Harold Wallace of Arcadia. Fla. was a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 782nd Engineering Petroleum Distribution Company serving in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. It was his unit’s job to get gasoline and diesel fuel to the front line for the engines of war.
He and the other soldiers in his company had some life-threatening experiences, although not considered a front line unit. To begin with, they sailed across the Pacific all by themselves in a lone victory ship without escort protection. Their transport sailed from San Francisco to Lay, New Guinea — a 33 day trip — without incident.
Their first encounter with enemy forces came in mid-April 1943 when their outfit sailed into Tanahmerah Bay at Hollandia, New Guinea in an LST transport ship and began unloading 55-gallon drums of gasoline. They had 80-octane gas for Jeeps and trucks, 100-octane for airplanes and diesel fuel for heavy equipment and ships.
“When we landed it was rainy and muddy and we started to move off the beach onto higher ground when we ran into a group of Japanese. They about ran us back into the water,” Wallace recalled more than 60 years later. “All we had was our M-1 rifles so we had to call on backup from an infantry that landed on White Beach, a short distance away. It took the infantry about 10 or 12 hours to run them off or kill them so we could get where we wanted to be.”
He and his unit eventually built a short dock so a tanker could be moored. From the dock they constructed a line to shore to transport the fuel under pressure to large storage tanks further inland
A while later they followed along with the fleet landed in the Philippines with Gen. Douglas MacArthur near Luzon. This is when the general told the Filipinos, “I have returned.”
“We arrived off Luzon at low tide in our LST filled with fuel, but couldn’t make the beach landing until high tide. We were trapped in the bay and Japanese artillery zeroed in on us,” he said. “They were throwing shells within 50 feet of both sides of our LST.
“When the first shell came down I was lying on a canvas top covering the back of an Army truck. I slid off the top and hit the deck in a hurry,” Wallace said. “The shrapnel was hitting both sides of the ship full of gas. We kept moving around in the bay for two hours trying to stay out of range until we could reach the beach and unload the gas.
“We landed on Orange Beach at Luzon and advanced inland about three miles when the Japanese threw everything but the kitchen sink at us and ran us back to the bay,” he said. “About that time the Battleship Missouri started opening up on the enemy with her big guns.”
It was no walk in the park because the Japanese cannoneers were hiding in mountain caves with their guns and would only come out when the Navy stopped firing their heavy artillery at them. It would take a week and the assistance of infantry sappers with satchel charges to seal the entrance to the caves. They put the Japanese guns out of business.
Once again Wallace and his company built a heavy pier for fuel tankers to tie up to and discharge their gas and diesel fuel through pipelines with “gas stations” every 10 miles. Allied trucks and equipment could pull into one of these “stations” and fill up on gas or diesel.
Wallace recalls that the war was winding down and they were bivouacked in the same general area as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander in the South Pacific. As a consequence they had to wear their Class-A khakis and polished boots in his presence.
“After the war was over our company was supposed to be replaced and we were all supposed to come home as a group. But the replacement company never arrived and we were sent to Osaka, Japan, as part of the occupation force,” he said.
He and his buddies spent the next 90 days there doing little or nothing, waiting for a slow ship back to the United States. They got it in November 1945.
“Our outfit had this little pet monkey as a mascot we had picked up in the wilds of New Guinea. He had come with us all the way to Japan and we wanted to take him home with us,” Wallace said. “We were told we couldn’t take the monkey back with us aboard ship.
“As we were going up the gangplank to get aboard ship, I stuck the monkey under my overcoat and told him ‘Keep quiet!’ He didn’t make a peep until we got under way,” he said. “When we got back to the States Dick Batista, a master sergeant, took him back with him to Pennsylvania. He was just a little, wild monkey, but he was a smart little rascal.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 18, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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