War Stories

A Soldier in the 35th Infantry Regiment

by Vernon G Hodson

A Soldier in THE 35th Infantry Regiment

Vernon G Hodson

My 18th birthday found me hitching a ride to Portland, Maine to enlist in the Army. By April 25,1940, my paperwork and physical had been successfully completed and I entered active Service. There was no boot camp in those days with all basic training done at your assigned regiment.

May and June was spent in transit on a slow boat to Hawaii through the Panama Canal. We arrived at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii on July 2, 1940. I was assigned to M Company, 35th infantry regiment and placed under the direction of Sgt. Miles and Corporal Hale.

They were the non-coms responsible for basic training of all new recruits joining the regiment.

After completion of basic training, I was to remain In the company for the next four years. The next year and a half of peace time were spent improving our skills. I became qualified as a truck driver, heavy mortar team leader and expert gunner with the .30 caliber water cooled machine gun.

During the latter half of 1941, the intensity of the training and the levels of alert were increased. Due to the war in China and Europe there was growing concern about the security in Hawaii.

We were often sent on roving patrols in our half ton Chevy pickup truck with four men and live rounds in the mounted .30 caliber machine gun. A routine part of our patrol was to check bridges and culverts for sabotage.

In November 1941, a full-dress parade was performed for a high level visiting Japanese Emissary. Perhaps this was meant to be a show of force?

The morning of December 7, 1941 saw me returning to the barracks from Honolulu early in the morning. I was awakened by the sound of explosions at Wheeler Field. We ran to get weapons and ammunition but they were locked up. In the meantime from the third floor window we could look down on a Japanese plane pulling up from a strafing run. The big red rising sun was showing on the wings. This answered the question about the sources of the explosions. With our aircraft at Wheeler field lined up wing tip to wing tip the strafing and bombing were very effective and over quickly. Virtually every aircraft was damaged or destroyed. We could also see the smoke coming from Pearl Harbor. We spent the rest of the day getting ready for the Japanese invasion that was expected and so we took our positions near the beaches. We stayed in defensive positions for some time until it became clear the Japanese were not going to invade, we went back to training our new men and preparing for amphibious assaults.

There were rumors about deployment but things remained quiet until late 1942, when we boarded a ship for an unknown location. Caledonia was our first destination but that was only an interim stop on our way to Guadalcanal. We arrived December 17,1942 where we were to relieve the 1st Marine Division which had been in constant combat since August. Now we were exposed to bombing, artillery fire and night time combat against a weakened enemy. However bad the enemy was, the jungle and tropical disease was worse.

!n the next two months almost everyone in the company had had some bouts with malaria. On January 4, we left the beach and began our assault to clear Mt. Austin of the Japanese. To do this we had to go through a heavy fortified area known as the Gifu pocket. It was a strong point loaded with pill boxes hidden in such heavy jungle that we couldn't see them until we were nearly on them. Days were spent in intense fighting against snipers and hidden bunkers. Only when a tank borrowed from the Marines was brought up, could the pillboxes be destroyed without heavy losses. A single light tank was able to use their 37 mm and opened up a gap in the Japanese defense line. This was the beginning of the end. A counter attack by the Japanese the next day was costly to the 2nd battalion but exhausted most of the Japanese capability. We cleared the pocket of the enemy forces over the next few days.

Finally, we were pulled out of the line and returned to the beach where we had originally landed. By February the Japanese had evacuated most of their troops off the island and resistance had become sporadic. From February to July of 1943, we maintained the security of Guadalcanal. This time was also used for training of replacements needed after the terrible fighting on Guadalcanal.

On August 15, 1943 we conducted an opposed landing at Villa Lavelle, a small island north of Guadalcanal. The invasion force was primarily the 35th infantry regiment. My unit, the 3rd battalion was the last battalion to land. My landing was memorable because just as we had gotten to the beach two Japanese aircraft came in low strafing the beach. A buddy and I jumped into the jungle and took cover behind a downed tree. Although feeling relieved to be away from the strafing aircraft we were shocked to find the downed tree contained nests of the biggest ants we had ever seen. We were attacked with scores of bites. So severe were the bites that our response was to run back across the beach and into the water, where we ripped off our clothes and scraped the ants off our bodies. Fortunately the strafing was over and no serious damage was caused by the ants but we were often reminded by fellow soldiers of our naked return to the water.

I was still recovering from a back injury caused by being run over by a truck in Guadalcanal while preparing for the Villa Lavelle landings, but I refused any serious treatment because I didn't want to leave my company. We encountered light resistance and the island fell. We returned to Guadalcanal and then to New Zealand for needed rest and recuperation.

Then it was off to New Caledonia to prepare for the Philippine campaign. Here I was selected for my first leave back to the U.S. In July 1944, my service with "M" company and the 35th infantry ended. Upon return to the U.S. and completion of leave, I was transferred to Camp Blanding, Florida. While awaiting transfer to another unit I had several severe reccurrences of malaria that required hospitalization with subsequent rehabilitation. After numerous hospitalizations for malaria, I was released from active duty with an Honorable discharge on June 16th 1949.