Monday, May 31, 2010

Honoring Our Veterans

Thanks to all of you who have served, or are still serving our nation in the Armed Forces. Today we honor you and those who have died fighting for our country. Being in the service is an honorable vocation, protecting others from the tyranny of evil.

Over the years I’ve spoken with many veterans who have some pretty grim stories to tell. Buddies who didn’t come back and scenes too terrible to recount – and many tears shed. These are memories that never fade.

My dad had a few of those memories that he carried around with him for his whole life, plus some shrapnel in his head to go along with the stories. I can remember him telling me when I was little how, after being shot, they wrapped a big white bandage around his head and sent him back out to continue the fight. As an adult I figured that he was joking about that aspect of his recovery, but now I’m not so sure. Judging from the severity of the battle, maybe that’s exactly how it happened. (It was a Japanese machine gun that shredded his pack and caught him in the right temple).

He made it back, along with the shrapnel, malaria, and damaged hearing from a hand grenade that went off uncomfortably close to his fox hole. Leyte and New Guinea weren’t the best places to be hanging out in those days.

Like many veterans, my dad didn’t talk much about his war experiences. I’ve got his Purple Heart and other ribbons. I had to look it up to discover that the Oak Leaf Cluster that is on my dad’s Purple Heart Ribbon meant he was wounded twice, something I didn’t even know. The only battle I remember him talking about was one in which they were on one side of a river and the Japanese advancing from the other side. He told me their water-cooled machine guns got so hot that eventually they couldn’t fire any longer. Dad was in the 32nd Infantry “Red Arrow” Division, which spent more days in combat than any other U.S. division in any war. After doing a little research, I discovered the following details of that battle, which took place on July 10th, 1944:
…Only three infantry battalions and two understrength cavalry squadrons defended the Driniumor River line. They had little barbed wire, few bunkers, poor fields of fire, and miserable jungle tracks for communication.

The Driniumor's twenty-foot-wide stream was easily fordable, calf-deep water. Dense jungle and towering trees on both sides of the wider riverbed effectively masked movement on the opposite banks. American riflemen and machine gunners in foxholes, pits, and a few bunkers along the river nervously awaited a Japanese attack. Japanese prisoners of war told of a forthcoming assault. American patrols had encountered stiffening Japanese resistance, and numerous decrypted messages pointed to an imminent offensive. Rather than wait for the Japanese attack, [Maj. Gen. Charles P.] Hall ordered a textbook maneuver, a reconnaissance-in-force along both enemy flanks, to commence on 10 July.

That morning an infantry battalion on the north and a cavalry squadron on the south crossed the Driniumor and probed cautiously eastward. The reconnaissance-in-force passed north and south of [the Japanese] Eighteenth Army's main assembly areas which were from two to four miles inland from the coast. Only two infantry battalions and a cavalry squadron remained to defend the Driniumor line.

That night ten thousand howling Japanese troops burst across the shallow Driniumor and charged through the center of the badly outnumbered and undermanned covering force. GIs fired their machine guns and automatic rifles until the barrels turned red hot, but the Japanese, eerily visible under the light of flares, surged forward. American artillery fell in clusters on the Japanese infantrymen, killing and maiming hundreds or crushing others beneath the tall trees that snapped apart in the unceasing explosions. Japanese numbers proved irresistible. Their breakthrough precipitated a month-long battle of attrition in the New Guinea wilds.

GIs moved behind heavy artillery support to close off pockets of Japanese resistance. The jungle restricted movement so the hardest fighting fell to rifle squads or platoons. Infantrymen fought a disconnected series of vicious actions that appeared coherent only on headquarters' situation maps. [Japanese Lt. Gen. Hatazo] Adachi's men asked no quarter and received none. During July and August 1944, nearly 10,000 Japanese perished. Almost 3,000 Americans fell along the Driniumor, 440 of them killed. In terms of American casualties, it was MacArthur's most costly campaign since Buna.

One measure of the severity of the fighting was the award of four Medals of Honor, all posthumously, for the campaign. Three soldiers received the decoration for self-sacrifice. Pvt. Donald R. Lobaugh of the 127th Infantry, 32d Division, launched a single-handed attack on a Japanese machine gun nest that saved his squad but cost him his life. S. Sgt. Gerald L. Endl, 128th Infantry, 32d Division, also single-handedly engaged the enemy at close range to save seven wounded Americans. As Endl was carrying the last wounded man to safety, a burst of Japanese machine gun fire killed him. Second Lt. George W. G. Boyce, Jr., of Troop A, 112th RCT, threw himself on a hand grenade to save his men. Second Lt. Dale Eldon Christensen, also of Troop A, won the medal for his series of heroic actions and outstanding leadership during the 112th's mid-July counterattack. Christensen was later killed "mopping up" after a Japanese attack. Their valor and the anonymous heroism of their comrades broke the back of Eighteenth Army.

…But above all New Guinea was the story of the courage of the GI who could always be counted on to move forward against a determined foe. It was the ordinary American soldier who endured the worst deprivations that the debilitating New Guinea climate and terrain could offer. It was the lowly GI who was the brains, the muscle, the blood, and the heart and soul of the great army that came of age in the Southwest Pacific Area in 1943 and 1944. In one tough fight after another, he never lost a battle to the Japanese. Those accomplishments and sacrifices are forever his and deserve to be remembered by all. [This account was taken from a U.S. Army Center of Military History brochure prepared by Edward J. Drea.]
Thanks to all veterans who have defended our country. You are not forgotten. God speed.

The photos are of some of my dad’s ribbons. You can hover over each photo to see what each ribbon signifies. The map is courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.


jim said...

Thanks, Scott.

Your column caused me to take a moment today to pause and remember my dad, too.

He was a tailgunner on a B24, flying the "Hump", He hated to fly and when he got off the plane after his last mission, he kissed the ground and swore that he'd never get on another plane again.

I'm so grateful for men like our fathers.

He died 6 years ago.

I miss him.

Matthew said...

My Father, Staff Sergeant Donald C. Boyd, also served with the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division, 128th Infantry Regiment, Cannon Company. He fought on Leyte, Luzon, the Druiniumor River, and the Villa Verde Trail where he drove an M7 Priest, carried an M1 Garand, and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. He is currently recovering nicely at home in Swanton, Ohio from recent triple bypass surgery. A short interview and recent images of my remarkable Dad may be viewed at this link.

Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks for your comments Jim and Matthew. That tail gunner spot was a tough spot to be in! I read the interview of your dad Matthew. Pretty amazing. The M7 was pretty innovative for its day.