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:
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).
· 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