Heroes: the Army
"...I was in the second foxhole from the right side of the line and when the Japanese attacked, a couple of Japanese came around and hit the end foxhole next to me. Both men must have been asleep because one of them was bayoneted in the stomach and the other was decapitated by a sword..."
- Branch of Service: Army
- F. Co., 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division
- Dates: 1944 - 1945
- Location: Pacific Theater Battle for Leyte: Philippines Campaign
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1926
- Entered Service: Manteca, CA
We were packed into the boats like sardines
While we prepared for Leyte another Division landed on the beach and made a beach head and then pushed the Japanese into the hills. They secured a safe landing area for other troops to land. It was November 14, 1944 when we started to land [on Leyte]. The ships brought us as close to the beach as they could. It was still a long way to shore so we had to go the rest of the way on small boats. They set up landing nets over the side of the ship and we had to climb down with our full field packs and our rifle. It was very scary because the net was twisting and turning when we were climbing down. ( We looked like ants climbing down) -- almost stepping on each other as we climbed down into the boats. We were lucky [that] nobody fell and we all made it into the boats.
We were packed into the boats like sardines. The boats took us about fifty feet from the beach and couldn't get any closer so we had to wade ashore. When we got off the boats we had to jump into the water. When I jumped into the water it came up to my chest and it was a struggle to make it ashore.
When we were all ashore we were assembled in a group and they gave us orders to start getting ready to go into combat. It was November 16 when they took us into the mountains where the main Japanese force was dug in.
We were stopped by the machine gun fire
The first day in the mountains we were assigned our duties in the squad. A friend of mine named Elmo Brinkly,(an Oakie) was selected first scout and I was the second scout. My job was to stay close behind him and back him up when we were on patrol. The rest of the squad were rifleman and a fellow named Fazio was the B A R man,( A B A R, Browning Automatic Rifle, is a rifle that fires like a machine gun). He had an assistant who was supposed to help carry ammunition and back him up when we went into combat.
Our platoon was without an officer when we landed on Leyte, so they sent us a second lieutenant fresh out of OCS school. (He was new to combat.)
On our first day in the mountains, he sent a squad out to reconnoiter the area and he picked the squad [that] I was in. We went out looking for the enemy's position so we would know where to attack them later. We went down a trail leading to a thick part of the forest where we suspected the Japanese were dug in when we came to a large tree laying on the ground -- blocking the path. Elmo had to climb over the tree to get to the other side. When he was on the other side I started to follow him [and that was] when we heard some Japanese talking. They sounded close by.
The forest was so thick [that] we couldn't see more than ten yards away. The sergeant got scared and told us to get out of there and get back to camp and report that we made contact with the Japanese. 'We were only supposed to be on a recon mission', he said. Everybody started to leave and I said, ' What about Elmo." The sergeant said, "Forget him -- he's a goner anyway."They all started running back to camp; but. I decided to stay behind and help Elmo get back over the tree. He was afraid to climb back over the tree because the Japanese might see him. He tried to find a way to crawl under the tree, but there was no way. He finally had to climb over the tree because the Japanese sounded like they were getting closer and closer. After he got over the tree we ran back to our position as fast as we could.
When we got back the sergeant had reported me and Elmo missing. That was our first taste of what combat was going to be like.
While I was helping Elmo get back over the tree I never even thought about the danger I was in until I was back in camp. I must have had a late reaction to the situation because I started to shake and couldn't stop. The men asked me what was wrong and I told them I was just cold. It lasted for about two hours and then I was all right. That was the last time I felt any fear.
The next day the whole Company went out on a combat patrol. We went to the spot where we had heard the Japanese. We scouted the area until we came to where they were dug in. They were about 20 yards in front. So the Lieutenant ordered us to fix bayonets. We all lined up in a row and charged. We were hollering and yelling as we charged. The Japanese opened fire with rifles and machine guns.
They caught us in the open. The Lieutenant was one of the first to get killed. My Chicano buddy was killed in this attack also. That was his first day in combat and his last. I guess he got his wish about not going home all scarred from his burns.
We were stopped by the machine gun fire.
We tried moving, but the firing was too heavy for us to advance so we hit the ground and formed a line. We dug in and prepared for a long fight. It was the monsoon season and it rained most of the time. The foxholes were full of water after a couple of days of rain. We would attack every day and come back to our foxholes for the night.
We had to stay in water up to our chest all the time we were there. Our shoes and socks got so wet that they never got dried while we were there. Our feet got all wrinkled from being wet all the time. When we took our shoes off we had to peel our socks off because they were stuck to our feet. We had to drink the water in the foxhole and made our coffee with it too because that's all there was. It was miserable all the time we were there.
We used to attack every day trying to break through their lines. This went on for a long time. We lost men every time we attacked.
One day when we started to attack, I was on the left side of the line and there was a machine gun firing at us from the right side of the line -- it had us pinned down. When the lieutenant was killed they put a Sergeant in charge of our platoon.
Sometimes I wondered if he knew anyone else in our platoon because every time he needed someone for a special job he would always call on me. That day he called me and told me to go to the right side of the line.
I got up crouched over with my head down and ran to the right side of the line, I ran a few yards when I felt a blow on my head and I found myself lying on the ground. I checked myself to see if I was wounded. I was all right, so I got up and started running again, the same thing happened and I found myself on the ground again. I finally looked up to see what was happening and there was a big tree in front of me. I had run into it head first with my helmet.
I finally got to where the Sergeant was and asked him what he wanted. He told me to go around the line and try to knock out the machine gun that had us pinned down. I got mad because there were about fifteen guys between me and the right side of the line when he called me. He could have called any one of them. But I went around the line anyway and started to crawl towards where the machine gun was firing from. It was to my left and I was watching the spot where I thought it was firing from. I was dragging my rifle by my left side as I crawled.
I was about twenty feet from where the machine gun was firing from when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move about ten feet to the right of me, it was a Japanese and he had his rifle pointed right at me. He said something to me that to this day I swear he said, "surrender". I brought my rifle up and fired all in one motion and hit him right in the face, (that was the first time I killed a Japanese face to face in the war).
I tried firing my rifle again but my rifle had jammed with a ruptured cartridge and I couldn't fire any more. I turned around and crawled back to our line as fast as I could.
Meanwhile Elmo had followed me to back me up as I crawled towards the machine gun. When I shot the Japanese, Elmo jumped into an abandoned foxhole and later he said a piece of flesh had fallen on his rifle when I shot the Japanese.
I made it back to the line and looked for Elmo but I couldn't see him. I called and heard him answer but I couldn't see where he was. He was saying, "here I am "; but, I still couldn't see where he was. Finally I saw him waving a finger out of the foxhole saying, "here I am". He was afraid to get out of the foxhole because there was firing coming from everywhere. So I gave him cover until he made it back to the line. (We used to laugh about him waving his finger after that.)
My rifle was still jammed so I asked the Sergeant what I should do. He said to take a rifle from a dead soldier that was nearby. I had to pry it from his hands because he had died with a death grip on it. It was a weird feeling taking a rifle from a dead soldier.
After what seemed like an eternity we won that battle, but we lost a lot of men doing it. We started looking for survivors and I saw a Japanese that was still alive. He was laying next to a tree. I asked the Sergeant what he wanted to do about him and he said to shoot him because we didn't have time to take care of him. I pointed my rifle at him and he just looked at me and gritted his teeth as I shot him. That was the second kill for me.
We stayed there for a while to rest. It was hot and some of the dead Japanese had been there a long time and they were starting to bloat. The smell was awful.
I guess it was Thanksgiving
The company cooks had cooked a special meal for us and brought it to the front line so we could have a nice hot meal.We had turkey and all the trimmings, (I guess it was Thanksgiving.) After we were through eating we rested awhile before going ahead.
We were walking on top of a hill -- (It was barren of any trees or bushes because our artillery had wiped it clean.) There were a lot of Japanese foxholes all over the hill and as we walked, the Japanese started firing mortar shells right into us. Everyone except a few dummies jumped into the foxholes.
They were firing incendiary shells at us. I ran to a foxhole and jumped in. It was already full and when I landed my backside was exposed and I just prayed I didn't get hit.
One of the dummies was standing by the foxhole laughing at us because we were all piled in the foxhole -- (He was a medic.) The shells were coming sporadic so he figured it was safe. He laughed too soon because a shell landed next to our foxhole and he was hit with a hot piece of shrapnel. He was hit in the gut and he just dropped. After the shelling was over they picked him up and took him to the hospital.
Never did see him again...
the other was decapitated by a sword
Early one morning we headed for another battle front. We marched until it was getting dark. We got close to where the fighting was but it was too late for us to go into combat so we dug foxholes behind the lines to wait until morning before going into combat.
We were at the base of a hill and the line was at the top. There was another outfit holding the line and they had Filipino guerrillas helping them so we felt safe at the bottom of the hill.
It wasn't as safe as we thought because that night a Japanese patrol came around the hill and attacked us while we slept. It was dark and foggy and we could only see about maybe twenty feet in front of us. I was in the second foxhole from the right side of the line and when the Japanese attacked, a couple of Japanese came around and hit the end foxhole next to me. Both men must have been asleep because one of them was bayoneted in the stomach and the other was decapitated by a sword. (His head was chopped off) -- he must have woke up before he was hit because his hand was chopped off also when he tried to defend himself.
When the attack started, everyone started firing their weapons and tossing grenades. It was like all hell had broken loose -- grenades exploding and tracer bullets from the machine guns looking like streams of fire. The battle lasted for about a half hour and ended just as quick as it started.
We didn't sleep the rest of the night. We expected them to come back and attack again. Nothing happened the rest of the night but we still stayed awake until morning.
Next day we were sent up the hill where the line was. It was facing a heavily wooded area. We couldn't see 10 ft. into the woods. I guess everyone was afraid to go in because we didn't know what was waiting for us in there.
The Japanese were somewhere in there and we were ordered to go in and attack. We were all sitting around quietly waiting. Everyone was deep in thought, thinking about what was in store for us.
(We had a new replacement who was a bully when we were in camp. He was over six feet tall and strong as an ox. He was always trying to intimidate everyone while we were in camp,)
I was watching the bully because he had a strange look on his face. He was staring at his foot and then all of a sudden he took his rifle and pointed it at his foot and fired. I guess he was so scared of going into those woods he would rather shoot himself. They took him away and I never saw him again.
The Sergeant in charge of our platoon refused to go into the woods when ordered, he said it would be suicide for us to go in. We all stood by waiting to see what happened.
The captain finally relieved him from duty. They sent him back to the rear and we heard [that] he got a court martial. The penalty for cowardice in the face of the enemy is death but we never found out what they did with him.
The captain put another Sergeant in charge of our platoon (we didn't have a lieutenant after the last one got killed). We went into the woods moving forward when all hell broke loose. The Japanese started firing with everything they had. We fired back and kept advancing. A lot of men fell that morning but we kept advancing until we forced them to retreat and they gave up their positions...
(My buddy Henry Mere was wounded in this battle. He was taking cover behind a tree when a machine gun was firing and he got hit on both shoulders. The tree saved him but it was a small tree and his shoulders were exposed about 2 or 3 inches on both sides. That was the only place he got hit).
We were in the same battle because they had put my company in with his Regiment to help them out. (I never saw him again until I went to a reunion in Fresno. I didn't recognize him but he remembered me right away.)
I set a record for the quickest dump ever
I had been sick with malaria a couple of days before that attack. I also had the runs and cramps in my stomach. When we were advancing I had to "go". My buddies said to do it in my pants because the machine gun bullets were just a few feet over our heads. I said no way. I pulled my pants down and went. I set a record for the quickest dump ever.
After that we kept going, pushing the enemy back until they retreated further into the mountains. We won that battle but it cost us a lot of men. We just kept going forward looking for more Japanese.
We kept going until we came to another pocket of Japanese. They were on top of a hill and we had to go up and get them. We were firing our rifles and throwing grenades at them as they fired down at us. There was a big tree laying half way up the hill so we used it for cover as we threw grenades at them.
As we crouched behind the tree there was a big earthquake, the hill just rocked and rolled and we were afraid the tree would roll down on us and smash us. It was a huge tree and if it had rolled on us it would have killed us. Luckily the tree held, We kept moving up tossing grenades until we reached the top and the Japanese that were left alive took off.
They finally sent us one fresh from the states
We had won another battle. Fazio, our B A R man was killed before he made it to the top. The sergeant told the assistant to take over the B A R, but the assistant said he did not want it. He was afraid because it drew to much fire from the enemy. I volunteered to take it over because I wanted the fire power it had, it could fire 30 rounds at once or one round at a time whichever I needed at the time.
After being without a Lieutenant since our first combat mission in Leyte, they finally sent us one fresh from the states. Ashley was his name. He told us he was in the air force back home when they asked for officers to volunteer for the infantry in the Pacific because there was a shortage of line officers to lead the men into battle. He gave us a line of bull about wanting to be where the action was. I guess he thought it was just a game and all he had to do was go into combat and kill the enemy He forgot they would be shooting back at him.
The first time he took the platoon out on a combat patrol I was the lead scout and also the B A R man. We walked into the forest looking for Japanese but didn't see any until we reached a river and decided to follow it upstream. The banks were about five feet high on both sides and there were some huge boulders laying all over the river bed.
I was about twenty feet in front of the patrol when I spotted about six Japanese laying on top of the left bank. They were covered with brush and grass trying to hide. I guess they didn't think I saw them because they didn't fire at me. They were waiting for the rest of the platoon to get within range so they could catch us in a cross fire.
I turned and pointed where the Japanese were to the rest of the men and fired my B A R. I think I got all six because they didn't fire back at me. I got behind a boulder and reloaded my B A R as the rest of the Japanese started firing at us but by that time everyone had taken cover behind the boulders. While the fighting was going on I happened to see the Lieutenant hiding behind a huge boulder. He wasn't firing his rifle and looked like he was frozen with fear.
I guess there weren't many Japanese because when they failed to catch us by surprise the battle didn't last very long after that. They retreated and then we regrouped and checked to see if anyone had been killed or wounded. Nobody was hit in that encounter so we were lucky.
We didn't go any farther as the Lieutenant decided to take us back to our line. I guess he had enough combat for the day. He never mentioned anything about wanting to be where the action was after that.
There was half a pig there
The Lieutenant took us out on a combat patrol once where we walked all day long looking for Japanese. It was getting late in the day when we came upon a hut out in the boonies. There was smoke coming out of the hut and we knew there were Japanese in there so we sneaked up and tried to surprise them. They must have heard us coming because when we got there the hut was empty. There was a stove there with hot food still cooking, we must have caught them while they were preparing to eat.
We checked out the area but there was no one around so we destroyed the food before leaving, the food looked mighty tempting but we were afraid to eat it because it might be booby trapped. There was half a pig there that was all ready to be cooked and one of the men said he knew how to cook it, so I decided to take it back and let him cook it next day. I carried that pig all the way back to camp, it got heavy after a while but I was determined to take it back to camp. We had traveled so far that day and we were so tired that we stopped to rest before arriving at our camp. After the break some of us were too tired to continue, we said we were going to stay there for the night. The Lieutenant said we were only a couple of miles from camp so we managed to get up and kept on going.
By the time we got to camp it was late at night and we all looked like zombies, we got into our foxholes and went to sleep. When we got up next morning we were ordered to pack up because we were moving out. After carrying that pig all the way I was so mad that I put it in my foxhole and buried it so nobody else could have it.
The safety pin came out
We went looking for more Japanese but didn't find any. We had walked quite a few miles and we were getting tired so we stopped to take a break on the side of a hill. I always had my ammo belt full of grenades and when I started to lay down to rest one of my grenades came loose and somehow the safety pin came out. I yelled Grenade and hit the ground, everyone was already laying on the ground resting so they just hugged the ground and the grenade exploded, nobody was hurt so everything turned out all right.
We had cleared Leyte of all major resistance by then so they had all the outfits line up and we were going to push across the island and clear it of all Japanese. We were short on ammo and food so they had a small plane flying all day trying to keep us supplied with food and ammo.
There never was enough food so they put us on short rations. We were always hungry and we ate all the coconuts and pineapples we could find. The Filipinos we met on the way gave us what food they could afford. (I was still the first scout and still had my B A R).
I must have had close to a million yen
I was walking out front of our outfit scouting for Japanese, (it was open country and I could see a long way off). Up ahead I saw a ditch that looked like it was about 3 or 4 feet wide so I started to run so I could jump over. As I got closer I saw a bunch of Japanese huddled together at the bottom of the ditch. I stopped and at the same time I aimed my rifle and fired off a whole magazine at them. I started to reload when the rest of the men came up and they all fired at them.
The Japanese never fired back and we found out later that they weren't even armed. All they had was a knife that the officer carried. We killed them all and some of the men took souvenirs from them.
I took a pistol and a back pack from the officer. I traded the pistol for a wrist watch.
Later that day when we stopped for the night I checked the pack to see what was in it and found it full of Japanese money. I thought it was worthless Japanese invasion money. I gave some of it to the men so they could build fires with it to make coffee. I used the rest to build fires and for toilet paper. Later when we went to Japan I found out it was good Japanese money. I must have had close to a million yen. I was wealthy for a short time and didn't know it. The yen was worth 15 to one dollar when we got to Japan.
He told me later that my temperature went up to 105
After we reached the other side of the island we were taken to a rest camp to recuperate and get replacements for the men we lost in the battle for Leyte.
I had been suffering from malaria all the time we were on Leyte. My fever was always between 100 and 102. I had to stay in combat because nobody was sent to the hospital unless their fever was over 102. We were in camp a few days when the brass decided to have an inspection. We had to have our tent (it was a 12 man tent) clean and all beds made up then go outside and line up for inspection. But I had a malaria attack and couldn't get up so they send for a medic. The medic took my temperature and said it was 103 degrees and climbing so he took some alcohol and started to rub me down to get my temperature down. (He told me later that my temperature went up to 105.) I was so week that I couldn't even raise my arms or turn around.
He wanted to send me to the hospital but was afraid to move me until he got my fever down.
In the meantime the inspection went on but they bypassed my tent so at least I got out of inspection. They put me in the hospital after the medic got my temperature down below 102. I stayed in the hospital while the rest of the men had liberty. They could do whatever they wanted until we went to our next combat area which we found out was going to be Luzon,. The main island in the Philippines. They didn't release me from the hospital until we started to board the ship that was taking us there.
While on ship there was a buddy of mine that was a pinochle player. He taught me how to play the game and we didn't do any thing else but play two handed pinochle. We stopped just long enough to eat and sleep. The only other time we stopped playing was when they stopped the ship in the middle of the ocean to let us go swimming.
They let some rope ladders down the side of the ship so we could climb down into the water. Some of us were diving into the ocean from the side of the ship. I dived from the ship a few times but it was too scary being in the water. I imagined octopuses and sharks coming at me when I dived in. I would hit the water and climb up the ladder as fast as I could. After that I just stood there watching the others diving and swimming.
We played pinochle until we got to Luzon
When we arrived there, they dropped anchor and I was standing under a ships gun when a Japanese Zero flew over the convoy and all the ships opened fire. I didn't have time to get away from the gun before it opened fire and the noise it made almost knocked me out -- but I managed to get back inside the ship before they fired again.
They were trying to knock the Zero down before it had a chance to do any damage. After all that firing it didn't do any good because the Zero managed to get away.
We finally went ashore and were sent to a camp to wait for our next assignment.
Original Story submitted 19 December 2001.
Mr. Lacho Montez currently resides in Manteca, California.
The materials depicted on this page were reprinted with kind permission of the subject of our story -- Mr. Lacho Montez.
We, at the World War II Stories - In Their Own Words web site wish to offer to Mr. Lacho Montez our most profound THANK YOU for his poignant story of his personal experiences -- during World War II and especially for allowing us to share those memories. We will always be grateful for Mr. Montez's contributions to the war effort and to the countless other men and women who put forth their "finest hour".
For some background into the campaigns that Mr. Montez took part in, you can check out the following web sites:
the 32nd Infantry Division
the 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division in World War II
Red Arrow at War
Webmaster's Note: At this time we are currently awaiting the second installment of Mr. Montez's story. His experiences in Luzon will be added shortly to this page.
September 5, 2002.
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