Courage Under Fire: Growing Up in the South Pacific of WWII. Part 5

On November 23, 1942 the men of company E were engaged by the enemy in combat for the first time. Japanese forces opened fire on the men. The men were forced to dig into foxholes.

While the men of Company E, 126th were patrolling and engaging with enemy forces west of the bridge over Entrance creek bigger plans were underway for the full assault on Japanese forces at Buna. The battle was scheduled for November 30, 1942.

The forces set to take Buna had been divided into two forces, Warren and Urbana. They were set to approach the enemy within hours of each other.

Situation on Approaches to Buna
Evening, 30 November 1942

The men of Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, were ordered to attack in a northeasterly direction. They would occupy the main strip and secure the small coconut plantation north of the Entrance Creek bridge as they moved through the area.

Things did not go as planned from early on. There were delays. Enemy fire, rising tides in the swamp, and overall confusion were issues that plagued the mission.

“As soon as it was dark, preparations began. When these were completed, we each grasped the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly shuffled forward in the pitch black of the night. Our only guide was the telephone wire leading to the jump-off point, and the troops in the foxholes along the way who had been holding the ground recently captured. There was no trail and consequently several hours were required to travel as many hundreds of yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was forbidden until after the attack was well under way. Japs encountered along the way were to be dealt with silently.”

Robert H. Odell, Lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 126th of that night.

At 0400 the attack began. Companies E, F, and G, 126th made contact with the enemy. Darkness still blanketed the men as they reached a line of Japanese machine guns posts.

All hell broke loose. There was more lead flying through the air . . . than it’s possible to estimate. Machine gun tracers lit the entire area, and our own rifle fir made a solid sheet of flame. Everywhere men cursed, shouted, or screamed. Order followed on order….Brave men led and other followed. Cowards crouched in the grass literally frightened out of their skins.”

Lt Odell

As the battle raged the allied forces gained the momentum. Companies E and F, 126th overran the enemy outpost and gained the ground at the eastern end of the main strip. Once again the men encountered enemy forces which they dispatched.

FIRST AID STATION, HARIKO, November 1942.

Colonel Mott tasked Company E, 126th infantry with the task of taking the village. The men moved on Buna Village via the main track. It was 0600 when they attacked the village. 300 yards from the village they discovered an enemy force dug into heavily manned bunker lines. The men of Company E were stopped in their tracks by enemy crossfire.

Changing Leadership

Behind the front lines of Buna, MacArthur was growing inpatient with the time it was taking to take over the island. The powers that be wanted results and quick. Instead, the men on the front lines were tired and sick. They were ill equipped and poorly trained for the mission they found themselves on. MacArthur ignored the logistical hell of the situation on the ground and instead axed General Harding in hopes that new leadership could take the island.

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