…but for a purpose, so the convoy was not a thing of beauty. We subsisted on C rations supplemented by choicer canned goods we had brought along. At mealtime canned heat campfires burned here and there on deck. Some turned in early, while others enjoyed the ample deck space and beautiful night sky. Rest was welcome after all the work attached to packing and loading.Next morning each man could sleep as late as he chose, since he had to cook his own breakfast. However, at about ten o’clock we went ashore on a little ribbon of an island with a white coral beach, to rest and kill time while the main convoy formed. It was easy to relax on that island, because there were no shot up trees or shell holes. Under the thick shade we did not feel the intense heat, but soon all of us were in for a swim, where we could wade out for hundreds of yards and enjoy the sighs on the ocean’s white floor. We found a small bunch of rations ashore, so we cooked up a first-class meal in our mess kits. In the afternoon blankets were unrolled, upon which we slept, played cards, or read. Far away from war, but it was not to be for long.Late that afternoon we again went aboard the LCI, and soon were riding at anchor, tied up alongside another LCI. here we spent another restful night in our comfortable quarters.Practically all of the next morning was spent refueling the LCMs. They came alongside the LCIs and a hose was passed over. Afterwards all of us were transferred to our designated LCM; thus we passed out of the hands of the Navy and into those of the Army, because the Ms (LCMs) were ours. As soon as our Ms had pulled away t a waiting place we shucked our clothes and went over the side for a swim in the warm blue water, as did our buddies on the LCTs. When we were tired of diving we floated lazily on life belts. Besides the crew of six, there were eight of us shore Engineers aboard. but most of the space was taken up by a bulldozer with a large square water tank in tow.When we got underway that afternoon we knew we had made our last stop because we could see the whole convoy, ringed around (by) escort vessels.On the M we pounced upon 10-in-1 rations and quickly prepared a choice supper, after which we watched the destroyers flirt with the convoy ships, or played pinochle. Since this was the first mission for this Boat company, the crew was a bit jittery, but being veterans of two previous operations we gave them the low down. Maybe we hid our misgivings, and maybe we didn’t.And now comes the soldier’s rest. There are no sleeping quarters on an M, but we got sleepy just the same. Some broke out their hammocks and swayed through the night while others crawled under the tank or under the crew’s improvised quarters. My buddy and I reserved a space atop the tank, so with a life belt as a pillow we pounded on the hard steel all night with our hips. Naturally, it had to rain, and hard. We pulled a heavy tarp completely over us. Soon we suffocated, and had to remove the tarp, but by that time the rain had stopped. We didn’t object to our quarters because we were looking forward to a slit trench the next night.Before the cloudy night gave way to light we were on our toes, brewing coffee on a concealed fire. Also we stowed away a sizeable breakfast. We didn’t like the low clouds, because they might hamper the Air Corps and Naval eyesight. The crew was impatient, but we told them the show would start soon enough. And it did, as someone yelled “Here we go!” The air was filled with explosions and tracers, as every target was battered. Soon the smoke and low clouds obscured the shore which hindered our view of the air action. By this time we were finishing our coffee and checking our rifles.All during the shelling we were moving in closer, and we found that the LCIs had not been left behind, but were in close, hurling rockets onto several targets. Also,, specially armed LCMs were launching rockets and machine gunning the shore. At “H” Hour the warships ceased firing on the beachhead, but kept on pounding flank targets. Strafing of the flanks continued too, and soon the Infantry had fanned out, and we could see their flamethrowers scorching the few caves on a bluff.The Infantry had been aboard the LSTs, and were carried ashore in our Buffalos and Ducks. By the time our group of LCMs were getting their proper waves all the assault troops had been landed. The whole operation depended on whether the Buffalos and Ducks could negotiate the coral reef, which was about 500 yards from the shore, and they had been able to do it without a serious hitch. The LSTs had lowered their ramps into the water, well out from the jagged reef, and since the tide was out the reef was plainly seen. we watched the Buffalos and Ducks “steam” up to the “Lower Lip” of the ship and climb in without stopping. I was reminded of a frog’s method of catching flies with its tongue. In a few minutes the Buffalo or Duck would back into the water and head for the beach again with more men or supplies.Between the reef and the shore was water, and already tractors and trucks were plowing through it. Our crew had got a radio report an told us the water would be about knee deep where we were to “beach”, but we were to learn otherwise. As our wave of boats swept in abreast, a patrol boat told us where there was a good landing place. We were down low, and tense. A harsh grinding noise and we were aground. The ramp went down, way down, with a splash. We had doubts. Two boys in front of the cat cautiously stepped off the ramp and went in up to their armpits. “Sure, you can make it! come on!” The operators gingerly took the plunge, and the fan began spraying a lot of water. The steep ramp jackknifed the cat and its trailer, and while the draw bar was hung on the ramp’s cleats the rest of us stepped off. Sure enough, I stepped in a hole and when completely under for a second, but soon was able to make my way to where it was only knee deep. where I drained the water from my rifle barrel. Fellows on the other boats were having similar experiences. Here and there a non-swimmer floundered but was soon helped to safety. The guys in the Buffalos and Ducks should have been thankful for a dry landing. I looked back at the thrashing cat and wondered, but when the coxswain caught the right swell and back propped hard the trailer came free and the cat got underway. Looking about us we could see a few trucks and cats stalled on a ledge or in a hole. The sharp coral almost cut through our shoes.By now hundreds were wading ashore and beyond the reef the water was about knee deep. Already we were tired- a jungle pack is heavy. Somewhere along that five hundred yard trek the war really started for us. In two previous operations we had not been fired upon while going ashore, but that day mortar shells began to drop close by. Because of the tractors, trucks, and gunfire we couldn’t hear the shells coming, so we never knew when to duck. The firs notice was a geyser. Was this to be another Tarawa? Thankfully, it wasn’t, because later we were to learn that the Japs thought it impossible for us to land when we did, so there were no fortifications, except at another airstrip, where they expected us. There they had minefields, pillboxes, and connecting trenches. Even so , we were lucky. A dud landed between two fellows who were about five feet apart.Finally we reached dry land, ready to drop, and made our way toward our C.P. (Command Post) On the way I saw the only casualty I was to see, a fellow that had his buttocks lacerated by shrapnel. He was getting first aid. One of the ducks were hit later and caught fire. As we reached our C.P. the last shell to come over before the gun was silenced whistled overhead and we all hit the dirt. No one was hit.The airstrip, was about a hundred yards from the dune line, and littered with wrecked Jap planes, was already ours. On the strip there was a lot of narrow gauge tracking, but no rolling stock. Our cats had cut roads through to the strip, which had been deuced by rockets. On this ridge we could see the Infantry rear guard poking about. Gunfire was heard on the flanks and behind the ridge. I have not said much about the Air Corps, but they were there, A-20s, P-38s, and P40-s, and we could see their guns blazing as they made run after run. A few miles away our warships were still shelling and by this time before and quad fifties were set up and scanning the skies for Jap planes which never showed up. About noon our mortar squads were busy, and the 105s were talking. We could see the big shells at the start of their flight. During the day the Infantry had an easy time of it and took a few prisoners for whom the barbed wire was waiting. The dumps cleared, our tractors towed downed out truck in front of the LSTs and LCTs. The tide was rising but our truck mounted cranes were out on the reef plucking vehicles out of the deep . By night an amazing amount of equipment was ashore. This was a day’s work we were justly proud of , because we had made a smooth job out of a task the Japs thought impossible.Our dump teams worked practically all of the first night, unloading and arranging supplies in the dumps. Artillery and mortar squads blazed away continuously. Since the mortars were behind us we could hear the shells swish over head. Those that slept did so in slit trenches, and occasional showers did not brighten the memory of that night. There was no infiltration nor any air raids.Early on the second morning those of us who weren’t in the know got a surprise. We were told to clear the strip of all vehicles, for the paratroopers were coming! Shortly a B-17 looked over the field. Then, after a few minutes came the transports. Too low, it seemed to us, they started jumping, and for about a half hour the air was filled with huge white and colored silken blossoms. Two or three dangled in trees until they could be helped to safety. After the men came the supplies, and in an amazingly short time the paratroopers were on the front line with the rest of the Infantry.During the second day the dumps were enlarged, because more supplies were pouring in, but painfully, because of having to haul them over the reefs. Also the remaining stalled vehicles were retrieved. Our strafing planes were back, and we could hear more rocket barrages being laid down.We were told not to be alarmed at A.A. fire the second night, because 90 mm guns were going to fire at ground targets. All night they added their boom to the Field Artillery, but during the night their muzzles were pointed skyward again because Jap planes dropped a few small bombs and lit up a fuel dump before heavy AA fire drove them away.On D+2 more paratroopers dropped in on us, and it was just as exciting as on the first day. A part of our shore companies carried by our boats went to establish a second beachhead at another airstrip a few miles away. The landing was according to plan and was unopposed, but it was up to an Amphib to beat the Infantry to the only Jap found. This Nip was hiding in the corner of a hut, and the Engineer ended his rice and fish fed career with a machete.The dumps had been sufficiently enlarged to take care of all supplies, so the job of building an earth jetty fell to us. A coral bank was located nearby and an access road was blasted through a cliff to the water’s edge. Then the dump trucks started moving. Around the clock the power shovels ate into the hillside, and the fill crept glacier-like out toward deep water. At the edge of the reef the top of the “T” was filled in. We had done it! It was above high tide, and in a few days supplies and equipment poured onto the new jetty, instead of over the treacherous and time consuming reef.A completely new airstrip was wanted in a hurry, and al the Engineering units got the signal. A deadline was set that made us wonder if we were supermen. We looked at the thick jungle and shook our heads, then tore into it. Since we had the biggest cats we had nearly all the pioneering to do. Some trees were too big even for a D-8, and had to be blasted out by the roots. Twenty four hours a day the dozers , carryalls, patrols , shovels, dump trucks and rollers steadily lengthened the strip, paving it with white coral. Mobile flood light crews were kept on the go at night, and service and maintenance crews sweated to keep all the equipment on the line. This job convinced us all that after the war a battered, beribboned bulldozer should lead the Pacific section of the victory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.As the target date drew near, and we were aided by good weather, we began to have hopes. Yes, on “Target” day all equipment was moved off the strip. A bomber circled , then came in for a perfect landing. All of us crowded around the plane, and out stepped the General, our Task Force Commander!! He and his staff inspected the strip and made suggestions. After we all crowded under the wing for pictures, the plane prepared for take off. She taxied to the end of the strip and wheeled about. As the plane circled and came low over the field, dipping her wings in salute, we glowed over the General’s words, spoken as he had followed the crew and his staff onto the plane, “Good bye and congratulations!
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