Remembering the Philippine liberation of World War IIIn October 1944, I was on the island of New Guinea as a member of the Occupation Forces preparing for the big invasion of the Philippine Island of Leyte.
By: By Dick Peulen, Hudson Star-Observer
Special to the Hudson Star-Observer
(Editor’s note: Hudsonite Dick Peulen is a World War II Army veteran who regularly contributes articles to the Star-Observer about his service experiences.)
In October 1944, I was on the island of New Guinea as a member of the Occupation Forces preparing for the big invasion of the Philippine Island of Leyte. We were not told of our destination for security reasons and the tension of not knowing was beginning to build up in all of us. The typical military chatter and excessive nervous laughter helped to relieve some of the anxiety.
Our troop transport ship departed from French Haven Harbor and anchored off the New Guinea city of Hollandia. We were the only ship in this area. When darkness fell the ship got under way and the next morning we were part of an armada listed as 750 ships, the greatest invasion fleet ever assembled in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
The ships were so close together it seemed that we could have jumped from one ship to another as we steamed forward towards Leyte Gulf.
Along with this large invasion force the Navy Third Fleet of 104 assorted ships and the Seventh Fleet of 157 ships were involved in the last major Navy battle of World War II that marked an end to the Japanese Navy as an effective fighting force.
At that time in my tour of duty, my admiration and respect for our Navy personnel rated low on a score of one to ten. Their arrogance and taunting insults were vicious whenever our paths would cross. But I did have the extreme pleasure of being on the winning teams whenever we played them in baseball games. The last game where we made them eat their insults was on the island of Luzon in the City of Manila, on a field that had bomb craters and shell holes in the outfield fences.
Since that time I have learned of how hard the Navy men fought to protect my hide and to stem the tide toward our utter defeat by the Japanese forces. One first-hand report by a sailor told of surviving as he thrashed through burning oil as many of his companions died. He compared the terrifying explosions and volcanic like eruptions to an awesome end-of-the-world blast as they were showered with flying objects and thrown into the sea. This is only one account of many heroic acts during the Navy defense of our invasion forces. I thank them, my family thanks them and if I ever see an ex-Navy guy playing golf, I will offer to carry his golf clubs!
The Philippine island of Leyte is 115 miles long, 45 miles wide and blanketed by jungle, interspersed with rice paddies and bamboo farms. The liberation invasion began on Oct. 20, 1944. We were held up outside Leyte Gulf and landed after our Marines and Army units secured the landing area. During this wait we were sitting ducks for the enemy but the action mostly eluded us. Constant shelling and bombing was going on and an occasional airplane dogfight gave us a chance to cheer for our side. During the night we were ordered below deck and the tensions continued to build. I hid up on deck in a large empty ammunition box and continued to view the fiery tracer bullets and “Fourth of July” explosions on land.
Finally we were ordered to pack up, put on all our gear and stand in a gloomy corridor below deck for our turn to go ashore. As we moved forward a large exit door opened in the lower side of the ship. Our names were checked off, our large bag was thrown into the waiting landing craft and we began to crawl down the nets. We experienced crushed fingers from shoes above and the effort of trying to time the rise and fall of the landing craft. This all added to the tension but my tough up bringing in Oak Park, Minn., prepared me for this.
Small-arms fire was hitting the landing craft and an occasional shell would fall nearby. One unforgettable incident that highlighted that trip to the shore was when a sergeant, a man who had appeared to be in control all during our training, suddenly stepped over the side and disappeared into the sea.
We landed on Leyte’s “White Beach “ near the Palo River, the same area where Gen. Douglas MacArthur got his feet wet during his famous “I shall return” pictures. We were loaded into vehicles and proceded to an uninviting rice paddy area to set up our camp.
Our Fifth Air Force Service Squadron had the specific assignment to reclaim the Taclobin Airfield and set up all operations to welcome our incoming planes. My section of 109 men were all specialists in handling the communications, the control tower, message center, air to ground radio, teletype and cryptography. I later spent most of my duty in the Cryptography Center encoding and decoding messages. It was hard to keep those messages from my comrades during off-duty time.
My other landings included the Pacific islands of Luzon, Okinawa and I. E. Shemi (where the famous correspondent Ernie Pyle died) and finally the occupation of Japan on the island of Hokkaido. On Dec. 7, 1945, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we were warned to expect an attack from the local Japanese militia and that night we dug in and slept in trenches.
At last, after almost four years of service, I was steaming up the Columbia River in Washington State. I boarded a train to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, caught a bus to the Twin Cities and got off at Osgood Road in what is now Oak Park Heights. I then walked the last mile down into the St. Croix Valley to my father’s house. The view was overwhelming and a very healing sight for this happy but tired ex-G.I.