[The indigenous peoples of New Guinea, called Papuans, had been caught in the cross fire between allied and Japanese forces. Elmore Jenks, employing contemporary references to “natives” and “Japs,” praises the Papuans for their courage and assistance to the U.S. and Australian allies. – P.E.J.]
One of the native huts had been fixed up with barbed wire as an enclosure for Jap prisoners, but they didn’t have any yet.
There were some native men there who helped unload supplies from the planes, but their women had been sent to the hills because of the Japs, who used them as their own. The natives killed quite a few Japs with their bush knives. They would trick them by offering to take them to a woman for some pompom. It didn’t take us long to realize the natives hated the Japs intensely.
After eating and resting, we started on our way. We were told which trails to follow, and after several tries we got on the right one. After about two hours – or perhaps it was a little longer than that – we arrived at the village of Senemi.
Along the way we saw jeeps and trailers carrying out our wounded. They weren’t a pleasant sight. Often, the bandages were bloody and dirty and covered with flies, and the men would be sweating from the heat and the pain.
The natives carried the wounded in on litters made of poles and coconut fronds. There were four natives to a litter, four more as relief, and one boss boy. It took nine to evacuate one (wounded soldier), but they made long hikes and never stopped until they were finished. It was interesting to see the crews change as they walked along, or to see the same crew change from front bearers to rear bearers. If the soldier wanted a drink or smoke, they would stop a minute and light a cigarette and give him a drink. Sometimes the native would disappear into the jungle and come back with some fruit or something else to eat. The value of those natives to us can never be underestimated.
We waited at Senemi. The other three platoons, which had landed further back, finally caught up with us.
As we entered the village, we met General Eichelburger and he said that we were needed badly, that Buna Mission would fall in a matter of hours. We were heartened by the news.
[I had hardly finished reading that last sentence aloud when Dad slapped his hand on his knee. “That was so much bullshit!” he exclaimed. “It didn’t fall for days! God, he didn’t know what he was talking about!” – P.E.J.]
We ate at the village and then got rid of everything but a skeleton pack, arms, ammo, and some good. I assembled the company and we started for Buna, following the directions I had received over the phone from the regimental adjutant.
We started out on a log road and it was soon dark. Soon our guide thought he had gone far enough, and he went back.
The noises of the jungle were new to us, and the road soon gave way to a wet, muddy trail. It was slow going with our heavy load, and we kept slipping and falling in the mud and slime.
Lieutenant Bralick and Lieutenant Yepson and a few more men soon caught up with us. They were able to travel faster. It was a helluva night but we kept on, not knowing what might be ahead.
The moon was out and the road beneath our feet got better. But we were all dog tired and soaking wet.
Suddenly we stopped again and one of the men came back and told me the regimental commanding officer, Colonel Schmidt, was up ahead.
I went on up to see him and he told me to pull the men off at the side of the road and rest and try to get some sleep. We hadn’t reached our destination but he said if we had continued on we would have walked into the Triangle, which was a strongly fortified Japanese position and already responsible for a lot of deaths fro our ranks. We hadn’t been told that there was a trail to get around that split. We laid down along the trail for some much needed rest. I shudder to think what would have happened had we walked into the Triangle.
So ended Christmas night.
On the morning of 26 December, we found the right trail and continued on, meeting Lieutenant Lewis just outside of Buna Village at about 10 a.m. Ge took us past the cemetery to another patch of jungle.
Lieutenant Lewis said that C and F Companies had been cut off by the Japs for two-and-a-half days. They had been badly shot up and were without food and ammunition and they couldn’t evacuate their wounded. We were going in to take them what they needed and get their wounded out.
Evacuating C Company
We rested and ate dinner. While we rested, there was a dog fight overhead, but we had to stay hidden so I missed most of it.
We moved out about 1 a.m., past the cemetery again.
We went about 300 yards and dropped everything but our packs, ammo, entrenching tools, and guns. We left the MG’s [machine guns] and mortars. Our artillery shells were coming in overhead and, not knowing whose shells they were at first, I dove for the nearest hole when the first one came by. Lewis was excited and the men were nervous, and it took us a little too long to get organized.
We ran through a village which was exposed to MG fire and went into the jungle again.
We came to a river and had to wait there. Several men had been hit trying to get across in boats. We had located the sniper who was firing there, but the men were still under fire and a few were wounded as they tried to put the bridge in.
We saw General Eichelberger on the trail there, and he told us it would soon be over, and that we would be taken out. Some of the men also heard him say we would be paid next in American currency and we’d be taken to Hawaii for a rest as soon as the mission fell. Too many of us took that at face value, and we handn’t even been under fire! [Editorial comment: No one knows why generals say what they do, but Eichelberger probably didn’t know he was talking to fresh troops who were still approaching the battle. He may have used a standard speech each time he saw the men. It is noteworthy, however, that the general was so close to the fighting. – P.E.J.]
About 3 p.m., we started across the bridge, went a little further, and stopped again.
I learned that there was an open field ahead that had to be crawled across. It was under fire and the sun was terribly hot. We inched along, and about 5 p.m. I found myself on a tree island in the middle of the river waiting to go on.
It grew dark and still we didn’t move. Finally I got impatient – I was bringing up the rear of the company – so I waded on ahead to the other shore to see what was causing the delay.
I got out on the path to start across the field and found a man who had lost contact with the man ahead of him. He had laid there for about an hour, not knowing what to do.
I cussed him out and gave him hell, and told him to follow me.
[Editorial comment. Once when I was young, Dad and I were watching a television war drama – perhaps ABC’s Combat – which showed an officer about to execute a disobedient soldier in battle. “I almost had to do that,” Dad said, casually. Of course I pressed for details, but Dad – infuriatingly – shrugged and never mentioned the incident again. Perhaps the genesis of the story was a frightened soldier holding up a company of troops on the way to battle. Elmore does not say how much cussing and hell-giving was necessary to get the man moving again, but it seems to have done the trick. – P.E.J.]
We started to crawl along the trail. L and D companies had dug in along the trail for about half the way. I got to the other edge of the field and found Bralick and Yepson and we had a conference.
They at once decided I should take command of what was left of the company. Lewis and 23 men (I didn’t know how many ay the time) had gone ahead, but I didn’t know where.
I crawled back and found a phone and in an L Company hole. I called battalion and asked for advice. I got it. I was told to follow the wire through the jungle trail and contact Lewis.
I crawled back and Bralick and I started out to see if we could find them. Just after leaving the field we walked smack into a water-mud hole that was hip deep. Some fun! The wire branched off into two trails. I didn’t know which to follow, and things looked very bad so we decided to spend the night there.
I went back to the company and told them to dig in along the trail so we could spent the night there. As I was crawling along the trail to tell the men, a Jap machine gun opened up and they began shelling the field. The shells went off over out heads, and each one sounded about 25 yards ahead of me. I couldn’t find a spot low enough to get into.
Finally, I had told all the men to dig in, so I crawled back to the hole my three runners had dug for us. I crawled in. We were so sleepy we couldn’t keep awake, so – no guards.
So ended 26 December.
In the morning, Bralick started out and we followed. Soon we met Lewis coming back for us. The Japs had found them and had given them hell with grenades, but there had been no casualties.
One of our men was killed by another of our men in there – he had crawled out of his hole and didn’t give the pass word and was shot. The man shooting didn’t know who he was an shot him for a Jap. Such is war.
We went on up the trail for about 100 yards. It was just a mud hole – at least knee deep the whole way.
Lewis had found C Company with his 22 men. Later, Major Schroeder, the battalion commanding officer, got the Silver Star for making the contact.
We stopped and were told to pass up all our ammo and food, so we did. The wounded began coming out and they were a horrible mess. Later, more ammo and rations were brought up and we passed it along. Finally, we stopped passing it along and kept the rest for ourselves.