After uneventful days at sea we came ashore, 22 April 1945, at Parang and from there to Cotabato. The Army 24th Division, just ahead of us, went east to Davao, while the 31st Division went up the central part of Mindanao. This was more like normal warfare as we had a road, the Sayre Highway, which was already there. In the other areas we were in the only roads we had were the ones our troops built. Of course, it was quite different from normal warfare in many other ways. This so-called highway was only a dirt road to begin with and after a couple of days of our vehicle traffic, it was almost nothing. With rain it was an almost impassable quagmire, then in a day or two such heavy dust that it choked up air cleaners on our trucks thereby knocking them out until the air cleaner was serviced. I remember one section of the road that was so bad our Army Engineers built something that I would describe as a bridge, except that it was flat on the ground. It was made of wood and served its purpose as it got our trucks pass this area.
The Sayre Highway became so bad in one stretch of the road that we could not get trucks through. Our Engineers built a wooden “bridge” flat on the ground so that we could get through this section of the road, in other words a bridge over nothing. this is a picture of that bridge.
With the retreating Japs blowing up about 75 bridges, it made our advancing troops face many problems while crossing streams and ravines. Getting trucks through with supplies was extremely difficult. At points we moved jeeps as well as supplies across these places on cables rigged for such purposes. At other times the â€œBiscuit Bombersâ€ were used. In spite of all these difficulties and a determined enemy, the 31st Division went up the Sayre Highway, with the 124th leading the advance all the way to Malaybalay. Fierce combat was experienced in numerous points along this route, often without Artillery support. What with a terrible road and all those blown up bridges, itâ€™s no wonder the Artillery couldnâ€™t keep up with the advancing foot soldiers.
The most severe loss of American lives in such a short period of time for our Regiment came at a place along the highway, which later became known as â€œColgan Woodsâ€. On the first day of this encounter, which began on 6 May 1945, our Regimental Chaplain, Father Thomas A. Colgan, was killed while rendering last rites to one of our soldiers. In his honor this area of Mindanao will be remembered always by the men of the 124th as â€œColgan Woods.â€ The Japs were effectively dug in and determined to halt our advance at this point. Being well prepared for combat and with such a strong position they were able to inflict heavy losses upon our attacking troops. Our Foot Soldiers attacked these positions time and again, sustaining heavy casualties but to no avail. It would be days before the sorely missed Artillery could get up in order to lend their support. In the meantime, Marine Dive Bombers were called in and made raids for a few days but were not effective against these strong enemy positions. Our Artillery finally arrived and began shelling and in just a few hours on 12 May 1945, our troops were able to move through this area. The remaining Japs had retreated from this heavy Artillery barrage. These few days at â€œColgan Woodsâ€ was a great loss to the 124th as 69 were killed and 177 wounded.
Thatâ€™s Father Colgan on the right, our Regimental Chaplain who hails from Chicago. The area in Mindanao known to us as “Colganâ€™s woods” was named in his honor as he was killed there on the first day of an encounter which lasted about 6 or 7 days and cost us 69 Killed and about 180 wounded. With him is Bill Fitzpatrick one of my Service Company buddies who hails from Long Island,N.Y.
After the battle at â€œColgan Woodsâ€ I passed by there several times with truck convoys but never had the opportunity to stop and look at the integrated defenses the Japs had constructed there. What Iâ€™ve read about and learned from others clearly indicates that the enemy considered this a crucial point along the Sayre Highway to defend. They had prepared these positions well in advance with the intention of wreaking severe damage to any American Troops coming up this road. Thus, they were well prepared when our 124th Infantry foot soldiers arrived. Their pillboxes were connected with tunnels, some of which ran under tree roots. The positions were well covered and camouflaged rendering them most difficult to recognize. Troops could pass nearby and not even be aware of these fortifications. Considering these well built defenses itâ€™s no wonder that it took the Artillery to drive them out.
It was extremely difficult to operate truck convoys over the Sayre Highway, with treacherous hair-pin turns up and around mountains, through jungle, heavy quagmires and blown up bridges but some way the job was accomplished. This road, even after being made passable, could deteriorate in a matter of hours. I recall once taking a convoy back for supplies in about 4 hours and it required 2 days to get back up to the advancing troops. Needless to say that, with this terrible road, jungle, mountains, blown up bridges and being on constant alert for Jap snipers or an ambush, it was often a perilous journey.
In New Guinea & Morotai the only roads we had were the ones our troops built. Everything was near and there wasnâ€™t very many miles of roads. In Mindanao there was a road, the Sayre Highway (so-called). It was just a dirt road and with rain and our vehicle traffic it was soon torn up. This picture shows a hair pin turn and there were many of these through the mountains on this road. With being beware of snipers, an ambush, land mines and rain slick muddy roads it was a dangerous situation.
Land mines were something we had to be aware of but I donâ€™t recall them being a problem for us, at least in my operations. I did see one area marked off as mined. The Japs had a mine that we referred to as a â€œYardstick Mineâ€ and we were warned to be on the alert for them lying in the road. From the description given us I figured it would look like a stick out there in the road. I never saw one and as far as I know neither did any of the other men in our transportation section.
Our advance continued and on 23 May 1945 we met up with another Army Regiment that had pushed down from the north coast. The entire Sayre Highway was now in American hands but you can be sure that there are straggling Jap troops in the jungle just off the road. A couple of days earlier another Regiment, the 155th Infantry also of the 31st Division, had relieved the 124th from the lead position. Now for the first time since being in combat, we had friendly troops between us and the enemy. But wait, itâ€™s not time to relax. Remember the Japs that had retreated from â€œColgan Woods,â€ well they were wandering around back there somewhere and it was a sizable force. So in spite of having friendly troops between us and the enemy our 2nd Battalion was attacked early that morning by that group which was run out of â€œColgan Woods.â€ This was a bitter fight, for a few hours that resulted in the destruction of the Jap force. My memory is that 73 Japs were killed that morning and we lost 2 Americans,
The beaten Japanese forces fled back into the remote mountain sections and now itâ€™s mopping up time. Mopping up means you hope you see him before he sees you. Large patrols went back into the mountains seeking out pockets of enemy soldiers and destroying them. Fighting continued until the Japanese surrender.
Moving after the retreating Japs along the Sayre Highway. Note the foot soldiers with their rifles walking along the roadside. Donâ€™t know what that vehicle was doing there but he will have a most difficult time on this road.
Our thoughts now turned to the invasion of Japan. I learned much later that the 31st Division was slated to go in north of Tokyo with the 8th Army as we invaded Japan. I suppose the 124th would have been ordered to lead the way as we had in our other campaigns. My personal thoughts were on the â€œpoint systemâ€ which had been devised to give those of us who had been in service for a long time the chance to go home. My points were borderline but I was gaining points right along so my hope was that I would not have to be in on the invasion of Japan.
As the Japanese government surrendered and MacArthur accepted it in Tokyo Bay, the 31st Division Commanding General accepted from the Japanese General surrender of all troops on Mindanao. The word went out by various means to the Japanese soldiers in the remote sections of the mountains that the war was over. Through experience we had learned to be very cautious and leery of this enemy; therefore caution was taken to be sure that there were no surprises. The first large group was ordered to come down from the mountains and stack their arms in a designated area on the other side of a river. I was there on our side of the river with a truck convoy to take them to a compound. I noticed that we had plenty of American troops there on our side of the river – just in case. Our Army Engineers hooked up a barge on some cables stretched across the river. By tilting the barge sideways the river current would force the barge back and to across the river. This means was used to bring the Japanese soldiers across to our side. The operation went along without any hitches and they loaded on our trucks where we took them to a compound. There they awaited transportation back to Japan.
After the Jap General surrendered then came the task of convincing the enemy soldiers scattered in the remote mountains to come in. This was accomplished by the high ranking Jap officers and dropping leaflets in the remote mountains. American and Filipino soldiers were stationed at every bridge and Japs could surrender there. We could not abandon our learned distrust of this enemy so quickly. In line with this the first large group to surrender were ordered to come down from the mountains and stack their arms on the side of a river. Our Engineers ferried them across to our side of the river. The barge had been rigged with cables stretching across the river and when tilted one way the current would push the barge across, tilted the other way the current pushed it back across. This photo is a part of this first large group.
During the next couple of months for us, it was just wait for a ship to come to the Philippines to take us home. Finally on 27 November 1945 an Army troopship, the USS General Aultman, came to take us to San Francisco. Then on to Camp Stoneman, California, where we boarded trains taking us our separate ways. Mine was back to Camp Blanding, Florida where I began this part of my life. Then on 27 December 1945, after 4 years 10 months and 1 day, I received an honorable discharge and my military service was finished.
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