A WW2 K.I.A. LETTER by Don Kochi

A WW2 K.I.A. LETTER by Don Kochi Occasionally a sleeper will quietly surface on the popular on-line auction site, ebay. One such item (fig. 1) recently appeared with the simple title heading: WWII-GREAT
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A WW2 K.I.A. LETTER by Don Kochi Occasionally a sleeper will quietly surface on the popular on-line auction site, ebay. One such item (fig. 1) recently appeared with the simple title heading: WWII-GREAT 1944 US SOLDIER LETTER FROM NEW GUINEA. At first glance, the generic WW2 APO cover (with enclosed letter) does not strike the potential bidder as something extraordinary. The auction description as if to reinforce this merely stated the obvious, i.e., its physical attributes and concluded with A well-written letter with very good content. However, to the savvy hunter making the effort to go further into the woods it revealed a very special and heroic war story. Mailed stateside by a young enlisted Army GI, the cover displays an APO 7 th B.P.O. (Base Post Office) 20 NOV 1944 postdated machine cancel over a 6 cents airmail stamp. Initialed for clearance by the acting security officer, the requisite censor stamp for overseas theater mail is present as well. The cover is addressed to his wife in Berwyn (ILL.) and contains an endearing four-page letter handwritten (on both sides) on light bluish stationary paper. The first page (fig. 2) datelined Somewhere in New Guinea. Nov. 13, 1944 Mon. nite(sic) has been oddly hand-stamped with a partial (ILL.?) 28 NOV 1944 PARCEL POST postal cancel. Serving overseas with Company F (2 nd Battalion), 136 th Infantry Regiment of the 33 rd Infantry Division (APO 33), his enlisted Army serial number ( ) when deciphered correctly discloses a draftee status (first number 3-prefix) and his (usually home) location of induction as being Sixth Corps Area (second number 6-prefix). The GI s hometown of Cook County (ILL.) properly falls within the Sixth Corps states of Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Federalized as the 33 rd Infantry Division for national service on March 1941, the former Illinois National Guard started cohesive unit training at Camp Forrest (TN.) with its pre-war square formation of four line regiments; the 129 th, 130 th, 131 st, and 132 nd. With the outbreak of war, the US Army reconfigured its divisional table of organization to a more mobile triangular phalanx of three infantry line regiments. Revamped as such, the 33 rd Prairie Division entered the combat zone with the 123rd, 130 th and 136 th Infantry Regiments. Arriving in Hawaii on July 1943, the division participated in jungle warfare training and amphibious landing exercises before departing for New Guinea late February By the time the division disembarked at Finschhafen, New Guinea in early May 1944, Base F was already a bustling clogged advance base for General MacArthur s overly ambitious leapfrogging operations. Besides engaging in further seaborne training, the division was shanghai ed over the protest of the divisional commander into augmenting the port s labor battalion as stevedores unloading the teeming and impatient supply ships crowding Dreger Harbor. Theater policy of priority coupled with a severe shortage of base service personnel, empowered the base commander to utilize whatever manpower available, combat or service, for the necessary task of unloading the multitude of cargo ships. Shortly after, the division s 123 rd Infantry Regiment was temporarily detached and sent 600 miles west of Finschhafen, to Wakde Island-Maffin Bay (NG), an area still enemy-infested, to relieve Army units there needed for the Morotai invasion. For the remaining GIs of the division, used as common laborers alternating with a demanding training regimen, their collective unit morale plummeted. Fighting not the enemy, but instead, broiling tropical heat, physical exhaustion, rain and mud, and boredom, the men began to refer themselves as the 4-F Division. i.e., the Finschhafen Freight Forwarding Force division. During this period, the corporal wrote the 20 NOV 1944 letter to his young bride. The 7 th BPO location on 15 NOV 1944 is Biak, New Guinea with a detachment BPO serving Finschhafen in AUG His seven-sided letter mentions sending home a handcrafted trenchart souvenir and company officers requesting the men of certain blood-types to donate a pint. A following comment is interesting, In my opinion Mc-Arthur(sic) is doing some great planning although it s the men that really gets in there and does the work and in my opinion there are more casaltys(sic) than they say. The rest of the letter tells of mail and package deliveries from home, training, movies shown outdoors, and reaffirms his long-distance love by adding how he carries their wedding picture in a clear plastic cigarette case seeing her every time he lights a smoke. On December 1944, the division moved to Morotai Island to mop-up few scattered Japanese forces and do a short garrison stint until staging operations for the Philippines invasion began in earnest. Finally tasked with a combat assignment, the division reunited with their 123 rd Regiment, arrived at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon P.I. on February 10, The division s mission was to drive a spearhead into the Caraballo Mountains clearing the way for the Sixth Army s final objective of Baguio, the Imperial Japanese Army s headquarters in Northern Luzon. Heavy fighting against a fanatical enemy took place in the Aringay-Calugong area along the Pugo-Tuba Trail, resulting in several casualties during the capture of Questionmark and Benchmark Hills. The 136 th Infantry Regiment was dispatched with the specific task of clearing the eastern side of Kennon Road, one of the main routes to Baguio. Flanking the road were two towering strongholds, the Twin Peaks on the west side and facing it, the 3,700 foot high hill of Bue-Bue. Realizing the advantageous significance of its dominating features as both an observation and blocking chokepoint, the Japanese emplaced an estimate of 2,500 of its best soldiers along the high grounds. The strong defensive positions of perpendicular terrain with its many wooded valleys and steep gullies provided excellent enfilading plunging fields of fire, all of which favored the enemy holding force. For the attacking GIs, it eliminated any element of surprise, limited maneuver, and in short was a tactical nightmare. Opposed by bitter stubborn resistance, the Battle for Kennon Road became a desperate costly small-unit slugfest for the both the 136 th Regiment and any assisting battalion from their sister regiments. Making a series of multi-pronged advances on Bue-Bue Hill, a composite combat group was assembled from the 136 th Regiment s 2 nd Battalion. Named X-Ray Force, it consisted of Fox Company, a heavy machine gun platoon from Company H, 2 nd Battalion assault group, battalion medical team, and a 210 th FA BN forward observer party. Passing Pell Mell Creek and reaching Camp Two, the X-Ray Force was ambushed in a deadly exchange of fire but managed to reach and hold (for a couple of days) a position a mile short of Camp Three. On March 19, 1945, a two squad patrol from X-Ray was sent out to check on their northern perimeter when they stumbled into a concealed Japanese Nambu MG nest. While slowly walking in double squad columns, the two leading squad leaders were immediately hit and dropped by the opening burst. Without hesitation, the young corporal, an assistant squad leader took command of the men, ordering one squad to clear the road and lay out covering fire while leading the other squad to a partially covered position. Appearing moments later, exposed in the open with an automatic rifle blasting from his hips, the young corporal coolly shrugged off the fan of machine gun fire and started to advance towards the enemy emplacement. The wild brunt of enemy fire now directed at him, ripped the ground at his feet. Left incredibly unscathed by the hailstorm of bullets he shouted to his squad members to leave their cover and follow him. Emboldened by this brave selfless example, the men quickly joined the corporal still spraying automatic fire, in a counterattack killing and routing the enemy. While standing on the edge of the enemy foxhole and firing down, a parting shot by one of the retreating Japanese killed the courageous corporal. KIA ed near Camp Three, Province of Benguet, Luzon, P.I., the young corporal is listed on the 33 rd Infantry Division s Roll of Honor. However for the action beyond the call of duty, under US Forces- Pacific HQ General Order #43 (1945), Corporal Robert O. Kopplin ( ) was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Artifact courtesy of the Wade MacElwain collection References Braddock, Paul. DOG TAGS: A History of the American Military Identification Tag, 1861 to Chicora, PA: Mechling Books, Carter, Russ. Numbered Army & Air Force Post Office Locations vol. 1. MPHS, th ed. Helbock, Richard. Combat Infantry Mail: A Catalog of Postmarks Used by WWII US Infantry Divisions. Lake Oswego, OR: LaPosta Publications, Stanton, Shelby L., ORDER OF BATTLE, U.S. Army, World War II. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, rd Infantry Division Historical Committee. A Golden Cross: A History of the 33 rd Infantry Division in World War II. Wash: Infantry Journal Press, Headquarters, US Forces Pacific General Orders #43 (1945) (Steve Dixon: webmaster)


Jul 25, 2017

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Jul 25, 2017
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