The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part II

Chapter 15

D-Day Plus Five… First Platoon is Ambushed

Map drawn by Armand Charest of Biak Island engagement

By noon that day the Second battalion or, what is left of it, receives new orders.

It is to turn around and retrace its way back up the coastal road, climb some new ridges and take up positions on the First battalion”s left flank. It seems that the enemy troops have retired to caves and prepared themselves for a final stand The Third battalion heads for the lower ridges and concentrates on eliminating the Japanese guns that prevent the Air Corps from using the three fields. We receive rations, ammunition and pep talks. There is nothing said about human reinforcement. In the meanwhile the 34th Regiment of the 24th Division comes ashore at the jetty. It will be used when necessary. That comes soon.

It rains, of course. In my time in the South Pacific I never saw it fail: a move was always accompanied by rain, not ordinary rain but usually either a downpour or a deluge. This time it is a combination of the two. We march along with our rifles pointed downwards to keep them free of water. Our so-called waterproof ponchos, which are actually rubber sheets with a hole for the head, soon prove to be ineffective. To this day I remain amazed that a country that could produce so many efficient weapons could never produce decent shoes or rain gear for its army.

When we come under attack from hidden guns along the beach, a patrol from the first platoon locates them and puts them out of action. The medics do another superb job with the wounded. They can do nothing for the dead.

At noon we take a break. Then comes the news we all dread: it”s time to make contact with the First battalion on the ridge to our right. E Co. is assigned the task of taking the lead; the first platoon, again, is told to provide the scouts. Sergeant Doescher looks to the first squad, his “favorite” as he calls it. Guess whom he picks? You guessed it. I am now the first scout, entrusted with the company”s safety. My job will be to move up a makeshift road and make contact. I am told the password. I will repeat it a million times during the march.

In some instances the scouts had the safest jobs. The Japanese had adopted tactics that were very simple. Since there was limited visibility on each side of jungle trails because of the thick concentration of trees and underbrush, they would let the scouts through and then attack the oncoming patrol. Sometimes it worked; other times it did not. I had no way of knowing if or when the Japanese would attack. So I told myself a short prayer and took position up front. There was a second scout behind me to whom I would relay messages such as stop or come ahead.

The rain continues as I lead off. Twenty paces behind me is Burke, one of my trusted buddies. We run into occasional patches of sunlight that throws false shadows to my eyes. I look constantly to right and left stopping occasionally to listen to strange noises. That is probably the wrong word to say since a jungle is always full of strange noises whether from tree swinging monkeys or parrots or other unidentified animals. Let me say one word in favor of monkeys and parrots. We came to know that as long as they scampered about treetops while chattering, then the safer we were from marauding enemy troops. They served as unofficial sentries.

By mid-afternoon the animals are quiet. The rain ceases. I stop and take inventory. I send Burke back to check with the Company Commander about the possible location of C Company, our target. He returns with the news that C should be about four miles off to the right, another two hours” march. I figure that we should get there just at sundown.

The quiet is getting on my nerves. I motion to Burke that he should move closer to me. We now move steadily ahead. I watch the left; Burke checks out the right. My eyes move about constantly. We try to be on complete alert. It proves worthless. I hear a familiar noise. It is that made by a Japanese soldier cocking his machine gun. I signal back to the company. We all hit the ground as bullets rip through the jungle and pin down Burke and myself.

We cannot see the enemy gunners, but we can feel their presence. Fire now comes in from the other side. E Company is neatly ambushed—again. Burke and I lob a few grenades toward the suspected locations. We only have two apiece. I begin to wonder what has happened to the rest of the company. I soon get an answer.

Two patrols fan out to either side of the trail and come close to the enemy before being detected. A firefight takes place. Burke and I snuggle deeper into the ground as bullets rip through the covering foliage. The sound of exploding grenades fill the air. The fight lasts only a few minutes. Company E suffers some more casualties, but the Japanese disappear into the jungles, leaving dead and wounded behind. American wounded and Japanese prisoners are escorted back to Battalion headquarters. The Army always insisted on picking up prisoners to get important information. But prisoners are few. The Japanese soldiers are

Indoctrinated from an early age in the belief that American soldiers will kill them if they surrender, thus explaining the high ratio of dead Japanese soldiers to captured soldiers. I believe I have done my job of first scout.

We take up the march again. Just before sundown I make contact with C Company. That company was decimated by a previous enemy attack. The survivors leave at first light. Company E takes responsibility of covering three converging trails and prevent the enemy from escaping the battle of annihilation occurring in the valley below where the First and Third Battalions have pushed the remnants of the 10,000 man Japanese garrison into caves.

Websites About Present Day Biak Island:

 A database of photographs, descriptions and locations of WWII wreckage remaining on Biak Island, Irian Jaya, Indonesia.

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