New Caledonia: January 10 and 11
. . . a couple of hundred miles farther, which wouldn't get it much of anywhere. And if I had to walk for eight and a half months! I'm all worn out just thinking about it.
We landed at Tontouta at 4:00 P.M., and got a ride to Noumea in an Army truck -- seats along either side, facing each other, the seats being wooden planks. No top on the truck. It was an hour of damned hard riding, during which it rained intermittently.
My friends at the Grand Hotel du Pacifique seemed glad to see me, and I was glad to see them. Hal Thompson was still there. Odd, but it seemed like coming home. That is not so strange, either; as the Grand Hotel du Pacifique is as near to a home as I have, anyway.
Last November, the Navy ordered me out of my office in Honolulu -- just like that! It is the lovely way the Navy has of making friends and influencing people. They said that if I refused to move, they would put me out. As I recall it, they gave me about a week to vacate. Notwithstanding the fact that my rent was paid up to the first of the following month. To say that I was sore as hell, doesn't half express it. Anyhow, I am still occupying the office.
The foregoing is merely by way of leading up to what happened immediately after supper that evening just as another proof of how small the world is. Some one introduced me to half a dozen Navy officers. They were all drunk as lords, including the commander among them. When they got my name, they fell on my neck as though I were a long lost brother. It seems that they were among the bunch for whom I had been ordered to give up my office. They congratulated me for not giving it up.
Eddie, the Mess Steward, put a cot in Room 12 on the second floor for me. There were two beds in the room in addition to my cot. Capt. Raymond Flovor, 164th Inf., of Fargo, No. Dak., was one of my roommates. The other, whose name I cannot recall, was a major in the Medical Corps, and had formerly practiced dentistry in Hollywood with an office at the corner of Vine Street and Hollywood Boulevard. Sorry I can't recall his name, as we became very well acquainted and when I was leaving he gave me a suit o pajamas. Hulbert had rationed me to one suit, and I couldn't buy any in Noumea.
The next day (January 11) I went to Base Motor Pool immediately after breakfast, and thanks to Major Harold Brown QMC of Everett, Mass., and Capt. G.A. Fallington of New Port Richey, Fla., I was issued another jeep; but I had to wait while they rebuilt it. It had a crooked windshield and not rear sigh mirror; and, of course, none of the instruments worked. But I was very fortunate to get any transportation. There were a lot of colonels who couldn't get jeeps. This will make Hulbert furious, but I wasn't mad.
After dinner I drove out to Dumbea Valley to a Pack artillery outfit and introduced myself to Lt. Thomas P. Montgomery of Opelika, Ala., who took me to meet Major James Taylor, Jr., of La Junta, Colo., who commanded the outfit , the 97th F.A.Bn. I talked with a number of his men, and he invited me to come out again on Wednesday and go out with one of his batteries. He wanted me to come in time for breakfast.
After supper, the Noumea Chowder and Marching Club held a meeting in Col. Hayward's quarters. There were six of us. They are a nice bunch, but they play silly poker -- Base Ball, Spit in the Ocean, wild cards, and a lot of strange forms of poker the names of which I can't recall. We had a pleasant evening but not a particularly prosperous one for me I came out about even.
OFF SITE REFERENCES
Just 1,500 km off the Eastern coast of Australia lies the 3rd largest island in the Pacific Ocean
after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand: New Caledonia.
In World War II, New Caledonia became an Allied Base, welcoming over 50,000 American troops fighting in the Pacific.
During the tactical offensive of the U.S. forces throughout 1943, New Caledonia
emained a steppingstone in the supply line to the forces fighting up the Solomon-New Guinea ladder.
PAGE TWENTY-THREEJanuary 12. Finished story No.16 in the morning; and planned to drive out to Parachute Battalion in the afternoon, but Ham came over and told me that General Harmon was holding a press conference at 3 P.M. So I attended that instead. The conference was a farce, as the General told us nothing we didn't already know. The questions had all been submitted to him inwriting previous to the conference, and he had all his answers carefully prepared so as to give us no information. He is a nice fellow, however. I think Dick Tregaskis prepared the questions.
New Caledonia: January 12
All the correspondents were pretty sore because of a report that CINPAC had issued an order barring all correspondents from air transportation. We planned on going in a body to Admiral Halsey to protest. We never did. Tregaskis went alone, and got no where. Was told that even if there were space on a plane, no correspondent could occupy it. The order is typical Navy. And vindictive.
An M.P. called me at 4:30 the following morning. I shaved and drove over to the Signal Corps lab, where I picked up Cpl. Wold of Oakland, Calif., a Signal Corps photographer. We headed for the Pack Artillery camp in Dumbea Valley. I missed the turn and drove about seven or eight miles too far beyond. It was very cold, and we were both chilled through. And it was supposed to be mid-summer down there. New Caldonia is about the same distance south of the equator that Hawaii is north, and has a similar climate, but there are more marked changes in temperature.
We finally reached the Hq of the 97th F.A.Bn., and had ham and eggs, toast and coffee at the officers' mess. At least I did. Vold ate with the enlisted men. After breakfast, we drove over to "B" Btry. Watched the men pack 75 mm guns on mules. The guns and their mounts break down and, with ammunition, are packed on six mules to the gun. The heaviest load is 350 lbs, a cumbersome piece almost as long as the mule.
I was given a horse, and rode with the battery. We were out two or three hours. Each mule is led by a soldier with full pack, carrying a slung rifle. The trails are narrow and often very steep. The men are constantly stumbling or slipping and falling. When they are not cursing their mules they are cursing their rifles. A slung rifle under those conditions is something of a handicap. Why they don't let the mules carry them, I don't know.
Occasionally a mule's pack strikes the side of a hill, or another mule rushes forward and pushes him, and he falls off the trail. Sometimes they are killed, but a mule is mighty tough. There was one mule with us that had rolled 300 feet down a mountain side with his pack a short time before, but he was back on the job.
Those boys went through that terrific grind every day, seven days a week, with no time and a half for overtime and no strikes. They were hard as nails. "Rugged", they call themselves and their job. And they are.
We were in the mountains all the time, as the camp is at the head of Dumbea Valley right at the foot of the mountains. Sometimes we were in the open where we could look down from the narrow trail hundreds of feet into the valley below. Again, the trail wound through niaouli forests. Rounding the side of a mountain, it might be comparatively level. In places it seemed almost vertical, and the animals and men dug their toes in and scrambled up. I don't know how the men kept from being trampled. You children know from experience how animals lunge up a steep trail.
The views when we were in the open were beautiful. Below us was the beaut- . . .
. . . iful Dumbea Valley, a lovely river winding through it down toward the blue Pacific which we could see stretching away beyond the limpid lagoon and the outer coral reef white capped by its eternal surf. Only it was not the blue Pacific. It was the Coral Sea. But it bears a family resemblance to the Pacific. In fact you can't tell them apart. And anyway, it may have been the Tasman Sea after all. The frontiers of neither the Coral nor the Tasman are sign posted, and they mingle somewhere in the vicinity. I was never certain which one I was looking at or crossing over.
Back in camp, I gave a talk to the men after they had cleaned their animals and their tack. Then had a fine dinner with the officers. They told me that they had been in that camp for more than a year and that I was the first person who had shown an interest in them other than a couple of generals who had to inspect them as a matter of routine. There is no USO, no movie stars, no glamour girls for them.
After dinner the next day, Lt. Ramsey and I drove out to the camp of the 1st Parachute Bn of the Marine Corps. Ramsey went along for the ride. I saw Capt. Stallings and met Col. Robert Hugh Williams, commanding. Arranged to come out again the next day for pictures and a story. The camp is about thirty miles from Noumea, a long, tiresome ride in a jeep. It was necessitated by the fact that the communication system is so poor that it is practically impossible to hear anything over the telephones.
January 15. An M.P. called me at 4:00 A.M. Picked up Sgt. Dave Corson of New Jersey, a Signal Corps photographer, and reached the flying field at Tontouta about six. These qualifying jumps for trainees are made early in the morning, when there is little or no wind, to reduce the danger of accidents.
Corson and I went up with the first flight. There were twelve trainees, including Capt. Richard Sagan, who was well along in his forties, but as keen on getting his wings as the newest kid recruit. This was the fifth jump for this contingent. Their sixth, and qualifying, jump was to have been made after dark that night. The thirteenth jumper was Maj. Richard W. Hayward of Great Neck, L.I., commanding the 2nd Parachute Bn., who just went along to jump for the fun of it!
The men were very tense. There was no joking, no conversation. I sat on a little metal box with an A roof (not a comfortable seat) opposite the open door. When the pilot banked a little to port, I and the box had a tendency to slide toward the door; and neither of us had a parachute. Had he banked steeply, we should have glided out into the bosom of Abraham.
We made two passes over the range, the tenseness mounting constantly. Finally the Jumpmaster warned: "Coming on the Range!" Then, "Stand by!" The men rose from their seats on each side of the fuselage. "Hook on!" They attached their individual static lines to the main static line that runs overhead along the centre of the plane. At last, the fateful word for which all were waiting: "GO!"
The leading man was already standing in the doorway, the others crowded in single file behind him. So rapidly they disappeared, so close together were they, that they seemed to be pushing those ahead of them from the plane. In a matter of seconds they were gone. Twelve men can jump in six seconds.
The plane returned to the field for the second flight, and Corson and I . . .
U.S. Marine Corps Parachute Battalion in World War II
The Paramarines was a short-lived specialized combat unit of the United States Marine Corps,
trained to be dropped from planes by parachute.
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