70 years ago my dad Herman was in an Army division formed around three national guard regiments from the Midwest. He had joined the Regular Army right after Pearl Harbor was bombed the year before.
When the 32nd Infantry Division landed in New Guinea in November of 1942 the men were not prepared for the conditions they would face. The heat and humidity were brutal. The men were constantly wet from torrential rains and swampy conditions. They had to wade through brush and vines without machetes. Their matches were useless because they had no waterproof containers to keep them dry. Vitamin pills and chlorination tablets crumbled in their pockets. They did not have insect repellent. Mosquito bites turned into festering sores. The men became gaunt and thin. They probably looked as wretched as any soldiers that have ever worn the uniform of The United States Army.
My uncle was the only person that Herman spoke to about the war. He told Clyde about the night when a bonsai charge penetrated their line. Herman was sharing a foxhole with another G.I. when one of the Japanese appeared right over the top of them. Herman made the split second decision to turn loose of the heavy machine gun he was operating so that he could pull his sidearm. He used it to kill the Japanese soldier, whose body tumbled into the foxhole on top of them. After the fighting subsided Herman pulled the body out of the foxhole by himself because the other G.I. had been wounded during the attack.
On Christmas Eve 1942 Herman was wounded in the back of his leg by shrapnel from an artillery blast. His boots filled with blood. Another soldier helped him with the struggle to survive. Eventually Papuan stretcher bearers evacuated him through the dense jungle terrain. He arrived at the 153rd Station Hospital in Southport Australia on January 7, 1943. Back in the States he was listed as missing in action for several months.
Initially Herman was told that he might not walk again, but with help from an Aussie nurse named Peggy he managed to make a full recovery. He was released from the hospital and returned to his unit on July 2, 1943.
In spite of the hardships the Americans prevailed in The Battle of Buna, but the cost was high: 620 killed, 2,065 wounded, 132 missing in action, and 7,336 soldiers from the Red Arrow Division were sick with tropical diseases. Only a handful of the 6,500 Japanese who participated in the battle were captured alive. The Papua Campaign had been long and difficult.
The fighting that took place in New Guinea has been overshadowed by Pearl Harbor, Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima, and the like. It was only a few years ago that I first learned that a place called Buna existed. My dad never spoke about it.
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