The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part II

Chapter 11

D-Day Plus Two… The afternoon engagement

Map drawn by Armand Charest of Biak Island engagement

By mid-afternoon there is a break in the fighting. The enemy pulls back to regroup. Treetops lie everywhere-covering friend and foe alike. The smell of cordite hangs heavy in the air. Navy guns cease firing. Our heavy artillery keeps up a desultory fire. We count heads, drink some water, replenish our ammunition supply, and take some rest.

Our friends will come back: we know this through bitter experience. T.J. is his usual self, cracking jokes, looking to the men”s needs, counseling and advising the living, comforting the injured. He is a true father figure to the new men. Even though there aren’t as many of us now, Sgt. Brown assures us that we can hold. We believe him. A few scouts go forward, report that the Japanese are re-grouping, massing for another attack.

They return with tanks this time. They throw everything at us. I”m very busy for a while. I cannot describe adequately the noise and confusion, the bravery and discipline of the attackers, the resolute defense of E, the glory and terror of war. True, it is a minor skirmish and not too important in the greater picture, but I have had a bellyful of war by that time, enough to last me a lifetime.

The Navy guns come alive, join in the cacophony of sounds filling our world. My iron and steel neighbors are unremitting in their cannon and machine gun fire. They concentrate on the enemy tanks, put them out of action. I am a ringside spectator to the first tank action in the area. Dante could never have pictured this kind of inferno. We take a frightful toll on the enemy. To this day I have no knowledge of how long the battle lasted. When the Japanese finally retire in the gloomy twilight, we get the idea that they will not soon return. We have no idea how wrong we were!

The silence that follows the cease firing order is eerie and mind-boggling.

Our ears still resonate; it takes a while to adjust. We flinch as we survey the immediate area. Bodies are stacked everywhere in debasingly grotesque positions. I feel that I”m in a giant cemetery. We talk in hushed tones as we once again count heads.

The sailors blink some kind of message; we thank and congratulate them in return. The ships do not leave. I”m happy to see that T.J. is still on his feet. Now I feel that he is truly indestructible. It is time to rest, but we make our positions stronger, remove the wounded and the dead; more men move up to the ridge as a precautionary measure.

A quick count shows that the 2nd battalion has absorbed about four hundred casualties. Only E is still intact out of the three line companies. We do not have the desire to check the Japanese dead. We leave that unpleasant task to the Intelligence people. G and F companies are merged with E. A quick foray to the cliffs brings in the G survivors.

We spend a very disquieting night. It rains, of course. During all my time in combat, this situation never changed. Rain always fell after a battle making friend and foe equally uncomfortable. We could not have slept, anyway; we were all so keyed up. There was no need to post guards. No one talked, not even in whispers. The enemy showed no activity. Even they had had enough for one day.

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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