‘The Tommy Gun Saved My Life’

sharpshooterelmoreFrom 27 December to 1 January, things were about the same. We dug in along the trail up through the jungle and our job was to keep the trail open at all costs. It was a supply trail for the big push on to the Mission.

Our job was also to go out to the sea to cut the Japs off and put them in a pocket. They were cut off both to the north and south of the Mission on a front of about three miles, and we were going to split that pocket and cut them in two groups. We did, without too great a loss.

My platoon was at the rear of our company along the trail, and we didn’t see as much action, although what we did see was plenty.

I had an MG squad up at the front all the time, and some of my men were used to keep our lines filled up.

We were on each side of the swamp and couldn’t dig more than six inches without hitting water. Some of the men dug fox holes and slept in the water. Those of us who didn’t dig, but tried to build up a little protection, were usually soaked by the rain at night.

The trail was a mire of mud and the water was hip deep and it rained every night and the heat was awful.

We made several drives toward the Mission, but we couldn’t make it.

Lieutenant Bralick was killed.

Captain Lewis was hit on January 1st.

Lieutenant Johnson took over the company.

The Mission fell about 5 January, I think. Dates didn’t mean much then.

Major Schroeder was fatally wounded during the drive.

After the Mission fell I picked up a rusty tommy gun that worked and gave away my M1 (rifle). The tommy saved my life that very night.

A lot of Japs had tried to sneak through our lines at night, as they had on several nights. We killed 12 of them in the company one night, and two of them were mine. They were only about six feet away when I saw them and they were very quiet. A couple bursts from the machine gun fixed them, though.

I took a couple of patrols out and was ambushed twice, but we managed to get out without anyone getting hurt. It was close, though. We were on reconnaissance and we didn’t have to fight, except to fight our way out.

The night the tommy gun saved my life – or at the time I thought it did – is one I’ll never forget.

The Mission had fallen and we had moved out into the coconut grove to set up a defense along the beach. The company spread out about 500 yards and my platoon was on the right flank.

We dug fox holes or slit trenches for two or three men, ate out supper of C rations and prepared for the night.

My runner and I were sitting in a trench facing each other. It was near a tree. One end of the trench was not more than three feet from the tree trunk on (the runner’s) end, and his back was up against the tree.

About 9:30 p.m., I think, the runner was going to try to get some sleep and I asked him about what time he thought the Japs would try to come through our lines. He said, most any time, and he lay back to sleep.

I took the safety off my gun and held it on my knees, ready for what might come.

I saw two men, small, not clothed, moving towards us from the right. They couldn’t have been more than 15 or 20 feet away when I first saw them, and they moved in a stooped, crouched walk, coming very quietly, almost catlike.

I raised my gun. Apparently they didn’t see me and they walked between us and the tree.

I pulled the trigger and fired on them right over the head of the runner. (He later said he thought I was firing right at his face.)

One of the Japs fell to the ground without a sound, and the other took off straight away from me. I didn’t dare fire again because there were other (U.S.) men around, and I couldn’t throw a grenade for the same reason. I wasn’t sure in the dark just where our men had placed their holes.

About a half hour later I saw the second Jap coming back from the same direction he had left in. He was trying to keep low, and when he was about 10 feet away I opened up again with the tommy gun and he hit the ground.

Now both (Japanese soldiers) were lying so close I could have reached out and touched them without leaving the hole.

The second one lay there moaning and groaning for about a half an hour before he died.

Each time I had seen them I felt the need to kill them before they tried to kill me. But after I fired each time, I just sat there and shivered and shook and trembled for about 15 minutes. I had never been so scared in my life.

I couldn’t sleep any more that night, and I would’t let the runner sleep, either. I was so scared.

In the morning at first light, we could see them lying close to the hole.

They both wore bandages, probably from previous wounds. They wore only breech cloths and had rubber soled, two-toed shoes. They were both thin, under-fed, and both had gold teeth, which the men soon went about removing.

[“That was pretty disgusting to watch,” Dad interjected. “I wonder what makes men do that.”]

The one I shot first had five holes in him from his right hip, diagonally up across his chest. I don’t remember where the second one was hit, but I do remember wishing he would hurry up and die that night.


Papuan stretcher bearers caring U.S. troops to medical stations (Internet photo)

There were twelve (Japanese) killed during the night. Our only casualty was a man who was cut across the shoulders with a saber. Apparently a (Japanese soldier) attempted to decapitate him. The gash is about two-inches deep, but isn’t too serious.

The Japs were trying to get through out lines to go to Sananda, and they were being pushed from Cape Endiedairre by an Australian force. That day we dug bigger holes and doubled up a little more.

The next three nights we spend with the company pulled close together. Then we pulled out towards Sananda.

A few days later, some dumb Lieutenant S-2 reported seven Jap barges a little father up the river. They were supposed to be in perfect shape, and I had to take ten men and put an outpost on them so they wouldn’t be taken away. It was late when we got the orders, and only an hour before dark when we got there. The barges turned out to be landing craft, shot full of holes, sunk, and the motors had been tampered with. But we had no choice but to stay there anyway.

It rained like hell that night. The next days I sent out patrols and all we found were dead Japs.

Colonels Howe and Boerem came up that day, but I didn’t know who they were. I made a reference to how some damn fool had put out orders to guard sunken landing craft.

I found out later that Colonel Howe was the one who put those orders out and he and I haven’t gotten along since. I attribute my still being a second lieutenant to that incident.

I was on that outpost three days, and the men were there about four days longer.

We had advanced toward the south to pin the Japs between us and the Aussies, who were coming toward us. There Aussies took Jaropi Point about a half mile south of the Mission. It was a bloody battle with a lot of losses. Our company went out to the beach and set up beach defenses for a few days.

There were a lot of dead Japs on the beach, and a few Yanks. I was used to seeing dead men, but the stench made me nearly sick. We had to bury them all. We burned up everything we could find and blew up the (Japanese) dugouts.

The Japs washed up by the tide were bloated two and three times their normal size. It was terrible.

After a couple of days we had the beach all cleaned up and we went swimming in the ocean. We were as dirty as hell, and we just forgot that there were 50 stinking Japs in the water only a couple days earlier.

After a few days we went up to Terekena and Sirori villages, toward Sananda Point.

The Battalion was stopped on the Garua River and it took several days of bitter fighting to get across.


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