‘They’re Shooting Short’
It was like one of those steamy hot dog days of summer when just breathing was a chore. The sun beat upon the sea with supernatural heat and it was in this heat that the boats were heading toward shore. The water was shooting up in splashes and geysers.
Thoughts ran through the field of Elwood Guisewhite’s mind. “Boy, they’re shootin shorth” he said to himself as he gave a scrutinizing look back at the battle cruiser.
“What’s wrong with our gun crews? They’re supposed to be bombarding the shore.” But Elwood did not see what was up in the hills above him. From a commanding position, the island had dug in defenders who fired 90mm cannons at the American forces.
Elwood Guisewhite was drafted into the American Army when the call to arms was in great need. In March of 1943 the young 18-year-old discovered himself at Camp Hood, Texas for recruit training. But it was at North Camp Hood that he would become a soldier of the 672nd Tank Destroyer Battalion. He went up to North Camp Hood where they taught basic tank track training and Guisewhite became part of the Assigned Reconnaissance Battalion. It was here that the army caught up to Guisewhite. They went over his I.Q. tests and concluded he was smart enough to become a medic. So despite his protests of being that smart the army sent him to Ft. Sam Houston Texas for Medical Technician School.
Before leaving the lower 48, Guisewhite reported to Ft. Ord California to the Amphibian Tractor Battalion or A.T.B. The A.T.B.’s job is to race into shore under fire and secure beachheads. Once secured the next objective is to ferry troops and supplies to the shore. Training in the A.T.B. would be from April to September 1943 for Guisewhite.
Departure for the overseas and the Pacific Theatre of war was eminent. In November of that year Guisewhite boarded an L.S.T. bound for Bougainville, a member of the Solomon Islands. An L.S.T. is a Landing Ship Tank. Guisewhite along with the rest of the 672nd Tank Destroyer Battalion would practice mock landings in Lae New Guinea.
From Lae New Guinea they moved to the Marshal Islands in Indonesia.(why move backwards?) Here there was a marshaling of men and machinery. A convoy of ships five miles wide and seven miles long was formed. This is known as a flotilla. And the first ships at the head of the convoy hit the beaches of Lingayen Gulf on the Island of Luzon while the last ships were still departing from their island marshaling points.
Luzon is an island in the Philippine island chain. And it also was the frontline for the Imperial Japanese Army. Guisewhite was in the first initial wave on January 9th 1945. He describes the early hours of the morning, “At 2:30 AM you were fed breakfast, a steak meal.” and the veteran said with a dark look, “Your last meal.” And then he continued, “At 5:00 AM you were on your way and at 7:30 AM you were fighting. We spearheaded to Clark Airfield and from there, spearheaded to the capital at Manila.”
The battle on the island of Luzon took ten U.S. divisions and five independent regiments. which made Luzon the largest campaign of the Pacific war. It involved more troops than the U.S. had used in North Africa, Italy, or southern France. The Japanese were outnumbered but this did not deter their fanatical fight to the very end. And before the largest mustering of men in the Pacific would be over Technician 3rd Grade Elwood C. Guisewhite would earn the Silver Star. By crawling forward despite the constant rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire not once but twice to give medical aid and with others carry a wounded soldier to safety. As the plaque stated, “Sgt. Guisewhite’s initiative, bravery and devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.” Our honored veteran could utter not a word about the traumatic events. No need, the medal and the plaque told silent volumes of valor.
Once the political capitol of Manila was secured, a night raid was organized. 150-250 troops were sent out one evening after 8:00 PM. Unlike Odysseus and Diomedes raid on the Trojans in the Iliad, the 672nd A.T.B. stuck to their objectives. It was rumored that the Japanese held prison camp of Los Banos would soon have its prisoners massacred. A reconnaissance platoon from the 672nd would go behind enemy lines to liberate the camp. Precisely timed at 07:00, the men in the reconnaissance would hit the camp, rescue the prisoners and meet back up with the other members of the 672nd A.T.B. who would arrive in Amtracts (Amphibian Tractors) to make a bold withdrawal. While storming the gates of the prison camp the 11th Airborne would drop to add shock, and the Philippine guerrilla fighters would also lend a hand. The Attack at Los Banos was a great success because it had few casualties and it utilized the advantage of surprise and the efforts of combined forces to extract the 2,142 prisoners being held there. This would be one of the largest military rescue missions of all time. But sadly the victory would go unnoticed. “No one ever heard of what we did because the same day the prison camp was liberated, they raised the Stars and Stripes on Iowa Jima February 23rd 1945.” said Guisewhite.
May 1, 1945 would be the last amphibious assault of World War Two. And it would be highly criticized as a waste of manpower. On the island of Moratai the 672nd picked up the 7th Australian Light division on their way to invade Balakpapan Bay Borneo. The Battle of Balakpapan Bay took place on July first. “At Borneo it was just like the movies.” Guisewhite said, “We pulled right into a minefield, and had to wait for the sappers.” On the hills were great oil tanks filled with petrol and raw oil being refined for the Japanese Empire. Bombardment began in order to destroy Japan’s badly needed resources and to soften any resistance from shore. Flames flared high into the air and sable smoke billowed up to the heavens as the hills were lit on fire and the oil oozed down the slopes and floated onto the Pacific Bay making the tropical blue water murky and black.
Racing to shore into what could best be described as a burning inferno, The 672nd A.T.B. assaulted; despite the fire’s heat and the geysers caused by poor accuracy of the 90mm Jap cannons on the hills above. Thoughts ran through the field of Elwood Guisewhite’s mind. “Boy, they’re shootin short.”