Ray Bauml recounts the Long Patrol.
You dragged your ass all the way. With our training using rope and pulling up hills and all that, it sure came in handy there. Christ, it was raining, of course. When didn't it rain in the hills? We climbed up on this hill; well, you couldn't walk up it, it was almost perpendicular. We'd tie the rope to a small tree, boost the guys -- we got over. You can imagine the time involved.
I'd been the point man four or five hours. That puts a strain on you. A native was leading us and said, "I smell'm Jap." I forgot his name, but let's call him Tonto for now. We worked on hand signals, and his hand went up to signal everybody to stop. You'd look back and everyone else's hand went up down the line, motioning the people behind them to stop.
I feel somebody tap my shoulder, and it's the guy next to me. He points to me and he points up: "You go and check." I looked at him incredulously and said, "What?" I'm thinking to myself, "Here are all these Navy Cross tough guys I'm with. Why aren't they doing it?" So I'm crawling up. I get near the base [of a ridge]. I motioned the rest of the squad to move along and spread out. We start crawling up the hill on our bellies. There was a bunch of dead leaves, and every leaf would crackle when you moved across it. Ten feet from the top were the remains of a Jap bivouac.
I slipped the muzzle of my weapon into my helmet and raise it expecting a burst of fire. Nothing happened, so I crawled up and began exploring about six or seven foxholes. They were there not too long before, because in the jungle meat doesn't last too long, and there was fresh meat just starting to rot, which has an intense smell. I'm looking around, I'm the only one, there's no one backing me, no one protecting my butt -- that's what bothered me. I'm looking around at all these foxholes, stepping lightly. My weapon went into the foxhole first, and I'm thinking, "Why the hell am I doing this?"
I was about to go back to tell them I couldn't find anything, and behind us our officer [Miller] and his runner must have walked up along the trail, come around, and crashed through like a herd of elephants. I almost shot him. I said, "Holy Christ!" He was pissed off. He said, "Where the hell is everyone? What is taking so long?" I said, "They're laying over here about fifteen yards, I'm guessing."
Then I was going to step in front of them to lead them, but they train the officers to go first, so I stepped right behind them. I was about a step behind him. We took two steps, and a Jap machine gun went off and almost blew his entire head off. All his teeth were knocked out, and his tongue was like strips of liver; his whole lower jaw was almost missing. I said, "Lay low." It's amazing how you react, and I said, "Lay low, lieutenant."
I started backing up, and Putnam said, "Cover me. I'll get him." He was about five, ten feet behind me. I said, "Okay." So I raised my rifle and I'm thinking to myself, "Who the hell am I covering? I don't see anybody. Where the hell is everybody else? Why aren't they firing?" [The firing] came out of a tree. I raised my weapon. [The runner] left, and another burst came. I'll tell ya, they were so damn close that machine-gun smoke was enveloping us. I patted Miller's leg. "Lay still." I don't know if he heard me or not.
What saved my butt were these ironwood trees in the jungle. They are so tough that you take the sharpest machete, swing all you've got, and barely put a crease in there. Above my belly, near my chest, were two slugs that would have got me if the ironwood tree hadn't stopped them. Then a few minutes later -- Christ, I thought ten years had passed -- I heard a shot and it turned out that [the runner] got shot in the arm going back to the group and lost his arm. [One other man] was the one who saved our ass. He said, "I see them." He was being smart because despite all this training, a lot of these bastards are trigger-happy. He said, "I see them." He opened up with his BAR, stops, opens up again, and he said, "I got them, I got them." I'm guessing there were two.
The next day Miller died. He suffocated from his own phlegm. It wasn't a pretty sight.
Copyright © 2002 by Patrick O'Donnell. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.