September 29 1944, January 13, 1945
Sept 29, 1944. Uncensored Letter: John A is leaving for the states tomorrow so I will send this letter by him. He is going to fly back, so it should reach you pretty soon.
Golly Ned, but I am tired. We are working pretty hard these days and I have only written to you once this week. This letter will not be censored and I can tell you about my pet peeves. My big one is the Red Cross. If ever there was a fake outfit it’s the Red Cross.
That seems to be the only real kick I have. We have a good bunch of officers. We call our troop commander Meat Head. He is a good guy though. I have a lot of fun and my squad is a bunch of screwballs. We have part of the troop thinking I have a brother in the German Army and we raise all the hell we can. We have one guy in the tent who thinks I am going nuts. Every day I gather up a bunch of knifes, sharpen them, and put them by my bunk. I tell him that I have nightmares at night and I am scared.
The prices are sky-high over here. I paid $96.00 for two quarts of whiskey and sold them at a profit. You just can’t imagine that can you?
I am no longer on Howie Island, but I am close by. That sure was a small island. I believe it covered 84 acres. Editor’s Note: Howie Island is in southeastern Australia and is a part of the Petrel Islands group.
P.S. This is to be kept under your hat until the news breaks. I will soon be in the Philippines. I will not kid you and say I am not scared. However, win loose, or draw it will be a great show and I am not sure that I would want to miss it.
Jan. 13, 1945. Philippine Islands: This morning I received a letter from Mr. Moore. That, in itself, was not too unusual because I often receive mail from W.&B. and I must say that both Mr. Moore and Mr. Ringstad do a pretty good job of making us boys feel that W.&B. is behind us all the way. In his letter he mentioned that you fellows would like to hear from me.
I spent a half hour trying to think of something to write and had almost given up the idea when my eye happened to notice a news clipping that I had received in a letter from home. It started out like this, “1st Cavalry Division lashes out in bitter fighting.” Now, I am in the 1st Cavalry. In fact I am in the 7th Regiment, which was commanded by General Custer when Sitting Bull tangled with him in the Battle of Little Big Horn Mountain, and I know we didn’t lash out. Combat isn’t like that. You plod through mud, you crawl, you hike, you get wet, dirty and stink to high heavens, but you don’t lash out. Would you be interested in hearing my version of our Philippine Campaign?
On the morning of October 20th I had a real early breakfast. It was about three A.M. when we went into the ship’s mess for bacon, eggs, and coffee. There wasn’t much laughing that morning and when someone did smile you had the feeling he was only trying to build up his courage. We did eat, and ate all we could hold because we weren’t sure about the next meal. Our convoy was drawing close to the Philippines and we were going in on the first wave. H-hour was ten A.M.
After breakfast we were free to go on deck and watch the show. In the early light of dawn I thought I was seeing heat lightning and then it dawned on me that I was looking at the Philippines and the heat lightening was flashes from our Navy guns. They were shelling the beach, but we were too far out to hear much sound. About this time a lone Jap zero flew out over our convoy. He had a lot of respect for our ack-ack (Editor’s Note: Anti-aircraft guns) because he kept well out of reach. I guess he just wanted to look us over.
Armada moving toward Leyte
About seven-thirty they sounded “quarters” and we all went below to get our packs and rifles. By eight we were in landing barges and had been swung over the side of the ship. While waiting for H-hour we circled around the ship. There were so many of us that we must have looked like water bugs as we circled.
Waiting for H-hour in landing barges
The Navy was still shelling the beach. There would be a bright orange flash as some ship would fire a salvo: on the beach you would see trees were blown clear from the ground and a second or two the sound would reach us. Toward the last it was a steady flash and roar and I wondered how any living thing could stand it. At nine fifty-five the Navy ceased firing and we headed in. A few minutes later we felt the barge grind on the beach, the ramp dropped and we made a run for it. An hour later some of you fellows heard your radio announcer say, “This morning, at 10:00 am Philippine time, American Troops made a landing in the Philippine Islands.
The men of the 7th Cavalry on the beach
A lot of us, in the days that followed, saw our first real combat. We found out shortly how hard a mortar shell could jar you if it lit close. We learned how to identify enemy planes, not only by sight, but by their sound. We learned the difference between the sound of an American and a Jap machine gun. We dug fox holes in a manner that would put a wood chuck to shame. You learn all these things in your first forty-eight hours of combat. It’s either learn fast or not at all.
Troop E, 7th Cavalry. Dad’s troop on the beach.
Early in December we headed into the mountains. In the four weeks that followed, we fought under the worst conditions. Sometimes we were without food; sometimes we didn’t have water to drink. I went without a drink for nearly three days. I think we had about two canteens of water in the troop and they were for the wounded. Our supplies were brought in by pack train. Sometimes our pack train couldn’t get in and they dropped our supplies by planes. Our wounded had to be carried out. It was a long hard trip that couldn’t be made in a day.
Fighting on Leyte
Filipino carriers on slippery mountain slope
Medical aid station, Leyte
Throughout most of the campaign we had the Japs on the run. They might stop for a while, but we always pushed on. However, the day came when the position was reversed. It will make a good story to end this letter with.
Late one afternoon a handful of us were statooned on top of a hill. We were expecting American troops to come in from a certain direction. Consequently we were not uneasy when we saw a line of soldiers coming our way. In the fading twilight they looked American to us, so we let them come unchallenged. When they were within 200 yards we stood up and yelled”Comeon in. We are Americans.” That came darned near to being “Famous Last Words.” They were Japs and they opened up on us. We hit the ground for cover and held a council of war. Should we scram or should we try to hold. For reasons that I can’t explin, it was necessary to hold the hill if at all possible, so we decided to stay. By now it was dark, we didn;’t have foxholes and we knew we were out numbered. The moon would be up about ten and we dreaded that.
For the time being we could depend on darkness and a few trees to keep us hid. I tried to shallow out a place in the ground with my hands, but I didn’t dare risk any noise and had to give it up. It would be nice to say I thought of all you boys at this time and how you were working to win the war. I didn’t even think of my wife. My thoughts were”You may have to fight like hell to get out of this.”
By this time a few of the Japs had crawled in among us. They couldn’t see us and they did everything to draw fire. We didn’t want to give away our position, so we held our fire. One of them jumped up and yelled “Banzai” (May our Emperor live a thousand years) and then he threw a grenade. One of them drew his saber and I heard a guy in front of me mutter “My God! My foot has been blown off.” A kid on my right cried “Aid” and his cries grew faint. I thought he had died. He didn’t. I was afraid my teeth were going to chatter (they always do), so I put the lower plate in my pocket. About ten that night we did the one thing that American soldiers are not noted for – we took off like a ruptured duck and took our wounded with us. Don’t ask me how we managed it. The Japs must have figured we were going to charge and were waiting for the slaughter.
No the Cavalry didn’t “lash out” at anyone. We fought a slow, hard fight, the same as the Infantry fights. We lacked the flash and flair of the old Cavalry, with their saber charges, but we finished our job and every man in the Division, from General Mudge on down, takes pride in knowing that we finished it in a manner worthy of all Cavalry traditions.
Editor’s Note: The following timeline is taken from “World War II US Cavalry Units: Pacific Theater” by Gordon L. Rottman. I am trying to figure out where dad is and so the timeline will only include the movements of the 7th, often referred as 1/7 indicating that the 7th Cavalry is a part of the 1st Cavalry. Use the timeline to follow him through the October, November, and December letters.
10/20/44: Assault divisions land. Resistance is light as the Japanese main defense line was well inland behind coastal swamps. Troopers struggled through chest deep swamps to secure the Cataisan peninsula and Tacloban airfield.
10/21/44: The 7th Cavalry moved north to fight it’s way into Tacloban, the island’s capital.
10/22/44: The 7th Cavalry takes Hill 215 killing 335 defenders.
10/24/44: The 1/7 Cavalry sailed north through the strait in landing craft and landed on Babatngon on Leyte’s north coast. The first Brigade team advances through the mountains, to attack the enemy flank and rear in Ormoc Valley. The second Brigade Combat (includes dad, I think) team moves onto Samar Island. and conducts a series of waterborn movements along the north coast.
10/25/44: The Naval battle off Samar Island begins. Generally considered to be the largest Naval battle of WWII.
11/1/44: The attack on Carigara begins. By 11/3 the Japanese abandoned the north end of the Leyte Valley. The Division was assigned the mission of preventing any Japanese reinforcement landings. The Japanese had succeeded in landing 20,000 men at Ormoc Bay. Stragglers were mopped up and encounters with Japanese increased. The Cavalrymen excelled in patrolling and combat patrols became the accepted means of locating the enemy and overcoming resistance.
11/9/44:A typhoon batters the island, but despite strong resistance, inaccurate maps, resupply problems in the difficult terrain, and insistent rain the 1st Cavalry pushed west. Trucks carried supplies and ammunition 30 miles from the beachhead up the Leyte Valley where they had to be transferred to amphibious tractors and hauled across miles of flooded rice paddies. Then they were transferred to cargo trailers and pulled by caterpillar tractors up into the hills. Native porters carried supplies to the front in relays, a task sometimes requiring four days.
12/4/44: The 7th Cavalry managed to destroy a particularly resilient strongpoint that had held out for two weeks.
12/5/44:They continue their advance southwards into the foothills at the north end of the Ormoc Valley. Their advances were slowed by broken ground.
12/23/44: The 7th (along with the 12th and the 5th) turn west to clear the Ormoc Peninsula. Japanese soldiers were launching banzai charges.
12/25/44: Fighting continues and the 7th, 12th and 5th are hunting holdouts in the mopping up.
1/2/45: Most troopers are back in the Leyte Valley.