Lieutenant Dan Noorlander

March 12, 1921 — October 3, 1990

World War II
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New Caledonia

HMS VICTORIOUS moored in Noumea, New Caledonia, 1943.

The last months of Lt. Noorlander’s army career were spent on New Caledonia, away from the main action, where he used his considerable experience to train men for combat. Always the innovator, his ingenuity was put to the test several times, often under humorous circumstances.

Once again, Lt. Noorlander’s devotion to the men under him was on full display when he ran afoul of company officers who insisted that he use traditional but ineffective training methods. Lt. Noorlander refused, knowing that he couldn’t prepare the men using the time-consuming methods contained in the Army manual, and instead give them what they needed for combat.

Lt. Noorlander’s Account

Training Combat Troops — Going Home after 3½ Years in the South Pacific

The Island

New Caledonia was a former French prison colony where the population was divided between the descendants of the prisoners, Melanesians, and a labor force from Java to mine tin and other minerals.

The north half of this hundred-mile-long Island was tropical like Guadalcanal, but the southern half was more like Southern California. It was ideally suited for training soldiers and for regrouping combat troops. It was also a good place for the Army to send all its misfits and reclassified Army officers who couldn’t quite make it in combat, but who couldn’t do much harm since the enemy was far to the north.

New Caledonia with typical terrain.

I lived on the Island three times: Once I was evacuated there from New Georgia after I was wounded. I was there this time as a platoon leader assigned to the 25th Division Reconnaissance troops. The division was headed by Captain Ferriter, who went with me on patrol around Kolombangara. The final time I was sent there as a training officer for soldiers being reassigned from the European theaters to fight the Japanese.

Assignments

One of my assignments was to take my platoon and make a reconnaissance of a small offshore island just north of the Noumea Harbor, which became a major port for our Navy. The division wanted to map the Island in preparation for some maneuvers.

New Caledonia with small island north of Noumea Harbor.

After landing on the Island, we were inundated with millions of mosquitoes, which covered everyone’s back as we hunched over to avoid being covered completely. The tall, dry grass that covered the Island didn’t do much to discourage the mosquitoes, and I couldn’t see how any soldier could possibly learn anything there, but the operation was already in the works. The division troops were going to land on this mile-long Island in just three days.

I tried to figure in my mind just how I could explain to a division commander that it was going to be impossible to use the Island for maneuvers because of some mosquitoes. I couldn’t even map the Island, because I couldn’t take my hands out of my pockets long enough to hold a pencil.

Necessity finally took over my thoughts, and I figured either the mosquitoes were going to win out or something else more dramatic would have to take place. I called my troops over in a huddle and made a suggestion: “See all that dry grass? It looks like it covers the whole Island.” Then, I asked them if they thought it would burn. “Yeah, if we don’t go up with it,” my sergeant added.

I remembered a little about firefighting techniques in California during the dry season when firemen used “backfires” to control a blaze. “What do you say we split up in two groups, with each group going around the Island and setting fire at the shoreline and having the fire work itself toward the middle?” I asked.

The plan seemed plausible, so we proceeded to set fire to the tall, thick, dry grass. What resulted was not just an ordinary fire. If hell was anything like it, I didn’t want to go there.

It seemed as if the grass was saturated with oil, because as it reached its height in the middle of the Island, it looked like an active volcano. The smoke became so dense it covered Noumea Harbor and every ship in the Navy. I became a little concerned. Nevertheless, as I mapped the Island, not one mosquito bothered me.

Captain Ferriter

When I returned later to company headquarters, Dick Ferriter walked over to me and asked me in rather subdued tones, “Just what went on over there? The Navy has been bugging division headquarters for an explanation, and the Army has been wondering if the Navy had some special maneuvers out there it wasn’t aware of.”

“Well, as long as they think each other did it, no damage has been done,” I said, as I tried to smooth things over. Captain Ferriter responded, “If you won’t tell I won’t.”

The former “Lieutenant” Ferriter (Kolombangara), retired from the army a full Colonel.

Captain Ferriter covered me on several other occasions, as I attempted to occupy my boredom. On one occasion I tried out a new method for discharging bazooka shells that I read about in an Army manual. Instead of firing the shells through a tube, it recommended placing the shell in the crevice of a V-shaped board nailed together, similar to what you might do setting up traps for tanks. I thought I would try it out and had my platoon make a half dozen V-shaped boards for a trial test. When the shells were inserted in the channels, I angled them for maximum distance and fired them with an electrical charge from a battery.

It worked, and they did look beautiful as they arched into the sky about a mile from where we stood. It was just like the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the result was just like the fire we started on the small island north of Noumea Harbor. Although the grass under the trees was not as tall, it was dry. It caught fire as the bazooka shells exploded. The whole company was called out on this one, with every man grabbing available shovels and water.

Later, a tired company was black with soot as they stood in line at retreat. I looked at Captain Ferriter out of the corner of my eye. He kind of smiled as he shook his head, and I guess he wondered what kind of a platoon leader he had. I was glad he didn’t find out that I was responsible for a major scare on the Island just a few weeks later.

Flare Pistols

I was working on a project to develop a simple flare that could be shot from a flare pistol. Flare ammunition was almost impossible to get, and I remembered the times on Guadalcanal when I wished I had some.

I fussed around with some tracer ammunition. I took out some of the black powder, then placed it in the wooden chamber I made and placed in the large chamber of the pistol. I found the tracer ammunition would spin out of the pistol like a Fourth of July spinning wheel. Each tracer had a tail about six inches long, which lit up the night.

I made up about 50 of them and decided to fire them as a test somewhere away from observing eyes, in case something went wrong. On the way to Noumea I decided to fire some into the air to see how far up they would go. I gave half of them to one of my squad leaders following behind me in another jeep. The flares worked perfectly. Both of us caught the spirit of the thing and started to whoop it up as we fired cowboy-style down the road. Just then I noticed a wire fence to my left that had unusual piles or stacks of something that lit up under the light of the red flares. I ducked my head and waved to my sergeant to cool it, but he had already grasped our situation. What we had exposed with our flares was the Island ammunition dump.

We both put our jeeps into gear, and got out of there fast. Fortunately, the Army had cleared the grass from around the stacks of munitions, and my men played dumb when news came out about the strange happenings the night before: “The ammunition dump was raided by unknown parties.”

Training Command

About three months later I was given a physical, including an eye check. It was found that my right eye had a blind spot in the center of vision, and I was reclassified so I couldn’t go into combat again. In later years I was able to hide this defect by memorizing the letters in a doctor’s office when I was preparing to go to Korea. While on New Caledonia, I was assigned to a training command to teach soldiers how to fire weapons. I found out later that I was the only combat officer on the training team.

How to Get Blackballed

My new commander asked me to set up a training program for the new soldiers coming in from Europe. They were, for the most part, former medics and service troops that the Army wanted to train as infantry soldiers.

Having been in combat and realizing that I had these soldiers for only two weeks, I decided to give them the information and training they would need to kill the enemy and save their own lives in battle.

Instead of giving them time-consuming training methods from the Army manual, all new soldiers learned how to fire every infantry weapon from the hip, including machine guns and rifle grenades. We also dropped grenades in front of them with only a mound of dirt to protect them from the shrapnel. The trainees fired their rifles at moving targets, as they got used to the noise of battle. We had the men cross a river on oil-drum bridges tied together with strips that were used on landing fields. After all was said and done, we were able to move several hundred soldiers through each two-week training cycle.

Placed Under Arrest

After one such exercise, I rode from the river on top of a truck filled with oil drums to get ready for the next class. I was met by the commanding officer who proceeded to reprimand me.

The commanding officer was a Captain who did not take kindly to my methods of training. I was getting some attention because of my methods, which turned service personnel into soldiers in the shortest possible time. The Captain called me into his office and ordered me to stick to more conventional methods of training. After a slightly heated exchange, and recognizing his real intent, I told him where he could go. He ordered me to my quarters and placed me under arrest.

A few days later I was confronted by the Island Commander. I tried to explain my position, but he would have none of it. He said he was going to give me a general court martial.

“Colonel, that’s just what I want. And let me tell you one more thing. I want a General to find out how you ordered me to train troops to go into combat without giving them with the necessary training to protect themselves, let alone kill the enemy. Now isn’t that the function of the army,” I asked with a delayed “Sir.” I continued, “Your Captain knew what we were doing and accomplishing before ordering me to stop the training.”

I reinforced my attack by adding that every man I trained cost the citizens of the United States thousands of dollars just to get them here. It was a hard cold fact of life that when a man was killed, it cost the taxpayers another $10,000 for insurance claims alone. Then I asked the magic question, “Sir, how would you like me to expose this situation to my congressman?”

The Colonel was taken back so completely that he didn’t know what to say. When I added that it did not make any difference to me if my commission was taken away, because I would prefer to fight the Japanese as a Private than put up with Army stupidity. He ordered me to my quarters, and placed me under house arrest (again).

I had two things going for me if I didn’t plan to make the Army my career. First, my war record contained two medals and a citation; and second, I was the only combat officer in the training camp. I also knew that these rear area commanders would be on the front line if they had anything on the ball at all.

Without Conscience

After a week of confinement in my tent, the Army Adjutant General came to see me. He was kind of an Army attorney. He asked me to sign a paper that I had been insubordinate to my commanding officer. I refused. “No,” I said. “I think I would rather have a court martial.”

New Caledonia 1942. Army tent with folding cot.

He came back the second day and the third with the same request. I gave him the same answer both times. Since I refused, he decided to use another approach.

“Lieutenant,” he said slowly, “the word is out about your case here, and it is spreading all over the Island. It is now a problem of discipline among the soldiers. I am appealing to you Lieutenant. Increasingly, it is becoming an embarrassment to the Colonel. Please sign it.” He softened his position by informing me that the letter I was to sign “only says that you used ‘harsh’ words against the Captain,” adding that if I would sign it, he would drop the court martial.

“And if I don’t?” I asked.

Without hesitating he said, “You will be blackballed.”

“What do you mean by being blackballed?”

Without any display of emotion or feeling of guilt, the Adjutant General answered very simply, “You will be transferred to a small Island, and no one will ever hear of you again.”

At that point I figured that I had no alternative. I learned for myself that sometimes an Army soldier is not protected by the natural right to life guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States.

New Assignment

I signed the paper and was assigned to an Island that had already been abandoned. I ended up on Guadalcanal with the Military Police. My job on the island was to crack down on stills used to make raisin alcohol. There was no legal basis to prevent the men from making moonshine, but a soldier could be tried for using Army property. I did find a lot of stills, but never made an arrest.

I knew a lot of the Melanesian natives on Guadalcanal, and only had to ask if they knew where the GIs were making moonshine. I’d wait until the mash was just about ready, dump it, and then get the word out that there was going to be a raid that night. The soldiers, of course, never showed.

I felt pretty good about not marring the service record of a few bored soldiers, especially when I knew that the commissioned officers were allowed three bottles of whiskey, rum, or brandy every month or so from what was called the liquor locker.

Because I didn’t drink, I gave my allotment to the men who did drink. I reserved some of it for a special time, such as a birthday. This way it was spread around without damage to anyone in particular. I rationalized that good American-made whiskey was better for the men than the rot-gut some of the soldiers resorted to, which was often purchased or made of commodities that contained lead, gasoline, and even wood alcohol.

Rest and Recuperation

I did feel that I would like to get away from the Islands for a while and had the opportunity to fly to New Zealand on what was called a “chicken run” for supplies. When I made a formal request through channels, it was turned down.

I submitted another letter, this time telling the commanding officer that I was going on a vacation into the hills to do a little fishing. He sent a “shrink” to find out if my head was screwed on right. When confronted, I told the shrink my story. He said that he didn’t blame me. He also told me that the Commander’s only reason for not permitting me to go was that he didn’t want to set a precedent.

I showed him my record, indicating that I had more time in grade, more time overseas, and more combat time than any other soldier on Guadalcanal. I added that Army regulations provided for “rest and recuperation time” based on a point system, and that I had more points than anyone there. I had not been kidding him. I was packed and ready to head for the hills where I knew I had some friends.

I was finally sent back to the United States for “rest and recuperation.” The trip back home was not very eventful. Someone in the Navy confiscated the souvenirs I had in my locker, which included a pistol, a sword, and a flag from Kolombangara. The items probably brought some sailor a good price.

When the ship sailed under the San Francisco bridge, the speaker started to play “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” Even with the fog it sounded really nice as an Army band greeted the ship. After leaving the ship we headed home by train. As I reached into the overhead racks to stow my luggage, my wallet was stolen from my back pocket. I felt someone brush passed me, so I’m pretty sure that’s when he lifted my wallet. I lost over $300. It happened all the time to soldiers on trains because they were usually carrying their last months pay after being discharged.

I wondered to myself, what was I doing fighting the Japanese with people like that wandering around!

Going Home

While I was on my first “rest and recuperation” in over 3½ years, the atomic bomb was exploded over Japan. As a result, I did not have to return to the Islands as originally ordered.

After the Army I went back to school to finish my degree in agriculture. I was destined to help resolve one of the most serious dairy cattle diseases in veterinary medicine, and most costly to the dairy industry. Mastitis is a disease of the mammary gland, usually precipitated by mechanical milking.

My insights into problems of the dairy cow led me to many nations of the world. I eventually ended up in Guatemala as an agricultural missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was an event that opened my eyes to the real struggle for human survival, similar to the reason I had to fight the Japanese in World War II, and the Chinese in North Korea.

Lt. Noorlander as a missionary in 1973, standing with Brother and Sister Cujcuj in Patsun, Guatemala.

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.