Share Your Story

 

As part of constructing the South Dakota World War II Memorial, we want to preserve the stories of South Dakotans during that period. Please share with us a story of your experience during that time.

 

Lansford Trapp

Lansford Trapp entered active duty in 1940, was commissioned in the United States Army Air Corps as a navigator late in 1941, and earned his pilot’s wings in 1945.  As a navigator he served on a five man crew that ferried B-17 four engine bombers from a base near San Francisco to Brisbane, Australia, via Hawaii, and other small islands in the South Pacific.  With a smile, he recounted getting five bombers across the Pacific Ocean with what today would be considered primitive instruments.  “We didn’t have any modern equipment to speak of,” Trapp said. “We didn’t even have hand-held calculators at that time. All the calculations had to be done by hand with a drift meter and a sextant.”  In the summer of 1942, he was reassigned to one of two special crews that flew general officers in the South Pacific theater of operations.  He got back to the United States in 1943 and married Frances. He then helped train B-29 bomber crews before deciding to try pilot training. He got his pilot wings in 1945, not long before World War II ended.

Submitted 6/29/01

Gordon Brown

Gordon was killed in action in the Battle of Tarawa.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

James C. Milstead

James was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He served as a pilot.

Submitted 6/25/01

Clarence (Bud) Nicholas

Clarence was killed in action.  His body was never found.

Submitted 6/15/01

 

William (Bill) Hanson

Bill was a Prisoner of War during World War II.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

George R. Murray

George was killed in action in France on June 22, 1944.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

LaVern R. Hughes

LaVern served in the European Theatre.  He participated in D-Day, Battle of the Bulge and many other battles.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

T.J. Brown

T.J. served from August 28, 1942 to December 25, 1945.  He was first on the Battleship “Nevada.” He later served on the heavy cruiser “Camberra” when it was commissioned.  He served in the South Pacific in many battles. 

Submitted 6/25/01

 

Arthur L. Flick           

Arthur served in the WWII Army Corps—Armored Division.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

Ole F. Olson

Ole was drafted from Dewey County in December, 1943.  He was discharged on 5/12/1946.  He served in the army in the Pacific Theatre.

Submitted 6/25/01

 

Cecil Lundberg

Cecil served as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy

Submitted 6/25/01

 

Howard E. Schultz

Howard served in the Navy during World War II.

Submitted 6/26/01

 

Elroy M. Tidemann

Elroy served in the army from April, 1941 to October, 1995.

Submitted 6/26/01

 

Kenneth Paul Gourley

Kenneth was a Prisoner of War in Germany.

Submitted 6/26/01

 

Sammy Thomas Stovall

Sammy served on the USS Ticonderoga.

Submitted 6/26/01

 

Cecil R. Harris

Cecil was killed in action in 1945.

Submitted 6/26/01

 

Leonard Louis Ellis

Leonard served in the U.S. Navy from October 11, 1942 to January 4, 1946.  He was a boatswain Mate First Class.   He served on the USS Crescent City.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Ralph Island

Ralph enlisted in January, 1943 and was honorably discharged as a Sargent in December, 1945.  He served in the Pacific Theatre in Guam and Siapan under General Le Mae with he U.S. Air Force.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Richard A. Anderson

Richard served from 1943 until June, 1946. He received his basic training in Middle, Georgia.  He received paratrooper training in Ft. Benning, Ga and was assigned to the 541 RCT and shipped to the Pacific Theatre in 1945.  He was then assigned to the 11th AB Division in 1945.  During the Occupation of Japan, he was assigned to 187th RCT Anti Tank Company.  He attained the rant of 1st Sergeant.  He served with the US forces in Japan for 10 years as a Civil Servant. 

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Joseph A. Mastel

Joseph entered the service on July 15, 1941.  He was wounded in action on January 9, 1945 and died on January 13, 1945.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

George J. Mastel

George served in World War II from February 18, 1943 to February, 1946.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Walter P. Mastel

Walter served in World War II from June 23, 1945 to November 9, 1946.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Reinhold Kolb

Reinhold served in the Army in Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He attained the rank as Corporal.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Herbert Kolb

Herbert was an Army Air Corps ground crew-man.  He completed his basic training at Sheppard Field in Texas.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Ted Kolb

Ted served overseas in Czechoslovakia.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Arthur Kolb

Arthur was a veteran of the Italian and European campaigns.  He attained the rank of corporal.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Albert Kolb

Albert served as a Navy Seaman in the Pacific and received battle stars for six major actions.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Alvin Kolb

Alvin served in the Coast Guard aboard ship in the Pacific.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Katherine Kolb          

Katherine Kolb had seven  of her eight sons serving in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard.  They are Reinhold Kolb, Herbert Kolb, Ted Kolb, Arthur Kolb, Albert Kolb  and Alvin Kolb.  Arthur and Albert are twins.  The oldest son, Lee, operated the family farm west of Bison and the youngest son, Walter, who was in high school during World War II.  Walter served in the Army from 1951 to 1952 during the Korean Conflict Mrs. Kolb had 5 daughters.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Mahlon O. Alden

Mahlon served from March 5, 1941 to May 23, 1945.  He participated in the New Guinea, Southern Philippine and Bismarck Archipelago Campaigns.   He received three battle stars, the Philippine Liberation ribbon and one bronze star.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Roland S. Rundell

Roland served in the US Army during World War II.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Arie Miller

Arie served in the U.S. Navy from December 22, 1944 to June 18, 1946.

Submitted 6/27/01

 

Howard Burton Munger

Howard served in the Army Air Force.

Submitted 6/28/01

 

Floyd (Rusty) Muhs

Rusty served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946.

Submitted 6/28/01

 

William E. Benson

William served in the US Army in Germany as a mortar gunner.  In the letters to home, he always asked his mother to send him socks.  His feet were always wet. 

Submitted 6/28/01

 

Johnnie A. Hanig

Johnnie served as a sergeant in the Air Force from 1941 to November 5, 1945.  He was stationed in England.

Submitted 6/28/01

 

Silas J. Jamtgaard

Silas was in a Sergeant in the Army serving in the African and European Theatres.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

Donald L. Pearson

Donald was a Marine who was killed in action at Iwo Jima.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

Norman Victor Heinz

Norman served from January 6, 1942 to January 4, 1946. 

Submitted 6/29/01

 

Virgil Nelson

Virgil served from June 1941 to November 1945.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

Paul Fildes

Paul was a test pilot in World War II.  He was killed in a plane crash in June, 1944.  He attained the rank of Lieutenant.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

Gordon L. Bainbridge

Gordon serve in the Navy from March 19, 1945 to July 25, 1946.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

James A. Schneider

A fraternity ring which James A. Schneider, former bombardier, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Schneider of Mobridge, thought was gone forever, will soon be back on his finger.    The return of the ring brings to light an untold story of how the Mobridge veteran eluded the Nazi Gestapo back in early 1944 and made a terrifying two months’ trek from France, where his plane was shot down December 31, 1943, back to his base in England.    To start with the story’s end, Schneider’s ring is to be delivered to him sometime this month by Harold Banbet Cockburn, 18, of Courin, France, a worker during the war in the French underground, who returned early this month to his birthplace, Des Moines, Ia., after 16 years residence in France.  It was young Cockburn and his mother, Mrs. Harold W. Cockburn, who established first contact with Schneider after he had parachuted from his crippled plane. It was they who gave him a safe start on the perilous road back to England-furnishing food, shelter, a hiding place for several days, and warm French clothes.    Cockburn did not know, upon his recent return to the United States, whether the Mobridge man had been successful in his escape. But he knows now.   A story on young Cockburn, which appeared in a January issue of the De Moines Tribune, made this possible. The story was clipped by Des Moines residents, who noticed Schneider’s name mentioned, and sent it to his relatives here-the Henry Neidringhaus family. Nedringhaus hastily contacted the veteran’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Schneider.  Mrs. Schneider immediately wrote Cockburn in Des Moines giving him her son’s address in Madison, Wisc., and urging him to go to Madison or come here for a visit.    Cockburn had stated in the Des Moines write up that he had Schneider’s fraternity ring and hoped to return it in person.    It was during the Christmas vacation, 1943, that Harold made his bow as an underground interpreter. “I did it just for fun during vacations from school, before our town’s liberation, August 5, 1944,” he said.    The first person he questioned as an underground worker was the Mobridge bombardier, Lt. Schneider Cockburn said Schneider hid in a thistle clump for 37 hours after parachuting from his damaged plane, before hunger and thirst and a need for sleep (not to mention the cold, December weather) persuaded him to answer the whistle of an underground worker.     Cockburn explained that everytime an underground worker went searching for allied airmen he always whistled “Over There” and “Tipperary” to attract the fliers’ attention.    “Like most Americans, Jim was almost too cheerful when he heard us speak English,” he said.   While Schneider was waiting to be returned to England, they received a scare when a party of Germans approached to search the house.

Cockburn said “Jim and I ran out the back door and jumped over the wall to hide in the field, but it turned out that the Germans were searching for Jews.”    A few days later Cockburn and his mother assisted Schneider in making contacts which enabled him to join 26 other allied airmen who were secretly working their way back to England. The party eventually made arrangements for a French fishing vessel they discovered they had been double-crossed. The French fisherman in charge of the boat had sold them out to the Germans. They had been aboard only a few minutes when the vessel was attacked by German planes.   Schneider decided as the first bullets pierced the ship’s deck, that he had just as soon die running as standing still. He made a hasty exit from the large craft, leaping into the bay. Hiding amid wreckage in the water Schneider was able to escape his would-be assassins. He slowly worked his way up the beach and in the darkness spotted a haystack a few hundred yards off the coast. He crawled over to this and dug his way deep into its interior. It was here that Jim spent one of the most nerve-wrecking nights of his life. As he was edging his way up to the haystack, he was discovered by a small dog from a nearby farm house. Dismayed by Schneider’s disappearance into the stack, the young canine proceeded to park himself nearby and howl the whole night long. Schneider almost sweated blood as he lay gasping for breath in the stuffy, dusty stack. He had heard about Germans burning haystacks while searching for allied airmen and he could vision them lighting a match to the one he was in. Schneider yearned to get his hands on the excited, yapping canine but dared not move from his hiding spot. Fortunately the dog gave up his vigil at dawn and Jim was able to rest easier.  He knew, however, that the search for him would be thorough and continuous, so he remained in the haystack for five days, not even risking a night hunt for food and water. Hunger and thirst eventually made him more nonchalant and he decided on the fifth day that rather than starve to death he would risk going to a small farm house, the light from which he could see in the distance at night. It happened that an elderly French couple lived in the house. They gave Schneider food and water and agreed to let him hide in the house until he was fit to travel. Here again the Mobridge bombardier had a narrow, hair-rising escape from capture. Just as he was preparing to eat supper one night the Gestapo knocked at the door. Jim made a hasty climb to the attic, hiding behind a trap door. Not choosing to overlook any bets the Gestapo searched the attic, passing within inches of Schneider, who snuggled down behind the door, hardly daring to breath. Determined he would not give up without a fight, Jim had pulled off his heavy flying boots and was holding one in each hand, all set to conk a Nazi on the head in case he was discovered.  But after a quick look around the Germans went back down stairs.  Long after the house had grown quiet, and after crowing cocks had announced the approach of dawn, Jim slipped out of his hiding place and went to see how the French couple had made out.  He found them gone.  The Gestapo, evidently tipped off that they had been shielding an airman, had ushed them off to a concentration camp, or something worse.  Fearing that the Gestapo, through their notorious torture tactics, might force the old couple to divulge their secret about him, Schneider decided to vacate the French house immediately.  The next several days he spent hiding in chicken houses, barns, weed patches, groves, grabbing only occasional snatches of sleep.  At night he would walk.  By this time Schneider had grown a long beard.  With has clothes soiled and wrinkled, and having mastered a few French phrases and words, Jim was able to pose as a French wanderlust who had lost his home and family.  The underground had furnished him with an excellent set of French identification papers.  These provided to be very valuable before he left France.  One day after had had again teamed up with two other airmen-also posing as French men-Jim was stopped by the Gestapo.  Playing the role of a nitwit suffering from the effects of war, Jim was able to get by without answering a lot of questions and was permitted with his two pals to go his way.  The men hiked south down the French coast, crossed the Pyrenees mountains, where they encountered some extremely cold weather, and then hiked all the way across Spain, eventually making their way to the coast and back to England.  Schneider now knows that he was the only member of his crew to survive the forced landing in France.  He was the only one to parachute from the plane.  He saw the plane crash and burn in the distance, but fearing capture, never went near it.   After his return to this home here in April, 1944, approximately six weeks after had had made his escape from the Gestapo, Schneider did not choose to give the details of his experience, fearing for the safety of the Frenchmen who had rendered him such valuable aid.  He knew that published tales had a way of getting back.  Not until Cockburn’s tale had been recorded in Des Moines was his story released, and then only in part.  To get back to Cockburn’s story, he and his mother were the only two Americans living in their sections.  His mother assumed the duties of interpreter in French underground in 1941 and her particular “outfit” safely returned  297 Americans and about 100 Britishers  to England.

  Mother’s job was to question the fliers as they came in, checking their identification and verifying it through radio contact with Britian,” Cockburn said.  “This was necessary because Germans often tried to crack the underground by posing as American fliers.  If we discovered the ruse-well, we had to dispose of them.”    The slim youngster spread his hands out flat as he had said it, and smiled a little.    The airmen were returned either by British air service, submarine or fishing boats.  The latter handled the most traffic.  “When the fishermen took fliers to England, they had to buy fish there to show the Nazis upon their return,” Harold laughed.  “That proved their innocence.”  French passport issued as soon as Schneider was able to contact French underground and all personal items were given underground and he was issued all French personal items and clothing to pursue the image of nitwit French bicycle repair man.  Three months time with underground before walking to Spain.  Jim carried a French passport, rode a bicycle and posed as a French nitwit bicycle mechanic as he and two British airman began their bitter cold six week trek over the Pyrenees Mountains through Spain.  After catching a ride to England on a fishing vessel, Jim was hospitalized die to the stress and trauma of the harrowing experience.  In 1945 after returning home to a United States military hospital, he was awarded an Honorable Discharge for the 8th Airforce.  In January of 1945 Jim was sent to his hometown of Mobridge, South Dakota.  It was there that he met the cadet nurse and soon to be wife, Lucille French.  That summer he was employed as a brakeman on the Milwaukee Road Railroad.  The fall of 1945 took hime and his wife to Madison, Wisconsin where Jim studied under the Frank Lloyd Wright In Home Building Program at the University of Wisconsin.

Submitted 6/29/01

 

South Dakota Unit 147th FA WWII

Bound for the Philippines, the ships of the Pensacola convoy received word that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.  In the late 1930s, with a war between the United States and Japan looming on the horizon, General Douglas MacArthur was confident that the Philippine Islands were defensible. He stated:  “Any place can be defended, any place taken provided superior forces can be assembled. To say that the Philippines are indefensible, is merely to say that they are inadequately defended…  We are going to make it so expensive for any nation to attack these islands that no nation will try it!”  A few months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt formulated a plan to send a military convoy to the Philippines in order to reinforce Mac Arthur’s undermanned garrisons on the islands.  On November 14, 1941, Operation Plum was given the go ahead to sail for Manila. The flotilla was comprised of seven transports and cargo vessels: Willard A. Holbrook, Republic, Meigs, Bloemfontein, Admiral Halstead, Farmer and Chaumont. Two naval vessels were assigned to escort the ships, the heavy cruiser Pensacola and the submarine chaser Niagara.  A week later, approximately 4,600 National Guard troops arrived at San Francisco to embark for the Philippines. The 1st Battalion, 148th Idaho Field Artillery, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 147th South Dakota Field Artillery marched aboard Holbrook. Bloemfontein carried the 2nd Battalion of the 131st Texas Artillery.  In addition to troops, the ships of the relief force were packed to the gunwales with 20 75mm guns, 52 Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive bombers, 18 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters, 340 vehicles, a half-million rounds of .50-caliber ammunition, 9,600 rounds of 37mm shells, 5,000 bombs and 9,000 drums of aviation gasoline. The expedition quickly became known as the Pensacola convoy.  Corporal Willard Heath, of the 148th Idaho Artillery, stated, “One aboard the ‘rustbucket’[Holbrook] any preconceived ideas of a pleasure cruise soon vanished.” Holbrook originally had been a passenger vessel of the American President Lines. But the ship had outlived her usefulness in that capacity and, after conversion to a freighter, steamed the ocean routes between the United States and the Orient. The pungent odor of copra and jute permeated her holds, and she was given the ignominious nickname “Stinkin’ Old Holbrook.”

Cliff Causton, of the 148th Idaho Artillery, remarked:  “I was one of the first men to draw KP on the vessel. The first day out we had mutton stew. The nauseating smell of several cauldrons of meat bubbling away in the galley made me thankful that we had stairs leading up to the main deck. If I had been forced to climb a ladder, I never would have made it topside to the rail.”  On November 27, Holbrook arrived at Pearl Harbor the same day that Houston, flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, received orders to be “fully fueled, provisioned, and ready to sail at a moment’s notice.” Three days later, the ships of the Pensacola convoy formed up and began their journey across the Pacific. First Sergeant Henry J. Bartol recalled: “I was standing on the upper deck of the Holbrook as we steamed out of Pearl Harbor. Hearing propellers overhead, I looked up and noticed the sky covered with planes. I remarked to several officers standing nearby that the aircraft didn’t look like ours.  I was then told, with confident authority, that if they were not our planes, Army Intelligence would have notified us.”  On December 5, the Pensacola convoy crossed the Equator. And the following day, a foreboding event occurred. A scout plane, catapulted from the cruiser, failed to return. Early the next morning, word was piped over the convoy’s public address systems that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  Corporal Heath described the instant flurry of activity that followed:  “Trouble must have been anticipated. Brushes and paint cans suddenly appeared from nowhere and were immediately slapped into our hands.  The red, white and blue colors of the Holbrook were quickly changed to battleship gray as hundreds of men scrambled over the ship repainting her from stem to stern and waterline to topmast. Any slowpokes who didn’t move fast enough were also painted battleship gray.”  Lookouts were posted and cautioned to keep their eyes peeled for Japanese planes, submarines and surface ships. Life rafts were lashed near the railings. All personnel were instructed to wear life jackets at all times and carry full canteens of water.  When news was flashed over the radio that the United States had declared war on Japan, unconfirmed rumors flooded the airways including a report that Holbrook had been sunk or lost at sea. But the freighter was still very much afloat and making preparations to battle the enemy. Machine guns and ammunition were hauled up from the hold, and the .50-caliber weapons were mounted on the ships’s bow, stern and bridge.  Meanwhile, back in the States, a controversy developed as to what to do with the convoy. Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, director of the Navy’s War Plans Division, wanted the flotilla returned to hawaii to reinforce the Army’s decimated garrison. General Leonard T. Gerow, head of the Army’s War Plans Division, stated that if the troopships were not recalled to Pearl Harbor, then they should be sent back to the United States.   However, General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, felt obligated to send help to Mac Arthur. President Roosevelt, at a meeting held at the White House on the morning of December 10, concurred. Later that afternoon, a decision was reached to send the flotilla to Brisbane, Australia.  Heath recalled the tense voyage:  “The convoy continually zigzagged, with the slowest ship determining its speed. We began to run far behind schedule. Meals were cut to twice a day. Bread molded, meat spoiled and drinking water tasted salty. The weather became very warm and humid. We had no idea where we were headed. Rumors flooded the Holbrook, but then slowed to a trickle with the gradual realization that our destiny was completely out of our hands.”  General Mac Arthur was elated when he received the news that 

reinforcements were on the way. He immediately conferred with Admiral Thomas C. hart, commander Asiatic Fleet, on the possibility of the Navy providing additional escort vessels for the dangerous trip from Brisbane to Manila. Hart, however, was pessimistic. He remarked that the Allies were fully engaged at Singapore and along the Malay Barrier, and that he could not take responsibility for protecting the Pensacola convoy with the few ships he had at his disposal. Hart also believed that the Japanese would have the Philippines blockaded before the reinforcements could arrive.  Mac Arthur was boiling mad. He stated emphatically that the flotilla would be able to make the trip safely if adequate sea and air protection were provided.  On December 22, 1941, Japanese troops landed at Lingayen Gulf in the northwest of the Philippine island of Luzon. That same day the Pensacola convoy steamed into Brisbane Harbor.

The ocean weary soldiers disembarked from their ships and paraded in perfect order through the city. Heath remembered:  “Crowds of people lined the streets and cheered. We were the first American contingent to land in their country. The Australians knew that the Japanese were moving south in their direction while, at the same time, most of the Aussie army was fighting in North Africa. The home front felt very vulnerable and they were.  “We marched to the Ascot Race Track, which had been turned into a military camp, and were quartered in pyramid shaped tents. The next morning we lined up for what I thought would be a long awaited real breakfast. The soldiers passed down the chow line in single file. As each man held out his mess kit to the amiable, jolly cook plop! A cold, greasy mutton chop was slopped into his plate. To the Australians, this was their idea of treat. Fortunately there was plenty of fresh bread available. I had hoped for a cup of good coffee. No such luck only weak tea with ‘generous’ amounts of milk and sugar stirred in.”  While the American troops were enjoying the sights of Brisbane, their fate was being decided thousands of miles away. Mac Arthur continued his efforts to convince Washington that the Philippines could be successfully defended and it was the U.S. Navy’s responsibility to keep the supply lines open.  Mac Arthur insisted that the artillery brigade, languishing in Brisbane, be sent to Manila as soon as possible. However, Admiral Harold Stark, chief of Naval Operations, had already determined that the Allies first line of defense would be the Malay Peninsula and the chain of islands north of Australia.  Although the Joint War Board agreed that the Philippines could not be defended, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson urged that the United States had an obligation to support the Filipinos or else lose face in Asia. Therefore, Hart was ordered to cooperate with the Army in transporting urgently needed supplies and equipment to the Philippines by air.  General George H. Brett was sent to Australia to establish an air base. The planes packed in crates aboard the convoy ships were brought ashore and assembled. As the aircraft were being reassembled, however, it became clear that various critical parts were missing including trigger motors, gunsights and self sealing gas tanks. The circumstances surrounding the missing parts whether they were left behind unintentionally or the cargo had been deliberately sabotaged have never been adequately explained.

On the afternoon of December 28, the Idaho and South Dakota artillery battalions marched aboard Holbrook and Chaumont. With Pensacola as their escort, the vessels were ordered to attempt to reach Manila. The following day, Bloemfontein, carrying the Texas battalion, headed for Surabaya, Java.  Unfortunately, valuable time had been wasted. While the Allies engaged in rhetoric, the Japanese had quickly established bases in Sumatra, Java and Borneo. It soon became apparent that the Pensacola group’s prospect of dodging enemy naval units and aircraft were slim, if not impossible. They were directed to change course and steam to Darwin, Australia. The convoy raced northwest, through the Torres Strait and across the Arafura Sea, and arrived safely at Darwin on January 6, 1942.  Because of 28 foot tides, however, the vessels were required to drift into the Darwin anchorage with the flood tide, When the tide was out, the ships rested with their keels on the bottom of the harbor.

Joe Tomecek, a gunner with the 148th Idaho Field Artillery, stated:  “When we pulled into Darwin, I was able to look down on the wharf from the deck of the Holbrook. But by the time we disembarked, the tide had gone out, and I had to walk up the gangplank to the dock.”  Meanwhile, the Japanese army continued its advance down the Malay Barrier and, by the middle of February, had reached Timor, at the eastern end of the Netherlands East Indies. The capture of that island would put enemy land and air forces within 400 miles of Darwin.  A frantic decision was made by the Allied high command to reinforce Dutch and Australian troops on Timor in hopes of stopping the Japanese advance. The operation was given the code name Sparrow Force.  Four small converted freighters were assigned to carry the expedition. The 148th Idaho Field Artillery got the call, along with a battalion of Australian infantry and an anti tank detachment.  On February 14, the American contingent boarded Tulagi and Port Mar. The two cargo vessels had previously been hauling pineapples, sugar cane and cattle. With the oppressive heat of the Down Under summer, the stench from belowdecks was over powering. The Australian soldiers were packed into the holds of Miegs and Mauna Loa. In the early evening, the convoy sneaked out of Darwin, escorted by the American heavy cruiser Houston and the destroyer Peary. Two Australian corvettes protected the flanks of the flotilla. No air cover was provided. The cruiser Pensacola was ordered back to Pearl Harbor.  The following morning, a Japanese Kawanishi H6K flying boat sighted the convoy and began to trail the vessels. Captain Albert Rooks, commanding officere of Houston, radioed Darwin for fighter protection, but there was only one P 40 at the airfield. Lieutenant Robert J. Buel jumped into the plane and took off in the direction of the convoy. On sighting the flying boat, Buel dove out of the sun at the Kawanishi. The enemy pilot quickly dropped his bombs narrowly missing Port Mar and then took evasive tactics. Topside in the flotilla, every eye was on the P 40 as the Australia based plane dashed in hot pursuit of the flying boat. A minute later there was a bright flash on the horizon as both planes disappeared from view. Lieutenant Buel never returned to base. Neither did the Kawanishi.  The Timor bound convoy immediately became a top priority for the Japanese air force. Early the next day, 36 enemy land based bombers and 10 floatplanes roared across the sky at 20,000 feet.  Four flights raced in from different directions all in perfect V formations. Five of the aircraft circled like vultures above the ships, waiting to pick off any vessel that might stray too far from the defensive perimeter. It became rapidly apparent that the Japanese intended to sink Houston first and then concentrate their attention on the vulnerable troopships.  Bombs began splashing on all sides of the cruiser as she weaved in and out of the convoy, repelling each air attack. Firing more than 900 rounds in less than 45 minutes, Houston’s decks, but she bounced back like a cork while her red hot guns continued to blister the air with shrapnel.  On the bridge of one ship, the captain lay flat on his back and followed the incoming planes through high powered binoculars. He knew the altitude of the bombers and the time required for the missiles to fall. As soon as an enemy aircraft dropped its stick of bombs, the captain would shout his orders to the helmsman, and the vessel would swing hard right or left, the bombs splashing harmlessly nearby.  Jack Allured, an Idaho artilleryman, was topside on Port Mar when several bombs exploded close to the freighter: “Our turn came when a formation of planes flew directly overhead. The sound of falling bombs was new to us but, once heard, is never forgotten. It began with a faint rushing noise which quickly turned into a hiss, becoming louder and louder until it sounded like an escape valve going off on a steam engine. The rumble and shock of the underwater explosions caused our ship to shake so hard that rivets popped.”  After an hour, the Japanese discontinued their attack. Amazingly, the flotilla had escaped unscathed, but now that the Allied ships had been discovered, the expedition was in jeopardy. In addition, an enemy carrier force had been reported in the Flores Sea. Houston was ordered to return with the convoy to Darwin.   Heath commented on the nearly tragic mission: “In retrospect, the entire operation was ill conceived. We had to cross more than 400 miles of open ocean with no air support then establish a beachhead on an island that already might be crawling with [Japanese]. There was also the problem of transferring our artillery ashore. Barges had been constructed from 50 gallon drums and wood planking. Our 75s were to be loaded onto these rafts. Although the ships carried trucks to haul the guns, the vehicles also had to be floated to the landing site. It would have been a horrendous task even without enemy interference. But, as it was, the entire venture had all the earmarks of a disaster along with the frightening possibility of losing nearly 800 men in the attempt."  The tired soldiers, after sweating out the air attacks on their vessels, breathed sighs of relief as their flotilla steamed into Darwin Harbor on the morning of February 18. The rejoicing proved to be only temporary, however. Unknowingly, they had sailed into a trap.  Meigs and Mauna Loa were directed to unload the Australian soldiers at the dock. Because of a shortage of wharf space, Tulagi and Port Mar, carrying the American troops, were instructed to anchor out in the bay.  Among the ships moored in the anchorage was USS William B. Preston. She was a former four stack destroyer that had been converted to a seaplane tender. Preston’s crew, however, made a respectable warship out of their vessel by scrounging up 17 machine guns salvaged from wrecked aircraft and mounting them wherever there was space.  Meanwhile, Houston and Peary hurrriedly refueled. They had received urgent orders to join Dutch Admiral Karl Doorman’s Allied fleet near Java.  Soon after departing Darwin, Peary picked up a submarine contact and conducted an aggressive search. The enemy boat managed to escape, but the cat and mouse game exhausted much of the destroyer’s fue, and she was ordered to return to Darwin.   After Meigs and Mauna Loa had finished unloading their troops, the freighters moved out into the bay, relinquishing their wharf space to the British ammunition ships Neptuna and Zealandia.  The first flight of bombers blasted the dock area. The ammunition ships took direct hits and disintegrated in tremendous explosions. A second enemy formation destroyed the Darwin airfield and plastered the town with incendiaries, setting buildings and warehouses ablaze. Moments later, a squadron of Japanese dive bombers darted over the bay. Mauna Loa caught tow enemy missiles down and open hatch and sank like a lead bar. Meigs was clobbered by three bombs and an aerial torpedo. She disappeared under 20 fathoms of foaming sea.   Admiral Halstead had a hole blown in her hull. While the ship was slowly sinking, her crew unloaded the vessel’s valuable cargo of aviation fuel and floated the precious gasoline drums ashore.  In the midst of the lung choking smoke, spreading flames and resulting chaos, Peary and Preston careened at high speed through the water, their tracers seeking out enemy planes that dropped down through the rolling clouds of black smoke.  Four dive bombers pounced on the lightly armed seaplane tender. But Preston’s fierce anti aircraft fire proved too hot to handle for two of the Japanese pilots, and they veered away. The other two planes slipped through the curtain of steel. The explosive fury of three bombs quickly ripped the tender, lashing the ship with shrapnel. Preston was severely damaged but refused to sink. She kept on firing and was one of the few ships to survive the enemy raid.  Peary also remained in the thick of the fight, zigzagging across the wreckage strewn harbor, narrowly avoiding burning and sinking ships, aerial torpedoes and bombs. The destroyer’s luck soon ran out, however. Two bombs crashed into the vessel, one exploding on the fantail, demolishing the depth charge racks, shearing off the propeller guards and flooding the steering engine room, and another an incendiary plowing through the galley, turning the ship into a flaming pyre. Damage control crews kept up a brave fight against the flames for nearly three hours while Peary’s anti aircraft batteries continued to battle the Japanese planes.  At about 1 p.m. more bombs clobbered the destroyer including another incendiary that exploded in the aft engine room. Peary began to break up and sink. Her guns were still firing as the clutching sea lapped over her decks.  Meanwhile, in the middle of the harbor, the men of the 148th Idaho Field Artillery were mad as rabid dogs. Not only had the Australians refused to let them land the day before, but now they were trapped aboard two freighters sitting ducks for the swarming enemy air squadrons.  The soldiers aboard Tulagi and Port Mar grabbed every weapon they could lay their hands on. Machine guns and ammunition were rapidly hauled topside and put to immediate use. Oppressive heat and blinding smoke blanketed the decks of the vessels. Swift dive bombers plunged down on the angry, frustrated artillery men.  One Japanese pilot, with a single bomb remaining, decided to make a run on the port side of Tulagi. He raced in with his wing guns blazing. But a pair of artillery men did not budge. They cut loose with their .50 caliber weapons, firing point blank at the onrushing aircraft.  At the last moment, just before crashing into the freighter, the Japanese pilot swung away, dropping his bomb alongside the vessel and rupturing her hull. The captain of Tulage immediately headed for shallow water and ran his ship aground.

Gunner Louis Kohl recalled what happened next:  “We were ordered to abandon ship. Some men jumped in the water, while others clambered down ropes which had been tossed over the side. We swam or grabbed anthing that would float.”

Dudley Smith, of the 148th, recalled:  “I found a small board in the water and began paddling toward shore. I noticed the first engineer struggling nearby. He cried out that he couldn’t swim. I shouted back that if he touched my plank I’d kill him. But then I got soft hearted and shoved the board to him.  “The ship’s captain yelled a warning for us to watch out for sharks, let ‘em look out for themselves!”

Port Mar was also whip lashed during the savage air attack. Second Lieutenant Lloyd Henrichs stated: “We were directed to abandon ship. The Port Mar carried life rafts which had been constructed from wood planks and oil drums. I ordered my men to board one of thr rafts, but it sank from too much weight. We climbed back on the freighter just as the vessel got up steam and headed for the beach. Our empty raft was dragged into the ship’s propellers and chewed to pieces. A few weeks later, I noticed Port Mar in dry dock. The vessel had 98 holes in its hull.”  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Japanese bombing raid on Darwin was the lack of any warning. Corporal Heath explained: “At 0930 on the day of the attack, a Catholic missionary at Bathurst Island 50 miles north northwest of Darwin observed four squadrons of planes. The priest transmitted a radio message which should have given authorities at least 20 minutes notice before the enemy arrived. The communication was received and the [Royal] Australian Air Force notified. However, the RAAF assumed that the aircraft were P 40s returning from Java and the report was ignored. When an air raid alarm finally was sounded just as bombs were beginning to fall ironically, it was an ‘All Clear’ signal.”  Although the Pensacola convoy failed to reach Manila, the 148th Idaho Field Artillery completed the mission. The soldiers of the 148th did it the hard way battling the Japanese across New Guinea, New Britain, Leyte, Mindoro and finally landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, on January 9, 1945. By then the liberation of Manila was less than two months away.

Submitted 6/29/01