The following are remembrances of New Guinea written by Walt Belew of Company “D” (534th EB and SR). Walter and I, along with selected men of the Shore Battalion, were trained as “Scouts and Raiders” (our equivalent of the Green Berets of a later war) on the beaches and the “jungle” at Camp Gordon Johnston in 1943-44. Walt was used in that capacity in New Guinea. I remained with the weapons section (on a water-cooled 30 caliber machine gun).
I tried to get other buddies to write their accounts of New Guinea and their places where we found ourselves….Most of the guys are great talkers (and remember much, I believe). Next time, I’ll take a tape recorder
HIGHLIGHTS OF NEW GUINEA AS I REMEMBER THEM
After a long and arduous boat trip on the SS Fairland, that was a real “TUB”, we finally landed at Milne Bay, New Guinea.
Milne Bay was a deep, natural inlet that could harbor a vast number of ships at one time. Like the rest of New Guinea, it was horrible in regards to living conditions. It was hot, stinky, very wet and muddy, actually inundated with swamp water as was most of the island I saw. The island as a whole was infested with many types of insects, snakes and scorpions. Among the insects was the Anopheles mosquitoes that carried the dreaded malaria fever that I, unfortunately, fell victim to, and still have some lingering effects.
We didn’t remain very long at Milne Bay. The Army began moving us up the coast to Finchaven, Lea Peninsula, Buna and, finally, to Aitape; the last place I remember of New Guinea. As I recall it was the “jumping off” place for the Morotai invasion, but that is another story.
Being that I was in New Guinea about fifty-five years ago, and my mind is fading quite a bit lately, I’m not sure of all or some of the places we were. I was with a special group within our outfit called the “Scouts and Raiders” and away from Company D from time to time. This group was under the command of Captain Saul Kahn (Conn.). I remember going with the raiders up the Kokoda Trail, that led over the Owen Stanley Mountains from Buna toward Port Moresby, to seek out stray Japs. This trip plus other activities, just looking for trouble.
I remember one incident, but I can’t recall the place, that some of us met a Merchant Seaman who would sell us some “State-side Whiskey” for an agreed upon sum of money. We met him at the designated place after dark to consummate this illegal deal. He had two quarts of Schenley’s whiskey and we had the agreed amount of cash. His price, however, had sky-rocketed to sixty dollars per bottle. A big argument ensued causing someone to deliver him a strong left hook that decked him. We then left with our money and two quarts of good booze. I’ll never tell who threw the punch but I do have pictures of several Company D men posing with the two bottles. Honestly, the next day hangover in that heat and humidity still rings in my head.
When we landed at Aitape we were not there but for a short time in preparation for Morotai. This was a staging area where we were briefed for the operation. The “Aussies” were in a mop up of stray Japs and we were preparing to join up with the main invasion forces. We were sheltered in hastily erected tents awaiting the Navy to bring the LST to the beach so we could load our arms, equipment and ourselves. It was probably the first or second night we were at Aitape that we were awaked by a loud scream by Harold Calkins who panicked and knocked down the tent in which he, and others, were sleeping. Harold claimed a large snake was crawling on him, and knowing New Guinea, no one doubted him.
Another incident that occurred was about some hot fresh baked Hams that disappeared from an Australian portable kitchen that was located in close proximity to the Company D area. Again, I’m not going to name the offender, but it was said that the Aussies had seen a very tall “Yank” in their area. I can’t deny, however, that the Ham tasted great!
The thing I remember most vividly about Aitape, however, was trying to load the Navy LST with arms, equipment, etc. in time to join the task force. When the Navy finally brought the ship to the beach in Aitape they were either late or had miscalculated the prevailing conditions. I say this because when they did arrive and dropped the LST’s ramp at the beach; a strong tide accompanied by an equally strong wind moved against the shore moving sea water and waves which engulfed the ship rendering its ramp useless. We were compelled to try and build a sand bag extension from the beach to the ramp of the LST, strong enough to support the heavy equipment to be loaded. Units were on the beach filling sand bags as fast as they could and the rest of us labored against the sea, wind and tide to build that needed extension. It seemed we would never beat the sea as most of the sand bags would disappear in the tide. We did suffer a lot of frustration and physical exhaustion, but we got the job done. I learned one lesson from that experience and that is: No man is a match against nature and the tide.
To expound more on New Guinea, I remember it to be a vast mountain rising out of the ocean with very little land area from the beach shore to those mountains, and very little of this portion is livable, as most of it consists of impenetrable jungle and swamps….Truly a place I never want to see again!
Walt Belew, D Company 534th EB and SR