt and volleyed his BAR the Nambu sound, and retarded its fire. Johnson rose and ran back. Solley and Wissel fired in a second Nambu - results unknown.

On the trail behind us, more Japs were closing in. We couldn't retreat or advance without annihilation. Sergeant Shrimp helped us to escape sideways - down across the Missaloy River. We sat safely and unseen behind boulders.

(Just before crossing, Solley looked straight back at his tall young Jap prisoner, who looked straight back at Solley. The Jap accepted his death, with a formal bow. Solley shot, yet he still feels guilty, even if he had to kill to secure himself and his buddies.)

Darkness fell. Jap mortars still impacted the trail we had come down. We heard voices of the Japs trying to find us. We huddled silently behind our boulders safe across the Missaloy.  

After about two hours, Solley crawled to the other men of the squad and coaxed them to eat from their rations. About 0400 in that dark, we faced up to the fact that we had to do something desperate about our predicament. It was easier than we thought. On wet bellies, we crawled back across the river past the Japs in the dark, and tensely made it back up the mountain.

Meanwhile, the 1st Lieutenant with his other two squads had retreated back up the wider trail. Nobody with him was wounded. They were hopeful for us because they still heard the Japs firing, even if we were silent.

After we climbed the mountain trail, our own field artillery began to fire down into the area where we had fought the Japs and hidden. We had escaped our own shellfire. Back home with I Company, we were slapped on the back and hugged to be alive.

Next day, "I" returned to look for the Japs again. They had vanished and left behind two corpses. Solley looked for a bunch of ripening bananas which he had carried along for snacks for his squad. The Jap he had to kill had also shared them. They were all shot up!

This nightmarish Missaloy patrol ended the first phase of I Company 186 Infantry and Solley's Battle of Zamboanga. By 18 May, I Company was in rest-camp down by a coconut grove. We slept blissfully dry on cots under canvas near a cool stream where Filipino women laundered their clothes. We watched cock-fights and movies. While in rest-camp, Solley and a young Filipino woman became very good friends. To take her to a GI movie, he would walk the 10 miles from her home to the show, with her grandma as chaperone. He wrote a fine poem, which he gave this "tiny slant-eyed goddess, to love by sight and touch." Yet the poem says that he kissed her just once, and that was to say good-bye. Celia was the mother of a child by her guerilla husband whom the Japs had killed. Theirs was a brief, innocent friendship of the kind that some other 41sters still remember. But Solley was called back to battle; he would see her only once more for the rest of his life. About a month after our rest-camp, we had our second Zambo Battle. This was against the retreating Zambo Jap garrison, probably members of 33rd Naval Guards (Jap Marines). Theirs was an orderly retreat up the west coast into a jungle rain forest wilderness like New Guinea's.

    Landing from Amphib craft on 17 May we had hot, sweaty or rain-chilled patrols to kill a few elusive Japs. On 22 May Solley with Sergeant Shrimp's little squad found battle somewhere up the dry bed of what was probably Montibug River, near coastal Anungan Village. We penetrated into a bivouac area of 100 Japs still heavily armed with rifles, machine guns, mortars.

Sergeant Shrimp told Solley and Bernie Wieczorek to check out a small cave the Japs fired from. We climbed on top of the cave. Below us, outside the cave, was a hidden Jap rifleman positioned to fire down on I Company. Bernie held fire on that Jap until Solley with his BAR crouched near the cave-mouth and nodded to him.

Then Bernie slew that Jap. Rifleman Bernie and BARman Solley then shot into the cave-mouth. Either he or Solley killed two Japs coming out to fight with an old U.S. BAR. Solley ran into the cave to seize the Japs' BAR.

More Japs blazed from inside the cave, but missed. Solley rolled from the mouth and hurled a grenade back into darkness. Thinking all were dead, he tried to get that BAR again. Living Japs fired again from the dark. Solley threw a second grenade - this time, followed through. Crawling in with a knife, he felt bodies and stabbed them to be sure they were dead. The cave was silent. Solley and Bernie had slain eight Japs at the cave.

Thus on 22 May began Solley's greatest and final day of battle which won him a DSC - "Distinguished Service Cross." After the cave victory, he advanced in I Company's forefront towards a high hill surrounded by wide trees and thick brush.

About 300 from that brush, unseen Japs flailed us, with at least two Nambu light machine guns. Scout Bernie Wieczorek dropped with bullets in stomach and intestines. Medic Mascio ran to help him, but an arm wound halted Mascio. Our Lieutenant was pinned behind a tree bole - the Japs still invisible.

Although safe behind a tree, BARman Solley and helper Wissel knew that Bernie must be saved. To locate the Japs' fire, Solley had to draw fire himself. He simply arose and fired his BAR on automatic. His first clip emptied; he slipped in a second clip and fired on.

Now he saw two Japs with a US BAR and three riflemen and slew all five, Wissel kicked one body, found it alive, and killed him for sure. But around Solley were still two Nambus firing from the blind brush. With another clip in his BAR, he stood up and strode forward until he saw two Nippos shooting their Nambu. He slew that gun-crew, while their guard of three Jap riflemen missed him. He killed that trio of riflemen, and fired at several other fleeing Japs. Now Solley fired standing at the second Jap light machine gun high on the hill. Then from a tree top directly above, a Jap rifleman shot straight down into Solley's back. The bullet penetrated into his intestines. He fell, like being hit with a sledgehammer. Weissel killed the Jap who had shot Solley.

But the Jap had paralyzed Solley's legs. He still crawled as far as he could to fight that final light machine gun. He still doesn't know how he managed to empty his BAR into that Nambu with his left hand. With his right hand, he then lifted his body to roll it down the slope. Bernie Wieczorek still lived, and transfusions saved Bernie's and Solley's lives. The Japs broke off the fight and scattered in all directions.

(Official US report is that the fight of two I Company 186 Infantry Playoons was against over 100 Japs in a large bivouac area between high ridges. It lasted four hours, in three phases. In Phase 1 our fire superiority drove them back a few hundred yards. In Phase 2, they made a second fighting stand as soon as our pIatoons continued advancing. Only in Phase 3 did we finally break the back of their resistance and scatter them. In return for wounds of Mascio, Wieczorek, and Solley: we killed 41 Japs, even took a prisoner.)

But Solley's war was over. At a Zambo hospital, it took 30 minutes for doctors to extract the bullet from his intestines. He was still paralyzed. (His girlfriend Celia walked 40 kilometers for his last visit from her, but his follow-up letter probably never reached her.) Solley was finally able to walk, and was discharged from the Army about seven months after his wound. Although never fully recovered, he managed to get a Ph.D. in psychology, and became a college professor. He remained rightly proud of his great war in the southwest Pacific.

 

CREDIT: Credit begins with publication of two Solley letters which Secretary Chester Clark of Great Lakes Chapter placed in August 1986 Jungleer. Core of this history is 28 pages of double-spaced typescript which Solley sent the Historian in the next two years. Also useful was his poem, "By the Shining Sulu Sea." Framework of this history is I-186's ''Two Battles of Zamboanga," rewritten and adapted for Jungleer, April, 1980. I referred also to 3rd Battalion 186's "Casualty List" and I-186's report, both under heading of "Panganuran-Anungan-Sibuko Operation."