by Paul Roberts
David, but for the grace of God, would not be alive today. He was an infantryman and machine gunner with the 37th Infantry Division, the outfit that fought with the 3rd Marine Division on the island of Bougainville, part of the Solomon Island chain, in the South Pacific during World War II. His brush with death came, ironically, after surviving fierce fighting on this island. Following the subsequent invasion of Luzon, he eventually entered Manila, in pursuit of fleeing enemy.
This was the action that followed the successful taking of Guadalcanal south of Bougainville. He was known as a repple depple, or replacement for troops that had casualties. Fortunately, he had missed the fierce fighting for Hill 700, which dominated Augusta Bay. The CBs had quickly constructed an airfield which could accommodate B25 bombers that were within striking distance of Luzon, in the Philippine Islands. While on patrol in Manila, his patrol came upon the City Hall, where the Japanese were holed up. They had to go room to room, kicking in doors, mopping up. In one of the rooms, they came across several Americans that had been killed. But one seemed to be wounded, and was moaning “Help me.” As he tried to pick him up and turn him over to two of the regimental musicians (who were acting as litter bearers), his body exploded, having been booby trapped. Fortunately, the blast only cut Dave’s face and was treated with band aids, not even sufficient to go on sick call. Besides he was too busy mopping up, with the enemy still in some of the rooms. At the angle he touched him it probably saved David’s life. The Japanese played all the dirty tricks in the book, including booby trapping even their own casualties. Their purpose was to kill as many Americans as possible, conforming to their philosophy of “Bushido,” or murder as many of the enemy as possible, “even though I die, it’s for the Emperor.”
General MacArthur’s plan was to open up an airfield on Bougainville at any cost. His orders were to take a strategic height to wipe out a troublesome artillery unit overlooking the future airstrip, even if only one man made it. The plan was to take only this strategic 6 mile strip, sit on it, and defend it. The airport and the deep water Empress Augusta Bay were the ultimate goals, not the island itself. The 700 Hill was right in the center of the U S perimeter, towering over the area with a clear view. The Japanese attacked to consolidate their gains on the Hill, but stubborn 37th Infantry Division elements fought back, and tenaciously blocked them, neutralizing thousands of the enemy. The famous Marine Raiders did a magnificent rearguard action, until they ran out of drinking water, and had to retreat.
Eventually, his division was detached and put under the wing of the Sixth Army, which invaded the main island of Luzon. He was in the first wave, part of 4 divisions that hit the beaches, simultaneously, all abreast. Dave was in the first wave, being a platoon leader. The opposition was almost non-existent, until they had travelled inland for several miles. Dave led several platoon charges, finding stiff resistance. The Eleventh Airborne Division dropped near Corregidor, as part of the assault on capturing Manila. The fighting was extremely severe, the Japanese losing over 200,000 dead. Between the concerted actions of his division, the marines, paratroopers and a very active guerrilla movement the Japanese suffered, even to supplying food to their combat soldiers. “One night,” Dave recalled, “they heard machine gun fire coming from the hills.” They knew there were no Allied troops there. Finally, it was learned that they were machine gunning farmer’s’ oxen for food! After the taking of the capitol, Manila, it was just about over. By 8 September, even the Japanese high command saw the handwriting on the wall, suing for peace. In a ceremony similar to the one signed on the USS Missouri a few months later, they gave up, formally and unconditionally.
One interesting asset of the Allied forces was the native Fijians. Prior to the invasion, they had been organized into infantry units, commanded by New Zealand officers, wearing British uniforms and helmets. Their loyalty was palpable, to the point that if they were not permitted to go out on a patrol behind Japanese lines this was considered punishment. They were a great asset, being jungle-wise, and could detect booby traps instinctively, were a human antennae, able to detect unusual sounds, artists of reconnaissance without being detected, covering four times the ground that any white man can, and finally, sadistic in their hatred of the occupying Japanese, capable of wiping them out without compunction.
The Oklahoma Scroll, a name that is surely lost in the erosion of time, had all the earmarks of a typical, determined nation fighting back an unconscionable attack. Thirty-five thousand Oklahoma City school children all kicked in 10 cents toward the purchase of a Marine transport plane, to be used against the Japanese. The Scroll was 65 feet long, and signed by every student, requesting that the enemy forthwith cease its hostile action against the U S. It was dropped over the Japanese lines. Obviously, it had no effect, but the patriotic gesture of these children must have been duly noted nationally, with pride.
After discharge from the Army, David did military work, mostly at the Pentagon, at the Office of the Chief of the Army, in management, got his degree, and as a civilian climbed up the civil service ladder, and retired after 40 years. His pre-military life, back in the 1930, was involved with exposure in the boxing world. His cousin, Natie Brown, a handsome lad, became a boxer and wound up boxing the great Joe Louis twice (unfortunately, losing each time). Louis, of course, went on to become the World’s Champion, and to brag with “if you gotta tell them who you are you ain’t nobody.” Dave became friendly with such greats as Max Baer, a former world champion and of the Jewish faith, who had the distinction of defeating Max Schmelling, Adolf Hitler’s favorite, which surely was a low blow to the Nazi pride.
Widowed several years ago, he lives the quiet life at Leisure World®, socializing with several World War II veterans. His three lovely daughters are very supportive, helping when needed, and just a phone call away.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland