New Guinea was an awesome place about 90 percent covered with rain forests. Very hot and humid at all times and for a city boy from Chicago to be suddenly thrust into this tropical area was quite an experience. I’m sure that we were dropped off in New Guinea for jungle training that was unavailable in Australia. It was a wonderful place for landing in Cape Gloucester and New Britain that I understood was about 90 miles away. We proceeded into some sort of jungle training routine. We were there for about two months before we landed in Cape Gloucester.
The first day or two that we were in New Guinea, there was a great emphasis put on Malaria and its prevention. We all went to an outdoor theater and an army doctor gave us a lecture on malaria and mosquitoes. He pointed out a lot of things including a new pill, the Atabrine Pill, which was a new substitute for quinine. It was a little yellow pill which you had to take once or twice a day and the side effect was that it made your skin a little yellow as if you were suffering from yellow jaundice, also the whites of the eyes got a little yellow. The other preventative they supplied, as an issue, was mosquito repellent that had to be rubbed on any exposed skin. The doctor also cautioned us to keep our sleeves down and shirts buttoned and our pants tucked into our socks or leggings.
We were sent out on two or three patrols with spraying equipment and would look for stagnant pools of water where we would spray the surface of the water with an oil spray to keep down the population of the mosquitoes. I recall one incident where we were chopping down a tree and I think it was Hess, who stripped down to his waist because he was so hot. I was there also chopping down a tree and noticed that his entire back was covered with these tiny mosquitoes. Their bite was evidently so sharp that it could not be felt. I helped him brush the mosquitoes off and put on his shirt; but it was a lesson to me so that I tried to keep my shirt on whenever I could no matter how uncomfortably hot it was.
The facilities around us kept being upgraded and one day we watched a couple of truck loads of natives came down into our area. There must have been twenty or thirty of them standing in each truck and they all had multicolored clothes and some of them had different colored hair. Normally their hair was bushy and black and stuck out in all directions, some had green hair some had blue hair and we were given to understand that this indicated their marital status, if they were married or single or whatever, at any rate there were a couple of Australian soldiers in charge who were obviously used to handling the natives quite well because of the orderly way in which they went about their business.
The natives had machetes and they went out into the jungle and brought back poles some larger than others but generally 2” or 3” in diameter. They proceeded in one day to build a mess hall for us. It had rafters of poles everything was tied together with bark and the roof was thatched palm material and amazingly in one day we had a mess hall! At the end of the day they climbed aboard their trucks and left.
One of our training missions was to take a compass march through the rain forest, with packs, ammunition, rifles and water. This turned out to be excruciating. If you have never seen a rain forest, which I hadn’t, of course, as most of us had not, the best I could compare it to was Tarzan, swinging through the trees in what was purportedly a jungle. Well, as I soon found out the movies were more like a dense forest because this rain forest was indescribable. The smell was that of mildew and rotting plants. We had machetes and penetrated the jungle by staying in single file or 2 abreast and the first two men in the column wielded the machetes and cut their way through. When we got a little way into the jungle we could not see the sky, it was very dark and so humid that we were all soaking wet before we got into the jungle a hundred yards. The two men at the front had to be continuously rotated because they were exhausted after about five minutes of cutting. It was impossible to stay up in front so the column rotated 2 men at a time. The officer in charge had a compass and I suppose we were in the jungle for a couple of hours and went through several swamps hip deep in water. Cutting our way through the vines, overhanging everywhere and when cut the plant gushed water. There was no sign of snakes; but I’m sure there were many along with various other animals but the noise we made probably scared them off. We made our march through the jungle and it was a good experience in preparation for the future waiting for us. We came out of the jungle at a different point and as I say, every body was soaking wet and we were glad to get back to camp.
One evening after supper we found out that there was a movie at the army theater so we all walked down the road a couple of 100 yards. What it consisted of was a huge screen. The seating was made up of huge logs big enough to sit on. It was built in a semicircle much like a Greek Amphitheater. We sat down and proceeded to watch the movie. After about 15 minutes a great deluge of rain occurred it came down like the ocean coming down on us. They were not drops but rather sheets of rain so we all scrambled running down the road which already had about 6 inches of water for us to slosh through. When we got to our camp we saw that some of the tents had collapsed and there were cots and shoes and various items floating around and the water was at least a foot deep. The water continued for a short time. When it subsided we got everything cleaned up and put back in order, righting the tents etc. I can’t recall this happening again while we were there; but it was a memorable rainfall.
We did have a training schedule and most of the day was pretty well occupied by gun drills, close order drills, class room study or field marches so we were never left at lose ends. Some of the things I mention were done at times when we did have time off in the evenings and on Sundays.
Almost A Tailgunner
One Sunday morning my friend, John Hess, from W. Virginia suggested that we hitch a ride to the airfield and try to get in on one of the bombing runs. It was rumored that if you went out there you might be able to get on a bomber headed for Truk Island, which was the most heavily fortified Japanese naval base in the Pacific. Lots of flak and I assume some losses for our people. At any rate, it sounded very adventurous and I went along with it. John was an adventuresome sort spoke with a very decided W. Va. twang and was a real character. He would talk about his time spent in the West Virginia woods shooting squirrels and his descriptions were pretty funny. We walked out to the road and sure enough here comes a jeep, we flagged him down and he was headed for the airfield. So John and I hopped in and as we were getting close to the airfield we could see the bombers taking off. So whatever would have happened we did not make that bombing run and maybe God was looking out for us. Who knows?
We dropped off at the airfield and saw all the various fighter planes on the ground. There was a pretty good variety, some Thunderbolts and some Lightnings (the ones with the twin tails and twin engines). Some of them had miniature Japanese flags stenciled on them and by that you could tell the pilot had shot down so many planes. We happened to come upon Captain Bong’s P38 Lightening that had ten or twelve Red ball flags painted on the nose of the plane with Captain Bongs name stenciled under the cockpit. He happened to be one of the army air aces at that time.
The beach was fairy close and on some Sundays we would go down to the beach to go swimming. The beach was fairly decent and in the early morning some of the guys would get out there at low tide, most of them East coast guys, with buckets and dig for clams. They would bring them in and of course I had never tasted a clam. They looked a little ugly to me so I wasn’t interested.
One Sunday when we were swimming out in the ocean we were about waist deep in the water and we could see an airplane coming toward us. He was flying parallel to the coast, quite low and at first we thought, gee whiz this could be a strafing thing or something, so we were jumping out of the water; but we realized that it was one of our Navy Corsairs. We started to jump up and down waving our arms and as he got close he could tell who we were. He must have been 20 feet above the water and as he came very close he waggled his wings and took off. We felt the woof of the air passing us as he left. You could tell by the way he flew that airplane and the way he left he was getting a real thrill out of it and joyfully flying that plane. It made me a little envious because he had this individual freedom that he could command his own destiny and didn’t have to be with a huge group of people. I always felt that I wanted to be a pilot back when I was in high school but I never really followed up on it so that I was a little sad about it, maybe.
On another Sunday we were lying on the beach I think it was in the afternoon. We started to hear a lot of air noise way up there. It sounded like a dogfight and that’s what it turned out to be. Very close to us a jeep had pulled up and he had the radio on. We could hear a blow by blow report and he was talking about 30 or 40 Zero’s and about that many of ours up there battling with each other and you could hear firing going on quite a way up. They were at a fairly high altitude a little further away we were listening very intently and every time we heard something good about a Japanese plane being shot down we would whop and holler and finally at one point out of the sky not very far from us came a Japanese plane and on his tail were two of our airplanes and I forget what they were the one was right on his back and he was pouring machine gun fire into that Japanese plane. The other of our airplane was covering the rear of our pilot that was shooting down that Jap Zero. In a few seconds you could see smoke coming out of the Zero and they passed out of sight but obviously the Zero had crashed into the ocean. It was very exciting.
The last episode I can think of on New Guinea was an event that took place involving Pvt. Schwarzel, who was another character from the east coast with an eastern accent. He was constantly gripping about the Marine Corp, and always looking for a way to ease his daily life. Therefore he bragged to us one day about how he had secured this detail that would keep him out of the service and it was to clean the toilets that were set up for us out in the field. It was a job that would require his attention a couple of times a day and then he would get a day off, all to himself. He felt very proud of this.
To describe the toilets they were wood and I believe the roof was canvas or something equivalent it was like an outdoor privy and there were six or seven toilet seats cut out of the wood and the holes had flaps on them. What Schwarzle was supposed to do was to take some lime, throw it down each hole and take some diesel oil and pour some into each compartment and light it. This particular day we were out marching and Schwarzle was up to his job for several days. We were all out there marching in close order drill. It was hot and we were a little tired but kept marching and it was very monotonous. As we passed by the toilets within about fifty feet or so we could see that Schwarzle was at his job and as we made some turns we heard this pretty good size explosion. We all stopped and looked in the direction of the toilets. The whole area had exploded and as Schwarzle stepped out of the toilet room, not that there was anything left, it was pretty much collapsed; but what had happened was that he had poured the diesel oil down the compartments and then closed the flap when he dropped in the match it was apparently too much and everything just blew up so we all stood there laughing because of the sight of Schwarzle who looked like something out of a comic movie. His clothes were charred, he was covered with every conceivable toilet remains. He had to go to sickbay, take a shower of course and then get treated for some burns. Maybe you had to be there, but every time I think of it I have to chuckle.
Probably by this time it was in the middle of December, we were getting bored with our situation and wanted to get on with it. We knew that we were going to hit the Island of New Britain, which was about ninety miles away and for the past couple of weeks we were getting briefings about what to expect.