David I. Garrett, Jr.   31st "Dixie" Division

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 men.

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 the beach.

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."

Preamble | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11


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