Lieutenant Dan Noorlander

March 12, 1921 — October 3, 1990

World War II
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Hawaii

Oahu Island – Northern Shore.

Before Infantry School, Lt. Noorlander served as a medic in Vancouver, Washington, where he decided that being a male nurse was not for him.

After Infantry School, he left Ft. Benning, Georgia, to continue training in Hawaii with the 25th Army Division.

Lt. Noorlander’s platoon was assigned to protect a half mile stretch of Oahu’s northern shore in case of a Japanese landing.

Lt. Noorlander’s Account

Declining a MASH Unit in Europe to Carry a Rifle in the South Pacific

Medical Technician

My first hitch in the army was not all bad. Because I had some formal training in pre-veterinary medicine, I was assigned to Barnes General Hospital and was paid $21 dollars a month as a buck private. For the first few months I cleaned bed pans, made beds, and eventually become a medical technician in the genital-urinary clinic where I treated venereal patients for gonorrhea and syphilis. This was prior to penicillin and other wonder drugs and was not a pleasant task.

Barnes General Hospital

Barnes General Hospital, Vancouver WA

When infected soldiers came to the clinic for their routine shots of arsenic compounds for syphilis, I instructed them to take the assumed position so I could insert the large needle into their buttocks. I could feel the needle penetrate the many pockets of scar tissue from previous injections.

It was the treatment of gonorrhea that really got to me. I would have to irrigate an infected penis with potassium permanganate. The process stained the urinal dark brown, which I also had to clean. Rubber gloves did not make the job any less repulsive. Some soldiers were admitted with a penis so infected, they had to be rushed to the operating room where their tightened and swollen foreskin was literally slit open so a catheter could be inserted before draining their bladder.

As I observed this daily routine and the misery and pain that went with it, I remember saying to myself: “What a price to pay” for a night of what the soldiers referred to as ‘poontang.’ Even in the barracks where I slept, sex appeared to preoccupy their minds. I wondered at times, how in the world we were going to win the war in front of us if this was the army’s preoccupation.

Transfer Request

On days off, I would pass the local Army post where the infantry could be seen training with their rifles and bayonets. They were training for combat. Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the medical teams were being formed for overseas duty. Nevertheless, I longed to be with those carrying a rifle. I was just not cut out to be a male nurse, so I asked for a transfer.

Colonel Belknap died April 2, 1971. He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Plot: Section 4 Grave 3263-RH.

My boss, Colonel Belknap, was a reactivated army medic who took me under his wing. He called me into his office after learning about my transfer request. He told me that he wanted me to go to the European theater of operations with him as a member of his MASH team.

I told him that I felt my destiny was with the infantry, and that I would appreciate any help he could give me to get there. I explained that when I joined up, I had no idea that I would be sent to a medical hospital.

“OK”, he responded. “But if you want to get in the infantry, may I suggest that you apply for the Infantry School as an officer candidate.”

Infantry soldier on New Georgia Island, where Lt. Noorlander served. Notice the soldier in the background looking for snipers. Consider that Lt. Noorlander enlisted in the Army, choosing this life over a medical career as the best way he could serve his country in two major wars.

I found out that I would have to wait a few weeks to be eligible for a commission after I graduated, because an officer had to be 21 years of age. I was still 20. Not only that, the Infantry School only accepted non-commissioned officers. I was a fifth class technician. So, for a few weeks, I wore corporal stripes, thanks to the efforts of Colonel Belknap. His letter of recommendation was surely instrumental in my being accepted. He wrote:

To Whom It May Concern;

Daniel Olie Noorlander, Private First Class, Second Class Specialist, has been the enlisted man in charge of the G.U. Clinic of this hospital for the past five months. During this time he has been under my daily observation and I can frankly say that I have never seen a more conscientious hard-working young man in my life.

Colonel Belknap’s letter of recommendation.

Private Noorlander is a well-educated, having had two years in college. He is courteous, has no bad habits, and his devotion to duty is certainly far above average, and I know that in whatever position this boy is put, he will assume the responsibility of his job and will work hard to attain excellency in any work or subject that he may be assigned.

I can frankly say that never, either in civil or military life, have I had the privilege of recommending a man whom I knew to be as loyal, hard-working and trustworthy as this man.

Hobart D. Belknap, Lt. Col.
Medical Corps, U.S. Army Chief, G. U. Service

He also gave me his Eagle wings as a gesture of good faith.

Infantry School

Infantry School in Ft. Benning, Georgia (April 27, 1942 to July 25, 1942), was not easy. In all my life I had only fired a 22 rifle. Before it was over I learned infantry tactics and how to fire all the basic infantry weapons. Discipline was harsh, but I was mentally and physically prepared. It was apparent that I was the youngest in my class of 39.

The Infantry School graduated about three classes a week, so it was also apparent that the Army was just beginning to gear up for the war that had already started. They must have been desperate, or otherwise why would they have taken a chance with someone like me, who hardly shaved and had never stood in formation before being sent to the school.

What the Infantry School did not teach me, was what a second lieutenant did when surrounded by the enemy without any communication, food, or medical help. It never taught me how to cope with swarms of black flies that hatched from maggots, which became so numerous in the rotting flesh of a human body that they literally moved the carcass.

Hawaii

My first orders were to join the Hawaiian Pack Train that was destined for Burma, but the situation in the Aleutians and Soloman Islands became so desperate that most of our class headed for the Pacific not really knowing where we were going.

I ended up with the Washington National Guard, which had been assigned to the 25th Division in Hawaii. It did not take me long to find out that the Japanese soldier would not be my only enemy.

Many years after the war, I learned from a friend of mine, who shared many Army experiences with me, and who preceded me as a graduate of the Infantry School by about three weeks, why I was ordered to take almost every important and dangerous patrol in our outfit, and why I was never promoted above first lieutenant: “Lt. Noorlander is a good combat officer,” they would say, “but he is hard to handle.”

Later I was offered a promotion to Captain, but was told it would put me “behind a desk.” I said, “No thanks.” I was most effective in front of a patrol, and I knew it.

Leadership Problems

It was apparent that I was not really destined to make the military a career. Like thousands of other soldiers, I joined the Army because our nation was threatened. I found out that the biggest threat to some of our citizens came from certain military leaders.

My first assigned company commander, a National Guard Captain, was no exception. He can best be described as a ‘banty rooster,’ who appeared to have received his military training from a mail-order house. I learned later that this was actually how he got his commission. The captain frustrated almost every effort I made to train the men under my command, a platoon of about 40, most of whom were also National Guardsmen many years older than I was.

I was one of the first officers to be assigned to the National Guard from the United States Army pool. I was an outsider infringing upon a close-knit hometown club of men, which up to this time had everything their own way.

It was apparent to me that the company commander liked his position of authority. It was also clear that he had little military knowledge or experience to go with it. Having been formally trained, I got the impression very quickly that I was not welcome, and that I was, for whatever reason, a threat to his position.

Training Exercise

A typical reaction to my training effort came one morning as the company stood at attention waiting to be dismissed for the days training. I had prepared my non-commissioned officers for a special stream crossing exercise that I learned at Fort Benning in Infantry School. The whole platoon was to cross a river with weapons mounted on top of small rafts made out of shelter halves (the halves of our pup tents), which all soldiers carried in their back pack. We were to cross under cover of smoke. The preparation for this took a lot of time and effort, which the company commander knew about. I didn’t count on the commander being concerned that one of his junior officers knew more about military tactics than he did. Apparently he felt threatened.

As we stood at attention that morning, I knew that he was going to screw up the day. He ordered my platoon to fall out and report to the supply tent for an issue of shoes. This could have been done after training, but this captain was still smarting from a confrontation he had with me just a week before.

Earlier Confrontation

My platoon was assigned to protect a stretch of beach front, about half a mile, on the north side of Oahu in case of a Japanese landing. Barbed wire had already been used to make ten-foot-high barricades just off the beach. The only artillery I had at my disposal was two small one-pounder canons that fired a projectile about the size of a small lemon. I also had at my disposal two battery operated search lights just inside the barbed wire, and two cement pillboxes in front of the wire that had probably been there since World War I.

I decided to test the equipment and the preparation of my men in case the Japanese decided to attack Oahu with their naval forces. I knew that asking for permission to do what I had in mind would be a waste of time.

The opportunity came, however, when a small fishing boat was sighted by one of my men just off the beach a few hundred yards from the shore. It could just be seen by the reflection of the moon. With a little imagination, it became one of those small Japanese submarines the Navy found beached during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I ordered a red alert and my men scrambled out of their tents and mounted their machine guns in the pillboxes. I ordered the search lights on, and told the men to half load their machine guns. What happened next was hard to believe. It was apparent that no one had turned on the lights or positioned machine guns in the slits of the pillboxes since World War I.

The lights reflected off the barbed wire making it impossible to see beyond the wire. The machine guns, positioned in the cement slits of the pillboxes, could not be elevated because the cement was warped. If we had fired the guns, the bullets could not have hit anything beyond 10 feet.

As expected, the Company Commander split a gut when the Island Commander phoned to find what all the fuss was about on the beach. Awakened from his sleep, he didn’t know how to answer him.

I had to take the brunt of a verbal lashing for not asking permission to turn on the lights. I felt it was easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission, but ‘old banty’ did not share my feelings and was out for revenge. He was not about to let me proceed with my training that morning.

Placed Under Arrest

When the Captain ordered my platoon to get their shoes without telling me about his plan, I challenged his authority by ordering my men to stand fast. What ticked me off the most followed. He tried to embarrass me in front of my men by making light of my effort to prepare them for combat. I knew that we had only a few weeks before leaving the Hawaiian Islands to fight the Japanese. From what we learned on the radio, the Marines were having a bad time in the Solomons, and rumors were flying that we might be headed there.

I explained to the Captain that we were just leaving for our training exercise, and asked permission to get our shoes later. He responded by ordering my platoon to get their shoes. I responded like the stubborn Dutchman that I am, by ordering my men to stand fast (again).

“Lt. Noorlander,” he bellowed, stretching all of his five-foot-eight stature as tall as he could: “Consider yourself under arrest and confine yourself to quarters!”

“Yes, sir!” I responded with the same icy tone. I turned my platoon over to my sergeant who seemed to enjoy the confrontation.

Intervention

The next day the Battalion Commander entered my tent and asked me what was going on. He wasn’t such a bad guy as commanders go, and I had an idea that he knew I was not the only problem in Company C, 161st Infantry.

“Well,” I started. “I joined this man’s army. I was not drafted and I don’t care if I fight the Japanese as a private or as a lieutenant, but it is my opinion that we cannot win this war with meat heads like the Captain.” Then I explained what happened, including our problems on the beach with our defensive positions, and the opposition I received training my men for combat.

My short time in the Army had taught me enough about army politics to know that a court martial would only expose a situation no commander wanted—a shavetail like me placed under arrest because he happened to think that his men’s lives, which depended upon their military training, took a back seat to the whims of a “mail-order” Company Commander.

I also knew that this Major could not expose his hometown Company Commander’s deficiencies by agreeing with me. Instead, he asked if I would like to join another company under his command. “You bet!” I replied without hesitation and with some relief.

The new Company Commander and I became good friends. His name was Capt. Patton, and he had his head screwed on right. My life in the military became bearable again.

Respect Earned

There wasn’t much time for more military training. Preparations had started for packing up and preparing to load ships for embarking. My new platoon and I got along really well. They heard about my confrontation with ‘old banty’ and accepted me as one of them. At the same time they respected my rank, and the discipline that had to be maintained. They knew and I knew that we were no longer playing at war, and that we were going to be tested. As far as they were concerned, I had passed my first test—I had guts enough to stand up to authority when it mattered. In this case, I stood up for the welfare of the men under my command, whose training I took seriously.

Building Moral?

A taste of what I could expect from the Army when it came to its idea of building moral took place a few days before leaving Hawaii. The commanders decided to put on their own USO show, and give the men a double ration of beer. Some soldiers did not drink or like beer, which meant that others had more than a double ration.

As the show’s Hawaiian dancers came on, the men were in a drunken stupor. They threw empty beer cans at the dancer’s feet. They heard there was going to be a striptease artist and didn’t want to wait for the dancers to finish. When the striptease artist came on stage, bedlam broke out. Empty beer cans were replaced with full ones. Some of the tossed cans hit the heads of the men up front. Cuts and broken heads put several of the GIs in the hospital, and they never made ship.

I thought that the Hawaiian dancers were pretty good. I didn’t know very much about the ladies, particularly naked ones, so I couldn’t understand what all the hooting and hollering was about. I knew this wasn’t the way to prepare men for war.

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 Archipelago, 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. 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 reconnaissance patrols was normally two enlisted men and myself with the other members remaining at the command post. I lead two other combat patrols, each about a reinforced platoon in size. One patrol resulted in five enemy killed and the other 13 or more. Each patrol went 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 interim, I had been transferred from the 35th regiment to division headquarters 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 headquarters 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. A week or so later I returned to New Georgia 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 II, 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 reconnaissance patrol, a requirement placed on the division by a higher Headquarters, XIV Corps. He said, "you are selected because you are the best qualified for the mission." One day later at Corps. Headquarters I met the two fellows who would round out the patrol: Corporal Smith and 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. Thus came to pass — Kolombangara.

We had arrived at this point in our lives by strange twists of fate. Mine had begun on Oahu with the plantation workers. Lt. Noorlander 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 1st 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. In short, 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 [steersman] will take you to a small island located about eight miles west of Kolombangara. Here a coastwatcher is stationed and he will provide a couple 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 27th 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 through narrow channels and around the waters linking Baanga, Arundel, Wana Wana, and smaller islands. Meanwhile Lt. Noorlander 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 Kolombangara 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 in the photos. Next we would move to the north end of the airfield and reconnoiter an area where 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 small 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 was 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 around the airfield. While the coastwatcher was briefing us on the information he and the natives possessed, two other natives arrived. They had been very close to the airfield and reported that no Jap activity had been seen. While Lt. Noorlander and the corporal rested I pestered the coastwatcher 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 made a poor target. Later after meeting the four natives who were to paddle the dugouts, and talking again with the coastwatcher Nash and with 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 Lt. Noorlander and our corporal about the change and they agreed. It was decided that one dugout, mine, would land first. The other, with Lt. 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. 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 Kolombangara 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 coastwatcher, 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. As soon as the message had been dispatched to the coastwatcher 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 coastwatcher 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 rename 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. (Unfortunately, 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 Lt. Noorlander 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. One of us, if not all three, would be able to escape into the thick jungle which bordered the trail.

We moved cautiously at first. 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 alert 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: bypass, haul ass, or bite the bullet and check each hut for enemy. The decision was made quickly and Lt. Noorlander and I searched the huts one by 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. Returning 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 after 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 we 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, a lot of 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 ever 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. 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. 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. Lt. Noorlander 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 New Georgia as a gift to the 25th Division Commanding General, 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. When darkness gave us concealment we moved back to the beach to allow for a quick escape if necessary. For many hours that night we watched and heard the constant flashes and sounds of naval gunfire to our northeast 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 Lt. Noorlander 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 as 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 evacuation, 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 after making 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 said, "No Japs this side." It was worth a try.

I broached the idea with Lt. Noorlander and he agreed. Ditto the corporal and the natives said okay. I think that we were anxious to get back to Gomu and thence to our units. 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 feet 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 coastwatcher for transmission to his and our XIV Corps Headquarters. 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 Headquarter,. 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 Commanding General. He came back immediately and escorted us into the General's presence where we repeated the briefing 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

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

American soldiers in World War I were called doughboys.