The 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Veteran Association

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The 32D Infantry Division

in World War II

The ‘Red Arrow’

Urbana Force during the Battle of Buna

 

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Urbana Force During the Battle of Buna

In the meantime, Urbana Force was having a tough time in front of strong defenses around the junction of the trails which forked toward Buna Village and Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station) from the Dobodura-Buna track.  This area was known as the Triangle.

 

Adding to some of the confusion as a result of the mixed units was the fact that both of the two main units had the designation “2D Battalion” and both were commanded by an officer named Herbert Smith (both were Wisconsin National Guard officers).

 

‘Red’ Smith vs. ‘White’ Smith:

The 2D Bn., 126TH Inf. was commanded by Maj. (later Lt. Col.) Herbert M. Smith, from Neillsville, WI.  The 2D Bn., 128TH Inf. was commanded by Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, from Oshkosh, WI.  Both Smiths were longtime Wisconsin National Guard officers and both of them had served with the 128TH Inf. for many years.  Maj. H. M. Smith, in his book, Four Score and Ten, stated “I was going to inquire of Division how to distinguish between the two Herb Smiths and the two 2nd Battalions. Their radio reply was that I was Red Smith and the other Herb was White Smith.” (94-5).  If there was a specific reason why he was ‘Red’ and the other was ‘White’, he did not explain it.  At least one reference states that the decision was made by the Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Harding, but again, no reason was given.

 

Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., was the commander of Urbana Force.

 

    “As soon as reconnaissance indicated what a strong position the Japanese had developed at The Triangle, he [Lt. Col. Smith] began flanking operations to both sides of what appeared to be the main position.  These movements, pressed for several days and nights under conditions of almost incredible hardships, had to be made through swamps which were at times neck-deep.  Company G, 128th Infantry (Lieutenant Theodore Florey), spent a miserable night in the deepest part of one of these swamps.  On both flanks, the envelopments emerged against enemy positions as strong as those at the The Triangle.
    “There was again the familiar story of lost direction, communication difficulties, ineffective air support (including a strafing of Colonel Smith's command post by our P-40s), malfunctioning of wet and muddy weapons and ammunition, and of wet, sick, and hungry men struggling forward to suddenly find themselves under murderous fire, the source of which they could not locate.  Maps were insufficient in number and inaccurate of content; information about the enemy's strength and positions was nonexistent.  The only solution - and it seemed an almost impossible one - was vigorous attack.” (Blakeley 71-2)

 

On 27 November 1942, Colonel John W. Mott assumed command of Urbana Force.  General Harding had sent his Chief of Staff to the area to evaluate the situation, with authority to assume command if he thought it would be beneficial.  After Col. Mott took over command of Urbana Force, Lt. Col. Smith could concentrate entirely on his own battalion.  Col. Mott began planning an attack for the night of 29-30 November.

In addition to these problems, by 28 November, there was only one operational supply boat left, the others had been damaged or destroyed by enemy action or accidents.  There weren't enough aircraft available to adequately supply the troops solely by air.  Once supplies did land at the Dobodura air strip, they still had to be transported to the front, 10 or 12 miles away.  The few available trails were not suitable for vehicles.  Natives were hired to carry supplies and help evacuate the wounded, but they would not go into the areas being reached by enemy fire.  The soldiers had to carry the supplies the rest of the way themselves.

On 30 November an attack was also scheduled for Warren Force.  Both attacks were better planned and organized than previous attempts.  The fire support was better coordinated on both fronts.

Urbana Force’s attack commenced before dawn, after a difficult advance through the swamps the night before.  Part of 2D Bn., 126TH Inf. got within 100 yards of Buna Village, but could not take it.  Company F, 128TH Inf. was able to sever the enemy’s communications between Buna and Sanananda.  “Winners of the Distinguished Service Cross during this operation were Lieutenants Erwin J. Nummer and Cladie A. Bailey, and Sergeant Boyd L. Lincoln. (Blakeley 73)  More information about these three Soldiers and their medals can be found below as well as on the roster of DSC recipients.

1st Lt. Bailey, from Heltonville, Indiana, and commander of Co. G, 126TH Inf., was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 2 December.

1st Lt. Nummer was bestowed with the DSC for his actions as 1st Lt. and commander of Co. F, 126TH Inf. on 30 November, he was also WIA.  He was a Sgt. in the Michigan National Guard’s Service Co., 126TH Inf., at Grand Rapids, MI, when the Division was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

Sgt. Lincoln was from Michigan and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf.  His DSC was bestowed posthumously because he was KIA the afternoon of 30 November “after leading his squad with great distinction all day against the enemy outpost on the outskirts of [Buna Village]. (Milner 192)  He was a Pfc. in Co. E, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Big Rapids, MI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40.  Unfortunately his body was not found so he is still MIA.  He was also awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. [added 20 Dec. ‘12]

Several Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry on 30 November.  Some of them are listed below and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

1st Sgt. George Pravda, from Spring Lake, Michigan, and assigned to Co. F, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 30 November near Buna Mission.  He was a Sgt. in Co. F, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Grand Haven, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40.  He earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for his actions the next day. [added 22 Apr. ‘13]

Sgt. James K. Broner (James K. Brower), from Muskegon, Michigan, and assigned to Co. G, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his leadership and initiative during the attack on Buna Village on 30 November.  He was a Pvt. in Co. G, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Muskegon, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40.  He was seriously WIA a week later during the same battle near Buna in which his brother, Sgt. Willard I. Broner, from the same unit, was KIA. [added 12 May ‘13]

Pvt. O'Donnell O'Brien, from Muskegon, Michigan, and assigned to Co. G, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 30 November near Buna.  He was a Pvt. in Co. G, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Muskegon, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 19 Apr. ‘13]

Pvt. Bennie B. Richell, from Muskegon, Michigan, and assigned to Co. G, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 30 November near Buna.  He was a Cpl. in Co. G, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Muskegon, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 25 Apr. ‘13]
 

At this point you should return to the main Battle of Buna page for some information related to the 32D Division as a whole.  You will then be directed back to this point at the appropriate time.


1st Sgt. George Pravda, from Spring Lake, Michigan, and assigned to Co. F, 126TH Inf., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for his actions on 1 December near Buna.  He was a Sgt. in Co. F, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Grand Haven, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40.  He also earned the Silver Star for his actions the previous day. [added 22 Apr. ‘13]

On about 2 December 1942, Colonel John E. Grose, I Corps inspector general, took over command of Urbana Force.

2d Lt. Paul L. Schwartz, from Syracuse, New York, and assigned to Co. F, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his leadership and courage on 2 December during an attack on Buna Village.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Dec. ‘12]

On the morning of 5 December, attacks were scheduled for both Warren Force and Urbana Force.  On the Urbana front, the attack commenced at 1030, after a B-25 attack and artillery and mortar barrage.  “Forward to observe the actions were Generals Eichelberger and Waldron, Colonels De Graaf, Rogers, McCreary and Tomlinson, Lt. Col. Merle H. Howe (Division G-3), and Capt. Daniel K. Edwards, (General Eichelberger’s aide).  Before the day was over, the “observers” were all in the fight, General Waldron and Capt. Edwards had received serious wounds, and Eichelberger had revised his opinion of the 32nd‘s fighting ability upward and thought there was ‘much to be proud of in the day’s operations.’ (Blakeley 88)

Pfc. James J. Boorman, from Madison, Wisconsin, earned the Silver Star for his actions as orderly for Brig. Gen. Albert W. Waldron, the acting Division Commander, on 5 December near Buna.  Both men were knocked down by a Japanese grenade blast, uninjured; they got up and continued on until the Gen. was shot by a sniper.  Pfc. Boorman treated his wounds and organized stretcher bearers to carry him to the aid station, all under heavy enemy fire.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 18 Feb. ‘13]

Tec. 4 James E. Lowthers, from Stoneham, Massachusetts, and assigned to the 114TH Engr. Bn., earned the Silver Star for braving intense enemy fire to rescue Capt. Daniel K. Edwards, who had been severely wounded, on 5 December near Buna.  He had entered active service with the Massachusetts National Guard on 16 Jan. '41 at Medford, MA.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Apr. ‘13]

Brig. Gen. Frayne Baker, who was in command of the Division’s elements in Australia, succeeded Gen. Waldron as acting Division commander.  General Byers assumed command of the forward elements of the 32D.

The objective, Buna Village, was not taken due to determined enemy resistance.  However, some important gains were made during the attack.

The 2D Bn., 126TH Infantry, with Cannon Company, 128TH Inf. on its left, was the main effort.  Cannon Company soon ran into trouble so it was reinforced with a platoon from Co. F, 126TH Inf. (Lt. Paul L. Schwartz).  Maj. Chester M. Beaver (Division staff) became the commander of Cannon Company, and together with Lt. Schwartz’s platoon, managed to get to the edge of the village.  Company E, 126TH Infantry (Capt. Schultz), also made it to within 50 yards of the village.  Lt. Thomas E. Knode and 1st Sgt. Paul R. Lutjens were severely wounded while gallantly leading their platoons.  Sgt. Harold E. Graber, also from Co. E, 126TH, was killed when he attacked an enemy strongpoint while firing a light machine gun from the hip.  Lt. Robert H. Odell (Commander of Co. F) had the unique experience of receiving his attack orders from a three star general, Lt. Gen. Eichelberger.  The attack, led by Lt. Odell and 1st Sgt. George Pravda, initially made some progress but was soon stopped with heavy casualties.

The most important gain of the day occurred when German born S. Sgt. Hermann Johann Friedrich Bottcher led his platoon from Co. H (Capt. Harold ‘Handy’ Hantelmann) on a breakthrough to the sea on the far right.  S. Sgt. Bottcher’s platoon was attached to Capt. Cladie ‘Gus’ Bailey’s Company G.  Capt. Hantelmann was wounded during this engagement and had to be evacuated; while rolling away from a grenade he inadvertently rolled onto another one.  With S. Sgt. Bottcher’s achievement, the encirclement of Buna Village was complete and Japanese communication between the Village and Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station) was severed.  S. Sgt. Bottcher and his soldiers held their position (nicknamed “Bottcher’s Corner”) against violent counterattacks from both sides.  General Eichelberger said, “The breakthrough was, possibly, lucky; the holding of the position was accomplished by intelligence and sheer guts! (qtd. in Blakeley 91)

Also, the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry had surrounded the Japanese positions to the right rear of the troops advancing on Buna Village.

“For their parts in this day’s work, the Distinguished Service Cross was later awarded to General Waldron, Colonel De Graaf, Colonel Rogers, Lieutenant Colonel Howe, Major Beaver, Captain Edwards, Lieutenants Schwartz and Knode, and Sergeants Lutjens, Graber and Bottcher. (Blakeley 91)  First Sgt. Lutjens received a battlefield promotion to 2d Lt., and S. Sgt. Bottcher was promoted, at the recommendation of General Eichelberger, directly to the rank of Captain.  More information about these Soldiers and their medals can be found below as well as on the roster of DSC recipients.

Lt. Col. Howe was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  He had entered the service as a Pvt. at the beginning of WWI.  After completing the First Officers Training Camp at Fort Sheridan, IL, he was commissioned and served as an air corps pilot during WWI.  He was Capt. and commander of Co. K, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Grand Rapids, MI, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.

Maj. Beaver, from Yankton, South Dakota, was earned the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  Capt. Beaver had earned the Silver Star for his actions 16 November at Cape Sudest.  Lt. Col. Beaver was later killed in a plane crash on 31 Jul. ’44 near Funafuti, Ellice Island (now named Tuvalu). [updated 31 Mar. ‘17, TPB]

First Lt. Knode was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  He was born in California but spent some of his formative years in the Washington D.C. area.  He entered the service Mar. ‘42 at Washington D.C. and was commissioned 2d Lt.  He was offered a desk job in Army radio due to his employment in media field before the war, but he turned it down.  He was WIA twice at Buna; at least one of those was quite serious.  After 11 months in hospitals he was retired as Capt. in Nov. ‘43.  He returned home and resumed working in media again.

Second Lt. Paul L. Schwartz, from New York and assigned to Co. F, 126TH Inf., was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  He had recently earned the Silver Star for his actions on 2 December near Buna. [added 17 Dec. ‘12]

First Sgt. Lutjens was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  He was a Sgt. assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Big Rapids, MI, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  He continued to serve in the Army after the war.  He attained rank of Col. and is a member of the Army’s Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

Pvt. Graber was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 5 December at Buna Village.  He was assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Big Rapids, MI, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 19 Dec. ‘12]

Several other Soldiers were decorated for their heroic actions in the Buna-area on 5 and 6 December.

First Lt. Herbert Gale Peabody, from Vermont and assigned to Div. HQ, was bestowed with the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 5 December.  He organized and led a carrying party through heavy enemy fire to resupply “Bottcher’s Corner” with ammunition.  1st Lt. Peabody had been bestowed his first DSC as a result of his actions 16 Nov. near Cape Sudest, New Guinea.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

The following personnel earned the Silver Star for their actions 5-6 December in the Buna-area.  More information about them and their medals can be found below and on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

Capt. John T. Boet, from Michigan and a medical officer assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 5 December near Buna.  He was a Capt. in 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 10 Jan. ‘13]

Cpl. Rex R. Leland, from Easton Township, Michigan, and assigned to Co. H, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his numerous efforts to direct mortar and artillery fire from dangerous, exposed positions (often in trees) between 29 November and 5 December during the attack on Buna Village.  He was KIA on 5 Dec. ’42.  He was a Pvt. in Co. H, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Ionia, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  [added 15 Apr. ‘13]

Pfc. Lionel R. Anderson, from Rudyard, Michigan and assigned to Med. Det., 126TH Inf., was bestowed with the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 5 December near Buna Village.  Pfc. Anderson was married shortly before he entered service on 22 Apr. ‘41.  He also earned the Purple Heart, not sure when he was WIA.  Pfc. Anderson is listed here thanks to information provided by his family. [added 16 Mar. ’16, TPB]

Col. Clarence M. Tomlinson, from Florida and commander of the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 6 December near Buna and Giruwa. [added 15 Feb. ‘13]

S. Sgt. Joseph P. Doran, from Nahant, Massachusetts, and assigned to Co. A, 114TH Engr., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 6 December near Sanananda.  He entered active service 16 Jan. ‘41 as Pvt. with Massachusetts National Guard at Lynn, MA. [added 20 May ‘14]

Cpl. Fred Kinsley Robinson, from Haverhill, New Hampshire, and assigned to Co. A, 114TH Engr., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 6 December near Buna. [added 23 May ‘14]

Cpl. Edward L. ‘Tux’ Wernholm, from Negaunee, Michigan, and assigned to Co. A, 114TH Engr., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 6 December near Buna.  He was a Pvt. in Co. D, 107TH Engr. Regt., Michigan National Guard, at Marquette, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [updated 19 Mar. ’14; added 5 Jan. ‘13]

On 7 December, Col. Tomlinson succeeded Col. Grose as commander of Urbana Force.  Col. Grose had been promised command of the 127TH Infantry, which was then preparing to move from Port Moresby to the combat zone.  Col. Grose had been at the front in command of Urbana Force for 5 whole days; he used his pending command of the 127TH as an excuse to ask Brig. Gen. Byers to transfer command of Urbana Force to Col. Tomlinson, who had been on the front line since day one. Seeing as Col. Grose and Brig. Gen. Byers worked together on General Eichelberger’s staff, it is no surprise that Grose’s request was granted and he was soon headed to the rear.

On the morning of 7 December, the Japanese launched more fierce counterattacks against “Bottcher’s Corner” from Buna Village and Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station).  “Among the small reinforcements added to Bottcher’s command the previous day was Corporal Harold L. Mitchell, Company H, 126th Infantry, whose alertness and vigorous action contributed strongly to the successful repelling of these attacks.  He was awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross] for his part in the fight. (Blakeley 92)

“Acting as a forward outpost, Mitchell detected the enemy force from the village while it was creeping forward under cover of the jungle.  Just as it was about to launch its attack, he charged at the Japanese suddenly with a loud yell and bayonet fixed.  Mitchell so surprised and dumbfounded them that instead of continuing with the attack they hesitated and momentarily fell back.  His yell alerted the rest of the force, with the result that when the Japanese finally did attack they were cut down.  Mitchell escaped without a scratch. (Milner 249)  Cpl. Mitchell was also lauded when, on 9 December, he seized a Japanese prisoner and brought him back to be interrogated.

Cpl. Mitchell was from Ionia, Michigan.  He enlisted as a Pvt. in Co. H, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Ionia, MI, on 7 Jun. ‘36; he mobilized with that unit on 15 Oct. ‘40.  He was seriously WIA 19 Dec. ‘42 during an attack on the Triangle and he was awarded his DSC while he was in the hospital.  Sadly he died from his wounds on 26 December.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 28 Dec. ‘12]

“Later in the day [7 December], Maj. [Herbert M.] Smith was severely wounded while encouraging the attacks of Companies E and G. (Blakeley 92)  The mortar round that wounded Maj. Smith also killed two soldiers and wounded two more.  Maj. Smith was succeeded by Capt. Boice (regimental S-2) as commander of 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry.  A platoon-sized company, commanded by Lt. Odell, achieved the only gain of the day.  That evening the Japanese attempted to reinforce the Village by sea from the Mission (a.k.a. Government Station), but the attempt was prevented by machine gun fire from Capt. Bottcher, who had been wounded during the day.

Maj. Smith, from Neillsville, Wisconsin, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 7 December.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 17 Dec. ‘12]

32D Division’s Employment of Flame Throwers on 8 December 1942

The U.S. Army Center of Military History volume, The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals In Combat, contains several chapters devoted to the development and use of the portable flame thrower during WWII.  The authors, Brooks E. Kleber and Dale Birdsell, used the 32D Division’s first attempted combat use of flame throwers as one example to highlight the unreliability of the early models.

“On 6 December Col. Clarence M. Tomlinson, commanding officer of the 126th Infantry, 32d Division, asked the 114th Engineer Combat Battalion for several flame throwers and operators to help overcome enemy machine gun emplacements near the village of Buna.  The engineers, equipped with the E1R1 flame thrower, immediately set about testing and servicing these weapons.  Although the inspections showed that several of the gas cylinders had developed leaks, some from rust, some from defective material, the flame throwers functioned reasonably well, if at a maximum range of only 20 yards.  Five operators with two weapons, two refill tanks, and 25 gallons of fuel, reported to the regiment on 7 December, and the next day the regimental operations officer ordered the flame throwers into action.  The target was an enemy machine gun bunker ingeniously concealed at the edge of a kunai grass flat.  While the flame throwers were being brought forward, M/Sgt. John K. King, of the division chemical section, and one of the company officers, Lieutenant Davidson, performed the necessary reconnaissance.  They identified the bunker in the midst of its natural and artificial camouflage and exposed themselves in order to draw fire and pinpoint the location of its ports.  A partially demolished breastwork about 35 yards from the bunker furnished cover for anyone approaching the position.  It was possible to advance a bit farther toward the bunker in comparative safety through a shallow trench which extended 5 yards out from the breastwork.  This would give the operator an attack position only 30 yards from his target.

“After the reconnaissance Lieutenant Davidson went forward again, this time accompanied by Cpl. Wilber G. Tirrell, the engineer flame thrower operator.  Once more he drew fire from the bunker so that the corporal could see the exact location of the ports.

“The plan of operation was practicable and uncomplicated.  Corporal Tirrell, his weapon concealed in a burlap sack, was to advance as far as possible in the shallow trench, thirty yards from his objective.  As a diversion, three men with automatic weapons were to crawl around on the left flank and fire at the rear of the bunker.  Lieutenant Davidson, Sergeant King, and four riflemen were to take positions behind the breastwork, ready to rush the bunker with rifle fire and grenades in the wake of the flame thrower.  Corporal Tirrell was to advance at least five yards beyond the end of the trench before releasing the flame and was to keep advancing until the fuel was exhausted.

“Before the men took their stations, they checked the flame thrower’s ignition system.  At the proper moment, the group on the left flank began its diverting fire.  The enemy did not answer.  Corporal Tirrell moved from his position at the end of the shallow trench and headed toward the bunker.  Seven yards beyond the trench he released the initial burst of flame and immediately Lieutenant Davidson and his party rushed out from behind the breastwork, only to find themselves in serious trouble.  Instead of a powerful burst of flame, the flame thrower emitted a feeble 10-foot squirt, and the Japanese inside the emplacement began pouring machine gun fire into the advancing group.  One of the riflemen was hit as soon as he left the cover of the breastwork, Lieutenant Davidson was killed, and the others withdrew.  Corporal Tirrell continued to advance, trying vainly to get his weapon to function properly.  When he was less than fifteen yards from the bunker he was stunned by a bullet which struck the front of his helmet and he fell to the ground out of sight.  During the night he crawled back to safety.  Two days later the infantry overcame the position by direct assault.

“The cause of the Buna fiasco was never absolutely determined, but its effect was immediate.  The infantry’s confidence in the flame thrower was shattered.  In January 1943 Colonel Copthorne, Chief Chemical Officer, USAFFE, informed General Porter that “the way the flame throwers let the infantry down at a critical point brought them into such ill-repute that I am afraid that they may never want to use them again.”  In Washington Colonel Benner, chief of the CWS Field Requirements Branch, stated that a weapon such as the flame thrower with its “temperamental nature has no place in modern warfare where ruggedness and reliability are essential.” (Kleber and Birdsell 544-46)

The portable flame thrower was later put to effective use throughout the rest of WWII, so obviously its early shortcomings were eventually overcome.  Unfortunately that was of no help to the 32D Division at Buna.

Cpl. Wilbur G. Tirrell, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, and assigned to the 114TH Engr. Bn., earned the Silver Star for his efforts to employ a flame thrower against a Japanese bunker on 8 December near Buna.  The flame thrower malfunctioned and he was WIA.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Feb. ‘13]

“In the next few days the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, continued the attack on the village, successfully threw back a fanatical counterattack, unsuccessfully tried to use two flame throwers which had recently arrived at the front [see above], and added two awards of the Distinguished Service Cross to the list of decorations won by members of the unit.  Lieutenant James G. Downer won his leading an attack which cost him his life; Private First Class Walter A. Bajdek won his when he dashed through enemy-held territory and established communication with an advanced observation post. (Blakeley 92-3)

Second Lt. Downer, from Illinois, was posthumously bestowed the DSC for his actions on 9 December.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Pfc. Bajdek, from Michigan, was bestowed the DSC for his actions 10 December.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

By this time, the battalion was reduced to a total strength of about 150 men.  The exhaustion from almost constant combat was magnified by extremely hot days and torrential rains at night.

The 127TH Infantry was now arriving at the front.  Col. Grose had taken command of the regiment from Lt. Col. Edwin J. Schmidt, who now became the XO.

Capt. Oliver O. Dixon, from Indiana and the S-3 of the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 10 December in the Buna area.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 11 Jan. ‘13]

On 10-11 December the 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry relieved the 2D Bn., 126TH.

“One more Red Arrow Battalion had experienced its first World War II combat, and acquired [a Distinguished Service Cross] in the process.  On the 13th, Sergeant Samuel G. [Winzenried] Winzenraid, Company [I], 127th Infantry, had single-handedly and on his own initiative reduced an enemy bunker with hand grenades. (Blakeley 93)

Sgt. Winzenried, from Menasha, Wisconsin, was a Pfc. in Co. I, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard at Neenah, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. was mobilized 15 Oct. ’40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

At 0700 on 14 December, after a comprehensive preparation by the 25-pounders and mortars, there was an all-out attack on Buna Village.  Company K, 127TH Inf. was the main effort, Co. I was in support on the left flank.  “The advance continued steadily and cautiously.  There was no opposition.  By 1000 the entire area was overrun.  Moving slowly and warily because they feared a trap, the troops soon discovered that none existed. (Milner 252)  Apparently the Japanese, reduced to an effective strength of only 100 troops, saw the writing on the wall and had evacuated the Village the night before by swimming along the coast to the west.

          “After all the bitter fighting that had raged on its outskirts, [Buna Village] had fallen without the firing of a single enemy shot.

          “The village was a mass of wreckage.  Its few huts had been blown to bits; the coconut palms in the area were splintered and broken by shellfire; and there were craters and shell holes everywhere.  The bunkers still stood, despite evidence of numerous direct hits registered upon them by the artillery.  The Japanese had left little equipment and food behind: a few guns, some discarded clothing, a supply of canned goods, and a store of medical supplies.

          “Thus anticlimactically had Urbana Force taken its first objective.  The Coconut Grove remained as the only position on the left bank of Entrance Creek still in Japanese hands.  This labyrinth of trenches and bunkers was next.” (Milner 252) [added 3 Jan. ‘13]

Later in the day, Company K eliminated a small group of Japanese found east of the Village.

Pvt. Robert J. Packard, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. K, 127TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 14-15 December near Buna Village.  He was twice WIA on two consecutive days while manning his machinegun to aid his unit’s advance.  He was later KIA on 29 December.  He had been a member of Co. K, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Milwaukee, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 3 Jan. ‘13] 

 

After the campaign, in an unaccredited wartime dispatch from Australia on 15 Feb. ’43, printed in the Chicago Daily Tribune on 8 Mar. ‘43, a war correspondent asked several leaders “What was the outstanding act of heroism you saw during the Papuan Campaign?”  Capt. Melvin W. Schulz referred to Sgt. Halbert D. Davidson, from Big Rapids, MI, and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf., and said of him:

“Sergt. Davidson had led various attacks and would have been a lieutenant had he lived.  There was one big pillbox of heavy logs and dirt just off the trail which had to be taken out.  It was decided to try a flamethrower and Davidson went along with an officer in the chemical warfare unit.

“They crawled toward the pillbox in broad daylight to give it a try, turned the flamethrower on but something went wrong and it failed.  The Japs spotted them, opened fire and killed Davidson.  He did a heroic job that day.”

Davidson was a Pfc. in Co. E, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Big Rapids, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  The newspaper article above stated he was KIA “about Dec. 7” but his memorial monument at West Cemetery, Mecosta County, MI, states he was KIA 14 December.  Neither date is an exact match for the two known flame thrower attempts on 8 Dec. (above) or 16 Dec. (below).  Maybe there was another attempt to employ flame throwers, or maybe one of the dates is off a day or so.  Either way Sgt. Davidson was admired for his bravery, but does not appear to have been decorated for it.

 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo the National Archives & Records Administration
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Soldiers of 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., 32D Division, on alighting from a transport plane, adjust their clothing and equipment on 15 Dec. 1942. The plane took them from Port Moresby, New Guinea to the Dobodura Airstrip, 8 miles SW of Buna, New Guinea.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo the National Archives & Records Administration
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Soldiers of 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., 32D Division, on alighting from a transport plane, adjust their clothing and equipment on 15 Dec. 1942. The plane took them from Port Moresby, New Guinea to the Dobodura Airstrip, 8 miles SW of Buna, New Guinea.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo the National Archives & Records Administration
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Soldiers of 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., 32D Division, on alighting from a transport plane (C-47 named ‘Eager Beaver’), adjust their clothing and equipment on 15 Dec. 1942. The plane took them from Port Moresby, New Guinea to the Dobodura Airstrip, 8 miles SW of Buna, New Guinea.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from the National Archives & Records Administration
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Soldiers of the 14TH Portable Hospital (attached to 3D Bn, 127TH Inf., 32D Division), along the Buna front (near the Dobodura Airstrip) about 8 miles south of Buna on 15 Dec. 1942.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from the National Archives & Records Administration
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Col. Edwin W. Swedburg and some of his soldiers from 3D Bn., 127TH Inf., 32D Division, standing before a Japanese pillbox at Buna Village, New Guinea on 15 Dec. 1942.

Next, Urbana Force would turn its attention to the Coconut Grove, southeast of Buna Village, with the objective of clearing the Japanese from it.  This task was assigned to 2D Bn., 128TH Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith.  By now the battalion was down to about 350 men, and only about 100 of these were available to start the attack.

The attack commenced at 1520 hours on 15 December, after a brief mortar preparation which had no significant effect on the Japanese emplacements.  Maj. Roy F. Zinser (Bn. XO) and Capt. Joseph M. Stehling (CO of Company E), both personally led units as small as squads.  “The Japanese had the approaches to the [Coconut Grove] covered and laid down heavy fire on the attackers.  Progress was slow, but Colonel Smith’s forces were pressed up tight against their objective by nightfall.  A heavy rain fell during the night, drenching the troops and filling their foxholes with water. (Milner 253) [revised 18 Dec. ‘12]

The attack was resumed early on 16 December.  When Maj. Zinser’s group encountered a remarkably tenacious bunker, they attempted to reduce it with a flame thrower, the same type as the one that had proved so unreliable a week earlier (described above).  Maj. Zinser lamented that this one performed no better, it “fizzed out and Japanese shot it up. (qtd. in Milner 253)  As with most of the Japanese bunkers encountered at Buna, this one had to be eliminated with only hand grenades and small arms.  Almost as soon as that bunker was reduced, they encountered an even larger one which dominated their approach to the Coconut Grove. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

“Two men of Company E [128TH Inf.] made possible the reduction of the big bunker which was the key to the position.  While Private Bernardino (Bernadino) Y. Estrada covered him with fire from his BAR, Corporal Daniel F. Rini ran forward, jumped to the top of the bunker, and pushed hand grenades thru the firing slits.  Both were killed a little later.  They and Major Zinser were awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 93)

Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, commander of 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., witnessed the heroism of Cpl. Rini and Pvt. Estrada.  He was about 30 yards away and also contributed some covering fire during the skirmish.  He was called to the field phone to confer with Col. Tomlinson, commander of 126TH Inf., during the event.  Just as he reached the phone he heard some excitement coming from the bunker that Cpl. Rini was heading for. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

Lt. Col. Smith later said, “I sensed that this was probably the break we were looking for, so I told Colonel Tomlinson that I must get forward and see what was happening.  I arrived just in time to see Corporal Rini on top of the big bunker and the rest of the squad closing in on it.  Later I learned that Rini, after working up as close as he could, had suddenly made a dash, jumped on top of the bunker, and leaning over had pushed hand grenades through the firing slits. (qtd. in Milner 253) [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

“Realizing that he would have to move fast to take full advantage of this turn in the fighting, Colonel Smith ordered all-out attacks on the remaining enemy positions.  Charging at the head of a squad, Smith cleared out a bunker in the center, and Capt. Joseph M. Stehling of Company E did the same in an attack on his right.  The bunkers fell in quick succession, but Corporal Rini and Private Estrada were both killed in the mop-up which their valor had made possible.  Rini was shot by a wounded Japanese to whom he was trying to administer first aid, and Estrada fell not long after while helping to clear the last enemy position in the [Coconut Grove]. (Milner 253-4) [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

Maj. Zinser was from Monroe, Wisconsin.  He had joined the Wisconsin National Guard in ‘28 and was a 1st Lt. in Co. K, 128TH Inf. at Monroe, WI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]  Cpl. Rini was from Wellsville, Ohio. [added 1 Jan. ‘13]  Pvt. Estrada was from Tucson, Arizona. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]  More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.  [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

Several Soldiers also earned the Silver Star for their actions during the attack on the Cocoanut Grove on 16 December.  They are listed below and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, commander of 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 16 December. [added 3 Jan. ‘13]

Capt. Stehling, from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 16 December.  He was a 2d Lt. in Co. E, 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

First Lt. Benjamin G. McKnight, from North Carolina, and assigned to the 128TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 16 December.  He was KIA or DW a few days later on 26 December. [added 3 Jan. ‘12]

Sgt. Howard C. Purtyman, from Sedona, Arizona, and assigned to Co. F, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 16 December near Buna.  Even though his rifle had jammed, he approached to within five yards of a Japanese pillbox and eliminated it with grenades. [added 18 Feb. ‘12]

Brig. Gen. Byers, acting commander of the forward elements of the 32D Division, was WIA by a Japanese sniper while he was observing the attack on the Coconut Grove the morning of 16 December.  General Eichelberger was now the only U.S. general officer left in the combat area, so he took command of the forward elements of the 32D Division.  “With three generals knocked out of action by enemy fire, Eichelberger says in Our Jungle Road to Tokyo that he permitted himself a grim chuckle as he recalled a fragment of the World War I song: “The General won the Croix de Guerre - But the so-and-so was never there - Hinkey, dinkey, parlez-vous. (qtd. in Blakeley 95)

Brig. Gen. Clovis E. Byers, originally from Columbus, Ohio, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions while observing the attack by Urbana Force on 16 December near Buna.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 9 Jan. ‘13]

Capt. Alfred E. Meyer, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and commander of Co. K, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 16 December near Buna.  He was a 2d Lt. in Co. F, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Sheboygan, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 11 Jan. ‘12]

First Lt. Francis J. Endl, from Jefferson, Wisconsin and assigned to Co. L, 127TH Inf., was KIA on 17 December at Buna.  He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions 14-17 December near Buna.  He was a 2d Lt. in Co. L, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Jefferson, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 11 Jan. ‘12]

General Eichelberger also pays tribute to the National Guard officers in the 32D Division: “There were many great commanders among the National Guard officers of the 32nd Division.  In crises, I would like to have them again as comrades.  I can mention only a few here: Colonels Merle H. Howe of Michigan and Herbert M. Smith of Wisconsin, Maj. H. E. [Hantelmann] of Iowa, Maj. Edmund R. Schroeder of Wisconsin, the inimitable Capt. W. H. Dames of Wisconsin, whose Company G, 127th Infantry, never made a wrong move in battle. (qtd. in Blakeley 95)

This table contains ten Associated Press photos taken in the Buna area in November and December of 1942.  These photos were contributed in memory of Edward S. Anderson, a 32D Infantry Division Veteran who served with the 114TH Eng. Bn. (Companies A & C) in New Guinea and the Philippines.  The photo captions, in italics, are the original captions from when the photos were taken.  The photos were contributed by M. Anderson, Edward Anderson’s nephew.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna20(t).jpg“Scout Car Crosses Stream on New Guinea – An army scout car takes a jungle stream in New Guinea with ease - - more or less. While soldiers push, some of their buddies watch from the “privacy” of their bath. The Americans were reported, Nov. 13, to be pushing the Jap army down the Buna trail.” Associated Press photo dated 11-13-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna21(t).jpg“Peeps in New Guinea Traffic Jam – Heavy traffic on a jungle trail in New Guinea has American Peeps moving in single file – no passing to the right. The Army vehicles move up with no room for anything much coming in the opposite direction.” Associated Press photo dated 11-14-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna15(t).jpg“Mortar Blasts at Japs in New Guinea – An American three inch trench mortar, almost hidden in a deep New Guinea jungle lets loose at a Jap position as the combined force of Australians and Americans under General MacArthur worked its way across the Owen Stanley Mountain Range to trap the enemy in the Buna-Gona area.” Associated Press photo dated 12-15-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna16(t).jpg“Allies Toil Across New Guinea to Attack Japs – Working their way across the trackless New Guinea jungles and mountain wastes of the Owen Stanley Ranges, to get a crack at the Japs in the Buna-Gona area, engineer troops of a combined Australian-American task force under General MacArthur build a bridge to move men and equipment to an advance base on jeeps and motorized transport. After almost three months they finally trapped the Japs along Buna Bay.” Associated Press photo dated 12-15-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/sutton%20and%20poole(t).jpg“’Wild Man’ From Michigan Takes Jap Bullet Calmly – Described as a “Wild Man” at the front and credited with killing between 30 and 40 japs as his unit cross New Guinea to trap the enemy in the Buna-Gona area, Private First Class Orin Sutton (left) of Charlevoix, Mich., sits calmly and has his leg bandaged after he was hit by a Jap machine gun bullet. He was back in action in less than 24 hours. Doing the bandaging is Private First Class Allie Poole of Petersburg, Mich.” Associated Press photo dated 12-15-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna19(t).jpg“Manpower Moves Ammunition for Attack on Japs – Ammunition for three inch trench mortars is loaded on the back of a pack carrier for transport to weapons set up in the jungles of New Guinea as a combined Australian and American task force under General MacArthur advanced against the Japs and trapped them in the Buna-Gona area.” Associated Press photo dated 12-15-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna17(t).jpg“Exhausted Jap Prisoner Observed by Americans – American soldiers on the Buna front watch an exhausted Japanese prisoner. This picture is one of several release by the Army from among those made by Edward Widdis, Associated Press photographer, who was encamped with the fighting forces just 100 yards behind the front in Buna.” Associate Press photo dated 12-18-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/buna18(t).jpg“Moving in For Jap Flank – Moving along the Buna Road in New Guinea, these American soldiers were to open a flanking movement against the Japs in the bitter fighting in that area. They moved up toward the Japs single file, well scattered.” Associate Press photo dated 12-18-42.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/soputa(t).jpg“Bringing Home the Wounded – American soldiers on the Soputa front near Buna, New Guinea, bear their wounded to headquarters as they return from 11 days fighting the Japs. Note the automatic gun by the soldiers side on the stretcher." Associated Press photo 12-24-42.”

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/buna/soputa2(t).jpg“Hot Food Comes to a Fox Hole – Hot food has come up to these soldiers in the line on the Soputa front near Buna, New Guinea. These Americans were in the line 11 days. Hot food was brought up through the jungle and underbrush as often as possible despite the danger. L. to R.: Private William Mills, Sommerville, Mass.; Private Hebert Van Lier, Boston, Mass.; Private Edward K. Fairbanks, Sommerville, Mass.; and Sgt. Joseph P. Doran, Nahant, Mass.” Associate Press photo dated 12-24-42.

 

Meanwhile, the engineers were making progress constructing jeep trails to the front, although they needed to build a bridge a hundred feet long to cross a stream that was only six feet wide but bordered by swamps.  These improved trails would make supply, evacuation and communication easier.
 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers and supplies on the way to the front line at Buna.

General Eichelberger scheduled the next attack for 18 December.  Warren Force was assigned the successive objectives of Cape Endaiadere, the New Strip, the Old Strip, and Giropa Point. Urbana Force would be tasked with cleaning out the Triangle, driving through to the coast, and cutting the coast road between Giropa Point and Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station).  The capture of Buna Village and the anticipated arrival of the 127TH Infantry had improved the situation, but the Japanese still held Musita Island, they were still firmly entrenched in the Triangle, and Entrance Creek would prove to be a difficult obstacle.

In order to increase protection of the left flank, the 128TH Inf. detachment at Siwori Village was replaced by a platoon of the 126TH Inf. (Lt. Alfred Kirchenbauer), and a detachment from Co. F, 126TH Inf. (Lt. Schwartz), was sent to Tarakena, west of Siwori Village.

On 18 December, the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry was relieved by the just arrived 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Loren L. Gmeiner.

On 18 December, Co. L, 127TH Inf. (Capt. Roy F. Wentland), attempted to occupy Musita Island, which was separated from the mainland by an un-fordable tidal stream.  No bridging equipment was available, so the Company was forced to cross with the help of a cable, carried across by swimmers.  At first, there was no opposition, but they encountered intense enemy fire as they moved to the east end of the island.  Five men, including Capt. Wentland, were killed and six were wounded.  That night, for reasons that are not clear, the company was ordered to withdraw to the mainland.

Capt. Roy F. Wentland was from Ripon, WI.  He was a 2d Lt. assigned to Co. E, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Manitowoc, WI when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.

“As elements of the 127th Infantry arrived, Colonel Tomlinson planned to relieve the weary units of the 126th and 128th as rapidly as possible.  Aside from the condition of the men, the strength of the two battalions that had been his main units was now so small as to hardly permit their functioning as battalions.  On 18 December he was able to pull the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, less some of the heavy weapons elements, out of the operation.  Unfortunately, he had to use the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, less detachments, in another attempt to take The Triangle. (Blakeley 101)

“On 19 December, after an early morning air attack by B-25s and A-20s on the enemy positions in The Triangle, Company E and Company G, under the personal leadership of Captain Boice, attacked from the north while Company F executed a holding attack from the south.  The main attack was stopped by effective cross-fires.  Captain Boice was mortally wounded. (He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross).  Captain John J. Sullivan succeeded him in command of the battalion. (Blakeley 101)  Capt. Boice was from Swayzee, Indiana.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Pfc. Charles E. Agner, from Milan, Michigan, and assigned to Med. Det., 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 19 December near Buna Mission.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Feb. ‘13]

By order of General Eichelberger, two additional attacks were attempted, with the support of all available mortars, but both were halted by strong defensive fire from the mutually supporting Japanese bunkers.  The following day, Col. Tomlinson started to take the remnants of the battalion, now down to a total of about 240 men, out of the line and replace it with units from the 127TH Infantry.

On 20 December, following an artillery and mortar barrage, Co. E, 127TH Infantry (Capt. James L. Alford) made another effort to seize The Triangle.  They moved forward but were soon halted.  At Capt. Alford’s suggestion, another attack was launched but met with the same result as the previous attempt.  The Company suffered 39 casualties in the process.  Lt. Paul Whittaker, Lt. Donald W. Feury and S. Sgt. John F. Rehak Jr., were among those killed.  “S. Sgt. Rehak was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his courageous attempt to lead a platoon in an infiltration of the Japanese position. (Blakeley 101)

S. Sgt. Rehak was from Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  He was a Pfc. in Co. E, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Manitowoc, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 1 Jan. ‘13]

Capt. Bottcher was later bestowed with the OLC to the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions near Buna on 20 December.  He was also WIA for about the third time in two weeks.  He had been bestowed with his first Distinguished Service Cross only about nine days earlier.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Several Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry on 20 December near Buna.  Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

Second Lt. Donald Ward Feury, from Cadillac, Michigan, and assigned to Co. E, 127TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his efforts to capture the Triangle, near Buna, on 20 December. [added 13 Jan. ‘13]

First Lt. Paul Whitaker, from Bentonia, Mississippi, and assigned to Co. E, 127TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his efforts to capture the Triangle, near Buna, on 20 December. [added 5 Feb. ‘13]

Pfc. Harold J. Huebner, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 20 December near Buna.  He was KIA when, as a medic, he ignored heavy enemy fire and rushed to the aid of a wounded Soldier lying in full view of a Japanese machine gun position. [added 5 Feb. ‘13]

Pfc. Rex N. Purk, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 20 December near Buna.  He also earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 25 December near Buna. [added 22 Apr. ‘13]

That evening, Col. Grose resumed command of Urbana Force; as the 127TH Infantry became the major element.

General Eichelberger now decided to contain and bypass The Triangle, by attacking across Entrance Creek to the north.

On the night of 21-22 December, Co. K, 127TH Infantry (Capt. Alfred E. Meyer) succeeded in crossing the creek, after several daylight attempts had failed.  Lt. Edward M. Greene Jr. had led the first attempt to string a rope across the un-fordable stream, and was killed in the process.  Co. K lost 54 killed and wounded.

Early on 22 December, Co. I (Capt. Michael F. Ustruck) crossed the creek on a footbridge, constructed by the engineers further upstream, and linked up with Co. K.  Also around this time, Lt. Schwartz’s detachment at Tarakena had encountered problems and he had to be reinforced with small detachments from 2D Bn., 126TH Inf.  Lt. Schwartz was wounded and replaced by Lt. James R. Griffith, who also became a casualty.  Lt. Louis A. Chagnon, 127TH Infantry, assumed command of the detachment when he was sent over there with a small detachment from Headquarters Company and Service Company of the 127TH.

Sgt. Erwin A. Boness, from Neenah, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. I, 127TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for crawling through buffalo grass and crossing a trail under heavy enemy fire in order to reduce an enemy pillbox on 22 December near Buna.  Initially MIA, he was later declared to have been KIA 8 Jan. ’43.  He was a Pfc. in Co. I, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Neenah, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [updated 23 Apr. ‘13]

On 22 and 23 December, Musita Island was cleared by elements of the 127TH Infantry.  Company H's heavy weapons were then able to fire on Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station) from a position on the island.

Lt. Col. Benjamin Randolph Farrar, from New Jersey and assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Forces Buna, was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 22-23 December near Buna Mission.  He was temporarily assigned as the S-3 for the 127TH Inf. at the time.  He was WIA by small arms fire on 24 December.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 12 Jan. ‘13]

On 24 December, 2D Bn., 127TH Infantry, with Co. G in reserve, attempted to drive across the Government Gardens.  “The troops had to cross in succession the so called Gardens - actually an area overgrown with kunai - then a swamp some 125 yards wide and finally the coconut grove known as Government Plantation.  The whole area was well prepared for defense with the usual mutually supporting bunkers and fire trenches. (Blakeley 104)

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: burr-elmer

“The attack ran into trouble from the start, but the day was marked by an unusual number of acts of gallantry.  An enemy grenade fell close to Capt. Ustruck of Company I.  His First Sergeant, Elmer J. Burr, instantly threw himself on the grenade, smothering the explosion with his body and saving Capt. Ustruck’s life.  For his act of ‘conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty,’ Sergeant Burr was posthumously [bestowed] the Medal of Honor. (Blakeley 104)  First Sgt. Burr was a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier in Co. I, in Neenah, Wisconsin, when the 32D Division was activated on 15 Oct. ‘40.  He was from Menasha, Wisconsin.  First Sgt. Burr’s Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.

“Another member of the same company [Co. I, 127TH Inf.] to win an award was Private First Class Albert L. Fisher, who was awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross] when, although wounded himself, he crawled forward into an area swept by enemy fire to rescue two other wounded men [on 24 December]. (Blakeley 104) PFC Fisher was from Indiana. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 19 Dec. ‘12]

SGT Hugo J. Arno, from Co. I, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star at the risk of his life for adeptly outflanking and killing a stubborn Japanese sniper who was impeding the movement of him and his men near Buna Mission on 24 Dec. ’42. Just like 1SG Burr, he was from Menasha, Wisconsin, and was a member of Co. I, 127TH Inf. Wisconsin National Guard at Neenah, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ’40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Dec. ‘12]

SGT Charles I. Maynor, from Neenah, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. I, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 24 December 1942 near Buna Mission. He was a PVT Co. I, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Neenah, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Apr. ‘13]

MAJ Harold M. Hootman (misspelled ‘Hooten’ in Blakeley), regimental S-4, volunteered to go forward to report on the situation for COL Grose, and was KIA. Hootman’s body was later recovered, rifle in hand, not far from a Japanese bunker under circumstances which suggested that he fell while trying to take it singlehanded. (Milner 294)

MAJ Hootman was originally from Union City, Indiana, but he lived in Kent County, Michigan, and was a CPT in the 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ’40. He had served as 2LT with Btry. B, 123D FA, 33D Div. during WWI. Division records suggest he was KIA on 24 Dec. ’42, but some other sources list his date of death as 4 Jan. ’43. [added 19 Dec. ‘12]

“Sergeant Francis J. Vondracek, also of Company I, volunteered to remain at the front when his company was relieved by Company G (CPT William H. Dames). He knocked out three bunkers in quick succession by throwing grenades into them through the firing apertures and greatly aided the progress of Company G. He was later awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 104-5)

SGT (then Private) Vondracek was a Wisconsin National Guard soldier in Co. I, 127TH Inf., in Neenah, Wisconsin, when the 32D Division was activated on 15 Oct. 1940. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 15 Dec. ‘12]

SGT Chester F. 'Chet' Gerbensky, from Hartland, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. G, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star by using his innate pitching ability to throw grenades to reduce several Japanese pillboxes near Buna on 24 December. He was a PVT in Co. G, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Oconomowoc, WI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘13]

Two artillery officers, - Colonel Horace Harding and Lieutenant Colonel Melvin L. McCreary - were also awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. Although wounded by a shell fragment, McCreary strapped himself in a coconut tree about fifty yards from the enemy lines and functioned as an observer until he became unconscious from loss of blood. COL Harding promptly took his place in the same tree. (Blakeley 105)

Lt. Col. McCreary was the commander of 32D Division Artillery at this time. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

Co. L was the main effort for the drive across the Government Gardens. The commander of Co. L, Capt. Wentland, had been killed; the Company was now commanded by Lt. Marcellus P. Fahres. A platoon of Company L (led by Lieutenants Frederick W. Matz and Charles A. Middendorf) made a quick advance through the tall kunai grass; aided by most of the available fire support and a diversion created by an unsuccessful attack across the north bridge from Musita Island by a platoon of Company A.

photo added 4 Dec. ‘12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Japanese-made footbridge over Entrance Creek from Musita Island to Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station).

 

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When Co. L was held up by enemy fire on the outskirts of the Plantation, Sgt. Kenneth E. Gruennert, who was in the lead, alone eliminated two pillboxes that were holding up the advance, at the cost of his life. Sgt. Gruennert was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Sgt. (then Pfc.) Gruennert was a Wisconsin National Guard soldier in Co. L, in Jefferson, Wisconsin, when the 32D Division was activated on 15 Oct. 1940. Sgt. Gruennert’s Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.

“Under fire from both the Japanese and their own artillery, [and out of contact with their Company] the men of the platoon were in a desperate situation.  Lieutenant Middendorf was killed and Lieutenant Matz had only eight men left, one of them seriously wounded.  Matz decided to send the other men back and to stay with the wounded man.  It took the men two days to get back and it was eight days before Matz was rescued.  [2d Lt.] Matz was awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 105)  The wounded man that Lt. Matz stayed with was Cpl. William M. Gleason, from Baldwin or Reed City, Michigan.  Four of the eight other men were Sgt. Walter J. Wachowiak, from Milwaukee, WI; Cpl. Harold Dolson, Jackson, MI; Pfc. Elmer J. Amore, Lake Leelanau, MI; Pvt. William Richman, Cairo, IL.  Pfc. Amore was KIA a few days later on 29 Dec. ’42.

Second Lt. Matz was bestowed with the DSC, in part, for singlehandedly eliminating a couple of Japanese positions that were impeding his platoon; he was also WIA twice during the day.  He was a Cpl. in Co. A, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Marinette, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40, he also had ties to neighboring Menominee, Michigan.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

Sgt. Frank David Duket, Jr., from Marinette, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. A, 127TH Inf., reportedly earned the DSC during the same event as Lt. Matz ca. 24 Dec.  He was a Pvt. in Co. A, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Marinette, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40.  Sgt. Duket later earned the Silver Star for his actions on 14 May ’44 near Aitape, New Guinea, and earned the Purple Heart the day after that.  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 20 Mar. ’17, TPB]

When Col. Grose discovered that the platoon had apparently broken through, he tried to move additional troops forward to consolidate the gain. Lt. Paul M. Krasne and eight men of Company K were the only ones who got through to the beach. They withdrew after finding no sign of the platoon from Co. L. Additional attempts to push the attack were unsuccessful.

Tec. 4 Ralph M. Blake, from Ripon, Wisconsin, and assigned to the 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for singlehandedly attacking a Japanese bunker near Buna Mission on 24 December. He was a cook, but he volunteered to eliminate a pillbox that was holding up the advance. He was a Pvt. in HQ & HQ Det., 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Ripon, WI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘12]

Lt. Gen. Eichelberger ordered Col. Grose to continue the attack on 25 December 1942. Eight companies of the 127TH were now available: A, C, F, G, I, K, L and M. Company F (Capt. Byron B. Bradford) made good progress and was able to establish a position about three hundred yards from the sea.

“Captain James W. Workman, commanding Company C, was killed while leading an attack on a bunker. He was later awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross].” After Capt. Workman was killed, Capt. Millard G. Gray, General Eichelberger’s new aide-de-camp, assumed command of Co. C, 127TH Infantry, and was also later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions between 24 Dec. and 1 Jan.

Capt. Workman was from Bexar County, Texas. More information about him and his posthumous DSC can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

“Sergeant William Fale, Private First Class William Balza and Private Gordon W. Eoff, all of Headquarters Company, 127th Infantry, also won the [Distinguished Service Cross] for their efforts to get telephone wire forward to companies which were out of communication with regimental headquarters. (Blakeley 107) Sgt. Fale was from Sheboygan, Wisconsin (his DSC was bestowed posthumously because he was KIA the next day) [added 18 Dec. ‘12]; Pfc. Balza was from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (some references list him assigned to HQ Co., 2D Bn., 127TH Inf.); [added 15 Dec. ‘12]; and Pvt. Eoff was from Boone County, Arkansas. More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Numerous Soldiers earned the Silver Star for gallantry on Christmas Day. Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

LTC Loren L. Gmeiner, from Waupaca, Wisconsin, and the commander of 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for his actions on 25 December. He had earned his first Silver Star near Juvigny, France circa September 1918 while serving with the 32D Division during WWI. He was a 1LT in Howitzer Co., 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Waupaca, WI, as early as 1923. He was a CPT in charge of Anti-Tank Platoon, HQ Co., 127TH Inf. at Waupaca, WI, when the Division mobilized on 15 Oct. '40.

1LT James T. Coker, from Durant, Oklahoma and assigned to Co. F, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions 25 Dec. '42 near Buna. He had entered active service as a SGT with the 45TH Inf. Div., Oklahoma National Guard, at Durant, OK on 16 Sep. '40.

SGT Elmer C. Coon, from Black Creek, Wisconsin, and assigned to 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for repeatedly crossing a field swept by heavy machine gun fire in order to establish telephone communications with an isolated unit near Buna on 25 December. [updated 26 Apr. ‘13]

SGT Robert H. Simmons, from Ripon, Wisconsin, and assigned to 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 25 December at Government Gardens near Buna. He was a PVT in HQ & HQ Det., 2D Bn., 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Ripon, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 27 Dec. ‘12]

PFC Rex N. Purk, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star as a medic for crawling through Japanese sniper fire to provide medical treatment for a severely wounded lieutenant and private near Buna Mission on Christmas Day. He also earned the OLC to the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 20 December near Buna.

On 26 December, “more progress was made. Company B was committed for the first time and Major Edmund R. Schroeder, commander of the 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, took charge of the attack. Major Schroeder and Lieutenant Robert P. McCampbell (2nd Battalion S-2), along with Colonel Joseph S. Bradley (Division chief of staff), succeeded in getting through to the defensive perimeter held by Company F and a detachment of Company A, and were later awarded [Distinguished Service Crosses] for their achievements. Colonel Bradley and Captain Millard G. Gray also won the [Distinguished Service Cross] during this period. (Blakeley 107)

COL Bradley was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 27 Dec.; he was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 28 December. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients and the roster of Silver Star recipients.

MAJ (then CPT) Schroeder was a Wisconsin National Guard officer in command of Co. C, 127TH Inf., in Oconto, Wisconsin, when the 32D Division was activated on 15 Oct. ‘40. Unfortunately, as you will read below, his DSC would be bestowed posthumously to his widow. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

CPT Gray, from Indiana, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions 25 Dec. ‘42 to 1 Jan. ‘43. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

1LT McCampbell, from Nebraska, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 27 Dec. ‘42. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

1LT Paul Keene, Jr., from Kentucky, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 27 December 1942 near Buna Mission. He had entered active duty with the Kentucky National Guard’s 113TH Ord. Co., in Jan. '41 before transferring to 32D Div. after Pearl Harbor. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 23 Jan. ‘13]

COL Clarence M. Tomlinson, from Florida and commander of the 126TH Inf., earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to his Silver Star for his actions on 26 December near Soputa. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Feb. ‘13]

On 27 December, Company B (Lt. John B. Lewis) reached the position that MAJ Schroeder had organized. More units arrived the next day. MAJ Schroeder’s position now almost reached the shore, prompting MAJ Schroeder to telephone COL Grose and ask, “Do you need any help in the rear areas? (qtd. in Blakeley 107)

The Japanese in The Triangle now realized that their position was untenable, and they successfully evacuated it without their departure being detected. SGT Charles E. Wagner and PFC James G. Greene, voluntarily and cautiously leading a detachment from Co. E, 127TH Infantry the evening of 28 December, discovered that The Triangle had been abandoned by the Japanese. “Urbana Force had accomplished its missions[!] (Blakeley 107) It was evident the Japanese had hurriedly departed; heavy weapons, ammunition, and unburied dead were left behind. SGT Wagner and PFC Greene earned the Silver Star for their actions that day.

SGT Wagner and PFC Greene were both from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The former was a SGT and the latter was a PVT in Co. E, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Manitowoc, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 28 Dec. ‘12]

“In evacuating the Triangle the Japanese had given up an immensely strong position that Urbana Force, despite many costly attempts, had found it impossible to take. Going over the ground a day later, General Eichelberger reported to General Sutherland: “I walked along there and found it terrifically strong. It is a mass of bunkers and entrenchments surrounded by swamp. It is easy to see how they held us off so long.” (Milner 302-3)

Now Urbana Force was assigned its next mission. “On the afternoon of 28 December, General Eichelberger told Colonel Grose that he was to make an attack on Buna Mission at once; that the attack was to be made by the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, from Musita Island; and that the Battalion was to be split into two elements – one to cross on the bridge at the northeast end of the island, the other to move in assault boats from the south side of the island. (Blakeley 108)
 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers treating wounded comrade a few hundred yards from the front line at Buna.

“There was a gap in the bridge and it was covered by enemy fire. Six men volunteered to go forward with timbers to span the gap in the footbridge, a hazardous task, as the bridge was about forty feet long. They were: Privates Arthur Melanson and [Earl Mittleberger], Technicians Fifth Grade Charles H. Gray and Bart McDonough of Company A, 114th Engineer Battalion, and Privates Elmer R. Hangartner and Edward G. Squires of Company H, 127th Infantry. They succeeded in getting the timbers in place, but when the leading men of Company K started across the pilings, the far end of the bridge collapsed and it was again useless. PVT [Mittleberger] had been killed while on the bridge. He and five men with him were all later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (Blakeley 108)

Tec. 5 Gray was from Petersham, Massachusetts. Tec. 5 McDonough was from Reading, Massachusetts. [added 21 Dec. ‘12] PVT Hangartner was originally from Osseo, Wisconsin, but entered service from Detroit, Michigan. [added 19 Dec. ‘12] PVT Melanson was from Lynn, Massachusetts, and was in the National Guard. [added 22 Dec. ‘12] PVT Squires was from Akron, Ohio. [added 23 Dec. ‘12] PFC Mittleberger was from Scott County, Iowa. There is some discrepancy regarding his name, Milner lists him as ‘Earl Mittelberger’ and Blakeley lists him as ‘Karl Wittelberger’. [added 28 Dec. ‘12] More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Two men from Co. K were wounded and fell into the water when the bridge collapsed. Neither could swim, they were forced to hide under the opposite bank with only their heads exposed above the water. About 30 hours passed before they could be rescued on 30 December by Lt. William W. (or H.) Bragg Jr., mortar platoon leader from Company H, and four enlisted men from the company who were able to swim across the creek after nightfall. The enlisted men were 1SG Andrew A. Kossel from Oshkosh, WI; SGT Norman E. Marine from Winneconne, WI; PVT Thomas King from South Bend, WA; and CPL William T. Connors from Chicago.

 

SGT Marine was a PVT and 1SG Kossel was a SGT in Co. H, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Oshkosh, WI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ’40. [added 23 Dec. ‘12]

 

CPL Connors was later MIA on 29 Jul. ’44 near Aitape. [added 21 Jul. ‘13]

 

Lt. Bragg was from West Virginia and his name may have been William Wilson Bragg, Jr. or William Wilson Bragg, III. He is listed as William H. Bragg, Jr. in The 32D Infantry Division in World War II and Victory in Papua, but his middle initial is ‘W’ in other references. [added 23 Dec. ‘12]

SSG Louis H. Pollister, from Foxboro, Massachusetts, and assigned to the 114TH Engr. Bn., earned the Silver Star for leading a group of engineers who built an expedient 50' bridge across a creek near Buna under heavy enemy fire on 28 December. Other members of his team included PVT Earl Mittleberger, SGT Bart McDonough, CPL James Clay, PVT Arthur Melanson, and Tec. 5 Charles Gray (all but CPL Clay are listed above as DSC recipients). SSG Pollister was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. It is not clear if this was a successful effort to repair the bridge described above, or if this was a new expedient bridge built nearby after the unsuccessful attempt above. More information about SSG Pollister and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 21 Apr. ‘13]

“The assault boat crossing was equally unsuccessful. In spite of reconnaissance by Captain Stephen Hewitt (regimental S-2) and energetic leadership by Lieutenant Clarence Riggs and Staff Sergeant Milan J. [Miljatovich] Miljativich, the five assault boats missed direction and landed on the point on the west side of Entrance Creek. Some were sunk. (Blakeley 108)

SSG Miljatovich, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. K, was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts to lead the assault boat crossing on 28 December near Buna. He was a PVT in Co. K, 127TH Inf. Wisconsin National Guard at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when the Division mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

Several other Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry on 28 December. Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

CPT John L. Lehigh, from Indiana, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 28 December 1942 near Government Gardens in the vicinity of Buna, New Guinea. [added 24 Jan. ‘13]

SSG Victor S. Glenn, from Madison, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. G, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star (posthumously) for his actions on 18 December near Buna Mission. He was KIA that day. He was a CPL in Co. G, 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Madison, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 8 Apr. ‘13]

CPL Alonzo H. Russell, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and assigned to HQ Co., 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 28 December near Buna. He was a PVT in HQ Co., 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Milwaukee, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '42. [added 28 Apr. ‘13]

“Colonels Bowen and Rogers were both awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross] for their parts in the attack. Rogers was twice wounded during the day and it was his second award of the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 108)

On 29 December, the 2D Bn., 126TH Inf. (minus the elements at Tarakena and Siwori Village) and 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., returned to the front line. Co. B, 127TH Inf., after moving a short distance, was able to establish a position on the beach. That night a patrol from Co. H, 127TH Inf. (Lt. Allan W. Simms) discovered a fordable gap between two sand spits that extended from the Village and the Mission (a.k.a. Government Station). This information was incorporated into the next attack, which included a pre-dawn attack across the two spits, together with attacks from the center and from MAJ Schroeder’s position on the right. LTC Herbert A. Smith was to command the operation.

PFC Casimer (Casimier) Grych, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and assigned to Med. Det., 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 29 December near Buna. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 8 Apr. ‘13]

On 29 December, four enlisted combat medics and one medical officer earned the Silver Star for volunteering to attempt to breakthrough to a unit that was surrounded by the Japanese. The infantrymen were attempting to establish a corridor to the beach in order to divide the enemy forces. They succeeded in reaching the beach, but became temporarily cutoff from friendly forces. They had suffered numerous casualties, were subjected to repeated enemy counterattacks, and did not have sufficient medical personnel to treat their wounded. Five medical personnel, unarmed, volunteered to try to reach them in order to treat the wounded. The medics made it through and provided urgently needed medical care to the wounded under heavy enemy fire. Those men were CPT Rafael R. Gamso, PVT Ray Jackson, PFC Gerald M. McCarthy, PFC Vernon H. (A.) Pyles and PVT Sam J. Scarfo, all of whom were bestowed with the Silver Star for their heroism. More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 28 Apr. ‘13]

Note: There is some uncertainty as to the exact date and location of this specific event. During the Battle of Buna/Sanananda/Gona there were several occasions when Allied units attempted to break through to the beach in order to disrupt the Japanese defenses. The tale of these five brave medics is listed in this section because it seems the most likely time and location based on the unfortunately limited information available. Papuan Campaign lists 29 December as the date of action for the Silver Stars for all five men, but one newspaper article states that PVT Scarfo’s decoration was bestowed for his actions on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is certainly feasible, but it seems probable that the incident may have been in support of Co. B’s breakthrough to the beach described above on 29 December.

SSG Emil Raninen, from Detroit, Michigan, and assigned to 732D (Ord.) Light Maint. Co., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 30 December near the Government Gardens. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 24 Apr. ‘13]

photo added 4 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Col. Grose and Lt. Gen. Eichelberger discuss planning for the attack on Buna 31 Dec. ‘42.

At 0430 on 31 December, Co. E, 127TH Inf. (led by Lt. Bragg of Co. H) started to cross the shallows, followed by Co. F, 128TH Infantry (CPT Jefferson R. Cronk). The crossing went well, until some men, in violation of orders, threw grenades, which attracted the attention of the Japanese. “At once the whole area broke into an uproar, the beach lit up with flares, and the troops were assailed with hand grenades, rifle grenades, and automatic weapons. (Milner 313) The Japanese response caused terror and confusion in the pre-dawn darkness, which became even worse after Lt. Bragg was WIA. For a while, the wounded Lt. Bragg was MIA. As a result of the panic, some men, including the lieutenant who took charge after Lt. Bragg fell, and a sergeant ran toward the rear. COL Grose, observing the attack, put the lieutenant in arrest after he refused to lead the men forward. The sergeant was obviously wounded, so he was allowed to go to the aid station. COL Grose then found another NCO to take control of the soldiers who had fled and move them back to their positions at the front, which they all did.

Lt. William W. Bragg, Jr., from West Virginia, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 31 December. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 23 Dec. ‘12]

Co. F of the 128TH, under CPT Cronk’s staunch leadership, pressed forward. CPT Cronk, now commanding both companies, was only able to establish a small beachhead. The other two corresponding attacks, in the center and on the right, achieved small gains. “Among the men killed during the day were Private First Class Herman Bender and Private Earl Johnson, both of Company M, 127th Infantry, who greatly distinguished themselves and were posthumously awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 112)

CPT Cronk, from Menomonie, Wisconsin, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 31 December. He was the 1SG in Co. A, 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Menomonie, WI, in 1936; he was a 2LT in Co. A when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 24 Dec. ‘12]

PFC Bender, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was posthumously awarded the DSC for his efforts to secure vital information for his commander on 31 December. He was a PVT in Co. M, 127TH Inf. Wisconsin National Guard at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 15 Dec. ‘12]

PVT Johnson was born in Kentucky, but he lived in Montgomery County, Ohio, when he entered the service on 13 Dec. '41. His DSC was posthumously bestowed for his actions between 23 December and 31 December. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 20 Dec. ‘12]

CPL George D. Rawson, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. M, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for engaging enemy soldiers that were preventing the withdrawal of his squad on 31 December at Buna Mission. The decoration was bestowed posthumously because he was KIA during the event, but his squad was able to reach safety due to his actions. He was a PVT in Co. M, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Fond du Lac, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 25 Apr. ‘13]

1LT Fulmer, from South Carolina, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 31 Dec. ‘42 and 11 Jan. ’43. More information about him and his DSC can be found at: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/32ww2-4.html#Sanananda as well as the roster of DSC recipients.

SSG Rayborn C. Blank, from Wisconsin and assigned to Company I, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 18 and 31 December 1942 at Buna. He was a SGT in Co. I, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Neenah, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘12]

PFC Edgar J. Fowler, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin and assigned to Company E, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 31 December 1942. He was a PVT in Co. E, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Manitowoc, WI, when the 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. ‘40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘12]

The Japanese situation was growing more desperate, in spite of the delivery of supplies by submarine on the night of 25-26 December. They continued to fanatically defend their position and a relief attack was being organized to the west, opposite the small 32D Division detachments around Tarakena.

On New Year’s Day of 1943, Urbana Force was able to link up with Warren Force on the right. “During the day’s fighting, Private Robert H. Campbell, Company [M], 127th Infantry, rescued a wounded soldier who was lying in the open under machine gun fire. For this and other achievements, he was awarded the [Distinguished Service Cross]. (Blakeley 112)

PVT Campbell was from Iowa. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

Several Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry on 1 January. Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

SGT Ernest R. Searfoss, from Detroit, Michigan, and assigned to Co. M, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions 1 January at the Government Gardens. [added 30 Apr. ‘13]

SGT Carl R. Traub, from Neenah, Wisconsin, and assigned to Company I, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 1 January near Buna Mission. He was a PVT in Co. I, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Neenah, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 27 Dec. ‘12]

CPL Merle G. Tasker, from Barry County, Michigan, and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star, posthumously, for his action on 1 January at the Government Gardens. He was an infantryman, so it is possible that he was assigned to the 127TH Inf. [added 2 May ‘13]

Pfc. Victor Allan Burt, from Lincoln, Michigan, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., was KIA on 1 January or 31 December and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day near Buna.  Pfc. Burt was “credited with delivering a message despite mortal wounds.”  More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Mar. ’13, revised 20 Feb. ’17, TPB]

PFC Raymond W. Collins, from Marshalltown, Iowa, and assigned to Co. M, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 1 January near Buna. He later DOW on Luzon in '45. [added 2 Apr. ‘13]

PVT Jack M. Williams, from Montgomery, Alabama, and assigned to Co. I, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, posthumously, for his actions on 1 January near Buna Mission. He was KIA that day. [added 2 May ‘13]

Toward the end of the day on 1 January, an outpost had reported seeing Japanese swimming from the Mission (a.k.a. Government Station), a strong indication that the end was near.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers of the Heavy Weapons Company, 1st Bn., 127TH Inf., 32D Division, firing into enemy positions at Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station) on 1 January 1943.

At dawn on 2 January, it was obvious that some of the defenders were trying to escape by boat and by swimming. Nevertheless, fighting continued all day. MAJ Schroeder, directing operations from a forward position, was struck in the head by a Japanese sniper at about 1000 hours. Even though severely wounded and blinded by the bullet, he maintained consciousness long enough to personally turn over his command of 1ST Bn., 127TH Inf., to one of his staff officers, CPT Donald F. Runnoe, before being evacuated for treatment. Doctors operated on him right away, but were unable to save him. CPT Runnoe, from Marinette, Wisconsin, was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 2 January. He was 2LT in Co. A, 127TH Inf. Wisconsin National Guard at Marinette when the Division mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 15 Dec. ‘12]

CPT William H. Dames, Jr., from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and commander of Co. G, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the capture of Buna Mission on 2 January. He was 2LT in Co. G, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Oconomowoc when the Division mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘13]

1LT Robert L. Hughes, from Madison, Wisconsin, and assigned to 1ST Bn., 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his efforts to direct operations from an advanced outpost at Buna on 2 January. He was 2LT in HQ Co., 107TH QM Regt. Wisconsin National Guard at Madison when the Division mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 15 Dec. ‘12]

SGT Frank G. Freiberg, from Pardeeville, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. F, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 2 January during the capture of Buna Mission. He was a PVT in Co. F, 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Portage, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 3 Jan. ‘13]

“By early evening [of 2 January] the fight was over and the entire Buna area was in Allied hands, although it was several days before the last Japanese was eliminated. Few prisoners were taken and most of those were Chinese or Koreans. More than 1,400 Japanese had been buried by the Allies in the course of the campaign. (Blakeley 114)

Several Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry in the effort to find and eliminate Japanese stragglers on 3 January. Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

Tec. 3 William C. Featherstone, from Pontiac, Michigan, and assigned to the 732D Ord. Light Maint. Co., earned the Silver Star for his actions from 16 November 1942 to 3 January 1943 in the Buna area. During that time span he repeatedly and voluntarily braved heavy enemy fire to recover weapons (lost by U.S. dead and wounded) to keep them from falling into enemy hands and to allow their reuse by friendly forces. He was a Pvt. in l07TH Ord. Co., Michigan National Guard, at Pontiac, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 5 Apr. ‘13]

Pfc. Joe H. Rainwater, from Concho County, Texas, and assigned to Co. D, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 3 January near Buna Mission. The medal was awarded posthumously because he was KIA that day. He was KIA during the same patrol as Pfc. Aaron A. Schabo. [added 22 Apr. ‘13]

Pfc. Aaron A. Schabo, from Appleton, Wisconsin, and assigned to Company D, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 3 January in the Buna area. The medal was awarded posthumously because he was KIA that day. He was a Pvt. in Co. D, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Appleton, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. He was KIA during the same patrol as Pfc. Joe H. Rainwater.  [added 27 Dec. ‘12]

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers from Co. G, 128TH Inf., 32D Division, firing rifles into a Japanese dugout before entering it for inspection on 3 January 1943 in Buna area.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from National Archives & Records Administration
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Soldiers of Co. A, 127TH Inf., 32D Division, resting after the capture of a Japanese position at Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station), New Guinea on 3 Jan. 1943. Men in foreground are examining an old bell; others hold a Japanese sword and flag.

photo added 5 Dec. ‘12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Cpl. Frank Abrashinsky, from Sheboygan, WI, and assigned to Co. H, 127TH Inf., enjoys a Red Cross Christmas package near Buna on 3 January 1943.

The Japanese relief attack, west of Tarakena, was just beginning when the 32D Division captured Buna Mission (a.k.a. Buna Government Station). Colonel Yazawa attacked Lt. Chagnon’s detachment anyway, to gain control of the spit off Tarakena, which was the goal of swimmers escaping from the Mission (a.k.a. Government Station). On 4 January, the day of the attack, Lt. Chagnon had received twenty-one reinforcements from Co. E, 126TH Infantry, but this gave him a total of only seventy-three men (from seven different companies of two regiments). Short of ammunition and taken by surprise, the detachment was put to flight. All but four succeeded in getting to Siwori Village, mostly by swimming.

Early on 5 January, Col. Grose had elements of the 127TH Infantry across Siwori Creek and moving toward Tarakena; the rest of the regiment was soon following.

Lt. James J. Angus, from Illinois, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 4-5 January 1943 near Tarakena. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 10 Jan. ‘13]

Second Lt. Alfred E. Kirchenbauer, from Muskegon, Michigan, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 4-5 January 1943 near Siwori Village. He was a Cpl. in HQ, 2D Bn., 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Muskegon, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 23 Jan. ‘13]

Return to the main Battle of Buna page.

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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.

Drea, 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 Guardn.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.

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revised 20 March 2017
created 12 July 1999