At Company 163 Infantry at Zamboanga: Death of Keenan and Sullivan

By Ramon Galvin with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

            On 15 March 1945 during Zambo' Battle, Staff Sergeant Galvan's squad of 163 Infantry's AT Company had orders to make a road-block west of newly won Santa Maria Village. Purpose of this road-block was to secure left flank and communications line of 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry whom Jap fire had halted from the ridge northwestern. On the day before, Galvan's squad had obeyed orders to go through that same jungle with an AT Company 37mm gun, but we had drawn Jap fire and halted.

            After Galvan's squad set up our road-block, a reinforcement squad from AT Company passed through our position and tried to contact 162 Infantry pressing for Mount Capisan on our left. About 0915 that 15 March, Galvan heard firing from that reinforcement squad ahead of us. They radioed back that they were pinned down, and needed help. Platoon Sergeant McGiffen ordered Galvan's squad to save this endangered squad.

            Galvan's squad pressed forward into a heavily jungled area with too much underbrush for us to see any Japs prone with rifles to kill us. First contact with our squad were radioman Galle and a "Lieutenant Tex" of AT Company.

            Two wounded men, Sergeant Brackett with PFC Marx, crawled back from the pinned down squad, and then First Scout Sullivan. Sullivan was most concerned about his buddy and fellow-scout Keenan. Sullivan knew only that Keenan was wounded. He did not know whether Keenan was dead or still alive.

            Pfc Joseph P. Sullivan led out. Galvan followed with his squad and Medic Galle. Bent low and working forward to where Sullivan knew that Keenan was down in that brushy jungle, we dared not raise our heads. Japs fired on us twice, but hit nobody.

            Medic Galle slipped up to examine Pfc Robert E. Keenan. Anxiously, Sullivan lifted his head to find out whether Keenan still lived.

            All this time, we were shot at and field artillery was impacting too close. As Sullivan raised up his body, a Jap bullet in his left side killed him. In dying, Sullivan turned over on his left side, and his feet were close to prone Galvan behind him. Medic Galle rushed back from dead Keenan and cried, "Oh my God, what happened?" All this time, we were shot at, and our own field artillery was striking too close. To get out Sullivan's corpse, Galvan called back for a man in his squad to detach a rifle sling and pass it up to us.

            Still prone, Galvan and McGiffen slipped a loop of that sling around Sullivan's feet and pulled him back to us. Medic Galle now made sure that Sullivan was dead.

            There was nothing else that we could do now for dead Sullivan and Keenan. We had to save ourselves. We crawled sweating out of that deadly place and left their bodies behind. Not until 18 March, three days later, were they recovered for burial. Galvan believes that a tank crew brought them back.

            After the area was secured, Sergeants Galvan and McGiffen returned to examine that place of death. To their surprise, main source of Jap fire was a pillbox just 50 feet away, but hidden in the brush. They believe that just one Jap had manned it.

            As in other operations of 163 Infantry, main assignments of AT 163 Infantry was to probe for mines, guard our regiment's flanks with road-blocks, and go on nerve-wracking patrols where anything could happen. Later in Zamboanga Battle, we had two fire missions into Japanese areas. Only notable casualties, however, were Staff Sergeant Victor E. Church killed in action back on 12 March about 1900, and Sergeant Scott reported lightly wounded but hospitalized. Perhaps the worst of AT 162's fights, however, was during the probing patrol where Keenan and Sullivan died.

 

 

CREDIT:  AT 163's Ramon Galvan's was a single-spaced 1-1/2 page typescript which was undated.  Help came also from 163 Infantry's Morning Report of March 1945 and 163 Infantry's Zamboanga Journal.