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May 1944 - Part 2


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9FS Unit History

May 1944 - Part 1



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.


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