A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 4

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From left: Dad, Uncle Yutaka, Uncle Suetaro, Grandmother Kono, Aunt Mieko, Grandfather Hisakichi and Aunt Shiz.  Circa 1925 in Seattle, WA.

My father will be 96 years old later this month in February.  He is the only one left out of the above family picture taken in Seattle.

Yet, even last year, he fondly recalls his younger brother Suetaro (standing in front of my Grandmother above) while growing up in Hiroshima before the war.  That’s all he remembers now – his fun childhood years in Hiroshima.  He has memory issues.  Quite a bit now.  He calls me Suetaro or asks me how he is doing.

One story he told me was they would walk to the train station together in the morning to get to school; they would take turns slowly pedaling the only bike they had, riding alongside the other brother who was walking.  They would simply leave it by a merchant next to the train station and hop on the train.  However, when school got out, whoever got to the bicycle first would get to ride it home, leaving the other brother in the dust – or rain.

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Dulag, where Lt. Gen. Makino's HQs were moved from.  Oct. 29, 1944.Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T.  By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.
Dulag village, where Lt. Gen. Makino’s HQs was moved from. Taken Oct. 29, 1944.  Utter destruction.  Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T. By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.

Combat – Mainit River

When we left Part 3, Uncle Suetaro – now a Sergeant (軍曹) in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) – was to be headed towards Jaro and the Mainit River bridge at dawn.  The orders for his 41st Regiment was to defend it against the fast-advancing US Army, specifically the 34th Infantry.

According to Mr. Ota and if my translating is correct, the town of Jaro is situated by a river which runs along the base of a mountain.  At that time, elements of the IJA 33rd Regiment had set up some defensive positions around the bridge.  Per Leyte 1944: the Soldiers’ Battle, these defensive positions included earthen pillboxes covered with grass and spider holes; they also had an ammo dump.

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Uncle Suetaro during mandatory high school military training, May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds” in the Hiroshima Prefecture. My father had returned to Seattle two years earlier. Suetaro, too, was due to return to Seattle soon hereafter…but did not.

Regimental commander Iwatani intended on ambushing the US Army soldiers and prepared as best possible on the road approaching the bridge (Highway 2).  During the night, he decided the 2nd Echelon (5th Company plus Communications Officer Nakamura) to move from Carigara to the defensive position to bolster its strength.  The remnants of the 33rd Regiment from the 16th were also assigned (they took heavy losses fighting the US Army at Palo and had retreated to this area).

Ordered to leave their knapsacks behind to lighten their load (perhaps the commander knew it would be a one way trip), the group left early on the 28th for the six kilometer march to Jaro.  They double-timed from about the half-way point on the relatively level road to Jaro.   They reached the outskirts of Jaro and began to deploy as ordered.

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Mainit Bridge is at the 4 o’clock position, just outside the circle formed by the broken lines. From the Reports of General MacArthur. (Note: If you are accustomed to viewing US battle maps, the colors are switched since this is based on post-war Japanese sources. Black is the Imperial Japanese Army, red the US Army.)

In his book, he reports that the 41st Regiment was dispersed; one company and one platoon consisting of two machine gun crews were deployed on the east in addition to one platoon manning two 37mm anti-tank guns.  The tattered battalion of riflemen from the 16th Division, 33rd Regiment were deployed to the west.  They were ready to ambush the approaching Americans in Iwatani’s mind but their intelligence was very flawed.  Most of all, these troops did not know the Imperial Japanese Navy had lost the major sea battles surrounding Leyte.

On October 30th, Lt. Col. Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, advanced through the town of Alangalang a mile and a half south of the Mainit River bridge.

Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines:

“As Company C reached the Mainit River, it made contact with the (Japanese), who had dug in on both steeply sloping banks of the river at the steel bridge crossing. The company suffered five casualties. It was opposed by the remaining elements of the 33d Infantry, which had been considerably mauled by the Americans. Company C withdrew 300 yards as Companies B and A pressed forward on the left side of the road under continuous rifle fire.  Colonel Pearsall’s 2nd Battalion had followed the 1st Battalion, and both units were to make an assault against the 41st Infantry Regiment, which had arrived in the area. Three batteries of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion shelled the enemy positions for a depth of 300 yards on the eastern side of the river and 100 yards on the western side.”

At this time, per Mr. Ota’s book, it is believed the 41st Regiment was stretched out and pretty much decentralized with respect to command.  As such and to their benefit, it is reported that the effect of the artillery barrage was minimized.  This is not directly mentioned in the US battle reports.

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A US soldier seeks cover behind a US 37mm anti-tank gun near Jaro. National Archives.

Leyte: Return to the Philippines continues:

“After the artillery concentration was over, the two battalions were to move out to the attack – the 1st on the left and the 2nd on the right. The regimental commander ordered the 1st Battalion to attack, destroy the enemy resistance, and secure the eastern bank of the river. Five tanks were to follow in the rear of the assault companies and fire at targets of opportunity. Five hundred yards away, to the right of the 1st Battalion, Companies E and F of Pearsall’s battalion were to cross the river, destroy enemy resistance on the western side, and then go south on Highway 2 to contact the enemy at the bridge.”

The Japanese defenses were well thought out; the Japanese excelled at defense.  However, the grasses in front of the earthen pillboxes used as camouflage began to smolder as the Japanese fired their weapons, becoming a smoke signal for American artillery fire.  They were quickly eliminated and most violently.

The 1st Battalion moved to the water’s edge, where it was pinned down by enemy fire. Companies E and F of the 2nd Battalion, however, were able to push north 500 yards through the heavy brush, and amid a driving rain they managed to ford the river unobserved. Once on the other side they charged the entrenchments of the 41st Infantry Regiment on the river, with Company F in the lead. As Company F neared the bridge it overran three mortar positions without stopping but was finally halted by heavy machine gun fire. After the company’s 60-mm. mortar had knocked out the machine gun, the unit continued to advance and passed the bridgehead before it ran out of ammunition. Company E then relieved Company F, while the latter set up heavy machine guns to silence enemy machine guns in the woods to the west. By 1500 the bridge was in American hands. The Japanese had placed a demolition charge on the bridge, but the American advance had been so swift that the enemy never had an opportunity to set off the charge.”

There was gruesome close quarters combat.  In reference to Company F above, led by Captain Austin, the 2nd Battalion, 34th Infantry charged the Japanese defenders with bayonets and eliminated them.

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Found this image through using Japanese search terms. No source was indicated but it said Japanese troops were not prepared for the Leyte jungle ecosystem.

During this battle, 1st Lt. Shioduka, in command of the 37mm anti-tank guns my Uncle Suetaro was apparently manning, was killed in action per Mr. Ota.

The surviving remnants of this Japanese defensive force retreated through Jaro.  By 5 pm, the 34th Infantry successfully occupied Jaro.

Per Mr. Ota’s research, it appears that although the demolition charges had been set, the combat engineer who was in charge of the detail was killed.  As such, no order to blow the bridge was issued and because of this strategic failure, Sherman M4 tanks and heavy artillery pieces were able to continue on to Carigara.

While I do not believe this film compilation to be an official US Army release, it may provide you with a possible glimpse into that war.  However, no movie can ever transmit to you, the reader, the immensity of the fear that was being experienced by both the American and Japanese soldiers.

Both sides.

Every minute.

Every hour.

Every Day.

Also note combat film from that period had no sound; all sound you hear has been edited in.  It is set to start at the 2:15 mark:

To be continued in Part 5.

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Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

29 thoughts on “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 4”

      1. I just love that family picture. So powerful when you look at the little children who later on would suffer so much because of their leaders’ folly.

  1. Great follow up pictures, wish there was more on that old train. I enlarged the map – I knew the activity on Leyte after the 11th A/B departed for Luzon was far more than MacArthur had said [mopping up action he said] but I was not aware it was quite this much. Great research again, Koji and give your father a salute for me and a hug, I’ll need to re-blog this when I get to ’45.

    1. Yes, the “mop up” continued for some months. Your dad’s unit had an ugly time of things. At least they were well supplied unlike the Japanese remnants. I’ve read some ugly things of what the Japanese soldiers were forced to eat to stay alive.

      1. I’ve read about that as well, but often hold back such things so as not to offend the ‘faint-of-heart’ or younger readers. I tend to always second guess myself as to how far I should go in being truthful. [such as the atrocities?]

      2. That is indeed a quandary, isn’t it? Just how far? I think of that often… But when I watch kids these days play war games on the computer, they think that is what war is…a game where you get more lives if you get killed. Even Private Ryan was sanitized. I think you and I have read the same testimonies from fighting on Leyte… Indeed, just how much to write to let readers know war makes good kids do ugly things…?

  2. Thank you for your powerful story and reminder as to the tragedy and heartbreak of war not only of those who fight them but for those who are left behind waiting for news.

    1. Thanks, Russ. Many, many parents – especially mothers – passed away before learning of their son’s fate as you know. Even today, remains are slowly but surely being recovered and identified but the deceased siblings may have also passed on by now. Horrible.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Saffron Blaze, especially since this kind of stuff is outside of our photography world. Canada, too, lost many, with their mothers experiencing the same void. War is no good, as my dad said…

  3. You really did miss your calling – your words transport us back, you put us right there, with both sides helping us to understand the horrors of war. It makes me wonder if things would have been different for your uncle if he had returned to Seattle. Glad your father has happy memories to go back to, my mom had memories from the war haunt her, her last month with us.

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