Guest Post: Battle of Buffalo Wallow WWII

My sister, Colleen Janes, wrote the following story for our family history.  My Dad, Richard C. Janes, was a World War II veteran.  His is just one of many stories that have never been told.  We are losing World War II veterans at an alarming rate.  Colleen gave me permission to publish this because we both feel that too many stories are left untold.  Colleen did a wonderful job on this, and I appreciate that she is allowing me to share it publicly.  So in her own words:

Mom & Dad Wedding Picture

Margaret and Dick Janes
Wedding Picture December 8, 1942

My dad served as a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific theater in World War II.  He served mainly in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines.  In the Philippines he served with General Hospital unit.  It was a medical unit that was smaller than a M.A.S.H. unit and closer to the front lines than a M.A.S.H. unit.  It was comprised mostly of medical personnel.

During World War II, medical personnel were not sent to a full basic training course as they are now.  They weren’t taught to shoot weapons or use hand-to-hand combat, because they were to “do no harm” and it was not expected that they would ever be put on the front lines.

However, on December 10th, 1944, the 44th General Hospital (just a few days before nurses were to be assigned to them) ended up behind enemy lines due to a signal corps SNAFU, and the unit ended up holding down an air strip in the Philippines until it was “re-captured” by the U.S. military.  It was called The Battle of Buffalo Wallow, and each member of the unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation medal for fighting it.

So how did these doctors (many of whom had never held a weapon) manage to fend off Japanese soldiers and hold the air strip?  Luckily there were two expert marksmen (non-medical people) in the unit who broke open the weapons they had in supply, lined up the doctors and gave them a quick weapons training course.  One of the marksmen was from a farm in the Midwestern part of the United States, the other was a long-time deer hunter from Portola, California (Dick Janes).  Together they quickly armed and trained the doctors, bunkered down, and didn’t let the Japanese take the air strip.

With communications cut off, and the unit surrounded, they sat there like sitting ducks fighting off Japanese soldiers, all the while waiting for the U.S. military to come to their aid.  But the U.S. military, believing that the men were dead, gave up the airstrip and notified the Red Cross that they were to notify the families back home.

When the army decided to “re-capture” the airstrip, they were surprised to find that it had been under U.S. military control the entire time.

Meanwhile, weeks later, an unfortunate Red Cross worker walked up and knocked on the door at 5th & Thompson Streets in Carson City, Nevada to notify one soldier’s wife that she was now a widow.  Luckily, she had already received word from her husband that he had been to hell and back, but that he was alive and well.  When the Red Cross worker gave her the “bad” news, I think she decided to send him to hell and back, too.

There are many accounts of the battle, including one article in Time magazine; but, according to Dad, it was the Signal Corps’ fault that the medical unit ended up behind enemy lines that night.  The signal corps was supposed to be on the front lines, but retreated without telling anyone.

Dad used to get such a big kick out of the television show, M.A.S.H.  He said it was so true to life.  His unit even had a Corporal Klinger, only the 44th General Hospital’s crazy guy called himself “Foot Locker.”  Whenever they would ask his name, he would respond, “Foot Locker.”  Dad said he could never figure out if the guy was genuinely crazy or just trying for a Section 8.  But they finally ended up sending him stateside.

But Dad laughed the most at the episode where Radar O’Reiley is on the radio trying to get the friendly-fire shelling of the hospital stopped.  Dad said that, at the beginning of Buffalo Wallow when they still had communications, headquarters kept telling the hospital to quit firing; because they must be shooting at their own men.  Dad said they kept telling headquarters, “These guys are a little too short and a little too yellow to be our men!”

On a really poignant note, Dad kept a letter log throughout his entire overseas experience.  It is attached.  He kept a detailed account of each card and letter he received and each letter he wrote.  To save paper, his writing keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller until it is so small I don’t know how he wrote it.  One of the most poignant entries:  Jan 8 and 9, no letter written (flu).

Files attached:

·        Dad with a captured flag at Buffalo Wallow

·        Tongue-in-Cheek accounts bantered back and forth between the Signal Corps and the 44th General Hospital

·        A journalist’s account with a hand-written note on the bottom from Dad that it wasn’t quite accurate

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8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Battle of Buffalo Wallow WWII

  1. Okay, I managed to make myself cry. ☺ I’d even forgotten I wrote that! I could have done a better job on it; but, oh well, at least it’s written.

    Thanks for posting it; because, every time I search on the Battle of Buffalo Wallow, I find nothing. Now maybe someone will find this if/when they ever search on it.

  2. This is a great story! Thanks so much for posting it. My father was Capt. Edward A. Odrowski, Medical Unit Commander, 44th General Hospital. Since his 100th birth anniversary is coming up this July I’ve been putting together a memorial to pass on to future generations. This story has helped me fill in some details about his service in the Philippines. I remember one of his humorous stories about this event. As dad stated, the Japanese usually only fought at night. During the daytime our guys could feel relatively safe around camp, but at night they couldn’t even light a cigarette without concealing it in a coffee can for fear of snipers. On the morning of December 7th, 1944, the 3rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, dad had decided to go hit some golf balls. He replaced the hand grenades in his musette bag with a couple of handfuls of golf balls and grabbed his clubs (it does sound like a MASH episode, doesn’t it?). He had been enjoying the afternoon when he said that the air raid sirens sounded and anti-aircraft fire opened up on some approaching Japanese planes. He then found himself with Japanese paratroopers between him and the camp. He reached into his bag for a hand grenade, but pulled out a golf ball instead. Fortunately, the paratroopers landed and ran to positions in the hills, to attack later that night. As the stories you posted note, the Japanese picked the wrong guys to mess with! My dad brought back some photos of the unfortunate ones and a Japanese officer’s sword from the event. We owe so much gratitude to those who served both at home and abroad during WW II.

    • Wow! I’m so glad you left a comment! That’s a great story. I’m in total agreement with the debt of gratitude we owe to the greatest generation. I’m glad you were able to fill in a few details. I’m sure your Dad will love everything you put together for him!

  3. Thanks for this. My dad Jackman Pyre was a medical office and was in the battle of buffalo wallow. He said his best memory was when they were trying to make a perimeter in the dark was seeing the American infantry dog crawling thru the mudd whispering piggly wiggling over and over so that they would not be mistaken for Japs.He also brought homa few Japanese who went to thei maker on Dec 12 He set up a family clinic that was still serving as such until last picture taken in 1998These men and women were truly our greatest generation

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I had to laugh about Piggly Wiggly. The greatest generation also had quite a sense of humor. Love it. Kuddos to your dad for setting up the family clinic. I’m sure he was a great man.

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