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Bill McLaughin
The Americal Division on Guadalcanal
Interview by Peter Flahvin

In memory - Bill McLaughin passed away in 2003.

Bill McLaughinWe landed in Melbourne in February 1942 after a 37 day cruise from Brooklyn, NY. our ship, the Argentina was Hq of the convoy, and as we sailed up in to the harbor there, the decks were crowded with the 4 or 5 thousand guys aboard. A couple of us climbed to the crow's nest on the foremast, and since this was already crowded, we climbed on the metal roof , standing, holding the stays. What a sight! The dock was crowded with people cheering our appearance. We were the first force of any size to come out after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

We had a brief stay there, about a week, before re boarding the ships to sail to New Caledonia. Our unit took a train out to Bendigo where we had a delightful time, 2 lads to a family. Only place I've ever slept in a feather bed. Those were the days, buddy.

Dog Tags
I still have my dogtags from when we went into Federal Service in 1941, but lost the ones from overseas years ago out there. I got a second set on Bougainville in 1944, and was sent to a rest camp there. I began surfing on the huge waves and got ahead of one. It slammed me down on the seabed and I did a few barrel rolls, losing the new dogtags. Never got any more.

The coins we carried then are collectibles now. Back in the 1970's, the US began issuing coins of base metal. Those before were all silver. Also, the 50 cent pieces no longer exist here. When John Kennedy was assassinated, a coin was issued with his likeness and immediately disappeared as everyone collected them. Even the ones which came out later of base metal disappeared promptly, and cash drawers formerly in tills for 50 cent coins were dropped.

It's my thought that the native may have found Geiger's dogtag somewhere else and carried it up to Edson's Ridge. I don't really know where the 247th FA Bn spent most of its time. I know that at the end of the campaign they were close to Cape Esperance.

The 247th FA Bn was formed over in New Caledonia, as were the others, 245th and 246th, while we were changed from the 180th FA, 1st Bn, and 1st Bn, 200th FA Reg't, to the 221st FA Bn. We were heaviest of division artillery with our 155mm Howitzers. The other 3 had more modern weapons, 105mm howitzers. I enjoy your stuff, and forward it to FA Bn attached to the Americal on Guadalcanal, and a West Point Regular Army graduate. Others like Col. Jim Taylor in South Carolina. Jim was an officer in the 97th mule pack.

US Howitzers
There was our battalion of 12 howitzers (Schneider WWI 6" guns) almost hub to hub on that spit of land Pt. Cruz, then loaded with half buried bodies, and foxholes full of Japanese dead, coated with slimy white shifting covers of maggots. It was the pits!

Our howitzers were strung out some 10 yards apart on Pt Cruz, from close to the beginning to past the midpoint on the peninsula. 2 500 lb bombs straddled my hole, one of which blew up a pyramidal tent with a kid inside. Fortunately, the "blockbuster" 2000 LB bomb was last and beyond our guns, which although blown around by the 500 pounders, with shell piles strewn around, were not damaged. The blockbuster buried some Marine coastwatchers on the shore, but they were dug out by our guys before they were hurt. The hole from the bomb made an instant swimming pool of great size there.

Our colonel then, Barney Landers was angry that Division would cram us in such a spot, his later replacement, Col. John F.P. Hill, USA (Ret) told me, but they said it was the only spot to maximize our range, as we were leapfrogged ahead of all other artillery, even the pack howitzers (mule) were firing over our heads. Guadalcanal was the limit I saw in 3-1/2 years out there.

Japanese Air Raid
Three of us were caught in a Japanese air raid on the hill to the left of Pt Cruz where we were looking over dead Japanese "marines" up there. We saw the strings of bombs coming down from the low flying planes, and snuggled up to the corpse of a huge dead Japanese bent back over a log. The escorting Zeros peeled off to strafe our position on Cruz, sparing us as they flew low overhead, but riddling the pyramidal tents and cots there. The outfit, we found, had got a "Condition Red" and were already in their holes.

We were lying in the bunk one night after the battle was over and the moon was so bright someone said, "There's a real bombing moon.." and we laughed at the thought. Someone was playing the song on a phonograph. "A sleepy lagoon, a tropical moon, and you in my arms..." when suddenly we heard someone yelling "Condition Red" and at the same time bombs began bursting from the interior coming toward us. That was a night to remember.

I got two brand new cavalry rifles (Japanese) model about 1910 still in cosmoline for my son and grandson with built in bayonets. I'd never seen them before, and wrote Akio Tani, the "Pistol Pete" of Guadalcanal in Japan. He had read a Japanese flag which I got from a dead soldier on Cebu, Philippines, and found his relatives earlier for me. Akio sent me a picture from an old Japanese field manual of the rifle slung on a cavalryman's back as he leaped a hurdle on horseback. I told him how we carried our '03 Springfields in a boot under our left leg in cavalry days, and thought at 10 lbs the rifles must have bruised the riders. He agreed that ours was a better way.

Japanese Aircraft
[One] of the first time I saw one close up on land (I'd been strafed by them earlier). It was on Cebu, and they'd been shot up on the ground. We marveled that anyone was small enough to get inside the cockpits, and all the engine parts were aluminum. Theirs was so light you could almost crumple it up, and it made excellent bracelet/souvenirs. We didn't think the Japanese could make anything good. All their stuff in stores was cheap. We thought their fire control instruments were imported from Germany. Their watches were so plain and crude we didn't even bother with them for souvenirs. What a surprise when they came out with cars, TV sets and computers!"

War Booty & Flag Translation
I brought home some stuff finally after 43 months out there, and gave a lot of it away: a native kris, Japanese flag, cap from a Japanese I shot, and other things. The second Japanese flag I got was a beauty, all silk, and I tried for years to find someone who could read the characters, to no avail. Finally, Akio Tani, who was one of the "Pistol Pete's" of Guadalcanal, sorted it out from a photo I sent him, and found relatives of the soldier in Tokyo. I sent it to them. Found from Tani that Gen. MacArthur had shortened the characters to make the language less cumbersome, and younger people could not translate it.

Actually, I was almost one of the Marines. Tim Coffey and I joined the horse cavalry back in January 1937. I was only 16, and had gone to a camp the previous year, which was called CMTC (Citizens' Military Training Camps) which with a camp of a month in the summer and correspondence courses led to a Reserve Commission at the end of 4 years. I had opted for cavalry as my branch of service.

A neighbor, Ed Hopkins, who was a Sgt in the Nat'l Guard cavalry, heard of it and convinced me I should join his regiment, the 110th Mass. Since the minimum age limit was 18, and I was tall, (6'2") he told me to tell them I was 19, and they wouldn't ask for a birth certificate. I did and they didn't. Anyway, Tim and I finished our hitch in Jan. 1940, and we decided to join the Marines. He went first since I was working then on the railroad.

They turned him down as "too tall" Tim was a robust lad of 6'3", and the Marines were only taking up to 6'2". I said, "Screw them.." when they turned Tim down and we both rejoined the cavalry. Tim was rotated home after Guadalcanal, and stationed at the artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He retired from the military a Command Sgt Major.

M-1 Rifle
Anyway, I got an M-1 then, and lost it in an ambush when I picked up what I thought was my rifle, but belonged to a chap carrying one of our wounded. By great good luck, a replacement came in from the States with a brand new M-1, and the lieutenant commanding our platoon had him give it to me. It was like pointing your finger, and I loved that piece. When I was rotated after 3-1/2 years of war out there, and had to turn it in, I almost cried. I was part of me.

I carried an M-1 in my year with the Recon Troop, through 3-1/2 campaigns in Bougainville and the Philippines. Best rifle there was then. They were invented by Garand who worked in the Springfield, Massachusetts Armory. He never patented it nor got a cent from selling them, gave it to the Army. The Marines opted for the Johnson Semi Automatic, which, they claimed was more accurate at a thousand yards or so. When they got involved in Guadalcanal, and fought an enemy only feet away with their Springfield '03's, cranking a bolt for each of 5 shots, and saw our infantry pumping 8 rounds as fast as the trigger could be pulled, they turned green.Our guys had to sleep with their arms and legs wrapped around the M-1's to keep them from being stolen. I had an M-1 given me by a Marine friend who was on Guadalcanal with the 1st Marines.

We had the flat helmets going overseas, and got the pots just before we went up to Guadalcanal. When we landed in Noumea, it was thought our 155mm howitzers had been left behind, so we got Australian 18 and 25 pounders, plust a group of Army men to teach us their eccentricities. All they taught us was their drinking games (Here's to Captain Poof) and rowdy songs (My name is Sammy Hall) before we found the guns had been packed deeper. Since we had big trucks to haul our heavy guns, they were used to transport the materiel up island to caches where it would be available to our thin force spread out along the coast in anticipation of the Japanese offensive.

I remember giving a couple of new helmets to one of the Aussies with us, and he told me, "Bill, you're like Rob Roy, you take from the rich and give to the poor." They were great guys. Later, I was in the Recon Troop, and on Bougainville, I went on patrol with the Fiji Battalion which had Aussie and New Zealand officers. They were fantastic soldiers, and good officers in the jungle. Guadalcanal was the worst country we found down there in more than 3 1/2 years of war .

Light Tanks
In the Recon later, we had light tanks with 37mm cannon. They are easy, and common landmarks at veterans posts around here. They could go up to about 60 mph with the rubber treads, but they'd have been useless in the ETO. A good friend, Col. John F.P.Hill, USA (Ret) who commanded our FA unit for much of the war, and was a graduate of the Harvard College ROTC program, remained in the service thru two tours in Vietnam. He said the ranks then were filled with the "Jumpers and the Tankers", parachute and tank men from the European War. He being from the South Pacific War, didn't rate with the top men after Truman fired MacArthur.

Author of The Americal Division

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