"K" Company moved into Mariveles at the southermost tip of Bataan on the
day the 151st Infantry carved out a beachhead there. We came ashore wading
hip-deep with rifles held high.
Mariveles. It's the spot where MacArthur's men made their last
heart-breaking stand before the men of Nippon hoisted the rising sun
banner over Bataan. It's the spot where the "Death March" began. Remember?
All the same, the guys on the beach of Mariveles were in no mood to dig
back into history. All of us were looking down the inlet and out across
the maw of Manila Bay. The sun glowed low on the horizon, blood-red. Out
there. five miles to the south, Corregidor lay brooding in the twilight.
How we studied that Rock! Its massive western half, called Topside, lay on
sand-colored cliffs thrusting out at Battery Point. A low. slim saddle -
the woman's midriff - led over from Topside to jutting Malinta Hill, which
in turn was fronted by a promontory called Malinta Point; and tapering
eastward from Malinta Hill lay the other half of the island: Engineer
Point, Artillery Point, Infantry Point.
Our mission was to take Malinta Hill and cut the island in two: keep the
Jap forces in the east from interfering with the cleanup of the Topside
massif in the west - the paratroopers' play. We didn't envy them. The
longer we looked at Malinta's ramparts the more the hill seemed to us a
furuncle ready to spurt poison under the push of a finger. The battalion
commander. Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Postlethwait (Warren. Minnesota),
was looking, too.
"I hope it works," he said.
We dug holes in the sand and slept as soldiers sleep - dropping off quick,
but alert to the softest call. The clatter of machinery nearby did not
disturb us. Somebody was loading assault equipment into landing craft:
tanks, tank-destroyers, bulldozers, ambulances, a big truck loaded with
TNT. That was for blowing up the tunnels.
The usual number of little things happened. One of the tank destroyers
broke an oil line. It stuck lopsided in the surf. There was a flurry of
curses and a clanking of chains. The thing would not budge. They borrowed
another from the 151st.
We were awakened at 0530. A good wind rustled through the scrub and
the night was full of stars. Already it seemed hot. Just fastening the
pack and opening ration tins in the dark brought out the sweat. Loading
began a half hour later.
One by one the landing craft pulled up to Mariveles jetty. Troops filed
aboard, quiet and orderly. The rifle squads. Machinegun crews and
mortarmen lugging their weapons. Bazooka men with their stovepipes across
their shoulders. Flamethrower operators glum under the weight of their
tools. They climbed aboard and squatted, tightly packed. Each man packed
grenades, atabrine and two canteens of chlorinated water. Smoking was out
Last in, first out. "King" and "Love" Companies loaded last.
Dawn broke, pearly and big. Wind clouds stood over the horizon. Corregidor
lay as silent in the twilight as a huge tomb. By now the Japs were
watching us through their glasses. Some of us lit cigarettes. Light was
passed around to others. You could feel the fellows wondering what
yonder Japs were cooking up for our reception. The wind blew from the
south. Some thought they could smell Nips five miles away.
The sun came up and the boats vibrated with the steady rumbling of their
engines. As we moved out - very slowly - small dots drifted up with the
wind, came nearer, became formations of bombers. We saw them circle the
Rock, lazy-like and distant. Over the white-yellow cliffs of Corregidor
blossomed sudden little shapes, like flowers pushed up out of a magic
garden. Petals of smoke; bombs bursting. Soon the planes were as thick as
sailboats at the starting line of a regatta. We looked for ack-ack, saw
Rolling across the bay was the thunder of many explosions.
Warships appeared and moved in close. Steel pitched into the Fortress' gun
positions. The cruisers and destroyers were as casual about it as the
planes. By 0800 a heavy pall of smoke covered the island. Peering over
bulwarks as we drew closer it seemed to us that every foot of surface up
there had been put through a giant sausage grinder. The smoke was so dense
that we could not see the flashes of bombs and shells striking home.
Diving planes vanished in the black welter and then zoomed out of it with
0830: another series of dots drifted up from the south. They came in fat
formations and slower than the bombers. They were black planes, transports
loaded with paratroops. They lower their flaps and barely maintain flying
speed when they drop their men. In twos and three they floated in over the
Topside plateau and paratroops floated out. Cross winds gave trouble. Many
troopers came to grief on the cliff sides. But most dropped out of sight
into the smoke.
We waited and listened, but everything seemed quiet up there. We had been
circling all this time through choppy seas and now hovered off the
southern beach which links the tunnels of Malinta Hill with the Topside
forts. Black Beach this strip of sand was called. It lay open to crossfire
from the flanking heights. We ducked and sucked in our guts as the motors
pounded into high. The rocket ships cruised in close, pasting the cliffs
as they went. Then we made the run.