The taking of Mt. Malepunyo

10 Apr

Applause for David Lamphere’s story of
THE TAKING OF Mt. 3610 (Mount Malapenyo)
The attack was lost in the archives … though
it was one of the most critical assaults of the War

It was the radio hub for all Japanese War Dept. operations.

See “Attack on Hill 2380:” on YouTube.
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. In one scene, three or four guys are running across the top of Malapenyo. I believe they 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 back from up there, we saw the 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 the smaller caves. They knew the game was finished but surrender was not an option. Our Artillery 75s which had been lifted up the cliffs. The artillery men closed them down 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. P38s dropped five hundred 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 off 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 specialist had sealed the cave, but a few enemy ran through the fire and leaped down the cliff side. Elsewhere, thousands tried to reach the coast where they might get a boat ride to Formosa. Anyway, 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 for two whole days and nights. A flying satchel charge took out the shooting gallery and about a dozen of our guys. No fatalities but they were a sad bunch. At daylight they 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. The ridge line lit up for miles, with red smoke. It was done.

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 it 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 into 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-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 gpool table. Today, Malapenyo 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.

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One Response to “The taking of Mt. Malepunyo”

  1. Jmar Gambol April 1, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Charlie, I’m stealing that image of a soldier with a red smoke grenade setting the rest of the ridges off.

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