Fire Mission

We were wide awake at dawn because of the fire missions.  We did start firing to support our advancing infantry.  We found out later that the Fifth Marines had gone across the two-mile wide island and at the end of their advance they started to run into the swamp.  Now they were parallel with the airfield, we were supporting them and also a part of the First, which was trying to get off of the beach.  They were inland a little way but they were under fire from the Umurbrogol and that looked like it was going to be a tough nut to crack.

At any rate, we could tell that the weather was going to be hot, which it was from then on, roughly about 110 degrees.  We had all started with two canteens of water and by this time it was gone and everyone was starting to feel the pinch of getting really thirsty.  We were still not getting water so it was the thirstiest I had ever been since we were perspiring and it was getting hotter early on.  We wondered if we were going to make it and there was concern about the whole thing.

Chronologically I’m trying to do what I can to remember the things that happened and the way they happened.   I may be slightly wrong, but close.

I believe that on the second day when our gun section was firing we had a lull and all of a sudden there was a shell fired from the rear. I think it was aimed toward the beach to get one of the ships.  It was not a very big shell but big enough for a leafless tree right next to our gun section to be hit.  A branch of the tree went off right above our gun section.  It was startling to say the least.  The person that it hit was a fellow named Sharp from the Chicago area.   I never saw him again.  He got hit in the buttocks with a couple of shell fragments just enough to put him out of action.  The medics came and took him away and I found out later that Feeney was also hit in the leg but he didn’t want any attention.  In talking to him later and I found out that he still has a little piece of fragment in his leg.  It bothers him once in a while.  I guess we were lucky that no one else was hurt.

Getting back to the water situation, by mid afternoon our tongues were hanging out.  We were wondering whether we were going to last.  The word was passed around that there was water coming in.  Sure enough as I recall the middle of the afternoon a truck brought a small water tank cart up.  It had three or four spigots on it and every body rushed up with their canteen cups to use a spigot.  When my turn came as I turned the spigot the water coming into my canteen cup I noticed that the color was strange, a little orange.  I tasted it and there was a definite gasoline taste to it.  It was awful.  Nobody could drink the stuff.  The officer came up and said, “Don’t drink this you will get sick.”

What had happened, as it did in the infantry outfits as well, their water came in five-gallon cans.  It developed that whoever filled the cans had neglected to wash out the cans, including that tank Cart.  I don’t know how that happened but somebody probably was reprimanded or worse. We did get water a little later, so the situation corrected itself.

I believe the third day on the island is when we had the big banzai attack. That morning the Japs had come streaming out of the Umurbrogol and there were five or six Japanese tanks, maybe more, they had Japanese soldiers hanging on them plus Japanese infantry jumping out of them.   They came streaming across the airfield. It looked like a rather sereal suicide attempt the way they were coming across open ground on the airfield.  Everybody who could, had a shot at them and that included us.  We were firing immediately we were given the order to fire at will because the attack was continuing and it did continue for a couple of hours.  We were firing as fast as we could fire.  In a matter of that time we had shell casings in back of our gun section that were eight to ten feet high in a pyramidal pile lying there.  As fast as we could fire, we did.

The procedure was that I was the gunner, Tony Sifuentes was the #1 man and Feeney was the loader.  I had noticed in previous firing that when the gun fired the site on my gun would get off a trifle to the right of the aiming stake.  If I would nudge it a little it would get back on the aiming stake.  We learned that very quickly so we were firing as fast as the gun would fire and we kept that up until the gun overheated.  We had to stop and bleed the oil out below the tube in the reservoir then we continued firing.  During the course of that attack I was really hot.  Tony ran down to the beach with a towel threw it into the seawater and brought it back.  I wrapped it around my head.  I was starting to see waves of heat coming out of the ground.  There were two or three people in my gun section and others who just passed out from the heat.  The corpsmen had set up cots in the tents.  I was not about to pass out because I knew this was very important.  Pretty soon we were told to cease firing and the attack was over.  I think it was a complete massacre from the description I had heard because the tanks had been demolished and the Japs who had come out were totally destroyed.  It was a decided victory.

We were unaware that the Japs in back of us had been alerted to that banzai attack and they did the same thing; but we weren’t used to their pellmell banzai charge.  This group was wiped out by the Seventh Marines a day or two later (more on this later). A couple of us went back toward that end of the island to see what the results were and saw some startling things.

The Seventh, after they cleared that banzai area and there were no more Japs in back of us, were brought up past us to join the First and Fifth adjacent to the airfield I think in preparation of taking the air-field   The next morning we started our fire mission in preparation for the offensive and we proceeded to fire into the foot of the Umurbrogol to cover our guys and also the Fifth and Seventh which went across that airfield in open ground under heavy fire.  They did gain the other side of that airfield so that we got control of the airfield.  The news was that we were suffering heavy casualties much greater than we had anticipated. What we didn’t know was that the worse was yet to come.

As I said earlier, that next day or so we went back into the end of the island and didn’t go too far before we saw the results of the banzai attack.   There must have been two or three hundred dead Japanese in all sorts of positions sprawled out pretty much in line in their banzai charge.  They were pretty grotesque because the sun had swollen the bodies.  The flies were all around.  We had gone down there close to that area to get some food that the cooks had brought up.  It was the first hot food we had eaten and we filled our canteens.  It all was within about fifty yards of those dead Japs it didn’t seem to bother us too much except for the flies; but I think the same day one of our bull dozers came, dug a deep trench and then pushed the bodies in.  Rather bizarre; but it’s one of the things to be seen in combat.