(Continued from last week)
The Japanese commander on the New Georgia was Major General Nabor Sasaki, and he took every step available to defend his airfield. Fortifications were dug into the ground, reinforced with logs hewn from the jungle and carefully camouflaged to allow the Americans to advance nearly upon the positions before his soldiers turned their machine guns loose. At night, his seasoned Japanese soldiers would creep into Americans positions, killing quickly and silently, and waging a very effective battle on the psyche of the young combat troops from the United States. It was an effective tactic that preserved his hold on the Munda airstrip, and demoralized the American soldiers.
Two weeks into the campaign, Admiral Halsey committed two more divisions to the island in efforts to shore up the faltering men of the 43rd Infantry and reinforce the battle for the Munda airstrip. In addition to the 25th Infantry Division, the men of the 37th Infantry Division were landed at New Georgia. Private Rodger Young’s 148th Regiment, young men from the Ohio National Guard, were about to receive their baptism by fire. Along landing with the 37th was the 145th Regiment.
By July 27, the 37th Infantry had battled its way to the foot of Horseshoe Hill, a well fortified position overlooking the main inland approach to the airstrip. As machine gun fire and enemy mortars rained down on the American soldiers from the enemy positions above, casualties began to mount. Private First Class Frank Petrarca, a National Guardsman from Cleveland, Ohio, could hear calls of ‘medic’ all around him. His forward patrol had moved within 100 yards of the enemy position, before the devastating fire ripped heavily into them. Quickly the young medic did his best to treat the most seriously wounded. One of the was Private First Class Scott, his body so badly battered that he could not even be moved — despite the fact he was laying within 75 yards of the enemy position.
Heedless of the rain of mortars and machine gun bullets, PFC Petrarca did his best to treat PFC Scott and two other wounded Americans nearby. As mortar fire erupted closer to their tenuous position, Petrarca used his own body to shield the wounded Scott, remaining with him until he finally died of his wounds.
Throughout the following day, American units continued to deploy in small platoons at strategic locations along the approaches to the Munda airstrip. The heavy combat had left much of the ground desolate, the hidden enemy positions scattered in such a way that advances were usually made in platoon or squad-size elements.
Frustration was high among the embattled young American soldiers, many suffering from battle fatigue. Morale was falling as heavily as the daily rains that soaked their uniforms and flooded their positions, and the Japanese continued to snipe at them from hidden positions during the day, and probe their encampments during the night. On July 29, First Lieutenant Robert Sheldon Scott of Santa Fee, NM was leading his platoon into a company assault of the enemy positions.
Advancing up a hill overlooking the airstrip, First Lieutenant Scott’s platoon moved within 75 yards of the hidden Japanese position, when the enemy counter-attacked. Swarming out of their bunkers and foxholes, throwing grenades and firing in volleys, the Japanese soldiers overwhelmed Lieutenant Scott’s small platoon, forcing them to quickly pull back — all but the intrepid lieutenant.
Ducking behind the blasted remains of a tree stump, Lieutenant Scott stood his ground against the enemy assault. Firing his carbine and throwing grenades, along he turned back the wave of enemy soldiers. In the brief lull that followed he replenished his supply of grenades, then continued to hide behind the meager shelter of his blasted out tree stump. From his vantage point, he had a good view of the enemy bunkers. He continued to fire on them until an enemy round struck his carbine. A shrapnel round opened the flesh on his head, but he refused to leave his position. A wound to his left hand didn’t inhibit him from continuing to throw grenades with his right, his accuracy destroying enemy bunkers and positions one after another. Watching from a distance, the rest of his company was amazed and inspired by the lieutenant’s one-man stand and rushed forward, taking the hill. When they did, they found that the intrepid young officer had thrown nearly three dozen grenades, and a total of 28 Japanese bodies were counted in the bunkers he had destroyed.
His battle won, the wounded and weary officer finally rose from the shelter of his small stump to join his victorious company. It was amazing, not only what he had done, but he had accomplished it from the small protection of a skinny tree stump, shattered in half only a few feet above ground. Lieutenant Robert Scott was no little guy, like Rodger Young, who would be well concealed behind a small tree stump. At 6’5” tall, Lieutenant Robert Scott was one of the tallest men to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor.
(Continued to next week)