Lieutenant Dan Noorlander

March 12, 1921 — October 3, 1990

World War II
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Guadalcanal

Army troops landing on Guadalcanal before the final push to eliminate the Japanese.

The Battle of Guadalcanal was the first major offensive against the Japanese Empire in WW II. It was conducted by Allied forces (mostly U.S. Marines and Army Infantry) between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943.

Together with the Battle of Midway, it was a turning point in the war against Japan. The offensive operations that followed on the other Pacific Islands resulted in Japan’s surrender and the end of WW II.

Lt. Noorlander’s Account

Mopping Up After the Marine’s Initial Invasion of the Island

Guadalcanal Campaign

The 161st Regiment was an infantry unit of the Washington Nation Guard, of which Lt. Noorlander was a part. During WW II it was assigned to the Army 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii.

The 25th was sent to Guadalcanal to reinforce the Marine forces, who began the attack August 7, 1942. The Army’s assignment was to eliminate all remaining Japanese pockets of resistance.

After intensive training in Hawaii, the 25th began moving to Guadalcanal November 25, 1942, arriving by January 3, 1943. The Army offensive in which Lt. Noorlander played such an important role, lasted from January 10, 1943 to January 21, 1943, and effectively ended the battle for Guadalcanal. Nearly 7,000 Americans died in the Guadalcanal effort, which lasted six months.

Compare the summary descriptions of the Army’s mission in the next column with Lt. Noorlander’s account, who lived through it. The horrific realities of war are sometimes lost in historical perspective.

The Army’s Mission

Two summary descriptions of the military operation Lt. Noorlander took part in:

“The 161st Regimental Combat Team arrived at Guadalcanal in early January 1943 and took up defensive positions around [Henderson] Airfield. The 161st entered the attack phase on January 6, 1943, with an assault on Japanese forces in a jungle redoubt called the Matanikau River Pocket. Here Japanese troops employed skilled camouflage and well-defended positions to take a heavy toll on the attackers. The assault lasted from January 10 to January 21, when the resistance was overcome.” (History compiled by Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.)

“While manning defensive positions around the airstrip, named Henderson Airfield, the 161st was also handed the assignment of eliminating a concentration of Japanese troops in what became known as the Matanikau River Pocket. The Pocket, estimated to hold 500 enemy troops, was a dense jungle redoubt positioned between a steep hillside and a high cliff over the Matanikau River. The heavy undergrowth masked the well-camouflaged Japanese positions, both on the ground and high in the trees, and made dislodging them a slow, grim task.” (History compiled by the 25th Infantry Division Association).

Lt. Noorlander’s Account

The mission to eliminate Japanese pockets of resistance on Guadalcanal

The day finally approached when we were given orders to start packing and board one of the liberty ships tied up in the docks at Pearl Harbor. I only had about a month to get acquainted with my new platoon and prepare them for combat. After we left the harbor time was spent trying to sleep in our four-tier canvas hammocks below deck, clean weapons, eat, and generally kill time. Trying to bathe in salt water was a new experience and the special soap for this purpose did not do much good.

U.S. troops go over the side of a manned combat transport to enter landing barges.

After we were out to sea a few weeks, our direction turned southward and rumors started to fly. We had heard that the marines were having a bad time on the Solomon Islands, but our destination was pretty well kept a secret until the very last few days before we climbed down the rope ladders into waiting landing craft. We were told by a Marine officer that we would relieve them on Guadalcanal.

Relieving the Marines

When the marines landed a few months before, they met little resistance on Guadalcanal. But as soon as the Japanese overcame their surprise and confusion, resulting from the enormous firepower of the Navy and Air Force that preceded the landing, they regrouped from the jungles and attacked the marines in force. Since the marines were dug in, the Japanese took heavy loses.

Marines rest during the Guadalcanal campaign.

When the Army infantry division relieved some of the marine positions and expanded the perimeter around the remade airfield at Lunga point, they found as the marines did, that jungle warfare is quite different from what the army manual taught about infantry tactics.

Lunga/Henderson Airfield - Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

Henderson Airfield at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal — The airfield was originally built by the Japanese to patrol the southern Solomons, the shipping lanes to Australia, and the eastern flank of New Guinea.

Military Tactics

There was only one way to dislodge the enemy from dug in camouflaged positions along a jungle trail, on top of a jungle mountain, or in a deep vine covered ravine. Individual foot soldiers on patrol would crawl, walk, or crouch into the thickly forested jungle until the enemy fired at them. Then it was a matter of trying to figure out how many of them were there and where their positions were. This was not an easy task.

Unknown soldier in the jungle of Guadalcanal.

When the Japanese opened fire on our patrols, the bullets would strike a leaf or branch over or around our heads and literally explode with a sharp crack, making it impossible to tell where the enemy was except from a general direction.

The patrol would then attempt to go around the flank of the enemy to determine if the fire came from just a sniper or from dug in positions. Each decision that was made was accompanied by casualties and dead soldiers. It was always a trade off. Dead bodies for information concerning the enemy.

After so many casualties the brass would then determine if the heavy stuff should be used such as artillery or mortar fire. Mortars had the advantage of lobbing shells in a high arch so they would land relatively close to our positions. Artillery had the disadvantage of hitting tree tops that often caused heavy casualties among our own troops and had limited use in close up jungle fighting.

Mopping Up

This was the type of warfare the 161st infantry was assigned to carry out. It was out mission to engage the enemy in what was called a “mopping up” operation. The Japanese were known for not surrendering. The only thing going for us was that the Navy and Air Force had blockaded all their supplies including their food. The Japanese on Guadalcanal were in a half starved condition when we encountered them, but it did not take much energy to pull a trigger on a light machine gun, and they still had ample ammunition.

Soldiers stand guard over some of the few captured Japanese defenders on Guadalcanal.

Japanese soldiers resting before battle in Guadalcanal.

Although we knew the Japanese had gas grenades, they did not use them on us. We also had gas which they were well aware of. Consequently, when we landed on the beach with our gas masks, we dumped them in a large pile as we headed for the perimeter of defense to take our positions.

The first night we slept in our shelter halves to keep the rain from getting us wet. When in fox holes or slit trenches, usually a helmet sufficed to keep the rain out of our faces. We only had one casualty that night. It came from a self inflicted shot from a 45 pistol. One of the GIs could not face the idea of fighting in this remote jungle. During the night we could hear his groans, but no one dared move to help him.

The next morning, my platoon relieved a marine platoon that was already dug in. In front of us was some barbed wire and trip wires to slow down any potential enemy attack. We patrolled that day for about a 1000 yards in front of our positions but met no enemy. That evening I placed some booby traps in front of our positions to alert us in case the Japanese came too close. There was no activity during the night, although we could hear the fighting to our right where the 35th and 27th infantry were engaged in a mopping up operation in the southwest part of our perimeter that lay just this side of the Matanikau River.

First Combat Experience

My platoon’s first combat experience came when I was ordered to wipe out a few snipers on the other side of the river to protect our regiments flank as they prepared to attack up the coast to the end of the island.

Mouth of the Matanikau River.

I had confidence that we could handle the job. During the preceding few days, my platoon learned to work well together in the jungle—particularly in how we communicated with another using hand signals.

The 25th Division’s first offensive zone was west of the Matanikau River (January 1943). Fighting was concentrated in the area of Hills 54, 55, and 56 (above).

We left our defense area in a grassy ridge just overlooking the dense green forests that formed a plateau rising about two hundred feet above the Matanikau River. The river marked the boundaries of our most advanced positions.

My platoon led out. Traditionally, I had two scouts out in front of me—private Marmalejo slightly to the left and private Eddie Lorenz to the right. Private first class Frank Smiderly followed me by a few yards followed by Sgt. Keifer. The rest of the platoon followed slightly staggered on both sides of the winding trail that lay between the river and the hills above us. We were cautious knowing that a crack of Japanese firepower was the only thing that could stop us. It was only a question of when and where. One of our main problems was that we did not have much room to maneuver on this narrow plateau.

We did not have to wait long. Marmalejo was dropped by a single shot from a sniper. Lorenz on my right was also shot. Almost immediately, a machine gun burst turned up the soil in front of me, heading directly for me. I jumped right to the side of a tree. I could not see the enemy. The cracking of bullets appeared to explode as they hit the leaves and branches all around us. Chips of bark came from the tree right above my head. Some rounds made a groove in the bark. I lined my M1 rifle to correspond to the direction made by the groove and pulled the trigger eight times in rapid succession. The firing stopped, at least from where the sniper was positioned in a tree.

I crawled over to Lorenz on my right who was still alive. He had a bad wound in his chest. I placed my hand under him to see if the bullet had penetrated his body. It appeared to be only a deep flesh wound that tore a hole in his chest. After I packed the wound with mud, he attempted to crawl to safety. It was impractical to call a medic. My whole platoon was pretty well pinned down. I could not risk having the medic expose his life this far up the trail, so I did what I could.

I dug the mud out of his wound with my fingers, then cut up some sulfa tablets with my bayonet and pushed them deep into the wound. After I applied a pressure bandage, Smiderly with the help of his buddy, placed Lorenz on a shelter halve and pulled him to safety. Eddie Lorenz was an Indian from Montana and I remember in Hawaii a discussion we had concerning his anxieties about the war. I told him not to worry and to stick close to me. I’d see to it that he got home. I hoped that I had not let him down.

A wounded 25th Division Army soldier is assisted off the line in the hills near Matanikau River, January 15, 1943.

I observed our company medic cutting down a tree sapling to form a splint for another one of my men who was shot in the leg. I ordered him to get down. I did not want any more casualties. I regrouped what was left of the platoon a little to the rear, and ordered them to dig in. Digging slit trenches was not easy among the network of large tree roots that lay over the surface of the clay-like soil. After preparing our defenses, we settled down for the night. It was getting dark.

Japanese Fortifications

The next morning we prepared to attack the Japanese positions, still thinking there were only a few snipers. As we went forward in crouched positions with new scouts from another squad, I tried to maneuver a little to the right. I saw my left scout almost run into a Japanese soldier, who got up from what appeared to be a well dug in trench. The Japanese soldier was actually stretching his arms, which indicated he was unaware of our position so close to his own. It was also apparent that we were facing heavily fortified positions, and that there was more than just a few snipers.

Japanese soldier tosses grenade on Guadalcanal.

I did not want to yell out to my scout that he was just about to expose himself in a well fortified area. His job was to find the enemy, but in this undergrowth he could not see what I observed from the side. I instinctively pulled a pin out of one of my grenades and threw it well over his head, as close to the Japanese position as I could. This alerted my platoon and we dove for cover. Again all hell broke loose, but this time I had a better respect for what was in front of us.

There was really not much we could do. If we went forward, it would be certain suicide. I was not about to order my platoon to fix bayonets and charge well dug in positions. The infantry soldier’s job was to engage the enemy and use basic infantry weapons to kill him. Rifles were not the only weapons I was trained to use.

I sent Captain Patton a message about what we were up against. He came down with part of the company to reinforce us. By then I had only 14 men left.

New Orders

When Captain Patton arrived, I learned that the third platoon had been ordered to charge down the hill, supposedly to attack the Japanese flank. It was literally wiped out with machine gun bursts. I didn’t believe that he was capable of making such a stupid decision all by himself, and thought that he must have received his orders from one of his home town buddies who thought that we were fighting World War I.

Captain Patton informed me that we had to attack again. Apparently, we were holding up the army’s advance. Lt. Ferriter (35th Infantry), was on patrol activity below us on the Matanikau River. He found that the Japanese, except for a few stragglers, were for all practical purposes not a threat in front of the two regimental lines. Lt. Ferriter, however, did not know about the stronghold across the deep ravine where we were pinned down.

“You must be kidding,” I told Captain Patton. “Where is the mortar fire we ordered?”

“It isn’t available,” he responded. “Why don’t you take your platoon and go as far as you can, and we’ll try to maneuver around them with a fresh platoon.”

Captain Patton was somewhat older than I and a family man, and I didn’t think he could make it. “Look, I think I have a better plan. Just below the plateau there appears to be enough footing to sneak around the enemy’s position. If we are careful, and quiet, we might be able to attack from the rear where the Japanese defenses are probably less organized.”

Captain Patton agreed with the plan, and I led out. There was no need for scouts because we knew where the enemy was. We didn’t, however, know their strength. Our strength was what was left of my platoon, a fresh platoon from the company, and a machine gun section from another platoon. Light mortars from the weapons platoon were useless in that thick jungle where we could barely see the sky.

About two hours later and about a thousand yards alongside that Matanikau cliff, I decided to turn to the right and upward in preparation to attack the Japanese. As my platoon crawled up the embankment to the plateau to await my plans, an alert Japanese soldier apparently heard someone from my platoon. He sprayed the ridge in front of me with machine gun fire, but not before I counted at least a dozen deeply dug in bunkers lying in a shallow ravine to our front.

The spine of ridges extending from Henderson Airfield southward into the jungle. In the early days of the war, most of the heavy fighting on Guadalcanal took place along these strategically important ridges.

As I hit the dirt, I lost my footing alongside the cliff and fell backwards. To stop my slide, I embedded the pick mattock from my belt into the side of the cliff, which held me. Looking down at the river I saw a tall tree just below me. I thought I might have a chance if I jumped onto the tree top and climbed down the branches.

At that moment, my sergeant spotted me and leaned down with a branch that he broke off from a nearby tree. He pulled me up and I could see the whole company leaning against the side of the cliff with no where to go. The Japanese were in front of us. The river was behind us—two hundred feet down. This was no place for Johnny doughboy. What a situation to be in. I wondered to myself, “What did I get this company into?”

It took about two minutes of frustrated thinking before the answer came to me. I had the men pass the word down the line to remove all their rifle slings and join them together. Captain Patton was toward the middle and we couldn’t communicate, but I was sure that he would agree. Besides, we really didn’t have a choice. We decided to go down the side of the cliff hand over hand using the rifle slings for a rope.

When all of us had reached the bottom safely, we headed down stream to where we could go back up the trail where we had started. It was getting late, it was our third day out, and I was getting a little frustrated. The river water came up to our necks in places, so we carried our weapons and ammunition over our heads so they would not malfunction. I was told later that this experience was reported on the radio back home.

Request for Support

I asked Captain Patton again to ask for some help in the way of a little mortar fire from the hills above us. “And I mean some heavy stuff,” I emphasized!

He got on the wire phone laid down for us, but the expression on his face told me the response from our battalion leaders was negative.

I had just about had it. “Give me that phone,” I demanded. Then I slowly but firmly told whoever was on the other end of the line, that unless we got some mortar fire in front of us I was pulling the troops out. I didn’t want to take over Captain Patton’s job as company commander, but he was hardly in a position to give orders to his higher ups. He was a real nice guy, but not much of a combat soldier. Frankly, I didn’t care who I was talking to: “Just in case there is a misunderstanding, I want you to know that we are pulling out unless we get some mortar fire.” Then I said very slowly so he could understand: “Look, I only have 11 men left. I still have one dead man out there someplace and this is no place to play games. Do we get mortar fire or not?”

“Just one minute, Lt. Noorlander,” came the response. It was apparent that someone else took the phone on the other end of the line. It took just about two minutes, and I heard a reassuring voice tell me to pull out, and that mortar fire would be coming in after we cleared the area.

We tried to mark our forward positions by firing some smoke grenades, but it was Private Peralta from the third platoon, who gave us the exact positions of the Japanese on the Matanikau River plateau. He had been trapped for two days and two nights among the Japanese before finally making it back to our lines.

Fallen Soldier

Before we pulled out, I asked for a volunteer to help me find Marmalejo. I had no right to order anyone to go with me nor did I expect anyone to volunteer, but Sgt. Lollick stayed behind to help as the remnants of Charley Company withdrew to the hill positions overlooking the Matanikau River.

After our company left, Sgt. Lollick and I covered each other. We spread about 15 yards apart with each of us moving forward toward the area where private Marmalejo was last seen. We crawled over the ground with our bellies, but apparently one of us moved a branch. A burst of machine gun fire swept over us. We crawled back to where we felt safe to stand up and literally ran to catch up with the rest of the company. I knew there was not much we could do for Marmalejo.

When we finally arrived at the original company area in the hill overlooking the Matanikau River Pocket we were exhausted. Sgt. Lollick turned into the medics for some ailments he had, but didn’t tell me about until this phase of our mission was over. I never saw him again. Lollick was a brave and loyal soldier.

Mortar Support

All that afternoon and during the night, orders were given for the Navy’s construction battalion to bulldoze a road below a hill just in front of the Matanikau River Pocket where 4000 81 millimeter shells were stock piled.

Starting at daybreak, the mortar company commenced firing all 4000 shells into a jungle pocket, which measured perhaps 200 yards by 1000 yards. Most of them fell in the area that we had marked with grenade smoke.

General Hideki Tojo of the Imperial Japanese Army.

As each salvo of a complete battery of mortars arched through the sky just in front of us before reaching their targets, I could hear the men yell in elation with insults to the Japanese General Tojo, which in essence stated that Tojo eats the final metabolized residue of the food process.

After the smoke had cleared, I was given another assignment. It was now clear to me why I was picked for all the difficult assignments. I was not a regimental reconnaissance officer, just an infantry platoon leader. Nevertheless, I was ordered to mop up the remnants. As the commanders explained it, I knew the area well. It was true that some of the companies were preparing for the final push up the coast, but there were after all some 30 infantry platoon leaders in the regiment. Our company received most of the casualties, and it was my platoon that did most of the dirty work fighting the last of the organized Japanese resistance on the Island of Guadalcanal. The fighting here was almost over.

Making a Friend

I did not see how the Japanese could have survived such a massive mortar barrage. When I entered the bombed out area with my platoon, which had been reinforced with some new men, I approached the former Japanese stronghold and surprised a somewhat stunned Japanese soldier. He had two raw bones exposed from one of his arms. Only the maggots had kept it clean. He looked like a skeleton with just enough muscle to move his frame. When I offered him some water out of my canteen and a piece of chocolate “D” ration, he bowed down to me with clasped hands and offered me his watch. It was apparent that he had not eaten anything but the tender parts of green leaves for weeks. We suspected that other Japanese soldiers ate from the human liver remnants we found in a canteen cup.

I refused this Japanese soldier’s watch, but had made a friend that proved to be very valuable. My sergeant was just about to enter a dugout missed by the mortars, when the Japanese soldier waved him away, warning us that it was too dangerous. I ordered a grenade thrown in the bunker. It went off, but apparently did no harm to another Japanese soldier who came flying out of the bunker, running down toward the river. I motioned for one of the squads to stop him. Two rifle bullets put him out of his frightened state of mind.

Sgt. Kiefer reminded me of this story when he came to visit me after the war. He said: “That day I was taught a great lesson about compassion and love, even to your enemies.”

Finding Marmalejo’s Body

As we passed through the bombed out area, there were bodies blown every where. Some laid on the lower branches of trees. The next day I returned to the general area by myself. I had to take one more look to find Marmalejo’s body. As I looked into one deep bunker, there were several bodies lying on top of one another, already in a state of putrefaction. The stench almost caused me to vomit. I walked further on to where we first engaged the Japanese. There was Marmalejo’s body lying just in front of a dug in position. I removed his dog-tag, which slipped through his decomposed neck bones and left them on his body for identification. I found out later that this was a Japanese hospital area protected by what was left of the only organized resistance on the Island of Guadalcanal.

Pushing up the Coast

Now that the regiment’s flanks had been made secure, the only job left was the final push up the coast. And would you believe it, again I was given the order to provide the flank security for the regiment as it attempted to connect up with the 35th regiment, which landed on the other side of the island. It headed north and eastward in a pincer movement to establish that there was no organized resistance left on the island. This meant that the army could move northward toward the New Georgia Island.

That flank patrol only lasted for a day. We went some 15 miles over and through grass hills and jungle growth. It was so thick at times that we were forced to chop our way through with machetes.

We only encountered one pocket of tired Japanese lying about in bunkers and in hammocks. They were apparently an ammunition detail. Mortars were stockpiled next to the trail. Our mission was to protect the regiments flank as they proceeded up the coast, so we did not engage them. Our best bet was to go right through them. They had not seen us yet, so with a few hand signals, we literally ran through their camp lobbing grenades and firing our weapons into every bunker we passed. One soldier was caught in his hammock, but never woke from his sleep.

When we finally met our regiment on the coast, my muscles and legs were so swollen that I could not sit down. I had to walk about a bit to get my body to function again. Coming down from the hills we followed a stream bed to the coast, which meant we had to double up our bodies in a crouched position to get beneath the vines and vegetative growth.

The next day my platoon received its first break. We were placed in reserve in the push up the coast. There was not too much action from then on. The regiment came upon a few sick and hungry stragglers, somewhat like those we encountered the day before. As my platoon marched in file following the battalion, I came upon a wounded Japanese soldier whose skull had been partially shot off. There was no hope for him, because there were no facilities on the island for this type of wound. In most cases the medics would simply put a soldier in his condition out of his misery. I felt sorry for him and put a bullet into what was left of his brain.

Rest and Relaxation

The rest of my time on Guadalcanal was like a vacation. I did have the eastern sector of the Island to patrol, which amounted to our men going from one native village to another, visiting, and exchanging GI food for native fruit, such as watermelon, bananas, and pineapple.

We lived in an abandoned coconut plantation home. It had a complete screened porch and probably the only flush toilet on the island. Our water was obtained from rainwater that drained from the corrugated roofing into a large tank.

We were given a training schedule, but our training was getting used to the luxury of life. Every man had a bunch of bananas at the head of his bunk. There were no roads on this part of the Island because of the many rivers. We hunted for crocodiles, and when we got hungry for real food we would shoot one of the Holstein cows on the coconut plantation that the British used to keep the grass down below the coconut trees.

We barbecued roast pig and shared a cow or two with the local natives. When we finally left, the local people gave us a wonderful send off. They danced for us and beat their hollow wooden drums to show us their appreciation for clearing the Island of Japanese, and for providing them with some meat.

Heading for New Georgia

General Dalton (left) greets General Walter Krueger on Luzon, Philippines, in an undated photo.

My reprieve from combat was not to last. I soon learned that our regiment was ordered to fight the Japanese on New Georgia Island. We were to have one advantage. Our regiment was turned over to a West Pointer, Colonel James Dalton. We finally got someone who appeared to have his head screwed on properly. Unfortunately for my platoon, my combat experience came to his attention and the platoon was used again for major patrol activity.

Real Sacrifice

Next to the plantation home was a gravesite of a Catholic Nun, who was bayoneted by the Japanese after she was accused of being a spy. The Seventh-day Adventist’s and the Catholics left their mark on the Island, bringing a little civilization to these Melanesian natives who still suffered from many tropical diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, warts, and elephantiasis.

Final Thoughts

My platoon had it’s baptism by fire, and I was very proud of the men with whom I served. I felt good about myself, but in the years that followed the war I wondered whether I had always made the best decision. My platoon had played an important part in the war so far, and the rest of the company did what they had to. When the chips were down, these soldiers put their lives on the line, which many soldiers lost in defense of their country.

I learned later that private Peralta had a whole residential area of Southern California named after him, called Peralta Hills. Eddie Lorenz did survive, and Marmalejo’s memory was honored by having the Redlands California American Legion Hall named after him.

Frank Smiderly, with whom I visited years after the war, and who fought alongside me, received the Bronze Star along with the honored Infantry Combat Badge, which the other members of my platoon also received. I asked Frank to document his experiences and feelings about the war, where he played such an active part, for the benefit of those who have never experienced war, and for his posterity. He told me that he did not think anyone would be interested. I responded by telling him that his children and grandchildren should know something about the personal sacrifices their father and grandfather made, along with others, to make sure they could live in a nation of liberty and freedom. He said he would. I have sent a copy of this part of my own personal history to Frank, so he can add and build upon it. I am holding him to his word.

Lieutenant Dan Noorlander (DanNoorlander.org) — War Experiences. Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Lt. Noorlander’s son created, hosts, and maintains this website.

Letter of Recommendation

Colnel Belknap’s Letter of Recommendation

Distinguished-Service Cross

Lt. Noorlander doesn’t draw attention to himself by reminding you that he did all this while severely wounded. A full description of his efforts that day are contained in the account that appears with the award he received for his heroic actions.

Dan Noorlander receiving the Distinguished-Service Cross

DANIEL O. NOORLANDER, (0-1288603), First Lieutenant, Infantry, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism while repulsing Japanese attempts to break through his battalion’s defenses on New Georgia, Solomon Islands, on 31 July 1943.

Leading a patrol to scout enemy strength and positions, which were shielded, by dense trees and undergrowth, Lieutenant Noorlander encountered a Japanese patrol and was wounded in the neck during an exchange of fire. By the time he had returned to his battalion’s defense area, the enemy had started an attack.

Disregarding his wound and his personal safety, Lieutenant Noorlander crawled fifty yards over fire-swept ground to reach a forward position from which he could direct the fire of the platoon he commanded. He made several trips over this hazardous stretch to keep the command post informed of developments and receive new instructions.

His unconquerable courage was a distinct source of incentive to the troops, who held their ground and drove off hostile forces.

Home Address: Los Angeles, California.

Distinguished-Service Cross

Dan Noorlander receiving the Distinguished-Service Cross

DANIEL O. NOORLANDER, (0-1288603), First Lieutenant, Infantry, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism while repulsing Japanese attempts to break through his battalion’s defenses on New Georgia, Solomon Islands, on 31 July 1943.

Leading a patrol to scout enemy strength and positions, which were shielded, by dense trees and undergrowth, Lieutenant Noorlander encountered a Japanese patrol and was wounded in the neck during an exchange of fire. By the time he had returned to his battalion’s defense area, the enemy had started an attack.

Disregarding his wound and his personal safety, Lieutenant Noorlander crawled fifty yards over fire-swept ground to reach a forward position from which he could direct the fire of the platoon he commanded. He made several trips over this hazardous stretch to keep the command post informed of developments and receive new instructions.

His unconquerable courage was a distinct source of incentive to the troops, who held their ground and drove off hostile forces.

Home Address: Los Angeles, California.

Nunda Airfield, New Georgia Island

MELANESIA: One of three divisions of islands in the Pacific, NE of Australia, including Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon group, Vanuatu, Santa Cruz, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Louisiade, and Loyalty Islands. The other divisions are Micronesia and Polynesia.

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A General’s Commendation

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Lt. Richard H. Ferriter

His account of the canoe mission around Kolombangara. Lt. Ferriter retired a full colonel.

Visit with Lt. Noorlander

This story begins when, as a new 2nd Lieutenant assigned to “A” Company, 35th Infantry in June, 1942, I was detailed to teach Hawaiian and Filipino sugar cane workers the rudiments of scouting, patrolling, and anti-sabotage techniques in the evening hours following our regular duty day. My knowledge, at best, was basic, learned as a draftee during the first eight weeks of Army training (1941) and reinforced minimally at Officer's Candidate School in early 1942. The workers cooperated fully and thought it was great fun but I was serious and really benefited as later events proved.

In Noumea, New Caledonia Harbor, December 1942, one week before the regiment landed on Guadalcanal on the Solomon Islands, I was transferred from a line company to battalion headquarters and appointed the S-2, or Intelligence Officer. I received no guidance. The battalion commander stated I now supervised a six man section (untrained as I learned) and handed me a couple of maps of the projected area of operations. I was to study the maps, train the section for six days, and be prepared to initiate patrol activities as soon as we landed. For the next five days we ran and exercised aboard ship to the point of exhaustion and I tried to drill some of the fundamentals of military intelligence and techniques into their consciousness to prepare them, and myself, for the unknown. No one knew what to expect.

Because of the inexperience and/or lack of skills residing in the section I thought it incumbent upon myself during this first campaign to lead every patrol assigned by the commanders. Fortunately the regiment was not committed immediately and for the next two weeks we operated security patrols into the foothills where the real jungle began. When the order to move to contact and attack the enemy came on January 7, 1943, I believed the section ready for the real patrols; however, I continued to lead and everyday for the next three weeks I moved out against the enemy seeking information. The composition of our recon patrols was normally two enlisted men and myself with the other members remaining at the command post. There were two other combat patrols which I led and each about a reinforced platoon in size. One resulted in five enemy killed and the other 13 or more, each patrol without friendly losses.

Shortly after the official close of hostilities I was given the mission to lead an eight man patrol deep into the jungle south of Mt. Austen to find the evacuation route which the Japs had used in their withdrawal from the Bloody Ridge and Gifu strong-point battles. In effect it was a simple case of following the course of the Lunga River upstream where we located a former Marine Raider bivouac, then continuing upstream several miles where a large Jap bivouac had been located. From this point we headed north over several steep ridges tracking the former Jap trail which was marked by many hasty graves and eventually breaking out of the jungle west of Kokumbona. Since many of the important patrols had been reported to Division G-2 during the campaign my name was irrevocably tied to reconnaissance missions. I didn't learn of this until much later and in retrospect it wasn't all bad; leading a rifle platoon in the attack had its hardships.

A few months later in July the division was ordered to New Georgia (NG) to reinforce and replace the 37th and 43d Divisions which had been damaged severely. In the interi^F- I had been transferred from the 35th regiment to division hqs to assist the G-2. No sooner were we set up on NG than a requirement for a long range patrol arose to establish contact with a Marine force at Bairoko. I was given the mission and with two natives as guides we bypassed the Jap defenses and followed an old trail northward for several hours. Halfway to our objective a third native overtook us and handed me a message ordering my return to hqs at once. The next day I returned to Guadalcanal by air and joined the 35th RCT which was preparing to embark for Vella La Vella, seize the island and protect the Seabees who would build an advance airstrip. Wounded during the landing, I was evacuated to Guadalcanal and a week or so later I returned to N.G. where I rejoined the division G-2 office.

Within a week or two I was transferred to the 161st infantry at the 'request of the commander, James L. Dalton III whose troop strength had been depleted by the vicious combat of the preceding six weeks. I thought that I was to be assigned as the regimental S-2, intelligence officer, but this was short-lived since Dalton had other plans for me. At the end of September Dalton nominated me to lead a highly dangerous recon patrol, a requirement placed on the division by a higher Hqs., XIV Corps. j_He said "you are selected because you are the best qualified for the mission." One day later at Corps. Hqs. I met the two fellows who would round out the patrol; a corporal Smith and a lieutenant, Dan Noorlander, who as a platoon leader in the 161st had been instrumental through personal example in turning back Jap counterattacks just a few weeks earlier. Wounded, evacuated, and returned to duty he, too, had been nominated for the patrol. And thus came to pass — Kolombangara.

We had arrived at this point in our lives by the strange twists of fate; mine had begun on Oahu with the plantation workers and Dan arrived as a result of his heroic actions and return to duty at this particular time. Dalton believed he was sending his best officers for the mission.

The Mission

On October 1 we were briefed by the Corps G-2 and provided several aerial photomaps of the island plus a series of photos which focused on the southern part of the island where the Japs had begun construction of Vila Airfield. These latter photos revealed a series of fortified defensive positions at the shore end of the runway. Our mission was to reconnoiter the airfield and the surrounding area, locate any Jap dispositions and report on Jap activities; we were to find the Japs. It was a very short briefing ending with instructions on how to get to our jump-off area. It went something like this: "There is a small launch waiting close by Munda airfield. The coxswain will take you to a small island located about eight miles west of Kolom-bangara. Here a coastwatcher is stationed and he will provide a couple of dugout canoes and some natives you can use as guides and scouts. Report your findings to the coastwatcher for relay to this Hqs. ASAP. The a# th Infantry is alerted to send two battalions to occupy Kolombangara without delay once you report. Good luck."

We had reported to XIV Corps with minimum equipment. Our carbines, several magazines of ammunition, two canteens, a knife and spoon, a soft cap in lieu of a helmet, some rice, tea and bouillon, a compass, one pistol and a 35mm camera which I had picked up at Div. Hqs. enroute to Corps. (I do not think we wore a pack since we were traveling so light. If we carried a poncho or shelter half we would have worn them folded over our cartridge belts.)

We were driven to the beach where we met our coxswain and for the next three or four hours he maneuvered his small craft hrough narrow channels and around the waters linking Baanga, Arundel, Wana Wana and smaller islands. Meanwhile Dan and I studied the aerial photos, planned our strategy and attempted to evaluate each other and the Corporal, for soon we would be facing unknown dangers, each dependent on the others. From our study of the photos we determined that we would land on Kolomban-gara just 1000 yards west of the airfield, move inland several hundred yards, then skirt the west side of the field checking on the prepared positions shown so clearly on the photos. Next we would move to the north end of the airfield and reconnoiter an area when we thought the command and administrative functions must be located. Our landing would take place shortly before dawn. Just before darkness set in the coxswain left the protection of the northwest coast of Arundel and steered the boat towards a minute speck of land, Gomu, an island perhaps 20 x 25 yards in area and covered with coconut palms. (Future President John F. Kennedy was brought to Gomu by natives after his P.T. boat had been sunk by the Japanese.) It appeared deserted and as we came closer we saw it was protected by coral reefs. However, there was a channel and the coxswain guided the boat safely to shore. We were met by the coastwatcher, a New Zealander named Forbes Robertson and his American Corporal assistant Frank Nash, an accomplished radio operator and technician. Nash had been on the west side of Kolombangara the day before and he told us the Japs had been evacuating to the east coast but he was unsure about conditions aroundthe airfield. While the Coastwatcher was briefing us on the information, he and the natives possessed, two other natives arrived and reported that they had been very close to the airfield and no Jap activity had been seen. While Noorlander and the corporal rested I pestered the CW for information on Jap strengths, habits, security, possible locations and, if they were evacuating, where was this taking place. He pointed out pertinent points of interest on the photos and when he remarked that there was a small pier at the southern end of the airfield the thought crossed my mind--maybe this would be a good place to land, especially if the Japs had moved out. We would save many hours of cross country travel and if we did come under fire, we could escape in the dark; the dugout canoes rode very low in the water and a poor target. Later after meeting the four natives who were to paddle the dugouts and talking again with the CW, Nash and the natives who had reported the inactivity, I discarded the idea of landing to the west and decided to chance a landing at the pier. I talked to Noorlander and our corporal about the change and they agreed. It was decided that one dugout, mine, would land first with the other, Noorlander and the corporal would stand off shore a hundred yards or so prepared to disappear if gun fire erupted. Our original plan would then be implemented.

The Target

Sometime around 0200 on October 2, we stepped into our two dugouts, each with two native paddlers and headed across the channel.

The Patrol

The natives paddled swiftly and as we came closer to Kolom-bangara we strained our eyes looking for any lights on shore and our ears for the sound of activity such as vehicular movement. For the last mile our dugouts weren't more than 200 yards off shore and as we approached the small pier, dawn not yet breaking, the tension was unimaginable. Quickly the two natives moved inland about 50 yards and signalled "all clear.": The other dugout had reached shore by this time and we immediately began our recon. Two natives moved to the west side of the field to check for activity and were instructed to meet us at the north end. We three and the two remaining natives made a hasty recon of the defenses which comprised five rows of coral and coconut log gun emplacements sited to provided covering fire in three directions. Interspersed among these emplacements were dummy anti-aircraft guns constructed from the trunks of the coconut palms. These "dummy" guns were detectable on the photos we carried but we had not been told about them in our briefings. We then moved north along the east side of the field until we reached a point where the jungle began and the cultivated plantation ended. The first two natives had already arrived at this point and had scouted inland a short distance with negative findings. Immediately a message was written describing our findings and declaring the area all-clear. This was given to two of the natives with instructions to hurry it to the C.W., after which they were to return and. rejoin us at the site of a former copra station on the east coast at Bambari Harbor. We identified the meeting site by pointing out the location of a Jap destroyer which had been burned and beached several thousand yards from the station. Each location was detectable on one of the photos. Our "pidgin english" wasn't good but the message did get across and the two returned to the pier and Gomu. We hoped!

Our mission was half complete; we had paved the way for the 27th to land and occupy the airfield area, but we had not located the Japanese or their points of debarkation and as soon as the message had been dispatched to the CW station we began the search for signs which would indicate the route of withdrawal. We checked several trails leading into the jungle before we found the unmistakable evidence of a major trail leading east; two lines of yellow communication wire laid along a trail some five to six feet wide and bearing the imprints of many soldiers' feet. (At this point it is appropriate to describe the sanitary conditions on both Gomu and Kolombangara. We did not know the name of Gomu at this time, so we named it "Little Fly" island because of the millions of flies buzzing around our persons, food and equipment. How the C.W. team put up with the condition we will never know, but as bad as "Little Fly" seemed, Kolombangara was much, much worse. The bombing raids by our aircraft and long range artillery fires had killed many Japs and blown up food supplies. This coupled with poor sanitary discipline by their troops made the area in and around the airfield and bivuoac areas a cesspool of filth and rotting vegetation. Flies were everywhere in all sizes and colors and it was a natural move to re-name Kolombangara "Big Fly". I am not sure, but I think we wore head nets over our soft hats to keep the flies out of our eyes, noses, ears, and mouths.)

We made several sketches of the main bivouac area, gathered some documents we found and took a few snapshots of grave sites since the graves were marked by bamboo shafts on which Japanese characters were inscribed. (I shot two rolls of film during our patrol with zero results.) We then proceeded to follow the yellow wire to the east, organized as follows: one native in advance, then myself about 30-40 yards to his rear, next Dan 20 yards back, our corporal another 30-40 yards to his rear and the second native trailing him. We figured the spacing was adequate for warning should we walk into an ambush or if any enemy came upon us from the rear. Some one of us, if not all three, would be able to escape into the thick jungle which bordered the trail.

We moved cautiously initially and after proceeding 1000 or so yards we came upon another bivouac site, undamaged and containing more graves, unopened cans of fish, and discarded items of clothing and equipment. Coincident with our arrival at this site, the first of the early afternoon tropical rainstorms hit and it was a blessing; the flies disappeared. I reasoned that the rain would work to our advantage giving us the benefit of surprise by covering any noise we might make as we moved along the trail. Additionally, it should make any stragglers or other troops a bit careless on their security since their principal concern ought to be keeping dry, watching their step on the slippery trail and not checking on their rear. Accordingly, we moved along the trail more rapidly though just as alertly as before. The heavy downpour continued sporadically through the afternoon and the footing was difficult on the trail which twisted and turned, upward and downward over a series of ridges and ravines, each ravine made even more hazardous by the sudden rush of rainwater.

At one point along the trail the lead native stopped suddenly, then hurried back motioning danger ahead. We had come upon a clearing in the jungle in which half a dozen native huts bordered the trail. We had a choice: by-pass, haul ass, or bite the bullet and check each hut for enemy. The decision was made quickly and Dan and I searched the huts one after one. We found no one, it had been a false alarm or perhaps an enemy had seen the native and fled before we made our approach. Nevertheless, we continued to beat our way over the trail through the driving rain, with renewed alertness. Very late in the afternoon we came out of the jungle and onto one of the many inlets marking the irregular coast of the island. (Bambari Harbor on the photo.) A smaller trail branched off toward the ocean and a quick check of this proved fruitless. Retur'ing to the main trail we moved rapidly along the low ground and before long found ourselves at the edge of a plantation. We were somewhere between Surumuni Cove and Bambari Harbor on Karikana plantation and here the trail turned sharply south toward Bambari.

I think that the rain ended about the time we hit the plantation and certainly our travel became easier as we moved through the coconut palms standing row on row. For better security we moved off the trail about 60-70 yards then continued towards Bambari with the intent of camping in or near there for the night. We had moved about 1000 yards when we came to the top of a moderate rise and looked down upon the copra sheds which marked the loading area. I was about to send one of the natives to check out the area when we noticed smoke rising from one of the sheds. Quickly, we moved back from the hill and reassessed the situation. Again a decision had to be made; should we try to get closer now or wait until dawn the next day. Darkness was just about on us, we were very fatigued since we hadn't slept in 36 hours or longer and it had been nearly that long since eating. We made the sensible decision and posting the two natives to keep watch we three moved back some distance well away from the trail, where we could cook some tea and bouillon or rice, and get some rest. We took turns on watch although no one really slept well, each of us thinking about the next day and what it would bring. Bambari harbor was our rendezvous spot to meet the natives who had returned to Gomu. They were to bring the dugouts for the continuation of the patrol and/or our evacuation if necessary—but what would 'ife do about the Japs at the sheds?

Third Day

At first light we were back at the top of the hill overlooking the station and for the next hour we observed the area closely for sign of occupation. No smoke came from the sheds nor was there any noise or movement. Preceeded by the natives, we moved down the slope and approached the sheds from the west side and found the area deserted. Someone had been there for certain since the embers from the fire were still warm; apparently the place had been vacated sometime during the night, either by boat or along a trail which followed the shore in an easterly direction. Once again much Japanese equipment and supplies had been left behind. We took time to cook our breakfast and then instituted a search of the surrounding area. Moving westward along the shore line we came upon half a dozen very large barges which were anchored to trees and covered with jungle foliage to conceal them from aerial observation and bombing. It was estimated that each barge could transport at least one hundred soldiers but there was no evidence that they had every been used for this purpose. This constituted our major find as we continued our search for information, covering an area some 500 yards in all directions except across the harbor.

Now we waited impatiently for the dugouts to appear, to get on with the mission of locating the enemy and finally about 1300 we spotted two dugouts headed for the copra pier. Our natives had returned. We set off at once on foot, following a trail eastward which paralleled the harbor then swung to the north, our dugouts keeping pace off shore. This trail did not show

heavy traffic so we decided to go aboard the dugouts and head north, keeping about 1000 yards off shore, out of rifle range and identification. To any Japs on shore we would appear to be just natives in dugouts, going somewhere. We had paddled an hour when we came upon the hulk of the Jap destroyer, sunk some months before by our naval or air action and now sitting on a reef well out of the water. We climbed aboard for a look both out of curiosity and seeking intelligence data, and I think we were all surprised to find how compact and small scale the bridge, wheelhouse and passageways appeared; of course, the ship was designed for people of smaller stature than we Americans. One item, alone, was discovered and this was a pair of binoculars, in its case, in perfect condition. Dan and I had walked right past it and the corporal following saw them hanging against the wheel and claimed a nice memento.

We continued along the coast with stops at two points where streams met the sea choosing these points for landing because the jungle growth at the rivers mouth provided some cover and concealment over the more open beaches. From these points we checked in both directions for evidence of enemy traffic without success. At one point we discovered a small sloop anchored against the shore, barely visible because of the overhanging vegetation. I am unsure whether we saw this as we paddled by or

whether the natives told us about it; in any event it did not show on the aerial photo as did the destroyer previously mentioned. The 30-foot long sloop was in fine condition and I doubt that the Japs had ever discovered it since the cabin was undisturbed. Shortly after our discovery we heard the sound of a low flying aircraft approaching and we had an uneasy few seconds until we saw it was one of ours. The plane made three passes overhead, rocking its wings, with one of the occupants waving. Later we learned that the G-2, Stevenson, was aboard and was trying to signal us about the location of the sloop. How he knew about it was never learned, though later it was recovered and returned to N.G.--a gift to the 25th Div. C.G. who turned it over to the civilian authorities at Guadalcanal. As nightfall drew near, we moved in shore and made camp close to a small stream. Here we ate our limited rations and when darkness gave us concealment we moved back to the beach to allow quick escape if necessary. For many hours that night we watched and heard the constant flashes and sounds of naval gunfire to ournortheast as our forces blasted barges loaded with Jap troops enroute from Kolombangara to Bougainville in the north. The next day bodies of dead soldiers floating close to shore gave evidence of our successes.

Fourth Day – The Jap Debarkation Point

Based upon our location as determined by the photomap, I was sure that we were very close to the main Jap debarkation point and Dan agreed. Early the next morning (after another restless night) we walked along the shore line for some two hours until we reached the Vau River. At first glance the immediate area didn't appear any different than the other streams we had seen; but there was a difference and that difference was a pile of sand about six to eight feet high. It just didn't fit the scene and was out of place on a normal beach.. From the air or from the sea, the mound would not be visible and to a casual observer walking by it would not have been given a second glance. We were looking for signs and we did notice it; that was our job — we were trained to notice the unusual. The mound had been used as a signal station to guide barges to shore to pick up troops for evaluation, no other explanation fit. Accordingly, we plunged into the tropical overhang on the south bank and immediately came upon a wide trail, the exit to the beach well camouflaged. Another two hundred yards along the river we came upon a number of large barges anchored to trees, similar to the ones at Bambari. Since the ground adjacent to the barges showed much travel with the underbrush beat down from habitation we knew we were close to our target. It remained for us to push inland a bit further and suddenly we came upon a huge bivouac site sufficient to hold several hundred troops at a time. I remember it as a peculiar feeling as we gazed upon many, many items of equipment left in disarray along with boxes of ammunition, rifles, radio equipment, helmets, and cases of food. Everything military except soldiers. We had been most careful in our movements along the trail leading to the site and in checking the entire area once there, but we found it difficult to believe that all the Japs had disappeared; just too much had been left behind. However, the only Japs left resided in a graveyard closeby.

Unquestionably, this was the main evacuation station with the last of the troops having been evacuated the previous evening. It was a question as to how many had survived the naval gunfire which we had observed during the night but we didn't concern ourselves with that. Instead we gave thanks that we had arrived 12 hours late.

There was much booty strewn around, a real souvenir hunters paradise, but we rather ignored it and aftermaking a sketch of the area we returned to the beach and headed north, this time in the dugouts. We were reasonably certain that few, if any, Japs remained on the island and though we could have retraced our route, the decision was to continue around the north coast checking native villages along the way and thence along the east coast until we reached Gomu. Our natives kept indicating "no more Japs" and "nobody lives in the villages" and we believed them. Nevertheless, we continued our periodic checks until early evening before stopping to eat and rest. As we sat by the cooking fire and talked about the days action the thought crossed my mind, "Why not paddle all night, the moon will be bright and we can check a couple of the larger villages as we go. The native information had been correct so far and they

I broached the

said "No Japs this side. It was worth a try.

idea to Dan and he agreed. Ditto the corporal and the natives said okay. I think that we were anxious to get back to Gorau and thence to our units and perhaps we felt a let-down after the events of the previous three days. A good meal and a full nights sleep sure sounded great.

We paddled all night stopping twice to check native villages with our natives leading the way. No contacts. When the moon was at its brightest and about an hour after checking the second village, a scary incident took place. A Japanese float plane came out of the night. It was flying around 500' altitude and was almost overhead before we heard it. We froze in place wondering if we had been seen yet knowing full well it was vitually impossible for anyone to see two small dugouts motionless on the dark sea. Soon the plane came back and again we held our breath until the noise faded in the distance, not to reappear. We made one more stop about 0800 before crossing Blqckett Strait enroute to Gomu and by early afternoon we were telling our story to the CW for transmission to his and our XIV Corps hqs. Our timing was right to catch the same launch for the return to New Georgia; it having arrived with fuel supplies shortly before our return.

The return to New Geergia remains a blur in my memory and it may be because I slept all the way. When we arrived at XIV Corps Hqs. we reported to the G-2 to brief him on our mission and upon completion he told us to stay put until he had seen the C.G. He came back immediately and escorted us into the General's presence where we repeated the bneting and answered his questions. As we prepared to leave the General asked us to wait a moment and walked to his sleeping tent close by. When he returned he gave each of us a pint of whiskey and complimented us on the success of the mission. By days end we had reported into our respective units.

Reflection

I was pleased with our success and damn happy to have returned alive and well. The "what ifs" were numerous beginning with our mutual trust and the initial plan, then the change in landing site, the absence of enemy around Vila and their headquarters area, continuing the patrol to locate the retreating force, the false alarm at the mid-point enroute to Barbari Harbor, the decision to utilize the dugouts periodically as we moved north, the stop at Vau, etc. A different and/or negative circumstance at any of the points above would have affected our subsequent actions and often, over the months and years which followed, I played the events over in my mind.

Lt. Noorlander Remembers

July 21, 1982

I just saw a television show of PT Boat 109 in which former President Kennedy served in the Navy. It certainly brought back many memories. The setting was certainly authenic. Even the native canoes and paddles were exactly as I remembered them. It seems only yesterday that I too had to hide in the bottom of a similiar canoe with Lt. Ferriter as we proceeded around the Island of Kolombangara to seek out the enemy’s strength and position.

Gomu Island where Kennedy stayed with his men was where I met the coastwatcher Richard Evans who gave us overnight radio contact with the army before proceeding to Kolombangara. We left from New Georgia, where I fought the Japanese and where I was wounded a few months before.

Japanese Empire

Hawaiian Islands (left to right): Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, Hawaii.

Lt. Dan Noorlander

Barnes General Hospital

Lunga/Henderson Airfield - Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

;

A shavetail was a newly commissioned officer, especially a second lieutenant.

American soldiers in World War I were called doughboys.