In memory - Bill McLaughin passed away in 2003.
landed in Melbourne in February 1942 after a 37 day cruise from Brooklyn, NY.
our ship, the Argentina was Hq of the convoy, and as we sailed up in to the harbor
there, the decks were crowded with the 4 or 5 thousand guys aboard. A couple of
us climbed to the crow's nest on the foremast, and since this was already crowded,
we climbed on the metal roof , standing, holding the stays. What a sight! The
dock was crowded with people cheering our appearance. We were the first force
of any size to come out after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
had a brief stay there, about a week, before re boarding the ships to sail to
New Caledonia. Our unit took a train out to Bendigo where we had a delightful
time, 2 lads to a family. Only place I've ever slept in a feather bed. Those were
the days, buddy.
I still have
my dogtags from when we went into Federal Service in 1941, but lost the ones from
overseas years ago out there. I got a second set on Bougainville in 1944, and
was sent to a rest camp there. I began surfing on the huge waves and got ahead
of one. It slammed me down on the seabed and I did a few barrel rolls, losing
the new dogtags. Never got any more.
The coins we carried then are collectibles now. Back in the 1970's,
the US began issuing coins of base metal. Those before were all silver.
Also, the 50 cent pieces no longer exist here. When John Kennedy was
assassinated, a coin was issued with his likeness and immediately disappeared
as everyone collected them. Even the ones which came out later of base
metal disappeared promptly, and cash drawers formerly in tills for 50
cent coins were dropped.
my thought that the native may have found Geiger's dogtag somewhere else and carried
it up to Edson's Ridge. I don't really know where the 247th FA Bn spent most of
its time. I know that at the end of the campaign they were close to Cape Esperance.
The 247th FA Bn was formed over in New Caledonia,
as were the others, 245th and 246th, while we were changed from the 180th FA,
1st Bn, and 1st Bn, 200th FA Reg't, to the 221st FA Bn. We were heaviest of division
artillery with our 155mm Howitzers. The other 3 had more modern weapons, 105mm
howitzers. I enjoy your stuff, and forward it to FA Bn attached to the Americal
on Guadalcanal, and a West Point Regular Army graduate. Others like Col. Jim Taylor
in South Carolina. Jim was an officer in the 97th mule pack.
There was our battalion of 12 howitzers (Schneider WWI 6" guns)
almost hub to hub on that spit of land Pt. Cruz, then loaded with half buried
bodies, and foxholes full of Japanese dead, coated with slimy white shifting
covers of maggots. It was the pits!
howitzers were strung out some 10 yards apart on Pt Cruz, from close to
the beginning to past the midpoint on the peninsula. 2 500 lb bombs straddled
my hole, one of which blew up a pyramidal tent with a kid inside. Fortunately,
the "blockbuster" 2000
LB bomb was last and beyond our guns, which although blown around by the
500 pounders, with shell piles strewn around, were not damaged. The blockbuster
buried some Marine coastwatchers on the shore, but they were dug out by our
guys before they were hurt. The hole from the bomb made an instant swimming
pool of great size there.
Our colonel then, Barney Landers was angry
that Division would cram us in such a spot, his later replacement, Col. John F.P.
Hill, USA (Ret) told me, but they said it was the only spot to maximize our range,
as we were leapfrogged ahead of all other artillery, even the pack howitzers (mule)
were firing over our heads. Guadalcanal was the limit I saw in 3-1/2 years out
Japanese Air Raid
Three of us were
caught in a Japanese air raid on the hill to the left of Pt Cruz where we were
looking over dead Japanese "marines" up there. We saw the strings of bombs coming
down from the low flying planes, and snuggled up to the corpse of a huge dead
Japanese bent back over a log. The escorting Zeros peeled off to strafe our position
on Cruz, sparing us as they flew low overhead, but riddling the pyramidal tents
and cots there. The outfit, we found, had got a "Condition Red" and were already
in their holes.
were lying in the bunk one night after the battle was over and the moon
was so bright someone said, "There's a
real bombing moon.." and we laughed at the thought. Someone was playing the song
on a phonograph. "A sleepy lagoon, a tropical moon, and you in my arms..." when
suddenly we heard someone yelling "Condition Red" and at the same time bombs
began bursting from the interior coming toward us. That was a night to remember.
I got two brand new cavalry
rifles (Japanese) model about 1910 still in cosmoline for my son
and grandson with built in bayonets. I'd never seen them before,
and wrote Akio Tani, the "Pistol
Pete" of Guadalcanal in Japan. He had read a Japanese flag which I
got from a dead soldier on Cebu, Philippines, and found his relatives
earlier for me. Akio sent me a picture from an old Japanese field manual
of the rifle slung on a cavalryman's back as he leaped a hurdle on
horseback. I told him how we carried our '03 Springfields in a boot
under our left leg in cavalry days, and thought at 10 lbs the rifles
must have bruised the riders. He agreed that ours was a better way.
[One] of the first time I saw one close up on land (I'd been
strafed by them earlier). It was on Cebu, and they'd been shot up on
the ground. We marveled that anyone was small enough to get inside
the cockpits, and all the engine parts were aluminum. Theirs was so
light you could almost crumple it up, and it made excellent bracelet/souvenirs.
We didn't think the Japanese could make anything good. All their stuff
in stores was cheap. We thought their fire control instruments were
imported from Germany. Their watches were so plain and crude we didn't
even bother with them for souvenirs. What a surprise when they came
out with cars, TV sets and computers!"
War Booty & Flag Translation
I brought home some stuff finally after 43 months out
there, and gave a lot of it away: a native kris, Japanese flag, cap from a Japanese
I shot, and other things. The second Japanese flag I got was a
beauty, all silk, and I tried for years to find someone who could
read the characters, to no avail. Finally, Akio Tani, who was one
of the "Pistol Pete's" of Guadalcanal, sorted
it out from a photo I sent him, and found relatives of the soldier in Tokyo.
I sent it to them. Found from Tani that Gen. MacArthur had shortened
the characters to make the language less cumbersome, and younger
people could not translate it.
Actually, I was almost one of the Marines. Tim Coffey
and I joined the horse cavalry back in January 1937. I was only 16, and had gone
to a camp the previous year, which was called CMTC (Citizens' Military Training
Camps) which with a camp of a month in the summer and correspondence courses led
to a Reserve Commission at the end of 4 years. I had opted for cavalry as my branch
Ed Hopkins, who was a Sgt in the Nat'l Guard cavalry, heard of it and convinced
me I should join his regiment, the 110th Mass. Since the minimum age limit
was 18, and I was tall, (6'2") he
told me to tell them I was 19, and they wouldn't ask for a birth certificate.
I did and they didn't. Anyway, Tim and I finished our hitch in Jan. 1940,
and we decided to join the Marines. He went first since I was working then
on the railroad.
turned him down as "too tall" Tim
was a robust lad of 6'3", and the Marines were only taking up to 6'2". I said,
"Screw them.." when they turned Tim down and we both rejoined the cavalry. Tim
was rotated home after Guadalcanal, and stationed at the artillery school at
Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He retired from the military a Command Sgt Major.
Anyway, I got an M-1 then, and lost it in an ambush
when I picked up what I thought was my rifle, but belonged to a chap carrying
one of our wounded. By great good luck, a replacement came in from the States
with a brand new M-1, and the lieutenant commanding our platoon had him give it
to me. It was like pointing your finger, and I loved that piece. When I was rotated
after 3-1/2 years of war out there, and had to turn it in, I almost cried. I was
part of me.
I carried an M-1 in my year with the
Recon Troop, through 3-1/2 campaigns in Bougainville and the Philippines. Best
rifle there was then. They were invented by Garand who worked in the Springfield,
Massachusetts Armory. He never patented it nor got a cent from selling them, gave
it to the Army. The Marines opted for the Johnson Semi Automatic, which, they
claimed was more accurate at a thousand yards or so. When they got involved in
Guadalcanal, and fought an enemy only feet away with their Springfield '03's,
cranking a bolt for each of 5 shots, and saw our infantry pumping 8 rounds as
fast as the trigger could be pulled, they turned green.Our guys had to sleep with
their arms and legs wrapped around the M-1's to keep them from being stolen. I
had an M-1 given me by a Marine friend who was on Guadalcanal with the 1st Marines.
We had the flat helmets going
overseas, and got the pots just before we went up to Guadalcanal. When we landed
in Noumea, it was thought our 155mm howitzers had been left behind, so we got
Australian 18 and 25 pounders, plust a group of Army men to teach us their eccentricities.
All they taught us was their drinking games (Here's to Captain Poof) and rowdy
songs (My name is Sammy Hall) before we found the guns had been packed deeper.
Since we had big trucks to haul our heavy guns, they were used to transport the
materiel up island to caches where it would be available to our thin force spread
out along the coast in anticipation of the Japanese offensive.
remember giving a couple of new helmets to one of the Aussies with us, and
he told me, "Bill, you're like Rob Roy, you take from the rich and give to the poor." They
were great guys. Later, I was in the Recon Troop, and on Bougainville, I
went on patrol with the Fiji Battalion which had Aussie and New Zealand officers.
They were fantastic soldiers, and good officers in the jungle. Guadalcanal
was the worst country we found down there in more than 3 1/2 years of war
In the Recon later, we had light tanks with 37mm
cannon. They are easy, and common landmarks at veterans posts around here. They
could go up to about 60 mph with the rubber treads, but they'd have been useless
in the ETO. A good friend, Col. John F.P.Hill, USA (Ret) who commanded our FA
unit for much of the war, and was a graduate of the Harvard College ROTC program,
remained in the service thru two tours in Vietnam. He said the ranks then were
filled with the "Jumpers and the Tankers", parachute and tank men from the European
War. He being from the South Pacific War, didn't rate with the top men after
Truman fired MacArthur.
Author of The Americal Division