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


Al Clemmens, 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron

Al Clemmens

Al Clemmens

World War II veterans are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Many of their stories have not been told.  When they came home, they tried to move on with their lives as best they could.  I think it is a shame that so many stories have been left untold (including most of my own father’s story).  It’s too late for me to interview my Dad, but a friend of mine agreed to sit and talk with me the other night.

Al Clemmens 7-31-12

Al Clemmens 7-31-12

Interview with Al Clemmens, 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron

Al Clemmens lived in Fallbrook, San Diego County, California.  He was 19 years old.  His mother had previously passed away, but he left his father for the Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) in November 1942.  He was not married.  He was in primary flight training in Santa Ana, California; basic flight training in Merced, California; advanced training in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico; and troop carrier training in Austin, Texas.  In April 1944, he went overseas.  His first overseas base was Hollandia, New Guinea.

Al’s job was to fly troops and supplies where they were needed.  He flew all over the Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia.  He flew C-47 aircraft first, and later C-46 aircraft.  Al loaned me a book about the troop carriers in the South Pacific, which I am really enjoying.  The troop carriers were absolutely critical to the war effort.  The terrain is such that the only feasible way to move supplies, vehicles, and troops was by air.  These pilots flew with no weather reports and no radio contact.  The loads were heavy and often unbalanced.  They navigated by the seat of their pants.  Al said it is called dead reckoning, but he wishes they would find another term.

While he was still based in New Guinea, they sent Al and two other aircraft to Tacloban in the Philippines.  There was only one airstrip there.  They were so short of fuel that if an airplane came in that was low on fuel, they just pushed the airplane off the strip and into the bay to get it out of the way.  They needed the space to bring in more supplies.  I still am amazed at this, but it makes sense to move them if they didn’t have fuel to fly them.  Getting supplies and troops in was more important than saving the planes.

The three aircraft that had flown in from New Guinea had flown in empty.  Al said he couldn’t figure out what was going on.  There was a briefing about 3:00 a.m. with intelligence people, and these pilots were told where the Japanese fighters were, and they were told to go into Manila.  They were just starting to fight for Manila.  Intelligence didn’t know if Nichols Field in Manila was under control by Allied Forces or by the Japanese.   They were told to stay over the water and go in through Corregidor.  They were told they may have radio contact, to give it a try.  They were able to get in touch with Nichols Field.  They were advised what runway to use, but cautioned to land short because of snipers.  They landed short, but were still confused as to why they were going in with empty airplanes.

About 45 minutes later, they saw trucks coming down the ramp with people in them.  As the trucks moved closer, they could see that they were women.  Army nurses that had been captured on Corregidor and held as prisoners of war for 37 months had just been freed an hour before the planes landed.  In Al’s words, “They were quite a happy lot.”  They flew them back safely to Tacloban where there were 4-engine planes waiting to take them back to the United States.  One of the passengers that Al had in the group of nurses was a major.  A number of years later after the war, Al saw this Army nurse on the television program, “What’s My Line?”.

Al talked about the terrain they flew through in the Philippines.  He showed me a picture of an airstrip that was pretty much cut out of a mountain side.  As pilots landed, they actually traveled uphill about 300 feet.  If they overshot the strip, they hit the side of the mountain.  He talked about a couple of pilots that were killed on that airstrip.

The pilots would sometimes be told that there was a storm coming in, but they didn’t know when it was going to hit.  So they would fly until it was too dangerous and then wait out the storm.  He told me a story of one pilot who didn’t survive a storm.

One time flying into Manila, Al had about an hour and a half’s worth of fuel, and things were getting bad.  There was a fresh water lake, and then the terrain went up about 400 or 500 feet.  Towards Manila Bay, there was a radio tower that stuck up about 1,000 feet.  He had no idea where it was located.  He was at about 200 to 250 feet, just above the water of Laguna de Bay.  His co-pilot was a mechanic, and was very rattled.  He had about 28 passengers plus crew on board.  The passengers were obviously frightened.  He didn’t know what to do.  He gave a thought to ditching, but continued to circle around.  He knew pretty well where he was and what direction he had to fly to get where he was going.   The radio tower was still a mystery.  He knew he had about 25 minutes to get over to Manila Bay the way he was heading.  He figured he could try that way, and if that didn’t work, he had about 20 minutes to try something else.  He said a prayer.  He decided that the tower was out there somewhere, but he wasn’t going to worry about it.  In about ten minutes, he came right into the air field.  He told me that this was the occasion that he began to get his testimony that there is a God.  He said there is no other answer.  When he landed, he sat and shook for quite a while.  Eventually, he tried to stand, but his knees wouldn’t hold him up, so he sat about another ten minutes before he could move out of the plane.  He has always remembered that flight as a day when he had Heavenly help.

Al also flew people and supplies between the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan.  When the war ended, he flew supplies into Japan.  He was in Tachikawa just outside of Tokyo.  He remembered the people staring at them.  It was obviously quite unnerving.  He talked about being on a train with everyone watching them.  Suddenly, it became very dark, and he realized they were in a tunnel.  It was obviously very scary.  They went through about ten tunnels, and he figured that each one was going to be his demise.  He said, though, that when the Japanese surrendered, they truly surrendered.  There was no attempt made to do harm to them.  While in Japan, they were told not to fly over the cities that had undergone nuclear attack because of the air quality.

After the war, Al flew for an airline that had started in Manila.  He really enjoyed that job, but the airline sold out to Philippine Airlines.  At that time Al was ill with fever, so he returned to the United States.  He worked for the telephone company for three years, and then flew for United Airlines out of Chicago for a year.  He spent 4 1/2 years flying for California Central Airlines out of Burbank.  Later he spent many years flying for the telephone company and PG&E to inspect their lines and cable right of way.

I’ve mulled this interview over for a couple of days.  I know that my Dad spent a good deal of time in the Philippines and New Guinea.  He talked about how short of provisions they were at times, especially fuel.  I can’t help wonder if one of those important supply drops that Al made possibly saved Dad’s life.  Maybe there was food, munitions, or replacement troops that came just as Dad’s unit thought all was lost.  Maybe he was my Dad’s guardian angel.  I don’t know that it’s true, but it is certainly interesting to think about.  I’m grateful for this soft-spoken, lovely gentleman, for his skills in the air, and his willingness to serve.  In a few weeks he will celebrate his 89th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Al!  We love you!

33rd Troop Carrier Squadron

33rd Troop Carrier Squadron

Counsel from a Patriarch

Keith and Carol Judd

In keeping with bringing inspiration and enlightenment to this blog, I’ve decided to occasionally interview inspiring people – maybe World War II veterans, world travelers, people who have overcome great challenges, etc.  I decided to begin with someone who inspires me personally.  I spent an hour last night interviewing one of my favorite people in the whole world, and I’d like to share it with you.


I first met Keith Judd in my local ward (or congregation) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I admired him and his lovely wife, Carol, for many years.  They were soft-spoken, kind people.  Carol always went out of her way to say something sweet and kind to me.  Many of us admired their marriage and the loving way in which they spoke to (and about) one another.

At some point I began to help Brother Judd put together his personal history for his family.  I thought it was going to be a little project to keep me from getting into trouble in my spare time.  It turned out to be a three-year education in what it is like to keep company with very spiritual people.  I learned so much from being in their presence.  Before the project was complete, Carol passed away.  I continued to work with him afterwards, and it became a labor of love.  I was actually given the great privilege of typing up their “courting letters.”  What a sweet experience!  His family now has beautifully bound books that will be cherished for generations, “Carol G. Judd, Memories of Her Life,” “Keith Judd and Carol Judd, Their Court Letters and Memories,” and “Keith R. Judd, My Ancestors, Brothers and Sisters, and Descendants.”  Their family journals are being prepared for publication.

Brother Judd became the Stake Patriarch shortly before I began working on his personal history.  For those who may read this who are not of my faith, this needs an explanation.  The Stake Patriarch’s calling in the church is to give one-time priesthood blessings to members of the church called patriarchal blessings.  These blessings are very spiritual, and are considered personal scripture from Heavenly Father just for you.  Stake Patriarchs are extremely spiritual people, very much in tune with the Lord.  Patriarch Judd is no exception.

The Interview

I asked Brother Judd what was the most important gospel principle at work in his life.  There was a long pause, and then he said endurance, patience, kindness, and forgiveness.  He said the Holy Ghost helps him to stay close to the gospel, avoid contention, and know that all will be well.

He said the most important thing he wants people to know about patriarchal blessings is that Heavenly Father knows you, loves you, and wants you to be happy.  Most people receive their patriarchal blessings when they are teenagers as they seek guidance from the Lord as to where life will take them.  I received mine later, after marriage and four children.  I already knew the answer to my next question, but I wanted it to come from him.  I asked him if someone could learn anything new from a patriarchal blessing that is given later in life.  He said, “Oh very much so!”  He said Heavenly Father loves all of us no matter what our age.

When speaking about the youth of the church, he spoke of the many challenges that they have, but that they are well equipped with leadership skills and with doctrine of the church.  He hastened to add that he must do his part as a father and grandfather to help them learn.  He told me the youth of the church are certainly strong enough to withstand the adversary – just as those 100 years ago.  Nothing has changed.  He wants the youth to know they are important and valued, and that they can accomplish great and wonderful tasks.  He would encourage them to utilize and follow the teachings of the church and to pray often.

Brother Judd was greatly influenced by his Mormon pioneer heritage.  The things which they wrote down have been a blessing to his life.  His parents lived as great examples to him and were a great blessing to him.   They sacrificed a great deal.

When asked what he considers his most challenging calling in the church, he said the present one.  Each calling has brought joy and happiness.  He said his most rewarding calling is that of husband, father, and grandfather.

We talked a bit about the personal history books that he put together for his family.  If he had any advice for others, it would be to start now and keep the words that will be important to those who come after you.

To young people considering marriage or young married couples his counsel would be to always be positive in the language used to each other and about one another.  Be kind and show appreciation for each other, and always be aware of the other person’s needs.

Carol’s health was very fragile for many years, so I asked Brother Judd if he had words of counsel for someone caring for a spouse.  He frankly amazed me when he said that Carol’s health issues never became a part of their marriage.  He reminded me that Carol always kept herself dressed beautifully, never complained, and never wanted to appear to be ill.  She never let her health interfere with family life or her responsibilities.  She always “gave her best.”  He tried to be aware of her needs.  If she didn’t feel like doing something, he always had other things he could do.

I asked Brother Judd how he coped with losing the great love of his life.  He expressed gratitude for the many years they had together.  He is grateful that she was able to be herself right up until the end.  He said she had a doctor appointment a couple of days before she died, and she wanted to go “looking her best.”  He is grateful that she didn’t leave this earth with more discomfort.  He has learned that it is his responsibility to carry on, not feel sorry for himself, or be selfish.  He still signs cards and letters from “Mom and Dad,” “Grandma and Grandpa,” or “Carol and Keith.”  I know that because I’ve received Christmas cards from him.

When asked what his biggest challenge is now, he said eating a proper diet.  I didn’t expect that.  I somehow expected something different.  However, I admitted that eating properly is one of my own biggest challenges.

At the end of the interview, I asked Brother Judd if there was anything else that he wanted to tell the world, after all, this was his opportunity.  He expressed gratitude for the kindness, love, and support that he has received from others.  He is grateful for his children and grandchildren and for their love and support.  He is grateful for his health and that he can take care of himself and still live in his home.  He is grateful for the time he had with Carol, and for the personal history books that remind him and his family of the many happy years they had together.  He ended by saying, “Life is good.”

Brother Judd walked me to my car, looked around at the flowers in his lovely yard, and said, “How could I not be happy with all this.  If I don’t have joy, it is all my fault.”  How fitting that our time together would end on that note.  I thought about that all night.  Heavenly Father has given us this beautiful, glorious earth with loved ones around us.  He wants us to be joyful.  Joy is our own responsibility.