Robert Glen Bryant    Russell & Rendova

Private First Class, 169th Infantry of the 43rd Division

Click For EnlargementI was 26 years old when I was inducted into the Army Fort Oglethrope, Georgia on February 2, 1942. I was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for my basic training. The Army placed me in the 169th Infantry of the 43rd Division. This outfit was made up of men in the National Guar from the New England states of Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and reinforced with men from the southern states.

Overseas
On October 1, 1942, we arrived by train at the San Francisco 'Port of Embarkation'. We boarded the U.S. Army Troop Transport "Bloemfontein" for the Pacific theatre of war. I think they had been using this ship to transport livestock.

Our convoy zigzagged its way across the 10,000 mile route from the United States to Australia. However, we crossed the International Date Line on October 12, 1942 at longitude 157 west, and latitude 000. We were on our way to the southern island of New Zealand. We arrived there on October 22, 1942. We were treated very well by people. The farmers gave us straw lo make our beds more comfortable. Four of us could sleep in one of the small houses prepared. We were there approximately three weeks before we were shipped out to Auckland, New Zealand on the north island. We crossed the Bay between the northern and southern islands of New Zealand by a very large ferry boat made to transport many vehicles at one time.

New Caledonia
At Auckland, we boarded the ship that would be a part of the convoy taking us to New Caledonia Island. New Caledonia is the fourth largest island in the Pacific, and was French territory. It lies 800 miles east of Australia, and is strategically situated on a direct route from San Francisco to Australia. The convoys used this route to supply General Macarthur’s base. (B-17 Flying) Fortresses based on New Caledonia played an important part in future decisive actions in the Solomon-Bismarck area.

On this island, we slept in pup-tents. Our job was to unload supplies coming in on the island. Most of the G.I. food came in on refrigerated ships. We found some bags marked "sugar." I round some lemons, and a G.I. empty can. I mixed some lemonade. and set it back in a cool place. When we finished unloading, we hurried back for the lemonade. That was the saltiest lemonade I ever tasted. All the bags marked "sugar” contained salt. The joke was on me. However, I did find some sugar, which I tested, so we got our lemonade after all.

We unloaded a shipment of clothing. I found myself a new pair of shoes which I exchanged for my old worn out ones. We also found t-shirts and underwear which I put on in layers under my other clothing.

The South Seas Islanders living on the island were black and wore little or no clothing. One day I was washing my clothing in a little over-flow of spring, water that flows into the ocean. I had walked about two miles to wash my clothes in this fresh water. I was bent over when I felt someone touch me in the back. I looked behind me, and saw a big black man. He bad on a small grass skirt and a spear in his nose. However, he looked friendly. He motioned to my wash, and I understood that he wanted to do my wash for me. I gave him my consent. He pulled up a big flat rock and started beating my clothes against it. I had some yellow G.I. soap and I motioned for him to rub the soap over my clothes. He seemed fascinated as he saw the soapy lather. He looked back at me and smiled. He washed all my clothes clean. I had been pondering how I should pay him for his service. I knew he would like something shiny. I had a silver dime so I gave him that. He rubbed it across his rough, wrought iron legs. Then he looked at me and smiled. He thought he was well paid. This was a big relief to me. Probably if I had given him a one hundred dollar bill, he would have drowned me in the stream of water.

Guadalcanal
The islands in the Southwest Pacific were like a huge chessboard board which the contestants were making their strategic moves. The Solomons cover an area of some 17,000 square miles. We were moved from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal. Our division was assembled for the purpose of another stepping-stone towards the Japanese on Russell Island. This island is directly west of the northern tip of Guadalcanal. Above that is New Georgia with its satellite islands including Vangunu and Rendova on the south and west.

Landing on Russell Island
As we moved toward Russell Island, the Japs had carefully laid mines and submarine as they had a well planed deal to sink our fleet. About dark I was on deck as most of us were, to get some fresh air. I noticed a flare floating down on the left of our fleet, then one came down on our right. Then one on the left rear, then one on our right rear. The flares were dropped by a high-flying plane which completely encircled our fleet. Then it dropped one about center. It came down and burst into what looked like hundreds of small blue flares. This was evidently the attacking signal for the fighters and bombers which came from some distance away. The radar on our fleet had not picked up anything as of that time. Then it all began to happen. Bombers from all directions hit and the sea was lit up like a city park. It seemed they concentrated mainly on what they thought were transports with troops. It seemed that planes were coming from all directions. It seemed like hundreds of them.

Later, we found out that General MacArthur had gotten knowledge of this attack, and had sent his fighters from the point of New Guinea to intercept. He turned back a good many of the Japanese aircraft, but there were still too many on that small fleet. The Navy had its hands full for approximately two hours with the underwater subs, and bombers in the air. They had a fight on, with a well skilled Navy that was sending up more firepower than the Japs could possibly stand. The Navy reported that they destroyed several submarines with sub-chasers, and they shot down, and crippled practically everything in reach. One plane coming over caught fire from three different ships which completely disintegrated in the air. Another plane came in from the rear, and was hit nose-on with one of the heavy guns. It exploded almost on the rear of our ship. The ship I was on practical stood on its nose. After this sea battle the Japs went on, and we landed safely on Russell Island. We stayed there for several weeks awaiting orders.

Island Observation Post
Eight men in my outfit were ordered to a little outpost just off New Georgia Island. I was one of them. The General was there to shake hands with us when we left. They didn't think we would get back. I spent my 27th birthday, April 26, 1943 in the top of a banyan tree, about 40 feet up. We had one tree outpost, and two beach outposts. I was in the tree outpost. We wrapped communication were from limb to limb to make our headquarters. Our one-week supply of rood was drawn up by a cable. We wore tree climbers on our shoes. Our toilet facilities were going out on a limb. Our mission was to spot the Japs. With our binoculars we could see the Japs running around on the beach. We could see the submarine come up in the water. We did have a good communication system as every time we spotted the Japs, we would radar their location and other information. Each time, I could see the U.S. Air Force responding to our call as the aircraft came in low-flying planes and dropped depth charges.

Rendova Island
After my assignment in the tree outpost, I was then assigned to a beach outpost, which was a little sharp peninsula being gradually washed away by high tides. You could see the big ole' Pacific in about two directions really well. Garfield Anderson, from North Carolina. was assigned with me. We would talk two hour shifts sleeping, and then awake the other. We were approximately twelve feet from the water above sea level at the time we were put on duty. Il must have been around 10:00 p.m. I had awakened Garfield and told him that the sea looked like mountains, and the waves seemed to be getting taller. I said, "Watch that!" The next I knew, he grabbed me and pulled at me, and said, "We are going to get drowned. Let's get out of here!" I grabbed my rifle and telephone. A breaker of water appeared to be twenty feet high. We caught on to the bushes and as the breaker went back leaving us in water up under our arms. We knew the next one would be deeper and deeper. We had some distance to go to get to higher ground. We could only combat this by holding to treetops.

Each breaker did get higher, and the water deeper. As we crossed one point, the water breaker was spilling off. Had it not been for strong tree roots we would have been carried back into the sea. Between these sea breaker, and our speed for higher ground, we finally made it. We were possibly a mile from our CP Headquarters. Thinking we could find our communication line we began hunting with some difficulty. We finally found the lines. With our knives, we cut the insulation from the wire, and wired up our telephone. I had salvaged this from the seawater, but with no results. The phone was shorted and grounded out by being water soaked. Our only means of reaching the outpost would be to crawl the line by hand. Feeling the way holding, the lines, we slowly felt our way by following the line until we reached the Central Post Communication Center. I lost most of my equipment, but back at Russell Island, I had no trouble in getting at replaced at the Quartermaster.

Our orders were to stay one week, but due to the typhoon, we were there ten days since the small craft could not travel in the typhoon waters. All eight of us were still alive. We would be picked up by a PT boat about a mile from shore. The boat could not come in because in because of the shallow water and reef, and because it was so infested with Japs. All we had was an old rubber boat which had a hole in it, caused by accident. Due to the storm and the reef and the shallow water, we kept one ma1l on the pump. It was a struggle to keep the boat floating with all men on board. The ocean waves were so high, and we all kept trying to keep our eye on the PT boat. When we finally reached the boat, we found one scared skipper. He told us that he almost left us. We were pulled up by a rope, and before the last man could get on board the skipper had the boat going what seemed like thirty miles per hour. The last man almost didn’t make it. We were told that this Skipper was the same one that carried General MacArthur from the Philippines to Australia. He was really afraid of these Japanese waters.

All eight of us did get back to Russell Island. We stayed there about two weeks awaiting orders. We were sent to Rendova Island in LCT flat bottom boats. This was just across the Bay from New Georgia Island. General MacArthur had previously ordered all parties making beach landings to pulverize the beaches before landing their troops. We caught the Japs by surprise on Rendova just before daybreak. They didn't have anything to do but run. They headed for the mountains.

Swamps on Russell Island
I remember once while we were on Russell Island, our outfit was placed in different locations on the beach. We had guards posted for any enemy ships that might intend to land on the island. Our company was separated from the main headquarters by a swamp. In case the Japs had attacked us, we had no escape to the main body Or our men. They asked us to see if we could chop a single trail through the swamp.

We began in single file wading and chopping. We went from water knee deep to deeper. One would chop and pass the machete in rotation. The Lieutenant was taking, turns with us. As he passed the machete to me, and stepped back, I hit only a few lick until I cut into the jungle grass that grows up in clusters. I must have hit this young alligator, about five or six feet long, that was nesting at that point. He flipped straight up out of the water, just opposite of me. At this point, we decided to give the alligator the entire swamp. We backtracked faster then we went in. The Lieutenant reported this to Headquarters and we had no further orders to go through the swamp.

Drive Inland
As we pushed them into the mountains, we established our lines. The Japs, knowing we were there, came over the back; side of the mountain. Their Air Force was on us before our radar could detect them. They came with bombs. This was the first opposition we had from the air while on Rendova. We went on about our unloading. The Japs came back that night. The ground force Japs sneaked through our lines and harassed us all night. I didn't sleep in my tent. I felt much safer on the ground.

The next day, we were prepared to set up our field artillery on Rendova to give overhead fire for our beach landing on New Georgia Island. As we approached the beach, the artillery would raise their fire to allow us to land. Our beach landing was very successful as far as meeting any strong enemy fire on New Georgia Island.

After one day of shelling, we crossed the bay. Our convoys looked like ducks on the river, but we had Navy and aircraft support. After all the beaches were pulverized, we found some Japs who were reluctant to give up. One Jap ran into the water before we could capture him. They stripped him of his clothing, and he was interrogated, but I do not know what they learned. We drove the Japs in about a quarter of a mile to a creek that was narrow but very deep. We drove the main body of Japs back that afternoon but as it got dark we had to "dig in" for the night. The Jap custom was in night fighting, and one had lo prepare for that as much as possible. Through the night we had scattered fire all around, so the next day we began our slow advance.

Mission To Get Water
Our Battalion came to a creek which served nicely for our water point to purify our water. We crossed the creek and advanced slowly without much opposition. There were Japs everywhere in the trees and on the ground. They fought us all night. The next day we advanced slowly while being shot at by snipers from the trees, etc. We had dug in for the night, but we had to have water. By map we discovered another creek ahead which was in the Jap hands. We matched to see who would supply the water in Japanese territory. I was the unlucky guy. I cut a stick and strung about 10 or 12 canteens on it. I headed toward the stream of water and found a tree well rooted. I began to sink one canteen after another. I was just about halfway through when a Jap up above the creek spotted me. He had a machine gun, and was hitting the water right about my hand. I pulled back since the tree roots were above the water. I filled all of my canteens and strung them on the same stick carefully. I turned around behind the tree with my back to the creek. I made one strong spring. The Jap turned on his fire, but I got out of his way. He meant to kill me, but I got back lo the group with the water.

One night my outfit was "dug in" for the night. I was close to our Browning Automatic man, Gus Gooler from Alabama. He was on my left. We could hear the Japs coming in the pitch-dark night trying to find our position. It seemed as if they were about ready to step on us in the dark. I whispered to Gus to give them a spray from right to left. He let them have it, and it did light up. It seemed he should have killed everything in his firing range. It did get quite for a few seconds, but they evidently had spotted our position from the light. They let us have it with their large gun. It was so close that my helmet rang like bell. It looked like it had been grazed. It cut up trees and shrubs behind us. Then on our part, it got quiet, but we could hear it on other fronts. This was a very close call.

One night after I had “dug in", I found a dead Jap lying to my right. My fear was that they would retrieve their dead, and stumble in on me. I got some bamboo and put up a break in front of me to bounce off any of their grenades. I found a roll of barbed wire that someone had dropped to lighten his load. I stretched it in front of me for seven or eight yards, and made a booby trap. After this, the Japs didn't bother me anymore that night.

The Japs had us spotted. The next day we made our drive. The Japs were in the banyan trees with short-wave radio sets telling all where we were, our position, and everything. When we dug in for the night, I dug through volcanic rock that looked like cobblestone. We though everything was well, but that night all hell broke loose. Every Jap that we thought was in Japan was there. They threw everything: bombs, rifle fire, mortar fire, hand grenades, and they rained them on us a11 night. The few Americans that were left helped carry the wounded and bury the dead. I had sat in water all night. My skin was so wrinkled. The Chaplain of our outfit was Father Doyle, a Catholic priest. He said "I’ll handle these boys." He led us to a dense woods and told us to bed down. We got~ some rest that night but hardly any sleep.

Attack on Bibolo Hill
The next day, July 13 1943 we hit Bibolo Hill approaching Munda Airbase. With all the bombardment and everything that America had been able to render, the Japs were still there in strong force. Those in my outfit, who were still able continued over the hill. I was grazed in the back with a machine gun. The bullets burned both sides of my back. If they had hit one-fourth inch deeper they would have severed my spine. The Japs started their overhead fire from hand grenades to mortar to artillery. They gave us everything they had. I was hit with some kind of fragmentation that I thought was a mortar shell. The shell blew me some feet. I must have been knocked unconscious because when I came to, I heard the order to pull back because the Japs were ready to make the "Banzai" drive. (They would yell Banzai, Banzai, Banzai when attacking.) The fragments from the shell tore up my leg and paralyzed my left wrist and legs. I was pinned down and tracer bullets burned my sideburns, and my eyelashes were burned completely off.

I began to crawl backwards to my line as much as I could. Big trees were blown up. I crawled through a treetop. One hand and both my legs were dead. I was pulling myself with one hand like a worm. I crawled in the direction of the medics about a hundred yards. Frank Duncan from Indian Mound and Thomas Halliburton from Memphis were in the mortar squad. They were setting up mortar not far from the Medics. Frank almost shot me thinking I was a Jap. I recognized him and called his name. He came over and picked me up, but dropped me a couple of times. An Italian from Connecticut picked me up with strong, arms and moved me like a baby. He carried me to the Medics. They slit my boot which was laced from top to bottom. I was given first line Medic care.

I was carried out of the jungle on stretches under strong enemy fire. The day before, I had carried some in on stretches, and the Japs killed them while still on stretchers. The Japs would kill them anyway they could. They laid me on the beach for about an hour awaiting my time lo be loaded on one of the small flat bottom boats. I was among hundreds of wounded. When I was finally laid on the boat on my stretcher, father Doyle lay next to me. I said, “Did you get it too, Father Doyle?" He could only wave his hand. I heard he died soon after that.

As I was brought through the jungle on stretchers, I was just ahead of some Japs coming in behind me. This group of Japs came through and cut off our lines, and attacked our water purification point. They knocked out everything there including the American casualties who were forced to sit down at night. The Americans intended to bring them out at daylight to be on there way for medical treatment. The Japanese attacked and slaughtered everyone of them. I was one of the lucky ones who got through before they were forced to sit down.

1 learned that one of my friends was helping guard our water point purification with a Browning Automatic. They said the Japs charged down the trail straight ahead, and he killed approximately 125 of the Japs before he was overrun and killed. They said his gun was so ho that you could bend the barrel.

This paragraph is taken from the Complete History of World War II A Memorial Edition, page 639, describing this battle in which my outfit the 169th Infantry of the 43rd Division fought, the same battle in which I was wounded.

"During the night of the Kula Gulf battle in which the "HELENA" was sunk a combat team of the 169th Infantry came ashore near Zanane. After three days of nerve-racking stalking through the jungle with its hordes of mosquitoes, fever ridden swamps, heavy rains and terrain more difficult than that of Guadalcanal, the 43rd Division began its slow infiltration move toward Bibolo Hill. By night fall the troops had gained ],000 yards, with the 172nd Infantry pushing through the coconut groves along the beach. By July 13, (the day I was wounded) Laiana Plantation had been taken in a total advance of 2,300 yards from the landing point. The 169th was badly cutup in repulsing a night counter attack. Bibolo Hill was the main protection for the Munda Airstrip. The Japanese had prepared for a frontal assault against Bibolo Hill but the American Commanders had other plans."

Hospitalization & Recovery
At Rendova, I was in a hospital tent, and a Jap came in and looked around. He went out without doing, any harm, or damage to anyone. I didn't see him but Ernest Jones from Dickson, Tennessee saw him. Jones had been injured when shrapnel grazed his stomach. We were in the same tent for about two days.

Then we were carried to Tulagi. The Navy had a good temporary hospital here, but they were subject to be bombed. They dug trenches all around the hospital to put patients, and sometimes themselves, in case of bombing. I fared well here with white sheets and clean beds. Shrapnel from my back worked out on the sheets. Several patients were dying every night. Navy Commander came in my room one morning and looked at my leg. He said "It looks better today, a lot better. Yesterday, we were planning to amputate your leg.” I said, "Why hadn't you said anything to me about it?" He answered, "You had gangrene.' I was there for a short time. I had the best of care with the U.S. Navy. I wish to express my appreciation to the Navy for the treatment I received when I was wounded in action. Then I was sent back to New Caledonia to temporary Army hospital. Here, I was under treatment and medical observation. The main nerve in my leg, was shot into, and I couldn't walk. They made the decision lo send me back LO the United States.

A shipload of us casualties were on the boat coming back lo the States. A typhoon caused rough waters. The boat rocked and reeled. All the dishes were broken. The cooks fixed some ~sandwiches that were very good.

We landed in San Francisco. They expected me to stand in line, but I felt down the gangplank because I couldn’t walk. They carried me from there to the I Letterman U.S. Army Hospital in San Francisco. From there, I was transferred to the Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham City, Utah. I stayed there for eleven months. I had the best attention, best staff; and best people I had ever met in my life. Here, I learned to walk without my crutches. I weighed 120 pounds.

I came home walking on a cane. My parents had received word once that I was killed in action. Then they received word again that I was missing in action. I received the Purple Heart for being wounded in action, and I received 50% disability, later reduced to 40%.

Written by Robert Glen Bryant, sent via son David G. Bryant

 

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