The Villa Verde Trail by Felix Herrman

Links to Manuscript


    Following is a manuscript written by Felix Herrman. Felix was my uncle on my Mothers side. It wasn't until I saw this manuscript, after both my mother and Felix passed away, that I new he was a World War II Hero. He serving his country in the Philippines and received a Bronze Star for his heroic actions. I'm transcribing his manuscript on this dedicated page to share with the world his experience, in his words. There are a few exceptions: the addition of some photos, spell check corrections and added titles to help index it for easier reading. The content is all his! If it isn't complete at the time you open this page, please come back after a couple of weeks, it will be worth the visit for the completed manuscript and additional supporting documentation. Even better, sign up for an email notice and you will get notifications as I update.

The Villa Verde Trail

An unaltered eyewitness account of one of many similar battles fought in the Second World War. This one in the Philippines, on the island of Luzon, in 1945.

Manuscript 1975

Author: Felix Herrman

Prelude Too War

    On November 27, 1941, ten days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur in Manila, received the following message:


    Army Commander General Short, in Hawaii, received a similar message from Gen. George Marshall.

    On the same day, Admiral Harold R. Stark dispatched to Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii, and Admiral Thomas C. Hart, of the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines:


Rumors of War

    Rumors of a big war with Japan had been in the air for some time, worsening as one event followed another.
    In 1931 Japan attacked and quickly overran Manchuria, north of Korea. Then it was China itself, in 1937. By the end of the year, Nanking had been seized in a disgraceful manner, historically known as “The Rape of Nanking”.
   By October of 1938, it was Canton in southern China that fell victim to the Japanese. The American embargo on sales of scrap iron and war material to Japan happened in December 1940.
   All this time the United States and Allies were supplying and giving support to the Japanese resistance, the Chungking regime, led by Gen. Chang Kai Shek. America and Britain had to much at stake in China and the Southwest Pacific, to do otherwise.
    Tension mounted; something had to happen. It did. In mid-summer of 1941, Japan moved into Indo-China, this was quickly followed by the United States, Britain and the Dutch East Indies imposing embargoes on the sale of oil and steel to Japan.
   By October, the Japanese navy was consuming four hundred tons of oil per hour, and oil became their main bargaining chip for peace. But it was not oil that relieved the tension, it was blood and a lot of it. On December 7 the Japanese attacked our pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the rumors of a big was had become a reality.

Declaration of War

    On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire declared war on the United States of America and Britain.

*   *   *

    “We hereby declare war on the United States of America and the British Empire. It has been truly unavoidable.
    More than four years have passed since China, failing to understand the true intentions of our empire, disturbed the peace of Asia.
    Although there has been re-established the National Government of China with which Japan has effected neighborly intercourse and cooperation, the regime which has survived at Chungking, relying upon American and British protection, still continues its fratricidal opposition.
    Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambition to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, giving support to the Chungking Regime, have aggravated the disturbances of East Asia.
    Moreover these two powers, inducing other countries to follow suit, have increased military preparation on all sides of our empire to challenge us.
   They have obstructed by every means our peaceful commerce and finally have resorted to a direct severance of economic relations thereby gravely menacing the existence of our empire.
   This trend of affairs would, if left unchecked, endanger the very existence of our nation.
   This situation being such as it is, our empire, for its existence and self-defense, has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and to crush every obstacle on its path.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor
From Wikipedia

Early War in the Pacific

    For almost a year they blitzed the Pacific Islands. Gen. Hideki Tojo, had just replaced Konoye as Prime Minister of Japan, on Oct. 17, and his name was fast becoming a household name, a distasteful one.
    The island of Guam fell by the third day, Dec. 10 followed by Wake Island Dec. 23. The Philippines fell with the surrender of Corregidor May 6, 1942. Japans main goal was the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies, south of the Philippine Islands, they were moving fast in the direction of this area of great wealth, in tin, rubber and oil.
    It was on June 4, six months after attacking our fleet that they met their Waterloo at Midway Island. What looked like another sure victory for Japan at first, ended in shameful defeat, when our much smaller fleet turned back the Imperial Navy, after inflicting very heavy losses. This defeat so hurt the pride of the Japanese government, that I with-held details from its own people. But there was more of this to come. The sleeping giant had awoke and started stretching and growling.
    Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Florida in the Solomons were our first invasion. This grueling but victories campaign lasting from Aug. 7, 1942, until Feb. 9, 1943, left 25,000 Japanese dead, while American dead were 1,490.
    These victories were followed by a retaliatory air attack by the Japanese that was to have dire consequences. Relying on unconfirmed and erroneous reports of a successful attack, led Yamamoto on his morale boosting tour that was to cost him his life.
    A message of this coming tour was monitored by a US Navy station, which made possible a successful ambush. Yamamoto took off from Rabaul, just east of New Guinea and was greeted at Bougainville by American twin-tailed Lightning P-38’s.
    Adm. Isoroku Yomamoto the planner and executioner of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor died at his own game April 18, 1943.
    1944 saw the invasion and fall of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Tojo resigned. Our troops landed at Tacloban Leyte, and some of our ships that were sunk at Pearl Harbor, had been raised and were seen fighting the biggest naval battle in history, in the gulf of Leyte. Our B-29’s were now bombing the Japanese mainland.

Japanese Special Attack Corps

    At the same time that American forces invaded the Philippines, the Japanese were organizing the Special Attack Corps.
    Under the command of Vice Adm. Takihiro Ohnisha, this new approach to a Japanese victory would not go unnoticed. It soon became the main topic of conversation. Japanese pilots were diving their planes into our ships.
Kamikaze Pilot
From Wikipedia
    This bizarre approach known as the “Kamikaze” (Divine Wind) got its name in the late thirteenth century, when Mongol armadas went to sea to invade Japan. Never before disturbed, in 1274 and again in 1281, the days of Kubla Khan, the people of Japan were terrorized by an intruding force against which they were defenseless.
    In both cases, as if by the hand of god a violent wind arose and devastated the invading armada. These events became a legend that led to a reliance, something to hope for in the hour of need.
   In this modern war, with one island after another being lost to American forces moving every closer to their homeland, Japan was in need of a Divine Wind of a magnitude not likely to exist in nature.
    At nearly 50 Japanese airstrips on the Philippine Islands, this new approach to save the homeland was explained to the pilots. The response was tremendous; young and old, every pilot was ready to die for the Emperor. These men that dove their bomb laden planes into our ships were the force behind this wind.
    The pilots looked only ahead, at the target and their on the way, they perished. To the people of Japan it appeared that once again their land would be spared by the Kamikaze, the Divine Wind.
   The highest honors were bestowed upon these men. They dressed in recognizable garb, and walked the streets to receive the blessing and homage of the people. They were celebrated, immortalized and attended their own funeral ceremonies

Letter Home Mar 13, 1945

Felix Arrives at Gulf of Leyte

    It was early in the night, March 11, 1945, when our troop transport the USS Eberle, dropped anchor in the Gulf of Leyte. After thirty-one days at sea, we were ready for land, and Leyte Island would be as good as any. It was here at Tacloban that General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on October 20, 1944 to retake the Philippines. It was here that he said, “I have returned.”
USS Eberle
From Wikipedia
    A floating dock was soon bobbing alongside our ship. The men started climbing down heavy rope nets to the dock, and from there into landing barges. It was not a red carpet landing. It was a normal unloading procedure, and everything was going off normal. When it came my turn to hit the net, I stepped on the man’s fingers below me, and the man above me stepped on mine as we did in training.
   It was exciting to hear and feel the sand scraping the bottom of the barge as it came to a smooth stop. There was just enough star light so we could see the beach, groups of men, and the outline of trees along the shore. After we got our group back together, we were marched to an encampment not far from the beach. Stumbling around in the darkness-like the rest of the men-I found my way inside one of the tents. There were not enough cots, and some of us had to sleep on the ground. Stretched out on my blanket, I went to sleep wandering what this strange place would look like in the morning.
    The unique thing about sleep is that we do not know where we are at, how we got there, or what shrewd awakening awaits us. Till now it was a whistle, the bugle, or someone yelling, “Up and at it – rise and shine.” Our first awakening here at Tacloban was none of these. It was as different as everything else would be from then on.

Welcome to Tacloban

    There was a terrible noise not far from out tent; everybody jumped up expecting an enemy attack of the worst kind.But it was more like waking up in the Sunday Funnies. There, by dawns early light was this big fat army cook with a skillet in his hand, raised high in the sky, dressed only in shorts and chasing a bantam rooster around the kitchen tent. I shook the sleep out of my head, and realized I was not dreaming. The rooster was shrieking and running for all it was worth. The cook, cursing and swearing, was knocking down empty garbage cans, as they went around the tent, with tail feathers flying as he let him have it with the skillet.
    Sitting on the ground, bewildered, confused, and somewhat amused, my first thought was, “holy cos, that’s how they fight the war in the pacific and I didn't bring a skillet!” It seems that this rooster had been crowing just outside the cook’s tent the last few mornings and the cook’s cup had finally runnith over.
    It was a beautiful tropical sunrise. Out at sea we were Promised Land on the other side of the ocean, and now we got our first look at the – Promised Land. Some were not at all happy; I found it fascinating. The tropical vegetation, reminded one of creation day, and it was obvious that when god created this island, he forgot where he put it; and only the army would ever find it. After breakfast that morning, we assembled for a lecture. The commanding officer broke the silence by saying, “men-and I call you men because I think you are men-you are now overseas.” With that I heard a discontented GI behind me saying, “yes we know, where else would you get dehydrated eggs for breakfast.”
    It was nearly five months since the first troops landed at Tacloban; it now served as home for the 5th replacement depot and a supply dump to satisfy the appetite of a hungry war.
    There was a lot of work to do; like moving stacks of supplies from one place to another, and back to where it was. There was enough kitchen, guard, and latrine duty to give everybody something exciting to write home about.

Map From Manuscript 
    One of the better things we had going here at Tacloban, was the bath or shower house. About six or seven feet high, this flat top structure had a number of oil drums filled. Solar energy was used to warm the water. All day and half the night, men would be using the shower to clean up after work, or just to freshen up.
    One morning after doing my bit for the war effort, filling those water drums, I sat on the ground on the shadow side to rest; here I was to be entertained by a most unusual performance.
    The stage was a mountain range not far away, the actors – two of our war planes, a bomber and a small fighter plane, the ticket price – one human life. In a most playful manner, the small fighter plane was attacking the huge bomber. From high in the sky, with its engine roaring, the plane made one practice dive after another. Like in actual combat, the pilot skillfully dove in, first from one side and then from the other, every faster, ever closer.
    Although I was highly entertained, I swallowed hard and help my breath, as he swept uncomfortably close over the bomber. “That next run had better not be any closer,” I told myself, as once more he pointed the nose of his small craft toward the heavens. It zoomed high into the sky, leveled off, and then made its dramatic descent. Like a hawk coming down on its prey, with the engine roaring, it made the approach from the front right side. Faster and closer than ever, now flying a head-on collision course, the pilot tried to pull out and away from the bomber, but human error had already laid a firm hand on the controls.
    The pilot needed some extra seconds of time, to pull away. I clinched my fists, I felt like I was in the plane helping him pull the rope, but to no avail. With the plane flying on its left side, its right wing pointing up, as if drawn in by a powerful vacuum – it hit.
    The wing of the fighter plane was severed from the fuselage. The small plane went into a power dive, running wild and gaining speed, its engine screaming as if it could feel the pain. It disappeared from sight over the mountainous horizon, it’s frightening roar was abruptly silenced, as it crashed. The wing, like a feather, descended lazily out of the blue sky and also disappeared off stage, to the fading hum of the bombers powerful engines.
    Our stay at Tacloban was brief, only two or three weeks. Our next stop was the 4th replacement depot at Manila, on the island of Luzon.

News from Home

     It was here, while we were digging holes for some new toilets, that we got the sad news of President Roosevelt’s death. One of our men had gathered our canteens and went back to the kitchen for some fresh water. On his returning, at some distance, I could hear him repeating in his Mexican sing-song style, “Roosevelt kick the buckeeet, Roosevelt kick the buckeeet.” From down in the hole I looked up as he, handed me the canteen, and asked, “Just what the hell do you mean, Roosevelt kick the buckeeet?” He looked at me for a moment, and then slowly went on to return the rest of the canteens, still repeating his, “Roosevelt kick the buckeeet.”
    Now in those days we did not have presidents, we just had Roosevelt, that was all we ever heard. He first took office on March 4, 1933; I was only seven years old. Then, for 12 years Roosevelt was a house hold name, we heard it from those that liked him, and heard it for sure from those that didn't.
    He took when the depression was at its worst. Investors were jumping out of tall buildings, there were foreclosures by banks; and then the banks were closing. It was said that the merchants didn't have enough money to change a dollar bill, but there was no need for worry; there wasn't a dollar bill in the county.
    By the mid-thirty’s, the drought in Kansas was so bad the sun could no longer shine through the clouds of dust, yet somehow Roosevelt with his fireside chats always seemed to shine through. He also went on the biggest money spending spree of the time. For this he was criticized to no end, even by some with their hands in the pockets of new trousers that they bought with their allotment money. You could always tell when the allotment checks arrived; you could see and smell the new blue denim in our little one room school house.

4th Replacement Depot at Manila

    The 4th replacement depot at Manila, like any other such depot, was a lonely place; lonely in what you were unattached unassigned, a nobody living with a lot of other nobody’s, doing whatever odd jobs you might be called upon.
    It was quite certain that from here we would be assigned to a division; the question was which one. There was talk about the different outfits and where they were at. The hardest fighting was to the north and they would be the most likely to need replacements. This was anything but a pleasant thought.
    On April 20, my name among others was called and we were told to get ready, that we would be leaving the depot. There was no mention of where we were going, but once we got out on the road it wasn't long before we could see the trucks were heading north.
    Had it not been for the thought of war, this would have been a most enjoyable trip, even on the back of a truck. It was a panorama of quaint little villages, grass houses and caribou, or water buffalo slowly drawing their carts in the hot sun. There were small women carrying big baskets of laundry on their heads, while other sat in the rivers pounding their laundry on rocks with wooden paddles, as little boys washed down the family caribou, nearby in the same water. Everything was so different, but interesting.
    Our journey ended about 120 miles north of Santa Maria. It was a nice location that had for some time been cleared of all enemy activity. There were only a few tents in the area, mostly administrative and supply tents, the rest of the men were out on the front line.
32nd Infantry Division
From Wikipedia
    We were met by a First Sergeant, he told us where we were at and that we had been assigned to Company ‘A’ of the 128th Infantry. This was the 32nd Division, the Red Arrow, one of General Krueger’s 6th Army Division, commanded by Major General William H. Gill from the state of Virginia.
    After a few minutes of stretching our legs and finding our friends again, we were put to work. The Sergeant told us to setup more tents and sleeping cots. He said, “The men are coming in from the front line this evening, so let’s have everything ready when they get here. They've been up there in the hills for some time and they are going to be tired, very tired.”
    War takes on a different aspect after traveling thousands of miles with only a few more to go, and your only minutes from meeting the men coming back from the trenches. Anxiety increased as the minutes passed by. It was getting closer to sundown; and most of the tent and assembly area was already enjoying the late afternoon shadow of the trees along the river bank.
    ‘A’ Company had been replaced by a reconstructed one. The cycle went on and on, when a company got to burned-out to carry on effectively, it was pulled back and rebuilt with fresh replacements, but only to go back up front and fight again; to replace another.
   A number of muddy trucks finally came down the road, turned at the headquarters tent and slowly rolled into the assembly area. We moved up closer to the trucks as the men slowly dismounted. For some time they had been living in mud holes, going hungry, suffering while fighting a war and they looked like it. They were dirty, bearded, and so tired they slumped to the ground only a few feet from the trucks.
    There were not very many, maybe two dozen. Most of them just sat there with their heads down, looking at the ground. Some stretched out flat on their back using their helmet for a pillow and gazed at the sky as if looking for an answer. They looked like they had locked horns with the devil and won, by a narrow margin.
    Like curious fawns we inched closer to hear what they might be talking. One of them looked slowly to the right, then to the left and asked; “where is private ----?” We didn't get the name, another man, with his head still down, mumble, “he got killed just before we left the line.” With that we moved back a few steps.  After a few more chilly remarks like that I began to wonder if I even wanted to be a part of this outfit.
   These men were expecting replacements but were not at all happy with what they were getting. I heard one of them say as he turned around and looked at us; “What’s happening, are we losing the war?” Another one answered; “Looks like it, they are sending the kids.” The kids had enough of this and slowly went back to their tents, stretched out on their cots and minded their own business.
    A good night’s sleep has healed many wounds, and so it was here; there seemed to be an entirely different atmosphere the following morning. The men were shaved cleaned and most of all they looked more rested. They were friendly and very nice to visit with.
    There was this one thing however that did not change a bit overnight; we were still kids. There were a number of nineteen year old boys here; I had turned nineteen about four months earlier.
    We were sitting in our tent when the First Sergeant came along and called for Private Herrman. I stepped outside wandering what trouble I already got into on the second day. The Sergeant extended a hand and said, “I want to congratulate you on being the youngest man I ever had in ‘A’ Company.”
    This did not make me stand any taller in my boots; it just made me a little more scared of what lay ahead. That handshake and the honor of being the company’s youngest man was blessed with problems that I was to you to understand at that time, and would have to learn the hard way.
    The smallest unit in the infantry is the squad, each consisting of seven riflemen, an automatic rifle team of three men, a squad leader and his assistant. Three of these squads combined to form the rifle platoon, and a company consists of three such platoons plus a heavy weapons platoon and a headquarters group.
    To be an effective part of such a company each man is carefully assigned a job for which he was trained. As instructed, we were assembled in the shade of the trees, waiting for our individual assignment.
    We were greeted by Captain Itzen, a slender battle hardened officer, the commander of ‘A’ Company. He was a naturally likable man and at once gave us that impression. He sat down at his makeshift table and started rebuilding his battered company.
    To those few men who had so far survived the ordeal went the task of squad leading. Not to argue with anyone, but it always seemed to me that the squad leader had the most difficult task of all. He was not only responsible for his own life but also for that of everyone entrusted to him. His every wrong decision would be a victory for the enemy.
    As for the replacements – like an invoice attached to the merchandise – every man was accompanied by his service record; these had been neatly stacked on the table. One by one the Captain picked up a records folder and called the man’s name. He would hastily walk up to the table, salute, and with the greatest respect present himself to his new commander, the distinctively different in each case. For the first time we were individuals and just a bunch of kicked around draftees. 
M1 Riffle from Wikipedia
     When my name was called, like the rest of the men I walked up to the table, saluted the Captain and identified myself. Once again I was reminded of my age, or lack of it. Like with the rest of the men he asked if I had a weapons preference, I said, “Yes sir, the M1 rifle.” He responded with, “It seems that everybody wants to carry the M1 rifle, we need some machine gunners too.” To that I answered, “Sir, I didn’t do so good on the machine gun in training.” He looked at my records in front of him and without hesitation said, “you didn't do so good on the M1 either.” But then went on to say, “A man functions best with the weapon of his choice, if it’s the M1 you want, it’s the M1 you get.”
    He made it clear that on the front line the machine guns and the automatic rifles were never left unmanned, that there would be times when I would have to operate these rapid fire weapons. With that he assigned me to the First Platoon; pointed at a man to his right and said, “Meet your squad leader, Sergeant Fannen.” With all the men assigned, he told us that after a few days of rest and some training; ‘A’ Company would be going back up in the hills, to rejoin the division on the Villa Verde.”
    We were taken more serious now, there were not so many wisecracks about our age. Perhaps these men realized that boys age faster when being shot at, that would not be long now. For the next two weeks there was an air of togetherness among these men that I had never seen before – or since – and it was as genuine as the blood in their veins.
    Each of our tents accommodated about six men. The first few days I lived with Sergeant Fannen, his second in command, Sergeant Foo, and three others.
    That first evening, something not at all unusual was to happen that would determine my role in the company’s final days on the Villa Verde.
    With our days’ work done, the men scattered out to spend their time as they wished. Most of them went to the river for a swim, others went to see their friends, and some were magnetically drawn to the dice games.
    Fannen and I were alone in the tent writing letters until it got to dark. With everybody else gone, the Sergeant suggested that we see the movie that would be starting in a few minutes. Because I always found enough companionship in my own lower rank, I never intermingled with the higher ranks; but it was his idea and it seemed like a good one.
    We walked slowly to where the movie screen had already been roped between two trees. It was only a short walk, but somehow in those few minutes we welded a friendship; a friendship that lead to a fighting team that was to get its share of the action on the Villa Verde. It was destined to be short lived and come to a tragic ending.
    We were issued our rifles, bayonets, steel helmets, cartridge belts and all the other equipment that we would need o the front line. Most of this equipment had been on the line before and like the men, it looked like it. We spent the next few days cleaning and repairing things; most of it turned out just fine.
    I was not at all happy with my rifle, it would not always reload, I would not have trusted it on a bear hunt, least of all in combat. One morning before going out on a training exercise I applied some shoe duping around its gas operated piston to give it a better compression seal. While climbing a hill I fired the rifle, the recoil was so powerful, it not only reloaded, it also sent me rolling half way down the hill. I was the only one on the hill not laughing, when Fannen yelled, “Did it reload.”
Gen. Yamashita
from Wikipedia
    The heavy fighting to the north, in the Caraballo mountains, was the result of the enemy’s near perfect defense system, master minded by none other than the dreadful General Yamashita. The same Yamashita, that defended dreaded Leyte Island against some of these same American troops; commander of the 1st imperial division, the pride of Japan.
   Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita had already made a name for himself long before he ever go to the Caraballo’s. Because of the way his troops were dug in along the trail, he acquired the name – ‘Gopher of Luzon’ along with, ‘Tiger of Malay’ and the ‘Butcher of Bataan.” All of these were some of the nicer names we had for him.
    He made the headlines early in the war when he marched two divisions, 35,000 men against 80,000 British troops in Malaya. With only 1,793 men killed and 2,772 wounded, he stormed south through the miles of jungles in Malaya to knock on the back door of the British fortress – Singapore.
    With its guns pointing to the sea, it was soon overtaken by ground forces and General Percivals surrendered his troops Feb. 15, 1942. But it was not without a fight, Yamashita lost another 1,714 men killed and 3,378 wounded. We too lost something; with the fall of Singapore went much of our rubber supply; an inconvenience felt by every American.
    General Yamashita was a much hated man, but this proved his ability as a military leader. Where other more famous, but less effective lines were built with millions of dollars’ worth of concrete and steel, the Yamashita line in the Caraballo’s was nothing but holes in the hills, built for a few yen, and yet almost indestructible.
    After the successful invasion of Luzon, General MacArthur was anxious to get to Manila. Not until he marched down Manila’s parade street, the Escolata, was his promise to the world, “I shell return,” fulfilled. 
General MacArthur
from Wikipedia
    Our heroic men that defended Bataan and Corregidor Islands, and survived the death march, had been suffering in prison camps since Bataan fell in April, 1942, an American heartbreak that could not heal until these men were liberated.
    General Griswald’s 14th Corps was to accomplish this by moving south, to Manila, from the landing area in the Lingayen Gulf. The might of the Japanese army however was to the north in the Caraballo’s. They would be a real threat to any of our troops moving south.
    Although MacArthur was ever so anxious to move south, General Krueger was more concerned about the dangers to the north. It was with some difficulty that he finally got MacArthur to see the possibility of annihilation, from this enemy of unknown capability.
    The 32nd division was not in the initial landing Jan 9, 1945. It did land in the same Lingayen Gulf area, less than three weeks later, on Jan 27th. It was included in General Swift’s 1st Corps, which was to swing northeast, while Griswald’s men mover south to Manila.
    So, to General Krueger, and MacArthur the bloody conflict o the Villa Verde was not without sane cause. An army does not turn its back to a renowned man, like General Tomoyuki Yamashita.
    A military defense line or system has to be built to fit the terrain. The Japanese built the Yamashita line with man made caves in the Caraballo Mountains. To attack and overpower any defense system a suitable strategy must be employed. The Yamashita line was severely crippled by the continuous artillery fire, and aerial bombing. But because of the large number of Japanese troops, about 150,000, and the many well place caves, yet another more costly strategy had to be employed. We had to get up close, and by hand, with explosives, seal up every cave, as in the tow photographs below.

From the Manuscript
From the Manuscript

    At Santa Marie, on May 3, the day before we broke camp, Sergeant Fannen and I went shopping among the village vendors. We were looking for something to send home, something that was very much like the islands. There was little to choose from until a vendor tried to sell us some colorful grass skirts. We laughed at the idea and walked on, only to come back and buy two colorful grass skirts.

Letter Home May 3, 1945

The Villa Verde Trail

    On the Morning of May the 4th we loaded our equipment on the waiting trucks, and took on last look at the camp site that we would never see again and not likely ever forget. Here, everybody had made new friends, and every man, or kid, had found at least one very close buddy that he would live with, fight with, and perhaps die within the next few days.
    After a short drive we got into the foot hills of the Caraballo Mountains. These grass covert, rock-less, treeless hills, looked much to peaceful at this point for anyone that had not yet been there, to imagine the human suffering and merciless killing that was taking place only a few more miles up the trail. As we got further into the hills the nature and the mystery of the Villa Verde slowly began to unfold. The shell craters, the abandoned fox holes and dugouts that had served their purpose, all told their ghastly story of war.
    The truck drivers started shifting into lower gears as the mountains became more challenging. With every mile it became more obvious why this operation was taking so long, now in its ninety-fifth day. It also became more a question of how these men every got this far.
    The Villa Verde Trail was one of life’s one way streets; nobody came back down the way he went up. He either got his plow cleaned or pants pressed his steel hardened or laid to rest. It made little difference which side he fought on.
    Why anybody would want to pay so dearly – us or the Japanese – for something as worthless as the Villa Verde was a question on everyone’s mind. It seemed to have no military value, so narrow it would not even accommodate a jeep, least of all a tank or truck. It was only a foot path, and not a very good one at that.
    But, because it would not accommodate motor trucks or tanks, may have been General Yamashita’s best reason to fortify the Villa Verde to such a great extent. After all, he had no tanks or trucks to speak of and why make it handy for us. To Yamashita it was a matter of – I have it, if you want it, come and get it.
    That we would even attempt to build a road through these steep mountains to his fortress in the sky was unthinkable. But, right there with the infantry, our engineers were doing just that; unrolling a road before his very eyes, right up to his door steps.

From Manuscript
Map of Villa Verde Trail
    We came to a place where the trail had been widened enough to allow the trucks to pass each other. Our trucks pulled up close to the wall and came to a stop. From here we could only see a few hundred feet of the winding trail; we had no idea what we were waiting for.
    The road here was treacherous. The muddy black dirt had been worked over good by the traffic and had little or no footing. It was as hard or harder to bring a truck down the steep incline as it was going up. At this point there was about a four hundred foot drop on the outside of the trail, and because of this there was only one way to bring a truck down the Villa Verde – very, very, carefully.
    Coming around the hillside just that carefully and slowly, we saw what we had been waiting for – THE PARADE OF HEROES. It was a string of trucks bringing our dead soldiers out of the hills.
    Truck after truck, with body’s lashed to stretchers; not just in the back, but also on the front fenders. It was a sight few of us were prepared for.  The Red Arrow was as concerned about its dead as it was about the wounded. Wrapped in a blanket and laid out on a stretcher, each man was respectfully transported as if he was the only one that ever died for this country, although, by the power of the army’s code of uniformity, they all looked alike.
    It was a somber procession that passed by. Accompanied only by the whining and grunting of truck gears as the drivers struggled to control the attitude of their machines. The reality of the event would leave an indelible impression on the minds of its observers.
    Here in reality was that proverbial – some mother’s son, some women’s husband, some little child’s daddy or big brother. Just as real, these were the men that we had come to replace. Death, the end product of every battle of all wars, for these men the Villa Verde Trail, was the end of the trail.
    Since nobody cared to join the parade, nobody looked back as the last load passed by. The men sat in reverence, each entertaining his own thoughts and perhaps igniting the fire on the torch of vengeance. If someone had asked which way we chose to go, I believe everyone would have cleared his throat and hesitantly said, up.
    The trucks took us to within a few hundred yards of the front line. Shielded by a mountain, we walked up the trail to a small supply dump in a ravine. By now we were up in the clouds, the weather was a miserable drizzle and light fog. We were already wet and so cold no one could tell if you were shivering from the cold, or fear.
     We slung extra bandoleers of ammunition over our shoulders, and took all the hand grenades and cans of food rations we could carry in our over-sized pockets. We were told that here is where the training ends and the real thing starts. No convincing demonstration was needed, as the smell of burned gun powder and the stench of death, hung heavy in the cold wet air.
    The Captain gave us our final orders. One of them was that we were to blow up every cave regardless how harmless it might look; that we could not afford to leave anything alive, behind our backs, lest we be attacked from behind. He spoke as if he was speaking his last words. There seemed to be not even a grain of doubt in his mind, that some of us would get hurt, and that some would get killed. There were no smiles; if there ever was down to earth business, this was it.
    Our platoon officer, Lt. Claude W. McBride, then instructed his squad leaders who in turn put their men in combat positions. Sergeant Fanned gave our first and second scouts their instructions; a few riflemen were to follow them. The Automatic Rifle team along with some more riflemen got their instructions. All this time I stood next to the Sergeant wandering were I would fit in. He went on down the line to the last man, Sergeant Foo, our second in command, he was to bring up the rear, and I still had not been looked at and was getting very restless about this thing. His final words were, “OK men let’s move out, Herrman you stay with me,” with that we started fighting as a team.

Joining the Battle

   We scarcely got out into open on a small ridge, when we heard mortar shells falling from the sky. We got down close to mother earth as the shells exploded around us. If these ere from the imperial welcoming committee the greetings were well received on our end. Fragments flew over our heads and it rained mud with every explosion. Nobody got hurt, but we had the baptism by fire and our first genuine scare.
    The war had just passed through these hills. The enemy was slowly being pushed back and their casualty rate was high to say the least. Because, they could not get to their dead, they were left to lie where they fell. I could see that there was nothing inferior about these troops. Even stretched out on the ground, dead as a wooden anvil, they seemed to demand some soldierly respect, as we walked by.
    Most of the enemy were blown up and buried in the caves from which they battled, the rest were left to rot on the hillsides and in the gullies. The smell of decaying, maggot infested human flesh was sickening and the sights were horrible; but all this was only the aftermath of a violent battle.
    We stopped for a brief rest on top of a small knoll. The Japanese wore split-toe rubberized boots; one of these served as a dry seat, even if not so comfortable. When we got back on our feet to move on, closer investigation I found that a dead jap was still wearing the boot, an explosion had buried the rest of the body. These were some of the little things that we would have to get used to. By now the sky had cleared somewhat and the warmth of the sun was most welcome. At least it relieved some of the unusual chill.
    We stopped at the foot of a hill where we were told to remove our field packs to lighten the load. Some of the men moved up to near the top of the hill as we started to swing around its left side. The shooting would start any minute.
    Inside their man-made caves the japs were waiting for us. Across the ravine, a hill similarly fortified, would be our biggest menace. It also, was under attack by ‘A’ company men. Who in turn would be getting fire from the enemy in our hill. As we swung around the hill, a few small shells exploded in the area and then the sniping started.
    It was only a few minutes and only a few shots had been fired, but one of our men got hit. He was two or three yards behind me, and had a severe leg wound. He was bleeding badly. Two other men quickly got him back down the hill to safety. In their haste they left his rifle where he fell. The Sergeant said, “Herrman there’s your chance, you’re not happy with yours.” To make it useless to the enemy – should it get into their hands – I removed and discarded the bolt from my rifle, never having fired my own rifle on the line, I swapped it for the abandoned one, which proved to be a very reliable weapon.
    Although the enemy could see us, we could not see them. The cave openings were very small; there was no tattletale dirt to reveal these excavations. Some of them were not discovered until we got to within a few yards of their entrance. Hard as they were to find, finding them was the easy part. In spite of all our modern weapons, there was still only one way to get your man on the Villa Verde. We had to crawl up to their caves with explosives and literally shove it down their throats. This was about as difficult and costly as one would imagine.

Soldiers from 3d Battalion, 126th Infantry are descending a hill as they head
toward Santa Fe, Luzon, Philippines Islands, or 1 June 1945. This picture came
from the 32nd Red Arrow Veteran Association
    Two riflemen, one on each side would advance on a cave. One would pump bullets into the entrance, while the other would reload and move up closer. At some caves we stuck our rifles into the entrance and fired away. In all cases a hand grenade was pitched in to stun the enemy, so that the more awkward pole-charge was a homemade weapon, consisting of an explosive tied to the end of a long stick.
    No, it was not that simple, these caves were built for one purpose – defense. Yamashita had built his defenses well. Every hill was a guardian to its neighboring hill. We not only had to fear the fire from the hill under attack, but also that from the one across the ravine. This sniper fire was frightfully accurate. At times it seemed like every time a rifle cracked, one of our men fell. I could not believe it; it was like waiting in line to get killed.
    One of my jobs was to fill-in where a man got killed or wounded, until another man could be assigned to that position. Sergeant Fannen and I soon understood each other quite well; when a man got hit, I looked at Fannen, if he nodded; I moved in and took that man’s place.
    It was a common saying that you learn more the first day in combat, then in all your training put together. In training, the machine guns fired high over our heads and the objective for the day always was – not to hurt anybody. But with the first day in combat we could see that blood and death was the name of the game; the day was lost without it. This we had to learn in the classrooms of the Villa Verde. The enemy was our instructor, and mistakes were punishable by death.
    The caves in this hill were many and close together. We worked our way up to three of them only a few feet apart. When we got to the second one we heard an explosion inside the cave; it seems that the enemy chose to destroy themselves. This was not new, but unfortunately it was not common enough. We moved on to the next one; with only a few more feet to go, the man advancing with me got hit. Working fast, a man nearby moved in and threw a grenade; my rifle was down to its last round.
    Like in all other walks of life, some of the boys become very skillful at some of the many arts of the small cave opening at any distance; to miss would be a live grenade rolling down the hill and no place to run. Some of the men were so good at this – with right or left hand – they never missed. These men were called on for the more difficult jobs, and they were a great loss when they got hit. The job I found myself doing most often was crawling up to the caves and holding the enemy down with rifle fire until the grenade was thrown.
    The hill in places was so steep you had to be a mountain climber just to hang on. At one cave the japs pulled the fuse on three of our pole-charges, rendering them inactive. A small charge with a very short fuse was finally used; this set off the other three charges and shook the hill like a small earthquake. This also shook some of us loose, sending us rolling and sliding down the hillside.
    I found a Japanese sword in my path and drew its polished blade half way from the scabbard. I could see it had value; it was worth some money back in Manila. Some of these swords were very old and had a colorful history. The value of a sword is determined mostly by the quality of the blade, a good blade is of incredible value.
    How the sword got there is an interesting question. I doubt very much that the owner dumped it as excess baggage. The sword was to the Japanese what the Colt 45 was to the American Cowboy, and more.
    Only a few minutes after I picked up the sword, I could see that this thing was a real nuisance to me. Regardless how I tried to carry it, it was always getting in my way. In Manila they were paying about three hundred dollars for a good sword. We were a long way from Manila, and where we were at, money had no value. For whatever it was worth, to the owner or anybody else, to me it was excess baggage, and I left it only a few yards from where I found it.
    One of the caves was so well located the riflemen could not to it. The Bazooka Team was called on to work on it, but the fragments from the rockets were too dangerous at such close range.
    I saw blood running down Fannen’s left check. I crawled up to him so I could take a look at the cut below his eye. It was not serious. He wiped it with his dirty shirt sleeve and let it go at that.
    The flame-thrower was then brought into the show, and the enemy was burned to death with its dragon-like tongue of flaming oil.
    We were slowly inching our way along the hillside from one cave to the next, when I happened to recognize someone on the slopes of the neighboring hill across the ravine. Back at Santa Maria I made friends with this man from one of the other platoons, and we were seeing a lot of each other. He had been on the line before and told me things they did not teach in training. He was a very likable young man that could have found much better things to do then fight a grisly war.
    Because of a small incident that took place at Santa Maria, I had a personal reason to value his life. Late one afternoon while splashing in the clear water of the Agno River, I waded downstream into the deeper water under the bridge. With the water up to my neck I turned around to walk back but found I could not move my legs against the strong undercurrent. I dug my toes into the sand and called for help. This young man was a good swimmer, he also knew the depth and danger of this water, and he wasted no time getting to me. I could swim just enough so that with a little help we were soon back in shallower water.
    Now, while I was watching him fight his way up the hillside, yet another though came to my mind. He was always telling me how scared he was to go back up on the Villa Verde; and the night before we left Santa Maria he came up to my tent and again told me how scared he was. “I just had to come over and talk to you, I bet I’ll be the most scared man on the line,” he said.
    Shaking in my boots, I reassured him the best I could. Watching him now, I wandered if there was much difference between the river of water and the river of fear; if he was the most scared man on the Villa Verde he would not show it, nor let it hold him back. I have no knowledge of where the authorities on human behavior would draw the line between fear and valor under such conditions. But, with my next glance across the ravine, I saw him as far out front, as the front was at that moment; in fact, the front line was marked by my dear friend’s dead body.
    Late that afternoon we reach another difficult cave; near the top and forward end of the hill. Two of our boys that had been working together as buddies, were nearest to the cave. Pumping bullets into its entrance, they tried to work their way up to this enemy snipers nest. They had moved up only a few yards, when one of them came rolling back down; he lay dead in front of me.
    His buddy made a daring advance on the cave. We tried hard to call him back, but nothing could stop him now, he had but one thought – to avenge his buddy’s death.
    I was directly below and in the best position to give cover fire; but my fire – angle too, was very bad. With help from some men on my right, we managed to keep the Japs in the cave from taking a shot. As he moved up the hill he also moved more into my line of fire.
    I was shooting only inches over his right shoulder. He was about six feet from the cave entrance, when he tried to pull the safety pin from a hand grenade. In so doing he raised his body a few more inches; completely blocking my line of fire. The enemy would not pass-up their last chance to live, quick but lucky shot put a bullet through his jugular vein. Blood gushing from his throat enriched the soil around him, as he came twirling back down the hill. Face down, he came to rest and died, appropriately, alongside his buddy.

End of Day One

    The officers commanding his attack had apparently been depending heavily on the success of this final episode. Immediately following it failure; came the order to withdraw. I started back, dragging one of the boys by his ammunition belt. What started as an orderly withdrawal, soon turned into a run-for-your-life ordeal. When I saw that I was not keeping up with the rest of the men, I turned loose of the boy’s body and ran back to safety; in a storm of bullets, some only a few inches from my ears.
    When I asked Fannen why we pulled back after we got so near to the top of the hill, he said, “you don’t take ground you can’t hold through the night.” The company had lost a lot of men that day, and we would have lost a lot more. It was feared, there would not be enough men left to fight the enemy counter attack that was sure to come that night.
    After we got reorganized we moved back up on the hill; this time not so far forward. Fannen sent me to the other side of the hill to bring back some of our field packs, so we could start digging-in.
    After recovering his and my own pack I started back up the hill. I took a short cut near the front of the hill where some very hard fighting had taken place and was still in progress. Near the top, I came to a place where a number of our dead men were lying so close together, that the blood from their bodies flowed together and formed a ribbon of crimson, about four fingers wide down the western slope of the hillside. It was an awesome painting of the day’s events, illuminated by the rays of the late afternoon sun.
    With much hesitation I crawled through the stream and on up the hill. One of our men came running from where the fighting was still going on. He was carrying some of his intestine in his cupped hands. I asked if ye needed any help, and as he passed me he said, “no thanks, I’m all right”.
    Although we gained some ground, we paid for it with human lives. Our company had lost a lot of men. That night, just before dark, Sergeant Fannen was called back to the company command post. Covering each other, we worked our way back. Other squad leaders were also there, for this same reason, to identify their dead. Our friends were being wrapped in army blankets. A yellow identification tag was tied over the blankets around their necks. They would be tomorrows – Parade of Heroes.
    “Fannen – CP!” That familiar call meant that the Sergeant and I would once again report back to our platoon CP (command post). This was always a dangerous move, there was little time to be careful, and our movement was easily detected by the enemy I gave him cover fire while he moved back a few yards, from where he could then cover my movement. This was one of my jobs in the squad; this was what the sergeant meant when he said, “Herrman you stay with me.”
    We were back at the command post at the foot of the hill, listening to the Lieutenant, when an interrupting voice came in on the sound power telephone. “Able CP, calling Able One – Able CP, calling Able One” First Platoon. Some of B Company’s men on our left were in trouble, low on ammunition.
    Why the call came down to our unit I don’t know; we were probably in the best position to help. What concerned me most was that there was no argument between the Sergeant and the Lieutenant as to who would carry the ammunition over to these men; they were hanging bandoleers on ammo around my neck from both sides.
    Another man was called to carry machine gun ammunition; shielded by the mountain, we started carrying our heavy load along the muddy trail. We soon reached a point where I had to get off the trail and start climbing to get to B Company’s riflemen I was walking back and forth, looking for a place to leave the trail; a tall soldier dressed in clean cloths, and standing alone on the trail, was watching me. I was too preoccupied to give him my attention.
    The wall of the trail was steep, and too high to climb. A ravine intersecting the trail was the only exit, and it was eight or nine feet high. After climbing the wall halfway a number of times, and sliding back down, I could see that my efforts were in vain. I could not see them, but from not far up I could hear the riflemen, ammo!, ammo! They were calling, and the cracking of rifle fire was getting less and less. 
    Looking around in frustration, I saw this clean soldier walk up to me; “Here let me give you a hand,” he said. I leaned my rifle against the wall and raised my right foot; he grabbed it and raised me high enough so I could get a hold on some tree roots and pull myself the rest of the way up. Down on my belly, I turned around and reached for my rifle, which he was handing me.
    As I grabbed my rifle and looked him in the eyes I said, “Thanks Joe.” It was then that I noticed the polished eagles on his shoulders; it was the colonel, our regimental commander. I found myself speechless and froze to the ground. If it is true expressions speak louder than words, my apology must have been deafening. Not another word was spoken; he just waved at me with an expression of approval and walked away.
    I walked about fifteen yards between two hills: here, the ravine turned sharply to the right. I got down on my hands and knees, and crawled ahead just far enough to get a good view of everything to my right. This was the battlefield; from here I could see the riflemen fighting their way up a small hill halfway encircled by a much larger ridge, starting from my position.
    I could see all I cared to see; the high ground where the enemy’s fire was coming from, the dead soldiers on the hillside and in the ravine. All this told me one thing – getting the ammunition to the riflemen would not be easy. All I could hear was the call for ammo, the men could see me now; they were waving me on. Crawling out into the open and so concerned about the conditions on my right side I failed to notice the dangers to the left.
    I had crawled only a few yards in the mud, when someone screamed into my left ear. I spun around and saw a hand reach from a fox-hole to knock another hand away from the trigger of one of our machine guns. I was shocked to find myself staring down the barrel of this machine of instant death, only about three feet from my nose. The thirty-caliber bore in that barrel looked so big, deep, and dark, it was terrifying. I was momentarily senseless, and couldn't move.
    The two men behind this gun had been swapping fire with a Japanese machine gunner dug-in up on the high ground. Their gun was adjusted to the target; all they had to do was reach up and pull the trigger to return his fire. The gunner was doing just that when his assistant saw me moving into their line of fire; he screamed and knocked this hand away from the gun, and not a second to soon.
    As I moved away from our gun, the Japanese gunner took full advantage of the situation and mauled the ground around me with bullets. I was temporarily blinded by a splash of mud, as the mud in front of my eyes performed the bullet dance. Our gun that almost laid me apart was my only salvation now, it returned the fire and somewhat restored order.
     There are many different things that impel a man to keep moving forward in combat; in this case it was the men still calling, ammo!, ammo! They reminded me of what I had set out to do in the first place. Like a snake in the weeds, I worked my way along the ravine; the two machine guns swapping fire over my back. The lowest ground was a shallow, natural ditch, along the base of the steep hill formation. At first it offered some protection, but that was getting less as I moved forward.
    What had started out bad was worsening. The Jap was shooting from a small rat-hole in the hillside; I would not see him, but he could see me. He could see I was carrying ammunition right under his nose; he did not like that, and tried hard to stop me. I already crawled over several dead soldiers, when I reached two more – one on top of the other. Every time I tried to crawl around or over them, the Jap responded with a burst of bullets. If like a cat, a man had nine lives, I had spent eight, and he had me right where he wanted me.
    As much as I dreaded the thought, eventually I would have to get on my feet and make a fast move across the open ravine to the hill on the left. I had hoped to stay on the ground for at least another ten yards, but he was calling the shots, and the word was, no!, not another foot. I burst of bullets dug into the ground a few inches from my right elbow, and with that help, I made up my mind.
    To me, it was no longer so much a matter of getting there, but to get as close as possible, so the men could recover the ammunition if I got hit. I made a quick study of just what I would do and how I would do it; once I got up, there would be no time to think and no change in plans. I fixed my eyes on the nearest rifleman, got up, and started running.
    When I regained my senses, I was back and standing atop the wall where the Colonel handed
me my rifle. I had the rifle stock resting on the toes of my right foot, and both hands resting on its muzzle. My first thought was of the ammunition, it was gone. At first I could not recall what happened after I got up and started running. But then, there was a vague picture of someone reaching for the ammunition. I noticed a considerable increase in rifle – fire. But most of all there was no more calling for, ammo. With the satisfying feeling that I had done my job, I looked down on the trail a few feet below me and reprimanded myself with, “Now look kid, you just don’t say – thanks Joe, to the Colonel.”
    I slid down onto the trail and slowly stared walking back to my squad. Once again shielded by the mountain, the walk was just what I needed to regain my composure. Those guys back there had a fight on their hands, and I was glad I had nothing more to do with it. Again back on our own hill, I called for cover fire as I crawled the last few yards u to the small foxhole where Fannen was waiting. As I let my tired bones role into this mud hole, I could better understand the old saying, “There’s no place like home.”
    Sergeant Fannen greeted me with, “What in the world took you so long?” I pushed my steel helmet back, looked at him smilingly and said, “I stopped for a cold beer on my way back.” There was no more mention of this. 
    He told me what all took place while I was gone, and what to expect next. Among other things, he said “I just got word that the Colonel is up here someplace inspecting the line.” I said, “Yes I know, I just had a few words with the old man.”

Caught In Cross Fire

    It was the morning of about May 10, and things at first started out like any other morning. We were preparing for another attack on one of the massive ridges along the trail, but when the Captain gave us our orders there was something distinctly different, although nobody knew just what. He said that our air observations reported no enemy activity in this area. “However,” he said, “That doesn't mean they are not going to be there.”
    Instead of working with Fannen, I was told to stay with Sergeant Foo, who was to bring up the rear of the squad. In a single column, our squad started moving up. Others on our right and left side were moving up according to their instructions. The lifeless ridge had been mercilessly bombarded in preparation for this attack. As the forward men started moving up the ridge, suspense and tension started mounting. Not a shot was fired. There was something different; as if the Japs had all left the island overnight. The quiet and peacefulness that hung over the mountains, was so unusual, it was nerve wrecking. This was just not the way to fight a war. This was not the Villa Verde. As the men moved up the ridge they got closer to the ground, and it took more coaching from the lieutenants and sergeants to keep them moving.
    Our biggest fear was from a neighboring hill to our right – at least to the men on the right side of the ridge. There was not a trace of life on this hill. We seldom got to see our enemy, and the caves were always hard to detect. The difference was, normally they would not let us go that far; they would try to hold us back from the very start, and here, some of our men were already on top of the ridge.
    And then it happened. It was like the curtain opening up on a huge outdoor stage. The Japs opened fire with every machine gun and rifle they had; all at the same time and as fast as they could fire them. The air was full of snapping bullets and the ground seemed to tremble; perhaps, form my own fears. One of the men ahead of me tried to dash into a nearby shell creator, he flung his rifle through the air as his bullet riddled body crashed to the ground. Other never moved – they just died where they were. It was like being trampled into the ground by the hoofs of a thousand stampeding cattle. 
    From my position I couldn't see how big an area was under fire, but the right side of the ridge was getting hit in a big way. A few men from our squad had found cover on top of the ridge before the fire-works started. Sergeant Fannen was with the men up front and was calling for Sergeant Foo to bring up the rest of the squad. He didn't know that Foo and I was all that was left of the rest of the squad – and we were in big trouble. We could no longer follow the original plans; that portion of the ridge was under very heavy fire. We would have to swing over the ridge to the left side where we could have some cover.
    Sergeant Foo, with his head at my heels, was giving me instructions. I turned around and looked at him so that I could better understand his orders, but the I was the full width of his shoulders open up as a bullet ripped him apart, releasing a flood of blood. In disbelieve I tapped his steel helmet with my foot and called his name; Sergeant Foo would not respond. He was dying.
    He was on the left side of the ridge, I could not see him, but I could tell by his voice that Fannen was moving back into our area. He was still calling for Foo to bring up the rest of the men. I called out to him, “Foo go hit – he’s dying; don’t come back, we are under heavy fire. Don’t come back – you’ll get killed.” The two men were close friends, and had been fighting together for some time. Fannen did not take unconcernedly the fate of Sergeant Foo. He wanted to get him.
    A Jap machine gunner that had been trying hard to at least hit the ridge was doing little more than shoot the air full of holes; but like everything else, he too was getting on my nerves. Others were more demanding. A sniper straight across the ravine, on that fearful hill to our right, was our biggest problem. He had taken a few close shots at me, and the pattern of flying mud was the same fire angle as the cut across Foo’s shoulders. These shots were coming from the same sharpshooter. He was a real problem.
    Crawling backwards like a craw fish, I saw Fannen coming over the ridge. Again I called out
to him, “Don’t come back here – don’t come back.” With his boots within my arms reach, he raised his head, resting his weight on his left elbow, still trying to get the attention of Sergeant Foo. I laid my rifle hard across his legs, telling him to get down; then, momentarily I saw the ugly mark of death on his forehead as he collapsed. It was all over. Fannen was dead.
    Along with the snapping of bullets and chatter of machine guns I could hear Lieutenant McBride calling from the left side of the ridge. He was calling for Sergeant Fannen. “Fannen is dead,” I called out. “Where is Sergeant Foo?” he asked. I said, “Foo is dying sir, there’re all dead back here.” The he asked, “Who is this I’m talking to?” “Private Herrman sir,” I answered. “Herrman take charge of the squad, have the men dig-in and hang on,” was his command. With that I inherited what little there was left of a once proud squad. With some difficulty I got the order to the men up front.

Taking Charge

    The Japs had built tunnels along the hillside; these were narrow ditches covered with logs and dirt. A shell caved in one such tunnel. I took cover in this, but with the enemy looking down on us from higher ground, it offered little protection. I knew about where the sharpshooter was at; but with all the excitement I never could take enough time to see just where he was hiding. Now that he had Fannen he seemed even more determined to get me. A bullet struck the ground only inches from my nose, another snapped over my neck so close I could feel it. My luck would not hold out forever, somehow I would have to get out of here. The ditch was mostly filled in. There was only a very small opening at my feet. I didn't know what to expect inside this dark hole, but had to take that chance. When I tried to slip backwards into the tunnel, I found myself entangled in something; I was on top of a dead Jap partially covered with caved-in dirt, and my cartridge belt was caught on his belt.
    To free my belt, I rose up a little and stuck my left elbow out – to far, he fired. The bullet struck a log next to my elbow; for that bullet to hit where it did, it had to pass through the small triangular space between my bent arm and my back. I got into the tunnel before he could fire another shot. There was little feeling of security inside this narrow tunnel; I could not see behind me, and had no idea what to expect. While worrying about my predicament I suddenly felt someone take hold of my boots. The blood in my veins turned to ice water. I closed my eyes and hung on to my rifle while being drawn along the tunnel.
    It was only a few yards, and when I opened my eyes, to my surprise I was sitting in a fox hole on the other side of the ridge, with Lieutenant McBride. From the other side they could see that the tunnel was safe and one of the men crawled in to pull me through. I just sat there dumbfounded, looking at the lieutenant as he talked to me. I knew it could not be far from the Villa Verde to heaven; but I was expecting a more colorful reception.
    In a few minutes I was on my way back up; this time on the left side of the ridge. I got into a position where I could look over the top, and for the first time I carefully observe the area where the sharpshooter was hiding. It wasn't long before I detected a movement behind a bush, about where I expected to find what I was looking for. Pointing out the location to the man alongside me – the lieutenant sent him along up, we waited until he too saw the movement. Then, together we took careful aim. Together we fired. Together we missed. But we come so painfully close that we flushed him out of hiding on the first go-around. Others now opened fire on him as he ran back to safer ground, in a storm of bullets. We had the louse out of our hair; but like in all other legends of war, the damage was done. Although it was only a few minutes, it seemed like a lifetime since the first shot was fired, and for some indeed it was. It was still early in the day, the battle was a stand-off; we could not advance, and would not retreat. The sporadic, monotonous sniping went on all day. A shot here, a shot there; you never know when you would be a picture in someone’s rifle sights. There was nothing to do but lie there on the ridge in the hot sun, just watching and waiting.
    For the first time I was beginning to feel the overpowering weight of war. For the first time I became aware of my hunger pain. We had very little food since we broke camp; I had nothing the last two days. , but the one thing we needed more than anything else, was sleep. We had been fighting practically day and night, and some of the men had very little sleep. Out buddy’s that had by now been take from us, left a vacuum that cannot be measured by known standards. For the first time I looked up at the sky and asked, “Why, Why?”
    The morning hours never passed, it seemed would give way only to sleep – the one thing we could not have. When it finally got dark, it would not get dark enough and we had to wait until near midnight for the fog to move in. The infantry is forever hampered by nice weather and bridges, and must wait for the weather to change to sneak in and blow up the bridges.
    When the fog got so dense we could no longer see the sights on our rifles, things once again started moving. Lieutenant McBride called me to his command post for my next instructions. Another man and I were to move along the left slope of the ridge, and then climb on top near its forward slope: there we were to wait and make contact with a patrol led by Sergeant Truman, moving up from the right side of the ridge.
    We made our way to the top of the ridge somewhere near its forward slope. After a few minutes of waiting we heard the sound of men moving about; this would be the patrol. In a low voice I called out and identified myself. When the sound got to about twenty five or thirty feet out; I felt relaxed with the thought that we had made contact. Again, in a low voice I called out, “Truman can you hear me? We’re right here.” This time we got a reply – in loud Japanese jabber. I turned to the man with me and said, “them’s Japs out there.” He was already on his way down the side of the ridge. I took a few long steps and showed him a good race to the bottom.
    We could not see them, but it sounded like an enemy patrol of about a dozen men; more than the two of us could fight or convert. We went back and reported this to the Lieutenant. In a few minutes we were on our way back up, this time with two more men and orders to dig-in. The enemy patrol had turned back; they must have feared more men than we really had. We never did make contact with our own patrol. A small shell crater saved some digging; we shaped it into a dugout. 
    The night was no improvement over the day that just past. The tensions were well nourished by the many scary sounds of the enemy crawling around on the forward slopes of the ridge. Some sounds real, some imaginary, and all of them enhanced by the occasional explosion of a hand grenade. I didn't know it that night, but in this dugout I was to spend the rest of our time on the Yamashita line. In this dugout I was to spend the most lonely and frightful nights, and trying days of my life. We had moved to a higher classroom on the Villa Verde.
    The men with me in the dugout were from the other squads; our own squad was dug-in to our right. I took the first watch for as long as I could stand it, and then woke one of the other men. It was important that anything heard or seen was passed on to the next watch. I had been seeing a movement to our left and slightly forward. Though the thick fog it looked like someone digging-in next to a small tree on a knoll. I pointed this out to the next watch. He saw and watched. We knew we had no men that far out; it had to be a Jap. All night long we kept an eye on this mysterious movement.  
    I arranged the hours of the guard so that I would have the early morning watch. It was still pitch dark when I was awakened. I shook the sleep out of my head and relieved the retiring guard. The stubborn darkness of the creepy nigh was slow in yielding to the inevitable dawn. I strained my eyes hard to get a look at the terrain and the next horizon, which we had not yet seen. My first surprise was that of the mysterious movement. There was no Jap or tree; in fact, there was no knoll. We were near the edge and there was only the forward slope of the ridge and the ravine far below. Because of the embarrassment, there was no mention of this the next morning, or later. What we really saw the movement of the clouds through the ravine, and over the ridge. The rest was imagination spurred by fear.
    By the time the first picturesque streamers of sunshine kissed the mountain sides, I had made a study of the enemy’s advantage over our own position. To our front left the ravine swung ahead, or away from us, thus leaving only the forward slope of our ridge to worry about. But to our front right, across the ravine, was a wide hill that stood in all its majesty like a fortress on the desert sand. To our far right were the domineering heights of the hill that erupted with gunfire the day before. If we ran out of food, shells and endurance, one thing was quite certain – there would be plenty of entertainment. 
    Our needless worry about the Jap that did not exist was small compared to our nest surprise. The Japs were dug-in all along the forward slope of the ridge, some only a few yards down from us. We were literally sitting on top of them.
    Our morning news did not come by radio or a newspaper on the porch; it came by word of mouth, and by this slow and primitive method I learned how some of the men survived the night and how others perished. It was the list of men that got killed in the attack the day before, that was sickening and heart breaking. I know many of them. The privates that came with me to Santa Maria, the sergeants and lieutenants that I got to know while working with Fannen. But the lowest blow of all was the news that Captain Itzen, our Company Commander, too, was dead.
    I was told that the captain was on top of the ridge with some riflemen, not just giving orders, but fighting along with the men when he got killed. This I understand took place about thirty yards to the left of where I was now dug-in.
    In that same locality some men used a poncho as a roof for their dugout; it saved their lives when and enemy grenade fell on this roof and rolled off, exploding at a safe distance.
    We spent most of the day improving our position. WE dug deeper and sand bagged. The one I was in, we shaped into a small ‘L’ shaped trench, about three feet wide and eight feet long. We dug connecting trenches to join our positions. These trenches were shallow and narrow, just something to crawl along and not any more than we had to. The sniping went on all day and too many of our men were getting hit. At best we were just hanging on. Early that night there was that unusual quiet again, that calm before the storm that would make even the animals restless. The officers had been acting and working nervously all evening. Some extra men were brought in and everything was being reinforced in one way or another. All this could mean but one thing – an attack was anticipated. The later and darker it got, the quitter it got; suspense was mounting. Everybody was watching and waiting for something to happen.
    Then, from dugout to dugout went the relayed order in a low whisper, “fix bayonets.” I passed the chilling order on to the men in my sector, then listen as they passed it still farther along the ridge. Like a wisp of wind it faded away, to be followed by the clicking sounds of bayonets locking-in on the muzzles of the rifles.
    When I was satisfied that the order was being carried out, I drew my own bayonet from its scabbard and attached it to my rifle.
   Bags of hand grenades were being passed along the connecting trenches; everybody laid on a good supply of the handy little peace makers. The darker it got the more we would have to depend on them to hold back an enemy attack.
    I had some very good men with me. I knew them well enough to feel that we could work together – come what may. And come it did, louder and bigger than we expected. It was not a sneak attack; they made all the noise they could.
   By now it was too dark to see the white of their eyes at any distance; so we tried to hold them back from the start. The fragments from our many exploding grenades were like a cast iron wall between us and the enemy. Bag after bag of grenades were coming up the back side of the ridge, we were throwing them as fast as we could pull the safety pins, but still they came, ever closer.
    Some of them got close enough to throw grenades up the ridge. We stayed close to the
WWII Grenade
forward wall of the dugout; it was our only shield. Then there were explosions all around us; something hit me in the neck, it felt like a needle, I jumped with the sharp pain. I tell it was nothing big; but instinctively, with my hand I check for blood, never thinking that I could see nothing in the dark.
   Ever since basic training I always had the greatest fear and respect for our own hand grenade. Its spring loaded firing mechanism was held open by a narrow metal strip, running from the top along the side of the cast iron body. This strip was place in the palm of the hand and the grenade held with a firm grip before pulling the safety pin. Now, once the grenade left the hand, the metal strip flew off and the five second fuse was ignited. It was alive.
    Our working quarters were very crowded. That along with our fast movement created a very ideal condition for what I feared most at that time, and it was destined to happen.
    The man to my left pulled the safety pin from a grenade; in swinging his arm he got entangle in my left arm, he said, “I dropped a live one.”
    To leave the dugout would have been suicide; to stay was five seconds till doomsday – unless we found the grenade. It was too dark to look for it, we had to feel our way around. We felt each other’s toes and held hands, over and over again. There was nothing funny about the thought of that grenade exploding in our faces.
    It was, five, four, three, two, “I found it,” said the man that pulled the pin. We lay hard against the forward wall, as he threw the grenade. It exploded in midair just outside the dugout, so close that the back wall of the dugout was showered with its cast iron fragments.
    It was by such narrow margins that the men along the line held their ground and lived through another night. Since we could not see down into the ravine, I asked the men entrenched to our right, next morning, “did we do any good last night, can you see anything?” One of them called back, “you bet, the tax payers got their money’s-worth last night.”
    After a cold wet night the morning sunshine was always a comfort from heaven, it was as if someone cared after all. We were sitting in the dugouts not only enjoying the warmth of the sun but also the unusual tranquility that hung over the mountains.
    Then, the crack of a snipers rifle was followed by the most horrible scream of a young man rolling down a hillside. He was on the far side of a neighboring hill were we could not see him; but we could tell by the sound that was the voice of youth and he rolled a long ways. When his body came to rest his screams changed to painful moaning, each moan a little longer and weaker, and the last one chillingly fading away like the last note of taps – never to be forgotten.
    On the other side of the mountains was the village of Santa Fe. This was our objective. Not that it was of any military importance, but to get there, we would have to annihilate something that was. To encourage ourselves to keep going, we would talk about the coffee and doughnuts waiting for us at Santa Fe. It was such an enjoyable though that no one ever questioned how the Red Cross would get there before we did.
    That night some burlap bags with bread and wieners were brought in along the connecting trenches. It was the first time most of us had ever seen unleavened bread. The inside was very firm and the crust was not much unlike saddle leather. At first we could neither break, nor cut it. One of the men held it across his knee while I drove a bayonet into it. Working the steel back and forth we managed to break the bread.
    Unleavened bread is very heavy and filling, we still had some for the next day and no place to store it. It seemed so wrong losing that half loaf of bread.
    I carved a niche in the dirt wall, and in it stored the bread, with the crust to the outside. It rained all night and I worried more about losing the bread then I did about my life, but the durable crust shed water like a tin roof. The bread was not only good eating next morning; it was in better shape than anything else on the line.
    It was the morning of about our third day on this ridge; just hanging on would not win the war, at all cost we had to move forward.
    While some of us had orders to support the attack from our dugouts, others prepared to attack the forward slope of the ridge. With everything in readiness the mortars were called on to shell the slope and the ravine in front of us. The shelling went on and on. Starting down in the ravine, our exploding shells were working their way up the enemy’s side of the bottom of the dugouts as the debris started falling from the sky.
   One of our men, with his back to mine, calmly said, “Herrman, do you want some fresh meat?” Giving it little or no thought, I extended my open hand back to him; he laid in it something soft and warm. It was a small chunk of muscular meat. A few more pieces fell on us. It was raining human flesh.
    Our shells were falling still closer; we could see that something was going wrong. The base
of the mortar tubes were settling in the soft wet earth and slowly changing the trajectory beyond their intentional adjustment. All along the ridge the men were calling “cease fire.” Because of the noise, we had trouble getting our word back to the gun crew. By the time we got things under control, shells were falling all around us, some even behind us.
    The men started moving out through the connecting trenches and down the forward slope of the ridge. With all the odds against them, it was not surprising that our losses would be great. All of the men were out of my dugout and I was ready to take on the wounded. It was about eight o’clock in the morning, in a few minutes the battle gained full fury, the wounded stated coming into the dugouts.
     Back at Santa Maria, Captain Itzen assured us that if he had to, he would sacrifice the whole company to help a wounded man, that no one should feel abandoned if he got hit. The captain was dead now, but his word was still alive.
    One of our men got hit badly and others were getting hit trying to help him. On a stretcher, they were working him uphill and toward my dugout, the “L” shape trench. This movement was slow and extremely dangerous.
    In the safety of the trench our medic gave him a shot of morphine, while I tore his cloths and got his wounds ready for dressing. He had a bad abdominal wound – in one side and out the other. About my age, I got to know this lad a few days before we broke camp.
    All this time I noticed that one of the wooden stretcher handles was broke off. Private Hummel, a friend of mine from Nebraska, told me later that he was working one end of that stretcher. His story was, “we were almost up to your dugout when a bullet hit in front of my hand, and I sat there with the shot-off handle in my hand.”
    As the medic started dressing his wounds, I raised up slightly to get out of his way, and back to my position. I exposed my head and shoulders only momentarily, but a sniper was waiting and fired. The bullet would have hit me high in the shoulders had it not been for a slight deflection. When the men brought in the wounded lad, we left his steel helmet and rifle just outside the trench. The snipers bullet hit and blew apart the rifle stock went through the helmet changing its course to the right and down. It hit the medic down in the trench and left him with a belly wound not much different from the one he was dressing.
    I don’t know about the rest of the dugouts, but I now have five badly wounded men on my hands. The stretcher took up most of the long section of the “L” shape, I was at the top end, the other four men were sitting in the lower or short section. Conditions were very crowded for all of us, but patience endured. The enemy had us pinned down; to move these men out seemed unthinkable.
    On the back side of the ridge a rescue party had already started digging a ditch. It was a long way from where the help started to where it was needed, I had my doubts that it would get there on time. The minutes dragged on through the first hour. If I stood up I could see the men diffing, but I had to do this fast and even then I drew fire. With over a week of hard fighting these men were already exhausted and the digging called for energy they no longer had. Lying down in the ditch, they had to work one at a time. With a small entrenching shovel, they were digging the ditch a hand full at a time, and there was no other way.
    Most of the fighting in our area was at a standstill by now, it was mostly a matter of keeping eyes on the enemy hills, and throw them an occasional shot.
    Although these men were not left to die alone on the battle ground, they were a long way from the hospital; it looked like at best they would get to all die together. The Japs had moved into position on the two hills to the front and right, even the slightest movement drew sniper fire from both hills.
    The dugouts were not deep enough to stand erect, we had to stoop over. This was very uncomfortable and tiring. While keeping an eye on the hills I was also watching the wounded men behind me. Some of them were beginning to weaken and would not last much longer. The young man on the stretcher was not looking good at all; he was getting restless.
    It did not surprise me to hear him calling behind me, but it was most disturbing to hear him calling for his mother, I feared that his time had come. I stepped over his body, knelt down and raised his head. Believing in myself I told him we would somehow get him out of there. He returned at once to the world of reality, and through his feverish lips he said, “No I’m dying, I’m bleeding on the inside.” He closed his eyes, turned his head and died. As his body relaxed, the last of his blood ran noisily from the perforations in his body, to the pool under the stretcher. He died young and hard. He died slow, but patiently. He died in my arms in a mud hole, high o the Villa Verde.
    I sat down in the trench and took a hard look at the rest of the men, I didn't like what I saw. One of them had a bullet pass through his wrist; he and the medic could hold out a little longer, but with the other two men it was a different story. One had a wound much like the man that just died, and he was getting very weak. He was sitting in the mud, his face pale and lifeless, and just enough strength to hold his cigarette. The other was getting harder for me look at. A bullet hit his foot and came out near the knee. The leg turned blackish blue, and as big as a stove pipe, he need help bad. All of them should already be in a hospital, on beds with clean sheets.
    I got into a very hard argument with the senior officer in charge of the rescue party – telling him the conditions were much worse than he could imagine that we would have to try something else. I sat back down and buried my face in my hands. I had wiped my muddy boot on the threshold of insubordination, and wondered if it was the right thing to do.
    Joe Cammarano, our communications man, took the risk crawled up the ridge, and rolled into the trench. Sitting in the mud, he pushed his helmet back, took a look around and said, “Oh my god!”
    Cammarano was probably the best thing that could have happened to these men, and me. Our first thought was to lay a smoke screen, but the enemy’s intelligence, even half asleep, would conclude – where there’s smoke, there’s something going on. You cannot see through a smoke screen, but you can shoot through it. They are not a shield, only a blind. The idea seemed so risky that we ruled it out completely. Furthermore we had not yet seen a smoke screen on the Villa Verde.
    For the next few minutes we did some very hard thinking. We came up with only two possible ways to get these men out of there. To dig a ditch or lay a smoke screen. Even the though was frightening; But we would take that chance. If it worked, a few men would get another chance at life. If it didn't work – well, the world know after the smoke cleared.
    With practically no trouble at all we sold the idea to those in command. One of the men was lucky in getting the first bag of smoke grenades to us. Joe took one of the pint size grenades and hurled it into the ravine. The white smoke rose slowly to the sky as it drifted to the left, the air movement was perfect, the wind gods had mercy on the poor souls, but it was so spectacular it could alarm even the emperor back in Japan; from now on we would have to work fast – and we did.

Saving Lives

    For the next few minutes everybody worked like a bunch of mad dogs. We threw the smoke grenades as fast, and far out as we could, covering a wide area. Cammarano did such a fine job with the smoke screen that I let him engineer it all the way. After we had every window and peephole closed we started to move the men.
    While Cammarano replaced the burnt-out grenades, I helped the men out of the trench; the rescue party took it from there. Two of these men were much heavier then I was, it was extremely difficult for me to get them out of the trench. By now, completely helpless, I had to handle them painfully rough to handle them at all. The whole operation took only a few minutes, and no one got hurt. When the smoke finally cleared, everybody was gone. We did not remove the lad on the stretcher until after dark.
    Late that afternoon a clean shaven soldier in clean cloths was assigned to my dugout. Although he was very much needed in our sector, he was not with us very long; I didn't even get to know him. The first thing he said after he crawled in , was, “Who is in charge here.” I sensed some disapproval when I told him, “I am.”
    He looked at the mess in the dugout and made it clear that he did not approve of my house keeping. The blood was beginning to smell very bad in the hot sun, but I could see no reason for adding more to it, least of all mine. I felt it was best left until after dark.
Mountain Perimeter - Red Arrow Men
    He picked up a small trench shovel and started cleaning. He was not wearing his steel helmet and with every shovel full that he threw out, he raised his head up a little higher. In a nice way – if I still had one by then – I told him, “Keep your head down, and wear your helmet, this place is being fired on in the worst way.” He went about his work, ignoring me completely. I repeated myself, “Keep your head down, and that’s and order.” He said, “Who am I to take orders from a kid.”
    It was only minutes later, as he raised his head, a bullet snapped and I saw blood run down his neck. The back of his head was cut open, he was bleeding badly. It was only a flesh wound; he went back down the ridge while he could still move on his own. I couldn't understand his behavior; perhaps he was on the line before and had his guts full of it.
    After dark, two men from our Battalion Headquarters crawled into my dugout and outlined the Majors orders. We were to dig and sand bag an observation post about forty yards to the right of my position. There, the ridge swung a little forward and would give the Major an excellent view of the hills, and the ravine – this pit of demons.
    My assignment was to take one man from each dugout and accompany them to the location. Then, after a few minutes of digging, bring them back and replace them with a new or rested group. The men by now were very tired and the digging took most of the night. It was expecting an awful lot, but we had strong hope it would help the Major relieve this bad condition.
    The Major worked his way up the ridge and got into position before the break of dawn next morning. I waited anxiously, anticipating something good to come from this, but it was not to be. The message came to me simple and brief, “The Major is dead.”
    I slumped down in the mud and once more asked, “Why, lord why.” Someday the Villa Verde would be ours through sheer ownership by conquest, but the price was sickening.
    Later that morning I got a message that the Major had some very complementary words for the men that built the observation post under such trying conditions, but while he was looking out over the sand bags and observing the battle area a sniper put a bullet through his head.
    Mountains have always been a challenge to man. The Caraballo Mountains must have been such to the man that first carved this trail or foot path through these treacherous hills. About fifty years before the war, a Spanish priest, Juan Villa Verde, and his catholic followers, with hand labor, built this trail to bring the word of god to the natives of the Cagayan Valley in Northern Luzon.
    Because of the nature of his work and its purpose, it is not likely that he ever dreamed that along this trail, so many men would someday take the – Jornada Del Muerto, (the journey of death). Nine hundred and six-teen Americans, and nearly nine thousand Japanese were to perish, and thousands more maimed or wounded.
    A dirty, bearded and rugged looking machine gunner was entrenched only a few feet to my left. I had lost most of my close friends, I was looking for new ones and this one was handy. Because of his location I could see him better than I could see the men of my squad; we soon go acquainted.
    During daylight hours we were almost always alone in our dugouts. Standing stooped over behind his machine gun all day was very tiring, and it was beginning to show on him. Since our field of vision overlapped completely, we could occasionally relieve each other. Because the machine guns were never left unmanned, I would crawl along the connecting trench over to his position and give him a few minutes to sit down and stretch his legs. He would then return the relief. His name was Boodie and he was a fine neighbor.
    It was late in the afternoon, while Boodie and others were standing watch, I sat down to rest. I was sitting on my favorite – and only – seat, an empty ammunition box with my folded poncho for a pillow. A large waterproof sheet with a center hole for the head, the poncho we were told could be used for almost anything. Snaps along two sides not only let you close the sides, but they are arranged so that any number of ponchos can be snapped together for a tent, a tent as long as the supply of ponchos and about five feet wide. It was what was left after someone tried to improve the raincoat.  Regardless how or where we sat, we always sat on edge and ready to jump; jump is what I did when one of the men yelled, “grenade!” I threw myself to the far end of the short section of the “L” shaped trench. There was a tremendous blast in the longer section where I had been sitting a second earlier. At first I saw only dirt and smoke. Since fragments do not turn corners, I did not get hurt, but I was stunned, my body felt numb and I was scared to look at my legs. Then I saw Boodie standing erect in his dugout firing away with a carbine. He was shooting over me and I heard him swearing when the carbine jammed.
    Nobody knew just where he came from, but a Jap came up from behind me. I was told later that he threw the grenade into my trench, ran through the smoke and jumped over me, with Boodie shooting at him.
    After the smoke cleared I crawled back to my ammunition – box seat. A black hole in the trench wall just above the box was record of where the explosion took place. Not that I ever really missed it, my poncho was a hopeless mess.
    The following day was one of those tiresome and dismal ones. Because of my own weariness I could see over to him, and got behind his machine gun so he could sit down and get some rest. The warm afternoon sun was very relaxing and I’m sure he enjoyed every minute of it.
    It was very seldom that we got to see our enemy, but a strange thing was happening on the hill across the ravine. As if they were unconcerned about our presence, some Japanese started crawling from the caves along the hillside. I couldn't believe it. I stated adjusting the machine gun. Slowly they came out, about a dozen of them, standing erect and close together.
    I looked back at Boodie, he was snoozing in the warm sun, but awoke and looked at me when I called his name and said, “I have about a dozen of them in the gun sights, it’s your gun, what do you want me to do?” He half ways raised a tired arm, saying, “Leave the bastards alone.” That was probably the best philosophy of the war. Had the Japanese done so at Pearl Harbor, there never would have been a war. Besides we were in no position to pick a fight.
    About half way up, in a single column; they walked around the mound and disappeared from sight. I didn't know it at the time, but through those gun sights I was witnessing an historical event; The Yamashita line was slowly beginning to yield, they were moving back into the Cagayan Valley.

Getting Relieved from Villa Verde

    If there was one thing the army always had enough of, it was rumors. In training it was those long vaccinating needles that went in one side and out the other, some even had fish-hook barbs on them.
    On the ocean, a hair-raising rumor had it, that so many ships, in crossing the international date line, get the line entangled in their propellers and got pulled down to the bottom of the sea.
    But on the Villa Verde somebody dreamed – up an eye opener. On May 18, after fourteen hellish days and night, it was rumored that we were being relieved by another company. It started early in the morning and nobody knew where it came from. Someone either had a very bad night or a very good dream.
   A little later that morning it was confirmed, we would be relieved. Burlap bags with new stockings and cans of foot powder were passed along. There were two of us in the “L” trench and while I stood watch the other man sat down and for the first time in two weeks, pulled off his wet boot, and then we could see what the new stockings were for – his stockings had completely rotted away from his feet. There was a little bit of them left on his legs and the top of his feet. I could not help but humor him about his “spats.” He seemed a little offended, or at least until I pulled my boots off and we saw the spats on the other foot, my foot. For the first time in fourteen days we saw something a little funny. At about eight o’clock, the boys from our relieving company started coming in through the connecting trenches. It was a sight and feeling that was uncommonly gratifying.
    Happy as I was to see these boys come along to relieve us, there was something very disturbing about it. As they slowly moved through the trench and down the forward slope of the right, I could see in the eyes of these young faces that they were scared. I could see that most of them were new at this, so new it made me feel like a seasoned veteran. In a few minutes they would for the first time meet their enemy. In a few minutes, some of these young, clean shaven faces would lie dead in the mud, along the Villa Verde Trail.
    We walked back down the muddy trail; it was like walking away from a horrible nightmare. The waiting trucks took us back a few miles to a small medical unit in a ravine. Here, on the surrounding hills and ridges, we took position in some already dug fox holes.
    These hills were not so steep; it was easy to get around and reasonably safe. After moving on our belly for two weeks, it felt great to walk on our feet again.
    A few men at a time went down to the kitchen tent and for the first time had a hot, decent meal. It was canned wieners and bread with the taste of a T-bone steak. A clear water spring gave us a chance to wash our face, hair and hands. We also got rid of those uncomfortable beards.
    We enlarged the bottom of our small fox holes enough to stretch our legs. With some dry grass for bedding, the whole thing was too good to be true.
    After walking up and down the hill for about three days, and always passing someone that looked familiar, I suddenly realized who it was. He was clean shaven now and looked nothing like himself; it was Boodie, the machine gunner. We got reacquainted and had a friendly chat on the hillside, that time under more normal conditions.
    The medical unit was fired at one morning and sent everyone running for cover. We could tell about where the fire was coming from and took a patrol out in the hills to look for them. It was a hit and run attach, we could not find them and they did not return, but it always let us wondering – when next.
   We were moved to a ridge further off the trail where there was some enemy activity, the japs still held some ground and we were to hold them at bay. Our food supply was running low and a Piper Cub was circling the ridge to attempt a food drop.
Piper Cub 
    After feeling – out the air current he released some package laden parachutes. Teasing us with their slow descent it looked like they were going to land in our laps. But the closer they got the more they drifted off course to land on a lower knoll between us and the japs. Tempting as it was to us and the japs, the packages were still there when we left the line. Altogether we stayed in the medical unit area for one week, and then moved all the way back to the Lingayen Gulf.

Felix Letter Home June 6, 1945

The Villa Verde Trail

Carved in the mountains
On central Luzon,
Only a foot path
And not much to walk on

Build by a messenger
A man of good faith,
To spread the word of god,
To love and not to hate

Little did he know
What yet lay ahead,
That someday this trail
Would be strewn with dead

Twenty-four miles long
Five thousand feet high,
The nearer to heaven
The harder they die

Conquered and fortified
By a man of ill fame,
General Tomoyuki Yamashita
Was his name

Ridge after ridge
And hill after hill,
For one hundred nineteen days
It was kill, kill, kill

Nine hundred Americans,
And Japanese ten times more,
Lay dead in the path
Of a merciless war

The very last shot
Was fired at the Japs,
It echoed through the hills
Like the last note of taps

The Yamashita line
Would stop the best of them,
It succumbed to the force
Of the RED ARROW men

The Lingayen Gulf
    Here at the Gulf we finally got to clean-up and change our filthy cloths. There was plenty of hot food and hours of rest. We slept in canvas tents and ate mostly outdoors, but it was a heavenly improvement compared to what we left behind.
    Like “A” Company had done so many times before, we took on some new boys to replace what we lost on the line. Most every day we took these boys out to teach them the art of combat, like we had been taught by those before us.
   I was called to the First Sergeant’s tent and after a short visit was told that I had been recommended for a promotion. He did not say by whom, but that I had passed the test of leading the squad under fire, and that with the promotion would be mine to keep.
    For some time there had been much talk about the big invasion of the Japanese mainland and that this could be one of the hardest battles ever fought. In preparation we were doing some training for just that.  
    As yet the world had not heard of the atomic bomb and the Japanese were preparing for an invasion that they were determined to resist, to their last man or woman if it had to be. Women and children were being trained to fight off invaders with pointed bamboo poles, should all other means fail.
    While the Sergeant was talking about the promotion, my mind was wandering back and forth from the shores of Japan to that dugout on the Villa Verde where I was told, “Who am I to take orders from a kid.” As yet, I had not aged much, and could still hear that work ‘kid’ ringing in my ears.
    Until now I had a perfect relationship with the Sergeant, but that was about to change, he jumped to this feet and was angered when I refused the promotion. He yelled, “this is your was as much as it is mine, and I can draft you for this job if I have to.” He so lost his temper that he ordered me to leave the tent.
    Walking slowly across the company square to see one of my friends, the strangest feeling ever, went through my body, being at war with the Japanese Empire was bad enough, and now, conflict with the First Sergeant. The thought was unbearable. After standing in the square for a minute, I turned around and walked back to the sergeant’s tent.
    I explained to him what happened on the line and how I feared a repeat performance in the big invasion where the 32nd was to be among the first to land. I explained how my lack of age could stand in the way to perform.
    He did not accept this as valid grounds to reject the promotion, however he was understanding. It was his decision that I lead the squad like I had been until other arrangements could be made. The big problem was that there were not enough sergeants to go around, a condition that I never saw in the states, and found hard to believe.
    We usually had a bulletin board near the kitchen tent. ON this was a list of names for guard, kitchen duty and other work, also there were other things of importance or interest. It was shortly after we got here that I saw on this board a new War Department order. It was probably the highest I had ever been lifted – and dropped. It read in part that nineteen year old boys would no longer be used for combat duty. This would include me for sure, but it went on to read “Except those with combat experience.”
    We were close to the ocean, and got our share of sand and salt water. There were outdoor movies every night, but I had seen some of them so often, it seemed they were stuck in the projector. Although hard to come by, a pass to Manila was the best in entertainment.
    Prisoners were almost impossible to get and were very much in demand for questioning. In fact, so much in demand that a case of beer and a pass to Manila was the bounty on live Japs. This certainly did not give them and better reason to surrender. In spite of the many Japs in the hills, there would not be much beer drinking or fun in Manila. High up on the trail, I did see one badly wounded prisoner lying helplessly in a small trailer hitched to a truck.
    However, there was another way to get to Manila. The First Sergeant walked up to our tent and explained that some volunteers were needed to build a small chapel. Because the laborers for work of this nature had to be volunteers, there was a price of three days in Manila for anyone helping to build this chapel.
    Three of my buddies and I, felt that the reward would more than justify the little effort called for. Many of the others apparently had the same feeling; there was plenty of help. The building was a wood frame with a gable roof. The roof and part of the walls were covered with corrugated, galvanized metal. There were shade trees all around the building and working area. Under a shade tree, I cut most of the metal. The cutting tool consisted of a pair of two-by-fours nailed together at each end with a steel wire fasted to one end. This wire was placed under the metal with the two-by-fours on top. Walking along the tow-bys’, the wire was pulled through their 1/8 inch spacing, so cutting the metal.
    In a few days we had the building nailed together and were on our way to Manila. The army maintained an encampment in the city; here, men could sleep, eat and keep clean. This was our first stop.
    This was the big city of the islands and the war got to it in a big way. Most every place we went, we saw only the ruins of things once important to these people. We stood in the doorway and looked at the junk of what was once the city light plant. The dynamos that once illuminated the lives of these people, had been reduced to bombed and burned junk. At RIZAL Memorial Stadium we looked at the bullet marks in the concrete of the players’ dugouts.
    We spent the first evening at a tavern on the water front. It was a quaint little place were mostly service men gathered for refreshments. Built at right angle to the main bar, was a short section of bar only a few feet in from the door. This is where we stopped and ordered a drink. The main bar was well attended by all sorts of men and a few women.  
    The drinks that we were served, would have been a disgrace even to the towns drunk, and one of the boys with us was very much offended. He said, “I know there’s got to be better whisky then this, and we are going to get some of it.”
    He called the bartender and asked him why he wasn't out in the hills fighting with the rest of the men. The bartender – a small, handsome Spaniard – told us how he hurt a leg in a bicycle accident. In some English, Spanish and a lot of body motion, he tried to explain how much he would like to help fight the war, but his bad leg was just killing him. I wasn't long before he started limping. We looked at each other, winked, and took it all in. We gave him a load of sympathy that almost made him cry.
    He took our drinks off the bar and said, “here, my friends deserve the very best.” From under the bar, he pulled out a bottle of whisky that was of the finest quality and it was on the house. He introduced us to some of the women in the place and tried hard to entertain us.
   With two of these women, we sat at a table near the door and got acquainted. At first it was quite entertaining and we enjoyed the evening, but I soon got the feeling that we were only kidding ourselves. We were trying to escape from something that was following us around like our shadows.
    Leaving my drink on the table, I walked up to and leaned against the open door frame, it was a calm, beautiful evening. I looked out across the bay, there, illuminated by the light of the moon; lay the pages of history and the devastation of a senseless war.
    Protruding from the water was the wreckage of the sunken ships, ships that were once alive and proudly sailed the high seas, alive with the hustle and bustle of the crew and their powerful engines. There is something creepy about a dad ship and even from this great distance it was as if I could hear the hollow sounds of the emptiness that inherited these rusting hulls.
    Across the bay lay a grimmer picture, the outline of Bataan Peninsula and nearby Corregidor Island.
    What happened here was one of the things that spurred me – I’m sure many others – to keep going. ON December 12th, only five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese landed at Legaspi in southeast Luzon. A little over a month later, by January 6, all of our troops on Luzon were on the Bataan Peninsula, and on Corregidor Island, to stage their courageous and unforgettable stand against overpowering odds.
    In the most malaria-infested place in the world, with only a fourth of the American and Filipino troops still in shape to fight, these ill-equipped men held their ground for two and a half months.
    When 22,000 new Japanese troops landed on the island in March, followed by heavy bombing and artillery fire, Major General Edward King, Jr.; saw no reason for the fruitless sacrifice. On April the 9th he surrendered his sick and starving troops on Bataan, while General Wainwright held his defense on Corregidor.
    From Mariveles, on the southern tip if Bataan, most of the 76,000 battle weary Filipino and American troops started their 60 mile Death March to San Fernando. The atrocities that took place along this march can only be narrated by the men that marched, suffered and survived this act of human shame.
    There are different opinions as to why the Death March ever came to be. Some feel it was to give General Wainwright something to think about if he did not surrender his troops. While other say it was to make clear to the Filipinos, from the start, just who was boss.
    I have my own thoughts. Like all other greedy and conquering people, they made the common but foolish mistake of overlooking the possibility of them themselves being conquered. Shielded by the armor of such stupidity, even the most inhuman act needs no justification.
    The sick and tired that could not keep up, were beaten and struck with rifle butts, mostly to aggravate the condition. Once a prisoner could no longer carry out the commands of the guards, he was shot or bayoneted, and this they tried to justify on the grounds that he was disobedient.
    The hot sun caused a great want for water, but they were not allowed to drink the clean water from wells. If they walked out of line to reach such water, they were shot. Yet, those that could not resist drinking dirty water along the road were at liberty to do so. As a result, many of these died from intestinal infections.
    The Japanese seemed to enjoy the barbaric act of beheading, and many of the marchers died by such uncommon means. Some were even buried alive.
    The small island of Corregidor took a heavy pounding from Japanese bombers and artillery guns, now firing from Bataan. Near Midnight on May 5th, the Japanese invaded the island. The following day General Jonathan Wainright, surrendered all American troops to Lt. General Masaharu Homma, Commander of the Japanese troops in the Philippines.
    And now, looking across the bay, one could almost hear over a crackling radio the icy words of General Wainright, “Corregidor is now falling,” followed by two and a half years of radio silence.


    Since November of 1944, our B29’s had been bringing the war to Japans’ homeland. Paper and bamboo houses were being reduced to ashes as hopeless fire storms ran their course. The first four raids alone destroyed thirty-four square miles of Tokyo, hitting hard the industrial areas. They were also creating havoc at Yokohama, Osaka and Kobe.
    With over 100 square miles of its principal cities destroyed, Japan was now facing domestic problems for which the warlords had no solution.
    Lack of raw materials, steel, aluminum, coal and others, was curtailing production in such vital areas as aircraft and ammunition's. Japan’s big problem and main reason for going to war, its need for oil, was worsening.
    The food shortage, so loyal to war, was being aggravated by the worst rice crop in forty years. Valuables were being sacrificed in exchange for food.
    Although the Japanese military was still set on winning the war, other groups were doing the unthinkable – entertaining the idea of surrender. Among these was the Emperor Hirohito himself, he didn’t think much of the war idea in the first place.
    Behind closed doors, this unthinkable sin was first discussed on May 12 by a six man cabinet. The Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki and Foreign Minister Togo, four military chiefs including, Admiral Yonai, Army Chief of Staff Umezu, and War Minister General Anami.
    Admiral Yonai suggested, and all but Togo agreed, that Russia asked to act as mediator. Togo saw this as a waste of time; after all, Russia had just refused to renew her nonaggression pact with Japan the previous month. He advised that cease-fire negotiations be directly with the United States.
    On June 3, contact was made with the Soviet Ambassador, Yakov Malik, not far from Tokyo. This contact was as fruitless as Togo had predicted.
    The Japanese army officer found many of his directions in the ancient Buchido code. It called for fearful leadership, and rock-hard discipline. This and the fact that he was to kill as many as possible, is one thing, but he too was to die; Bushido so directed. This one ingredient alone would make him different by most military standards, where the thought of going home is foremost.
    This one ingredient alone would explain much of his behavior on the battle field; the savage treatment of his victims and the suicidal Kamikaze attack. To die for the Emperor was not just an honor; it was a have-to.
    Most bizarre of all was the Bushido dictate of a painful form of suicide in the event of failure or disgrace. Not a bullet in the head, but a slow carving of the abdomen with a sword; Ceremonial hara-kiri.
    The Samurai warrior of centuries ago was fashioned by the Bushido code. These professional soldiers lived and died by the sword.
    The familiar long sword known as the Katana; was used for combat. It was the shorter Wakizashi that was used for Seppuku or hara-kiri.
     These two swords together are known as the Daisho and were worn only by the Samurai. A stall shorter blade, the Tanto was used for beheading a defeated enemy; the head was presented to a superior as proof of kill.
    The Samurai sword was not just a weapon, it was also a religious symbol, it was looked upon as the soul of the warrior, and was handled as such. When handed from one to another, it was first wrapped in silk as it was not to be received in the bare hands. To touch another man’s sword in any manner was offensive enough to spring into fights.
    The blade was rarely drawn from its scabbard without good reason. A request to see the blade of a sword was seldom fruitful, and then only a portion of the blade was drawn.
    About the time that Russia was asked to act as mediator, the Japanese Supreme Command informed the cabinet that Japan would fight to the bitter end. Foreign Minister Togo could see no victory in this for Japan, nor could he get support for his own plans.
    On June 8, the cabinet and ministers met with Emperor Hirohito, to get his approval of the Supreme command’s decision.
    Emperor Hirohito, like his adviser Marquis Kido, and Togo wanted very much to end the war, he could however do little more than approve the decision.
   To the people of Japan the war had lost its popularity, they could see themselves losing everything, and the coming invasion of their homeland was as disturbing to them as it would have been to us. It was mostly the military that was hell-bent to fight to the end. Little wonder that in some cities it was not safe to be seen in uniform.

Recalling a letter from my mother, his sister, Frances

     We left the gulf the last week of June; it was back on the road again, this time heading for the other side of the mountains. We did not take the Villa Verde Trail through the hills. Our convoy moved east to Highway 5, then north through the Balete pass, the front door of the Cagayan Valley.
    The Balete Pass had also been the scene of hard only a few weeks earlier. Not far to the left lay the hills where we had been fighting such an immovable force. It was hard to look in that direction, hard to believe that these hills were now at peace with the world.
    About five miles from the pass we came to a small wooden sign by the roadside; someone had obviously done his first sign lettering. SANTA FE, it read. This was the Santa Fe we had dreamed about in the fox holes. Not very much to begin with; that little cross shaped sign and half of a cart wheel among the ashes was all that was left of our fantasy of whisky and wild women. Santa Fe was not more.
    Farther down the road, this vast valley seemed to open up and welcome us to all it possessed, mostly Japs. Here we had an entirely different kind of war from what we encountered in the hills. The enemy was scattered over a large area; our company was equally scattered; small groups moving in different directions, sometimes miles from each other.
    The Philippine Army was very active in the valley, they worked with us and were a great help. Sometimes half of a patrol group was Filipino troops. Some of them spoke English quite well; there was no big communication problem. They were well disciplined and respectful; I enjoyed working with them.
    One of our many problems in the valley was the children. In the Bambang and Bayombong area we first found these hungry, poor souls – some of them orphans – following us.
    They would stand near our field kitchen and watch us eat. With their rusty tin cans they patiently waited. When we finished eating, they ran up to the garbage pail and took out everything we dumped in.
    President Truman was in Potsdam meeting with Churchill and Stalin. It was the evening of July 16 when a cable from Washington arrived at Potsdam:
    America had just exploded the first atomic test bomb.
    Before the blue sky had wiped the atomic dust from its eyes, the arguments whether or not it should be used had already started.
    Truman saw it as a military weapon and that it should be used. His Chief of Staff, Adm. William Leahy had moral reservations. General Arnold supported conventional bombs. The war with Japan is already over, was General Eisenhower’s opinion.
    So, while some were debating the necessity of the new bomb, the bomb was already on its way to Tinian Island. While the Emperor was trying to get help from Russia, Russia was preparing to turn on Japan.
    Till now our troops in the pacific always had to get along with what little they had, the war in Europe had priority, but that was changing now, troops, planes and supplies were heading our way in preparation for the big invasion of Japan.
   As the Hiroshima bombing was nearing its day of reality, another secret weapon of a psychological nature was on its way to Japan. Like all other people in the world the Japanese had their share of superstitions. Taken very serious was the belief that the “fox spirit” would forecast a coming disaster.
    With much of Japan already on fire, and with all the talk about an invasion, what if some night somebody saw a glowing fox dance across the road, panic and disorder would follow. Well, on their way7 to do a devilish little act was not one, but 30 luminous painted foxes.
    While all this was going on we were still setting one tired foot in front of the other, through the rice paddies and jungles, from one little village to the next, we were still saying “The Golden Gate in Forty Eight”, the end of the ware lay somewhere on the north end of Japan. We couldn't see it any other way.
    There were little bits of field bread, dehydrated potatoes, spam and such, although the scraps were eatable, and the army keeps its garbage pails – even pots and pans, it was just not the way to feed hungry children.
    We soon started putting left-overs in their cans. Then we saved a little something the children might like; they liked all of it. The next thing we know, some of the men – especially those with children at home – ate very little, they gave their food to these children, and really, we had very little.
    It was like sitting down to eat and at first enjoying it very much, till you notice hungry dog sitting in front of you, looking you straight in the eyes, licking his mouth and swallowing hard when you do. It was more than most of us could take.
    It seemed that most of the older children had one or two smaller ones by the hands. Most could speak enough English to say – as they squeezed hands = “My brother” or, “My sister.” It was sad, very sad.
    Then it was back to school. We were lectured; told that we could not let our feelings stand in the way of our purpose. It was made clear that we were not the welfare department; others would follow to take care of such matters. We were reminded that we had a long way to go, we needed the nourishment, if we didn't make it, many more would starve. It seemed so cruel, yet so true.
    Many of our patrols served a double purpose, the last part of our assignment was to go deeper into enemy territory, to spy on the enemy, reconnaissance work, or recon’ as we called it.
    On one such patrol we came to a jungle. The bottom growth was so thick we had to form a train and literally push the first scout through, using his rifle for a shield or bumper. This was hard on bare hands and face, even harder on nerves, we had to change scouts every few minutes.
    The taller growth completely hid the sun from our view. After much hard work, pushing and at times cutting our way through, we finally found ourselves sitting in the shade at the edge of the jungle.
    While resting, studying our map and the terrain around us, there seemed to be a complete state of confusion.  The clearing looked so familiar – as it should – we were sitting not over a hundred yards from where we entered. After all that hard work it was obvious that we had lost that one. It was a long walk around the jungle growth, but that’s how we solved the problem.
    Perhaps on this one or a recon’ patrol like it, our scouts came upon an enemy detachment, late one evening. They were camped on the opposite bank of a creek.
    Some of us crawled up to the creek. They had a small camp fire and were preparing some food. By the light of the fire we could see every move they made. We were so close we could hear their laughter and everything they said. To us it was just a lot of meaningless jabber.
    On a recon’ patrol, the orders always were “don’t shoot unless you have to.” We too, were a detachment and to far from our company to call for help. Like snakes in the weeds we spied on them for quite some time, then moved to a hill about a half mile away, where we spent the night.
    Next morning, in the darkness, we sneaked out and started our long walk back to our encampment. That night on the hill, our big problem was not with the Japs so much as the mosquitoes. During the night I slept with one hand out from under my blanket, by morning my hand was swollen with one bite on top of another. These mosquitoes were the much dreaded malaria carriers.
    Working our way along Highway 5, it was one patrol after another. Most of them combat patrols, if enemy activity was reported someplace, we went out after them. Five to twenty miles one-way and mostly on foot, we moved slowly through the heat of day, resting at night. We carried a good supply of ammunition, very little food or water. We lived off the land; but food and water was big problem, hunger and thirst was common.
    The flat land did not lend itself to a good defense line; they were constantly on the move, mostly north. As if they were watching us – and undoubtedly so – it was not unusual to find only evidence that they had been there, but moved out. Only to have us follow them, breathing down their necks. If not us, there would be another patrol, then another, and still another, but that was their problem.
    Some of these patrols took us a considerable distance from the highway and into all kinds of wild country, where all kinds of things could happen. Very few people lived in these wilds, and the few that we found were a valuable source of information. They told us if they saw Japs in the area, about how many and which way they were heading.
    In one such case we came to a clearing in the jungle; a few chickens, cloths on the line and other evidence indicated that the rather large bamboo house was occupied. The question was, would they be friend or foe. We could never be sure.
    Someone would have to go up to the house. I volunteered. We put the troops in position in a half moon formation, hiding behind whatever they could find. I worked my way around our left flank and up to the side of the house. With my ears to the wall I listened; there was no sound. About thirty weapons, M1 rifles and automatics were pointing at the door as I slowly moved up to the porch. It was not without fear that I knocked on the bamboo porch with the stock of my rifle and waited, with my finger already putting pressure on the trigger.
    Through the door walked a young woman that knocked be, and thirty other rifle men off guard, in a manner that should be outlawed by international laws of war.
    In this area it was the custom for a woman – while nursing a baby – to cut two holes out of her dress,  completely exposing her breasts; for the sake of convenience – I’m sure, and this one had no quarrel with tradition. It was one of the many uncertainties of war.

Felix Letter Home July 18

    On the morning of July 18, Hummel and I were called on to relieve some bridge guards along one of our main supply lines.
    The trucks were already loaded with supplies and there were five guerrilla troops for each of us. Lieutenant McBride accompanied us to the bridges, some distance apart. We had food rations for about two days, after which time we were to be relieved, or supplied with more rations.
    The men that I had with me were very soldierly and we got along just fine. The tents were already setup a few yards from the bridge, in the afternoon shade. There was little to do but have one man walking on the bridge and changing the guards.
    The mosquitoes, in the evening were about as bad here as I had ever seen them. A flashlight beam looked like a Kansas blizzard. There was little we could do to protect ourselves against the mosquitoes own little war against mankind.
    One of our young men went down with malaria; it was not his first attack. He was a very sick man; we nursed him as best we could. He tossed and rolled, suffering and fighting the fever, at one point saying, “why do we have to have malaria anyway.”
    Other things started going wrong, we had used the last of our rations, relieve was overdue, I feared that the Lieutenant had forgotten us. The fact was that the ‘A’ Company ran into some fighting further up north.
    The guards wanted my permission to let some men go out and look for food. My orders however, were, without exception that no one was to leave the post, after reminding them of these orders, I soon noticed it somewhat cooled our warm relationship.
    By evening our relationship had turned quite cold. For the first time there was measurable distance between us, as they sat and talked in a language I could not understand, and frequently looking at me.
    Sitting alone on my cot in the tent, I could not help but worry and wander what these war hardened men who for so long had lived by the law of the jungle, might be planning. I could not rule out the possibility of a mutiny. For me it was a long sleepless night.
    Morning came and the hours passed, but still no McBride. I talked to some of the truck drivers, but nothing happened, no message or food. Later in the day the guerrillas own commanding officer came along to check on his troops, again they gathered in a huddle and talked, frequently looking at me.
    The officer and his staff came up to me and introduced themselves. We talked about our problems and my orders. He was a very polite and understanding military man.
    Although not suggesting it, he somehow gave me the feeling that the time on my orders had expired to the extent that I would have to use my own judgement where the food problem was concerned. I assured him that I would let two of the men go after some food. My big worry was that McBride might come along to pick us up and find some of the men gone.
    Late that afternoon some women and children walked by. The guards talked to them; the women were most eager to help. It was explained to me that they would prepare some food and we were to pick it up at a given time, they pointed at some buildings about a mile across the rice paddies.
    Food not only satisfied the hunger, it also removed the tension that had been building up. Things returned to normal about sundown, as we once more sat down to eat together and chat.
    The menu was crayfish, and the inevitable rice, which I always hated. They fixed me a generous dish, and I started with the crayfish. The crayfish is a cousin to the lobster and looks just like him. It is much smaller, a fresh water creature; we used to catch them in the draws on the farm back in Kansas. Only these were still smaller, about an inch long; maybe they were young once.
    I carefully removed the tail from one of them and painstakingly tried to remove the shell from the tiny piece of meat inside. I must have been most entertaining, they all stopped eating and breathing, they just sat there watching me and my strange eating habit. They had obviously never seen anything like it.
    One of them finally interrupted with, “No, that not the way. Here I show.” He took a handful of the little creatures and as they were, dumped them in his mouth. Now I was being entertained. The rice wasn’t so bad after all.
    There was little rest for any of us. When I finally got relieved from the bridge guard, I was called on to lead one of the squads on another patrol that would take us deep into enemy territory.
     With about thirty men we left the camp on trucks taking us to the area that we were to patrol. As we passed the kitchen tent, one of the cooks waved at us, saying, “If you bring back prisoners, you are not getting anything to eat.” He added, “I’ll give it to them.”
    In July, the divisions mopping-up operation sent 1825 japs to the promised land and took only 210 prisoners. The previous five months, with many more killed, only 56 prisoners were taken, but that was only because they would not surrender. It could be they heard of the cooks offer.
   After two days of walking, our scouts came to a clearing in the jungle where they spotted some japs in a bamboo building. The rest of us moved up to where we had a good view of the building, and on command, all guns opened fire. The building seemed to shake as the many bullets riddled it and everything in it. The blaze that followed set their large stock pile of ammunition into action; it sounded like a popcorn popper and looked frightening as the whole thing vanished in a roaring blaze.
    On the morning of August 13, the First Sergeant came up to our tent saying, “I know you’re all worn-out, but it looks like we need to send another patrol.” There was no more You, You and You, it was mostly volunteers, men that felt they could still drag their bones around.
    Our new medic that was treating my cold told me to avoid all but very light duty; I had the best excuse to sleep this one out. Slowly, one after another, the men and boys in our tent and those on either side of us, sat up, got into their boots, threw their cartridge belts over their shoulders, picked up their rifles and walked out.
    Hummel was stretched-out on his cot with his sore feet stuck outside the tent, bathing them in the sun. That was the only treatment we had for sore, bleeding feet, and his were really bad, but Hummel too, sat up and got into his boots.
    I could not stand to see these men go while I stayed behind. What if some of them got hurt because they were shorthanded, after all the sergeant said it would be a motorized patrol, there should be very little walking. At any rate, it made a good excuse to go.
    After traveling only a few miles, I could see my mistake, our trucks pulled up to a river that had come up through the night. The trucks could not cross the river, we had to start walking. The icy water was wide and chest deep in places, just what I needed for my cold.
    We walked all day; we had actually traveled only a few miles on the trucks. By late afternoon the walking in the hot sun had caught up with both Hummel, and me. Since the main part of our assignment was by now behind us, the patrol sergeant had Hummel and I take a short cut to one of our small detachment camps, where the rest of the patrol would meet us the following morning.
    After a brief rest we started walking into the sunset along a narrow cart trail. Thoroughly exhausted, we moved at snail’s pace, from one horizon to the next, we know only that we were getting closer, with no idea how many more to go.
    A small bent-over old man, wearing a big straw hat, guided his docile caribou onto the trail; he was going our way. His drag was already loaded, but the kind old man made room for our field packs, bandoleers, and belts, which were heavy with ammunition and knives. We also rested our rifle stocks on the edge of the drag to relieve some of the weight. He stayed with us for some time and was a heavenly help.
    The helpfulness of this strong animal somewhat improved its forbidding looks, and its slow pace was probably never so appreciated. The full value of this small blessing was not realized until the old man stopped and told us he was turning off the trail, from here he was going in another direction.
    Now it took the last of our resources to keep going. Our equipment seemed just twice as heavy now. Hummel’s feet were bleeding and the pain was reflected in his face, he was in misery. We had stopped talking; at times we looked at each other as if to say, “Think we’ll make it?” We had too; we could not stay out here after dark.
    By now I was running a very high fever, and fever is to some degree anesthetic, I could no longer feel all the pains in my body. I told myself to just keep setting one foot in front of the other; that nest horizon would be the one. It better be.
    But beyond the next horizon was only disappointment and another horizon in the distance. The sun was looking us straight in the eyes now, it would not be with us much longer, and it all seemed so hopeless.
    The sun went down; hanging its reddish afterglow in the western sky, with it went all but the last grain of hope. I just hoped Hummel could keep going, and I’m sure he was hoping I could keep going; nether one of us could do much for the other. We kept going.
    Then, as we once more reached the high ground, I saw the most beautiful picture I had ever seen. Silhouetted against the dying embers of a long hard say, was the United States Flag, waving in the breeze as if to say, “Come on boys you can make it.” As if all America, was waving us on.
    A few more steps and we could see the small encampment, only a few hundred yards away. A burst of energy went through my body and I felt like I could walk another hundred miles. Draped over one of the tents, was a white cloth displaying the Red Cross, I fixed my eyes on this tent and lost all contact with the rest of the world. The closer I got, the more I felt like I could walk till the end of time.
    After all those miles, with only one more step to go, my legs never made it. As I reached for the tent pole my vision doubled and the earth slapped me in the face.
    When I awoke I was stretched out on a cot, looking at the flame of a lantern hanging from a tent pole. It was pitch dark outside, I didn't know where I was at; I was scared. I though they finally got me. A medic walked in, talked to me and assured me that everything was all right. After a little more sleep on the cot I was taken to another tent were I slept on the ground with some other men.
    I slept through it, but my fever got so bad and I perspired so much that by morning my body was outlined on the dry sandy soil.
    Later in the morning after we got back to the company I reported to our medic and told him what had happened. After examining me, he informed me that I had pneumonia.
    Being new at the game of war, he also reminded me that endangering my health as I had done would be in violation of the articles of war, and that it was his duty to write out a court martial report, which he did. Such is war. 
    Our circuit doctor was making his morning rounds and stopped by to check the sick. The medic made no attempt at covering up for me or my mistake. As outlined by regulations, he read the report to the medical officer. In it, he made clear the fact that I was not to take part in patrol or similar hard work, and that I did not follow his instructions, that I did in fact go out on a patrol. I sensed some pride in this military genius.
    By now I was much too sick and weak to care what he wrote or read, or how the doctor might react. It took all my strength just to stand up straight.
    In conclusion the medic asked, “Sir, what do you think?” The doctor, standing next to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I think he’s a good soldier.” He completely ignored the report.” Such is war.
    The last ambulance had already been through; there would be no more transportation till next morning.
    The doctor was concerned about my condition and that I get to a hospital, he told me to get in the back of his jeep, and told the driver to turn the thing around and go back to the hospital.
    The doctor had made only part of his circuit, this would cause him to be late the rest of the day. However, jeep drivers had and instinctive way of knowing short cuts, or enjoyed finding new ones. He said, “Hang on I’m taking a short cut,” this meant we would bounce across rice paddies, jump ditches and run over everything that got in our way.
    The back seat of a jeep is a peace of very hard wood, right over the axle with only a thin coat of paint for padding. When I was going down, it was coming up to meet me, jeeps have no rhythm. Most of the time I rode with my body elevated using my arms for springs.
    The doctor helped me into the hospital tent, gave me and others some quick instructions, wished me well and disappeared. He was one of those men you never really knew, yet never forget.
    I was in the hospital two days when they circulated a mimeographed bulletin with a big two work headline; WAR ENDS, it read. There was no shouting or celebrating, as if nothing important had happened.
    Although it seemed to me that my condition was improving, it was actually worsening. On August 18 I was moved to a bigger hospital in the Lingayen landing area. Here, for the first time since I left the states I slept on a mattress and pillow.
    By the 24th of August, I along with others was sent to a hospital near Manila. We were traveling in a C47 (DC 3). It was a nice clear day as we flew over Baguio, the summer capital of these islands.
    Once again I found myself on a hardwood seat that ran along each side of the plane. The mountainous air was very rough; it somehow reminded me of the jeep ride. One of the boys had a small monkey, he let him look out the window; the poor thing was so scared of the height it panicked and hid behind our backs, it shivered like it was freezing to death. He must have fallen out of a tree at one time.
    After a few minutes in the air the plane landed at Clark Field. The pilot opened the door and said, “There will be a short delay, I have to call ahead for flight instructions, if it gets too hot in here get out and sit under the wings”
    He didn't explain what he meant by flight instructions, we could only humor the thing, even if he never flew a plan before, he was doing all right so far.
    The delay was much longer than expected and the hot afternoon sun was determined to get us out of that plane. By the time the pilot got back we were all sitting on the hot asphalt under the wings.
    This next one was still a tent hospital and very hot, but had better equipment, like the X-ray machine which I was constantly being taken to.
    By September 9th, I was in the 35th General, one of the best hospitals on the island. It was here that a doctor told me that I was going back to the states.
From Manuscript

Final Notes with the Manuscript
    The same doctor and his Jeep driver took me back to our field hospital. Only two days after I left my outfit, a one page mimeographed bulletin was being circulated: WAR ENDS! Read the headline.
    After being assigned to the 32 Division “A” of the infantry a rebuilt unit, went back up on the Villa Verde with 160 rifle-men. After 14 days only thirty of us came back as a unit. Forty men died on the line and ninety were wounded, many of them would never again know a normal live.
    The 32nd Division spent 119 days on the Villa Verde Trail and saw 916 of its men get killed and many more wounded. The Japanese had over 8000 of their troops get killed in this battle.
    In all the battles of the Second World War, 292,131 Americans died. The last one to die – on the day the war ended – was from “A” Company of the 128 Infantry.
End of Ward in Philippians 

Please come back soon as I post letters home and some additional information related to Felix's Manuscript!

1 comment:

Jim Harris said...

Truly a gripping story! Thank you so much for sharing this. My grandfather fought there, but he never talked much about the war.