Leyte: December 28, 1944

Despite heavy casualties, the Japanese mounted two more attacks on consecutive nights. Not until the morning of 27 November were American troops able to take the offensive, counting at the time some 400 enemy dead outside of their perimeter and discovering over 100 more along with 29 abandoned machine guns as they advanced farther northwards that day. The 7th Division soldiers dubbed the successful defense of the Damulaan area “the Shoestring Ridge battles” after the precarious supply system that supported them rather than after the terrain fought over.

After a few days’ rest and a rotation of units, General Arnold finally began in earnest his advance toward Ormoc with a novel tact tic. On the night of 4 December vehicles of the 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion put to sea and leaped-frogged north along the coast 1,000 yards ahead of the ground units. The next morning, the tanks moved to within 200 yards of the shore and fired into the hills in front of the advancing 17th and 184th regiments. This tactic proved effective, greatly disorganizing the defenders, except where ground troops encountered enemy pockets on reverse slopes inland, shielded from the offshore tank fire.

As the 7th Division pushed north with a two-regiment front, the 17th Infantry inland encountered heavy enemy fire coming from Hill 918, from which the entire coast to Ormoc City could be observed. It took two days of intense fighting against enemy units supported be mortar and artillery fire for the 17th and 184th regiments to clear the strongpoint, after which the advance north accelerated. By 12 December, General Arnold’s lead battalion was less than ten miles south of Ormoc City.

The results of my birthday party were quite interesting. The next morning a number of kids came to greet me with gifts of eggs, bananas, camotes and green onions.

One little fellow of 15 is a particularly good friend of mine now. His name is Acquilino and when I gave him and his buddies some candy he said, in a very precise English – “I am so sorry sir, I have nothing to give you.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Acquilino, you have very much to give me—and that is your friendship.” He was visibly touched—a lump came into his throat and then he smiled.

The next morning he was back very early with a little sack of camotes—It is the only food the family has and I was not so sure he could spare it, but to refuse was impossible as I looked into that bright eager face. So I took the camotes and gave him an armful of things that would be very useful at home.

Acquilino wants to be a doctor but his family is too poor, so he will be a farmer like his father. His brother was a school teacher in a very small barrio (village), but when the Japs came in he was pointed out by spies as the leader of the underground movement. He was brutally beaten & then taken away and has not been heard of since.

Leyte December 16, 1944

In my spare time, I continue to study Japanese. I found a book published by the Japanese government to teach the citizens embraced within the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” how to speak Japanese. It is one of the best I have seen and I think that I ought to make progress.


Leyte: November 25, 1945

Yesterday was thanksgiving and, believe it or not, we had roast chicken. There was plenty, and it was delicious. Except for the dehydrated potatoes cooked in chlorinated water, the meal was very satisfying. I’ll bet we get turkey and cranberries by Xmas time. Which reminds me that none of the Xmas packages have arrived as yet. We now get fresh eggs and butter occasionally. I noticed a slip in one of the egg crates his morning: “In the event of complaints, refer to HEN.” Just a bit of Australian humor.


To tell you the truth, I haven’t had much time to worry about you and the kid. That is one advantage to being in combat. You are so busy with the problem of staying alive and healthy that the day is fairly well occupied, and the time passes very rapidly.


I almost forgot. Yesterday I had a big fresh onion. As you well know, if I can get an onion, all is well in the world.


Leyte: November 25, 1944

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and, believe it or not, we had roast chicken. There was plenty and it was delicious. Except for the dehydrated potatoes cooked in chlorinated water, the meal was very satisfying . . .

To tell you the truth, I haven’t had much time to worry about you and the kid. That is one advantage of being in combat. You are so busy with the problem of staying alive and healthy that the day is fairly well occupied, and the time passes very rapidly.

November 21, 1944, Leyte

November 21, 1944, Leyte, Philippines

I have seen some of the more recent issues of Time describing the Philippine invasion. We learned many things about the fight that we had not known previously. They were probably written by some correspondent from the comfort and safety of a battleship. It was very interesting to know that [General] MacArthur had gone ashore in a pair of freshly pressed trousers and that he had surveyed the situation while smoking on his corn cob pipe. Some of the correspondents, like Howard Handleman are O.K. They really get up pretty close to to the front lines and see some of the things that are happening.

One of our guerilla friends went to town to visit some of his friends and promised to bring back some tuba, which is an intoxicating beverage made out of coconut sprouts. We were really anticipating a celebration, until they returned with the sad news that none was available. Oh, well; some time I’m hoping to be able to spend a few days with the guerillas at their mountain retreat. Some of the boys have been there and enjoyed some delicious caribao steak, roast pig, gaby (a root tasting like potato), camotes (like sweet potatoes) appetizingly served on fresh green banana leaves. Incidentally, you might try a large banana leaf as a raincoat. It’s a trick I have observed the Filipinos use and is quite effective . . . [¶] Well, its [sic] time for chow. Ah, that delicious canned corn beef hash.

The Sixth Army ordered the Seventh Division to assemble in the Baybay-Damulaan area on the west coast of the island. This was accomplished by the end of November. From Baybay the Division marched over rugged terrain and arrived at Ipil on December 10th. Three days later the Division participated in an attack against the Japanese 26th Division. Following two months of mop up operations the regiment marched to Tacloban where it boarded troopships waiting to carry them to Okinawa.

Leyte, November 9, 1944

Today I went native in a big way. I just finished a lunch consisting of coconuts and bananas and corn.

This morning we improved our shelters, which had a pretty rough time last night. It rained like the devil and there was a terrific wind. I was on guard last night and had an opportunity to witness the whole thing. It was so dark you could see nothing. I had the feeling that i was alone in a world of darkness and nothing else existed. The wind hammered the rain against my raincoat like nails. Occasionally a flash of lighting would light theskies and I could see the branches of the palm trees waving about wildly in all directions, like the arms of a woman in agony–he long black air flying in the wind. There was a defeaning rush as the wind raced through the trees, and it sounded very much like the roar of a giant water fall. Now and then I could see a tiny little lightning bug caught in the current and being carried across the skies like a minature coment.

Surprisingly, our little shelter stayed fairly dry but since our native friends predict more heavy rain for tonight, we thought it wise to strengthen our structure. We have learned how to weave mats out of the branches of palm trees. It produces a beautiful pattern–through each leaf runs a thin little yellow vein.

Gioddamit. Our weather prophets proved to be only too accurate. I was sitting under the palm tree writing to you when there was a clap of thunder and the clouds collapsed. So on this sheet you will find several drops of famous Philippine rain. It’s a little difficult to write now so I’ll sign out.

Feeling fit as a fiddle. Take good care of yourself and Wm. we’re depending on you. Don’t worry–and keep busy. Write as often as you can. It’s mighty lonesome out here and letters from you are good medicine.

Leyte: November 6, 1944

I am now a guerrilla chieftain. A number of guerrillas have been attached to the I&R Platoon and are under our control. They help us spot the Japs who put on native clothes and attempt to infiltrate through our lines. They also pick up Filipino 5th columnists who have aided the enemy. Some of them are o.k., but others are opportunists who hang around with us in order to get food and clothing. We are gradually weeding them out.

I have spoken to a number of guerillas, questioning them about their social institutions. Before the war they had a very democratic government apparently. Each village elected a mayor, vice mayor, treasurer, clerk and a council of 8: The mayor served for a 3 year term. Then there was the National government under President [Manuel] Quezon. Since he died, Osmena is now President and these guerrillas seem to think very highly of him.

He is a mestizo, (mixed blood) part Chinese and part Filipino. The Filipinos consider him more liberal that Quezon and more concerned with the problems of the poor people and a kind of local edition of F.D.R. They are all intensely interested in independence but want the protection and guidance of the U.S.

Leyte November 5, 1944

We are now in a rest camp, about 8 miles behind the lines. It certainly helps the nerves to be able to get away from machine gun and artillery and sniper fire. The rest camp is in a beautiful coconut grove and close by is a river. Yesterday, we went swimming in the river, and I can’t remember when I have ever had a more refreshing bath. I also washed some clothes. Some of the fellows made a deal with the natives giving them a package of cigarettes or candy in exchange for laundry service; but I preferred to wash my own. Returning from the swim, I found our barracks bags had arrived and I was able to get some clean clothes. Surprising how a bath and clean clothes will revive your spirits and make one feel human again. The best news of all is that mail is expected within a day or 2.

It is now 0900 in the morning. The sun is hot, but it is still cool and moist beneath the banana trees where I am sitting on a 5 gallon water can. In front of me is a big picture of Willie tied with a string to the base of a coconut tree. This is really home.

Well, permit me for a moment to digress for a moment to describe the experience of crossing the equator. Contrary to popular belief, the equator proved to be a pretty cool region. In fact, we had some cool and refreshing rain.

One who has never crossed the equator is a landlubber or pollywog. The veterans who have crossed are called shellbacks. Of course, the pollywogs are initiated when crossing the equator. We had very elaborate ceremonies, presided over by King Neptune and Davy Jones. King Neptune, who rules the Equator, appeared in full regal garb, complete with crown, colorful purple robes, and a long white beard made by tying a mop under his chin. Davy Jones is a typical buccaneer—with a handkerchief cap, black patch on one eye, black boots. Hairy chest covered with tattoos, and short black trunks tied around the waist with a red sash.

I am enclosing a copy of the charges made against me. [1. Sneaking across the line in a snide and clandestine matter without proper obeisance to His Majesty; 2. For practicing guard house law without a license and chasing ambulances; 3. For having an extra meal ticket so he can be first in line; 4. For using chemical agents in his pipe with intent to stifle his comrades.”] They included several offenses, in addition to attempting to cross the Equator without making proper obeisance to King Neptune. When my name was called, the Royal Police brought me before the King and the charge was read. Davy Jones pronounced me guilty, and I had to pay the penalty. King Neptune prodded me with his tribune, and then the fun began. First to the Royal Barber, where I was placed in a stock while the barber proceeded to cut all kinds of fancy designs in my hair. Then I was hustled over to another corner, placed in a wooden casket with holes in it. The lid was closed and Davy Jones availing helper poured buckets of sea water through the holes while others created a terrific racket by pounding on the sides with clubs. Emerging from the casket, somewhat dazed, I was rushed to a chair, and immediately received a series of stimulating electric shocks. A siren sounded, and before I knew it, the chair, fixed on hinges went over backwards and I was plunged headfirst into a pool of water 5 feet deep. There, various shellbacks proceeded to duck me under water. Each time I came up they would ask: “Pollywog or Shellback?” Before I could catch my breath and answer, I was down again. Finally, I managed to sputter “Shellback”, and was allowed to clamber out of the pool—a full fledged shellback. Some fun eh?

Leyte: November 3, 1944

I am sitting under a banana tree and it is quite cool and moist in this particular spot, although the morning sun is shining very hotly already.

At times it is hard to realize that we are on a battlefield. War is a succession of contrasts. In the evening you are sitting on the edge of your foxhole, watching a full round moon slowly climbing into the sky and throwing a soft golden light across the rice paddies. Tall coconut palms are silhouetted against the stars and billowy white clouds that hang in the heavens. Except for the chirping of the crickets and the husky croaking of the frogs in the swamps, or the occasional shrill cry of the night birds, all is quiet. You are contentedly smoking your pipe and for the first time in the day are able to forget the war and think of home.

Suddenly the enemy artillery opens up. In a second all is changed. It is a war again Down into a foxhole again. The enemy guns are located by their flashes and our own artillery sends its answer. A thunderous barrage makes the ground come to life, as though an angry giant were shaking the whole world. The concussion rattles you around in your foxhole like a bean in a jar. For 20 or 30 minutes it continues, as you lie there cursing the goddamn enemy. Then, as suddenly as it began, the whole nerve-shattering racket closes. The clouds are white again, whereas before they were angry red, reflecting the flashes of the guns. The frogs, the birds and crickets take up their interrupted symphony. The palm trees wave gently in the cool night air and the gentle moment soothes the tried nerves and you are thinking of home again.

The 17th landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. The regiment captured the town of Dagami on October 29th. By November 23, 1944, the fighting on Shoestring Ridge was ferocious. Japanese artillery rained down on US positions and launched a fierce charge on troops holding the ridge.

Oahu: May 3, 1944

Well, if Churchill + Roosevelt + Stalin think it is time for post-war planning, I guess we may as well make a few plans of our own. Much as I would like to take a year vacation, I’m afraid I’ll have too much work to permit it. However, you and Willie + I are certainly going to celebrate for 2 or 3 months. After that, however, I might accept your offer of a year vacation while you go to work and bring home the bacon. I may decide to do some writing and that, of course, will bring no immediate financial dividends, so you better practise up on your shorthand + typing Mrs. Secretary.

. . .

Surprised to hear that you thought I was serious about wanting the war to last long enough so that I could be a 1st Sgt. You didn’t really think that, did you [?] As for being busted, don’t be surprised I it happens one of these days. The boys in the platoon are a pretty spirited + independent bunch when in garrison. In action you can always depend on them to do the impossible + I love ’em all, but in garrison they’re always getting into trouble when I have to intervene on their behalf so regularly, it puts me in the dog house too. You didn’t know that Capt. Clarke tried twice to have me “shanghaied” to another outfit, but Major Beatty stopped it. Now Captain Clarke is out, so maybe I can relax for a while.

As for citations, several of the boys have been recommended for work done on Attu. Maj. Beatty even recommended me. If you were to read his account of my exploits you would have nightmares for a week. I don’t know where he got his information. I tried to talk him out of forwarding the recommendation, but I don’t know whether he did or not.

. . .

Medals have certainly lost their value in the eyes of G-I’s who see them pinned on the chests of so many officers who spent their whole time hiding in fox holes. I’ve heard a whole battalion laugh out loud during a formal ceremony when one of its officers marched forward to be decorated for “gallantry in action.”