Head Hunting In The Solomons
And The South Pacific
This site is dedicated as a resource to the Veterans of WW II and their families and friends...and to the native Citizens of Bougainville who assisted the Americans in WW II. Special attention is given to personnel of the Americal and the 37th Infantry Divisions. It offers a generous selection of publications related to the Islands as they were in the old days, as well as updates on current information and facilities.
This site was created with the assistance of Carroll Reinert and Donald Atkinson. We honor the following members of the Americal Division's 21st Reconnaissance Troop:
Carroll Reinert - 3rd Platoon Rifleman
Andrew Elias - 1st Platoon Lead Scout
Charles "Red" Grey - 1st Platoon Sgt.
Donald Atkinson - 2nd Platoon Leader, & Troop CO
And Paul Chappell, 57th Combat Engineer Batallion - Rifleman
Bougainville Jungle Reconnaissance Patrol Leader
Retired Major, US Army Reserves
World War II Service June 3, 1942 - January 2, 1946
Author & Compiler
(C) Copyright 1998 - All Rights Reserved By Edwin O. Booth
Under the Southern Cross
On January 23, 1942, just six weeks after Pearl Harbor, Task Force 6814 steamed from New York harbor bound for the South Pacific. The force arrived for the defense of New Caledonia on March 12. Leaving from San Francisco, the 164th Infantry Regiment arrived at New Caledonia on April 9. New Caledonia was an important defensive position for the Allies to fend off any invasion of Australia. The American units, composed of National Guardsmen from Massachusetts, Illinois, and North Dakota, were formed into the Americal Division on May 2, 1942.
Designated the 132nd, 164th, and 182nd Infantry Regiments, they and associated units would serve under the newly appointed division commander, BG Alexander M. Patch. Elements of the division were the first U.S. combat troops to engage the enemy in any theater in WWII.
The jungle battles were fierce, and the soldiers of the Americal carried the battle to an enemy intent to fight to the end. The Americal Division was saved from a costly invasion of the Japanese homeland only by the success of the atomic bombs.
The Americal Division served with distinction. It accounted for one Medal of Honor citation. Some elements were awarded by the Navy with its Presidential Unit Citation. The only U. S. Army division never assigned a number, the Americal Division will always be remembered as a premier fighting unit of the South Pacific.
South Pacific WW II
The significance of the Battle of the Coral Sea was that the Americans had foiled the occupation of Port Moresby and the knockout of Australian air power. These were necessary before carrier strikes by the Japanese against Australia. In a few weeks the Americans would land on Guadalcanal, and the Japanese would eventually be driven out of the Solomon Islands after months of attrition warfare.
Sept. 12, South China Sea
U.S. submarines torpedoed and sank two Japanese troop ships, the Kachidoki Maru and the Rakuyo Maru. Unknown to the submarines, the Japanese, in disregard for the rules of treatment of prisoners of war, had forced 2,000 British, Australian, and American POWs into the holds of the ships which were designed to hold only 300 troops. Later, when the subs discovered the tragedy, they sought to rescue as many survivors as possible. Japanese vessels picked up most of Kachidoki Maru's prisoners but abandoned those from the Rakuyo Maru, taking only the Japanese survivors.
Of the 1,300 POWs aboard the Rakuyo Maru, 159 were rescued, but only seven lived.
Oct. 24, South China Sea
The Arisan Maru carrying 1,800 American prisoners was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine and sunk. The Japanese destroyer escort rescued Japanese military and civilian personnel and left the POWs to their fate. It is estimated that only ten prisoners survived the disaster.
Dec. 17-18, Philippine Sea
A typhoon struck U.S. Third Fleet's Task Force 38, sank three destroyers, damaged seven other ships, destroyed 186 aircraft, and killed 800 officers and men.
On New Year's Eve, 1943 I boarded a troop transport in Fiji with an advance party of 19 men and traveled to Bougainville Island in the Solomon Islands. This was appropriate...my first selection of the Book of The Month Club had been "Headhunting In The Solomons".
The Marines had landed on the jungle covered, swampy southern coast of the island earlier, and the Sea Bees (CB) had constructed sand roads and an airbase from which our planes were bombing targets farther north. The Americal Infantry Division and Ohio's 37th Infantry Division had the mission of defending the perimeter protecting the air base against the counter-attacking Japanese.
As a platoon leader I successfully led five long range recon patrols of 3 to 7 days each behind enemy lines, with 7 to 35 men. They were for the purpose of discovering and mapping locations of enemy troops, supply routes, assembly areas, artillery positions, observation points, and lines of communication.
The 21st Reconnaissance Troop was the eyes and ears of the Americal Division. We were to get information without being discovered, and were not to fire our weapons unless absolutely necessary. The regiments performed their own short range recon work in front of their perimeters. We did long range reconnaissance of three to seven days each, behind enemy positions. On rare occasions we were assigned offensive missions assisting the infantry units.
Regardless of how many men were in the patrol, we always traveled single file in the jungle. Depending upon the vegetation density, we were able to see only a limited number of men in front or behind us at one time. The pace was determined by the observations of the Lead Scout as confirmed by the Platoon Leader, who was always second in the column.
Our movements were always very slow and deliberate. Normally we advanced a step or two at a time, being careful not to make noise, cut vegetation, or leave tracks that might later be discovered by the enemy. Our theory was that our operations were less likely to be detected in the future if we left no tell tale signs. We buried no trash from our meal packages. No smoking was allowed because the odor lingered on and could be detected by the enemy. By following these rules we were able to return to the same locations several times without the Japanese realizing they were being observed.
The Japanese, being in what they considered to be their own territory, left footprints, shelter huts, cut vines and trails wherever they traveled. Our careful observations and the low visibility in the dense jungle were important factors in our remaining undetected.
Every patrol had to have a "lead scout" who was first in the column, and usually followed by the Lt. Platoon Leader. Platoon leaders had a very high casualty rate. The third man in my patrols was always the Platoon Sgt. so he would be available to assist in the disposition of the other men in case of an emergency.
I visualized the reconnaissance "patrol group" as a team effort for getting to the target area where we could utilize our training and skills to assess the enemy situation. We were to discover and report on enemy routes, trails, huts, assembly areas, strength, and movements. On occasion we were to try to take prisoners for interrogation.
Sgt. Charles (Red) Grey was my Platoon Sgt. He was with me every step of the way on every patrol mission except one. Once we were ambushed while returning on the sixth day, and Elias and I were separated from the patrol overnight. In that instance, Sgt. Grey took the balance of the patrol to friendly lines as he had been instructed. He was always armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, one of the heavier weapons to carry when you include the ammunition. I tried it once and found it stressful. I usually carried a .30 caliber carbine and a .45 caliber pistol.
Cpl. Elias was the only Lead Scout in my platoon who could lead the way all day long, day after day. Most Lead Scouts could not stand the extreme tension of walking into unknown situations for more than an hour or two at a time. If personnel were available, we rotated scouts, but in a small patrol the same man had to be used continuously.
Cpl. Andrew Elias saved my life on at least three occasions. During the ambush he exposed himself to enemy rifle fire while taking cover behind a fallen tree log. Then he fired at the Japanese soldier who fired at me when I joined Cpl. Elias. On many occasions his sharp powers of observation protected me and the other patrol members from the fire of the enemy soldiers we were observing.
These two courageous men supported me fully as their leader. They were with me from the very first day on each of our seven patrols into enemy territory. Our success was insured by their skills and devotion to duty.
At night our patrols bedded down in a circular area with the Platoon Leader near the center. We posted no guards. We tried to sleep in safe areas but sometimes, because with night approaching, we had to use locations not far from areas in which we had recently heard enemy voices or chopping. We always moved out the next morning shortly after daybreak.
1/16-19/1944: Orientation Patrol Northwest Of Hill 1000
Sgt. Grey, Cpl. Elias and I accompanied a short range three day infantry recon patrol from the 164th Regiment. Both of my men had previous combat experience on Guadalcanal. We set up an outpost at the end of the first day, reconnoitered the second day approximately 1000 yards northwesterly, and returned to the outpost on the third day. We encountered no enemy, and returned through regimental lines that afternoon.
1/26-29/1944 Southeast Of Hill 1000
We set up an observation post and took photos ranging from the volcano Mt. Bagana on the north to the ocean (Empress Augusta Bay) to the southeast.
We observed: 3 Japanese Azimith 61 degrees, Range 3500 yards; 3 Huts on distant ridge @ 81 degrees; 2 Huts on distant ridge @ 94 degrees. 1 Alleged hut and bridge on Air Corps photos were determined to be shadows, Az 105 degrees @ 2500 yards.
2/4-10/1944 Patrol To Hill 600
Each Platoon Leader of our 21st Recon Troop was to specialize in the territories of the three Regimental zones beyond the Americal Infantry Division perimeter.
My assigned sector was toward the northeast through the front lines of the 164th Infantry Regiment from North Dakota.
We left through front lines of their 3rd Battalion for a seven day hike over the saddle between Hills 1000 and 600. Our mission was to scout out supply trails, and assembly areas to the northeast. Our patrol was ambushed on return trip through the saddle.
The company commander turned out to be Captain Bill Nagle. I recognized him as one of the senior boy scout assistants at the Polywog camp near Danville, Illinois which I had attended 10 years earlier as a 7th grader!
The Boston 182nd Regiment lines extended toward the east, followed by the Chicago 132nd Regiment to the southeast, all fronting generally toward the Torokina River. The river was shallow enough for wading, and screened on both sides by dense thickets of reeds and other growth. Far to the north was the beautiful Mt. Bagana volcano with steam trailing off into the sky.
This was the first patrol in which I experienced any real danger. Our mission was to follow one day behind a Fijian patrol going to the saddle on Hill 600, and to reconnoiter the low ground beyond the ridge.
We had been introduced to a few of the Fijians. They were all over six feet tall, and giant, rugged individuals whose patrol patterns called for them to drop off pairs of men along their route. When their patrol reached it's maximum range it was at minimum strength. The process was then reversed, and the patrol would return over the same route, this time picking up the pairs of men who had been left for rear security along the trail. At the time, I doubted if our troops had the skills and self reliance to operate in such isolated groups.
Our seven man patrol crossed the river at 5:00 AM and proceeded along a well defined trail a few yards at a time until about 9:00 when we heard a fire-fight some distance ahead up the hill. Knowing we could not cross the saddle because it was no doubt occupied by Japanese, we left the trail and worked our way southeasterly on uphill terrain with low visibility through dense vegetation and tall trees.
The high point of Hill 600 was at an elevation slightly above 600 feet, and to the south of the saddle. The saddle was at about 400 feet, and our route to the south required climbing back up to about 500 feet. The trip was exhausting and very slow. We lost about a half day in the detour, and we bedded down for the night just below the crest of the ridge. Early the next morning we crossed over and descended to explore the flat ground on the reverse side of the ridge.
On the third morning we headed northeasterly several hundred yards through jungle growth until we came to an eight foot wide trail which had been heavily traveled recently, judging by the Japanese split- toe boot prints in the mud. This trail appeared to be headed generally up the back side of Hill 600 toward the saddle.
I left four men at that juncture, and backtracked toward Hill 600 to look for any installations. Cpl. Andrew Elias continued as Lead Scout, and Sgt. Charles Grey followed me. After about 200 yards we came to a dry streambed with very little vegetation. Sgt. Grey covered us with his sub-machinegun, and I followed Andy 20 yards across the open ground to what had been the far bank of the stream.
He peeked up over the top and immediately lowered his body, turning his head toward me. What a strange sight! He was carrying his hunting knife crossways in his teeth, and his bronzed skin had turned white as his blood drained out with surprise and fear! He was almost face to face with a Japanese lookout sitting with his rifle across his lap, but looking away from us.
Not knowing if the lookout could see us from his position, we had no choice but to stand up and walk back across the streambed. We signaled Sgt. Grey. My knees were shaking so much I had difficulty standing, but we made it back to cover on the other side. Quietly we rejoined our other four men, and continued beyond the trail to complete our reconnaissance of the areas to the northeast.
We bedded down for the third night just off the trail, and continued on the next morning with no activity other than spotting three Japanese soldiers. On the fourth day we continued to the northeast until we reached a small stream late in the afternoon.
We entered the shallow water and waded 200 yards during a light rain. Then we slowly hiked another 500 yards to the east through light jungle without incident.... except for a surprise encounter with a wild boar who was partially covered with dead vegetation.
Using a simple plastic matchbox compass, we worked our way back to the exact point where we had exited the river, and camped there for the fourth night.
We thought we ought to return to the area in which we had encountered the outpost guard to observe what activity was going on behind him. We circled around until we came upon five lean-to shelters, all facing inward so we could not see their interiors. After ten minutes we had heard no sounds, and had seen no one, so I decided to leave. Elias still wanted to examine the interiors of the huts, so we covered him until he reached the closest. Seeing no one inside, he decided to forget it, and we left quietly.
Because it was getting late in the day, we located the 8 ft wide trail leading up the back side of the saddle. I planned to follow it as far as we could, and then by-pass the Japanese to the north. As we appeared to approach the top, I looked back at Sgt. Grey who had his machine-gun slung over his shoulder, and said, "You'd better get that thing ready."
The trail flattened out, and turned to the left across a clearing. A rifle shot rang out, and we all hit the ground. Sgt. Grey crawled back to the others, but Elias and I were so exposed we had to drop off to the left. We slowly crept a few feet down the side of the hill. Elias jumped up and threw his body over and to the back side of a giant dead tree trunk, and the resulting enemy rifle shot missed him.
He covered me and fired back as I joined him. He showed me where the first shot fired had pierced the sleeve and front of his shirt five times (including his left pocket which contained a hand grenade) but it had only left a "rose-bud" of a wound on his left arm.
Elias and I were in a large bed of "elephant ear" plants that were on 5 foot tall stems. They waved, signaling the enemy every time we touched one. We spent an hour crawling downward off the side of the hill and then returned to the original trail to see if any of our patrol might still be there. We were not surprised to find no one because I had previously instructed them to return individually to friendly lines if our patrol were disrupted. Grey and the other four men made it into the Americal perimeter that afternoon.
We continued to climb northwesterly and finally reached the saddle where we joined a large 164th Regimental patrol making camp for the night. We had supper with them, and then continued back to friendly front lines on the seventh morning. Andy showed no signs of distress at all, but I was so exhausted it took us a half hour to climb up the bank of the hill.
For several months thereafter I would run into acquaintances from various Infantry units who would express surprise saying, "I heard you were dead."
2/20-23/1944 Hill 200
I was re-assigned to explore southeasterly from the lower end of Hill 200 in front of the 3rd Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment following the failure of one our platoon leaders to get his men to advance to the banks of the Saua River.
We located fresh tree cuts and a hut behind the ridge, but could not locate the alleged garden area reported by the Air Corps southeast toward the Saua River. We found a newly cut 6'x150' fire lane 500 yards south of the tip of Hill 200, plus 6 old huts, of which one had been recently repaired. The return trip was uneventful.
I was accompanied on that trip by our Lt. Bruce who later guided an infantry platoon to a fire fight with enemy troops who had moved into the area. Bruce watched the fight from behind a small tree, and received a lot of splinters in his forehead when an enemy rifle shot pierced the visor of his cloth cap. In order to avoid the possibility of "ringing the bell" by brushing against a tree limb, we did not wear metal helmets on jungle patrols.
3/04-07/1944 The Saua River
The Japanese had by now mounted a full scale counter attack on the Americal Infantry perimeter. On this trip to locate known artillery weapons that had not fired upon us for five days, we located them just in time to have them begin firing again. Our artillery returned their fire into the area occupied by my patrol, and we narrowly escaped having casualties.
For the first time, our patrol was made up of my full platoon, a Captain from the newly arrived 93rd Infantry Division Recon Troop, three of his platoon leaders, and a group of his NCO's who went along for their orientation to combat jungle patrolling. We also had an Artillery Captain and his radio man as a technical advisor if we should locate any unmanned artillery weapons.
With 5 to 10 yard spacing, we were so spread out in the dense jungle I could usually see only a few men at a time.
We reached the south end of the Hill 200 ridge and followed it northerly through our old sleeping area until we found a trail crossing our route. Elias spotted a communication wire tied around a small tree trunk, where the green leaf inside the wire had not yet wilted. Knowing work parties were in the area, we continued until we had crossed two more wires. We decided to leave after discovering that the three communication wires on the Hill 200 ridge led to Japanese artillery observation platforms in the trees.
We made camp just below the ridge, and after it was too late to move, we heard chopping sounds and voices. We broke camp earlier than usual the next morning, and started eastward toward the Saua River. To our surprise we heard bursts of machinegun fire to our rear. We hit the ground and waited until word came up our column indicating we had shot two Japanese soldiers. They were on a work party, and looked into the bushes where our men were concealed.
At the end of the day we located an area on the west bank of the Saua River which had been bombed out by US planes and artillery. It contained no Japanese installations. At dawn the next morning Japanese artillery located directly across the river from us opened fire. Since we had camped on the edge of the bombed out area, we surmised that our own artillery would mistakenly fire again into the same area. It happened, and we narrowly escaped without casualties to our patrol by running full speed between explosion bursts of "friendly" artillery rounds.
We solved the problem of the enemy occupying Hill 200 by dropping down southerly in order to go around the end of the ridge. At one point the trees and vegetation thinned out and I could see our entire patrol following Elias and me. Then we spotted two Japanese kneeling with their rifles shouldered. Apparently they thought we had too much firepower for them, and they disappeared into the jungle without firing.
We reached the edge of a major swamp where the water was chest deep as we walked on the submerged roots of what looked like giant lily pads. Seeing the disrupted plants on our trail, the Air Corps reported the next day that a new trail had been cut through the jungle!
General Hodge's Visit
Upon our return to base camp, for the first time Division Commander General John R. Hodge came to our unit while I was eating to interview me, instead of waiting for my report to G-2 Intelligence Officer, Lt. Col Agnew. He gave me a quart of bourbon and a case of beer for my men saying "I knew you were in there...you're always ahead of us...but I had to fire back."
During the Japanese counter attack on Hill 260, just outside the 182nd regimental perimeter, followed by a partial penetration of their perimeter I was sent with all available 21st Recon men to a support position to help prevent a Japanese break-through. We were only in position at night from about 1800 to 2200 hours, and assisted with sporadic rifle fire. The break-through failed, and teams from all three regiments recaptured the full Hill 260.
Letter Of Commendation
On another occasion I was detailed to lead the 21st Recon in a flanking manuever in the hills to assist the 164th Regt. 3rd Bn in rooting out a heavilly entrenched Japanese unit. On 14 July 1944 their CO, Major James W. Harris sent us a letter of commendation:
"To: Lt. Edwin O. Booth, 21st Reconnaissance Troop
"I wish to express to you my great appreciation for the splendid service that you rendered this Battalion during the period 4-9 July 1944.
"It is with pleasure that I commend the Officers and Enlisted Personnel of your unit for their untiring reconnaissance and aggressive actions of your patrols which contributed to the successful completion of our mission.
"I am certain that I speak for my entire command when I say that should future operations require our combined efforts, the 21st Reconnaisance Troop and my Third Battalion would make an unbeatable combination.
"JAMES W. HARRIS, Major, Infantry"
Legion of Merit Award
I was recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal for that initial series of five long range patrols, but Army Headquarters reduced it to the Legion of Merit Award, saying the DSM was reserved for Generals. News items give some details of our activities.
My boss was Lt. Col McGee when I was assigned to the General's staff as a Liaison Officer in the G-3 Section (Plans & Operations) of Division Headquarters. I was promoted to Captain at the age of 23. My job was to coordinate and clarify orders and information by personal contact with regimental and battalion commanders.
I was recruited secretly by a 14th Corps intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Moore, to work with guerilla forces in the Philippines, but my new Division Commander refused to let me go.
Bougainville, Solomon Islands 1944
I was assigned for 30 days of temporary duty in New Caledonia as a technical advisor for the Battle Of Bougainville documentary film made by Major Gordon Mitchell, cousin of actor Thomas Mitchell. Gordon was a member of the Motion Picture Academy in civilian life.
New Caledonia was a former French penal colony, and now occupied by US troops as a base for blocking the Japanese thrust toward Australia.
Sgt. Tate of our G-3 Section asked me to look up a school teacher he had met when our troops first were in New Caledonia. I found her living with her parents in an apartment above the school in which she taught. She was 35 years old and very closely chaperoned. They had me in for a nice Sunday dinner. In the month I was in New Caledonia I escorted her and her mother several times to the free American movies in the General's theater. I was able to get a jeep for three days to take them to visit relatives in the northern part of the island.
Back at Bougainville, I participated in training for amphibious landings and regimental assault missions in preparation for our next move to Leyte Island in the Philippines.
The G-3 Section Head changed during my tour from Col. McGee, who became Chief of Staff., to Lt. Col. Gee, who had been with the 132nd Inf Regt.
I had a lot of help in my military career.
Before Capt. Johnson B. Allen left on leave, he arranged with Col. McGee for my transfer to the Division HQ G-3 Section where there was an opening as Liaison Officer and a promotion to Captain. Our Capt. Allen's plane disappeared in route to a leave of absence in the US, and we had to send his possessions home. It was a sad day.
When Col. McGee was promoted to Chief of Staff, Capt. Tom Ammons told me the new G-3 was to be Col. Gee from the 132nd Inf Regt, and that he had said his first plan was to fire me!
Instead, Col. Gee turned out to be my favorite boss. He was a regular army officer, probably in his early 40's. Under him I increased my understanding of regimental and battalion tactics and procedures, and large unit amphibious landings. He was my mentor, and eventually a father figure to me.
Col. Gee challenged my performance by repeatedly giving me assignments beyond my previous responsibilities, and I always seemed to rise to the occasions. His confidence and support were so strong I would have done anything for him.
He assigned me to work as a G-3 Assistant to General Ridings who commanded a brigade which included the 164th Inf Regt on Leyte, north of Ormoc.
He assigned me to prepare the basic amphibious landing plans for Cebu.
He sent me to Bohol Island to coordinate the Guerillas with our 3rd Bn 164th Inf amphibious landing, and awarded me the Bronze Star for my success.