THE SOUTHWEST PACIFIC
BY VINCENT TUBBS

You Can't See Much of a Battle

You can't see much of a battle because this war isn't being fought like battles of old such as Washington crossing the Delaware, the Crossing of the Marne or the charge up San Juan Hill.

There will be no painting of the general standing in the bow of the boat, long lines of advancing and defending troops or fiery steeds charging up a hill to come out of this war--not unless the artist has a terrific imagination or is a whale of a liar.

Most of the news about a battle comes from the injured returning from the front, from a soldier being relieved or from an officer who is in on thee planning and execution.

You can't see much of a battle even is it's just up the road from you and you go to it yourself. I know because I've just returned from Hill 660, the final objective of marines who established the beachhead at Cape Gloucester, New Britian.

Hill 660 is ours. We took it last night after some of the meanest fighting the marines have ever experienced--including the struggle for Guadalcanal. Jap casualties exceeded 3,000; ours were not meager.

I started out with another correspondent aboard a GI truck. We walked a while, grabbed another truck, walked some more--traveling thusly over disgustingly bumpy and muddy roads, to the regimental command post of the unit that assaulted the Hill. Here I saw my first Jap--a live one.

We had started away when my brain registered "that's a Jap you're about to pass." I jerked back to look at him; stopped almost in front of him. He smiled wryly, knowing my thoughts.

We stumbled on toward the war--over tree stumps, mud bogs and debris of every description. A terrific barrage had been laid on thins area by our heavy field guns.

"Hello there. Where y'all going?" a marine drawled from beneath aa shelter-half under which was built an uncovered pallet of small tree limbs.

"Up the hill to the war, if we can make it. What's cooking around here?"

"Oh, nothing much now. We hear that they took the hill last night. The fighting was right here yesterday, y'know."

"Yep, looks like it. What sort of outfit is this?"

"We're a mortar platoon--did a little work yesterday. Laid down a barrage up yonder," one of the muddy men said. "There were lots of Japs in here then. Y'all been over by Hill 150?"

"Naw, where's that?"

"Right there," he said, pointing to a small hump behind us. "There's a lot of Jap bodies over there. Seen any?"

"Yeah, we saw one back there at headquarters alive. Next one we see we want him to be dead."

"Well, come on over here; we'll show you some."

What they exhibited defies description, but there were, among other revolting sights, remnants of a Jap machine gunner who had knocked off nearly 20 marines before they got him and they didn't leave much.

On the verge of vomiting, we debated whether we should go further. The marines pointed out aa trail, said there was a wire to guide us, conjectured the journey little short of 660 yards; so we pushed on.

Before we left, a tiny marine returning from sick bay where he was treated for combat fatigue said there was "scuttlebutt" about 30 Japs who escaped during last night's action and who were reported headed toward the tank trail which we must ultimately cross.

Nevertheless, we went along bravely, with warnings about snipers ringing in our ears.

One hundred steps along the muddy, mosquito-infested trail we got a scare. The top of a tree split by a projectile from one of our 105-mm. guns teetered in the sultry breeze; then toppled to earth with a resounding crash.

We, like veteran bush fighters, dropped to the ground, submerged ourselves in mud a foot deep; then abused everything that grows out of the ground when we discovered we weren't being attacked by the stray Japs.

Plowing along, holding to the wire for both guidance and support, we reached the tan trail, forded a small stream and came upon two marines sitting on boxes beneath a shelter-half. Before them was a switchboard. Here we waited for a tank to take us to the Advanced CP. The communications post is a interesting a spot as can be found in a battle area. All information is transmitted through the switchboard; so this correspondent just sat there and listened to operations going on at the crest of the hill a few hundred yards away.

Here sat two fellows, the operator and his troubleshooter, who listened last night, just as you listened to your radio, to the battle up the hill. They told the story:

The Japs were dug into the side of a hill in pillboxes and machine gun nests that stair-stepped up the incline. Our first assault was an attempt to storm these positions, but the Japs sat in their little caves and mowed down our men.

The attack was repulsed so we drew back to lick our wounds and work out new strategy.

It turned out that 105-mm. guns, 75-mm. howitzers and 50-cal. machine guns joined mortar platoons in blasting into the hillside.

In the meantime, the weapons company of the marine division circled the foot of the hill, set up gun positions on the Japs' north flank and began to blast away with the same type of artillery.

Detachments from two other companies stole around the opposite side of the hill to attack from the south and eats. Other elements of these companies, along with another company, attacked up the hill's west side.

The Japs were almost completely encircled and, as in other such instances, found it impossible to get out of the pocket so dug in to fight it out.

General Sherman tanks joined the assault, some rumbling as far as 300 yards up the steep hillside. When a stubborn pillbox was encountered, the tank rolled up, stuck the muzzle of its 75-mm. gun into the bunker and blasted away. There was silence.

In other instances the Germans would run atop such a pillbox and wriggle itself there until the bunker caved in, bringing both bunker and tank crashing down on the occupants. There was silence.

Troops leaving the regimental command post for the fighting lines were brought up to a certain point aboard other tanks which themselves could advance only about half way up the hill.

Men climbing the hill from this point crawled along on all fours, their muddy earth hands grasping vines and digging into the earth where the toe of the preceding man had left a dent.

All the time the enemy fought back from caves, nests and pillboxes that had survived the barrage. The marines fought for almost every inch of ground.

"I don't see how we ever did it," the operator said. "It was hell just to have to climb up--to say nothing about fighting while you climbed."

A crack of bush broke the conversation and brought our heads about with a start. Out of the dense foliage walked two heavily armed soldiers and one, big, strong-looking man who carried no arms.

He looked at me,asked: What are you doing up here?"

When I showed my insignia which was being worn on the underside of my collar because shining metal makes a good target, he said something about correspondents getting into the thick of things like saps and after a few other questions, signed my identification card.

"Go up on the hill, you may see a little excitement," he added as he went off, his protectors before and after him. My card now bore the signature of Col. J.H. Frisby, U.S.M.C.

Back at the switchboard calls were now coming through rapidly. One message was that a Jap carrying one of our 30-cal. carbines had just been killed.

During a lull, the fellows pulled out a Jap's belt of a thousand stitches (supposed to protect the wearer from harm), gave me bills of Jap Government Philippine and Australian invasion money.

Then--the rains came.

Our 105's opened up on Jap positions along Borgen Bay, just beyond the hill's crest. The conclusions sent gusts of wind around us that rocketed the broken treetops above our heads. We watched them closely.

Then came the grinding sound of an approaching tank. Soon it was in the ravine there below us. Thumbs went up and the driver yelled out we'd have to wait until he reached a spot with better traction before we could board.

We pulled along beside the tank to a spot some twenty yards distant and climbed aboard. We were frightful sights of mud and muck.

When the tank ended its run we were at what is called Advance command Post. The mud came above our knees.

Things were surprisingly casual here. One marine yelled:

"Souvenir hunters right up the hill there. You can find all you want. Chow will be served right here." And he began to take the warm food containers off the tank.

Another marine told me they had been living in the mud for twenty-one days--no change of clothing, no water for washing, the food C Ration until the day before, but there had been hot coffee last night...right in the midst of the battle, when someone made a fire and a brew.

We moved off to climb to the top of the hill. We had to crawl hand over foot. Half the time we were prone in the mud, scrambling for a firm footing.

We could look down into Borgen Bay, across its expanse and into what we were told was the Jap bivouac area into which the 105's were firing.

Things were so quiet, so disinteresting (we couldn't even see the Japs that were being knocked off) that we turned and slid back down the hill to the CP.

Our tank was about to take off so we climbed aboard and found there was standing room only because bodies of casualties from last night's battle were placed in rows on the floor.

A few hundred feet down the track we came upon a group of men trudging along in the muck. The tank stopped. A marine behind me nudged and said "That General Rupertus." The general climbed aboard. Back at the regimental command post the tank stopped to let the general off. We then climbed on trucks that took us to the site of our original landing on this island. We walked an additional two miles to our camp site.

The little actual shooting we saw is called "mopping up." We couldn't see much of that.

 

Flesh Show in the Pacific

When the first colored USO attraction in the Pacific reached New Caledonia, so many men sought glimpses of "the women" that a special detail of MP's had to be dispatched to the area to clear the roads.

Next day work for Tan Yank troops was almost stopped because 8,000 soldiers either on pass or AWOL from work turned up in the camp area of a port unit to see the show.

Cpl. Henry White of Cleveland stepped to the microphone, signalled Cpl. Saul Van Kirk of Philadelphia o turn on the juice, and announced the band's opening set of numbers, "Take the A Train," and "Jeep Blues."

Soldiers in the front, middle and back rows of the port unit's theater clapped their hands in rhythm with the music. Soldiers seated on the ground stamped their feet in the dust. One soldier squealed "Ooo-oo-oo-eee. Send me!" And everybody roared with delight.

The hot midday sun beamed down mercilessly on the backs of the audience. In the middle of the saxophone solo a soldier sitting on the ground rolled over on his stomach and beat the ground. "Lawd, just wait 'til I get home."

Kenneth Spencer, baritone star of stage and screen, who played key roles in "Cabin in the Sky," and "Bataan," was introduced to emcee the show, and Julie Gardner crept unobtrusively across the stage with her accordion.

She was the first female of the troupe the boys saw. They did not greet her appearance with applause. A strong hum swept the audience as she crossed the stage, but the men were dubious for Julie is more than pleasingly plump; she's heavy.

But when she grabbed her squeeze box and began to sing "Hit That Jive, Jack," that locked it up. She is the star of the show.

To the boys she's a whole constellation. They sat and patted their feet and weaved their heads from side to side as long as they could; then it was just too much for them. They had to join in, and the whole hillside "jumped."

Julie worked hard on her first number and the sun worked hard on her. She perspired profusely; but for all her effort and discomfort she was richly repaid by the soldiers' howls and applause when she concluded. While they shrieked and nodded to each other their approval she began: "Are You Fet It?"

When she finished this one, the soldiers howled and applauded so loudly she dared not step more than two feet away from the microphone until she had sung "Kow Kow Boogie," and "Don't Cry, Baby" for them.

Reluctantly, then, the audience allowed the show to continue.

With flaming red hair swept up into a wavy pompadour stop her head and wearing a long flowing skirt split up to one knee with a bolero that left her midriff exposed, Ann Lewis, throaty-voiced blues singer, sauntered Mae Westishly onto stage.

She looked at a soldier on the front row and smiled. He slid off his seat and plopped into the dust. He sat there throughout her act. Another soldier stood up and stuck his hand forward. She shook it and as he sat back down he licked his finders.

She waved to still another soldier in the middle of the audience and he stood up, stared; then pretended to faint.

Although she did, it wouldn't have been necessary for her to do anything more. The mere sight of her was enough.

A soldier who had brought along his native girl friend (and her family, because that's the way it's done here--take out the girl, take out the family), nudged her and yelled in one ear:

"Them's home folk there, baby. That's what I've been trying to tell you about. Them's home folks there. See?"

The completely baffled lass answered: "No compre, no compre."

The soldier looked at her in dismay. His eyes shifted to the accompanying parents and sister who gazed at the stage open-mouthed almost to the drooling point.

He shook his head and said, "Naw, I don't guess you would," then turned back to the stage and yelped "Send me, lady--just stand there and send me."

Ann told the boys that there is nothing left in the States but men who are either "too old, too young or 4F."

Ann sang to them: "It Makes No Difference After Dark." She did the boogie and the Shrty George and her split skirt flew open occasionally. She moaned "Shoo Shoo, Baby" at then, then soothingly gave them "The St. Louis Blues."

		Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam,
		When does my man get his furlough?
		He's been away a long time
		And his baby can't stand this much more.
		Since you went away, baby,
		I sure do miss your loving face.
		But don't worry, daddy,
		No 4F Jodie's gonna take your place.

Kenneth Spencer, in Robeson-rich baritone, stepped to the mike to sing "Without a Song," followed by "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," and "Old Man River."

He finished with Langston Hughes's "Freedom Road," the words of which kept the boys leaning forward and nodding their approval. The final verse drew applause before the singer could begin the chorus. "Freedom Road" was a definite hit.

Freddie and Flo, the aristocrats of comedy," just completing a tour with a USO Victory unit in the States, had the audience in hand the moment they hit the stage--Flo, shapely and seductive, singing "Basin Street," and Freddie, in black cap and gown, rapping on a box calling for "Order in the court."

The high spot of the show came when Freddie zipped off the gown to reveal an exaggerated zoot suit of loud green and red plaid which he topped off with a scarlet corduroy hat.

The reaction to the suit was terrific. This was Seventh Avenue, Harlem, brought all the way to New Caledonia. The couple did the jitterbug. Flo wiggled wildly. Freddie "stashed." The crowd jumped up and down in glee.

Audiences at the two shows on opening day, 2p.m. and 7p.m., totaled several thousand troops who came from miles around. There were colored and white Army, Navy, Marine and merchant marine personnel. There were Frenchmen, New Zealanders, "Kansakas," Tonkanese and a few Japanese.

Audiences have grown night after night, with many following the performers from one stage to another, until a crowd of 4,000 sitting and standing around a stage is coming to be considered "normal function."

 

Jungle Patrol Clash

More than twenty Japs died in an attempt to annihilate a patrol of 93rd Division troops in three ambushes, Tuesday and Wednesday, but our men shot their way out, losing only three men.

The tactical advantages held by the enemy made the encounter one of the worst since the division's arrival on Bougainville. Superior machine gun and mortar fire-power against our two Browning automatic and Thompson sub-machine guns, plus cunning and secure camouflage, gave the Nips the upper hand.

Our known dead are three non-coms. Missing are another non-com and an officer.

The patrol was assigned to reconnoiter several thousand yards beyond the farthest perimeter outpost near the Saua River and on to the Reini River. On Monday night the men camped beyond the Saua and moved out Tuesday to complete their mission.

When the patrol hit a Jap outpost guard of six men preparing breakfast, five escaped, but Sgt. Nehemiah Hodges of Chicago got one. The unit then pushed on 150 yards before running into the first machine ambush.

The patrol leader drew the troops back, fighting a rear guard action during which Sgt. Rothchild Webb of Indianapolis stunned several Japs with a grenade, and Pfc. Merton Gilliam'sd automatic rifle fire accounted for three. The leader's report to rear headquarters stated the apparent strength and fire-power of the enemy force, which was a remnant of the Jap Sixth Division of Nanking infamy.

Orders converted the reconnaissance patrol into a combat unit and ammunition was dropped by Lt. Derill Bishop, pilot of an artillery liaison plane, who also directed artillery fire on Jap positions.

After the barrage, the men moved back down the trail, leaving an artillery forward observation group at the command post to keep contact with headquarters. The crafty Japs had deserted the shelled bivouac area and taken to ridges on both sides of the trail into which the 93rd patrol was allowed to proceed almost to the Reini River before encountering frontal and cross machine-gun fire from which the unit had its second miraculous escape without casualties.

The patrol leader deployed his men off the trail and skirted through the jungle to a point where they calculated to meet their rear guard. In the meantime, the rear guard was so far forward that it was now between the patrol body and the Japs.

The patrol then hit an encircling ambush of snipers and machine guns. The lead men fell under the Japs' initial bursts, but Pvt. Deormy Raye of St. Paul, N.C., got three before going down.

Pinned down in the brush beside the trail, Pvt. Gilliam of Cincinnati, firing a Browning automatic rifle, knocked off six, blasting one out of a tree and almost cutting him in half.

Pfc. James Cofer of Washington, Ga., held the gun in position by its hot barrel with his bare hands, then, firing a Buck Rogers machine gun, crawled forward to cover Pfc. Ed Bradford of Hodge, La., whose machine gun had jammed.

Cofer fired a blinding blast of seventy-five rounds, accounting for two Japs and another probable. Pvt. Ernest Bailery, Bayonne, N.J., silenced a Jap machine gun nest. Pvt. William Tindall of NYC got three snipers. Pvt. Edward Rodes, Richland, N.C., killed three fleeing in crouched positions, while Pvt. Cleotha Simpson of Normangee, Tex., got a ground snipe.

The patrol sneaked off the trail took a to a nearby hills, climbing the sheer mountainside to establish a perimeter for a fight.

The rear guard sneaked off-trail through the jungle behind the patrol's ridge and returned to the command post at nightfall, but one man was separated from the guard and was left somewhere on the trail. He was Sgt. James Owens of Cleveland, who wiped out a Jap knee mortar crew setting up to lob shells on the retreating patrol.

The sergeant stayed pinned down by Jap fire until dusk, secreting himself under bushes and leaves, and spent the night listening to enemy troops stomping past, almost over him. Next morning he bravely took to the trail, passed the dead Japs, and returned to the command post.

The rear guard section from which he became separated was commanded by T/5 Joshua Roberson of Galveston, Tex., and included Pvt. John Jones, 105 Fiftieth Street, Washington; Pfc. William Blackwell, NYC., Pvt. Cleo Brown, Carthage, Tex., Pvt. George Turner, Covington, Ky.; Cpl. Doyle Terrence, Camden, Ark., and Sgt. Owens. The other three are engineers.

Corporal Roberson took the men over terrain that the Japs considered impassable and did not defend. they found the command post with aid of a compass. Spotter pilots declare that the journey over the precipitous ridge was a remarkable feat.

On Wednesday night, while the main patrol was still out of contact, mass preparations were made to send help. At dawn, spotter planes piloted by Lts. Derail Bishop of Houston and Octave Raibney, New Orleans, searched the jungle at tree top height, oblivious of possible Jap ground fire that could have easily disables the planes.

Cpl. Thomas Wimbush of Atkins, Ark., mapper, led the surviving men to the command post, where they joined Capt. Richard Hearst, white, who dispensed food, cigarettes and a limited water supply before leading the patrol out of the jungle.

A large force of crack infantrymen relieved the patrol, fanned out to retrieve our dead, search for the missing, and extract revenge.

That mission is still in progress, with evidences of contact seen in artillery blasts that and whining shells of overhead into Jap positions.

Returning members of the reconnaissance patrol were met by this correspondent at the artillery firing post far in the jungle, beyond which movement is forbidden. They are, besides those mentioned:

T/4 Paul Fisher, Grenada, Mass., John Medlock, Memphis; William Martin, Florida; Pvt. Melvin Finley, Seattle; Pvt. John James, NYC; Pvt. Marshall Mosely, Springfield, Ill.

At first listed missing, but found by infantrymen are Saunders Williams, Houston; Pvt. Walter Jeffries, Boston; Clarence Reese, Cotton Plant, Ark.

The tragedy of the home-coming was T/4 Marion Clair of Plataka, Fla., who screams and yelled with water-filled eyes, from which tears never flowed, when told of the death of a buddy.

 

Pacific Island Blues

"It's gone and started raining. I'm lonesome as a man can be-e-e."

Rain was beating a tattoo on the New Britian tent top. Men were tired, wet, miserable, heart-sick. They didn't know where the singing was coming from, didn't care, but it sounded good and the gut singing right out of the depths of his heart.

"If you read my letter, baby...you sho musta read my mind..."

They lay there in the mid-afternoon heat and listened to the rain and the singing. The rain and the heat are perpetually here. the singing--especially this kind--isn't.

"Y'know I love my wife," a soldier said. "I've never known how much I love her until right this minute."

Nobody answered. It wasn't necessary.

Then the soldier walked away, his voice raised in song:

"Take me back, baby. Try me one more time-e."

Those in the tent looked as each other; and went back to their thoughts. The rain kept beating on the tent top.

 

When Soldiers Dream Aloud

Nobody sleeps at night in the camp area of the quartermaster truck unit with which this correspondent is making home on this beachhead (Cape Gloucester).

When dusk comes the men saunter into their tents and bed down. There's an awful lot of time between dusk and daybreak, a fact that you can appreciate,in case you never know it before, if you will just try lying on a canvas cot those 12 hours, while the rain beats down outside, and any side you may lie on jabs into the hard canvas and gets sore after a spell.

Anyhow, we all bed down at dusk...some don't sleep...for several reasons. First, they sort of "sweat out" an air raid; secondly, they don't want to be asleep if a Jap decides to run up into camp, throwing grenades and generally raising hell.

Sometimes we talk but not much. However what we talk about--when we do talk--should warm up some hearts and writing pens back there in the states.

The correspondent can find no better was to put these conversation pieces down than in the form in which they appear in my notebook. These are the voices of the men who are keeping war from American shores and the talks might go like this:

"Wonder how things are going back there? Wonder whether the folks are in this thing with us--up to the hilt? So you think we'll find things better when we get back?" began Voice No. 1.

"They had damned well better be. I suspect if I hailed a cab and the driver tried to hand me some stuff, I'd pull him out by the collar and peel his head like it was a banana," will go a second voice.

"What do I want?" is the third voice. "Oh, I don't know exactly, but I guess it's something like a good job--no charity--just the privilege of a free man's place in a free man's world and the opportunity to build the kind of life I want to live."

Here there might come a lull in the conversation while ears prick up at the sound of movement outside the tent. A long interval of silence; then a voice from a dark corner:

"Gee, I'm going to be glad to see my sister. This guy she married is supposed to be the perfect man. I want to see the bloke--sort of size him up.

"And man, am I gonna have a time raiding the ice box. I can see it all now--those glistening, hardwood floors, the clean walls, that knee-deep bed with clean sheets and my slippers beside it."

"I can see mine, too," another voice whose owner is also hidden by the night, will, put it.

"it ain't nothing at all like that, but it's mine--a sort of tumble-down shack, you might say. Holesdin the roof and a bucket always handy to catch the rain.

"some pasteboard boxes I'm saving in a corner so I could use them for inner soles when my shoes got thin...that old, creaking rocking chair, a couple of missing boards in the porch and the rickety steps I planned to fix. Still it's mine."

"Hacienda or hovel, it's home just the same," sympathizes Voice No. 1.

Silence again--another long interval of it. Then the sound of soft snoring in one corner and movement in another as a soldier sits up under his mosquito net, beginning to talk again.

"That guy had better be nice to my sister. I'll twist his neck if he don't."

"I wonder how my old man is getting along," another reminiscent voice will sing out, almost as if the owner had been jabbed with a hat-pin.

"He's getting kinda old now. They don't go into detail in the letters; just say he's okay. Guess he's still going squirrel hunting, though. Boy, he sure can shoot not to be able to see any better than he can. Can't read a paper without his glasses but he's hell on a squirrel."

"I hope my dog ain't dead. He was getting a little weak in the hind legs and couldn't hear very well," the voice with the married sister interrupts.

"Whatahell you mean bringing up your dog when I'm talking about my old man?"

"Cut it," an impatient sergeant's voice will say. "Let me see whether I can think out what home means to me.

"...The cafe to next to the show with the fried fish in the window smelling up the whole neighborhood...the drug store where they never had enough ice-cream to last until after 9 o'clock...that scale outside the door where I used to stand and watch the female chassis go by.

"That church down the street where Mom used to go every Sunday and where I always cropped up when there was a Sunday school picnic...that straw hat and those white trousers I used to sport on Easter Sunday.

"That sharp black Alpaca overcoat I got just before I was drafted...that number I've got scratched on the wall beside the telephone and the girls who answers when I call it.

"Man, that's home to me--and I'm going to sleep tonight and dream about it. Hell, if they get us, we're just got--then we won't have to worry about ANYTHING any more."

"Break it off, Jack, break it off," an irritated voice from another tent will howl--and the howl will bring a hundred more requests for silence, some of which will be annotated with plain and fancy swearing; others with threats of untold physical violence.

These are the dreams of men wide awake on an island beachhead. They are dreams that tantalize--even torture, but they come nocturnally with the surety and quickness of Pacific nightfall, repeating themselves and adding embellishments as the weeks wear on.

Nostalgia is perpetually with us over here, expressing itself in hundreds of ways, but never more vividly than from the lips of the young marine returning from the battle for Hill 660.

When climbing onto the muddy, bumping truck, he banged his knee against the steel bed, them sprawled around the feet of a dozen tired men to find himself staring in the face of a dead buddy lying on a litter square.

He picked himself up and threw a hurt glance in the direction of a jovial marine who said: "Didn't your mother warn you there'd be days like this?"

The little fellow looked over the truck's side at the feet of a dead Jap jutting out of the mud in which rain had almost buried him and said to the jungle toward which he lifted his eyes:

"Gee, I'll be glad when I get back home."

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: December 30, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse