by Frank L Marks
THE CACTI REGIMENT
2ND BN. 35TH IN
25TH INF. DIVISION
By Frank L. Marks - Historian for the F Co. Assn. 35th Inf. Regiment
GETTING READY, DESTINATION -- UNKOWN. SCHOFIELD BARRACKS,
TERRITORY OF HAWAII, NOVEMBER 23RD, 1942.
Anticipation running high, speculations as to where we were going was anywhere from Alaska to Japan itself. A sleepless night, next morning the noncoms went through to make sure everyone's packs were complete, and barracks bags were prepared. Then another day of anticipation and speculation. November 25th, we were finally loaded into trucks and heading out to "God Knows Where." An hour's ride on the trucks, a stop for a 10 minute break and a chance for a short walk, our last, on the beautiful Island of Ohau. Next stop, loading onto ships which would be our home for the next 20 days.
I think it was Dec. 12th or 13th that we were docked at Neumea, New Caledonia and received the orders for our final destination. Dec. 15th we unloaded on the Island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Chain. We were relieving the Marines 1st Div. which had shipped out 5 days earlier. (I don't think this was the exact place we were intended to be sent.) and I had this more or less confirmed in talking with LTG's, Lee Cagwin (Ca.), and Stanley Larsen (Ga.), at a 25th Inf. Div. Reunion in Colo. Springs. The incident leading up to our going to Guadalcanal was when a Ship of the President Lines, carrying a Div. of Marines, struck a mine off the coast of New Caledonia and was sunk. Those Marines were to have replaced the 1st Marine Div. (Our being the closest military unit at that time, we were diverted to the Canal instead of going to our intended destination believed to have been, New Guinea.)
One of the first things we were able to do when we landed on the Canal was to take a bath in Lunga River to wash off the salt water... (Our baths aboard ship were with salt water as the ship could not carry enough fresh water for bathing purposes.) While the men of Co. F, 2nd Bn., 35th Inf. were taking their baths, a Photographer from Life Magazine took their pictures it appeared in a copy of Life the 1st or 2nd week of Feb. on their cover. We were then deployed to Bloody Ridge until the rest of the Div. arrived in late Dec.1942. To occupy our time we spent duty unloading ships, guard duty and many small sundry jobs like K.P. and policing the area. (Bloody Ridge was the last major battle for the 1st Marines on the Canal led by Lt. Col. Chesty Puller. It was also the last Major battle for the Japanese as they did not land any more large fighting forces.)
Mount Austin overlooked Henderson Airfield, an airstrip the Japs were building when the Marines began their invasion of the Canal. (Henderson Field was named by the Marines to honor the first Marine flyer killed in WW II.) The Jap used the Gifu as an observation post to direct gunfire from distant artillery units, ships and submarines. This needed to be knocked out. The original unit designated to do the job was from the newly formed "Americal Div." It was the 32nInf.Regt. The Gifu Strong Point was manned by a unit of Japanese from the town of Gifu. (Thus the name, "Gifu Strong Point.") For about 3 weeks the 32nd Regt. had been trying to penetrate the Jap defenses with absolutely no success. With the 32nd Inf. Reg. suffering hundreds of casualties, hundreds decimated by Malaria and Dysentery, ending up with only enough men to fill a Battalion, this called for the immediate replacement of this regiment. On the 10th of Jan. 1943 the 25th Inf. Div. went into combat. Its mission was to seek out and destroy the Japanese forces and secure the Island. This was accomplished in 27 days by the Division plus the 2nd Marine Battalion. It took the 2nd Bn. of the 35th the longest to do its job. The 2nd Bn. was given the job of relieving a Regiment and wipe out the Japs from the Gifu Strong Point. First off, the Japs only had to fortify the front half of their circle as the back half were cliffs which no one could scale. They had the advantage of higher ground and had all the area criss-crossed with machinegun fire. It was a jungle so camouflaged that you didn't know where nor could see where those machinegun bunkers were. The 32nd Inf. had no maps of the area nor could they give us any information when we relieved them. George Co. was set up to the right of the perimeter, Fox Company in the center and Easy Co. on the left. The 1st Pltn. of F Co was right next to easy Co.
Orders came to send out patrols. Our first was by the 2nd squad of the 2nd Pltn. John E. Bell was killed and we had three others wounded from that 1st patrol. I never heard but I imagine that the Easy and George Co.'s met with the same fate. After 3 days of sending out patrols and suffering casualties without any success on our part. The Bn. C.O. Col Peters requested that the Regiment send some tanks to help out. Request denied. He repeated the request on successive days. The Div. Commander and Regimental Commander decide that Col. Peters was not the man for the job and relieved him of his command, installing his Exec. Officer, Lt. Col. Stanley J. Larsen, ("Swede" as most of the men in the Regiment knew him,) came up with the same conclusion as Col. Peters. Tanks were needed to complete the mission. They finally got the message. Three tanks were borrowed from the Marines and tried to make their way up Mount Austin through the Jungle terrain. Only one of them succeeded. This was on the 24th Of Jan. 1943. The tank was manned by three people, the driver Lt. Seese, the man on the cannon Sgt. Seese, ( brother of the driver) and on the machinegun, Lt. Cy Drew (who later on became C. O. of Fox Co.) To protect the tank, Lt. Robert Smoot of the 1st Pltn. Fox Co. got 20 volunteers from the men on the line. (Five from each of the four companies, E. F. G. & H Co's.) The tank then proceeded to destroy 3 bunkers in the center of the Jap defense in the morning and two more in the afternoon. It broke the back of the Japanese defense. That night, the Japs tried to break out of the Gifu with all their able bodied men, a total of 86. The attack was aimed right into the defense set up by the 1st Pltn of Fox Co. which was led by Lt. Robert Smoot and S/Sgt. Raymond "Piss-Off" Smith. Rifle fire and Machinegun fire killed a lot of the attackers, but the most damage was from an 80MM mortar in our Weapons section manned by Sgt. Alvin Loudermilk. A lot of things went on during the 16 days we were in the lines at the Gifu. Loud speakers were set up and everyday there would be broadcasts aired to the Japanese to surrender. This would be after the artillery had shelled them for about an hour. Also leaflets were dropped asking them to surrender.
The final push into the Gifu was virtually un-apposed. The remaining men in the bunkers were too weak to put up any resistance. From the time the 32nd Inf. Reg. set up its perimeter at the Gifu. (While we couldn't get in, the Japs couldn't get out. This meant the only food they had was their original supply and they had no water other than rain water as we had the water holes blocked off.) I don't remember if it was the next to the last patrol that went out or the one before that, when we lost Sgt. Homer G. Houston. The patrol went out and he was killed and they couldn't get to him to bring his body back. The next day, when the next patrol went out, they found him, but the Japs had cut off his Buttocks. Because of no food supplies the Japs had to divert to cannibalism. I don't know how many of their own men they ate, but when their headquarters area was reached there was a human liver in the kitchen ready to be cooked. I don't know anything about our other companies but Fox Co had 1 Officer killed. (Lt. Clarence Lovejoy (La.), 5 noncoms killed, (Sgt.s Kermit Mullinnex and Homer G Heuston, Cpl.s George E. Frace, Carl H Frick, Harold Christianson,) and 11 enlisted men. (Pvt.s William W. Cooper, Anastasia W. Anastasian, Paul C Thompson, Thomas S. Doyle, John E. Bell, Levi E. Motley, John K. Evans, Edward J. Morricette, Louis O. Thourel, Leland S. Bland, and Frederick Davis.) Forty-three wounded and about 60 plus with Malaria and/or dysentery. A little over half of those with Malaria or dysentery were able to return to the company at a later date, and about 6 of those who had been wounded, also made it back to the Co. Within 6 months all our officers had been replaced, several men were sent to other companies to become 1st Sgts. Etc. and one man received a field commission. Oh yes, we received about 100 replacements bringing us to almost combat strength.
When the 2nd Bn. was assigned the Gifu job, the 1st and 3rd Bn.s were each assigned a hill to take, which each completed their mission in three days. One of the men wrote a story about the 1st Bn.s taking of their hill and it was made into a movie called the "Thin Red Line." When the Regiment borrowed the three tanks from the Marines, a reporter from Parade Magazine tagged along. He sent his story entitled 20 men and a tank, telling of how we penetrated the Gifu. The story was printed in April 1943. One of the men's wives (the wife of Stephen Howard of H Co.) had save the copy for him. He sent the copy to Gen. "Swede" Larsen and that is the last we know of it. "Swede" said he didn't know what he did with it. The Smithsonian has a copy but said its condition is too delicate to try and open it and make a copy of its contents.
When we went into combat at the Gifu, our officers were: C.O. Capt. Harry W. Copenhaver (Tx.) Exec. Officer Harold M. Schrock (Pa.), 1st Pltn. 2nd Lt. Robert Smoot (Ca.), 2nd Pltn. 2nd Lt. Clarence Lovejoy (K.I.A. on Guadalcanal), 2nd Lt. Howard Rose (Ky) and 2nd Lt. Joseph R. Dillon (Cn.).
Col. Peters, who had been relieved of his command on the Canal was transferred to the European Theater, where he had a distinguished military career and was given his General Stars. It was not his inability to command on Guadalcanal but the lack of cooperation from his Commanding Officers and their inability to understand the situation.
Going back to the part of this story about 86 men making their final Banzii attack and one of them succeeding to make it through our lines. At that time we only knew of the 85 that had been killed and been bulldozed into a common grave. In the 1950's a group of Japanese from Gifu, Japan, returned to Guadalcanal to try and recover the remains of those 85 men. They were accompanied by the man who had made it through ours lines at that time. They were unable to find the location due to the fact that the Jungle had once more taken over. In 1960 they learned that the American Officer who was in charge of the battle for the Gifu at that time was Lt. Col. Stanley "Swede" Larsen. They learned he had become a Lt. Gen. and was in Charge of the Presidio in San Francisco, Cal. An envoy was sent to San Francisco to see if Swede could give them some helpful information. Swede told them if they could find the waterhole at the bottom of Mount Austin and then go straight north up the Mount, they would be able to find where the Japanese had made their final resting place. A short time later Swede received word that the bodies had been located. That is how we learned of the 86th man who tried to flee from the Gifu and made it back to Japan.
As a result for this Campaign, other than Purple Hearts, I can only think of one man who was otherwise decorated. Pvt. Charles Jones, of the 1st Pltn. was assigned to guard a water hole below our position. A squad of Japanese attempted to gain control of the water hole and Pvt. Jones killed over half of them, driving them off. For this he was recommended for the Silver Star, which he received.