South Pacific

And a C-Ration pack included a bonus: four cigarettes and some toilet paper.

***

My memories of Bougainville and Rabaul may be distorted by more than sixty intervening years. But the most salient facts cut through the mist, supported by log books, Ernie Linsmaier’s illegal wartime diary, valuable letters from Jake Nevans, scribbled notes from Frank Moses, and a few aging Marine Corps records from Hank Hise.

***

We were put on alert. The squadron was moving up The Slot to Bougainville.

Guadalcanal anchored the bottom end of the Solomons. The big, forbidding island of Bougainville stretched out at the top, close to the equator. About 125 miles long and forty or fifty miles wide, Bougainville was a place of startling contrasts—thick, mist-enshrouded jungles, mangrove swamps, active volcanoes, high, crashing waterfalls, torrential rains, millions of insects, mosquitoes, insufferable humidity—and black Melanesian natives who lived wild, secluded fives.

The Imperial Japanese forces had invaded Bougainville early on in their dead-aim drive toward Australia. They established two bases on the island: One in the south at Buin and one in the north on the adjoining island of Buka.

In a major 1943 attack, assault elements of the U.S. 3rd and 9th Marine Divisions, supported by the 1st Marine Air Wing and strong Naval forces, made a surprise landing midway up the island’s west coast at Cape Torokina on Empress Augusta Bay. After 40 days of bitter fighting, the Marines held fast to a heavily guarded perimeter, four miles deep and five miles wide. The continued presence of about 60,000 Japanese troops was spread across the rest of the island.

The tireless Seabees carved out three air strips in the jungle enclave. One near the beach for fighter squadrons and dive bombers. One near the interior front lines for torpedo bomber squadrons. And one parallel strip for the

Anzacs—gutsy Australian and New Zealand squadrons that operated with us.

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