Drop Zone - Noemfoor Island

By Charles Rambo


On July 3, 1944, the first battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped on Noemfoor Island, a small island off the western coast New Guinea. The Parachute Regiment was part of a reserve force that was sent to reinforce the 158th RCT that landed on the Island a few days earlier and was encountering stiff resistance from Noemfoor’s Japanese garrison.

During mid-May, Noemfoor Island indirectly became part of General MacArthur’s westward advance on New Guinea. Prior to the landing on Noemfoor, the 41st Infantry Division was fighting tooth and nail on the tiny island of Biak, which contained three strategically located airfields. Fighting on Biak was savage. Waiting for the 41st to travel inland, the outnumbered Japanese garrison counter-attacked in force with tanks and forced the 41st back to the shoreline. Fighting was prolonged on Baik for several weeks since the Japanese were able to secretly ferry reinforcements by barge at night from nearby Noemfoor Island. Once the mystery behind the origin of the reinforcements was discovered, MacAuthor ordered that Noemfoor be taken. The following narrative is Charlie Rambo’s recollection of 1st Battalion’s jump on Noemfoor. Mr. Rambo was also the 503rd’s communication officer (intro by pko).


I was to jump master the first plane into Noemfoor that included Colonel Jones, most of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment staff and a few others. After we become airborne, Col. Jones stated that he wanted to jump master the plane. I was moved to the rear of our jump stick to ensure that everyone got out the door quickly since the airstrip we were jumping on was relatively small. As we approached the drop zone, I noticed that the plane was dangerously low to the ground, but I assumed that we would climb to the standard jump altitude of 300 feet. This didn’t happen, the green light went on and we jumped at the unsafe jump altitude of 150 feet. Those of us at the rear jumped even lower.

I landed on the airstrip that was made from crushed compacted coral and broke my ankle. That day we had quite a few casualties. In our plane alone, Lane (doctor), Donovan (S-3) and I all broke our ankles. The three of us along with many other members of the Regiment were evacuated by LST to a hospital at Finchaven. There Lane, Donovan and I were fitted with leg casts and told it would be 6 to 8 weeks before we could join our unit. We all agreed that there was no way that we would wait that long. In the meantime an inspector had arrived to question all the men who had jumped from our plane. During the interview, we were told that the pilot, a Lt. Colonel, had forgotten to adjust his altimeter to the altitude of the Island. When his altimeter showed 300 feet, we were actually only at 150 feet. We were also informed that he had been reduced to the rank of Captain.

In the hospital the three of us had looked for a way to get back to the unit. We spotted a boat loaded with gasoline drums and inquired about its destination. He said he was taking the 100 octane gasoline to Noemfoor. We gave him our story and asked if he would take us with him. After a considerable amount of pleading, he agreed to take us provided we could get a release from the hospital. The next day, when he was to leave, we showed up at the boat and told him that we had received clearance to leave. He didn’t buy our story but said if we were crazy enough to ride a boat loaded with 100 octane gasoline into a combat area, it was our problem.

When we arrived at Noemfoor, the Beach Master called the driver of our boat and wanted to know who the three persons were on the boat with casts on their legs. When he told the Beach Master who we were, he was told that we could not come ashore. He then instructed the driver of our boat that he was sending a DUKW out to get us and that we were to be taken to an LST anchored in the harbor and eventually taken back to the hospital at Finchaven. When the DUKW arrived we boarded and immediately told the driver that we wanted to join our unit. After listening to his story about his orders, we then offered him three cartons of cigarettes (we each had three cartons from the hospital). He said O.K. and mentioned that the Beach Master wasn’t his boss. In we went, past the screaming Beach Master. When we arrived at the 503rd Headquarters, Colonel Jones couldn't believe his eyes and chewed on us a little, but was really glad to see us. Although we were in our casts we could do our jobs at Headquarters. After four weeks I walked in the ocean, dissolving my cast. Lane and Donovan, as I recall, removed their casts two weeks later.

 

 

*The 158th also included one Australian and two American aviation engineer battalions.