NO ONE SMILED ON LEYTE
 

by Deane E. Marks HQ2-511th PIR

 

These events took place starting early November 1944, on the island of Leyte. They cover action of a Light Machine Gun Platoon that was
assigned to HQ2-511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The exact dates
are almost impossible to reconstruct due to the length of time and
the fact all track of time was lost on the day by day actions taking place.  We knew when Thanksgiving Day took place, also Christmas, but in between, each day was like the one before. On Leyte, there was
rain, rain, rain, mud and a wet jungle, or I guess more like a
rain forest in a high mountain terrain.

On November 18, 1944 we went ashore on Leyte in landing barges, between Dulag and Abuyog at a place called Bito Beach, having departed from Oro Bay, New
Guinea on November 7, 1944. The ship we sailed on from New Guinea, was an APA
(Attack Personnel Transport) named the "Golden City." The Golden City was a
navy transport, that was quite comfortable compared to the Sea Pike which we
sailed on from San Francisco to New Guinea five or six months previously.


We loafed around the beach area for a day or two getting our equipment in
order and unloading barges and generally just following this order or that. There
were no Japanese in the immediate area. Early one morning the entire 511th PIR
was sent up the road by truck to a town called Burauen, which was located
about ten miles due west of the beach. We took over positions of another unit (the
7th Infantry) which had been holding the area. At this point it was sort of a
phony war, such as existed on the French-German border in 1939. We had sort of
sat around all day shooting the breeze, eating our "C" rations and improving
our fox holes for better sleeping. Still haven’t seen any Nips, nor signs of
them. Lots of Filipinos wandering around telling tall tales of their fierce
resistance during the Japanese occupation, most of which was "bull shit."
Everyone was a guerrilla, now that the U.S. Army was back. No doubt there WERE
many guerrillas, but I suspect they kept a low profile.

The equipment we carried amounted to six or seven pair of socks, some
hankies, a few sets of shorts and underwear tops and an extra set of fatigues. We wore
jump boots, which we would soon to find them to be, not so great in the
wetness of Leyte. As for combat equipment each man had a rifle of some kind. I, like a
dummy, traded my M-1 Carbine for an M-1 Garand rifle. Boy! What a mistake that
was. I traded a 5-pound weapon for a 9- pound weapon, plus a bayonet. Most
everyone had carbines. Some of the noncoms had Thompson submachine guns and
there were a few M-3s around. Everyone had from four to six hand grenades. We
kept the handles taped down most of the time. Grenades could be very dangerous
if handled carelessly. At night, while in defensive positions, grenades were
used out front of one’s foxhole, as booby traps. We would tie or tape the
grenade to a tree at about hip level, tie a trip wire to the ring, tie the wire to another tree
and secure it. If one walked into the wire, "boom," he is dead or mortally wounded.
The big problem was the next morning going out to pick up the grenades.
Gees! You had to remember EXACTLY where you rigged them up or you
were in just as must trouble as some Nip trying to infiltrate. There WERE
cases of people getting tangled up in these things, and in panic just took
off in any direction and then hit the dirt when they would hear the "pop" of the firing
pin.

Then there were the gas masks. I would guess there are no less then two
thousand of those things scattered over the trails from Burauen to Ormoc. Some
of the guys saved the carrying case and used it for a musette bag, after they
had discarded the large "jungle" pack. The jungle pack was rubberized and
heavy. It held a lot, but was just too cumbersome. I cut mine in half and used
only the top portion, which had straps that snapped on to my web harness
shoulder straps. The only other purpose the gas mask served was, that the
rubber hose could be cut at a "crinkle", with a sharp trench knife or razor
blade, to make a rubber ring. You would then slip the ring over your dog tags
to prevent them from jingling as you walked, ran or crawled. Everyone did
this. The other throw away item, which most later regretted, was the G.I.
blanket. It seemed just to heavy, took up too much room and got wet very easy. Some guys
cut their blankets in half, but that didn’t help either. The most versatile
item was the poncho. It kept you fairly dry from rain, could be used as a
shelter half and also it could be used to make a litter. When the night
weather closed in, and when the temperature dropped, you DID sweat up the inner side
and you would get very cold. You’d get the shivers. Sometimes my teeth would
chatter so much I would have to bite a handkerchief to keep my fillings from
vibrating out, but still the puncho was indispensable.

During the day time, (as we sat in those 7th Infantry positions) when it would
began to rain a little bit, we built little bench-like beds to keep our
fannies dry. Sometimes it worked, other times you would sag into the mud. I guess it
was three or four days when word came down that we were to move out. We had
been under intruder air attacks at night, since we sailed into the Leyte Gulf.
As a matter of fact, the day we landed at Bito Beach, six or seven "Betty"
Mitsubishi medium bombers tore into the convoy. The Navy fired its 40mm and
other "Ack Ack." There was shooting all over the place with nothing getting
hit. Soon some P-38s and P-47s came to the rescue, like the cavalry and shot
three down. Our fighters, would bore into a bomber and soon you would see a
wisp of smoke, (black) then an orange-red blob of flame would envelop the
whole lane. Then off towards the horizon, we could see the bomber splash into the
sea. The other "Betty's" skedaddled over the coast line west toward Cebu
Island. During the night, raids were fun to watch because the searchlights
would pick up the Nip bombers; at around eight or nine thousand fee and then
the Army "Ack Ack" would start shooting. Never saw them hit a thing. One day,
maybe the second day after landing at Bito, this Nip twin engine bomber
came in from the sought, right on the deck heading for the ships in the Gulf. The Army
shore guns, 20s and 40s started shooting. It was noisy as hell. Here this
Betty was twenty feet off the deck at about 300-mph, again missed by the Army
gunners, then Wham, in come a P-38. One pass and the Betty cartwheeled in the
Gulf. That Betty was probably one of first Kamikazes, as I found out years
later. It was during this action that the Nips started their Kamikaze raids.

Getting back to our present situation. Rumors started to come down that our
First Battalion, from the 511th PIR, had advanced in a blind draw and was
ambushed with heavy casualties. We heard that a couple troopers were
dropped in from L-4s. Hell! We didn’t even know what our objective was. We still hadn’t
seen a Nip, dead or alive. Then one day, we started up a hill into the jungle,
I don’t know the date, but we were on our way to relieve the First Battalion,
wherever they were.

It was still daylight, but raining as we moved along. To keep my old M-1 rifle
dry, I slung it upside down with a condom over the muzzle. We were relatively
dry, our feet were dry, but we stunk, mainly from sweat and mosquito
repellent. The trail was heading up a slight grade, that was muddy and slippery, but the
smokers kept puffing away. Some of the guys were eating "jungle" tropical
chocolate bars from "jungle rations", issued the day before. It was still
raining. We had no idea of where we were going. Someone mentioned Ormoc,
wherever that was. Now, we heard that somewhere ahead, part of C-511th was
surrounded by the Nips. We didn’t have any idea of what the hell was going on.
After a day or two of walking, sleeping along the trail at night, we arrive to
where C-511th had been. Now, I see my first dead man. I didn’t know who he
was. All I heard was that, he was a C-511th trooper, just laying along the trail
face down in a crawling position. One pant leg had come out of his boot and
his calf was laid open. Probably from a mortar shell. Now, I realize what was going
on. It was real, real. Somehow, the mud seemed wetter, the rain colder
and the stomach emptier. I felt that butterfly feeling you get before the kickoff
or before you are asked to make that speech in school! We saw several C-511th
troopers; they looked pale and tired. I do not know exactly how many
casualties they had. We just kept on tramping up and down on this six or eight foot wide
path or trail, or whatever you want to call it. Up until now we had made an
attempt to keep dry and clean. But after hitting the deck, whenever the lead
scout would see something, or thought he had seen something, you were really
covered with mud from head to toe -- literally. It rained all day.

I don’t know the date, but while we were coming up to the crest of a hill, it
was mid-morning and we were tired and wet. All of a sudden a grenade popped.
Everyone hit the dirt. A few seconds later that metallic "blang" rocked the
area. Then I heard this sorrowful moan, not a scream, a moan. It was HQ2
Battalion’s first casualty. Ivan Benderwald, a mortar gunner from Ellendale,
ND. Ivan’s hip, was blown away. He had a six-inch diameter and four-inch deep
hole where his hip once was. He was conscious. I looked at him and felt he
couldn’t possibly survive. A medic scrambled up and poured sulfa powder into
the wound and put a huge pressure-pad bandage on it. While all this was going
on, we just laid around along the side of the trail. I gave up my poncho to
make a litter for Ivan. Six of us picked up Ivan and lugged him back towards
Burauen to an Aid Station. I guess we carried him a half mile. By that time
Ivan had been given plenty of morphine and was felling no pain. At the aid
station, the surgeons, probably Capt. Matt Platt, operated on Ivan’s hip.
Being that he was about 190 pounds plus, he was to heavy to be evacuated from the
field hospital by an L-4, so he had to lay around for a week or so until he
lost a few pounds so the L-4 could take off with him from a short landing
strip. (I found this out years later.) Anyway, Benderwald was gone and we all
felt good that it wasn’t one of us. To this day, nobody knows where that
grenade came from. There certainly were Nips in the area, as every now and
then they would open up with their "woodpeckers." (This was the name given the
Japanese Nambu 6.5mm light machine gun.) When this would happen, the only
thing you could do was drop to the ground and roll over a time or two so that when
you lifted your head to peek ahead and around, you would not be in the sights
of whoever was shooting at you. Generally, a Nip "woodpecker" was always
protected by infantry. As this Nip was giving us sporadic bursts, ole Vigbert
D. Sharpe, starts wiggling up the side of the slope to where we were with his
M-1. Sharpe was the LMG. platoon Sgt.. He stopped, peered up ahead, saw a
sniper in a tree, then another, and with two quick shots, using Kentucky
windage, he got both of those Nips. When this happened, Sherlock (John
Sherlock, our Sqd. leader) had us wiggle up behind Sharpe with the LMG. We
wiggled and crawled up this slope for about fifty yards. We means: Dub
Westbrook, Dave Bailey, D’Arcy Carolyn, Bill Porteous and myself, which
constituted a machine gun squad. Everyone lugged two boxes of ammo, plus their
personal ammo and weapons. In other words, we were loaded down. It is hard as
hell to set up a LMG on an upward uneven slope. Unlike the movies, it is very
difficult to fire a LMG from the hip. The first problem you have, is that the
cooling jacket gets so hot you can’t touch it, much less hold it. We did have
some big asbestos mittens, which were intended to be used when the gun had to
be moved to a different position, but they were never around when you needed
one. The second problem was, the ammo belts held 250 rounds and were in a
metal box, mainly to keep it clean and in a position that would allow it to be fed
into the left side of the receiver. The third and most important item, if you
did fire from the hip, you had to stand and anyone who stood up in any kind of
fire fight, was usually dead before long. Anyway, we kept wiggling up this
slope to what was the C-511th perimeter and made contact. There were a few
dead Nips laying around and several wounded C-511th troopers. The Nips, the first
I’d seen, were flopped around in grotesque positions. They wore leggings and
tennis shoes that had one "big toe" partition. All the dead Nips had their
shirts ripped open and their pants half off due to searches by S-2 and anyone
looking for souvenirs. Their helmets were sort of like ours, except not quite
as low in the back. Their mess gear amounted to one quart, kidney shaped
aluminum can with a cover. In this, they cooked rice, which was their main
staple. Some Nip cigarettes (Anchor Brand) were strewn around. I didn’t smoke
then, but the smokers said they were very strong. Each cig. had its own stiff
paper holder, so they could be smoked down to nothing. Their fatigue pants and
jacket were like ours, although the color was brown. So far, after all the
shooting getting up to where C-511th was, no one in our platoon or company,
for that matter, was hit. We pushed on, I don’t know to where. Just follow the guy
in front of you and hope you don’t get ambushed.

A day or two later, the sun came out. Elmer Trantow was climbing up the
side of a river bank towards a small hut, when all of a sudden a Nip came flying
out of the door toward the "Tumbler." (Elmer Trantow was known as "Trantow the
Tumbler," due to his expertise in gymnastics done in Camp Mackall and New
Guinea.) The Tumbler brought his M-3 to bear and emptied it into this
unfortunate. Elmer later said, "he just froze on the trigger." You have to
imagine what a person looked like after absorbing about twenty .45 caliber low
velocity slugs. By day’s end, it grew gray and started raining again.

One day we climbed up a very large plateau and moved up the LMG. We didn’t
know why, shucks we never knew WHY we did anything. We just kept putting out
feet in the mucky brown foot print in front of us. Our feet seemed to be always soggy.
About two or three hours after we set up our LMG, we looked out into this
valley and "holy cow" here came this C-47 barreling at eye level at perhaps a
thousand yards to our front. Right in front of us a slew of red and yellow
parapacks dropped and troopers started jumping out of the plane. We could
actually see their little white faces. They couldn’t have been higher then
four or maybe five hundred feet. This went on for some time. At the time we did not
know what unit they were from, because we knew where the rest of the 511th PIR
(the 1st and 3rd Bn.) parachutists were at. We finally figured it out that
they were the 457th Airborne Artillery from the 11th Airborne. Their asses were
soon soaking in the mud like ours. We were glad to see them bring in their 75mm
pack howitzers, but wondered how they were going to move them. (They probably are
still there in the mud.)

One day, in the rain and sloppy stinky mud, we went traipsing around an area
called Anonang, looking for a C-47 that went down in the forest due to engine
failure. We found the wreck late in the afternoon. All aboard were dead, but
the Nips had gotten there before and stole everything of value and/or food to
eat. As we headed back to our perimeter around another place called Lubi, we
heard a number of planes overhead. We looked up to see at least six C-47s
flying at six to eight hundred feet overhead. It was dusk and we could see the
blue exhaust trail from the engines. In a few seconds they were gone. We
assumed they were bringing in planes into the area and that we had a jump
coming up. I found out much later that they were Japanese "Tabbys" (a licensed
DC-2 built in Japan) loaded with a few hundred Nip paratroopers headed for the
airstrips around Burauen. They jumped on the San Pablo and Buri airstrips
where they burned up a bunch of our planes, raised hell for a few days and nights
and were finally driven off by the 11th Airborne Division Headquarters troops,
cooks, etc..

Up and down the mountain trails we went. Wet to the bone and being ambushed
just about daily. Bumbling into the Nips here and there. Part of HQ2-511th got
themselves caught in a potato patch near a place called Mahonag. We lost some
good troopers: McGraw, Fleming and Yeager. We couldn’t get them out during the
firefight. That night Baldy (Baldy was the code name for our C.O., Capt.
Charles Jenkins) took a squad down looking for the three causalities. He went
through the area calling "Dave, Dave." It was to no avail, they were all dead.
It looked like Yeager may have died from exposure, but the other two were hit
many times. We found it hard to accept, but had to. You didn’t get any
"madder"  the Nips, just hated them a bit more. As we hiked along the trails, we
noted many dead Japanese and also some Filipinos. We passed a Filipino farmer laying
along the trail, with a couple of half dead chickens tied to him. Laying next
to the farmer was a basket full of the largest bananas. This was a case of
someone being in the wrong place, when the Nips went by or perhaps he was a
mortar victim.

At about this time, some problems started to make themselves obvious. Our jump
boots weren’t standing up to the wear of being soaking wet twenty-four
hours a day. The tops were fine, but the soles started to come off. You just had to
tie or tape them to your shoe. Some troopers had real bad problems with their
boots, but only a few were fortunate enough to have them replaced. Socks were
also getting scarce. You would wash them and try to dry them out in your
musette bag, but without the sun, it was a losing battle. Most of the troopers
had two piece coveralls, which kept you a little cleaner in that your top
would not come out of your pants while crawling around in the goop. At this
point, we really begin the smell like a sewer. It was a combination of sweat, mud and
mosquito repellent, the latter we showered ourselves with, to keep the
skeeters away. We had mosquito nets, but most of us shied away from them, as it cut
down on hearing what was going on. At night you needed your ears. Personal
sanitation was a chore, with the coveralls. You had to strip to the knee, when
nature called, which meant you had to remove your web harness to which your
musette bag, canteen, first-aid kit, trench knife (or bayonet) was attached
to. 

his became a big problem about halfway through the Leyte campaign, when just
about everyone had dysentery. We also carried an entrenching tool, usually a
small shovel, which had two uses: one to dig a foxhole with, and the other to
dig your own private latrine. If you were on the move and had to go, you just
ran off the trail a yard or so, did your thing, then ran to catch up with your
squad. All this time it is raining, but everyone was in the same boat,
including the Nips. Taking a leak was easy.

When dusk approached, we generally would halt and start to dig in. The more
time you spent digging, the more secure you felt when it started to get
dark. I mean black dark, there were no shadows, no moon, no nothing. We usually dug in
by two, or in some cases, threes. With all the rain, there was always a
couple of inches of water at the bottom. Our foxholes were a good four feet deep. We
would pose in the thing, half sitting, half leaning and peering out front into
the total blackness. Dub Westbrook, Dave Bailey and myself usually shared
"watch" out of our foxhole. Dave was a couple years younger (about 18) than
Dub and myself. Dave was a replacement that came in just before we went overseas.
He was very naive and trusting. The idea of watch at night was to always have
someone awake in the hole. If everyone slept, you had a potential break in
security of the perimeter you were holding. Each guy was supposed to stay
awake two hours: then wake the next guy, sleep four hours, then watch for another
two hours, and so on till day break. We did this by passing a watch, with a
luminous dial, back and forth. I would watch for a period, set the watch
ahead, wake Westbrook, give him the watch and go to sleep. I later found out that he
was doing the same thing. Dave never did catch on. Perhaps he couldn’t tell
time. Maybe that was why he was tired all the time.

Harry Briggs got hit in the thigh today from a sniper. A sniper also hit
Martin Offmiss, a radioman, in his shoulder. We called then snipers, but I suppose
they were just Nips in a good, well-concealed position near the trail. During
this period, Pete Kut, a squad letter was hit badly from a "woodpecker." He
later died from loss of blood and exposure. When someone was killed, we would
bury them, but some of the dead we never did find. The wounded we carried on
litters. (The troopers that we did bury were exhumed after the campaign and
sent to various military sites. This was done by a special unit of the U.S.
Army. Most of our guys were buried on "Rock Hill".) This whole affair was
really getting rough on us, but our morale was high, because we knew we were
winning. Each day, we would move further west toward our objective, Ormoc.

We established a good size perimeter at a place called Mahonag. This really
was not a town or anything like that. It was a relatively cleared area on a
slightly sloped field. I would guess the area was about 150 to 200 yards long
and maybe 100 to 125 yards wide, at its widest place. It was sort of
egg-shaped. The center of the area was pretty free of activity during the day,
because you could get yourself picked off by snipers that were in trees
outside the perimeter. The 2nd Bn. of the 511th was dug in just inside the tree line
around the entire circumference. Our foxholes were 10 to 15 yards apart. Most
of the guys dug in deep enough so they could add a sitting step. Baily,
Westbrook and myself dug a three seater with the LMG staked in for night
shooting. (Staking in, meant plotting your field of fire in the day time and
pounding a stake in the ground at the extreme traverse of each side, right and
left. Next to this stake, you drive in another for elevation. This worked well
even in the blackest of the night you could cover your field of fire with the
gun next to you. This type of "staking in" took place around the entire
perimeter, making busting through by the Nips next to impossible.) All the
time the rain kept falling. We are all half damp, not soaked, just damp and cold.
After dark, one’s eyes got as big as saucers. You couldn’t see five feet in
front of you and your imagination would run rampant. You would visualized a
Nip right out in front of you, getting ready to lob a grenade at you. There were
Japanese out there and one consolation was, they were just as wet, muddy and
cold as we were. I always felt that they were "scared" of us. We certainly
were not afraid of them, but felt eager to search them out and do them in. Sitting
in your foxhole at night and waiting to see if they would try to slip through
was something else. You just were full of anxieties and had the feeling that a
particular Nip was out to get you. Anyway, this particular night, it was
raining exceptionally hard and my morale was getting low. Westbrook and I
spent the night playing our "watch" game with Bailey; but even at that I didn’t
sleep at all. I was cold and as I sort off slumped down, leaning against the sloped
rear of our three seated foxhole and wondered if I’d ever get out of this
alive. It was a case of just feeling sorry for one’s self. The only
consolation was, everyone was in the same boat, although we heard that some of the higher
ups had been sleeping under canvas and on cots. It could have been possible. I
even heard rumors of some guys heating water in their helmets for certain
higher ups so they could take warm baths. I feel that most of these reports,
were just old fashioned "shit house" rumors.

Morning finally came, so we dug out our Ks and started thinking about
breakfast. The best way to heat water for coffee (Nescafe Powder) was to start
the fire with the heavily waxed cardboard box that the K-ration came in. These
boxes burned well. The mosquito repellent was also flammable and could be used
to get a good hot fire going. Dry twigs were hard to come by, but once the
K-ration box was going good, small twigs would start to burn. Once you had the
fire going, you could increase the diameter size of the twigs and soon have a
good sized fire. I used to get a canteen cup of water boiling, pop an envelope
of bullion powder in and then put all the saltine crackers into the boiling
bullion, along with whatever meat I had. Sometimes it was chopped pork with
egg yolk added, other times it was spam. The meat came in an O.D. colored can
about the size of a tuna can seen today. It was good and had plenty of nutrition and
would stick to your ribs. For desert, the Ks contained a fruit bar (dried
raisins, apricots, pressed together in a bar about 3/4" square and 3" long) to
munch on. Another menu had a Hershey Tropical Chocolate "D" Bar. A solid
chocolate (hard as a rock) lump which you could chomp on or could melt it in
boiling water and you’d end up with a cup of rather flat cocoa. There were
also six little rock hard candy wafers, about 3/4" square x 3/16" thick that you
could suck on. Half of these were plain dextrose pills and the other three
were chocolate flavored. They gave instant energy, as they were pure sugar.
Also, in one of the menus was a little tuna can of American processed cheese. Dub
Westbrook loved this stuff and always toasted it on the end of his G.I. fork.
The cheese menu also had an envelope of grape powder or lemonade mix. I
remember these well as they were made by "Miles Laboratories" who brings us
Alka-Seltzer. You topped all this off with a stick of Wrigley's gum in an O.D.
wrapper, as you sat back and enjoyed your Luckies or Camels, which were also
included. There were only 4 cigs. in a box, like the ones we used to get on
the airlines. I didn’t smoke, so mine were up for grabs. Also included, was a
little packet of O.D. colored toilet paper, which you would tuck into your
breast pocket for later use.

When Kut, McGraw, Yeager and Fleming were killed (around December ninth or
tenth), Captain Jenkins declared a private war against the Japanese. Patrols
were actually like little squirrel or rabbit hunting trips. He would take a
patrol out towards the west to reconnoiter the trails to Ormoc. There never
was trouble finding the Nips. The forest was full of them. We knew we were better
then they were in offensive movements. It seemed they were good, when hiding
alongside of the trail or in some other kind of ambush position. In a face to
face confrontation, they would beat it into the bush. I remember Dub
Westbrook’s first confrontation with a Nip near Mahonag. All of a sudden Dub
was face to face with one, no warning. The guy just appeared on the trail. He
just looked at Dub in terror. Dub plugged him with his carbine, firing from
the hip. Capt. Jenkins, our C.O. was ecstatic. He, himself must of bagged a half a
dozen during the several "patrols’ he had conducted.

All of our wounded at Mahonag were grouped together under cargo chutes. Most
were laying on litters covered with ponchos. There were some blankets, but not
many. Some of the wounded that could still walk, were gathered, on one of
those numberless days. Capt. Jenkins got a squad to walk them back to a field
hospital at another clearing called Manarawat. There was a short airstrip
(home made) for L-4 and L-5 cubs. Some of the guys were flown out in special cubs
from Manarawat. I was picked for one squad, where my job was "ass-end
Charlie", the last scout down the trail to cover any sniping etc. from the rear. We
started about nine in the morning, a two hour walk each way. A lot of the
wounded, understandably, would tire after a few hundred up and down yards. It
was difficult with the mud without being wounded. So one can imagine how tough
it was on the guys that had lost blood or had chunks out of their arms,
shoulders or other parts of their anatomy. Some of the "limpers" had homemade
canes of sorts. The last guy, who was in front of me, had a bad flesh wound in
his left upper thigh. They had cut his fatigues off all the way up, and
when he would stagger or slow down (when we were going uphill) my face was practically
in his bandage. Around noon we arrived at Manarawat with our wounded. Fearless
Fosdick (that was our nickname for 1st Romain T. Alsbury) our platoon leader.
He got us up on our feet around one o’clock and started us back to our
perimeter, but on a different trail then what we had come in on. It didn’t
make any difference to us, because the rain was coming down and who cared. It did
not take long before our attitude changed and we felt whoever decided that we
should go back another route must have been nuts. We walked up this side of
the mountain, down the other side, up another one etc. The trail was an ooze of
mud and the trees and vegetation along the sides of the trail, was not as
thick
as the other one. This was good in one sense as you could see perhaps
twenty-five yards to the front and both side of you. We had a decent field of
fire BUT the Nips did also. We walked for four hours and had no idea how
far we were from Mahonag. Fearless Fosdick kept saying "it’s coming up." Now it
started to rain harder, and we’re wetter and "madder" (if there is such a
word). It started to get dark. Moving along any trail in the jungle is scary;
because when it starts to get dark, the shadows play tricks on you. It is plan
and simple suicide to walk along any trail at night. By this time, we had been
on the march since one o’clock and now it was around six or six-thirty. We
were dead tired, wet, muddy and pissed off at Fearless Fosdick. I guess we were
what would be and under strength section (two squads). There was Ray Brehm, Dave
Bailey, W.C. Westbrook, Bill Porteous, Red (Pete) Peters, D’Arcy Carolyn,
Elmer Burgett, John Sherlock and Jay V. Florey plus our Fearless Fosdick. Finally
Fearless told us to fall out on one side of the trail for the night. We did
not dig in. There didn’t seem to be any point to do it. Our plans were to continue
on the next morning. Most of the guys rolled up in their ponchos. I
half-slumped against a tree trying to hide under my helmet. As usual, is was
raining. Soon it was pitch black and the rain finally stopped. The jungle at
night is usually very noisy, with the various types of animals, birds and
insects. For some reason, there was none of that this time. It seemed and felt
that someone was around. I froze all night and it was a long night. Just
before dawn and there after, we could periodically hear noises that sounded like
voices. We didn’t eat when we got up, just fell in a single file and started
down and up the trail again. We didn’t walk more then five minutes when we ran
into our Mahonag perimeter. We had slept about a hundred yards from our line.
Live and learn. When we arrived in our area, Baldy (code name for Capt.
Jenkins) was getting a patrol together to go and try again to bring back
McGraw and Fleming (from the potato patch) where the ambush took place. I was sitting
on a log eating a K-ration when Jenkins came over looking for a couple of guys
to go out with him. He said, "Come on Marks let’s go." I got up and started to
follow him and then for no reason I could think of, he turned around and said,
"Go on back and sit in your hole and get some rest." Which is what I did.

Along about four o’clock, a day or so later, the battalion set off on a trail
to push through, to where the 3rd Bn. 511th PIR was positioned. They were
located on another hill closer to Ormoc. Evidentially, we were sitting on and
blocking the main Nip supply line for their attack across the island towards
Burauen. We route marched up and down the trail till night fell., then we
pulled off to the side of the trail for the night. It was black, but at least
it wasn’t raining. Some idiot decided that it was time to have a cup of hot
coffee or soup so they actually got a fire going. As soon as the flames shot
up, I heard Jim Wentink scream out, "Put that fire out or I’m going to
shoot it out." The fire WAS put out. As we tried to sleep that night, we heard L-4s
going over but thought nothing of it. The next morning at dawn, we got up and
ate on the move as we headed for Rock Hill. We were about five or ten minutes
down the trail when three huge explosions hit our area. Shit, we were being
shelled by artillery. The first salvo, which we didn’t hear coming, were all
tree bursts. Casualties were high and very selective. Ship (LTC Norman
Shipley’s code name) had a leg ripped half off. Dr. Platt cut it off on the
spot. Captain Jenkins was hit in the upper chest. He lived about a minute. We
then heard a distant muffled "boom, boom, boom." This was salvo number two. We
all hit the deck. I hit an undercut in a stream bed right next to a half
rotted out carabao. The three rounds came in, but up the trail a hundred yards or so.
It was SHZZZ-BLAM, almost like a snarl rather then an explosion. That was all
we took, just six rounds. Sherlock was hit in the leg. Burgett was severely
wounded in the leg. Dr.'s Platt or Chambers cut it off. A trooper from F-511th
lost an arm and a leg. His name was James Hard. I remember him from a boxing
match he was in with a guy named "Jonesy" from D-511th. Hard died. I can’t
remember all of the wounded. We had to abandon our attack towards Rock
Hill. We had at least a dozen dead and close to forty wounded, some very gravely
wounded. Platt and Chambers saved a number of the seriously wounded. We
assembled litters with ponchos and tree limbs and started back to Mahonag.

Other parts of the Sixth Army had landed at Ormoc and chased a good portion of
a division of Nips back towards us. When we arrived at Mahonag, we found Nips
in the perimeter we had earlier vacated. D and F-511th pushed them out in a
short fire fight with help from HQ2’s eight-one mm mortars. We flopped back
into our holes and dragged the dead Nips out into the jungle away from the
perimeter. The next day we found out that we did not drag them far enough, the
stench was almost overwhelming.

We made an aid station, in a high ground area, in a patch of trees. Cargo
chutes were used to cover the aid shelter. The day we took the walking wounded
back to Manarwat, we carried Sgt. Stewart (from the mortar squad) back. He was
very sick and later they found it was his appendix. He died from
peritonitis at Manarawat. Being our 2nd battalion was now understrenght, we pulled our
perimeter in by twenty-five or thirty yards. This brought our foxholes closer
together. Naval gunfire and pressure from the U.S. 77th Division landings had
forced more Nips in our area than we could handle. There were enough of them
around, and they had our supply trails back toward Burauen, Lubi, Anonang and
Manarawat cut.

The next morning it was pretty quiet along the foxhole line of our perimeter.
About nine in the morning the rain stopped, but then the fog rolled in very
thick. You couldn’t see more than twenty-five yards out into the jungle.
Sometime during that morning, our scouts reported that trails to the other two
511th PIR battalions were jammed up with Japanese. During the first week,
prior to the morning the artillery got us, most of our supplies, in fact all of it
was dumped in from C-47s. We were able to retrieve most of our supplies, but a
few of the cargo chutes drifted out into the jungle and the Nips got to them
before we did. They, of course couldn’t use our ammo, but they sure could eat
our food. We found evidence of this on some of the dead ones later on. With
the heavy fog, the planes were grounded as far as supplying the 2nd Bn. of the
511th PIR. We could hear them droning overhead and they would try drops, but
were never successful. We had on hand about two days of supplies, this
included both food and ammo. The mortars were low on anti-personnel rounds, but all us
troopers had a good solid unit (a unit of fire was 120-150 rounds) of ammo. We
had about two thousand rounds for our LMG. That sounds like a lot, but under
heavy defensive fire you could eat it up in a hurry. The fog hung around for
another two days, by this time the K-rations, for the most part were gone. The
"wiser misers" had a can of this or that or a cracker or two; but for the most
part, we were out of food. The potato patch yielded a few nice sweet potatoes
called "camote," but soon they were all eaten up. There had been rumors
floating around for years later, that dog was eaten. I don’t think anyone was
hungry enough to eat a dog. No one was any hungrier than I was and I sure as
hell count not eat a dog. We did try some tiny wild red peppers. They did not
have much food value, but it gave us something to chew on.

The fog hung on for four or five more days. After about two days of nothing to
eat, the pangs of hunger begin to disappear. We would sit around and fantasize
on what we were going to eat when we got home. Malted milks, ice cream, T-bone
steaks and thousands of those greasy "White Castle" hamburgers were high on
the list. Our morale was not at its highest and being most of the guys, myself
included had dysentery, which did not help either. When you had to have a
bowel movement, you just passed a lot of hot water. We used halazone tablets to
purify our drinking water. We obtained it from a small stream below our
perimeter. Once I remember filling my canteen, when I noticed a dead Nip a few
yards up the stream rotting away. Some of the guys picked up worms and liver
fluke and got sicker than all hell. We were still shaving everyday and would
wash daily. On occasion, we would just wade into the stream, clothes and all
and wash up. Hell, we were wet anyway.

There were a lot insects creeping around. If you tried to sleep and felt
something crawling on you, and could not reach it with your hands, you’d just
roll on it until it was crushed or moved on. We never saw any snakes.

As quickly as the fog rolled in a few days ago, it dissipated. Within an hour,
C-47s and L-4s started to drop food and ammo into our perimeter. Many cases of
various items came loose from the cargo chutes and plummeted down into the
trees. One person was killed from a falling case of food. We laid out panels
(colored fluorescent plastic strips about a food wide and 10-12 fee long) and
from then on, the C-47s and L-4s hit the drop area much better.

We all got sicker then hell from overeating, although we had been warned
not togobble to much food - there was a lot of puking and belly aches. The next day
we moved west towards Ormoc, to hook up with the 3rd Bn. of the 511th PIR at
Rock Hill.

During our "siege" at Mahonag, the Nips made nightly probes into our
perimeter, for some reason these movements were by squads and could be easily
repulsed. We even captured on of ‘em and used him to help lug our mortar shells. Had the
Japanese attacked in force, at one particular place, they may have very well
been able to break in. We were only one foxhole deep. From what I saw, the
Nips lost of a lot of men at Mahonag. Between Mahonag, Lubi, Manarawat and later
Rock Hill, I’d say I saw three to three hundred and fifty just laying around.
We lost most of our men to snipers, around the potato patch and the water
hole.

The hike to the 3rd Bn. of the 511th was about a half day’s march. During our
advance, we ran into a Nip perimeter on one of the hills. It was here, that
D-511th, with our LMG squad made the famous "Rats Ass" banzai attack. (See the
"Rats Ass Charge" by Capt. Steve Cavanaugh on the Dropzone.) We stayed on the
trail that night. It was here that the Nips would holler down at us, shoot
firecrackers and shine flashlights. Some guys would shoot towards the noise
and lights, but within a minute the Nips would start dropping 81mm mortars shells
(their 81mm mortars were identical to ours, our ammo was interchangeable) into
us. Jim Wentink was laying on the side of the hill when an 81 landed about
five feet in front of him. Fortunately for Jim, it was a dud that buried itself in
the mud. Early the next morning our Bn. Commander, Hacksaw Holcomb wanted a no
nonsense attack up towards the 511th 3rd Bn. The Nip small arms and heavy
machine gun fire was very heavy, but not accurate. We were pinned down. We
were in one hell of a fire fight. Out of the blue someone hollers "RATS ASS, who’s
with me? The trooper was John Bittorie from D-511th. John was from
Brooklyn, NY and was about 6 foot 2 inches and skinny as a rail. His two front teeth were
missing, courtesy of a brawl at Scotty’s in Southern Pines, NC. Johnny’s hair
was brown, long and scraggly like the rest of us. He had no helmet, at this
point, and his fatigues were rotted off at the boot tops and split on side up
to his shoulder. The two or three inches of leg that was showing, between his
boot tops and raggedy fatigues, was full of jungle ulcers that were bleeding.
(We were given gentian violet for these ulcers, but that didn’t seem to do as
good as Barbasol Brushless Shaving Cream, that came in a tube. It was
medicated, felt cool and there was a lot of it available.) Bittorie had slung
his LMG over his should with a piece of webbing. He had split a belt of .30
calb. ammo and on his left he was wearing an asbestos mitten to hold the
barrel. As he advanced, he hollered and began shooting. He was defying the
Nips and certainly inspired us, as we were hugging the ground. He cut loose with
two long bursts. Spontaneously the whole line jumped up and started laying down
fire and hollering, "RATS ASS." A couple Nip "woodpeckers" opened up but our
fire power overwhelmed them. When we got passed the Nip M.L.R. (Main Line of
Resistance) we could see them laying all over the place and in grotesque
positions. Half in and half out of their holes. Most were dead, some
convulsing and some just moaning. A number of them did get away. One was pretty badly
wounded in the upper thigh, and was taken prisoner. The medics bandaged him up
and gave him sulfa. The whole fire fight lasted, just three or four
minutes. We did not have a single KIA. Most of the Nips looked in worse shape then we
were.
They were as wet as us, their tennis shoes were soaked and rotted. Some had
cast off their leggings. The only food they had was a little rice. They looked
pretty young, but so did we. A lot of the Nip casualties (most likely
previously wounded from our mortar fire) were laying on litters of a sort,
under shelters. That was the end of the "Rats Ass" charge. We moved through
the mess and kept pushing forward to some of their deep holes. Some of these holes
were 10 - 12 feet deep with bamboo steps in them. During our mortar or
artillery barrages, they could go down their bamboo pegged poles to the bottom
and be completely safe from shrapnel. We found a number of them dead on the
bottom of their holes. Dirt was kicked over these and my guess is they are
still there. We settled down at this perimeter. We had our holes (at the crest
of a hill) straddling the trail that let to Ormoc which couldn’t be more then
three miles away. The place was a place of the dead. The Japanese dead lay
strewn all over and only a few in the deep foxholes were buried. All of our
dead were buried on the hill with grave markers, for future retrieval by grave
registration. Bodies exposed to the elements deteriorated to skeleton in
just a few days. There was some kind of beetle larvae that appeared by the millions
and ate the flesh clean to the bone. These insects didn’t eat the cloth
material, so the skeletons laying around were still in uniform - very macabre.
The stench, the first day on Rock Hill was electrifying, but we got use to it.
What else could you do?

Right in the middle of the trail, in front of our foxhole was a dead Nip. He
had been hit early in this skirmish and fell in the middle of the very, very
muddy trail. The mud was 8 to 10 inches deep. The trail at this point was at
about a 15 degree upward angle. As people would go up and down the trail, they
would step around or over this guy. After a day or two, only his back was
protruding out of the mud. His legs, arms, shoulders and head were completely
covered. The brown uniform and greyish-brown mud had turned this body into a
perfect stepping stone to people going up or down the trail. We would sit
there and watch the look on the faces of people that, thinking it was a stone, would
step on it, thus causing the most sickening noise you ever heard. This was
especially gratifying when we were told to sit tight and let the 187th Regt.
pass through the 511th (About every other person would step on supposed rock.)
and be the first 11th Airborne troops to get to Ormoc, down by the west
coast.

The Battle of Leyte was finally over for the 2nd Bn. of the 511th. The next
day, we formed up, picked up our wounded, who were now all on G.I. litters.
Six guys were used to carry each - two in the front, two in the middle and two in
the back. It took about 250 troopers to carry our wounded. LTC. Norman Shipley
was one of my patients for some of the way. He was in great pain most of the
time and complained a lot, when we would slip and jostle him. At one point, I
remember him saying, "Platt! I’m giving you a direct order to stop the
pain." I can’t remember whether he was given morphine or not. Being it was very tiring
walking in the mud, we would exchange off quite often. I spent the last mile
helping to carry someone from E-511th. Our battalion stretched out at least a
half mile as we came down the trail into the flatlands that adjoined Ormoc.
There was a gathering place where we deposited the wounded and turned them
over to the Medical Corps. I would say that there were a couple hundred people
milling around to greet us. Most were curious Filipinos, some army brass and a
few GIs from the 7th Division that we linked up with in the hills. There also
was one newsreel cameraman, but I never did get to see the movies.

We then moved down the beach to a bivouac area, where we were issued new
fatigues and jungle hammocks that were really neat. They were completely water
and mosquito proof. The first night, in one of them, was better to us than
in a feather bed. We also took a good swim that day. It felt so good to be clean
and alive. Our company left twelve troopers in the jungle, including our
Commanding Officer. There always was that feeling of, "I’m glad it wasn’t me." We all
felt bad, for a short time, when a buddy was killed, but deep inside, you were
thankful to God that the shrapnel or bullet didn’t take you. I never saw
anyone who was willing to trade places with a corpse. We so tired and burned out that
all we wanted to do was to be left alone.

On Christmas, General Swing (the 11th Airborne commander) had them serve us
turkey with all the trimmings and pineapple ice cream, and it was probably the
best Christmas dinner we ever ate. I can’t recall all the names, but there was
Ray Brehm, Merlin Guetzko, Dub Westbrook, Bill Porteous, Jim Wentnk, Rocky
Shuster, Peter Peters, Bill Townsly, Bud Alsbury, Bill Demory, Pete Allisi,
D’Arcy Carolyn, to name a few that walked across Leyte. Capt. Charles Jenkins,
Lt. Robert Norris, Peter E. Kut, Robert F. Fleming, William A. Yeager, Donald
Stewart, David F. McGraw, George W. Andrews, Walter R. Schmidt, Eugene H. Ladd
and Lt. Evan W. Redman did not make it. James W. Outcalt, Dennis Hogan,
Anderson Peters, Jack L. Hauser, Fred J. Liscum, Norman Jennings, George A.
Spangler and a kid named Leonard R. Miller, who came all the way across Leyte,
only to die on Luzon six weeks or so later. I will never forget the many
friends that took that walk over Leyte, from Dulag to Ormoc, with a stop along
the way, at Mahonag.

Then there were Dr.'s Capt. Matthew Platt and Major Wallace Chambers, that did
serious surgery, during the day, night and in the rain. Sometimes they were
shielded by only a poncho, being held by up by a few guys and the only light
being a flashlight.

This sums up the activities that one light machine gun platoon had with the
Japanese (on Leyte Island) during November and December of 1944. I’ll never
forget the agony caused by the rain, mud and terrain of the Mahonag trail and
the troopers who gave their lives, to an enemy suffering just as much as we
were. Official records showed, that about 45 Japanese were killed for every
single 11th Airborne Division trooper that was KIA on Leyte.

Sources:
Typing and editing provided by Leo Kocher
Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT" Quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute
Infantry Association