The 32D Infantry Division
in World War II
The ‘Red Arrow’
Luzon Campaign - The Villa Verde Trail
“For the forces of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific
Area the reconquest of Luzon and the Southern
Philippines was the climax of the Pacific war, although no one anticipated this
outcome when, on 9 January 1945, Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army poured
ashore over the beaches of Lingayen Gulf.
Viewed from the aspect of commitment of U. S. Army ground forces, the
Luzon Campaign (which strategically and tactically includes the seizure of
Mindoro Island and the securing of the shipping lanes through the central
Visayan Islands) was exceeded in size during World War II only by the drive
across northern France. The Luzon
Campaign differed from others of the Pacific war in that it alone provided
opportunity for the employment of mass and maneuver on a scale even approaching
that common to the European and Mediterranean theaters.” (R. Smith ix)
Luzon is the largest island in the Philippines and is the northern most of the main islands in the archipelago. It is about 500 miles long and is over 40,000 square miles in area. The largest mountain ranges in the Philippines are located on Luzon, the highest peak rises over 9,600 feet, and the mountains generally extend the length of the island.
“While our forces were bringing the Leyte-Samar campaign to a successful conclusion, the island of Mindore, nearly 300 miles to the northwest, was also falling into American hands and the stage was set for the climax of the liberation of the Philippine Islands from Japanese domination.
“Luzon, largest of the Philippine group, had added importance because it included Manila, the capital, and because it had been the site of the main U.S. defeat in the Philippines in 1941-42. Bataan and Corregidor were well-remembered names to all Americans.
“The 32d Infantry Division was now a relatively small element in the great ground, air and sea force that was to concentrate its power on the task of freeing the Philippines. But in spite of this situation, so different from the days of 1942, the Division still faced some of the most bitter fighting of its World War II experience. For the Japanese Army was far from finished as a combat force.
“The U.S. Military text, The War With Japan, sums up the Japanese attitude this way:
“As the year 1944 closed, the enemy nowhere exhibited any deterioration of his will to resist. He continued to fight with the same fanatic zeal and tenacity of purpose that characterized his fighting in the early days of the war. While Japanese air, ground, and naval strength had been considerably pared down, yet strong forces for defense were still at their disposal. The reduced length of the enemy’s defensive perimeter and his lines of supply inevitably worked to his advantage. Japan had lost the war, but she would not yet admit defeat.” (Blakeley 203)
During the initial planning for the Luzon campaign, the Allies estimated that the Japanese forces on
“General Marshall’s biennial report tells the story of the early days of the Battle of Luzon. Even as the 32d Division was completing its part in the Leyte operation, the Luzon campaign opened:”
“In the first week of January, a new American assault force gathered east of Leyte, slipped through the Surigao Strait over the sunken wrecks of the Japanese warships that had gone down in their attempts to turn aside the invasion more than two months before, and passed into the Mindanao and Sulu Seas. This American force was threading its way through the heart of the Philippine Archipelago and through waters where the Japanese Navy and air forces had for two years maintained unchallenged supremacy, to invade Luzon by effecting a landing in Lingayen Gulf, its classic point of greatest vulnerability.
“No opportunity was overlooked to conceal this bold plan from the Japanese. While the assault force was proceeding up the west coast of Luzon, Kenney’s planes and the guerrillas under MacArthur’s direction concentrated on the destruction of roads, bridges, and tunnels to prevent General Yamashita from shifting forces to meet the assault. The guerrillas in southern Luzon conducted noisy demonstrations to divert Japanese attention to the south. Navy mine sweepers swept the Balayan, Batangas, and Tayabas Bays on the south coast of Luzon. Landing ships and merchantmen approached the beaches until they drew fire, then slipped out under cover of night. United States transport planes flew over Batangas and Tayabas and dropped dummies to simulate an airborne invasion . . . Japanese forces on the island, harassed by guerrillas and by air, drove north, south, east and west in confusion, became tangled in traffic jams on the roads, and generally dissipated what chance they might have had to repel the landing force. On 9 January the U. S. Sixth Army, now composed of the I and XIV Corps, hit the beaches in the Lingayen Gulf. By nightfall 68,000 troops were ashore and in control of a 15-mile beachhead, 6,000 yards deep.
“The landing had caught every major hostile unit in motion with the exception of the 23rd Infantry Division to the southeast of the beachhead in the central Luzon plain and its supporting 58th independent mixed brigade 25 miles to the north of Lingayen Gulf. Yamashita’s inability to cope with General MacArthur’s swift moves, his desired reaction to the deception measures, the guerrillas, and General Kenney’s aircraft combined to place the Japanese in an impossible situation. The enemy was forced into a piecemeal commitment of his troops. The Japanese 10th and 105th Divisions in the Manila area which were to secure Highway No. 5 on the eastern edge of the central Luzon plain failed to arrive in time. The brunt of defending this withdrawal road to the north fell to the 2d Japanese Armored Division which seemingly should have been defending the road to Clark Field.
“General MacArthur had deployed a strong portion of his assault force on his left or eastern flank to provide protection for his beachhead against the strong Japanese forces to the north and east.
“In appreciation of the enemy’s predicament the Sixth Army immediately launched its advance toward Manila across the bend of the Agno which presumably should have been a strongly held Japanese defensive line.
“The troops met little resistance until they approached Clark Field. The I Corps, commanded by Major General Innis P. Swift, had heavy fighting on the east flank where the Japanese were strongly entrenched in hill positions. For the time being they were to be held there to keep the supply line for the advance on Manila secure.
“On 29 January troops of General Hall’s XI Corps under strategic direction of the Eighth Army landed on the west coast of Luzon near Subic Bay, meeting light opposition. They drove eastward to cut off the Bataan Peninsula where General MacArthur had made his stand three years before, denying the Japanese the use of Manila harbor for months.” (qtd. in Blakeley 203-5)”
The arrival of the 32D Div. on the Lingayen beaches was scheduled for 27 January, eighteen days after the assault landings. The 1ST Cavalry Division and the 112TH RCT were to land the same day.
During these eighteen days Gen. Krueger had a difficult tactical problem on his hands. Because of the strong forces the enemy had in the area northeast of Sixth Army’s beachhead, Krueger had to be certain that he assigned adequate troops to the defense of his Lingayen Gulf base and to the protection of the left flank of his advance on Manila, 120 miles to the south. On the other hand, there were obvious advantages to pushing southward as rapidly as possible. The Japanese had been thrown off balance by the speed and location of the landings, and the early capture of Manila would not only be of great psychological importance but the port of Manila was badly needed as a supply base for the rest of the Luzon campaign. Believing that a precipitate advance on Manila would lead to the outrunning of his supply facilities and expose his overextended forces to a possibly disastrous attack in the flank, Krueger decided that an all out drive on the capital city was not feasible until the 32nd Division and the 1st Cavalry Division had arrived.
“General MacArthur,” says Krueger, “was undoubtedly greatly disappointed that Manila could not be secured as early as he desired, but refrained from directing me, as he might well have done, to take a risk that I considered unjustifiable with the forces I had available at the time.”
The expected reinforcements began landing on schedule on 27 January. The 32D Division went ashore in the Mabilao area of the Lingayen Gulf beaches, and assembled in the Manaoag-San Vincente-Mapandan area. On 30 January the Division, less the 126TH Infantry, passed to control of I Corps (Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift). The 126TH was placed in Sixth Army reserve.
The Division was promptly committed to action. Although General Krueger had decided against a “precipitate advance” until reinforcements arrived, he had pushed steadily forward both his I Corps on the north and XIV Corps on the south. XI Corps, which had been landed by Eighth Army near Subic Bay, passed to the command of General Krueger on 30 January. The troops were now set for the attack on Manila.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Sketch of the Villa Verde Trail, drawn by Capt. Joseph E. Ash, FA liaison with 2D Bn., 127TH Inf. Capt. Ash was a Wisconsin National Guard officer; he was a 1st Lt. in HQ Btry., 2D Bn., 120TH FA Regt. in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ’40.
General Swift’s I Corps was in action when the 32D arrived, with the 6TH Infantry Division on the right (south), then the 25TH Division on the left of the 6TH and the 43D Division on the north of the line. The 32D Division (less its 126TH Infantry) was committed on the left of the 25TH Division, and by 2 February it had crossed the Agno River and cleared the enemy from the Natividad-San Nicolas-Tayug triangle and captured Santa Maria. The 126TH Infantry was held in Army reserve in the Manaoag-Mapandan area.
First Lt. Charles Blanden Cooney, from Warren, Pennsylvania, and assigned to the 126TH FA Bn., earned the Silver Star for his actions as an artillery forward observer directing counterbattery fire on 2 February. Severely WIA when the Japanese directed some of their artillery fire on his position, Lt. Cooney continued to adjust fire until the enemy artillery pieces were destroyed, allowing the infantry to retain their recently won strategic position. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 13 Apr. ’17, TPB]
Pfc. Robert A. Krassin, from Everett, Washington, and assigned to the 126TH FA Bn., was KIA on 2 February and earned the Silver Star. He was likely the member of Lt. Cooney’s forward observation party who was killed and likely earned the Silver Star for his actions that day. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Jun. ’17, TPB]
For the first time in the Division’s World War II history, the 32D Division Artillery (Brig. Gen. Robert B. McBride, Jr.) was committed in normal fashion at the start of a campaign, armed with standard division artillery weapons. The 126TH Field Artillery Battalion was in direct support of the 127TH Infantry. The 129TH Field Artillery Battalion was in direct support of the 128TH Infantry. The 120TH Field Artillery Battalion, because the 126TH Infantry, which it usually supported, was in Army reserve, was given a general support role with the particular task of reinforcing the fires of the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion. The three light battalions had the 105 mm howitzer. The medium battalion (121ST) had its normal role of general support of the Division’s attack. Its 155 mm howitzers were tractor drawn in deference to the difficult terrain of northern Luzon.
The Division’s zone of advance was now in a northeasterly direction astride the Villa Verde Trail. Originally a foot and carabao path pioneered in the 1880s by a Spanish Priest named Juan Villa Verde, this trail leads from the Lingayen Gulf area over the Caraballo Mountains to the lush Cagayan Valley of northeast Luzon. From Santa Maria, where it begins, the trail twists and turns for 27 miles (43 kilometers) to cover the 11-mile, as-the-crow-flies distance to Santa Fe. Before the start of World War II, the trail had been improved to handle cart traffic for about 9 kilometers from Santa Maria, but this section was only a 10 to 12 foot width of ungravelled clay. Although some construction was in progress in 1941 beyond this southern section, most of the rest of the trail was simply a footpath over a 4,800-foot high Salacsac Pass to Imugan, where it joined the road to Santa Fe.
The words of the Sixth Army commander, General Krueger, sum up the situation which the 32D now faced: “The enemy had made good use of the terrain which, with its sharp ridges and deep ravines, was ideally adapted for defense. He had dug innumerable caves, had provided defense positions on the reverse slopes of the ridges and had established excellent observation stations that permitted him to use his artillery to best advantage. Repeated personal observation convinced me that the advance along the Villa Verde Trail would prove to be costly and slow.”
By 5 February the Division had advanced about a mile northeast of Santa Maria with the 2D Battalion of the 127TH Infantry astride Villa Verde Trail.
Lt. Howard B. Hill, from Charleston, West Virginia, and assigned to the 121ST FA Bn., earned the Silver Star for his actions as an artillery observer and pilot of a Piper L-4 ‘Grasshopper,’ a.k.a. ‘Cub,’ plane on 7 February. He was WIA by a Japanese machine gunner during the flight. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 30 May ’17, TPB]
Capt. Henry G. Taber, from Illinois and commander of Co. G, 127TH Inf., was posthumously bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 9 February near Santa Maria, Luzon. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 22 Jan. ‘13]
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
A very effectively camouflaged Japanese artillery piece that was captured by the 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry on the Villa Verde Trail circa 5 February 1945. The Japanese used this gun to attack bombard the road between Santa Maria and San Nicholas until it was silenced by counter battery fire from the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Members of 126TH Field Artillery Liaison Team who were attached to 127TH Infantry for operations along the Villa Verde Trail.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
This ‘Cub’ plane, assigned to the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion, was named “Patches” because exposure to enemy fire, rugged terrain and harsh weather of Luzon meant that it was only held together by innumerable patches.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Soldiers from the 127TH Infantry Regiment on the Villa Verde Trail.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Filipino carriers deliver ammunition and water to 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry emplacements along the Villa Verde Trail.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Aerial view of the Villa Verde Trail near San Nicolas, Luzon.
Although the 32D was meeting increased resistance, its progress and that of the other divisions of I Corps had by now deprived the enemy of the capability of moving troops into the Central Plain area and disrupting Sixth Army’s attack on Manila either by attacks on the American rear and flanks or by cutting the attacking troops off from Lingayen Gulf supply bases. The importance of this phase of I Corps’ mission was emphasized by the determined resistance offered by the Japanese to the capture of Manila, a stubborn defense which was not to be completely overcome until 4 March.
Changes in I Corps dispositions and assignments put the 33D ‘Prairie’ Infantry Division on the left of the 32D on 12 February, and on 15 February the 126TH Infantry was relieved from its Army reserve assignment and returned to Division control. The 126TH was committed with a zone of action to the left of the 127TH Infantry. The three regiments of the Division were now abreast with the 128TH Infantry (Col. John A. Hettinger), less its 3D Battalion, on the right; and the 127TH (Col. Frederick R. Stofft) in the center; and the 126TH (Col. Raymond G. Stanton) on the left. The 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, was in I Corps reserve. One battalion of the 127TH was not to be committed except on Division order.
The Division’s part in the Luzon campaign now developed into two separate but related actions. In the excellent Report After Action, prepared by the Division staff at the close of the operation, the attack along Villa Verde Trail northeasterly from Santa Maria during the period 12 to 24 February is called “The Fight for the Bowl.” The other phase of the operation, which started at about the same time but extended to 3 April, is called “Probing the River Valleys.” This phase was conducted mostly by the 126TH Infantry and it included the driving of enemy forces from the Arboredo, Ambayabang, and Agno River Valleys to the west of the Villa Verde Trail area.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Soldiers from Company I, 3D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, cross the Arboredo River on northern Luzon on 25 February 1945.
“The Basin” was formed by ridgelines that curved around and dominated the lower ground through which the trail itself ran. On these ridges the Japanese had established a major defensive position by developing the knolls into a series of mutually supporting strong points.
On 23 and 24 February one platoon of the Division distinguished itself to the degree that it was cited in War Department general orders, a most unusual distinction for such a small unit. The citation reads as follows:
The 3D Platoon, Company K, 127TH Infantry Regiment, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy near Santa Maria, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 23 and 24 February 1945. The enemy was strongly entrenched on high, commanding ground and had succeeded in pinning down a substantial number of our forces for many days, halting our advance. On his own initiative, the commanding officer of Company K, 127TH Infantry, asked for and received permission to attack this vital position. On the morning of 23 February 1945, at 1001 hours, he ordered the 3D Platoon of his company, consisting of 19 men, to take and hold the hill. The terrain that led to the objective was up the face of a very steep hill which afforded virtually no cover or concealment. At 1131 hours, the platoon reached the top of the hill, hitting the enemy from the rear and catching him completely by surprise. The foe was dug in in holes from 4 to 6 feet deep, manned by 31 Japanese armed with machine guns, grenades, mortars, and small arms. For 6 hours under the most trying conditions of weather and terrain the men of the 3D Platoon, Company K, 127TH Infantry Regiment, battled a determined enemy, fighting forward inch by inch. Individual acts of heroism were numerous as man after man charged the enemy in his deep positions, frequently engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Two machine gun positions were stormed and the gunners killed at point-blank range. Though bullets were flying all about them the men of the platoon relentlessly pressed the attack. The battle ended only when every single defender lay dead. During the night and early morning of 24 February 1945 the enemy brought up fresh troops and launched a counterattack. Though greatly outnumbered our forces repulsed the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties on him. By gaining and securing the highly important position the pressure on our forces was greatly relieved and 3,000 to 4,000 yards of road which had previously been blocked were cleared, thereby making it possible to bring up much needed supplies and equipment to our men. This outstanding achievement by a platoon which consisted of only 19 men, in completely annihilating an enemy who outnumbered them and who had the advantage of both position and firepower, is in keeping with the finest traditions of American arms.
As I Corps pressed forward, the enemy’s plans and dispositions became apparent. The Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area was evidently the key to the whole defensive system guarding the approaches to Cagayan Valley and the mountain stronghold in the Baguio area to the northwest. By organizing his defenses in depth and keeping his main reserves in the Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area, the enemy could readily reinforce his positions astride Villa Verde Trail and Highway No. 5 to the eastward.
With the battle for Manila still raging, only the 25TH and 32D Divisions were available to drive the enemy out of his main position here. The 33D Div., operating in the left of I Corps’ zone of action, attacked northward against the Baguio area. The 25TH Division on the right pushed north over Highway No. 5 and east of it. The 32D, in the center, settled down to the hard task of driving the enemy back along Villa Verde Trail toward Imugan and Santa Fe.
The next major terrain feature on the trail is Salacsac Pass No. 2, so designated to distinguish it from another pass farther to the east called Salacsac Pass No. 1. The trail, after running generally northeasterly for about 10,000 yards from Santa Maria, bears east and goes through the two passes in saddles between Mt. Imugan and its connecting ridges on the north and the Caraballo Mountains on the south. It then continues to the east through the village of Imugan to Santa Fe on Highway No. 5. The ridges running west from Mt. Imugan and parallel to and a thousand or more yards north of the trail became known to the men of the 32D as Yamashita Ridge. Other designations not shown on maps but much used by the Division were numbers arbitrarily assigned to high points in the vicinity of the passes, primarily to assist in calling for artillery fires. These numbers, with a few omissions, ran from west to east and from 502 to 533. Salacsac Pass No. 2 runs between Hills 504 and 505, and Pass No. 1 is between an unnumbered hill on the north and Hill 508 on the south.
The advance from the Bowl to the Salacsac Pass area and the securing of that area was to be a long, hard job for all the elements of the Division. The difficulties for the infantry are plain enough. For the artillery, the problems of getting guns in and out of suitable firing positions, of finding and occupying observation posts, and of maintaining communications and keeping the guns supplied with ammunition – these were all complicated by the rugged terrain and lack of roads. The quartermaster, ordnance, signal, and medical troops had similar handicaps. For the engineers, particularly, the campaign soon became a nightmare of effort to keep Villa Verde Trail open and functioning as the troops advanced.
The bulk of this task fell to the 114TH Engineer Battalion, commanded initially by Lt. Col. Charles B. Rynearson, then (from 2 to 17 March) by Maj. Orman L. Wallis, and later by Lt. Col. Julian V. Sollohub. In Volume I of Engineers of the Southwest Pacific there is this tribute to the Engineers of the 32D Division:
The 32D Division aimed toward Santa Fe . . . by a dogged two flanked drive along the Ambayabang River and the Villa Verde Trail. Here the engineers had to move with the forward elements building a road to support the main movement against circumstances that continually seemed to make further effort futile. All along the Villa Verde Trail, under intense sniper fire and against heavy artillery of all types, they used armored dozers to break their own way and to open up new firing positions for M-4 tanks. Their dozers held first priority on the destruction “Must” lists issued in captured enemy documents. But they built their 18-mile road against all odds and the most important element of the I Corps movement was assured successful completion.
General Krueger’s comments on the situation which the 32D faced in the latter part of February not only confirm the difficulties of the Division’s mission, but marked the Sixth Army’s commander’s faith in it. “The 32nd Division,” he says, “found it increasingly difficult to reduce the cleverly organized and stubbornly defended position of the enemy. Moreover, the necessity of making the extremely poor, winding Villa Verde Trail passable for heavy vehicles to meet logistic requirements and the difficulty of supplying troops in the rugged terrain of the trail by native cargadores restricted enveloping movement and compelled the division to assault one hill after another and slowed up the advance. Repeated visits to this front had made me fully cognizant of the tough conditions facing the 32D Division, but I was confident that it would overcome all difficulties successfully.”
There was one pleasant change for the Red Arrow veterans as the campaign progressed. The days were still hot and the rains poured down as the dry season ended, but the nights were cool and there was even the bracing smell of pine trees as the Division fought its way up onto the knife-like ridges of the Caraballo Mountains. It was a stimulating change from the steaming jungle damp of Buna, Saidor, Aitape, and Leyte.
But there was no comparable encouraging change in the enemy’s resistance. On the contrary, his fanatic will to fight to the death even seemed to increase as the overall war situation grew more and more hopeless for the Japanese Empire.
Tactically the forces opposing the 32D had many advantages. They not only had better observation from the higher ground they occupied, but they were thoroughly familiar with the terrain over which the Red Arrow Infantry had to advance. As an interior division in the I Corps attack, the 32D was largely limited to frontal attacks along routes which the enemy was well prepared to defend from dug in positions covered by mines, small arms fire, and bands of machine gun fire, and further supported by registered mortar and artillery fire.
The 126TH Infantry, advancing up the Ambayang River valley below and to the left of Villa Verde Trail, had particular difficulty with strong enemy cave positions. On all parts of the Division’s front, techniques combining the use of air attacks and artillery, mortar and machine gun fire with bazookas, flame-throwers and explosive charges on long poles, were developed and perfected as the fight went on. Tanks and armored bulldozers often had a vital part in eliminating a center of resistance. (The 775TH Tank Bn. was one of the armored units which supported the Division on Luzon. [added 12 Dec. ‘16])
One field expedient weapon for dealing with the Japanese cave positions was invented by two 32D Division ordnance Soldiers. Lt. Col. John E. Harbert, commander of 732D Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, and Sgt. Loren C. Craig called their invention a mortar-cannon, but their fellow Soldiers who put it to effective use called it a “Whizz Bang”. It was constructed by attaching a 60mm trigger-fired mortar tube to a machine gun tripod. This allowed the mortar to be used in a direct-fire role, which was more accurate and effective against enemy soldiers in caves than the normal mortar round trajectory. Then 1st Lt. Harbert had been bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 16 Nov. ‘42 near Cape Sudest, New Guinea. [added 12 Dec. ‘12]
The enemy did not contend himself with a static defense; sometimes he infiltrated into the Division’s area and made fanatic attacks on command posts, reserve units, and artillery positions.
The enemy’s main defenses were reached early in March. They were generally astride Villa Verde Trail about four miles west of Imugan, and covered the passes.
There is ample record from Division sources of the difficulties of the situation the Red Arrow troops had to face at this time, but General Krueger’s coldly professional assessment is the most impressive: “The terrain in this area was much worse than any which the Division had so far encountered. Hills with nearly perpendicular slopes and deep, precipitous ravines made all movements exceedingly difficult. The enemy had, moreover, utilized the terrain to best advantage by constructing numerous, mutually supporting cave positions, which had to be reduced one by one, in order to permit the eastward advanced of the Division to continue. This advance was, moreover, flanked 1,500-2,000 yards north of and parallel to the Villa Verde Trail by Mt. Imugan, on the forward slopes of which the enemy had established defensive positions and artillery observation posts. The Mt. Imugan positions dominated a stretch of over two miles of the Villa Verde Trail and his observation stations enabled the enemy to adjust his artillery fire on troops and vehicles moving along the trail, which ran along the crest of razor back ridges and formed the only route of advance. Besides, the Mt. Imugan positions enabled the enemy to repulse any direct attack through the valley north of the trail and constituted an ever present threat to the line of communications of the 32nd Division. Under the circumstances, with the enemy holding Mt. Imugan, the 32D Division had no choice but to crack the enemy defenses on the dominating hills directly in its front some four miles west of Imugan village, since by passing them was impossible. The resulting struggle was slow and bloody and demanded the utmost of valor and fortitude on the part of our troops, especially since the Division was unable to bring all its power into play, because it had to protect its rearward communications all the way from its front lines to San Nicolas.”
Sixth Army had by now split the enemy forces on Luzon into three main groups. By far the largest of these, numbering probably over 110,000, was that in northern Luzon. It was under vigorous personal command of General Yamashita, and he was still believed capable of reinforcing the Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area. On the other hand, the smaller enemy groups in western Luzon and southern Luzon were each practically isolated and that had largely lost the ability to maneuver. They were incapable of aiding one another or of escaping to join the northern group.
As the operations progressed, it was evident that Yamashita was going to defend at all costs the mountain positions dominating the passes into the great and fertile Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon.
S. Sgt. Ysmael R. Villegas, from Casa Blanca, California, and assigned to Co. F, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his efforts to eliminate a Japanese machine gun position along the Villa Verde Trail on 1 March 1945. The decoration was awarded posthumously because he was KIA on 20 March while performing the deeds for which he was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor (see below). More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 27 Jan. ‘13]
S. Sgt. Floyd I. Bleasdell, Jr., from Whitmore Lake, Michigan, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, likely posthumously and likely for his in actions on 2 March at Luzon. S. Sgt. Bleasdell was the third of three brothers who were KIA during WWII. Pvt. Kenneth E. Bleasdell, Co. B, 175TH Inf., 29TH Div., was KIA on 7 Jun. ‘44 at Omaha Beach. MOMM-2cl. Leroy J. Bleasdell went MIA, presumed KIA, when the submarine Swordfish was sunk in the Pacific on 16 Jan. ’45. After Leroy was KIA, the War Dept. issued an order releasing Floyd, the last surviving son, from the service (ŕ la Saving Pvt. Ryan). Unfortunately he was KIA before that information reached his unit. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 11 May ’13; updated 1 Sep. ’18, TPB]
On 27 January 2003 a web site visitor, John Van Bogart, offered the following information about his uncle, S. Sgt. Robert ‘Bob’ Van Bogart, and gave his permission to include the information here.
On 4 and 5 March, Capt. Sheldon M. Dannelly and his Co. A, 127TH Infantry, were given the mission of attacking Japanese forces that were impeding the Division’s advance from a hill near Santa Maria, Pangasinan Province, Luzon. S. Sgt. Robert ‘Bob’ Van Bogart was leading his platoon on a patrol during this mission when they encountered heavy enemy fire. After some fierce fighting, S. Sgt. Van Bogart’s platoon was successful in eliminating the Japanese machine gun position they encountered. However, in the end, S. Sgt. Van Bogart was struck and killed instantly by a Japanese sniper.
S. Sgt. Robert ‘Bob’ Van Bogart was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his brave and selfless leadership on 5 March 1945. His citation reads: “For extraordinary heroism in action near, Santa Maria, Pangasinan Province, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 5 March 1945. When Staff Sergeant Van Bogart’s platoon, leading a combat patrol, ran into heavy enemy fire from snipers and a well concealed machine gun, a number of his men were wounded. His platoon pinned down, Sgt. Van Bogart crawled forward alone in the face of this fire to reach the top of a nearby ridge. There he deliberately exposed himself to draw the enemy’s fire and as bullets struck close by him he located and killed two snipers. Crawling back, he ordered his men to assault the machine gun, which he had also spotted. He took the lead and again made his way to the ridge where he stood in full view of the enemy and delivered steady rifle fire against their position. His men, inspired by his fearless example, launched an attack which quickly disposed of the emplacement. Moving out to locate remaining snipers, Sgt. Van Bogart was hit and killed. His unhesitating willingness to expose himself to danger and his skilled battlefield leadership saved the lives of many of his comrades and made possible the further progress of the patrol.” Information and photograph submitted by his nephew.
Capt. Dannelly was bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during that attack along the Villa Verde Trail on 4 and 5 March 1945. The decoration was awarded posthumously because he was KIA on 25 April while earning the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross (see below). More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 27 Jan. ‘13]
On 6 March, I Corps was ordered by General Krueger to make determined efforts to secure the vital Balete Pass-Santa Fe-Imugan area at an early date. There was little change in the Corps picture: on the right the 25TH Division pushed northward astride Highway No. 5 toward Balete Pass; in the center the 32D continued its dogged attack through the mountains; on the left the 33D continued its advance northward into the Baguio area.
A guerrilla force, consisting largely of Filipinos under the command of Col. Russell W. Volckmann, an American officer who had refused to surrender to the Japanese on Bataan in 1942, harassed the enemy throughout northern Luzon. This command, designated Guerrilla Forces, Northern Luzon, was of great assistance to I Corps by reason of its constant interference with enemy troop movements and supply activities. This force functioned, however, directly under the GC, Sixth Army.
The next few weeks were marked by some of the hardest fighting in the 32D Division’s history. Not only were units of the Division restricted by the terrain and the tactical situation to costly frontal attacks, but the enemy made many vigorous counterattacks.
“By 7 March the 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, had secured the crest of Hill 502, but was then unable to make any appreciable progress eastward. Such an eventuality had been anticipated, for the division and regimental staffs had plans to outflank the Salacsac Pass defenses from the south. First, the 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, struggled north through Valdez, in the Caraballo spur, to hit the Salacsac Pass No. 2 defenses from the southeast. The unit reached positions about 1,000 yards south of Hill 507D and Hill 508 by 9 March but was then unable to make any further progress toward the Villa Verde Trail and could not establish contact with the 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, at Salacsac Pass No. 2. (Smith 498)” [added 31 Jan. ‘13]
First Lt. John P. Dorigan, from Portland, Oregon, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, posthumously, for his actions on 8 March 1945 near Santa Maria, Luzon, Philippines. According to his obituary, he earned it “for knocking out a hidden machine gun nest which was firing on a supply train he was leading to the relief of a surrounded company.” Lt. Dorigan was KIA during the event. He was a Pvt. in the Oregon National Guard when he mobilized with 41ST Div. at Portland, OR on 16 Sep. ‘40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 20 Feb. ’17, TPB]
Pfc. Thomas Atkins, from Campobello, South Carolina, and assigned to Company A, 127TH Infantry, was bestowed the Medal of Honor for his tireless determination and courage during a Japanese attack along the Ville Verde Trail on 10 March 1945. He was occupying a forward foxhole with two companions when two companies of Japanese attacked. Pfc. Atkins was seriously wounded and his comrades were killed. He held his post and continued engaging the enemy until he had used the last of the 400 rounds he and his companions had. He only left his post to secure more ammunition so he could return and continue to engage the enemy. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site. Thomas Atkins passed away on 15 September 1999 in Spartanburg, SC at the age of 78.
Three other Soldiers from Co. A, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for their actions during a determined Japanese attack along the Villa Verde Trail near Nueva Vizcaya, Luzon, on 10 March. S. Sgt. Isaac F. Bear, from Jackson, Mississippi, S. Sgt. Raymond W. Dixon, from Odessa, New York, and Pfc. Guy H. Johnson, from Oak Grove, Missouri, occupied a 3-man fighting position on their platoon’s perimeter when the Japanese attacked in the pre-dawn darkness. Pfc. Johnson volunteered to provide covering fire while S. Sgt. Bear and S. Sgt. Dixon withdrew to a secondary position. Pfc. Johnson was KIA. S. Sgt. Bear’s decoration was also posthumous because he was KIA several weeks later, on 23 April 1945. More information about these three Soldiers and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [updated 9 Apr. ’17, TPB]
On 10 March, at least 4 wounded or injured Soldiers from the 32D Div. were killed in a plane crash on Leyte, Philippines. A C-46D-5-CU ‘Commando,’ SN 44-77341, with a crew of 7, took off from Mabalacat Airfield, Luzon, on that afternoon in order to evacuate 30 casualties to Tanauan Airfield, Leyte. The aircraft never reached its destination. The wreckage was discovered at some point, but all crewmembers and passengers had been killed. Most references list them as DNB, but some classify them as KIA. Capt. Floyd E. Walther, a Wisconsin National Guard officer from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, was assigned to HQ, 2D Bn., 127TH Inf. First Lt. Alfred S. Hazard, from Takoma Park, Maryland, was assigned to Co. G, 127TH Inf. Pfc. Alvin L. Nelson, from Cannon Falls, Minnesota, served with the 127TH Inf. Pfc. Robert E. Sosey, from Franklin County, Ohio, was assigned to Co. K, 126TH Inf. Www.pacificwrecks.com/ has additional information about the event and the names of the other passengers and crew. [added 14 Mar. ’17, TPB]
First Lt. Edward G. Demos, from Manchester, New Hampshire, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, posthumously, while leading his platoon in an attack against a fortified Japanese position on 14 March on Luzon. Lt. Demos was KIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 10 Mar. ’17, TPB]
“On 15 March the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, attached to the 127TH Infantry, also started up the trail from Valdez. After it reached a point a mile southwest of Imugan and two miles east of the 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, the 2D Battalion, 128TH, was stopped cold - the Japanese were prepared for just such maneuvers.
“Further west, meanwhile, the rest of the 127TH Infantry fought its way from Hill 502 to Hill 504 but did not reach the crest of Hill 504 until 23 March, and even then left the northern slopes in Japanese hands. The 3D Battalion managed to get one company to the D nose of Hill 507, and the 2D, simultaneously, pushed a company from Hill 504 to 505. (Smith 498)” [added 31 Jan. ’13, TPB]
Pvt. William T. Pinnix, from Santa Ana, California, and assigned to Co. L, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions during an attack on his unit’s perimeter on 15 March. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Aug. ’17, TPB]
As the attack progressed, positions that could not be readily reduced were bypassed, kept ineffective by air attacks and continued artillery fire, and later eliminated when surrounded and cut off from supplies and reinforcements. Antiaircraft guns, little needed for defense against the now almost impotent Japanese air forces, were in some cases used to hit cave strongpoints with their high velocity shells.
First Lt. Robert J. Stallman, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and assigned to Co. K, 127TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 18 March on Luzon. He had earlier earned the Silver Star. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients and the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 5 Dec. ’13, TPB]
S. Sgt. Ysmael R. Villegas, from Casa Blanca, California, and assigned to Company F, 127TH Infantry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership as a squad leader and singlehandedly attacking five enemy foxholes along the Ville Verde Trail on 20 March 1945. He was struck and killed by enemy fire as he was attacking his sixth foxhole. He had also been bestowed the Silver Star on 1 March for his bravery in the elimination of a Japanese machine gun nest. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.
Pvt. Calvin E. Ross, from Chewelah, Washington, and assigned to Co. K, 127TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 15 and 20 March 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. The decoration was bestowed posthumously, Pvt. Ross has been MIA since 20 Mar. ‘45. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 19 Dec. ‘13]
1st Lt. Robert L. Fierman, from New York, New York, earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a forward observer on 21 March 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail near Colibong, Luzon. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 23 Apr. ’17, TPB]
Pfc. Henry Fernandez, from Santa Clara, California, and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., was posthumously bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 21 March 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 9 Jan. ‘13]
Pfc. Donald W. Mullens, from Wyandotte County, Kansas, and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., was posthumously bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 21 March 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 26 Jun. ‘13]
General Gill was concerned about the slow progress of the Division’s advance, particularly after one battalion of the 127TH was held up for ten days south of the trail and then had to be pulled back because it could not be supplied. He expressed his concern to the army commander during one of Gen. Krueger’s visits to the Division, but Krueger assured Gill that he was fully satisfied that the Division was doing all that was humanly possible under what he called “the incredibly difficult terrain conditions and the enemy resistance facing it.”
On 22 March General Gill made a shift in his lineup. The 128TH Infantry replaced the 127TH in its attack along the axis of the Villa Verde Trail. The 127TH, less on battalion which took over the former zone of advance of the 128TH, went into Division reserve. The 126TH continued with its mission unchanged.
Maj. Timothy C. Doherty, from Boston, Massachusetts, and commander of 3D Bn., 127TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions from 5 to 22 March along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 22 Apr. ’17, TPB]
Five days later, Col. Hettinger, commander of the 128TH, was killed in action. A Cavalryman who had earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart in World War I, Col. Hettinger had been an enlisted man in the Kansas National Guard before he was commissioned in the Regular Army in 1917.
Col. John A. Hettinger, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and commander of the 128TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross, bestowed posthumously, for his actions on 27 March along the Villa Verde Trail. He was KIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 13 Dec. ‘16]
Col. Merle H. Howe succeeded Col. Hettinger in command of the 128TH Infantry. Col. Howe now had the unique distinction of having commanded each of the three infantry regiments of the 32D Division. He had commanded the 127TH during 1943 and most of 1944, and the 126TH from 5 March to 28 March 1945. Command of the 126TH passed to Lt. Col. Oliver O. Dixon. Col. Stofft continued in command of the 127TH.
Pfc. Walter DeMain, from Carnegie, Pennsylvania, and a medic in the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 27 March along the Villa Verde Trail. He went forward to administer first aid under intense machine gun and sniper fire; then he organized the evacuation of those casualties. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Mar. ‘14]
Sgt. William C. Furr, from Arlington County, Virginia, and assigned to Co. A, 128TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross, bestowed posthumously, for his actions on 29 March along the Villa Verde Trail. He was KIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 4 Mar. ‘14]
“From 23 March through 4 April the 128th Infantry drove bloodily eastward. The regiment cleared Hill 503, which the 127TH had bypassed; secured most of Hill 504; and expanded the hold on Hill 505, south of the trail. The Japanese soon challenged these gains. During the night of 31 March-1 April they laid down a heavy artillery barrage on Hill 504, following it with a banzai attack launched by over 150 troops. (Smith 501)” [added 31 Jan. ‘13]
Pfc. William R. Shockley, from Selma, California, and assigned to Company L, 128TH Infantry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his incredible selflessness during an intense Japanese counterattack along the Ville Verde Trail on 31 March 1945. He voluntarily remained at his post to fight off the enemy while allowing the remainder of his squad to safely withdraw to a better position, telling them he would “remain to the end”. He continued to fire until he was struck down during a subsequent enemy charge. He was a veteran of the Saidor, Aitape, and Leyte battles and had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge at Saidor. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.
Cpl. Arthur G. Clough, from Whitestone, New York, and assigned to Co. G, 128TH Inf., was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 31 March 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. When a Japanese grenade landed in his emplacement, he covered it with his feet and absorbed the explosion with his body, thus saving the 3 comrades he shared the emplacement with. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 8 Jan. ‘13]
“The single company of the 128TH Infantry on Hill 504 was soon forced off, and only a dawn counterattack by a full battalion prevented the loss of all ground east of Hill 502. As it was, on 1 April the Japanese again held the northern and northeastern slopes of Hill 504, so laboriously cleaned off during the preceding week. (Smith 501)” [added 31 Jan. ‘13]
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Soldiers from Company L, 128TH Infantry, entrenched atop Hill 504 along the Villa Verde Trail on 1 April 1945.
During April the 33D Division, aided by elements of the 37TH ‘Buckeye’ Division, which had been assigned to I Corps on 11 April, advanced in the left portion of the Corps zone. On 27 April the 37TH Division captured Baguio, and then pushed north and northeast. On the right, the 25TH Division continued its advance generally along the axis of Highways No. 5, and by the end of the month was attacking the enemy’s Balete Pass position.
S. Sgt. Lester A. Carlson, from Sheffield, Pennsylvania, and assigned to the 32D Cav. Recon Trp. Mech., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a “one-man patrol” near Baguio ca. Apr. ‘45. Behind enemy lines alone for eight days, he obtained and reported information which “enabled our forces to drive forward and occupy Baguio.” More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 7 Apr. ’14, TPB]
For the 32D Division April was just another month of hard fighting. There was no decrease in the stubborn resistance of the enemy and the Division was becoming worse and worse off from shortage of men. The combat units in particular were greatly depleted by losses. The 128TH Infantry was at one time down to a total effective strength of about 1,500 – less than half of its authorized strength. The other two infantry regiments were not much better off.
The supply situation naturally became more difficult as the Division advanced farther into the mountains, and, aside from the problem of getting supplies forward, there were shortages of some kinds of ammunition.
By 3 April the 126TH Infantry had largely completed its missions of probing the river valleys to the west of the Villa Verde Trail area. The final major action had been the clearing of the enemy from the horseshoe ridge around the headwaters of the Arboredo River by the 1ST Battalion of the Regiment during the time from 10 March to 3 April. By Corps orders, the 126TH was relieved in its zone of action by the 130TH Infantry of the 33D Division.
Sgt. Raymond M. Baser, from West Plains, Missouri, and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., was KIA on 3 April on Luzon. He had earned the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously, for his actions on 10 December 1944 during the Division’s operations on Leyte.
Pfc. Ernest A. Ferriera, from Oakland, California, and a scout assigned to the 128TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star, bestowed posthumously, for his effort to rescue a wounded comrade on 3 April; he was KIA during the attempt. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 3 Mar. ‘14]
Circa 3 April a patrol from the 128TH Inf. returned to friendly lines after rescuing four surviving crewman from a B-24 ‘Liberator’ which had crashed several miles into Japanese territory. The patrol was led by Lt. James W. Hovious, from Indianapolis, IN, and was steered to the crash site via radio by two aerial observers, Lt. Raymond Wahl from Dallas, TX, and Lt. Bernard J. Little from Greenfield, MA. The bomber, assigned to the Fifth Air Force, had been flying in direct support of 32D Division operations along the Villa Verde Trail when it crashed into a cloud covered peak in the Caraballo Mountains (date unknown). Some native Igorots assisted the Soldiers in transporting the wounded survivors over the nearly impassible mountain terrain. At one point the patrol had to fight their way through a Japanese roadblock to get back to friendly lines. Once they were safe, the wounded were handed off to a medical team led by Capt. Henry Wilson, from Brooklyn, NY, and Lt. Charles W. Glave, from Bay City, MI. Glave was a Pfc. in Co. E, 107TH Med. Regt., Michigan National Guard, at Bay City, MI when 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 18 Nov. ‘13]
“By 4 April the 128TH Infantry bid fair soon to be even more depleted than the 127TH Infantry. In the two weeks the 128TH had been on the trail it lost about 85 men killed and 250 wounded, approximately the same number the 127TH had lost in three weeks. And like the 127TH, the 128TH Infantry was now more than 1,000 troops understrength. For I Corps, expecting the Japanese to continue their fanatic resistance at Salacsac Pass No. 2, no further proof was needed that the 32d Division had to have more troops on the Villa Verde Trail. The only way the corps could supply the necessary reinforcements was to have the 33d Division relieve the 126th Infantry in the river valleys, an action that forced postponement of the attack on Baguio. Having made this decision, the corps went on to direct the 32d Division to move its 126th Infantry to the Villa Verde Trail and mount a two-regiment attack toward Santa Fe. (Smith 501)” [added 31 Jan. ‘13]
On 6 April the 126TH Infantry was committed to the Villa Verde Trail fight with the mission of attacking east in a zone north of that of the 128TH Infantry. Its objective was the high ground north and east of the trail.
The final push for Salacsac Pass No. 2 now began. The 128TH was on the right and the 126TH on the left and they were advancing in a generally easterly direction although battalions and companies were often attacking south or north, and sometimes even in a westerly direction, as they forced the enemy into pockets of resistance.
Sometime in April, Tec. 4 Primo O. Andreatta, from Klamath Falls, OR, and assigned to the 126TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic under fire along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 27 Mar. ’17, TPB]
Chaplain (Capt.) Owen T. Monaghan (a.k.a. Father Owen), the 126TH Infantry Chaplain, was KIA on 7 April 1945, the day after his 35th birthday. He had been born Thomas Michael Monaghan in Chicago, IL, on 6 April 1910. Chaplain Monaghan had sailed for the Southwest Pacific in Dec. 1942, and was initially assigned to the 162D Infantry Regiment, 41ST ‘Jungleers’ Infantry Division. He earned the Silver Star while serving with the 162D Infantry during the fight for Roosevelt Ridge from 21 Jul. to 14 Aug. 1943 (this was part of the battle for Salamaua, New Guinea). On at least three occasions he ignored Japanese fire and rushed forward to rescue wounded Soldiers. Several months later he suffered numerous, serious attacks of malaria which resulted in him being sent back to Australia for treatment and recuperation. Circa Jan. 1945 he was transferred and became the Chaplain for the 126TH Infantry Regiment, 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Infantry Division. On 6 Apr. ’45 he was visiting a medical unit along the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon when it was noticed that he had been feeling ill for a couple of days. One of the medical officers recommended that he be evacuated to the rear, but Chaplain Monaghan insisted on staying. Early the next morning he joined a ration train heading for the most forward troops so he could offer Mass to the Soldiers there. While visiting the Command Post of one of the infantry companies preparing for an attack, it was shelled by the Japanese. An enemy shell landed near Chaplain Monaghan and he was killed instantly. He was originally interred at the U.S. Cemetery at Santa Barbara, Luzon, on 10 Apr. ‘45. Chaplain (Maj.) Edward Connolly, Assistant 32D Division Chaplain, officiated at his funeral, which was attended by many Chaplains from the 32D Division, other units, and civilian clergy. He was later repatriated and re-interred at the Passionist Monastery in Chicago, IL. Visit The Passionists of Holy Cross Province website for more information about Chaplain Monaghan.
Many thanks to Mr. T. Horn, a website visitor, for sharing the story of Chaplain Monaghan.
A paragraph from the report of Lt. Col. Robert B. Vance on the action of the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, in capturing Hill 505, an enemy strong point south of Villa Verde Trail and west of Salacsac Pass No. 2 illustrates the desperate and unusual character of the fighting during this period. The battalion relieved a battalion of the 127TH Infantry late in March and took Hill 505 after ten days of combat, 1 to 9 April. “By the third night,” reported Lt. Col. Vance, “our positions were past their first line of defense and several positions were directly on top of their dugouts. The openings in rear of our front line that could not be closed permanently, were guarded continuously. When any movement of any kind in the holes was heard, the guard would use hand grenades in it or try to seal it up better with sandbags. Some of the entrances to the firing parapets would go down fifteen to twenty feet with ladders leading up to the positions, which made them very difficult to close.” It was estimated that fifty Japanese committed suicide the fourth night, and as much as a week later enemy soldiers were still trying to dig their way out of some of the holes.
Pfc. George F. Lamb, from Campbell County, Tennessee, and assigned to 128TH Inf., earned the Distinguished Service Cross, bestowed posthumously, for his actions on 28 March to 9 April 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. Pfc. Lamb was KIA on 9 April 1945. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 4 Apr. ‘14]
The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, reported that during the period 2 to 11 April it wiped out two machine gun companies, killed 223 Japanese by actual count of bodies, sealed up and additional number of dead in 137 caves, captured or destroyed 12 light machine guns, 13 heavy machine guns, 2 BARs, 1 Thompson sub-machine gun, and 1 U.S. flame-thrower.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Soldiers from Company G, 128TH Infantry, unload mortar ammunition from a 3/4 ton truck on the road near San Nicholas, Luzon, on 9 April 1945.
The Salacsac Pass No. 2 position was captured after bitter fighting on 10 April, according to Division records, but not until 16 April by other accounts. The discrepancy is probably explained by the fact that the “position” was not an isolated one but part of the whole main enemy position and the fighting continued with no well-defined break to mark the completion of the Pass No. 2 action from the attack to capture Pass No. 1.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Soldiers from Company A, 126TH Infantry, man fighting positions on a battle-scarred Hill 511 along the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon on 12 April 1945.
The 128TH Infantry was by now very much down in strength. The 127TH Infantry, in Division reserve, had enjoyed nearly three weeks near Asingan. Gen. Gill now ordered it to take over from the 128TH. It accomplished the relief on 17-18 April, the 1ST Battalion of the 127TH Infantry taking over from the 3D Battalion of the 128TH , and the 2D Battalion replacing the 128TH Infantry’s other 2 battalions which together hardly had the strength of one.
The 128TH was assembled near Asingan, the last elements closing into the area on 19 April. This much-needed period for rest, rehabilitation, and the absorption of replacements was to continue until 4 May, and it would have a marked effect on the future successful action of the Division.
In the meantime, the 126TH, north of Villa Verde Trail, and the 127TH, astride the trail, continued the pressure against the enemy positions. The 1ST Battalion of the Buena Vista Regiment, a Filipino unit attached to the Division, harassed the enemy’s rear in the Imugan area. They used guerrilla tactics and functioned from a patrol base in the little village of Valdez, located to the southeast of the passes.
Lt. Col. Cladie Alford ‘Gus’ Bailey, from Heltonville, Indiana, and Commander of the 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry, was KIA 20 April. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He had earlier earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a 1st Lt. commanding Co. G, 126TH Inf. on 2 Dec. ‘42 near Buna. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.
First Lt. Howard Wayne Abbott, from Colfax, Washington, and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 20 April, as well as for his earlier actions on 8 Dec. ‘44 at a road block south of Limon, Leyte. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 11 Dec. ’18, TPB]
The fighting followed a familiar pattern for the 126TH. With Company K of the 127TH attached for part of the time, the regiment advanced generally southeastward, isolating and then eliminating one enemy group after another.
First Lt. John Thomas Uliasz, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 23 Apr. He assisted in eliminating a machine gun nest that was impeding his company’s progress, then he led an attack that captured a commanding enemy position, then he organized a hasty defensive that repulsed a Japanese counter-attack. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Mar. ‘14]
Although enemy air activity was much reduced, it was not entirely eliminated as a source of trouble. On 24 April an enemy plane dropped a single bomb which scored a direct hit on a building that housed the Supply Platoon of the 732D Ordnance Company. In addition to numerous casualties, virtually the entire supply stock of the Company was destroyed. Sixteen members of the company were later awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism in connection with rescues of injured men from the burning building.
S. Sgt. Henry Ellwood Brooks, from Maywood, CA, and assigned to Co. F, 127TH Inf., was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions 24 April 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.
Pfc. David Maldonado Gonzales, from Pacoima, California, and assigned to Company A, 127TH Infantry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his heroic self-sacrifice while attempting to rescue several of his comrades along the Villa Verde Trail on 25 April 1945. During a Japanese attack, a 500-lb. bomb exploded in his company’s perimeter and buried five of his fellow Soldiers. Ignoring the intense enemy machinegun and sniper fire, he grabbed his entrenching tool and started to dig. As he was extricating his third comrade, he was struck and killed. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site. He had only been in the Army a little over a year and had only been assigned to the Division since December 1944, when he arrived overseas as a replacement. He had been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge on 1 February 1945, just a few weeks after joining the Division.
The three men Pfc. Gonzales had rescued recovered and returned to duty after a brief hospital stay. The other two men were rescued later when the enemy fire became less intense. “The bravest thing I have ever seen a man do,” was the comment of one veteran observer.
Capt. Sheldon M. Dannelly, from Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and commander of Co. A, 127TH Inf., was posthumously bestowed the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the same incident for which Pfc. Gonzales was decorated on 25 April (see above). Capt. Dannelly was KIA during the attempt to rescue five of his Soldiers. He had earned his first Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 4-5 March (see above). More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 27 Jan. ‘13]
On 27 April, 2d Lt. Francis K. Goode, from Swannanoa, North Carolina, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., was KIA on Luzon. He had earlier earned the Silver Star for his actions as a Sgt. on 27 May ’44 near Aitape, New Guinea. He had earned a battlefield commission to 2d Lt. sometime after Aitape. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]
The 127TH Infantry got one company onto the crest of Hill 515 south of Pass No. 1 on 26 April. On the night of 29-30 April, 250 to 300 Japanese launched a vigorous counterattack from three directions against the hill. In the morning 109 bodies were counted around the perimeter of the company’s position. Another small attack the following night was also successfully repelled.
Lt. Col. Robert Allen Ports, from Columbus, Ohio, and Cdr. of the 126TH FA Bn., earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 28 April. He “exposed himself to intense sniper fire” while manning a radio in order to guide a liaison plane to a spot from which it could direct fire on hidden enemy emplacements. He had enlisted as Pvt. in 37TH ‘Buckeye’ Div., Ohio National Guard, on 26 Jun. ’25. Admitted to USMA at West Point on 1 Jul. ‘26, he graduated on 11 Jun. ‘30 and was commissioned 2d Lt., Arty., on 12 Jun. ’30. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 4 Aug. ’17, TPB]
Capt. Earl W. Gibson, from Quaker City, Ohio, earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail from 23 April to 1 May. His leadership was key in his unit’s capture of an enemy held hill and its ability to hold it through numerous and determined counter-attacks. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Mar. ‘14]
S. Sgt. Pedro Perez, from San Marcos, Texas, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 30 April. He ran through machinegun fire to rescue a wounded comrade, and was also WIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 16 Apr. ’16, TPB]
Capt. Laurence V. St. Onge, from Tacoma, Washington, and commander of Co. E, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 5 May. He led his men, many in combat for the first time, in a skillful attack on an important Japanese position on a steep hill. The enemy was taken completely by surprise. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. Thanks to Capt. Onge’s daughter, she supplied some useful information about him and his service. [added 1 Mar. ‘14]
During the period 6-9 May the 126TH Infantry was relieved by the 128TH, and assembled in a rest area near Santa Maria.
At the same time, the 127TH began a coordinated and somewhat complicated drive to clear the Pass No. 1 area. The 1ST Battalion made a two pronged attack eastward mostly south of Villa Verde Trail. The 3D, from a position north of the trail and slightly ahead of the 1ST Battalion, attacked southward toward the trail. The 2D Battalion, south of the trail, and considerably ahead of the 1ST Battalion, attacked westward back toward the 1ST, and kept pressure at the same time to the east to protect the rear of his attack.
Lt. Col. Charles Robert ‘Monk’ Meyer, commander of 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 6 May along the Villa Verde Trail. At some unknown place and time on Luzon, he was WIA while personally attacking a Japanese-held cave with grenades and TNT. This incident may be the basis for his DSC, cannot be confirmed without seeing the actual citation for his DSC. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 3 Feb. ‘13]
Col. Merle H. Howe, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and commander of the 128TH Inf., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions 11 May along the Villa Verde Trail. He had previously earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 5 Dec. ’42 near Buna Village, the Silver Star for his actions 16 Jan. ‘43 near Tarakena, and the OLC to the Silver Star for his actions on 19 Jan. ‘43 near Giruwa. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients or the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Jun. ’17, TPB]
A welcomed improvement in the situation at about this time was the fact that the counterbattery fire of the Division’s artillery had eliminated the bulk of the enemy artillery. It was a disadvantage, however, that particularly heavy rains and much fog handicapped both the fighting units and the supply services.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
32D Division Soldiers advancing up a particularly muddy section of the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon in May of 1945.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Japanese heavy artillery piece captured by the 32D Division along the Villa Verde Trail. Nicknamed “Yamashita's Big Trains” by some because they were mounted on rails so they could be hidden in caves when not firing. Nicknamed Yamashita’s Boxcar Artillery by others due to the unusual rumbling sound made by the huge shells.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
A U.S. Soldier poses next to a Caraboa-drawn cart on northern Luzon, Philippine Islands.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
32D Infantry Division History Commission photo
Maj. Gen. William H. Gill, CG, 32D Infantry Division, and Lt. Col. Frank W. Murphy, CO, 127TH Infantry, observing fire of an M-7 105mm Self-propelled Gun shelling enemy positions on Yamashita Ridge along the Villa Verde Trail May 1945.
On 12 May General Krueger and General Swift visited the 32D Division’s zone of action. “An inspection of elements of the 127TH and 128TH Infantry Regiments, some artillery units and evacuation hospitals,” says Krueger in his memoirs, “impressed me as on previous occasions with the fine performance of the 32D Division under extremely difficult conditions.” With some forty-seven years of enlisted and commissioned service behind him, General Krueger had, in General Eisenhower’s words, “an Army-wide reputation as a hard-bitten soldier.” Favorable comment from him could always be accepted without discount.
Second Lt. Homer D. McGettigan, from Darlington, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. K, 128TH Inf., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star (posthumously) for his actions on 13 May along the Villa Verde Trail. He was a Pvt. in Co. K, 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Monroe, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. He had earlier earned the Silver Star as a Tec. 4 for his actions on 18 Nov. ’42 near Simemi, New Guinea. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 16 Apr. ‘13]
Tec. 3 Donald R. Pederson, from Superior, Wisconsin, and assigned to Med. Det., 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 20 May along the Villa Verde Trail. He was a Pfc. in Med. Det., 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Superior, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 2 Mar. ‘14]
Pfc. Virgil P. Basquette, Jr., from Terre Haute, Indiana, and assigned to Med. Det., 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 20 May along the Villa Verde Trail. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 30 Mar. ’17, TPB]
S. Sergeant Reno J. Bernardi, from Vallejo, California, and Pfc. Willie J. Garcia, from Brea, California, assigned to Co. C, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for their actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 21 May. They dodged heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire to attack and eliminate 3 Japanese cave positions on Hill 508, in an area known as the Kongo Fortress, with grenades and explosives. More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Mar. ’13, updated 19 Jan. ’18, TPB]
Fighting continued throughout most of May with a final assault being launched on 23 May against the Japanese position sometimes called the Kongo Fortress and apparently regarded by them as impregnable. Nevertheless, the Division overcame the enemy’s resistance and completely eliminated all organized resistance in the area on 27 May.
Although the final assaults in the Division’s zone of action were made by the 127TH and 128TH Infantry Regiments, the 126TH also had a part in the climax of the Villa Verde Trail operation. On 23 May, in accordance with I Corps orders, the 126TH Inf., with supporting units attached to make a combat team, arrived in the Digdig area in the zone of the 25TH Infantry Division. That division, suffering heavy losses, had fought its way northward through Balete Pass and on 23 May was within about five hundred yards of Santa Fe in the south, about 1,000 yards in the southeast, and about 1,700 yards in the southwest.
Lt. Col. James P. Burns, Commander of 1ST Bn., 128TH Inf., and from Clarke County, VA, was KIA on 24 May along the Villa Verde Trail. He was posthumously bestowed with 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, one for his actions on 19 May, and the other for his actions on 24 May. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.
Capt. Myron H. Singer, from Brooklyn, New York, earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 24 May. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 5 Sep. ’17, TPB]
Sgt. Learville Newton Schlessman, from Neosho, Missouri, and assigned to the 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 25 May 1945 along the Villa Verde Trail. He also earned the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 8 Jan. ‘13]
Second Lt. Albert H. Stockmeier, from Holgate or Van Wert, Ohio, earned the Silver Star for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on 25-26 May; he eliminated 4 enemy emplacements with explosives. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 14 Sep. ’17, TPB]
The 126TH RCT had passed to the temporary operational control of the 25TH Division and was given the mission of seizing the high ground north of Villa Verde Trail east of Imugan, and opening the trail from Santa Fe to Imugan. The 126TH accomplished that mission by 28 May.
On that same day Imugan itself was captured by the 128TH Infantry. This village, the goal of the Division’s weeks of hard fighting, turned out to be a collection of about half dozen huts housing as many Igorot families. It was perhaps some feeling of an anticlimax which resulted in the inclusion of an explanation of the village’s importance in the Division’s operations report for the day: “This morning elements of the 128TH Infantry and the 32D Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop captured the important village of Imugan. This village, the center of enemy activity for deployment of troops to the east, south, and west was secured at 1001 when contact was made with elements of the 126TH Infantry, now attached to the 25TH Infantry Division, on Hill 530 (1,000 yards north of Imugan).”
T. Sgt. Iven Morris Mansfield, from Crockett Mills, TN and assigned to Co. L, 128TH Inf., was KIA on 28 May along the Villa Verde Trail at Maleco, near Balete Pass. A veteran of Saidor, Aitape and Leyte, and Luzon, T/Sgt. Mansfield earned the Bronze Star, bestowed posthumously, for his efforts to rescue six wounded men from his platoon that day. “For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy near Villa Verde Trail, Luzon, Philippine Islands on 28 May 1945. When six were wounded during heavy fighting Sergeant Mansfield voluntarily went forward and assisted in their evacuation. He then started to reorganize the perimeter defense against the intense enemy assaulting and while so doing he was killed by enemy artillery. Sergeant Mansfield's extreme heroism was an inspiration to his fellow soldiers.” T. Sgt. Mansfield also earned at least 2 Purple Hearts. He was repatriated and re-interred at Maury City Cemetery, Maury City, TN on 15 Aug. '48. [added 3 Nov. ’14, TPB]
General Gill radioed General Swift: “The Japanese so-called impregnable defensive lines at Salacsac Pass No. 1 and Hill Mass 527-528 have been broken completely and the defenders crushed. Small isolated remnants of his forces are now fleeing north to Imugan Valley pursued by elements of the 32D Division. Thus the pincer movement is complete and the Villa Verde Trail is open from Santa Maria to Imugan.”
The Division commander also issued a general order to commemorate the victory:
The 32D Division has accomplished its mission. The enemy has been destroyed and the Villa Verde Trail secured. A passage has been forced through the Caraballo Mountains from the Central Plain to the entrance of the Cagayan Valley, thus hastening the completion of the Luzon Campaign.
After one hundred and twenty days of fierce hand to hand combat over terrain more difficult than any yet encountered in this war, the “Red Arrow” again pierced the enemy’s line. You have crushed completely another of the enemy’s so-called impregnable defenses, brilliantly concluding the Division’s 5th campaign in the Pacific Theater.
I desire to express to every officer and enlisted man in the Division, as well as those attached, my heartfelt appreciation of the courage and determination each has shown while playing his vitally important part in this long and arduous campaign. You have outfought and destroyed a cunning and determined enemy, and enemy occupying elaborately prepared defenses on ground of his own choosing. Your victory was impressive and decisive and one of which you may well be proud.
It is with justifiable pride and complete confidence that I look forward to your continued success into the heart of Tokyo.
The 114TH Engineer Combat Battalion was particularly commended for its part in the campaign. On 13 May, the I Corps engineer had written a letter through channels to the commanding officer of the battalion in which he said: “I wish to commend you, the officers and enlisted men of your organization for the professional work performed on the Villa Verde Trail. Your achievements have been of such caliber that they received commendations from the Commanding General, Sixth Army.”
Later the unit was cited in War Department general orders:
The 114TH Engineer Combat Battalion is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy on Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 1 February to 4 June 1945. During this period, the battalion carried out its duties of supporting the advance of the division attack by means of engineer work, under conditions which demanded the utmost in devotion to duty to overcome the enormous difficulties presented by a combination of incredibly difficult terrain and a stubbornly resisting, fanatical enemy. The enemy, throughout the period, covered the hazardous operations with close range, small arms fire, as well as direct fire from mountain guns. In the close terrain, the enemy fought fanatically from caves and, since the infantry units were spread along lengthened lines of communication, the engineers frequently furnished close in security for equipment and working parties. Engineer bivouacs were subjected constantly to enemy artillery fire and raiding parties. Dozer operators were harassed continually by enemy small arms fire from positions less than 50 yards away. To give maximum support to the infantry elements, engineer reconnaissance was carried well forward, with engineers accompanying patrols of the advance troops. One such engineer party was wiped out by an enemy ambush but this did not stop the determined engineers from continuing their exacting tasks. Equipment and working parties were endangered constantly by slides and washouts and many men were injured by falling rock banks. Enemy artillery barrages held up work momentarily on occasions, but nothing daunted the engineers, who drove forward, despite the difficulties and dangers. The battalion maintenance personnel went as far forward as road conditions would permit, despite enemy observation and fire. The administrative personnel of the battalion worked long hours to insure adequate engineer supply and proper maintenance of reports. The tremendous accomplishments achieved by the 114TH Engineer Combat Battalion were of vital importance to the division’s success in overcoming fanatical Japanese resistance.
Two Infantry Battalions and one Artillery Battalion were also honored by War Department citations:
The 1st Battalion, 128TH Infantry Regiment, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy in the Caraballo Mountains, Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 23 March to 30 May 1945. Over what has been officially referred to as “some of the bloodiest fighting in the history of the United States Army,” the 1ST Battalion, during this period, attacked and vanquished the fanatical enemy entrenched in seemingly impregnable fortifications controlling the Villa Verde Trail. So long had the enemy been in preparation of its cave fortifications, so elaborate had been their preparations, and so skillfully were these enemy defensive positions located, that the entire operation for the 1ST Battalion consisted of assaults upon fortified positions. In the reduction of this force’s forward area near Salacsac Pass Number 2, the 1ST Battalion killed 700 Japanese, demolished innumerable cave positions, and captured countless enemy weapons. On May 1945 (sic) the 1ST Battalion, after nearly complete replacement of its personnel because of combat casualties, began the attack on Hill 508, the commanding ground in the division sector and the focal point of the elaborate enemy defensive system. By skillful and courageous use of the flamethrowers, demolition charges, and hand grenades, the assault force literally blasted and buried enemy troops to annihilation as the battalion fought its way onto the hill. Because of the clever employment of the enemy's weapons for mutual fire support in breadth and depth, the most exact coordination between elements of the battalion was required. Many times fire direction was given by forward assault groups for adjoining attackers in order to overcome the usual poor observations. Often during the assault on Hill 508, the attackers found that the Japanese tunnels and underground positions extended completely through ridges, all of which were virtually invulnerable to bombs and artillery. After 9 days of constant assault on the hill mass, during which the Japanese made innumerable counterattacks, the 1st Battalion overwhelmed the entire hill to complete the annihilation of the Sampei force. Upon examinations of the conquered fortress, it was found that the main cave was approximately 200 feet long, with numerous compartments leading from the main tunnel. The 1ST Battalion suffered 600 combat casualties in this extremely costly battle for control of this sector of the Villa Verde Trail area. The 1ST Battalion fought against the enemy’s key positions and his most determined troops, killing more than 1,400. Despite the casualties and adverse conditions the officers and men of the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry Regiment, never wavered from their determination to destroy the enemy and complete an extremely difficult mission.
The 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry Regiment, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy on Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 24 March to 31 May 1945. The 3D Battalion, during this period, attacked and vanquished the fanatical and aggressive enemy entrenched in seemingly impregnable fortifications controlling the Villa Verde Trail. The enemy timetable permitted them months of preparation, during which, they honeycombed the hills with elaborate systems of caved, prepared fortified emplacements for artillery and machine guns, familiarized themselves with the terrain, and cached huge stacks of supplies and ammunition. Dense forests, thick scrub and underbrush, and concentrated patches of razor sharp kunai grass afforded the enemy the most ideal natural defensive positions ever encountered. Defense of these hills consisted of series after series of pillboxes heavily armed with machine guns and mutually supported automatic and small arms fire. These position were so well dug in and protected that they were not seriously affected by our artillery and mortar barrages and had to be reduced one by one by organized assault groups. The commitment of the 3D Battalion, in a series of coordinated attacks against enemy held hills, launched the unit into one of the bloodiest, most bitterly contested engagements of the entire campaign. In one four day period, 220 Japanese were killed and many were buried in the 44 caves and pillboxes sealed and overrun. Bangalore torpedoes, rocket launchers, pole charges, hand thrown demolitions, and flame throwers literally blasted and buried enemy troops to annihilation as the slow, costly advance rolled on until these hills were taken. The capture of these hills isolated cut off pockets of enemy forces and made possible the extension of the supply road. Further advance was impeded by the enemy’s positions on another hill. This hill consisted of a series of steep gullies and ridges approximately 800 yards long, running parallel to the trail and south of it. Its commanding ground dominated over 1,000 yards of the trail and, until secured, prevented all forward movement. The 3D Battalion was assigned the mission of capturing this hill and establishing a roadblock on the trail from the south by this flanking movement. Again the battalion encountered stiff enemy resistance in well-fortified and mutually supported caves, machine gun pillboxes and dug in snipers. Accurate enemy indirect and point blank artillery subjected our troops to heavy fire. Once again the experienced assault groups burned, blasted, and fought their way through pocket after pocket of these fortified positions. Again demolitions, rocket launcher, flame throwers, pole charges, close in fighting, and hand to hand combat wrested positions form the tenacious enemy. In 4 days of ferocious assault, fortifications were reduce and control of dominating hills established. When advanced elements of the division found themselves isolated, because of cutting of their supply line, elements of the 3D Battalion were rushed to that area. A new trail was cut to the isolated elements and, in a series of bloody, savage attacks, they completely annihilated the Japanese blockading the old supply route. During this phase, the enemy controlled a section of the Villa Verde Trail. A three-way pincer movement was initiated to eliminate this enemy group. Throughout this entire phase, it was a case of engaging and destroying installations, caves, and pillboxes, one by one. The fanatical enemy had to be killed to the last man, each determined to fight to the end. The onslaught of the American troops, closing from all sides, was so fierce that the spirit of the defenders of the Villa Verde Trail was broken forever. During the above mentions period, the 3D Battalion killed at least 741 Japanese, while countless others were smothered and buried in caves. The indomitable courage of the 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry Regiment, and their aggressiveness in battle against an enemy favored by both perfect defensive terrain and oriental fanaticism were determining factors in the conquest of the Villa Verde Trail.
The 126TH Field Artillery Battalion is cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy on Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 30 January to 3 June 1945. For the entire 125 days necessary to complete this operation, the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion was in continuous direct support successively of the 127TH, 126TH, and finally, of the 128TH Infantry Regiments of the 32D Infantry Division. To do so, it was forced to position itself and its guns amidst treacherous terrain and precipitous cliffs, carving its final position by hand and by bulldozer form a hillside 4,000 yard west of Mt. Imugan, in order that it might support decisive infantry operations toward Mt. Imugan and Santa Fe in the ensuing 10 weeks. Only from this position and no other could fire support be effectively maintained against a fanatical and well dug in enemy, who subjected the unit to all kinds of harassment, registering continually upon its position with small arms and artillery fire of all calibers and ceaselessly practicing well developed infiltration tactics. Regardless of the extreme hazard and danger of necessity placed upon it and with a grim tenacity of purpose and even greater heroism, the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion, with a magnificent esprit de corps, maintained both its position and its fires until the completion of the 32D Division’s operations, covering its relief and withdrawal and being the last unit to leave the scene of the action. In this period it fired more than 69,200 rounds of ammunition for a rate of better than 1 every 2 minutes. Despite this heavy rate of fire, it was successfully delivered without inflicting a single casualty upon the supported infantry, a support action rendered under all but impossible conditions. Wire communications and supply were maintained at a great cost to the battalion, which, in addition, being denied flank support because of a shortage of troops within the Division itself, was forced to maintain its own security by constant patrolling action. Because of the extreme hazard of the position, casualties were heavy, both at the position and in the forward areas, where forward observers and liaison parties consistently operated, the battalion suffering more than all other artillery units of the division concerned. This brought about a critical shortage of personnel, resulting in officers and men maintaining themselves for periods as long as 37 days in the forward areas without relief and despite the need in many cases for hospitalization. Throughout this time, many acts of individual heroism and gallantry were performed by officers and men of the battalion, who so successfully completed their mission as to play a paramount role in the opening of the Villa Verde Trail, an action in which Japanese (commanded by General Yamashita) suffered more than 9,000 casualties. The skill in battle, accuracy of their fires, and selfless devotion to duty displayed by the officers and men of the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion, during this critical phase of the Luzon campaign, not only reflect great credit on the members of the battalion but on the battalion itself, the 32D Division, and military service as well.
Issues of Red Arrow News, the Division’s two page daily mimeographed news sheet, published soon after the Villa Verde Trail campaign, give some interesting sidelights on Division activities and what was going elsewhere around the world.
The issue of 1 June 1945 included headlines about reports that the Allies had begun prosecution of Nazi war criminals, that withdrawal of Allied troops had been requested by the Iran Government, and that “Soviets Open Great Army Training Camps in Siberia, Call Up 15-16 Year Olds.” Two stories of more immediate interest to Red Arrow men were featured. Boxed on page 1 was this commendation from General Krueger, Sixth Army commander, and General Swift, I Corps commander:
From: CG, I Corps
To: CG, 25TH Inf. Div.
CG, 32D Inf. Div.
The following message from the Army Commander is transmitted with pleasure: “Heartiest congratulations for a fine performance in capturing Santa Fe and Imugan and in opening the Villa Verde Trail for its entire length. Please convey to the officers and men of the 25TH and 32D Divisions and their supporting troops my sincere appreciation of their skill and gallantry, and their fortitude whereby this noteworthy achievement was made possible.” To the above I add my congratulations on the accomplishment of a most difficult task. Swift.
Also featured in the same issue is the story of a broadcast from the Division’s forward command post:
Tuesday night the voice of a
veteran news commentator went out over the CBS network, telling the story of
the 32D Division’s engagement direct from the Division forward CP.
In the first broadcast of its kind to be beamed out from this Division, William
J. Dunn – himself a veteran of the whole Pacific war – said in part:
“Two and a half years ago down at Buna on the flat coastal plain of eastern New Guinea I saw this same division fight the first big scale attack ever staged by American troops in the southern Pacific. It was the 32D that started us on an entirely new type of warfare – jungle warfare – at Buna and taught us how to beat the Japs out of their foxholes and pillboxes.
“Now the 32D is just about to complete a four months campaign of an entirely different sort – a mountain campaign over ranges as rugged as I ever saw in New Guinea, China or Burma – a campaign as different from Burma as black from white.”
Dunn, who flew here to make the broadcast, continued: “This microphone is located in the very heart of what Radio Tokyo not long ago referred to as an impregnable defense line. And Radio Tokyo had reason to boast. The Japs are really dug in and armed as they had never been armed before. For instance, one unit which normally carried eight machine guns was here equipped with 34.”
In conclusion Dunn said: “Major General William H. Gill has a right to be proud of his fighting 32D.”
The Red Arrow News for 10 June 1945 reported a visit by General Joseph W. Stilwell as follows:
“That’s Vinegar Joe!” amazed Red Arrowmen exclaimed recently as a dusty jeep sped up the
mountain trail. And they were right – the vehicle’s occupant was that legendary
figure, the man who led the long, heart-breaking trek through Burma in the
early dark days of the war; General Joseph W. Stilwell, now commander of the
Army Ground Forces. General Stilwell, on a tour of Pacific fronts, took a good
look at the 32ND’s sector. After touring the area over which the
Division fought during the past four months, he commented:
“The 32D Division has done a very fine and creditable job.” Wearing his battered old-style campaign hat, HBT’s and combat boots, the tall, raw-boned figure was quickly recognized by veterans of the 32D, although he did not wear insignia. Asked if this campaign was tough as that in Burma, Stilwell said:
“Tough? This is as tough as anything could be. Terrain doesn’t come any worse. In Burma it was thick impenetrable jungle, and here its cliffs seemingly impossible to scale and the worst sort of mountain terrain. Burma or this sector – it’s a toss-up.
“The Japs used the same type of defense in Burma, only their caves weren’t so elaborate as those found here. Dugouts were their mainstay there.
“The Division has a splendid record which will be very hard to beat.” The General concluded.
Both the issue for 1 June and that of 10 June reflect the growing interest in “Points,” “critical scores,” and going home. Each issue has a good cartoon by Bothwell. One shows two soldiers talking on a transport homeward bound. One is saying, “- and th’ second thing I’m gonna do is buy me bottle of ice cold beer!” The other cartoon shows a 32D veteran back in the States carrying a bucket of paint and still in uniform with the Red Arrow prominent on his shoulder. “Yeh,” he says as he paints a bar like that on the Division’s insignia across a traffic arrow, “it’s a sort of hobby of mine.” A companion cringes at the sight of a big civilian policeman standing behind the artist.
Another publication of great interest to veterans of the Division was a very well done thirty-page history of the Division’s part in World War II. It was titled 13,000 Hours, and included pictures and maps. The Division’s Public Relations Office, which prepared the booklet, based the title on the statement: “Three years overseas, as of midnight, April 21, 1945, 13030 Hours of combat, more than any other division in World War II have gone into the record.” Printed by the 2773D Engineers and “approved for mailing by military censorship,” it provided them with a record to send home to “the folks.”
General Krueger’s Sixth Army headquarters, planning well ahead as an army headquarters must, had already, on 24 May, issued a field order which included in its provisions the operations to be undertaken by I Corps as soon as the Santa Fe – Imugan area was captured. The 25TH and the 33D Infantry Divisions were eventually to be concentrated in rear areas to ready themselves for Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan. The 37TH Infantry Division was to take over from the 25TH and exploit the enemy’s defeat in the Santa Fe – Imugan area. The 32D was to be withdrawn from Villa Verde Trail as soon as the tactical situation permitted, and was later to relieve the 33D Division in its zone of action.
I Corps passed these orders on to the 32D with additional missions and details of time and method. Although a few Japanese positions remained in the Villa Verde Trail area, the seizure of Santa Fe and the activities of the 37TH Division as it pushed north would cut off the enemy’s supplies. Not only could these isolated Japanese units be controlled by a small force, but the supply of the Division by way of the Trail was rapidly becoming almost impossible. The heavy downpours and fogs of the rainy season made movements of vehicles very difficult. Washouts and landslides were frequent.
The withdrawal of the Division began on 30 May with the movement of the 128TH Infantry, less its 2D Battalion, to the vicinity of Aringay. The following day, the 127TH, less detachments, began moving to the vicinity of Bauang, and the remainder of the Division, less the 126TH RCT, following during the ensuing week.
The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry (Lt. Col. Maurice C. ‘Maury’ Holden), reinforced and named HOLDEN Force, assumed responsibility of the Division’s former area of operations. The 127TH Infantry’s Company F, Company G, Mortar Platoon of Company H, and Battery A, 121ST Field Artillery Battalion, were attached to U.S. Army Forces in the Philippines (Northern Luzon) (USAFIP (NL)), commonly referred to as simply Volckmann’s force, a guerrilla unit which had been resisting the Japanese occupation since the spring of 1942. [updated 17 Jan. ’18, TPB]
Col. Russell William Volckmann, from Clinton, IA, was serving as G-2, HQ, 11TH Division, Philippine Army, when the U.S. and Philippine forces were compelled to surrender to the Japanese. He, and other U.S. and Philippine personnel, evaded capture and organized a guerrilla force to thwart the Japanese occupation of Luzon and help pave the way for its eventual liberation. Numerous references consider him to be one of the three primary founders of the U.S. Special Forces. [added 17 Jan. ’18, TPB]
The 126TH RCT remained attached to the 25TH Infantry Division, and was used primarily to mop up the Santa Fe – Imugan area.
photo added 12 Jan. 13
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Soldiers from 3D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, descending a hill as they head toward Santa Fe, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 1 June 1945.
During the period 4 to 30 June, the bulk of the 32D Division was located in the Bauang-Naguilian – Caba – Aringay area engaged in rest, rehabilitation and training, plus security missions in its area. The daily routine pattern was training in the morning, recreation and athletics in the afternoon, and daily motor patrols throughout the area for which the Division was responsible.
On 30 June elements of the Division began to move to the south end of Cagayan Valley. At midnight of that day, the Division passed to control of XIV Corps (LG Oscar W. Griswold). At the same time, the responsibility for all remaining combat missions on Luzon passed from General Krueger to the Commanding General, Eighth Army (LG Robert L. Eichelberger). Sixth Army was to get its troops ready for Operation Olympic, the assault of Kyushu, southernmost island of Japan. Eighth, Tenth and First Armies (the last redeployed from Europe) were scheduled to attack the main Japanese island of Honshu in the early spring of 1946.
The officers and men of the 32D, as indicated by General Gill’s phrase, “I look forward to your continued success into the heart of Tokyo” in his general order at the end of the Villa Verde Trail operation, expected to be in the final assault on the heart of Japan, but in the meantime they had a job of mopping up to do.
The Luzon Campaign had, in some degree at least, officially come to an end, but it was, in fact, far from concluded. General Eichelberger, in his book, criticizes General MacArthur or “his immediate assistants” for announcing victories too early. He is particularly bitter about the phrase “mopping up.” “If there is another war,” he says, “I recommend that the military, and the correspondents, and everyone else concerned, drop the phrase ‘mopping up’ from their vocabularies. It is not a good enough phrase to die for.”
Actually, 30 June 1945 was only the date of the changeover of command on Luzon. Later, the War Department set 4 July as the termination date for the battle credit, Luzon. But the 32D Division and other units continued active operations against opposition until 15 August, and as will be seen, it was some time after that before Yamashita surrendered.
The battle casualties of the Division for the
Luzon Campaign up to midnight, 30 June 1945, were as follows:
Killed in action
Died of wounds
Wounded in action
Injured in action
Missing in action
Most of the battle casualties occurred in the four month period from 1 February to 31 May 1945.
These figures, however, only partly tell the story of the larger turnover of officers and men during the campaign. In addition to the casualties, several hundred officers and several thousand enlisted men were relieved from the Division under rotation plans. During the operation, 238 officers and 6,661 enlisted men were received as replacements, and 214 officers and 5,747 enlisted men were reassigned to the Division after hospitalization. Some of these latter had, of course, only been absent from the Division for brief periods. But the overall figures indicate that a tremendous personnel administrative and training burden was carried by the Division during and exceptionally difficult period of combat.
The 32D Division started the campaign considerably under strength, with only 625 officers and 10,499 men present for duty on Luzon. The comparable figures on 30 June 1945 were 623 officers and 12,258 men.
The Division’s after action report for the Luzon Campaign
pays tribute to the often forgotten help given by the Red Cross field workers,
two of whom, Chet Whidden and Clyde Ryberg, were particularly mentioned in later postwar
stories. “The American Red Cross representatives,” says the official
Division report, “did a commendable job during the operation, supplying front
line troops with necessities and luxury items. Red Cross Canteens were
maintained in all rear areas, and improvised mobil
canteens served front line troops. Their efforts during this operation deserve
Bibliography (primary sources for historical information regarding the 32D ‘The Red Arrow’ Infantry Division’s exploits during World War II):
Blakeley, H. W., Major
General, Retired. The 32D Infantry Division in World War II.
The Thirty-second Infantry Division History Commission, State of Wisconsin, n.d.
Cannon, M. Hamlin. Leyte: The Return to the Philippines. U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1954.
Carlisle, John M. Red Arrow Men: Stories About the 32nd Division on the Villa Verde. Detroit: Arnold-Powers, Inc., 1945.
Drea, Edward J. Defending the Driniumor: Covering Force Operations in New Guinea, 1944. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1984.
Edward J. New Guinea -
The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II.
U. S. Army Center of Military History, n.d.
Hill, Jim Dan, Major General, Retired. The Minute Man in Peace and War. Harrisburg: The Stackpole Company, 1964.
Jungwirth, Clarence J. Diary of a National Guardsman in World War II. Oshkosh, WI: Poeschl Printing Company, 1991.
Mayo, Lida. Bloody Buna. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University Press, 1975.
Miller, John, Jr. Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul. U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1959.
Milner, Samuel. Victory in
Papua. U. S. Army
Center of Military History, 1957.
Papuan Campaign - The Buna-Sanananda Operation. Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, War Department, 1945.
The Red Arrow - 1955 - The 32D Division, Wisconsin National Guard. n.p., 1955.
Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Four Score and Ten: Happenings in the Life of Herbert M. Smith. Eau Claire, WI: Heins Publications, 1995.
Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Hannibal Had Elephants II. Eau Claire, WI: Rev. William A. Heins, 1995.
Smith, Robert Ross. The Approach
to the Philippines. U. S. Army
Center of Military History, 1953.
Smith, Robert Ross. Triumph in the Philippines. U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1963.
revised 30 May
created 30 October 1999