105 Howitzers support Marines on New Britain

Condition Red

So far the war seemed fairly peaceful so we were in a slack period.  We were in an occasional skirmish to our left, which was in the direction our infantry was headed.  Obviously the Japanese were taken by surprise with the naval gunfire and our landing and didn’t expect us. They were  probably moving into better positions, which could have been the reason for the slack period.

At any rate, my friend Navar, and I were talking and we had heard that there was a Japanese village a short distance away. On the excuse that we were going out sniper hunting we had really thought it would be nice to see if we could find some souvenirs.   We walked about a half- mile up to this Japanese village.  We tracked through the jungle, being very wary looking up into the trees to see that we were not going to be ambushed by a sniper.

The village was in total disarray.  It consisted of four or five thatched huts on stilts about four feet above the ground with stairs going up to each one.  As we approached Navar went up front and I made up the rear guard still scanning the treetops above us.  As we came closer to one of the huts we picked up on a wire stretched across between two trees with a grenade attached, apparently a quickie booby trap that we managed to avoid.

Several of the huts had been gone over by the infantry and our intelligence people and there were documents and books and papers of all kinds scattered all around.  As we looked around we could see that there was nothing to be gained so we started back; but off to the corner of the hut we noticed a big stack of cigarettes in cartons of really cheap paper.  We took a carton along and in one end of the carton there seemed to be some cone shaped cigarette holders made of paper.  We took the cigarettes back to our gun position and tried to smoke a couple.  I don’t know what they were but they were so strong that they made me dizzy. Needless to say after the first one we threw them all away and that was the end of that escapade.

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I forgot to mention one other thing. As we were coming in to back our guns into position in the jungle, I was walking in back of Eddie Plunk, a friend of mine who was later killed at Peleliu he was starting the exact location to pull the gun in and his job was battery runner which, meant he could establish physical contact between the battery and our Batallion in an emergency.  Plunk was walking up ahead of me, a little way into the jungle right in the spot where our gun would be.  He bent down and picked something up and what it turned out to be was a beautiful wooden case, polished and lacquered .  He opened it and inside it was velvet lined with a beautiful German automatic pistol (luger) with a beautiful wooden handle, it looked like it was brand new.  It looked like a gift set or something.  It had an included stock that could be attached to the pistol to make it into a shoulder weapon.  The fact that he was later killed at Peleliu made me reflect later that maybe that was a bad luck piece.
 
Early the second day a body on a stretcher with a blanket over it somehow appeared in our gun section.  It must have been an infantryman that somebody brought in and laid down to rest there for the grave detail to pick up.  The mystery was how it got there.  It was reputed to be a headless body although I didn’t see it but; the next thing it was gone. This brought death into focus again and we realized that things were getting serious.
 
About the same time on the second or third day while we were thinking quietly each to ourselves about the death of Lebrock, accidentally, we got news from the adjoining gun sections that Firtch had been killed, again in an accident.  He was a Chicago boy who operated one of the tractors.  They all carried Tommy guns and his Tommy gun was leaning against the dash board, when he hit a bad piece of terrain the Tommy gun fell over and went off and the bullet hit him in the midsection and through the shoulder and I suppose he died instantly. I was especially taken aback by this because I had known him well and his being from Chicago, I had a different and closer regard for him.
 
With nothing to the right of us the terrain where we were, put us at the corner of the jungle with that kunai grass in the front of us and to our right a fairly flat grassy area just beyond that about fifty yards was the start of some more jungle.  We were in that position which was fairly susceptible to any kind of attack. 
 
While I was out at the outpost that first night the crew had put up our sleeping quarters which was a ridge pole stretched between two forked trees with a tarp stretched over it and pulled back so it made a tent of sorts very close to our howitzer.  For beds we made platforms from the ammunition boxes.  For each one we needed about six of the boxes so every one had ammunition boxes to lay on at night. 
 
During the whole second day and thereafter we were firing “fire missions”. That meant that the infantry were in action against the Japanese and needed our fire support. Starting on the second night and every night thereafter we were awakened two or three times a night by Japanese air raids. What would happen was that you were lying there sleeping and you would awaken to the anti air craft, radar picking up the Japanese plane coming in. The anti air craft guns would send up a signal to everyone so they could see. Three red balls that would hang in the air and everybody would be yelling “CONDITION RED, CONDITION RED”.  Some of the guys would scatter.   A few days later every gun section started to dig foxholes and in our case the guys dug a slit trench in which would be room for six or eight people. I never used it.  It was about five feet deep and fairly narrow and during a raid alert the guys would jump in and stand there.  Some of the braver ones would forget it and keep sleeping until it came a little too close and then they would get a little perturbed and jump in.
 
What we did notice was that the Guadalcanal veterans who had been subject to a lot of Naval gunfire and were in bombing attacks were a little more excitable about air raids than we were because as “green horns” we did not realize the amount of damage that this stuff could do. From day two we were running fire missions every day in support of the infantry and providing support fire whenever they requested it.