544th in New Guinea

        Oro Bay, Buna New Guinea

I am Charles Martin, I am 19 and been in the army for a year now. I consider myself lucky to be in the 544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment, part of the 4th Engineer Special Brigade, a very specialized outfit. I had some electronic training in high school, so they put me in a communications group in Headquarters Company. We have been here in Buna, New Guinea for several months trying to get used to the heat, jungle and the bugs.

      Buna New Guinea to Wakde Island

On August 12, 1944, we received orders to move from Buna to Wakde Island, 856 miles by LCM (Landing  Craft  Mechanized) Boats. The 176 boats were divided into three groups for safety reasons. 1374 Army Personnel, the 1374th Engineer Maintenance Company, plus 730 tons of cargo will make the move as well. The LCM is a fifty foot all steel, flat  bottom craft designed to land troops or supplies on enemy or friendly shores. It has a crew of four and has no provisions to stay on board. I climbed onboard of my assigned LCM, and introduced myself to the Coxswain, George from  Company C. I told him I was assigned as a radio man with a portable walkie talkie radio and a range of 1.5 miles. The radio remained off unless of an emergency and to check in with the base operations.

Trying to settle in for this long voyage, I soon noticed there was no room to set up my cot or string up my hammock. There was a 2 ½ ton fully loaded truck and lots of cargo on board. I had no choice but to make the front seat on that truck my new home. I wondered what the crew did,  since we sailed both day and night.

As we moved out into open waters the shoreline became almost invisible to see. The ocean  swells that eventually became the surf that would come crashing down on the beaches, were like mountains. One minute you were on the top and the next in a valley looking up. I soon realized that this voyage was not going to be very pleasant. One day we sailed into foul weather with rain, wind and choppy seas. The flat bottom of the boat kept slamming down as the boat shook and things began to shift including the truck. The crew immediately lashed down the truck and the ramp. If the cables on the ramp let go we would be swamped. I asked a crew member if there were any life preservers. His reply was, “hey kid this not the Queen Mary”. Eating K rations three times a day was starting to get me, but I knew we were to soon stop at a port to refuel and obtain provisions. Probably more K rations!

The  thoughts of getting food was soon shattered when we received a message to escort four LCM’s in to shore for minor repair. The convoy would continue and we would catch up when the repairs were completed. Since a beach landing would be impossible with the high surf, we  found an inlet. As we sailed in, there was a small island with a giant hill or perhaps a small volcano in the middle. Continuing on we entered what looked like a large lagoon and a sandy beach, with palm trees that encircled the entire area. The blue water made it look like a tropical paradise. We sailed in to the furthest part of the lagoon, beached our boats, dropped the ramps and ran for shore. I met  two guys from my company, Row and Rowett, who were on another LCM. They were going to assist on a minor repair on their boat. Since I had nothing to do, I  decided to take a look around. I walked along the water’s edge and the beautiful almost white  sandy beach. The sky was as blue as the water below it. This place, no matter how hot the day was had a mysterious charm to make you want to come back to. One day as I walked the beach I noticed what appeared to be a number of sticks about six inches long lying on the sand. As I approached they all started to move towards the water. They were fish that could come out of the water and then use their flippers to scamper back. So into the jungle I went. This jungle was nothing like the ones I’ve seen, but was clear enough to walk, as if the place was just created. There were a million palm trees like giant umbrellas that shut out the sun and cooled the jungle. Sometimes I would just sit and admire nature’s gift of this mysterious yet beautiful place. The sounds of birds, animals and creatures, echoed in a symphony throughout the jungle. I know  there were thousands of eyes wondering who had invaded their home.  It was time to get back to the boats and see what was going on. I don’t think they would leave without me, or would they?

One day after one of my long hikes, I decided to head back to the boats. While walking in the water I noticed a large black bird circling above. I got the urge to take my carbine and shoot at it.  Much to my amazement I hit it and it spiraled down and hit the water. As I glanced towards the shore I noticed a native standing there motionless. There was no doubt in my mind that what I did troubled him. He had the typical look of some of the natives I’ve seen before. White and red face and body paint, nose and ears pierced, adorned with shells and beads. He was dressed in a loin cloth, very well built with nothing in his hands. I was frightened and wondered what to expect, so I readied my carbine. I made no effort to speak to him and slowly walked back to the boats. That was my last walk in the jungle. When I got back to the boat I was all hot and sweaty, I decided to take a dip. I climbed up to the stern and was poised to jump in, when I noticed a large dark object below me. It was a shark! I yelled to some GI’s who ran over and pumped a hundred rounds into it. They hauled it out and said it was a Tiger Shark. We cut it up and had our meal that day. The repairs were done and it was time to leave. The engines were started and the ramps slowly closed. As we pulled away from the shore, looking back as we sailed out I was thinking that I could never tell my buddies about this experience. They would think I had a tropical fever!  Oh well let’s go, we have a war to fight!


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