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It was early August of 1945 when we were in the Luzon Province of the Philippine Islands. Our "Jungle Bird Dog" outfit was ordered to leave the lowlands to go into the mountains, where we were to find retreating Japanese soldiers. Our unit was the 32nd Division's Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, consisting of approximately 120 men. Although the unit was mechanized, most of our time was spent in "No Man's Land," on foot in the jungle.
On our two-day trip into the mountains, I was assigned to man a 50-caliber machinegun, which was mounted on the back of a jeep. I had a driver and an assistant driver, both of whom had just recently joined our unit. I will relate their fate later.
Half-way to our destination, we stopped
for the night and slept by the side of the road. During the night
we heard sporadic gunfire, which continued into the daylight
(1) - A distraught soldier was hissing, cussing, and lamenting that he had only two weeks of overseas service left to be eligible to return to the states, but he felt that he'd never make it. The next day, he was blown to bits by a Japanese mortar.
(2) - There was also a young soldier who'd been in our outfit only a few days. He drank coffee from his canteen cup, then threw the cup down the moun-tainside. He prophetically said he wouldn't need the cup anymore. Shortly thereafter, he was killed.
(3) - I heard a crackling sound whirl past my head. Immediately, I hit the ground thinking that the bullet had been meant for me.
On the second day
of our journey, we arrived at our destination and established
a headquarters there. Since the mountain air was quite cold,
we recognized the need for a shelter. My buddy and I assembled
our two halves together to make a pup tent for the night. To
provide heat, we took a can of sand, poured a small amount of
gasoline into it, and lit it. This makeshift stove was wonderful,
until one of us accidentally kicked it over. That made one big
fire in a flash! Needless to say, we rolled out of that tent
in a most unconventional way; from the bottom sides of the tent.
Before we could settle down again, some of the perimeter guards opened fire into the bushes.
We jumped into combat, readily, and looked to our fellow soldiers for the answers. The guards moved into the bushes to investigate and, to our relief, the noisemaker was a wild boar, which the guards killed. The news seemed to ricochet immediately all over the camp.
Like water seeking its level, 20 or 30 natives appeared from all directions carrying firewood, and they built a fire in a deep ravine nearby. The boar was dragged to the fire, where its hair was burned off. Within minutes, the boar was cut up and carried away, leaving absolutely nothing but burning embers.
The following day, scouting patrols were dispatched on foot in several directions. My patrol traveled down a ridge of the mountain. As night approached, we erected our pup tents in the middle of a mountain. Soon a torrential rain turned the path into a small river, which interrupted our rest.
The next morning, we spotted the enemy down in the valley. We looked at them, and they looked at us. We remembered our standing orders:
Order No. 1 - To find the enemy;
No. 2 - Determine the direction of their movements;
No. 3 - Determine the strength of their numbers;
No. 4 - Determine the amount of equipment; and
No. 5 - Always catch a prisoner, if possible, for questioning.
During my time with the troop, we caught more prisoners than we had men in our own troop. We were not expected to confront the enemy, unless we had to fight our way out.
On the third day we were ordered back to headquarters, where I learned the bad news. My jeep driver and his assistant driver had been severely wounded. They were taken away by ambulance, and we never heard from them again. From information given to me about their wounds, I doubt that they survived.
Late that evening we heard some whooping and hollering. Japan had surrendered. Immediately, an order came to leave for the seashore. I drove an M-8, which was an armored tank on tires, down the mountain. (I never learned the fate of the M-8 driver.) There, we boarded a ship and headed for Japan to become part of the occupational forces.
Edgar Porter Harned
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