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Sgt Charlie Sass

20 Nov

11th Airborne, 511pir, Company B

A hand on my shoulder

13 Nov

“There are no atheists in the foxholes.” That line came out of Bataan, Philippines, in 1942. It captioned a fuzzy picture of a young, dirty American looking across the top of his foxhole. He was alone, fearful and waiting. What extravagant promises did he make to his personal Gods in night’s darkest, loneliest moments? “Give me this night and I will give you all my days.” How often did I hold my breath while begging that this burden would pass and I would see tomorrow. Many of us found renewed faith, a new faith or a clearer insight which endured for life or for as long as needed. It often faded as the sun came up and danger passed.

What I found one night in the mountains of Luzon was not religion by definition. I discovered a simple reality, and for me, truth. It had no standard components: no ancient laws, suffocating rituals, self-justifying traditions, and fearsome inquisitors. It discovered me on the most fiendish night I ever knew. To explain, I must step back to another lifetime.

Understand. I had been religious in every sense of that enigmatic word. There were no religions truer than mine and I would fight to uphold its honor. No one was holier, guiltier, more subservient or more scrupulous in his conduct. To assure abidance Hell’s fire singed us hourly and the devil stood nearby and smiled. We all knew him personally. Mea Culpa to the tenth power, my fault. We created infractions so that our gentle pastor’s time would not be lost in the confessional. Certainly, we confessed more sins than we committed. I do penance every day and wonder why.

Our keepers taught us manners, obedience and how to respectfully reject those not of our color or sentiments, and where to draw the line when those people forgot their place. Our grey stone church was the heart of life, as secure as Gibralter. It kept me safely in and them out. Doubts and questions were prohibited. Our zealots kept watch to forestall gum chewing, giggling and scratching our private parts as we marched, eyes to the ground to beg forgiveness four times each week. Not until I became Solly Gold’s age, did I become aware of prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, the perfidy of young ladies and the perfect wisdom of those who wore black and spoke with raised fist and pointed finger.

In contrast to such stifling rigidness, our universalist Army Chaplain knew no rules. He operated a rapid action, foUow-the-guns church that assembled in gutted cellars. He had no time for pride or prejudice. He is remembered for giving us hope in the middle of agony, for his good humor, warm heart and indifference to shell fire and ritual. Whatever his religion of the moment, it was the right one and he delivered it equally to all comers sans apology. I remember when he drove a bullet pocked, bloodied ambulance at death defying speed with me in it; he did not think himself important.

My unshakable contract with religious doings was shaken when I was eleven. I was invited to the solemnization of my best friend’s becoming a man. Solomon Gold was my counselor; an honorable, older man wise to such mysteries as the purpose of life, why girls act that way and algebra. I listened at his feet during hot summer hours, on the stone porch of Willy’s Bakery. Solly was bound for hell as I would be if 1 went to his celebration. Although his God was older by far, my God was tougher. There was a photograph of Him in our book. With one look at His angry face I knew the odds. Mr. Gold, a shoemaker who was Solly’s father helped me through it. My counselor perished over Italy on a bomber flight from Africa. Age: twenty one and I was not allowed to be with him when he became a man.

Having gathered some skills in diplomacy, I avoid land mines: religion, most politics, racial abrasions, marital conflicts, road rage and teen morality. Otherwise I engage in such virtuous activities as not judging or berating those who differ, or preaching righteousness to sinners. You think you hear a heretic, a non-believer, don’t you? This is a believer, believe me. Humbly, I ‘confess’ (that word still curdles in my gut) that I cannot specify what it is that I am a believer of, or under what banner I should wave my icons, alert to the drums of infidels, my friends from down the street who look and talk Hke me. I have certain uncertainties.

Of some things I am reverently, absolutely sure. There is an obligation attached to the gift of life. It resides in a hope for universal brotherhood. That’s easy. Secondly, I believe that just being, devouring time, space and resources does not validate our membership. Clams can do that. We have to work outwardly, consciously at living and leam how to share what we are and what we have; a smile and a word may suffice. On the third point: I believe we should believe, upon whatever grounds we can obtain, that there is a superior state and a supreme being that we may perceive but not presume to define – by size, shape, color, texture, gender, or the noise of millions who proclaim him, her or whatever as their elected champion. That being must reside behind a partitioning veil of which we know absolutely nothing – except that someone is there and cares for us without regard for the richness of our vestments or the intensity of our shouting, delusions or malice.

What follows is at the heart of my trust; a simple incident on a single night.

At dawn, our wasted platoon was parceled out. One squad was to continue down the road. Another to hold in place. Third squad to flank and secure the high ground. Easy enough but ill-fated. By mid afternoon two more men were added to the dead of the day before, others were wounded, retrieved – and we moved on. It was minutes from darkness, too late to dig in when we stumbled into a defensible place in the dry wash of a stream bed, far forward of any support. With the company scattered and our platoon cut thin, each of us was alone. After sundown, the enemy taunted us, looking for the one who would break, call out or run. They crossed within yards of our line; we might have touched them. Then, we waited.

I can’t describe the extreme dread of that night. Scared, yes. That’s too easy. Terrified? No, judgement suffers. All we could do was … wait in our suffocating sweat and chill, don’t break – don’t breath, don’t move, don’t open your canteen or unbutton your fly; don’t scratch, nod off or whisper to the next guy. He isn’t there. What to do? Wait for the shadows of dawn, the most vulnerable time. Trust your instincts, rifle and grenades. Listen like never before and talk to your soul.

At what moment it happened, I can’t say, but it was during a perfect blackness and silence; there were no stars, no distant noises. Of the incessant buzzing and chattering of the night animals, there was none. Instead, beside me in that rocky stream bed there was a living, whispering presence. I was not dreaming or imagining and it was surely not one of our people. Old combat hands on perimeter didn’t move. To do so was suicidal; friends routinely killed friends. There was no faint music or celestial chorale; not a sound or a breath, just a certainty that when this unearthly night was done I would be alive to feel the sun. There was a firm, encouraging pressure on my left shoulder and I knew, without doubt that no matter what happened, whether 1 survived or perished it would be alright. Then I realized that he or it had gone, or was waiting nearby, just in case. The message was clear.

I enjoy deliberating the virtues, beauties and blemishes of the major religions and their expedient variants: so many overaged contradictions and complications to untangle, to ponder and crusade for at the price of trust, peace, friendships and lives. One day or night, I expect to wake up, look about and see again how simple it all is. How simple is the act of humbly reaching across a small divide and touching the other side to finish the quarrels of centuries. My friend from nowhere might be there and remember me. On that dread night long ago, someone from beyond my reach touched and comforted me. I was not alone then and realize now that I have never been alone. That is the sum of my faith and quite enough for me.

Maybe you noticed and were amused. When I am into some deep or shallow reflection, perhaps seeking the solution to someone’s problem or my own, I put my right hand on my left shoulder. It’s compulsive and it’s not an itch. That is where I was touched that night. You ask, “am I a believer.7′ Yes, totally, and no, I don’t know what I believe but I believed that night.

Heading for the Hospital

10 Nov

“You’ve got to be fearless, son.
You are heading for the hospital…”

Army general hospitals welcome you with sterile detachment and chrome furniture. They suggest “get lost.” Combat aid stations are more intimate: cruddy and homey. No forms. Medics exhausted. To be avoided. Our shiny new doctor, a nice kid, evicted me from my suite at the Shinbashi Hotel where I ran the local radio news and OJ station when I felt like it.

“Mister, we have a serious problem. Get on the Tokyo Express. Your papers are ready.” The walk from the station to the Hospital was a cultural event as was the train ride. I was an American savage on their sacred soil. They treated me with disdain even though I was shined up for some whoopee time in the city, which wasn’t much in September 45..

While playing basketball, I was hit with a hard pass. I broke my glasses. For new ones I had to go to Tokyo, get new specs and hop the next freight north. It didn’t work that way – it worked the Army way. There was no private car for Americans so I crammed in with a mob of Japanese G.I.s. We might have met on Luzon. Most wore surgical masks, a few carried sidearms. It was so crowded, people stood on the seats while others crouched between their feet. They made a circle to give me fighting room. There would a slaughter. That was the promise.

An ancient lady, perhaps a hundred years old got on board with a back pack twice her size. Taking my life in my hands, I cleared a seat for her. She jabbered and cried. I insisted and she sat, mouth open, petrified. The Japanese pointed at me “Aha! Aha!” and said something menacing. But when the train pulled into Tokyo, a Japanese officer (two stars and a six shooter) ordered the troops to clear the way for the American. He insisted that I go first through the window. All doors were jammed with luggage.

A fat MP ordered me to halt, which I skidded to do. He pointed me across the square where dignified Japanese businessmen rushed about in black suits, in white boxer shorts – carrying their trousers over their arms. In the lobby, silent, broken Americans loafed or limped about in circles.

“I broke my glasses playing basketball,” I announced and showed them my broken frame. They’d never seen a broken eyeglass frame. “What?” the idiot in charge screeched. I could have used expletives but didn’t, thereby saving my life. He took my pulse and blood pressure, looked down my throat and up my backside. He checked me for VD and made me drink something. A mute lackey threw me a robe, large and fleecy, pointed me to a ward, and told me to get undressed. I squalled, “I’m here for a —- pair of eyeglasses.” I could walk around, he said, but this is my bunk for the night. He would study my case data. “We don’t see many guys like you who need eyeglasses,” he scowled over his shoulder.

“I’m here for eyeglasses,” I told the nurse as I delivered my urine sample which was orange like my skin and eyes. “What have you got?” I told her tearfully that I had these broken eyeglasses. She said “Hmmm.”

“You’ll stay for the night, it’s dangerous out there,” she warned. “Not at all. I just came from out there. I was on a train load of Jap soldiers and they snubbed me,” I whined. “They’re glad to be home and alive, just like me.” She was red headed, green eyed, and cutely pudgy in white – with captain’s bars. I followed her: an undulating cloud, all eyes attached to her articulated rear. “My company needs me, there’s a war going on.” She gave me the Irish evil eye. “Stop that, the war’s over. You should have been there, General. You missed the laughs?” I hadn’t, she knew.

After a tin plate dinner I toured the ward. The men were damaged and anxious, but hopeful and safe. Most being patched up for a ship to San Diego or Guam. I was there for glasses. A kid with missing fingers said, “Wow! You get a Purple Heart?” I said I would. He was going home, glad he didn’t need glasses like me. After dinner and cleanup the nurse captain came back to the ward. It was calming down for lights out. That’s when she went into her cutesy comedy act

She went from the formidable to the divine. She cruised the ward, swinging suggestively, tossing Marilyn Monroe kisses and mildly naughty jokes. “If there’s anything you boys need, just anything, you let me know.” There was more of that as she checked charts, made notes, then lights out. There were sounds of pain. Nature called an hour later. Nurse Reedy was on station at the head of the corridor, studying charts. “You o.k. General?” she asked. (‘I’m not a General, you know that, Captain.” I smiled. “Just got to make a visit.” “Hey guy, I know a General when I see one.” What a nice laugh, beautiful teeth and the heartbreak I saw at an overworked field hospital on Luzon.

I got talking to a guy in the latrine. We had a smoke or two. A half hour. When I passed her desk, her head was down and she was sobbing or having a bad dream. I didn’t interfere. The next morning I caught a truck and rode back with my new glasses.

I think of her. She’s in her eighties now and I hope her grandchildren crawl all over her and tell her how much she’s loved.

My life experience with Army hospitals isn’t much. I had some brass taken out of an eye. A cartridge blew out. Then I broke a tooth and I still have it. It’s older than my dentist. I got malaria in Mississippi and a bad tarantula bite. Broke a toe on a tactical jump in Georgia. Up in the hills, we all caught something; mine was paratyphoid with a 105 fever. I was toted off to a field hospital. It was hobo junction, smelled like a dump and was in range of Japanese patrols. Rain turned to steam. I said I couldn’t stay the night and tried to run, collapsed and passed out. Orderlies dumped me on a wet cot. The doctor made a good guess and a nurse shot me full of miracles. In the morning I was pounds lighter. I tried walking but I fainted and crashed. B-Co was in R&R – a good time to be deathly sick.

My cot faced the surgery tent. I got a big jug of water and they ordered me to drink all of it; I was dehydrated. It was a night of demonic movies; scratchy black, white and blue. At sundown, they brought in some half dead Japanese and I watched, as they did amputations, dressed the wounds, pulled shrapnel and all of that. It was slow, robotic and there was music. Doctors and nurses floated around. They put this officer on a cot near mine. I had seen them lift his leg and cut it off. He talked softly to somebody until he sighed and died. It was faraway, no noise, swirling blue green, black, white and blackish red. No air, just clouds of choking fumes.

I said a prayer for the enemy, for us and for the doctors and nurses. One nurse was red headed and wrapped in oversized fatigues. It was not yet morning, black except for lights in the operating tent. Twelve kinds of hell broke loose. It was not an attack, it was worse.

Two American patrols clashed at sundown. The Ml sounds like a bull, so it took only long enough to produce a dozen dead and wounded. The stretchers came in a dismal line; doctors and nurses were now working on our people, and once more I watched that terrible ballet as arms, legs … oh, hell. I passed out and the night passed, too.

She shook me gently. “You o.k. General?” The spasms had gone, the air was cool; nurses slept on a pile of laundry. My blankets were soaked. The dead Jap officer was gone. People in the surgery drank coffee and a radio played Miller. The night never happened. She was dirty and tired. “Don’t look. I have to stick this needle into your butt; either side or up the middle? That can pinch.” She stabbed me. “Holy Cripes, what was that?” I howled. “Coffee, a waker upper, rise and shine.” She smacked my butt. “I love doing that.” Then, with a motherly word and a smile for each of us she drifted into the blue morning light, out of hells bloody night.

 It was a tough, realistic Infantry Camp. The big blowout happened. After Demolitions School 1had the task of simulating what it would be like for a company to cross an open field under mortar fire. Half sticks of dynamite with blasters and exploder cord were dug in deep at roughly 20 yard intervals. Our crew made it safe and predictable. At noon, the operation was cancelled. We were to disassemble the mine field and return the stuff to Supplies. That un-doing would have been a giant mistake. We wired the explosives to a falling down Southern mansion. Boards and roof slates flew a hundred yards and the artillery boys were deprived of a target.

On a Hot Summer’s Night

10 Nov

The climb over jagged ridges and the sludgy crawl from the far edge of the rice fields, through the ravines and up to the first saddle took four days. Five thousand vertical feet of volcanic shale and powdery grey dirt towered over us, telling us to be patient; ration your strength; the best was yet to come. Inside the mountain, hundreds of soldiers kept up a stream of orders, messages of hope and hopelessness. The American dive bombers had cleared the peaks of gun bunkers. Now, the flat firing guns were pecking at each crease and crevasse. The Japanese waited; their radios no longer had purpose, there was no talk of surrender, only honor and soon meeting at the temple of warriors. Those who had escaped down the cliff sides, into the ravines must have watched in disbelief as their unassailable mountain roared and crumbled. Black clouds rose among the white ones, as stores of ammunition exploded and the fires began.

Whatever our people paid for that last piece of ridge line was too much. Looking down in late afternoon from the first ridge, the high ground, we watched grey murk settling into the flatlands and creeping up into the gullies and ravines, swallowing the trees. The tops of the low table lands still poked through the haze and miles away were the smoky orange and white fires of small villages, burned and dying out. We had taken the last mile at a dead run, passing squads staggering to nowhere and platoons of the enemy, suffocated by the blasts of parachute bombs … and we won the race at no cost. Luck was with us. Others behind us paid the price. There was an uphill mile to go, but not this night.

Our position was about fifteen feet wide and maybe fifty yards long. We were in a kind of cradle. The mountain top loomed too big and too close. Its shadow brought early darkness. They were watching. Across the lowlands on top of a sheer cliff, two batteries of small artillery pieces were sighting on us. When the time was right, probably at sunrise, they would shatter this place and its caves.

Should the Japanese make a counter assault, it would come down on us from up there, not up the trail on which we had crawled. And they could not climb the face of our ridge, the one we looked down upon as we dug in. Deep. Their mortars were hellishly accurate. As the dark came on we were as secure as we might be. We’d done this a hundred fretful times.

There was no perimeter, just a long string of people with two or three to each position and three machine guns on the high end. We had already checked off positions…who was where. Trip lines were out. Grenades with pins loosened sat side by side. An extra clip tucked into the rifle sling. We had our last, long drink of warm water; agreed on who would take what hours of watch…a few whispers, a tug on the string connecting us and then quiet.

There are moments of near insanity some nights. Dogs growled and barked somewhere down the ridge. Pigs were let loose to annoy and distract us. We heard humming, then singing. Low, soft and gentle and unmistakably Japanese. Then come the voice from maybe twenty or fifty feet down. “You American guys up there.” He spoke English with clipped university sharpness. Not loud, the way some of them would call to us, inviting the one shot that would give up our positions and start a round of scattered firing. “Hey, you guys up there, you asleep? Wake up, wake up time. Time get up now, piss call time. You speak Japan? Wakari masu ka. You understand. Get piss now before you dead.”

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them hidden in bypassed caves, waiting for the moment to come charging out, or they were trying to find their way out of other cave openings. Thousands were moving east by night toward the coast, to slip north and reform or escape to Formosa. Most, I think were only wanting to live another day. On every step of the way among the ravines, we imagined them watching us from caves around us. If there was a cave or a ledge below us, we did not see it, though we did see a thin trail leading down, to where they’d been digging.

“We saw you come up. We give you Hell down there a couple days ago, much joyful happiness here. Now we let you come up so this much better, you think so now? You like be surrounded? Does Franklin Delano Roosevelt still eat shit?”

Now, this guy is trying to get a fix on us; he doesn’t know how few we are, doesn’t know where we are and doesn’t know that FOR died months ago. No matter, when a Japanese talks to you in front, cover your back-side, because that’s where he’ll show up. He wasn’t trying to cut a deal; just facing hard facts. Too late in the game. Too many of our people laid out in the valley out there. We saw a lot of them scattered around, baking in the sun, dead. We heard their final, sobbing radio calls for help and we were helpless. Then we heard their last goodbyes.

Our lieutenant was soft hearted for an officer. We talked about how he should have been a preacher. No matter now. I didn’t realize he was lying next to our hole, listening. That’s dangerous, too. After dark, if it moves, you shoot it. “What does he want?” He’d put his cupped hands over my ear and whispered it. I whispered back, the same way, “I think he would like to be someplace else. I also think he wants our ass, Charlie.” I couldn’t see him but I know he shook his head and twisted his mouth. That’s how he showed quiet exasperation. Other than that, he was alright and airtight. I learned to read his silent mind.

“Hey, American assholes, anybody up there speak English?” He sounded closer, but damp night air could make them sound closer. When the night is completely silent, any small noise of any kind, magnifies. Hard to tell. Some nights, they could be twenty yards out, or ten feet away like one guy I tossed a rock at about twenty feet out and he screamed and took off. Another time we had a really slick one who was close in. Maybe ten feet. But they had a trick with their voices so you couldn’t be sure. “Hey, G.I. American. We get you in the morning, o.k., and we cut off your borrs. We send home to wife, o.k. Her boyfriend think is funny o.k.” That was a strange night; they were having a regular conversation. One called, “Babe Ruth eat shit.” From another place, “Roosevelt eat shit.” But then I swear I heard, in a clear Japanese voice, “Emperor Hirohito eat shit. Banzai!” One of our guys laughed out loud. A half hour later they rushed us with pole charges from the opposite side

Charlie broke the rule. This broken rule could kill people and did. You never, ever answered them back. Never…and he did. “What’s your name, soldier? What’s on your mind.” Every soldier in every army has heard that standard opener for an ass-chewing, or an order to do something rotten…and once in a while, “nice job, or well done.” There were officers who would say, “Sergeant, take that man’s name and number.” The sergeant would write something down, and you’d never hear about it again. This was something stupid, from our compassionate officer who was going to get us all killed. “Where did you learn English? You speak it very well”

“No name, just honorable Japanese Imperial tough shit soldier. Not bad for a Jap? Got English at U.c.L.A. also some French and Spanish. Camprene vous? Que pasa? Going into foreign service someday. Maybe back to L.A. but maybe this all the foreign service as I get. Also learned American slang talk from prisoners working around harbor. Good guys but not allowed to talk much. Not good shape. You know about Imperial edict, says, you invade, you get shot to shit – and all prisoners must die slow. Much excruciating. Not pleasant idea. You speak Japanese, Charlie? Wakiri mas, deska? See, I know your name. Americans talk much, talk loud.” There was a long silence and it got longer, then “Call me Hashi. Not real name, just what they called me in L.A. Is like nickname for short. Whole name take too long for Americans to say it. Five syllable. Everything too fast. Eat, drink, sleep, make pooka-pooka all too fast.”

“How many people with you, Hashi?” No answer. “Anyone else there?” I gave him, the lieutenant a punch in the side to shut him up and he punched me back. Typical. Either the guy had gone back into the cave, or sneaked out the back way…or was going to toss a grenade, in which case he was one dead duck. We learned about dirty tricks on the road to Manila, and we had one ready.

Odd, how at the beginning of nightfall everything goes still for an hour or so. Then as night goes on, you see and hear things, most of which aren’t there. But you never know, so nobody really sleeps. The Japanese can get very close to you before you know they are there, maybe a few feet away. Sometimes you can smell the cigarette smoke on their breaths.

“Hey, Charlie, you still up there? Had to make report, tell them you guys do first class job, you still on guard, o.k. They all drunk now, getting ready. You know what happen tomorrow? You move up the hill for big fireworks and we move up behind you. Hah! Maybe you already figured out. Right? So what happens when we figure out you got it all figured out? Stick around. Maybe see grand banzai charge, whole works. Boom, boom. Out of this hole like bat out of hell, like birds flying into the air and down the hill. Maybe we going fly all way home. Maybe you too. Hey, Charlie, you know Las Vegas? I spend much time there, lose lots of pop’s grocery money. You know about odds? Compared to tomorrow, they pretty good. I not afraid but don’t like waste something special smarts like me.”

Our lieutenant was trying to work something out with this guy. It had nothing to do with compassion, he was coldly methodical about executing the Jap wounded. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he had crawled a little way down off the ledge. Probably, if the Jap didn’t get him, one of our guys would. Bad idea. We’d already shot some of our own including the guy in the hold next to mine.

“What about your officers, Hashi, can we talk to them? Maybe we can work something out. What do you think?” No answer, long wait. “No officers in here, just politician who wants to be big, dead hero. Already he shoot some of our people for talk back. He is totally committed and raging drunk. He leads the big breakout tomorrow if he doesn’t die of heaves first. You know Bushido? Very honorable. He first class Samurai; also crazy as bedbugs. Charlie, I like stay around for long talk with you.”

“You can’t understand that, Charlie. Even me. I don’t understand. How can dumb shit like him be officer in charge of my life? You not a dumb shit are you, Charlie? You worry about tomorrow. I hear you talk. We all crazy in here, everybody in Japan crazy now. We like one big crazy family; one big idea, one destiny, one body, one mind, one spirit. One hundred million of us. All die soon for glorious cause. Make big stink. That’s what the little man on the big white horse says, anyway.”

I don’t know how you would reason with that. I do know that I could put that guy away in a hurry. Easy, too. I had a grenade a little way down the slope, on a string, with a pull igniter screwed into it. And I’ve got the string .. ready to pull. I hope the lieutenant knows about my wires out there. They’re all over the place; maybe I won’t even find them all in the morning. Mostly, the officers let us set up our positions the way we thought best, but the first sergeant was something else, always strutting around making like he knew what was going on. He reminded me of my grandmother, always pecking around. She was tough, too, but at least she had good Irish brains.

The night I came back to the company from the hospital, still all doped up, he said, “Get those wires out there, before you dig in.” I gave him a couple of ‘but..buts’ and he said, “Now.” so even though I had bells and birds in my head and could hardly focus my eyes, I went out and laid three wires and taped the grenades about head high, and pulled the pins. I had enough sense to put the pins in my pocket, but do you know, that next morning I had no idea where I had put those wires. With a little luck I got them back in before we moved out, but I’ve wondered ever since, why that guy hated me. Or maybe I was the best man for a rotten job. Steady nerves, I guess. You can’t believe how focused you get when one slip might end everything.

It must have been after midnight when the Japanese guy called again. “You still awake up there? You get sleep. Is very good for you. Big day coming. Everybody waiting for you on top. Big surprise party. Armageddon and Pearl Harbor all in one, o.k. We come out of a thousand holes all together. Banzai.” Now, I was sure he’d had a belt too many. He continued.

“Big bullshit, too, right Charlie? Best I know is whole damned Imperial Army right here behind me, crockeyed drunk, maybe twenty guys, half of them bad wounded, half sick, half not so hot. Really stinks in there. One thing is right, I tell you. People all over this rotten island sitting in ground in holes like this waiting for the signal, …you know like divine wind..you know what is kamikaze…skibbi bakas? You find out. How you like Manila, Charlie. You have good time there? You know what army did there? That wasn’t Army, you should know that was Navy. Stupid Marines. Too bad, I never got to see Manila. Now it’s gone, right?” He had that right. Gone. We saw them. Piles and clumps of mangled bodies, big ones and little ones scattered among the piles of concrete, covered with grey dust. Waiting.

I think he was mostly talking to himself. I got to wondering how old he was. How long he was in the army. Where he had grown up. Not something I give a damn about. He was right about Manila. It was a tragedy; so was Paranaque and St. Thomas and Calamba. Burning those innocent people at Los Banos was the worst. We’d find little bunches of farmers, or whole families….There were lots of things we could never forget or forgive…and my finger tightened on the pull string, just a twitch. But not with the lieutenant hanging over the ledge. Then I heard him scraping his way back up.

“What do you think?” He actually asked me what I thought about something, now and then. I am not much of a thinker, more of a doer…get right to it. Don’t let this thinking stuff drag you down. Right now I would like to do that big mouth a favor and blow him out. I shrugged. Question: what difference did it make if I was to take out one guy? Answer: Very big difference if he hit you with a grenade …the way one did to me back in Lipa. So you ask, why not? Simple. Because when everybody’s wound up tight, it takes only one yell or one shot to get the whole show going…and too many people get hurt that way. We shoot at anything, rocks, trees, the moon, each other.

We had been told that in the morning there would be some heavy air force hits on the top of the mountain…and then we’d move up. A company would move up behind us, and two companies would move up the lower ravines in front of anti-tank fire. We would again be the point. Very questionable honor. If we made it to the top, other units could move up under our cover and we could clean house on our own terms, one cave at a time. Phosphorous. Flamers. A can of gasoline with a charge taped to it worked sometimes…or you could dig in a charge above a cave and blow it in. That always works except that it takes time and you are exposed. You do what you must do, I know that.

Coming up to this ridge, even at a fast clip, I spotted something that looked too neat and too wrong. A piece of rotten rope beside the trail. It looked like a ship’s hawser. Then I saw the black wire tied to it, folded into the grass. What was at the end of it? Two big naval artillery shells hidden in some hollowed out trees. I cut the line. Our man in the hole down there must still be wondering why those babies didn’t blow.

“You want to come out, we can help you. You and your friends. This thing is all over, soldier. You did what you had to. Now it’s ended. Maybe you know that. You could go home to your family, your girlfriend. Your country doesn’t need you dead. It needs you alive. You’re smart. Your navy is gone and so is your air force. And every big city…, flat. Tokyo, too. When was the last time you saw a Japanese airplane? Think on it. Comes morning, it will be too late.” He was truly wound up.

“Hey Charlie, relax. You some kind of good guy and I mean it. I know the whole score. I get the real stuff first hand. I was in Yokohama two months ago, believe that? One hell of a good commissary clerk. Also very good with fake inventories. My family always had plenty to eat. Trouble was, they started to share with the neighbors. That is real Japanese way. Then people couldn’t keep mouths shut…and poof. Instead of shooting me, they send me here, me and these guys back in the hole all in fishing boat. We sick all the way. We walk thirty five, forty miles to get here.”

“Right now, my parents are praying to my spirit, do you know that. I’m a dead hero. They don’t know what happened. I’m one blossom fallen from the cherry tree. That’s what they said about my brother. They’ve got a picture of us on the wall. With flowers around it. New flowers every day. I look like the king of the Mongols with a big fur hat, a big grin, shoulders up and that big leather belt. Big six-shooter, too, like movies. You know where I got that picture taken. At a little booth by the naval base. Yokasuka. You know what they’d do if I come home and destroy that scene for them? They’d spit on me..with love. They lose face with shame. And their neighbors, the whole town of them would spit on them. We Japanese are great spitters. Like your baseball players. You know what they’d do then? They would kill themselves. I could never cause them to do that.”

There were muffled shots, three, four. Then a long, drawn out cry and one more shot. It came from the cave, maybe way inside. “What’s happening, soldier? Sounds like your boys might be taking charge in there.” No sound for a while, then, “No, no change. Old bookkeeper still there counting the bottles. You know what is Black Label? Best stuff. Got whole case. Not passed out yet. Couple of people took the easy way out of this, 25 caliber seppuku. You know what that means? They sleep now in the arms of ancestors. Bullshit, Charlie. They just dead meat and they don’t know it. Good news for you. Maybe I carry the flag in the morning. Watch for me and shoot straight.”

The lieutenant backed away toward his own hole. I think he had enough or he wanted to talk to the captain. I also think he thought too much. Too much thinking isn’t much good for anybody. He once told me how he had washed out of a.es. and then went back for another try. Came out with his bars and joined us. They told him that he didn’t have a commanding presence or something like that. It was true, he didn’t strut around like he had a bar up his rear. But he knew what he was about. And he wasn’t a phony. We trusted him. Bars don’t make you smart; neither do stripes.

Nobody ever carried his pack or dug his hole for him. Nobody ever had to do what he would not do…and if he had something from home, he’d share it among the guys. We had a couple of C-S officers who wouldn’t talk to the men except through the platoon sergeants. Only thing wrong with Charlie was that if somebody got hurt, or killed, he’d stay inside himself for a few hours. I had to shake him loose from one guy he was trying to pull out of a ditch. The guy was gone, but I hope he knew that our lieutenant did what he could to bring him back.

The beginning of sunrise is always a surprise. You think it won’t ever come, and then it does, and that is good and bad. A lot happens just as the sun breaks. We were still in darkness, but we could see the rim of light on a peak about a mile away, and some of the hills we watched in the fog last night were breaking through.

“Charlie, good morning.” He said it like “Chorri.” I said to myself, I’ll be damned. He is a gutsy bastard. The lieutenant was up the hill somewhere, but the guy kept on. “Charlie, you there? I’ve got to tell you important things. You cannot win. The Filipinos don’t want you here, just like they don’t want us; they cut you same as us, big knife in the back. You should go home now and make some babies, and rock them on the back porch. Another thing. You will not ever put your foot on sacred soil in my country. Not you, not any of your soldiers. Because every old man, every old woman and every little kid, right down to the ten year olds…they are, every last one of them ready to die for the emperor. You know Iwo Jima. Wegot one thousand Iwo Jimas of them for you. You know what means Banzai? Means, a thousand years. You don’t yet know what is waiting for you.” He must have been into the booze because his voice trailed off and we didn’t hear anything more from him, ever. Except for the singing.

On a ragged peak over there, with the sunlight glinting on it, on that perpendicular pile of rock and rubbish, sat a 75mm pack artillery piece. It had been dragged, wrestled, hoisted over miles of swamp, up a ravine and then by pure muscle and guts up that crag along with a gun crew and a hundred rounds of ammunition. It took a hundred men a day and a night to lever it up there, with ropes and pulleys and desperation and with blood and sweat. It was sighted on the caves in the hillside below us. We didn’t know anything about it until an hour or so later. Our artillery boys never got the credit they deserved, except from those of us on the ridge.

Daylight was up pretty high. There was noise and some action further up the ridge. Our lieutenant came snaking down on his belly. Helmet on and dragging his pack. “Got to get out of here. Fast, move it. Got to make the next saddle. We’ll be under cover when we get there. Load up and move out.” Now, I’m all for that, but I said, “Take me just a couple of minutes to get the tripwires in.” Never saw him get mad before. “I said move it, now, go…go…go. Fifteen minutes to clear this ridge.” Alright, so we moved it. The first and second squads were already running like hell. I looked back for the lieutenant and there he was, kneeling down by the ledge, looking over. I didn’t know if he was talking or praying. He picked something up, brushed it off and put it in his pocket. I started to turn back, but he got up, hunched over and ran after us.

The place where we had been, maybe fifteen minutes before, blew up, again and again, taking the caves out, one or two at a time. No fast fire, just slow and steady. Not much noise either. Just a whistle and a big whump and a lot of smoke, rocks and dirt falling down the hillside. I had my head tucked in/ and had the prayer wheel going/ too. Top speed. Our artillery guys were firing flat, right into those caves. Not for long, but long enough…and then a flight of three dive bombers came in on top of the mountain and cleaned it off with parachute bomb clusters. Now, those were noisy.

So we made the next ridge, and the next, and two days and nights later we were under the crest, reasonably safe but absolutely gone if those bombers came over again. In fact, one of them did, and lost one of his five hundred pounders. Anybody who saw it coming, remembers the feeling of helplessness. You can do a lot of praying, though. You could see the top of the mountain. It looked unhealthy. And it was looking down on us. From our place, we could see for miles, far up and down the valley. The colors looked like rolling fields in upstate New York, green and brown and yellow. Our place was nothing but grey grit, rock and a terrible smell. With a thousand feet down on all sides but one … that was straight up

Way below was a stretcher party, picking up the people we lost when they took a wrong turn. Our man in the cave must have watched it happen.

He’s still there, I guess. But I wondered if he ever stood on this place and took in the beauty of it all. I know now, that what we saw was a lot like Japan, the hills, the fields, the colors and the cool breezes, the waterfalls and the evening fog.

I sometimes joke about our officers, but they knew what they were doing, and they knew that we knew what we were doing. We did think somewhat alike in our common cause, which was survival, and after all, what’s to think about? Few orders were ever given and few needed. Someone in an ancient army said, “After all, it is the sergeants who win the battles and the politicians who win the wars.” Or lose them. Even Von Clauswitz and Sun Tzu agreed that once the stuff hits the fan, everybody just does the best he can, for his own reasons. Usually the reason is he can’t let down the guy on his right or left or in back or in front of him. There is no big picture at the front of your rifle. All the plans and maps and aerial photos on the wall of the command center, and all those people giving out orders, don’t count for a hill of crap.

U.S. Grant, or Nathan Forrest said, “The trick is to get there first and fast with the most” Probably every smart general who ever lived including Scipio and Hannibal said that. Farragut trusted audacity above planning, so did George Patton, Genghis Khan and Robert E. Lee and Johnny Madden said rightly that the team that makes the fewest stupid mistakes takes home the goal posts. Or was it Lombardi?

So, we had audacity; moved fast and first, made no mistakes and were blessed with more luck than we deserved. There’s another thing. Momentum. When you’re ahead, don’t look back…and don’t stop to pick up your marbles, either. We rested on the last slope. It was like the last few nights, but now, there was no sound from our enemies. There were fewer of them, but how many were still hunched down deep in their caves, we didn’t think on that.

There was no fanfare as morning broke. Just a couple of crackers and some bad water. Not a single command was given…it was all understood, just as before, except this time we could see the goalpost. Everything we had paid for over the last few weeks was for this. None of us knew that the mountain was laced with caves…whole apartment complexes in solid rock.

The strategy was simple…get to the top, as fast as you can, as many as you can, don’t slow down, don’t look back…and when you get to the top, spread out, cover the guys coming behind you. Simple stuff, actually. The captain said, O.K., you know what you have to do.”

Now, you can not usually run up a vertical wall, but we did. We grabbed at rocks, roots, bushes and pulled and pushed and dragged each other up when we had to. Then, there were one, two, three, a dozen men up there and soon, our platoon. Then our company, all of us. There was a kind of turkey shoot when we got to the top. They had made the big mistake. They had broken the law that says, “Don’t underestimate the other guy; expect the unexpected, assume nothing and keep the back door open.” In about an hour, we owned the whole farm, and I suppose it was by radio signal that all at once, all of the ridges sent up a red smoke signal. The whole damned Malapunyo ridgeline, right to the top was ours. And that is some feeling. No, it wasn’t a giveaway. Some of our sister companies paid a price, down in the ravines, and in the weeks that followed we all paid a little more.. Not much more to the story.

The inside of the mountain kept exploding for a few days, twenty four hours a day and night… and we thought it would go sky high. And we with it. We had a few accidents and some guys got hit going for water. On our last morning, we saw a new company moving up to take over our mountain. I sat at the backside of the hilltop. A train of our wounded moved down the trail we had come up. As a farewell shot, someone had tossed a satchel charge and wounded another half dozen or so of our people, most not badly, but a few went home.

Our lieutenant sat own alongside me and we broke open a can of beans and had some tasty Japanese dried fish. “What are you thinking?” I answered, “I’m thinking I wish I had some water to help wash down these beans.” We had not had fresh water for several days. With that a small plane came over and dropped radio batteries and water containers on small chutes. I volunteered to go down the hill for the water can, and did. I must confess this: as I dragged the water can up the hill, I stopped and helped myself to a long drink. Then the plane made another pass and a guy with a bullhorn said the water was not for drinking, but for washing and shaving. That’s crazy! The Colonel flying over with bullets zipping up at his little airplane. Somebody wanted us to look good when we came down. Somebody wanted us to be domesticated and not remember our dirty, smelly dead, wounded and sick. I made powdered coffee in my helmet. It was good.

Then I knew what I was thinking about…that guy in the cave, down below that ridge. How he was so certain we would never set foot on the sacred soil of Japan. There are people who believe that in time, we could have walked in like tourists.

They were ready to quit, so I’m told. Just a little more time. Not so. Having been there in those first days, and having seen what they had in store for us…! do not wonder what it would have been like, to jump into land like this, faced with mountains full of caves, like this, among millions of people ready to die..people of every age. As Hashi said on that last night. “The odds at Vegas are much better.” I guess you know that Hashi means chopsticks.

One more thing I should tell you. That thing the lieutenant picked up on the lower ridge—-he tossed it to me as we started back down. A leather wallet with a few yen, an army paybook, an J.D. card and a picture of a cocky Japanese who went to UCLA … with a big fur hat, broad leather belt, a grand cavalry pistol and a chest full of medals. I saved the picture for a few years. Then I threw it out. I’m still throwing those old things away, and they come back in memories that won’t fade.

Related materials

To a Laughing Boy…

20 Aug

This is to a small, laughing boy in a large blue snowsuit.

That was you, when I met you in January 1946. Surprise! You are now sixty years old. I knew your father. He made friends easily and he was funny, caring and a cross between Joel Grey, Bobby Kennedy and Sammy Davis Jr. He had a permanent grin and chattered without letup. You’d have liked him. The day was darker when he left us.

Your dad and I were paratroopers, you know that. We met at Ft. Benning in Georgia. We weren’t buddies in the usual sense, but he knew everyone personally, whether he knew them or not. Your dad wasn’t big and tough but he was wiry and strong and could do magic tricks and acrobatic stunts. When we got overseas we met a few times, shared some laughs and a few beers at the end of work. Your mother wrote to him every day.

Just weeks before we shipped out of San Francisco, he and your mother were married. Since I had camp duty, I couldn’t go to the wedding but I saw the pictures. There was a crowd. Sometime in the next week or so you were conceived.

We were not yet assigned. We were all volunteers who had lived, laughed and trained together but now we were to be scattered to other regiments in the 11th Airborne Division. Good friends were separated; highly skilled teams were broken up and a few stayed together. It was the luck of the draw, names in a hat – and I never saw your dad again.

He went ashore with the spearhead wave at a place called Nasugbu. At first it was easy and then it got mean. A little way inland, the enemy was dug into caves and had to be cleared out the hard way. Your father and two of his friends from parachute school, good friends of mine, too, lost their lives in the first hour or so. I learned about it from your dad’s friends when we met on the road to Manila. He was the kind of man you knew would survive the hardest jobs. I looked forward to seeing him in Manila. We would have some stories to share.

In ’46 you were crawling in the snow, flopping about and laughing. It was in a park in New Jersey. I was visiting a relative after my discharge at Ft. Dix and because the pond in the town parkwas frozen solid, I borrowed some skates. I went ice skating for the first time in years still wearing my army uniform with the Eleventh Airborne Division patch on my shoulder. That was a treasured insignia; we were a proud bunch and we still are. There are a few of us still running around and we get together every year. Your father would have been the cheerleader and story teller.

Your mother, with you in tow, saw the paratrooper patch on my uniform coat and called to me. Her husband was in that division, she told me, and had been killed. Perhaps, she said, I knew him but probably not. Men who did know him had written to her and that was comforting.

When she told me his name I was dumbfounded. Maybe she knew otherwise but I said that I may have but it was a big army. I might have met him but couldn’t be sure. Maybe I had no answer for the one simple question she was sure to ask – why him? What went wrong, who was at fault, why of all those people? I could not tell her that you had to be there to make any sense of it.

Please let me say what I couldn’t say then. Your dad was one unique individual spirit when you saw him up close. From a distance he was merely one of countless dots moving on the landscape. Most of us would stand and some of us would fall. Your dad and his friends fell but were not forgotten. He was loved and had grand plans for his future with you and your mother.

I had no such grand plans, none, in truth. My vague plans became real and your Dad’s did not. There are stories of close shaves, near misses, lucky breaks, minor wounds, dumb luck – a mistake of the moment that preserved a life or cost a life. Through no special grace or skill, I came through only mildly damaged as did most of us.

The objectives and nobler motives of the company, army or squad were not my private affair. I did nothing heroic and didn’t need that far off mountaintop or the river in front of us except as one step closer to finishing what we had to do. My own goals were to carry out my assigned part in the unit to the best of my ability and to survive the conflict, the chance, the folly, the unexpected and the toss of the dice.

When we, as a unit, a number on a strategic map had met our responsibilities, for short periods we became what we were, in fact, ordinary human beings with individual faces and identities who had learned to be deadly and durable. We lived.

Had I or your father failed to do our small part in the whole immense drive, lain back in relative safety, found a way to be elsewhere, to move slowly or not at all, we would have failed in our promise, to our nation, our buddies and ourselves. Mostly, we would have failed you, the future.

We would have been excluded by those who were closest to us. I would have failed the man next to me. Worse, I would have despised myself. There is no deeper hell than that.

The enemy soldier who took your father’s life didn’t know him among the many young men in green who were running toward him, sprinting, taking cover, popping up here and there, firing their rifles and moving forward, at terrifying speed. The odds are that he died, too. That’s how it was. A determined mass of nameless men, advancing against a mass of nameless men determined to stay. We all looked alike to them and they to us. Never was the individual on either side judged worthy or not, chosen to live or not. We seldom saw the other’s eyes and then only briefly. We and they were the enemy; in that we were alike.

Your father probably did not do anything singularly heroic or rash that day. He gave his life. Given a choice, knowing that he had fathered a child, he may have done other things that day. But he had voluntarily joined an elect organization of men who were entrusted to give a greater effort, with greater strength, skill and bravery than others. They would be called on for the dirty work of being first.

His loss as a singular person was not in the grand plan, nor was he a share of the expected price of victory. He wasn’t chosen for sacrifice. There was no list. There was nothing that had his number on it. He was simply in that place at that precise moment doing his best at what he had agreed to do. Hewas one solitary part of a rising up against a despotic rogue empire that had murdered and enslaved millions; whose treachery and mercilessness still mark them over a half century later. Your father was among those who chose to stop them.

When we met the troopers trudging up the hills from the Nasugbu shore, they were already years older, battle smart and terribly tired. That night they rested. As the months wore on, their numbers grew less and they aged more quickly. I don’t know which of them told me about your dad and Sergeant Gunn and Cpl. Butler and the others whom I’d known during our airborne training. But he was crying when he told me, maybe from fatigue. Me, too.

You see, your father was the first man I knew who was killed in combat. He was a fractional, but treasured part of what the battle planners called acceptable losses. On the day he was killed, all who knew him saw reality in a new way and became tougher and more courageous. We became more resolute and more angry. That’s what your father did in the war. I thought you would like to know.

Intro to Charlie’s stories

15 Mar

This is a collection of short stories written by Charlie Sass. He was a paratrooper in WW2, a combat veteran who fought on Luzon in the Philippines. Charlie is fond of saying that “in his stories nobody gets hurt”. A thoughtful, compassionate, citizen soldier who did his duty, he participated in the battle for Manila, the Los Banos prison rescue and was among the first Americans into Japan. Charlie was wounded, injured, sick and lost too many friends. He had a great time. It is possible to have PTSD and a great life, Charlie is proof.
We are looking for a talented writer to turn these stories into a book, there is a lot more than appears on this site. Thank you for visiting. Image

ASOM visitors

14 Mar

Airborne museum  October 28, 2013.  Charlie wrote this at the age of ninety, on the news his artifact would be at ASOM.iphone1 135

This is about a raggedy handful of Army parachute panels. Mine. They did their job over Luzon PI and now will be cared for at the Airborne and Special Ops museum. They are in fine company; kindly spirits walk the streets of Fayetteville. My chute and I met on a stormy night with high winds whistling and the promise of a rotten tomorrow. My chute was one of the sopping pile of twisted laundry, sitting under the wing of a c-47 delivery wagon. The sergeant yelled. “Grab one, any one and be on with it. They’re all the same”. That’s not true and every paratrooper who has experienced a blown chute or a streamer or a ripped harness will tell you so. “There’s an unlucky one in every thousand, you might pick a winner”. We were on Mindoro by ship, delivered over a savage typhoon and thirty foot waves. We had not eaten for three days, nor did our toilets work. We were vacuum sealed and what we owned went overboard with our barracks bags. We lived to tell.                     After Leyte, hell was a vacation. Skies were clear. A homesick kid played sad songs on a harmonica. On the morrow, we would land on Luzon, Tagatay Ridge overlooking the Lake Taal volcano. The news was mixed: three friends were killed in the first wave at Nasugbu. On the good side, the first wave of the 511th had little resistance. We loaded our gear. One trooper I did not know had a chute malfunction and i saw him for only a second as he plowed the dirt. He had done his duty. Our drop would have been perfect had we not been dropped in the wrong zone, out of formation,at too high a speed and we were loaded like mules. “Get weaponry on the ground as fast as you can.” Whatever we hit, shattered. I was impaled on a rotten corn stalk, paralyzed. It took a minute to see my problem and my knife cut me free. Horrors! Filipinos came from everywhere to gather up the parachutes and turn them into peace loving rayon. .. which they turned into ladies underwear and white shirts with an embroidery of a Chinese dragon. I bought one and somebody stole it. They demanded American cigarettes. “we got MacCarthur’s “i have return”. They stink. Company B entered Paranaque and paid too much for the privilege. We were also first to land in Japan… before the surrender. Neat trick.                                                                                      Meanwhile, i rolled up the blown panels and cut them free. They would become my portable air conditioner soaked in water and stayed with me through Manila, Mt Malepunyo, McKinley, Los Banos, Santo Tomas and Aparri. In the finale, they served me all the way to Japan where we wrote more names. Their work was done. What to do when there’s nothing to d? I drew pictures on them and collected more signatures. I got most of them, though, though a lot of us did not do well: the enemy, sickness and wounds took their share. We wish our men peace wherever they are. We wish, too, that they could be with us. They delivered on their promise. Airborne all the way. They delivered.

 

Youtube “hill2380” Mt Malepunyo

7 Mar

The attack was lost in the archives. It was a critical assault in the Pacific war, cut the direct communications link from Tokyo to the South Pacific.

It’s a news film taken by Air-Ground control as bombers, artillery, tanks and infantry joined for the last push. You see several companies as they move across the cluster of hills. I believe the first to the top were John Donaldson, Tom Freidhof, maybe Fred Stafford and me.                                                                                                                                                                             The top was unearthly quiet, scary and empty. The company began digging, expecting a Japanese counter assault at nightfall. The platoon sergeants got to sorting us out and we set up a perimeter. Our team, down the ridge was made up of Mike Galleano, Will Fandal, Larsen, Emilio Ibasco and me. Dogs were barking and pigs grunting. They were the early warning system for the Japanese. Night came and nobody slept. A new man got shot as he stood up.                                                                                                                                                                   At daybreak, Captain Ringler gave us orders. We were ready. “Get to the top as quick as you can; don’t stop for the wounded. You know what to do, so let’s do it.” It was one of Ringler’s longest speeches. We struggled in the shale and volcanic dirt. It was a hard run but the Japanese inside the mountain were caught flat footed. None of us knew that we had uprooted a direct contact with Tokyo.                                                                                                     We were crowding up as more people arrived to secure the top. It was smaller than my back yard. In the commotion, somebody saw activity down the cliff side…it was the entrance to the bowels of the mountain. The Japanese were trying to escape. Our man immediately ran a couple of magazines from his BAR and closed off the rush. I don’t recall how, but someone with a flame thrower risked his life and plastered the cave. That should have been the end of things, but the mountain caught fire and began to shake and explode inside.                                                                                                                                                                         Looking down from up there, we saw miles of ridges and ravines where we had left good friends and their blood. We saw groups of Japanese, caught in the open by parachute bombs and instantly baked. We met a machine gun company; all of them had fresh uniforms. Their eyes were wide open. We talked to enemy soldiers who were isolated and hopeless in smaller caves. They knew the game was finished, but surrender was not an option. Our artillery, 75’s, had been lifted up the cliffs and closed down the caves behind us as we advanced. They gave us warnings to scramble but a fifty yard hit was too close for comfort.                                                                                                                                                                     On our last approach we got under the peak and were reasonably safe. We had by-passed several heavy machine gun bunkers. Empty. P38’s dropped 500 pounders in the ravines and nearly nailed us. One bomb went straight across our company and took out a ravine.         For entertainment, we got an airdrop of pork chops and cooked them in the helmets. We poured of the drippings and in the morning, everything was covered with white fly eggs. We got roaring sick. We were without enough water from the beginning. An L4 dropped some small cargo chutes with water containers and we retrieved most of them. That helped but not for long. We sipped liquids from the vines. Not tasty, but better than nothing.                                                                                                                                                                     Our flamethrower had sealed the cave, but a few enemy ran through the fire and leaped down the cliff side. In minutes there was a string of our guys shooting as the enemy tried to get away. By nightfall things had quieted but the flamethrower had touched off the whole inside of the mountain. It kept exploding foe two whole days and nights. A thrown satchel charge took out the shooting gallery and about a dozen of our guys. No fatalities, but they were a sad bunch.                                                                                                                                 At daylight we dodged the snipers and staggered down the ridge, got a hero’s welcome, a real meal, cold water and sleep.                                                                                                                          As we were digging in on the first day, we got a radio call for help. One of our units in a lower ravine had been ambushed. We got a half squad down there on the run, but the damage was done. We helped them carry their dead and wounded to the top. It was a sad time. There was no celebration on our mountain. Ringler called me to throw a red smoke marker (see the 2:08 video on this search list), as did other units. The ridgeline lit up for miles, with red smoke.                                                                                                                                         The L4 came back and Colonel Lahti on the bull horn told us not to drink the water. It was for washing and shaving. We didn’t understand him so, we drank the water and threw up. By the last night topside, most had skin rot, intestinal worms or paratyphoid. Come morning we watched our replacement force stagger up the trail; not a happy bunch. Some of the medics sold canteens of water at five dollars each.                                                                       As we left, slipping and sliding down the trail, we saw the bodies of a platoon that had been ambushed a week before. They were wrapped in ponchos. The litter bearers moved slowly, in a numbness,, a sad sight. I was nearby the radio when the sergeant called for help. It was ended.                                                                                                                                                  On the return to the bottom Charlie Smith found a gusher. It was steamy with cool breezes. Imagine a dozen naked guys jumping around, yelling and slap ass-assing like little kids. Some of us just stood in a daze and soaked: we did our laundry there. We were transformed. Ragged but proud, exhausted, humble. I tried to get some lookouts in place. Not a chance.                                                                                                                                                            We floated to Regimental HQ; had a nice dinner, plenty of cold water and took our places on the perimeter. I guess the mountain gave us the crazies, because, by midnight two of our men went berserk and started yelling and punching. Somewhere nearby, a guy went wild and began shooting at his imagination. They tied him down. He never recovered and we don’t know what set him off. You get to see things.                                                                    The stars of the story must be the armor that cleared the way as we advanced. The bombers blew out the major bunkers. Our mortars swept the ravines The explosions were so close that Ringler ordered the air assault to stop. We were bleeding from ears, nose and mouth. Given another day or so, the bombers would have leveled the mountain into a pool table.                                                                                                                                                                           Today, Malepunyo is a hikers playground. Japanese tourists make up most of the climbing tours. At the bottom, there are world class golf courses. It’s a pretty mountain.          As you know, a combat story gets colored by where you sit. Some actions are out of sequence. Sorry.