By Cpl. Ralph Boyce

YANK Staff Correspondent

SAIDOR, NEW GUINEA [By Cable]—Shouts and laughter ran up and down the line as the men of the 32nd Division raised up out of their foxholes and stared—not in the direction the enemy was supposed to be, but at the strange sight behind them.

Out of the woods and across the kunai-covered plain lumbered two GI trucks, packed with men. A few yards from the front lines, the trucks halted and the men piled out and calmly began setting up the ack-ack guns they had towed behind them.

32nd division insignia

Insignia of the 32nd Infantry Division

To these veteran infantrymen the sight was more than strange; it was unbelievable. “Cripes,” one groaned, “if only Buna could have been like this. We went to Buna with a rifle and a few grenades and dug them out. And now—-“

Now it was a different story all the way through as elements of the same division struck and captured this New Guinea base in a single day. It was a different story from the moment we lined up in the pitch dark and rain on the decks of ships carrying the first assault waves.

Only the low sound of voices nearby and the occasional bump of another pack or the prod of somebody’s rifle told you that the decks were jammed with men; you couldn’t see them.

battle of saidor

American ships unload men and supplies on Saidor

The first tiny glow of orange on the horizon silhouetted two warships far offshore, but rain and darkness still shrouded the coast from sight. Our naval barrage opened up just as the dim outline of the coast appeared. From every direction overhead, balls of red, white and green fire sped toward land, exploding in a continuous roar.

Intent on watching this barrage, we failed to notice how swiftly it was growing light until over the loudspeaker came the command: “Landing party, load aboard boats.”

We scrambled down the swaying cargo nets into landing craft. Somehow everyone managed to crouch low in the boats as we had been ordered. We were supposed to remain in that position all the way into the beach, but besides becoming damned uncomfortable after a few minutes, it prevented us from seeing what was going on. This was too good to miss, and before long, almost everyone was standing up.

As the boats moved slowly forward, a few hundred feet at a time, we could see we were part of a line of boats stretching along the whole length of the three designated invasion beaches. Behind us were more waves of small landing craft, and behind them, far out, we could see bigger and bigger landing craft and warships.

RAdm. Barbey with General Martin and Hopkins off Saidor in January 1944.

RAdm. Barbey with General Martin and Hopkins off Saidor in January 1944.

The barrage from the warships still thundered overhead. Shells crashed into the woods on shore, splintering trees into kindling. About a hundred yards offshore, lighter naval craft moved up, raking the beach with murderous fire. The beach was a mass of smoke and flame that erupted like a huge volcano. Every machine gun on our landing barges opened up, and the air was filled with tracers.

Up by the ramp of our barge, the platoon leader, Lt. Houston Covey of Fort Worth, Tex., turned around and yelled something. We couldn’t hear him above the din, but from his grin and his “okay” sign we knew what he meant. All of us had the same thought; no living thing could exist on that beach.

The boats were only a few yards offshore now, and everyone checked again to see whom he was to follow off and who was behind him. I was to follow Pfc. Emmett Allen of Chickasha, Okla. Allen had been slightly wounded several times in the fighting at Sanananda. Behind me was Pfc. Cliff Miller of Sweetwater, Texas.

We hit the beach at full speed. As the ramp dropped, the cox’n yelled, “Watch out for logs,” and the men started jumping clear. I splashed through a few feet of water behind Allen, swerved left, ran up a short stretch of bomb-pocked beach and plunged into the woods.

Those woods were on sweet mess. Branches, limbs, even whole trees lay smashed and tangled, as though the place had been hit by a dozen cyclones. As I pushed through one mass of vines, I went down on my face in the best slapstick-comedian fashion.

32nd division saidor 126th infantry

Soldiers of the 32nd Division’s 126th Infantry land on the beaches of Saidor.

Some yards in we came upon a tiny clearing where a battered native hut was still miraculously standing. While riflemen covered them, S/Sgt. Robert Rief, a platoon sergeant from Grandville, Mich., and Pfc. Joe Dias of Handford, Calif, approached the hut. They found it abandoned with nothing inside but a box and a coil of rope. To our right another platoon found a similar hut with the table set for breakfast and rice still hot in the bowls.

32nd division saidor

32nd Infantry Division soldiers advance on Saidor

After negotiating 200 yards more we came out of the woods onto the edge of a large kunai-covered plain, later to become an American airfield. As the line of men reached it, we stopped to re-form. Miller and I flopped down on a log for a rest and a long slug of water. At our feet was an old slit trench and a couple of long-handled shovels. “I sure hope I see at least one Jap before he sees me,” said Miller. “After all this training I’m going to be mighty disappointed if I don’t get to shoot even one of those bastards.”

We moved out slowly across the plain. It had stopped raining now, but the kunai was still dripping wet. The grass had been burned some time before. Now it made a black, thick paste that clung to our clothes until we were black from the waist down.

The whole lone of men hit the ground as flights of Liberators unloaded their bombs in the wooded area along the river, 500 yards ahead. As the ground rocked beneath us, we could only hope that their aim was good. It was.

Wading through the kunai is like plowing waist-deep in snow, and everyone dropped gratefully to the ground when word came to hold up the advance. We had reached the first-phase line, and our smoothly operating schedule called for us to wait there until other elements on our flanks had moved up to capture an old abandoned airstrip and take positions along the river’s edge.

The men unslung their packs, lit cigarettes and began digging foxholes, just in case the Panaese came overhead. He didn’t; our planes had complete mastery of the sky all day long.

Sgt. Harvel (Tex) Faulkner of Clarksville, Tex., leader of the first squad, moved along the line, checking up on his men. Hearing a couple of them talk about what a push-over this job was, Tex shifted the tobacco wad to the side of his mouth, spat and said: “Church ain’t out till they quit singin’ boys.”

Out front we could see Bostons (A-20s) and Airacobras (P-39s) scouring the hillsides for targets. Behind us was the crash of trees as bulldozers broke through the woods, blasting roads. Behind them from the landing ships rolled heavy equipment, ack-ack guns and artillery, which was soon set up and blasting at distant targets in the hills. Others strung telephone wires from the CPs.

As the heat of noon struck us, word came up that the advance was to continue. We slung our packs and prepared to push on.

battle of saidor

American and Australian soldiers meet near Saidor on February 15, 1944 (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

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