Mapia Islands Operation November 15, 1944
The Mapia Islands are a very small, three island
atoll located some one thousand miles southeast of Morotai and the Netherlands
East Indies. They were at the time of this operation garrisoned by what
was believed to be the remnants of a Japanese battalion, and the US
Navy wanted to take the atoll, for the purpose of establishing a rescue
base. The task of taking the atoll by an amphibious operation was assigned
to the 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Division, which was then
occupying Morotai. My Platoon of the 31st Calvary Recon Troop was selected
to spearhead the invasion.
When we were first briefed on the plans for the operation,
it appeared that we might not be able to take all of my men, due to
constrictions of space on the ships which would transport us and from
which we would operate. When this word got around, the reaction of my
men was immediate. One by one and in small groups, every man came to
me to say that they were not to be left behind and that every one of
them was going with me, one way or another.
One comment I will always remember and cherish was
made by Sergeant Stanley "Stash" Labensky, a burly trooper
with a black moustache, who had a son my own age and enough rotation
points to go back to the States. When I told him he ought to stay back
and wait orders to go home, instead of going off with me to get shot
at, he quickly replied, "Listen, boy, I've been wiping your ass
all over the Pacific, and if I let you go off there without me and you
get hurt, I'll never forgive myself." He went. They all went.
We took the Regimental Task Force in on this operation,
going in some half hour ahead of the first assault wave with three amphibious
tanks. Our arrival had been preceded by several days of bombing. We
were supported the first day by LCI Rocket Ships, which fired a curtain
of rockets over our heads at the beach and lifting their fire just as
we came ashore.
The first day's landing was on Pegun Island and resistance
was fairly light, most of the Japanese defenders having crossed over
to Bras Island, across a coral reef. In making this landing on the first
day, we launched off the LSMs some distance from the beach and my amphib
hit the water hard, throwing me forward against the knife-edge of the
turret, smashing my nose and knocking all my front teeth loose. While
I was draped over the breach of the 37 mm cannon, my Sergeant, not seeing
me, fired and I was racked up against the back of the turret. I later
got some help from the Field Hospital with my nose, set my teeth back
in place with my fingers and stayed with it
After taking in the first wave, we wheeled to the right
end of the island, to cut off any Japanese attempting to escape across
the reef. Some dozen or so were cut off and they blew themselves up
with explosives in the edge of the jungle in front of the recon position.
It was not a pretty sight.
On the morning of the second day, the Recon Platoon
led the assault on Bras Island, crossing over about a mile of coral
reef in full view of the Japanese defenders. We were not supported by
the rocket ships on the second day, as we made the landing from the
lagoon side of the island and they could not come into the lagoon. When
abreast of the designated beach landing area, the three amphibs drew
fire from the shore, performed a right flank maneuver and hit the beach
ahead of the assault wave.
My amphib, which had led and went in on the left flank,
overran the forward Japanese position, took some rounds in the gear
box and was knocked out, with Japanese in front and in back, between
us and the landing force. Corporal Gulledge, my tank driver, and I got
out of the tank to try to get things going. While we were standing side
by side, among foxholes full of dead Japanese, I faced left and he faced
right and took a bullet through the chest. I went back after him, got
him out to the beach and was giving him first aid, when a Japanese machine
gunner picked us up from about twenty-five yards across the open beach.
Just as the bullets were eating up the sand by my head, the Japanese
ran out of ammunition and had to reload. The waist gunner in the tank
took out the machine gun, and Gulledge was eventually evacuated to the
rear and survived. Down to the right, one of the other two tanks had
also been knocked out and additional casualties incurred among the Recon
Bras Island was the end of the operation, and no landing
in force was necessary on the third island in the atoll. My Recon Platoon
took about fifty percent casualties and lost two of its three amphibious
tanks, but lost no one killed. I was awarded my second Bronze Star Medal
and the Purple Heart for this operation and received a combat promotion.
My men had recommended me for the Silver Star and a combat promotion.
A couple of footnotes remembered: Two British Lt. Colonels from the
Middlesex Regiment were sent from New Delhi, India to go in with us
and observe our methods of operation and tactics. They somehow failed
to let us know of their plans ahead of time and wound up on one of the
infantry landing craft the first day, but then got with us. We enjoyed
their company and they got some first hand experience.
When we were able to get Gulledge evacuated back over
to Pegun Island, Bob Lesure, my other driver and radio operator, and
I took our mess kits and got in a chow line that had been set up near
We were standing behind a young infantryman who was
obviously tired, scared and hungry. When he asked the Mess Sergeant
if he could have a little more to eat, he got a turndown, with a few
unnecessary profanities. This got to me and I told the Mess Sergeant
to give that man all he wanted or I would take his serving ladle and
shove it where the sun didn't shine. In the Recon Troop, we did not
wear any insignia of rank in combat and always used first names or nicknames.
I looked pretty beat up and my coveralls had blood all over the front
- mine and Gulledge's - and the Mess Sergeant figured I meant it.
Bob and I went over and sat down on a log to eat and
this young fellow joined us.
He introduced himself and I replied that I was Dave and this was Bob.
"Man," he said, "nobody ever spoke up for me like that.
Our officers don't look out for us like they ought to. What kind of
officers do y'all have?"
Bob, tough and tough-looking himself, grinned, pointed
at me with his fork and said, "You just met him."
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