My Private War


Written by Chester W. Nycum

Being one of the absolute lowest in rank members in the Parachute regiment,
and being fresh from the farm, no one had any reason to inform me of where we
were going or what I could expect when I got there. Like a adage I heard
repeated years afterward in civilian life," I was being treated like a mushroom,
kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit." Though I have many bad dreams and have
spent many hours reliving the battles we were engaged in I am proud to have
served with the men of the 503 PRCT. Having said that I must state that
each soldier sees and remembers his own war. It is now 58 years
after the war and my memories of it are still quite vivid. I would like to
think that some of the members of G Co. will read this and get in touch with
me: especially the third platoon second scout and the B.A.R gunner. I hope in
writing this article I have not offended anyone but as I stated earlier this
was my war as I remembered it. I am quite capable of adding names to this
account, but in many cases I do not know how to locate the men to get
permission to use their names.


 

Our Jump On Noemfoor


Boarding the planes at Nadzab we were heading for our next fight While in
route, we were informed that our new destination was on the island of Noemfoor
in Dutch New Guinea. The most exciting incident on the flight was the engine
fire that caused our left wing plane to turn back. Like everyone else, I
wished that I had been on that plane. After what now seemed to be short
flight, we were given the order to stand up and hook up. The plane began
losing altitude, ultimately dropping to I believe 500 feet. The go signal was
given with a tap on the first jumpers leg. With my Tommy gun strapped to my
wrist, I went out the door, the number three man in the string. My chute
popped open, and I had a brief moment to look over the area as I descended. We
had approached from the South, Our landing site was their Airstrip.
I hit the ground near the center of the runway. The ocean was about 500 feet
from me to the East, and a Betty Bomber lay about 100 feet to the East of
where I landed. The Betty had been knocked out prior to our jump. I quickly
got rid of my chute and made a dash for the bomber, taking cover behind its
left wheel. Looking to see if there was any Japanese around I was surprised to
see a group of our men near the head of the runway playing baseball, My
thought at that moment was "what the hell kind of a war is this" I sheepishly
crawled out from under the bomber and started walking toward the guys playing
ball. As I walked I heard the sound of motors, looking to determine where the
sound was coming from, I was elated to see amphibious tanks displaying
American markings. They were climbing out of the water and up onto the runway.
I did not learn until many years later that this amphibious outfit had made
the initial assault on the island and cleared the landing strip for our jump.

Our job was to purge the island of the remaining Japanese. We assembled at the
Southern end of the runway and, in patrol formation, moved inland. I was
scouting about 100 feet out in front of the company. When I came upon a Native
village, I cautiously moved to a vantage position looking into the village, I
saw three of what appeared to be Japanese soldiers, standing in a line with
their hands behind them, apparently tied to a post. I moved quickly into the
open, where I was exposed and then back to cover to see if I could draw
fire. After a few exposures with no one shooting at me, I went into the
village and approached the group tied to the posts. As I walked up to them I
could see they had their hands tied behind them around the post and the ankle
bone had been hewed off on the outer part of each leg, probably by a sword. I
thought that they were the enemy, and felt no sorrow. The medics came in and
undertook the job of removing these maimed men I learned later that these men
were from Formosa (Taiwan). The Japanese had used them as labor troops. They
had been disabled to prevent them from working for us.


We proceeded some distance across the Island to a second airstrip which the
Japanese had abandoned completely. Here, we dug in for the night. My foxhole
was located at the south end of the runway, directly next to the road which
connected the two airstrips. The night passed uneventfully. In the morning, my
platoon went out on patrol. We covered an area of about 5 miles before we
turned and started back toward our positions. I was about 50 yds. in front of
the second scout, following a trail going up hill. As I reached a point that
allowed me to see across the crest of the hill, I spotted a patrol of Japanese
soldiers, coming my way. They were about one hundred and fifty yards in front
of me and slightly to my right. I dropped down, gave the signal "Enemy In
Sight" to the second scout, then arose, fully prepared to start shooting, but
to my surprise, I realized that they had seen me and had taken flight down a
trail to our right. Spinning, I motioned for the platoon to move to the right,
while I took chase through the dense undergrowth. As I broke onto the trail
taken by the Japanese, I moved through the platoon to take the lead position,
One of our men pointed to blood on the ground, I moved out quickly following
the blood trail. It turned left and went up a small embankment. There, I saw
the Japanese soldier. He was sitting up, drinking from his canteen. Seeing me,
he whipped his left arm behind his back and threw himself flat on the ground.
I dropped to the ground, expecting a grenade to go off. After about 10
seconds, I took another peek, his left arm was still under his back and his
canteen was lying on his chest spilling water. I was sure he had a grenade.
Not wanting to use my Thompson machine gun, I borrowed a rifle from the
trooper closest to me and shot the soldier through the head. The shot did not
kill him outright; he was opening and closing his mouth, but my second shot
came out the top of his helmet. Hearing the shooting another patrol arrived
and a lieutenant rolled the Soldier over and commented look at this, The Japanese
soldier did have a concussion grenade in his hand with the detonator pointed
toward the ground.

During our patrol actions, we took a few Japanese as prisoners but we rounded
up quite a lot of Formosans. They were caged in a makeshift enclosure of
barbed wire. Our cooks, who had little to do while we were out on patrols,
spent their time teaching all the prisoners English. After several weeks
teaching, we were surprised when, coming in from a patrol, we passed the
compound housing the Japanese, And someone shouted "Tojo." All the prisoners
responded in unison bowing and shouting "Son of a Bitch."

A kitchen was set up, and we started getting hot meals. With little
happening around our perimeter, several of us decided to go to the beach and
try some hand grenade fishing, Wearing nothing but under shorts and boots, we
proceeded to the coast — a distance of only a few hundred yards. Moving down
the beach, we came upon some chickens. Well, this was much better than fish,
so we proceeded to shoot as many as possible. I had only one clip of ammo for
the Tommy gun, and I had no idea of how many rounds I fired getting chickens.
While the other men picked up the chickens I moved further down the beach to
a point where, a large boulder projected out over the waters edge. To get by
it, I had to stoop. As I passed under the boulder and moved further down the
beach, I came upon two Native huts. Moving to the rear of these huts, I
surprised two Japanese soldiers who were sitting on the ground and eating the
hearts of " palm trees." I stopped, raised my Tommy gun and shouted, "Hold it,
you sons of bitches!" The soldier farthest from me dove around the corner of
the hut, with his gun in his hand. As I turned to see that he was not coming
around to get to me, the other soldier jumped and ran down the beach. I dashed
out after them, brought the Tommy gun up to my shoulder, and shouted, "I'll
cut you bastards in half!" I squeezed the trigger. One round fired, and that
was a miss. I had spent all my ammo on chickens! The other men heard the shot
and came running, but they only glimpsed the two Japanese soldiers as they
disappeared into cover. (Many years later, at the 503 reunion, they kidded me
about standing there on the beach, with my Thompson up to my shoulder,
shouting, "Bang, bang, bang!" at the Japanese running away from me.)
Finding the area around the airstrip clear of Japanese, we started pushing
across the Island, following paths made by either the Japanese or the Natives.
On one occasion I was following a path that I was sure was made by the
Japanese. I drew this conclusion because the path had vines fastened to trees
and draped along one side allowing them to move in the dark. As I rounded a
turn, a sniper fired at me — putting a hole in my right sleeve, just below the
shoulder. I hit the ground rolling to my right; he fired a second shot which
missed me completely. However, that shot gave me his position: he was in a
tree about 300 feet in front of me. I sighted across the sights on the Tommy
gun aiming at his totally exposed figure in the tree, and I hit him with a
burst of three rounds. I will never know how he missed his opportunity to get
me. Thinking about this later, I concluded that I must have surprised him
before he had reached his firing position in the tree.

Because of the strain in this work, scouts were rotated at short intervals. I
do not remember the name of the scout who led the second platoon but it was he
who relieved me. Within three minutes after taking the lead, he was hit by a
burst from a machine gun. The Japanese had dug in on a coral hill and were
waiting for us. We took whatever cover we could find, moved into firing
positions, and battled throughout the day and into the night. Daylight came
and we put feelers out to see if the Japanese were still there. They had moved
out, and the scouts body was gone. We moved up the hill into the evacuated
Japanese positions. There, we found His body it had been carved as though he
were a piece of beef. All the flesh was gone from his legs, arms, buttocks and
chest, and his heart and kidneys were missing. We had no doubt that they were
eating our dead. We vowed right then never to take another prisoner!
Continuing on, we hit the Japanese again, This time we saw them before they
saw us. A fire-fight started, and we set up 60 mm mortars to blast the
Japanese out of their positions. Suddenly, a man near the mortar positions was
hit by a sniper hidden in a tree, The sniper was only firing when there was a
lot of shooting going on at the front line. Although we pinpointed the tree he
was hiding in, we could not see him even when we were directly under the tree.
Suddenly, one of the mortar rounds fell short and exploded in the top of the
tree hiding the sniper. He came tumbling to the ground amid the hoops of joy
from our troops.


My squad had been sent to the rear in order to rest after having served up
front for some time. We were milling around, listening to the sounds of 25s
and 30s going off. Suddenly, a bullet missed my right ear by a fraction of an
inch! (My ear had a ringing sensation that lasted about three days.) I hit
the ground face down beside a trooper who had already taken cover. No more
than I felt I was hidden from the sniper when another bullet hit the ground
between us the trooper next to me jumped up ran around in three small circles,
and then dropped back into his original position. I chuckled at his confusion.
But that second shot was the snipers undoing. In the position that I was
laying, I was looking straight at him. He was in a large tree which I judged
to be about 300 yards out. He had built a platform in the tree and was laying
prone. My target was his helmet, shifting back and forth as he looked for
another target. As I looked at my target, I recalled a time when my Australian
friend (Berto Poppi) and I were in the bush in Australia. On that occasion I
had fired a shot from a 45 pistol into a large tree. Then, Berto asked me if I
thought I could hit the hole that the 45 slug had made using his 22. Taking
his 22, I drew a tight sight on the hole and hit it dead center. I think it
was the size of the Japanese helmet 200 yards out that brought back the memory
of the tree shot. It appeared to be about the same size as the hole made by
the 45. I borrowed a rifle from the trooper next to me. (My Thompson
submachine gun would be ineffective at this range.) I zeroed in and commented,
"This one's for Berto." I took a tight bead on the target and squeezed off a
shot. I saw a flash as the bullet hit. The sniper's rifle fell to the ground,
and his head shifted to my right. I squeezed off another shot. Again, I saw a
flash on the Japanese helmet. The trooper who loaned me the rifle turned to me
and asked, "Who the hell is Berto?" I don't remember ever answering him, but
asked "What kind of ammo do you have in your gun?" He replied, "Blue goose."
This explained the flashes I saw when my bullets hit their target. (Blue Goose
is the name given to the 30 caliber, explosive, ammunition used in aircraft
machine guns.) A few of the men started using this ammo after we confirmed
that the Japanese were turning their 25 caliber slugs around to make them
tumble in flight. When one of their bullets hit a man, it tore an awful hole.
The fighting continued throughout the day. The people back at the airstrip
tried to deliver k-rations to us, using an artillery spotter plane. The pilot
would fly over our lines and drop crates of food. Unfortunately, most of the
crates hit the Japanese positions. The most any of us received was one tenth
of a box of K-ration. This amounted to one can of meat, or bacon and eggs,
per squad. We spent the night without incident, when morning came the word
came to move forward. As the lead scout, I moved the platoon to a position
atop a hill. We were roughly 500 yds. From the Japanese positions, they were
dug in on a coral, jungle covered hill. The terrain we were approaching
through was 6-foot high Kuni grass sloping downhill toward the base of the
hill occupied by the Japanese. To keep from exposing ourselves, we crept down
the hill on our bellies. When we were about halfway to the Japanese positions,
the Sea Bees started firing their 75mm howitzers. The first shell came
through the Kuni grass, so close to me that I could feel its heat, and the
noise was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It scared me so badly that
I became shaky. The shell exploded at the base of the hill, about 300 feet in
front of me. I do not remember how many shells were fired before word was
radioed back to cease fire, but none of the others were as close to me as that
first one. I learned later that the Howitzers were firing at maximum range (11
miles) and could not quite reach the Japanese positions. Their falling
trajectory took them through the Kuni grass and into the base of the hill we
were attacking. Moving down to the base of the hill directly in front of the
Japanese, we took advantage of the jungle to regroup for the final assault.
Our top kick, came over to ask me to lead the assault. Seeing my state of
terror, he turned to the second scout and told him to take over. (I did not
argue the point). Unaware of my experience with the shell; he probably thought
I was developing battle fatigue. Whatever the case, he told me to hold my
position until the last man in the squad had entered the jungle, the squad
passed by me, until the last man was about to get up and go. There were sounds
of Japanese 25s going off, and the bolts on their rifles slamming shut as they
reloaded. Suddenly, our men panicked. They came running out of the jungle as
though they were being chased by the Devil. As the next to the last man
emerged, he turned and fired his M-1 point blank at what he thought was a
Japanese soldier chasing him, as it turned out it was a member of our squad. I
have no idea how that shot missed; I can only think it was an act of God,
Having failed to take the hill, we pulled back to the positions we had held
when we initially engaged these troops. Taking firing positions, we waited for
the hot food we had been told was being delivered to us. It was to be brought
by our company cooks, armed and leading a group of Native carriers. We waited,
but they never arrived. We later learned that they had been fired upon by a
sniper. Though no one had been hit, they proceeded to bury our food where they
were and return to base camp. Much later in the war, the leader of this failed
food train was awarded the Silver Star for his actions. His award was
accompanied by the hisses and boos from the regiment.


The following morning I received one of the most dreaded order I was ever
given. I was told to take two men and to cut a trail to our left, making as
much noise as possible. I could only think that this was the punishment for my
failure the day before. We were to try to draw fire from the Japanese if they
had moved that direction during the night. Luckily, they had not. We journeyed
out about 200 yards, hacking and banging on rocks and trees. Then we were
ordered back. Rejoining the squad, we moved, cautiously forward into and
through the Japanese positions of the day before. Initially moving with
caution then rapidly to get away from the awful odor of rotting flesh.
Our route took us out of the rain forest and into an open area where the trail
followed a ridge. Walking single file, we pressed forward. Suddenly,
approximately 300 feet ahead of us, a grenade exploded. Moving forward to the
point of the explosion, we found a Japanese soldier with his guts blown out,
lying between the fin roots of a large tree. We assumed he was chicken and
took the easy way out. Within a mile further down the trail, the same thing
happened again: another Japanese blew himself up. Someone in our group
determined our assumptions of the Japanese taking the easy way out was all
wrong. These were actually death outposts. Each exploding the hand grenade was
sending a message to the main force, letting them know exactly where we were.
The soldiers who were sacrificed apparently were too sick to keep up with the
main body of troops. After making this determination, our tactics changed. We
would watch the trail ahead for anything large enough to hide a Japanese
soldier. Then we would send a man around to the flank. If he spotted one he
would slip up on him, take the soldier from the rear, and cut his throat
before he had time to detonate the grenade. When I had completed my time out
front, I was relieved and placed next to the last man in the squad. We were
moving through fairly open country, along the base of a hill, when the man
behind me fired. Turning to see what he was shooting at, I saw a Japanese
soldier starting to bend forward. He fired a second shot, and the Japanese
fell to the ground, face forward with his knees pulled up against his chest.
He was gasping for breath. I walked over to him, pulled my 38 revolver from
its holster, and put one shot through the top of his head. This stopped his
suffering. Then, grabbing his feet, I straightened him out on his stomach,
crossed his legs, and rolled him over for inspection. The lieutenant in charge
of the patrol came over and commented, "Just like shooting hogs." I thought to
myself, "Oh no, Hogs don't kill and eat humans." Continuing on, we came into a
large grassy area that was sparsely covered by trees. To the right, in the
distance, we could see the Ocean. Our patrol moved South, paralleling the
water. Suddenly, there was a yell: one of our men had stepped into a foxhole
with a Japanese soldier still occupying it. He came to his feet as though he
had been shot out of the hole. He fired three shots point blank into the
Japanese soldier, then sat down, wiping his forehead. The position he had
stepped into was a sniper's hole. Sniper's holes were just deep enough to
kneel in and covered with a camouflage lid which was made from small tree
limbs and grass. This would allow them to rise up, pick a target, shoot and
disappear from sight. We gave them the name "Trap door Snipers." With the
threat of snipers hiding in the grass around us, the order was given to spread
out shoulder to shoulder and to advance across the area. I do not recall that
we uncovered any more snipers.


Reaching the jungle again, I was placed out front to lead the way. My route
took me through a swamp area with large mango trees whose roots protruded into
the water. Suddenly, there were loud clanking noises. My first thought was,
"Tanks!" I hit the ground and waited. The noise stopped as fast as it had
started. Rising from the ground where I had dropped when I heard the first
clank, I moved slowly forward. Roughly twenty feet to my right, in about four-
foot of water, were giant clams. They had been washed into the Mango swamp and
were responsible for the noise. Apparently, they would slam their shells shut
whenever they detected motion. As I moved on, this was confirmed: as I passed
more open clams, I saw them clanking shut. Having moved through the swamp
area, the company followed the trail as it turned inland. At this point, I was
relieved, and my squad was moved to the rear.

Following the trail we came to a fresh water spring. The water flowed from the
ground into a pool roughly 30 feet by 50 feet in size. Lying in the pool was a
badly deteriorated Japanese body. There were strings of decay extending toward
the surface of the pool from his body, we had to be very careful while filling
our canteens not to stir up the crud and thereby contaminate the water. We had
been told that this was the only fresh water on the Island.
In this location, we dug foxholes and cut fire lanes toward the pool. One
trooper flushed one of the enemy while cutting his fire lane. The Jap soldier
came running toward us with the trooper chasing him and swinging his machete.
The trooper caught up to the fleeing Japanese soldier, swung his machete, and
decapitated him. The corpse's head fell onto his left shoulder, then the
body fell to the ground.


With our foxholes dug and our fire lanes cut, we started booby trapping the
area around the water hole. We set hand grenades in strategic places around
the pool. I modified one grenade by pouring it almost full of powder and
arming it with a "myrtle switch" an instantaneous detonator, Then I tied a
wire to the ring and ran the wire to my foxhole, where a pull on the wire
would set off the grenade. I placed the grenade in the fork of a large tree,
about four-foot off the ground. The tree had about a three-foot diameter was
about 100 feet out from the pool and stood in the center of my fire lane. With
everything in place, we settled in for the night. Three men occupied each
foxhole, During the night, while the man on my right was on watch, a large
snake made its way across our foxhole. It passed across my chest and across
the legs of the man on watch. The snake appeared to be about 20 ft long. It
passed over us and went on about its business, but it took about 30 seconds
for the man on watch to get over his fright. He kept hitting me on the chest
and repeating over and over, "Did you see that?" "Did you see that" To keep
him from exposing our position to any Japanese that may be near by, I sat up
and placed my hand across his mouth. Later that night, hand grenades did
start popping. Detonators were going off, but the hand grenades were duds.
Suddenly, I saw a form pass from my right and toward the tree in which I had
placed the grenade. I pulled the wire, exploding the grenade. For the rest of
the night, there was no more activity.


The following morning, we went out to pick up the unexploded booby traps.
While doing this our B A R gunner came upon a Japanese soldier. He was sitting
in the bush with his left hand blown off. A short burst from the B A R
finished him off. We did bury the enemy dead whenever we could, but as a
tactic to make the Japanese fear us, it was common practice to bury the dead
enemy with one arm remaining above ground. This allowed the wild dogs on the
island to consume the body. Sometimes, we did take a few prisoners, but we had
no way to take them with us. So, someone devised a holding technique, which we
called the Indian death lock, to hold the enemy prisoners until we returned —
if we returned. We would find a tree approximately 6 to 8 inches in diameter,
slide the prisoner up the tree, with his arms tied around the tree. Then,
crossing his legs around the tree, we would force his left foot inside and
over his right knee. Using his Japanese belt of a thousand stitches as a
hangman's noose we would fasten it around his neck with a slip knot and tie
the other end higher up to the tree trunk. As long as the prisoner had
strength in his legs and arms, he could hang on. If his strength gave out, he
was choked to death. I only knew of this happening once. Although we had
little to eat, things became more relaxed. We felt relieved that there had
been no enemy soldiers found by the patrols that had been sent out to check
the area around the perimeter. We, the members of G company, got together to
consolidate whatever food we had, and it was very little. However, one man had
been saving some coffee. This was the treat of all treats. Immediately, we set
out to gather firewood. One of our men wandered out into the bush to gather
wood. A young Indian, whom we had nicknamed Chief, had just joined the outfit
as a replacement. He swore he could smell a Japanese soldier. Hearing the
noise the gatherer was making and thinking it was a Japanese, Chief fired a
burst from his Tommy gun in that direction. Our man was hit in the hand, the
leg, and had a chunk cut out of his penis He came charging out of the bush
cussing a blue streak. He swore to kill that " f------ Indian" if he lost one
inch of his cock.


Meanwhile, The Lieutenant had gone to the water hole to shave and clean up.
Filling his helmet with water, he stepped up on the bank and applied soap to
his face. Then, with a small mirror, he prepared to shave. Suddenly, in the
mirror, he saw a Japanese sniper, in the top of a Palm tree on the far side of
the pool, He threw the mirror to the ground and came running toward us,
shouting, "Jap! Jap!" The first man to reach him had a Carbine, he handed it
to the lieutenant who grabbed it and cautiously moved back toward the water
hole. Raising the Carbine to his shoulder, he fired at the top of a large
Coconut Palm across the water hole. On the lieutenant's second shot, the
Japanese soldier dropped his rifle, sat erect, and raised his hands. The
lieutenant fired a third shot, but it, too, missed the mark. A trooper was
standing beside the lieutenant, and he was annoyed by the officer's
marksmanship. he raised his M-1 and hit the Japanese at about the third button
on his uniform, killing him instantly. His body came out of the tree, spread
Eagle, and fell into the water hole completely contaminating it by stirring up
the decay from the rotting body that still lay in the pool. Things quieted down
and a fire was lit and we started making our coffee. One of the men who had
been gathering the wood came in with a sock nearly full of rice. He poured it
into a helmet, poured water over it, stirred it a few times, poured the water
off, and added new water. Then he placed the helmet with the rice and water
over the fire. We all ate the rice. After finishing we asked him where he
found the rice. He pointed to the beheaded Japanese corpse and said, "From
him. That's why I had to wash it; there was blood in it." To this day, I
cannot eat rice — especially if it has tomato sauce on it. After we had
eaten, we milled around, looking at the vegetation and the wild birds. I had
nothing in particular to do so I wandered to the rear of my position.
Against the rising slope of a hill, I found a small cave that appeared to have
been man made. Thinking that it might have Japanese stores in it, I proceeded
to enter. The cave was only about ten feet deep, and terminated against a
ledge. Sliding my hand along the shelf portion of the ledge, I could feel
loose, soft Earth, I immediately started digging. To my surprise, I uncovered
a dish that resembled a serving dish we would use at home. With the dish in
my hand to show off, I came out of the cave. The minute I emerged, a Native
man of the island came toward me, indicating by hand signs that it belonged to
him. I had no desire to upset the Natives, so I gave it to him, and by hand
signs, promised to leave the cave and its contents alone. I am still amazed
that that Native could hide that close to our position without being
discovered. I learned later that the dinnerware I had uncovered belonged to a
Dutch Mission and that it had been hidden there to keep it safe from the
Japanese. When we had cleared all the Japanese from the area of the water
hole, we started our push to the end of the island. We moved to the edge of
the jungle, where we could look out over a beach with many Native buildings.
These buildings were erected on poles, just off the beach in shallow water. To
the left of the village was a group of Japanese soldiers with their backs to
the Ocean. We emerged from the Jungle ready for a fight, but the Japanese,
rather than firing at us, came charging with fixed bayonets and sabers. It was
a turkey shoot; none of the Japanese survived. After we had stopped shooting
and were milling around on the beach, I noticed the population of the village
men women and little children, emerging from the water. They had waded out
until only their noses were above water and had waited there until the
conflict was over. With the Japanese resistance totally broken, we dug in
around the village. I took this opportunity to take off my boots and wash my
socks, This was the first time my boots had been removed since we started our
push across the island, over a month earlier. That night, I slept with my
boots off and my socks spread out on the sand to dry. When morning came, my
boots and socks were gone. They were nowhere in sight. Not only were my boots
and socks gone, but anything left laying around had disappeared. Looking
around, we saw boots randomly scattered around. When we picked up the boots,
we could see that each had been pulled to a hole in the sand, but the boots
were too big to go down the hole. Large land crabs, roaming during the night,
had tried to steal them. We dug down in the sand and soon had recovered our
missing articles. After eating a banana and coconut breakfast, I decided to go
fishing. Another trooper decided to go along. Two very cooperative Natives
supplied an outrigger. We set out with the two Natives paddling. About a half
mile off shore, the Native in the front of the boat started shouting and
pointing to the water under the boat. Both Natives back paddled to stop our
forward motion. The Native in the rear grabbed a small stone hatchet and went
over the side.


I watched as he moved to a hole in the coral. There, he began chopping away at
the coral. Then, rising to the boat, he took a stiff wire with a ring bent on
one end, slipped it on his finger and dove back to the hole he had been
chopping on. A cloud of black fluid arose from the hole and obscured my view
of the diver. Seconds later, he popped to the surface holding a large octopus,
which he handed up to me. I grabbed the tentacles and pulled to get it into
the boat, but other tentacles were attached to the hull. I used all my
strength, but I could not break it loose.


Our diver got into the boat, reached over the side, and pulled the tentacles
loose from their other end. With the octopus on board, our diver took his
hatchet and cut off a section of tentacle. He handed it to me saying,
"Bagoose, bagoose." I pushed it away. So he offered it to my companion, but he
also refused it. Then he passed it to the Native in front, who gladly took it
and started chewing on it. Looking back at me with a broad grin which exposed
his blackened teeth, he repeated, "Bagoose, bagoose," and quickly consumed the
whole chunk. Having enjoyed their treat, the Natives started paddling out to sea.
As they paddled further out, I began to worry. We were no longer within swimming
distance of the island. In fact, when I looked back toward the island, I could
only make out a dull haze where the island should be. Well, they finally
stopped paddling, and both Natives slid into the water. Swimming with their
heads under water, they could determine the greatest population of fish. They
would then point out that area and swim clear of the area. We would toss
grenades at the spot they had indicated. After the grenades exploded, the
Natives would take the stiff wire they carried, dive down, and string fish on
the wire. When their wire was loaded, they would come to the outrigger, where
we sat, As they unloaded the fish we would keep them spread evenly inside the
hull. When the boat was fully loaded, its hull rose only about two inches
above the water.

 


One of the Natives brought a Japanese rifle up from the bottom. At the same
time, my companion thought he could see a pistol on the bottom, He stripped
down to his shorts and went overboard. Seconds later, he came to the surface
with a nose bleed. The water was too deep. He climbed back into the boat,
commenting that the Natives had no trouble at all reaching the bottom. In all,
the Natives brought up two rifles and the pistol, which my companion took as a
souvenir.


On the next dive, one of the Natives brought up a shelter half tied around
about a bushel of Yams. When he added that to our load, our buoyancy changed
drastically. Now there was less than one inch of hull above water. Seconds
later, the other Native emerged with another shelter half of Yams. When he
placed them in the boat, we went under. Fish were floating all around the
outrigger. I could only think that the sharks would have to come for this
feast.


Hanging onto the submerged hull, I looked for some reaction from the Natives.
After all, they knew more about the waters we were in than I did. The most
active of the two Natives started swimming out to sea. I watched in amazement
as he swam further and further away. After swimming about three hundred yards,
he stood up. The water was only about four-foot deep. Heaving a sigh of
relief, we swam the outrigger out to where he stood. Together we picked it up,
dumped the water, and got back aboard. The Natives stored the yams on the
coral reef to pick up after they delivered my companion and me ashore. We
paddled back to where the fish were floating and picked up all we could find.
Then we headed for shore. That evening, we had a great fish bake over open
fires on the beach.


At the time I was not aware that the two Natives paddled back to the spot
where we had picked up the Japanese supplies and dove for the remaining items
which they had found lying on the bottom. One of the items they found was a
chrome fingernail clipper. Finally, the Native brought it to me, indicating
that he did not know what it was. I held out my hand to take it so I could
show him how to use it, but he was reluctant to let me have it. After I
promised him that I would give it back, he let me have it. I slowly moved the
press lever into the clipping position and demonstrated its action by clipping
my nails. The Native was all smiles and anxious to try it on his nails. I
returned the clipper to him and watched as he clipped one of his nails. Then,
satisfied he could use it I left.


Later that day I observed him in a group laughing and appearing to be
mystified about the actions of the Native sitting in the middle of the group.
When I wandered over to them, I saw the Native with the clipper clipping his
nails and causing the blood flow over the ends of his fingers. Seeing this I
held out my hand for the nail clipper, knowing I would not keep it, he placed
it in my hand. Then I took his hand in mine. I indicated a no-no toward his
fingers, letting him know he had cut too much. He seemed to grasp my meaning.
The following day, the Native with the clipper came to me all smiles and
glowing with pride. He wanted to show me how he could clip hairs from his
face. Apparently, the clipper was a better tool than the clam shells they were
using to pull the hair from their faces.


With our mission completed, we packed up and returned to an area overlooking
the airstrip where we had made our initial landing. As a quick way to get us
settled, we were given hammocks to hang between trees. I slept soundly. In the
morning, we were told to take down the hammocks and erect tents. One of the
hammocks we took down hung on our outer perimeter. It belonging to a man who
had been evacuated to the hospital. He had left all his gear in the hammock.
That hammock had been knifed and slashed. Apparently, a die hard Japanese
thought the man's barracks bag was a person.


Since we had no assigned duties, we spent our days getting our equipment in
order, playing cards or just sitting around having bull sessions. My time was
usually spent sitting on the high ground along the airstrip and watching the
P-40s come in and take off. They appeared to be dancing as they bounced down
the strip. On one occasion, a Beechcraft 12 seater came in, and as its wheels
hit the runway, it veered left and hit the embankment. It immediately burst
into flames; no one got out. Since it was not a military aircraft, I have
often wondered who was on that plane.


On about the third or fourth night back at the airstrip, we were surprised by
an air attack. We had an open view across the runway and the open sea. So, we
were in an ideal spot to watch the action. A single plane came in, and anti-
aircraft fire opened up from the ships lying off shore and from the guns on
shore. The tracers made a fiery umbrella as they crossed each others' path at
the peak of their arcs. The plane could be seen quite clearly, being lit up by
the exploding shells. To my amazement, that plane continued on course and
dropped its bomb squarely atop the Japanese fuel dump. They had to abandon
that fuel dump when we took the island with our own air attack.
My last memory of Noemfoor is one that I cherish even today. It is the memory
of hearing Ave Maria, played on the loud speakers just after lights out.


An interview by Pat O'Donnell was also conducted with Chet Nycum