A Ridge Too Far

Although mostly delirious from malaria and fatigue, we were racking up the points, clearing out the remaining Japs from their hideaways. It looked as though the 41st would soon be heading to the Philippines, to begin the whole process over again. I’d done five amphibious landings, been on about fourteen combat missions, and gone up and down the ranks from Sergeant to Private and even acting Lieutenant. I had killed many and lost some, been wounded by grenade and sick with the jungle fevers, been hungry and thirsty and dressed in shitty rags. And I’d sent home many souvenirs that I wouldn’t see for a long time.

Dug in on another of the countless ridges, I had camouflaged the gun with the usual torn up plants and was waiting. When the counter attack came, we were ready, blazing away with all the might of the American industrial establishment. Hennessy laughed and remarked that behind the big machine gun I looked like I was driving a tractor.

But things didn’t seem to be going right today, there were many more Japs than usual, and they were getting close, too close for comfort. I remembered General Custer’s famous last words: “Where’d all these fuckin’ Indians come from?” Too bad he didn’t have a machine gun… My number two gunner was furiously feeding ammo into the gun, which was steaming and roaring away, when suddenly comes a flash followed by a loud thump, the machine gun rising up, everything going topsy-turvy, darkness… My last thought was a sense of relief.

We had received a direct hit by a Jap mortar, and my #2 had taken most of the blast. The gun had blown back off the tripod, and the receiver had smashed into my face; I was completely covered by the remains of my #2 gunner, who had been liquefied by the blast. Splattered with his guts, with my face shattered and the gun destroyed, I was left on the field for dead. The next day, when Graves Registration came through the area to tag the dead and collect equipment, someone noticed I was still breathing. They improvised a stretcher with two Jap battle jackets, poles running through the sleeves; I can remember the buttons digging into my back each time they put me down to rest. They carried me back to an aid station, where it was determined that I was too far gone to be helped, and I was left outside all night; when a downpour washed off most of the gore that I had been covered with. Next morning I guess they figured that I wasn’t that bad off, and they sent me back to a rear area field hospital.

My face was smashed up pretty bad, palate cracked in several places, teeth out and jaw crushed; I had taken a large chunk of coral into one eye, and one eardrum was pretty much blown, plus I was peppered with shrapnel all over the place. I still hadn’t regained consciousness since the blast, but I know they took pretty good care of me from this point on. My jaw was wired up and soon I was aboard a boat heading for the field hospital in Milne Bay.

After a several more weeks of recovery, with the wires removed from my jaw, the main problem was the dysentery and malaria; which had weakened beyond the point of total exhaustion, I could still barely walk. Soon enough I was on a hospital ship, bound for Letterman General Hospital, in San Francisco. Letterman, it seemed, was over capacity due to the huge numbers of seriously wounded GIs who were returning from the Battle of the Bulge, with the Nazis who were stubbornly defending their hold on France and Belgium. So ultimately, my ship was diverted to a base hospital in Seattle, WA; and shortly thereafter I was flown to Deshon General Hospital, in Pennsylvania.