Sunday, February 1, 2009

Leveritt Massey - Bougainville

    The island of Bougainville was a stepping stone on the way to Rubaul, the main Pacific military base of the Japanese navy.  The United States Marine Corp was assigned the job of taking just enough of the island from the Japanese to create an air-base south of Torokina at the Empress Augusta Bay.
    The invasion began with an air raid of Corsair F4U fighter aircraft lad by Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, future leader of the "Black Sheep" squadron.
    Three steel mat air strips were established at the beach near the Piva River.  One was long and used by the bombers and supply planes while the other two were used by the fighter aircraft.  The Japanese military on the island was so close that planes would have to turn hard upon take off to avoid flying into the enemy anti-aircraft gun positions.
    Effete was often the last stop before Bougainville.
   Although many men died from combat, Leveritt Massey said that more soldiers in his unit actually died from weather and accidents.  On several occasions storms would hit the island causing trees to fall on their tents.  This would often crush the soldiers to death as they slept.
    Aircraft would often come back with damage and on one occasion an aircraft had a loose bomb which accidentally dropped as the plane was landing.   Falling next to the mess tent, it killed the men waiting in line to eat.
   Leveritt came close to death on a few occasions.  During a small attack Leveritt left his bed for the safety of a fox hole.  Another soldier stayed in his bed and was going to sleep though the battle.  Leveritt returned to find that one enemy shell hit the tree next to their tent and exploded into hundreds of fragments.   His bed and the others were full of fragment holes and the other soldier was killed.
    With the American forces focused on Rabaul, they did not take time to clear the remaining portion of the island of Japanese forces.   Leveritt told stories of occasional snipers and other hazards but said that this ended when an Admiral threatened the base commander that if they could not remove the enemy, his ships would blast everyone off the island.  Not wanting to get shelled by his own side, the base commander ordered all anti-aircraft guns lowered and fired for over 24 hours.  When the firing stopped the enemy was dead and the jungle around the base was reduced to smoking tree stumps.
    Being far from home meant that fresh fruits and vegetables were not often received.  On one supply shipment, the base received onions.  With this being the best that they had received in some time, Leveritt said that they ate them like apples and did not care about the taste or bad breath.
    The men's health was important to the military and the soldiers often faced medical examinations and preventative treatments.  Leveritt said that the medical tent was small and on a wooden platform.  The men would form a line to enter the tent, receive their shot, and leave by the back door.  More than one man was so nervous about needles that they would hit the ground because of fainting or missing the step leaving the tent.
    "There were two air strips there, Piva north and Piva south, were with the scout bombers, Piva north, the fighters were on Piva south. While we're going in, they were going out. That's the saddest bunch of Marines I ever saw in my life. I don't know how long they'd been there, enough to build an airstrip and secure the perimeter, their expressions, nobody was grinning or anything like that." Barney Cummings has said that was the only time during the war that his eyes welled up with tears.

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