May 1944 began for the 9th with the air echelon not knowing the
whereabouts of the ground echelon. The ground echelon was in about the same fix; they did
not know where they were themselves! Most of them were on the Liberty ship "David S.
Berry"; some were on LST's, and some equipment was on still another Liberty ship.
After several false starts, the dead weight and vehicles were all loaded at Finschafen,
and all personnel went back to the mud-covered coral hilltop to wait. There was no work to
do and only one borrowed vehicle to take the whole group swimming or to the evening
picture shows. One evening we had a dry run and pulled down what few tents we had - only
to put them back up when someone changed his mind. On the 9th, the LST's pulled out and we
struck camp, loaded what equipment and tentage we had into trucks and 2-1/2 ton amphibian
trucks and down to the docks we went.
The personnel rotation plan came to life
unexpectedly, and the April list left for Nadzab the day we pulled out. We were all happy
to see them leave for home; after 27 months overseas, it was conceded that they had earned
a furlough to the States.
That night all slept on the Berry, but not until she pulled out about 5 miles, then
pulled back into the same dock and took aboard another outfit. We all slept because we
were tired; a good many tons of food, tentage, etc., had been loaded into the nets in a
very short time. We slept where we could, the majority of men in the hold and the rest
wherever they could stretch out or sandwich a cot between trucks on the deck.
On the afternoon of May 10, we started for Hollandia in 3 Liberty ships and 2 escort
vessels. Zig-zagging was slight, but each evening we changed course before dark and then
again after dark. Our course was out of sight of land and only once did we even see
aircraft, but they were ours (B-24's) and a long way off.
The morn of May 13 we awoke to see Humbolt Bay before us, and of course the harbor was
full of miscellaneous shipping including LST's, LCT's, launches, corvettes, destroyers and
PT boats. Some of the officers went ashore to find out about unloading, and soon came back
with the news that the LST's had arrived several days ahead of us and had been unloaded. A
temporary camp had been set up near White Beach. We were told we would be unloaded
"as soon as possible". We all sat down and tried to rationalize our enforced
activity. At least we were getting a good rest and while by this time we were a bit tired
of "C", "K", and 10 in 1 rations (all that was available), we waited.
Two days passed uneventfully as the Berry swung gently with the tide. At night, air alerts
kept the ship gun crews busy - dashing from their bunks to their posts.
On 16 May the anchor was raised and the Berry sailed a mile or so over to the smaller
Hollandia Harbor by the town itself. Like all New Guinea towns it had no size - in fact,
we could see only one little European type house. We could see Jap supplies stacked on the
beach, including radial engines apparently new and mounted on assembly mounts.
The 17th found us finally beginning to unload. First to be unloaded was tentage and
boxes, all of which had to be man-handled off the LCT once it was beached. The fact that
the tentage was wet did not make it any lighter for the "9th Squadron
Stevedores". As our equipment and personal luggage were piled on the beach, our men
went ashore to guard it and to load it on trucks that were supposed to come down from the
airstrips in the mountains behind the town. The trucks did not show up, so some of our men
stayed on the beach with the equipment, others scrounged around for something to eat and
then bunked for the night on Pancake Hill. There were several alerts but no raids that
night. The 9th was now split five ways. The air echelon had arrived at Hollandia strip,
part of us were still aboard the Berry, a few were on the beach, some on Pancake Hill, and
the rest were enroute between the beach and the airstrip.
Late that afternoon clouds of smoke arose from the landing area on the beach, and that
evening a large explosion was heard followed by several more. A hill obscured the flames,
but after dark we could see the glow from the fire and occasional tracers streaking across
the sky. Three of our men on the beach guarding baggage and equipment were right in the
middle of what looked to us aboard ship as quite a catastrophe. Cpl. W. Williams, while
trying to save our equipment and baggage, was nearly torn apart by bomb fragments and died
that night in a hospital on the beach. This news reached us the next day (19th) and to say
we were shocked would be understating our feelings. Cpl. Williams had been with us since
we left 'Frisco as the 49th Pursuit Group in January 1942. The 9th, particularly the
armament section, had lost one of its most popular and well regarded members.
Although we knew that a great deal of our personal baggage and squadron equipment had
been destroyed, we learned to some satisfaction that the trucks that should have moved us
and our supplies up to the airstrip had been used to haul aviation gasoline out of the
very dump which exploded. On the following day smoke was still coming from the beach, but
the LCT's and the winch gang got together and we continued unloading. A sizable amount of
men and equipment had been put ashore by dark. After several more delays, the loading off
was finally completed on the 25th of May and men and equipment started to arrive at the
airstrip. The air echelon's activities were by far the most interesting, and the ground
echelon soon caught up on the story of the advance echelon's achievements.