Sunday, we attended church in the morning before striking our tents in preparation for moving to Sansapor. Took our last swim in our pool, loaded trucks with equipment. At four o’clock we were ready. At 7:00 we left the area for Cyclops strip where the C-47s awaited us. We loaded the planes and climbed on for the long wait until takeoff time which was 6:30 a.m. So many mountains around, it isn’t safe for night flying. Listened to the radio in the plane for quite some time. Spent several hours in the cockpit with Lt. Fincham talking about Sydney, our experiences in the States and overseas. He’s really a swell guy! Every man in my crew has never failed one another, and oh, how we’d like to be together again.
We turned in at twelve o’clock in the rear of the plane. At 6:00 am, the acting first sergeant, Churchill, woke us and we had a cup of coffee. Then we took off and rode the usual bumpy C-47 ride to Sansapor.1 We arrived there in the early afternoon. We crossed Middleburg Island, home of the fighters, and watched the Sansapor strip come forward to meet us.2 It lies parallel to the land and the ocean, made of steel matting which has the appearance of oil at any altitude at all.
We took trucks and rode back into the jungle down Bomber Road to our area. It was thick too, full of foreign noises and unknown commotions.
Notes & Commentary
1 On Monday, 18 September 1944, the day Wayne arrived at Mar Airdrome (Sansapor), his brother-in-law, Jimmy Castles, was engaged in combat in Italy while serving with Company F, 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division. For his actions that day, he was awarded the Silver Star. His citation reads in part:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Captain (Infantry) James F. Castles, Jr. (ASN: 0-427988), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with Company F, 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division, in action on 18 September 1944, in Italy. When his company was ordered to resume the offensive after having made a series of bitter attacks on a strongly fortified line defended by a fanatical enemy, Captain Castles went forward to reconnoiter the area to his front. Conceiving a brilliant plan, he sent one platoon up to a high mountain to serve as a covering force and rejoined his other two platoons to lead them in the attack. Advancing with the lead platoon, determined to break the enemy resistance, Captain Castles sparked his weary men to assault the bitterly defended positions which resulted in killing eight and capturing sixteen enemy and the capture of his vital objectives. Although he was unable to communicate by radio with his battalion commander, Captain Castles immediately prepared defenses for an expected counterattack and his well conceived plan enabled all fires to be mutually supporting, inflicting severe casualties upon the enemy during their subsequent unsuccessful counterattack. Captain Castles’ gallant leadership, personal courage, and tactical skill in breaking through the enemy defenses reflect the highest traditions of the American Infantryman. General Orders: Headquarters, 85th Infantry Division, General Orders No. 36 (May 29, 1945)
Military Times Hall of Valor, (http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=52911 : accessed 17 March 2014), entry for James F. Castles, Jr., Winnsboro, South Carolina.
2 Sansapor Airfield (Mar Airdrome), Irian Jaya, Indonesia, was built by the US Army’s 1896th Battalion after the landing at Sansapor. (Also known as Mar Drome, for Mar, another village located nearby.) Construction crews worked 24 hours a day to clear the jungle and swamp and build a crushed coral runway with an asphalt seal, with Marston matting in the center of the runway.
The 5,400 foot long Middleburg Airdrome (Hairless) was operational on 17 August for fighters. The 6,000 foot Mar Airdrome, intended for medium bombers, was operational on 3 September and was soon extended to 7,500 feet. They supported operations on Morotai and interdiction operations were flown from them throughout the Molucca Islands. A small PT boat base was built on Amsterdam Island in early August.
The 6th Infantry Division, heavily augmented by engineering units charged with constructing airfields, landed unopposed at Cape Sansapor on 31 July. The 6th Infantry Division was engaged briefly in combat with the Japanese 35th Division elements.
By the end of August, the 1st Division had killed 385 Japanese and taken 215 prisoners, manly Formosans. The Division suffered 14 dead and 43 wounded and injured. Over 800 were diagnosed with scrub typhus and nine died.
Gordon L. Rottman. World War II Pacific Island Guide, a Geo-Military Study. Westport Press, CT: Greewood Press, 2002. p 247 & 250.
In his journal entries while stationed at Hollandia, Wayne noted that numerous scrub typhus casualties were being evacuated by C-47 from the Sansapor area.
Capt. Castle’s Silver Star is well deserved. Mr. Gray, I’m curious about your affiliation with the military. Any stories about you?
As I look around at today’s events, and think back to what these men accomplished on our behalf, I wonder how we can possibly say that we honor their service. Surely, if we honor their service, we’d be taking much better care of the America they suffered and died to defend.
As an aside, I was re-reading Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel “Catch-22” recently and had to laugh at his propositions that combat pilots attempted to get removed from flight status due to mental insanity. The pilots argued that if they were in fact mentally unstable, they shouldn’t be allowed to fly. The wing psychiatrist thereby established the concept of Catch 22: any pilot looking to for excusal from combat duty actually confirms his sanity, and could not, therefore, be declared insane.
Thank you for stopping by to read Fix Bayonets.
A very brave man as were his comrades.