Lieutenant Dan Noorlander

March 12, 1921 — October 3, 1990

World War II
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Top: Google Satellite Map of Kolombangara. Right: Lt. Noorlander’s map notes on the Kolombangara mission. Click images to enlarge.

Lt. Noorlander’s Account

Kolombangara Mission to Scout Remaining Japanese Positions

Burma Request

When I returned to New Georgia Island, the campaign was over. Our forces received only a few artillery shells from the area of the airstrip the Japanese built on Kolombangara, an Island about 30 miles in diameter just to the north of us.

Boredom started to set in and I responded to an Army request for volunteers who had experience in jungle warfare to go to the Burma theater of operations. My high school and college friend, Warren Gin, who was Chinese, was shot down flying over Burma as a volunteer for the Flying Tigers.

Transfer Denied

Col. James L. Dalton II, the West Pointer who took over command of the 161st Infantry, called me into his tent to talk over my request.

He told me that he wasn’t going to approve my transfer, adding: “You know, you almost cost me my life, don’t you?”

“How’s that?” I responded, trying to think back in time.

He reminded me about the time I took him on patrol. The objective was to show him the Japanese positions we spotted before I was wounded, but took only two men with us. Then I remembered. Half way to our objective we looked over a gutted valley where we caused the Japanese to expose their line by feigning an attack with a lot of firepower. One of my scouts signaled me that there was an enemy patrol lying against a large tree just on the other side of us. I signaled my two scouts to bracket the Colonel and get him back to our lines. I brought up the rear to provide cover in case we were spotted.

“Look, Colonel,” I defended myself, “you did say for me to take a “few men.” Two men are a few men to me. Would you have me take a whole company and make the bush sound like a herd of elephants?”

Funeral procession for US Army Brigadier General James Dalton II on Luzon, Philippines. 18 May 1945. Occurring shortly after Dalton was killed by a Japanese sniper during the Battle of Balete Pass.

He knew I was right, and was only trying to badger me a little. Colonel Dalton was the youngest Brigadier General in the war, moving up the ranks from Captain at Pearl Harbor in 1941. His daring cost him his life later in the Philippines.

Colonel Dalton responded with a smile and told me a story I had not expected to hear.

Earning a General’s Confidence

“Lieutenant, a few of your men came to see me while you were in New Caledonia,” he began. “They told me of your scrap with the Japanese patrol, your wound, and later how you challenged them to follow you in order to straighten out the lines. They also told me how you corrected the soldier that panicked.” He hesitated then said, “They must think a lot of you, because they recommended that I give you some sort of medal, and I agree. Consequently, I have recommended the Distinguished Service Cross for you, and want to thank you for what you did.”

Thinking back, I do not know what really made me feel better—the medal or the half-tin of sardines one of my men gave me. Both were acts of kindness and consideration. Up to that point I didn’t even think in terms of medals. I thought that what I had done was only a by-product of what I was trained to do. There really wasn’t much else I could have done and still lived with myself. I had seen so many acts of courage by men who literally laid down their lives for a buddy, or exposed themselves to unnecessary fire just to pull someone out from the exposure of enemy fire.

Tragedy Not Forgotten

These are the things that make men close to each other in combat. The Lord Himself stated something like this, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (see John 15:12-13). War, I suppose, is one of those great learning experiences. It forces you to make decisions that make you like yourself or not. Frankly, I felt good about myself, but often wondered about those times when the decisions I made ended up in tragedy for someone else.

Such a time was when I came upon a Japanese soldier on Guadalcanal, standing against a rock with eyes closed and cupped hands folded in front of him. I asked him to surrender, but he did not move. I suspected that he held a grenade in his hands, and could not take any chances. When he moved his hands, I stepped back and ordered him shot. When he fell forward, he did not have a grenade. He was just too frightened to respond to my poor Japanese. I have had to live with that decision all my life.

Change in Plans

Colonel Dalton then proceeded to tell me that instead of Burma, I was recommended by a Lt. Ferriter from the 27th Infantry to go on a patrol with him to Kolombangara. The mission was to find out where the Japanese lines were. “Time is critical, Lieutenant! Consequently, you will proceed with Lt. Ferriter on board a submarine, which will land you there. This is if you agree to go.”

The next morning I received a call from Lt. Ferriter whom I had not met. He knew me only by reputation.

He started out by asking, “How would you like to go to Kolombangara with me?” “Well,” I said, “I don’t have anything else to do.” My heart started to pound a little just as it always did when I knew I had to go on patrol.

“Good”, he replied. “But there’s been a slight change.” The 14th Corps Intelligence G2 had already briefed him that a submarine was not available. “We can’t get there by submarine, so we will travel by canoe, leaving New Georgia this afternoon. We will make contact with the coastwatcher on one of the small offshore islands of Kolombangara. Can you get ready?”

After some planning, I readied myself with some suggested rations which consisted of light C rations, some rice tied in a sock, and an automatic carbine. Two canoes had been arranged for native Melanesians who would do the paddling. The only other GI would be a corporal who knew communications and would work with the coastwatcher if necessary. Ferriter would take the lead canoe and I the rear. We carried palm leaves in the canoes to hide under just in case we were spotted. We also took a few green coconuts for a fresh water supply.

Gomu Island

We timed our departure to land on the small Island of Gomu where we would meet the coastwatcher. I learned after the war that this was the Island President John F. Kennedy, who was a Naval Officer, stayed on after his Navy PT boat was wrecked on August 2, 1943. It was only a few hundred yards long, with a small native hut to house the radio the coastwatcher used to inform our forces when Japanese planes or other activity went on in the area.

After arriving on the Island that evening, we learned that the Navy had napalmed the north end of Kolombangara. It appeared that the Japanese were attempting to evacuate the Island. We were asked to proceed with caution, but with haste. Lt. Ferriter decided to leave that night so we would land at the Japanese airstrip, instead of safer area that a short distance before the coconut olantation where the Japanese built the airstrip.

While Lt. Ferriter was going over the maps inside the hut, I was outside on the beach vomiting the rice I had eaten. I was sick and coming down with malaria. The preceding few weeks were spent in New Caledonia where there was no malaria, but I didn’t take my atabrine antimalarial tablets. I was now paying the price, but knew I had at least two days before a new cycle would hit me.

I still remember the small hermit crabs that feasted on the small grains of rice that lay on the edge of the sea water, but my thoughts were interrupted as Lt. Ferriter came out of the hut and told me that it was time to depart.

First Night on Patrol

We started out in two canoes, with Lt. Ferriter in the lead. I brought up the rear. Each canoe was paddled by two native British Scouts.

The natives who discovered Lt. John F. Kennedy and his crew on Olsana Island (3½ miles west of Gomu Island), pictured as the crew first saw them. Lt. Noorlander, who saw the show on PT 109, later wrote: “Even the native canoes and paddles were exactly as I remembered them.” Kolombangara Island is pictured in the background.

Just as light broke the skyline, we approached the beach in front of the Japanese airstrip. Coconut trees along the shore did provide us with some concealment from the interior. We gave instructions to the natives for the next day. They were to meet us up the coast from the airfield. We never entertained the thought that we might not make it.

One of the native scouts remained with us, and said that there appeared to be one or two Japanese on the other side of the runway. It was apparent from what we saw that there could only be a few stragglers in the area.

The Japanese abandoned the artillery piece that had pounded New Georgia. Foot and heel prints filled with water from the previous night’s rain, and spider webs that blocked some trails, suggested that the Japanese had left the night before.

We dug into marked but shallow graves for evidence of buried military equipment, which would give us some insight into the haste of their departure. A pungent smell gave us our answer, so we closed the small hole.

We dismissed the apparently sick stragglers on the other side of the runway as harmless, and proceeded to head northward on a trail that led inland along the coast. We saw discarded field packs, ammunition, and abandoned tents still standing. Cans of tuna were still unpacked in cases, which told us the Japanese departed in haste.

Our patrol was preceded by the native Melanesian. His only weapon was a machete. He hoped to fool any Japanese he might encounter that he was just a local. Lt. Ferriter followed, then the corporal whose name I have forgotten, and myself. We had already spent the good part of the morning, first traveling very cautiously and then more aggressively. We saw evidence that there was a general abandonment by the Japanese of this part of the Island.

Second Night on Patrol

When we reached Bambari Harbor about ten miles up the coast it was already starting to get dark. We saw some smoke on the coast suggesting a campfire. We decided to get some rest and sleep before proceeding with the investigation the next morning.

We slept alongside the trail wrapped up in a shelter half, burying ourselves in the green foliage. I became aware of a mass of flies that covered the lower side of the leaves. Some of them fell on me and I brushed them off my face.

We got up early the next morning, but the people who made the fire were gone. By then the natives arrived with our canoes. The small harbor was partially hidden by dense foliage and trees. Inside the harbor were about 15 barges and a sailboat which we decided to investigate. In the sailboat we found numerous documents and maps of the area left by the Japanese military. Later we turned the documents over to army intelligence.

Kolombangara Island with impassable coast.

We decided to go a few miles into the interior, since the coast was impassable by foot. We told the natives to pick us up at Surumuni Cove, where we got into the canoes and headed northward to make better time. There were no Japanese in this area.

Two Navy planes passed over us and tipped their wings. On their second pass we signaled to them that the area was clear. A Lt. Colonel Stevenson waved to us in an attempt to point out the rather large sail boat in the cove that we had already investigated. We waved them on and they tipped their wings in acknowledgment.

Third Night on Patrol

We passed a beached Japanese destroyer that was burned and gutted by our Navy. We boarded it, but there was nothing left of military value so we proceeded northward again. We went inland every so often to make sure there were no organized Japanese forces. We slept the next night near the coast.

Around noon the next day we spotted what appeared to be a man-made signal tower along the coast, which we stopped to investigate. Slightly inland we found what we were looking for—the Japanese evacuation and storage area. They left behind at least 500 piles of military equipment, which meant the Navy had done a good job. The Japanese soldiers who were not bombed apparently had been evacuated northward to another Japanese held Island.

Final Night on Patrol

For the remainder of that day and through the next we canoed around the rest of the Island, turning inland about a half dozen times to make sure there were no Japanese. We arrived the next day at Gomu Island, where we radioed our findings and headed for home. We were gone three and a half days.

A General’s Commendation

We were debriefed at New Georgia where the brass gave each of us a pint of whiskey. I didn’t drink, but thanked them anyway. I knew that I would find someone to enjoy the whiskey, which didn’t bother me. It was better the soldiers drink whiskey than the rot-gut some of them were drinking.

My reward besides the whiskey was a commendation from the Commanding General which read:

1. During the period of 6 to 12 October 1943, Lieutenant Noorlander voluntarily accompanied a reconnaissance patrol on the unreconnoitered enemy occupied island of KOLOMBANGARA.

2. Lieutenant Noorlander’s efficient accomplishment of his mission made it possible for forces of this command to occupy KOLOMBANGARA without delay.

3. I wish to commend Lieutenant Noorlander for the skillful accomplishment of an important mission.

O. W. Griswold,
Major General, USA,

Blackwater Fever

That afternoon after being debriefed, I returned to my outfit. I was deathly sick with a type of malaria called Blackwater fever. During the last day of the patrol around Kolombangara I was out of it mentally. Years later, my friend and retired Colonel Ferriter, who at the time was Lt. Ferriter, filled in the details of our trip around Kolombangar. I was sick during the last part of the trip, and didn’t remember everything that went on.

He told me that Lt. Colonel Stevenson received the Bronze Star for killing a Japanese soldier on the western side of the Island two days after we returned. On the same day, one of our infantry regiments landed on Kolombangara after U.S. forces softened up the landing strip with heavy shelling. Either the army didn’t believe our report, or they were going through a training exercise, or they were just making noise for the folks back home. After my experiences in Korea several years later, I am inclined to believe it was the latter.

Out-of-Body Experience

Because I was so sick, I was evacuated to New Zealand where I was united with my old platoon, which fought with me on New Georgia Island. I had almost forgotten what civilization was all about. I had already spent eighteen months in combat and living in the jungles of the Solomon Islands.

After the mission around Kolombangara Island, Lt. Noorlander was evacuated to New Zealand with blackwater fever. Here he is pictured in New Zealand with an unknown buddy.

My body was weakened and I was still recuperating from my bout with blackwater fever and general fatigue, when I experienced my spirit leaving my body. Some people refer to this as an “out of body experience,” which has been well documented by many people.

I remember clearly how surprised I was when a nurse walked by, but didn’t pay any attention to me as I stood alongside my bed. When I looked down I could see myself lying in the bed. I wanted to get back inside my body, and was a bit frightened at the thought that this may not be possible. The fear abated when I felt life coming back into my body—first in my toes which I found I could wiggle and then into the rest of my body.

Except for the time when I had to stick my pick-mattock into the side of the cliff overlooking the Metanikau River on Guadalcanal, to keep from falling to my death, I do not remember experiencing anything close to death while I served in the South Pacific. Now I recognize that death, after all, is nothing more than the separation of the spirit from the body.

After I regained my health, I returned to the 25th Division in New Caledonia, which had been sent there for training and to recuperate during the spring and summer of 1943.

This is my best recollection of the Kolombangara mission. Having been an infantry platoon leader on reconnaissance and combat patrol duty during most of my time in the infantry, I didn’t become acquainted with command officers above the rank of a company commander. Seldom was I ever briefed or made aware of the overall combat situation in the Solomon Islands.

Lieutenant Ferriter

Colonel Ferriter with his wife, visiting Dan and Dorothy in Salmon, Idaho, many years after the Korean War.

Years after the war I renewed my friendship with Lt. Ferriter who was four or five years my senior. He graduated from Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning a month or two before I did. He was assigned to the Regimental Intelligence or S2, so was pretty well acquainted with most of the brass. As far as leading men into combat goes, Lt. Ferriter had many of the same experiences I had. Dick, who retired as a full Colonel, filled in the blank spots of my memory about Kolombangara.

Dick was very dedicated, and a brave soldier who understood what was involved when following the infantry motto “follow me.”

Lt. Richard H. Ferriter

On the Kolombangara patrol, it was understood that Dick was to lead out. He told me that my position as number three man in the patrol was perhaps the most dangerous because Japanese snipers usually let the leader pass under him before picking off the rest of the patrol. I knew better. I also knew that a patrol leader had to be up front where proper command decisions could be made if there was enemy contact. This was Dick’s way of making those under him feel their assignment was also important.

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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.


A General’s Commendation


Lt. Richard H. Ferriter

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


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 that 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 interim 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 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 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 Kolombangara. 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 Patrol

Sometime around 0200 on October 2, we stepped into our two dugouts, each with two native paddlers and headed across the channel. The natives paddled swiftly. 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 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. 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 blessin—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 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. 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 New Georgia—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—Jap Debarkation

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 said, “No Japs this side.” It was worth a try. I presented the idea to Dan 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 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.


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.