THE PHILLIPINE ISLANDS
JACK HEYN IN THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC
(MEMBER OF THE 3RD BOMB GROUP)
Mid Nov. 1944 we landed on Leyte Island in the Philippines. We landed on a beach about 20 miles south of Tacloban, the capitol of Leyte. We set up camp on the beach about 50 yards from the waters of the Gulf of Leyte. It would prove to be a period of six weeks of spinning our wheels. It was the rainy season on the east side of the archipelago, and there was only one fighter strip in operation. Hence no place to bring our A-20s to. The six weeks surely didn't add anything to the war effort, but it was not without some interesting events. There was one variation to this camp site. There was no way to dig a slit trench in the sand.
The fighter strip was about two miles inland from our camp. One night we had a red alert and there was a lot of ack-ack over by the strip. The Japs didn't drop bombs that nite - they dropped paratroops. We put perimeter guards around the camp area, and put in a long night. Don't believe any of us did any sleeping that nite. There was a quartermaster outfit down the beach from us and there was a lot of small arms fire from that direction. but it proved to be nervous fingers. At daylight the infantry rounded up the Japs in short order.
Another night I had gone to bed, the only one in the tent. Two of them were still in Hollandia and the fourth guy was on night duty. About 2:00 AM I was awakened by rain in my face. A typhoon had blown in from Leyte Gulf with 90 MPH winds, and the rain was coming horizontally. About that time one of the cots had got upset, I stood up to set it right, and my own cot hit me right in the backside and about knocked me down.I sat down with that cot at my back, and there I stayed. Next morning there were three tents standing that had been framed with bamboo - ours was one of them. The next day was spent putting the camp back together; and we had experience another of the oddities of the South Pacific.
Then came Thansxgiving and my second bout with Dengue Fever. A couple days before I had reported to sick call with a high fever - back to the hospital. So once again I would spend a Thanxgiving in the hospital with Dengue Fever. I had been told the first time that I would be immune for two years - did they have to be so damned accurate? I spent about a week in the hospital and was sent back to the outfit for light duty. Actually, under the circumstances, there wasn't much of any duty those days.
Another group of those 3rd Gp. tourists,
this time aboard one of the Navy's luxury
LSTs (landing ship tank) heading for Leyte
Looking down on the beach
where they would be unloading,
and for the first time they stayed
on the beach and set up camp.
Once again we had time to do some exploring and sight seeing - camera in hand. Got to Tacloban one day with Capt. Speith and once again we saw a town that had been shot up pretty badly. Again we photographed a beautiful church that had taken its lumps - nothing is sacred in war. Also found a statue in a little square honoring the Phillipine Boy Scouts. Capt. Speith had been active in scouting back home, so we had to get a photo of him by the statue. Judging from the town and the country side it was obvious that the Philippines was not a rich nation. An awful lot of poverty anyplace one looked. But one thing was for sure, the Phillipinos were might happy the have the Yanks back on board. Any time we ran into them there were lots of smiling faces.
Back at camp it was nearing Christmas time and there was lots of speculation on what our fate was to be. And another strange thing happened, we got our first issue of BEER. After three years in combat zones someone figured that we had earned a free beer - bless their pointed little heads. As I recall our Christmas turkey came out of a can that year. Wasn't too bad either.
The tranquility of the sunset photo
belies the gravity of the situation.
On the 28th of Dec. 1944 we reloaded our equipment on an LST and about midnite shoved off. This time we were headed for the Island of Mindoro on the west side of the archipelago, where it was the dry season. The next morning we had rounded the end of Leyte and were heading west thru the Philippine Straits, in a pretty good sized convoy. We situated somewhere in the middle and couldn't see either end of the convoy. About 10:30 AM four of us were playing cards topside, when three Jap planes came buzzing in low from our right side (never could tell starboard from port). One flew right over us a headed for a Liberty Ship one lane over and one ship back. We had got over to the rail watching as it dove right into the ship. Ammunition ship, went strait up and mushroomed out like the A-bomb explosions. When I saw that I grabbed the rail and bent my knees, as I knew there was going to be a hell of a concussion. One of the guys had started down a hatch and it blew him to the bottom. When the pieces started coming down we scrambled to get under something. We had come face to face with the divine wind -- Kamikazes.
One of the "Smokies" as you called
(crazy SOBs as Jack called them) hitting
the drink close enough for Jack to photograph.
There were some who wouldn't come topside, as they didn't want to see what was going on. I was just the opposite, the next two days I went below decks only to go to the "head" as the navy called it. There was no way I was going to below decks if we got hit. I wanted to be right by the rail, so I could get the hell off the sucker. I staked out my claim (with my camera) under a twin 40mm gun position on top of a hatch, towards the front of the ship on the left side. There I stayed with my mae-west, steel helmet and my Speed Graphic. For 2 days they came at us, day and nite. The navy gunners, bless their navy souls, succeeded in knocking 25 of them out of the sky, but they suceeded in sinking 8 ships out of our convoy. I got photos of three of them that hit the water close to our ship, but I missed the best shot. One of them had cleared the ship on our left, and was heading right for our LST. I could see the 40mm tracers going right into his nose. I had the camera up and ready to trip the shutter when he exploded - explode, it did and I tripped the shutter. Just one problem, I had already tripped it, I was so damned nervous. When we processed the film all I had was a plane in the distance. Oh well, you win some, you lose some and some are rained out.
We made landfall about midmorning on New Years eve 1944. By evening we had all of the equipment out to the camp site. Col. Ellis (later to become a 4-star General commanding SAC Hq. at Offut Air Base) called a group formation. The only thing I remember of what he said was - "I don't care what you steal from other outfits, but if I catch you stealing from one of or own Sqs. I'll court martial you." It was pretty common practice when you moved into a new area to scrounge around and get material to build a livable abode with midnite "rackquisitions". So several hundred guys prepared to spend the nite on the ground under shelter-halfs and figured it was one of the best New Years Eves we ever had -- we were just damned happy to be alive.
A small group of local militia.
All they needed was guns,
the desire seemed to be
there to fight.
A group of civilians, all smiles
- they truly were happy to see
the Yanks back on board.
We got set up and I had a chance to do a little exploring and sight seeing with Fritz one day. But my time on Mindoro was limited due to the following: 1. Under Auth. FEAF radio AX30607 subject: Rotation of personnel the following O and E personnel of the Jan rotation quota are reld from assgmt and dy w the org indicated and attached, unassigned, to Base G rotation det. APO 565 ef 12 Jan 45 and WP by Mil A/C o/a 12 Jan 45 to APO 565 reporting on arrival there at to CO to await further orders and await transportation to the United States. Complete and accurate records will accompany subject personnel in accordance with par 22 USAFFE Cir81 dted 21 Sept 44. O and E will be furnished sufficient clothing blankets and mess gear before leaving their units.
A municipal building in the little town
we were based near, can't tell the name of
it, obviously the Stars and Stripes had
replaced the Rising Sun (which was fast setting).
The local kids still had to attend
school, war or no war.
My name was included in the 3rd Bomb Gp. contingent. HOORAY AND HALLELUIA, I am going home.
Jack Heyn in the South West Pacific during WW2 - The Full story
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"Australia @ War" Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 1 January 2001
This page last updated 08 December 2017