Early Life, and Enlistment

Overseas Deployment

Formation of the 271st Field Artillery Battalion

Getting Into Combat

The Admiralty Islands Campaign

Assault on Leyte

Earning the Bronze Star Medal

Banzai and Cavalry Attacks

Clearing Luzon

Returning Home

Reflections

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John E. Smith was born in June 1922 in Magnolia, Arkansas. His father was an Army sergeant and the family moved around because of his career. In 1938, when he was still underage, Smith enlisted in the Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and was taken into E Battery, 82 Field Artillery, 1st Calvary Division Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Smith jokes that in his basic training they were preparing for a repeat of World War 1. The tactics were a throwback to the earlier war, and they trained with horses, to ride and to pull the cannons. Smith thought it was hard work, but it was also "a lot of fun." The uniforms hadn't changed much either. Smith was issued riding britches; laced, knee-high leather boots and spurs; and a pie-pan helmet. Already a three-year veteran in the Army, Smith was in the hospital at Fort Bliss when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], and he said he was not surprised. He worried about his father, who was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. It was three weeks before he learned that his dad, stepmother and young brother were unhurt. Smith knew that a war was coming. During the 1942 Maneuvers in Louisiana, the Army attempted to prove that horses were more versatile than tanks, but things didn't work out that way. According to Smith, they "rode horses to death," and did almost the same with soldiers, as they tried to keep up with the armored outfits. Several men were drowned while crossing the Sabine River using a pontoon bridge when their horses jumped into the water. Smith said washing his body and his clothes with "good old G.I. soap" kept the Louisiana insects from plaguing him. Smith's cavalry division transformed into a mechanized unit shortly after war was declared, and Smith adjusted to the new regimen without difficulty.

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John Smith's journey overseas began in San Francisco, California in early June and ended in Brisbane, Australia in July 1943. When he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, Smith realized he was really on his way to war, and wondered if he would ever see the structure again. The 27 day trip aboard the USS George Washington, a converted World War 1 era German liner, was spent "loafing and starting rumors." It was Smith's first ocean voyage, and he was interested in the sea life. Smith's ship pulled into the Brisbane harbor at night, and the structures on shore were all blacked out because the Japanese forces were only a few hundred miles from Australia at the time. The Australians welcomed the Americans, because their own armed forces were already engaged in battles elsewhere. The unit [Annotator's Note: Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division] set up camp at Strathpine, living in tents, building roads and fording rivers. There, they had further training using mechanized vehicles, and according to Smith, training without horses was "a picnic." During his service to this point, Smith had served on a gun crew, attended cook and baker school, operated telephones in a detail section, bussed officers' children to school, and worked at various polo stable duties.

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G.I.s from John Smith's Battery B, 61st Field Artillery were transferred to form C Battery 271st Field Artillery Battalion and Smith was assigned to the survey and detail crew as an instrument operator. Smith was a private at the time, having made sergeant and subsequently busted three times. [Annotator's Note: Smith laughs.] He recalled that on the day he landed in the Admiralty Islands, he learned he was to be made a corporal and serve as a member of the forward observer party. Smith remarked that kangaroos were looked upon as scouts; when they came running through, it was clear that there were strangers in the vicinity. Smith protested that he didn't care much for parties, but told a story of singing a rude tune while on a streetcar full of Australian soldiers, and being thrown out a window of the vehicle. After going through the Admiralty Campaign, Smith was hospitalized with malaria and dengue fever; he lost 65 pounds and was instructed not to drink alcohol, but he decided that if he was going to die, he wanted to "die happy."

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Starting in December 1943, John Smith was on New Guinea preparing for combat in the Admiralty Islands. They landed on Los Negros on 6 March 1944 and brought their guns ashore; for the rest of his tour of duty, Smith was with the forward observers. It was his first combat experience, and Smith remembers that they crossed the island, moving too fast and too far for resupply, and a B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] was sent to drop more ammunition to their troops in the field. He said they had "a few little shootouts" with the enemy, but it wasn't much. He was so tired at the end of the day he dropped on the ground to sleep. Several of his buddies took pity on him, and allowed Smith to share their foxhole. Smith said it was a kill or be killed situation with the Japanese, but he never really hated them; he sometimes worried about the loved ones a dead Japanese soldier left behind. Smith carried a Tommy gun [Annotator's Note: .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun] at first, but found it a nuisance to carry alongside his radio, and too short ranged for the type of combat, so when he got to Manus Island, where there was a "pretty good shootout" at Lorgy Airstrip, he switched to a Garand M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the M1 Garand]. But, Smith said, the colonel found out and took it away from him, and he wound up with a carbine [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic carbine] for the rest of his military service.

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When the 1st Calvary Division was preparing for the landing on Manus, John Smith was in the reconnaissance patrol sent to Hauwei Island. He described the landing, noting that, contrary to their intelligence, the island was fortified and enemy mortar fire sunk their landing craft. The skipper of the first PT boat [Annotator's Note: patrol torpedo boat] that came for them was wounded in the barrage, and took his craft away, leaving Smith and his fellow soldiers in the water. They swam to a little atoll and waited until another PT boat arrived and brought them to shore. Getting onto the island was not a great challenge, but all hell hell broke loose when the infantry got inland, and Smith said it was "a little nerve-racking" to encounter the copious rifle bursts as the Japanese were shooting at them from camouflaged bunkers dug into the sand. Smith's second assault was on Manus Island, and although the overall landing was opposed, the spot on the right flank where Smith came ashore was not. His company [Annotator's Note: Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] crossed a river at a natural sand ford to join the fray. Smith stayed there four days, sometimes in close combat, and lost many of his unit before they were pulled out. He was sent back to Los Negros and became a member of the newly formed 1st Calvary Division Association. Smith was suffering with malaria and dengue fever and was put on leave in Australia. After about six weeks, he returned to his outfit and prepared for the invasion of the Philippines.

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John Smith said that as campaign veterans, his unit [Annotator's Note: Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] didn't need to "make a whole lot" of preparations for the invasion of the Philippines. One of the big surprises was that their division's arrival on Leyte was almost totally unopposed. They came in on a troop ship, and were briefed before landing. When he climbed down the nets to get into the boat that would take him ashore, Smith said it looked really rough, and his heart was in his throat. But the Navy put down very impressive fire that sounded to Smith like thunder overhead. And, he said, the sky was black with rockets from a nearby LCI [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft, Infantry]. As they approached the beach, the enemy pulled back. Smith recalled a funny incident when the unit was alerted by a noise in a tree that turned out to be an old native woman; when she climbed down Smith was reminded of an old western movie because she pointed and indicated, "they went that-a-way." [Annotator's Note: Smith chuckles.] Smith observed that Leyte was "more of a civilized country" than the "little jungle islands" he had fought on before. Leyte had towns and villages and barrios, and most of the people spoke English. The civilians warmly welcomed the troops; Smith said the Americans knew the Japanese had mistreated the natives. The firefights in the level areas were similar to those of his previous experience, but as the Japanese were driven into the northern mountainous regions, fighting on the uphill slopes got rough. Artillery support was only intermittently effective, and the rainy weather added to their difficulties. During one storm, while the Japanese were sheltering in the roots of upturned trees, Smith's division went out in firing line formation and attacked, easily overcoming the enemy. Conditions were persistently nasty. The soldiers were wet, with no hot food, and the fighting was brutal for the 1st Calvary Division.

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Fighting in the Leyte Valley area lasted for two brutal months, and John Smith related the tale of the event that earned him the Bronze Star [Annotator's Note: the fourth-highest award a United States service member can receive for a heroic or meritorious deed performed in a conflict with an armed enemy]. When the division [Annotator's Note: Smith served on a forward observer team in Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] first started up into the mountains, they ran into a hostile group that opened fire. Smith said that he, like every other man in the unit, fired his weapon at sounds and movements, even when he didn't see anybody. Smith came upon a buddy that was wounded in the hand and arm, and another man that was down with dysentery and had to run through mortar and machine gun fire to reach radio equipment at the front line. After he sent word of the ambush, the Americans poured artillery fire on the Japanese position for about 20 minutes, and it was all over.

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According to John Smith, ammunition supplies were not a problem, and the Allies had air and sea superiority by the time he reached the Philippines, but food supplies were problematic. The soldiers lived on C-rations and K-rations [Annotator's Note: packaged pre-cooked foods]. As a forward observer, Smith's job was to get the radio equipment set up, and help spot where fire was needed or where wounded needed rescue. His main duty, however, was to watch over the FO [Annotator's Note: forward observer] officer, and stay ready to take over in case of an emergency. Once his division [Annotator's Note: Smith was a member of Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] moved into the Ormoc Valley area, one of the last Japanese bastions on the island of Leyte, the enemy put up a "hellacious fight." The Allies surprised the enemy and surrounded their position. Smith encountered banzai-style resistance, and said the GIs [Annotator’s Note: slang term for an American soldier] would hold fire until the enemy was almost upon them, then "everybody opened up at once." The incredible behavior became commonplace to Smith, and he repeated "Hold your fire, hold your fire" like he did while experiencing the attacks. On Samar, Smith said they were under cavalry attack, and orders were to shoot the riders, not the horses. Smith said he didn't collect souvenirs, and described how he almost got killed when, while bringing batteries to a radio position, he reluctantly agreed to bring a Japanese rifle back to a buddy. Smith found it funny to relate how the Japanese got sick on the turkey dinners that were airdropped in their midst by mistake on Christmas day, 1944. Soon afterward, Smith's division was pulled out of Leyte and sent on to Luzon.

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At the end of January [Annotator's Note: January 1945], John Smith left Leyte, and was among the last to be issued new equipment and uniforms and his division [Annotator's Note: Smith served on a forward observer team in Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] moved on to Luzon. Having lost so many of his friends and fellows, Smith began to wonder if he would live through another invasion. They landed in an area where the beachhead had already been established from the Lingayen Gulf, and set up a position near Cabanatuan. They followed a Ranger division and some guerilla fighters, and pushed down to Manila in small groups. Combat in a big city was a different experience, and Smith remembers that the Manila Hotel had big enemy guns sticking out of every window. Smith's unit took the heavily defended hotel room by room. His outfit proceeded to liberate prisoners at the Santo Tomas and Bilibid internment camps. Smith said the prisoners were overjoyed, and tossed him and his buddies into the air and caught them in blankets. [Annotator's Notes: Smith laughs heartily.] Santo Tomas had been a major university, and because of overcrowding, the Japanese had put up prisoners' tents on the grounds. There was still a small cadre of Japanese in one of the buildings; Smith said they set them loose to be dealt with by the troops that followed. The 1st Cavalry Division soldiers pulled out around Pasig and went on the Shimbun Line. Situated in a mountainous area, the Allies hammered it out with the help of air support. Some of the fighting took place in caves that required individual clearing. Toward the end of fighting on Luzon, Smith had enough points to go home.

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John Smith was out on a patrol miles into enemy territory when he was "relieved of all hazardous duty" and told he was going home. Smith thought, "Now I'm going to get shot." It took three more days for the unit [Annotator's Note: Battery C, 271st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division] to work its way back to where Smith was met by a truck and relieved of his equipment. He left the south Pacific in June 1945 and after a slow, monotonous journey came happily back through the Golden Gate [Annotator's Note: Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California]. He disembarked on Angel Island [Annotator's Note: Angel Island, California] and was well fed by German and Italian prisoners of war. Celebratory fireworks on the Fourth of July made him feel like he needed to hit the ground. Smith traveled by train to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and was discharged from there on 12 July 1945 at the rank of T4 [Annotator's Note: technician, fourth grade; same pay grade as a sergeant].

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John Smith was already in the service when the war started and he wanted to get into the fight, but he admits that when he was going into Los Negros on a little wooden landing craft, he wanted to "go home." He had many memorable experiences, including getting to Australia and going into battle, but, he said, his tour of duty made him happy with what he had when he came home. He knew he had an otherwise impossible opportunity; nevertheless, he was glad when it was over. He believes it is important for institutions like The National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: in New Orleans, Louisiana] to teach the lessons of war. Although he is proud of today's troops, he hopes reflecting on World War 2 can help keep our nation from jumping into other conflicts that are not necessary.

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