M 186’s Zamboanga Ambush (Masilay)

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


       On 2 April 1945, M Company 186 Infantry suffered two of our three serious casualties of our Zamboanga Operation - with Pvt George F Langel killed, and Savore seriously wounded. Like M Company's Lapham and a Sergeant whose name is unknown, Savore and Lengel had voluntarily risked their lives guarding a supply detail on 2 April. (On that 2 April, M 186 was safely perimetered around a small hill.)

Main mission of "M" from this base was to send out weapons sections as ordered to assist rifle Companies against Japs retreating up Masilay River.

The Japs fought mainly to protect their retreat into the mountains. But this time, they fought more aggressively.)

       Four 186 Infantry men volunteered to protect a supply train of 10 Filipinos for a forward rifle Company. (This Company was probably either "I" or "L," for both outfits were reported in action on 2 April.)

Besides Lengel and Savore, M's Lapham volunteered for this supply patrol - with an unknown Sergeant probably from M Company. While the Sergeant led and Lapham covered him, the 10 Filipinos labored forward with supplies. Savore and Lengel protected our rear.

Our supply train wound downhill past a spring. Then we were pushing for a quarter-mile along a trail with a ravine on our left and an old cornfield on our right.

We were now about halfway up the trail beside the cornfield. A Nippo light machine gun opened up on us. Craftily it struck first where Savore and Lengel brought up the rear, to confuse the patrol and cut off our retreat. Then it traversed our 14-man line, rear to front. We heard men scream and bodies thump.

The light machine gun missed Lapham and the Sergeant, no doubt because they hit the ground when they heard the fire behind them. They dodged to the right and down into the corn, then ran back to the rear. Surviving Filipinos dropped their supplies, left the trail, and fled back to the spring.

Savore lay bleeding on the ground. "Let's get out of here!" yelled Lapham. "I can’t move," said Savore, "I'm shot in both feet." "Get on my back," tall Lapham said. With Savore on his back and carrying both of their weapons, Lapham labored back the quarter-mile to the spring.

The Sergeant had already raced back to M Company's perimeter for a stretcher, and waited with two bearers beside the spring. Now all four carried Savore towards safety and medical aid.

We were now crossing an open spot. A Nippo rifleman fired and clunked the top of Lapham's helmet. (Back on Biak in the night fight to hold Mokmer Strip, a trigger-happy Yank tommie-gunner had also impacted Lapham's helmet and cut the metal.) This rifle bullet harmlessly glanced off.

All four of us carriers hit the dirt; Savore rolled from the litter. The Jap rifleman fired just that one shot and did not come in for the kill. We reloaded Savore and brought him back to perimeter safety and medical treatment. Savore lived.

Next day, a combat patrol found Lengel's body, shot through the chest. We found two dead Filipinos, and three had escaped with wounds.

M Company's only other casualty in the Zamboanga Operation was LeGro, reported on 7 April. We surmise that LeGro was actually wounded the day before on 6 April when L Company hit an ambush between the heels of a jungle horseshoe ridge. When the stubborn Japs attacked M 186's mortarmen, LeGro may have been struck down.

CREDIT: M 186's Sergeant John Lapham's letters of 24 November 1982 and June 1983 helped me on "Zamboanga Ambush" - plus 186's "Journal" and Casualty List at Zamboanga.