Camp Purgatory, New Guinea.
ROSCOE ALLEN "ROCKY" BOYER (1919-2008) grew up on a farm in Clinton County, Indiana, 40 miles north of Indianapolis. Caught up by the peacetime draft, he was inducted into the US Army on June 10, 1941, the day after graduating from Franklin College. He served in the Southwest Pacific as a communications officer with the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, a fighter-bomber unit.
Boyer kept a diary from September 1943, when his air group prepared to ship overseas, until November 1944, when it reached the Philippines. In the late summer of 1944, his group moved north and west along the New Guinea coast with the Fifth Air Force, leaping from the vast tent city of Nadzab to the beachhead airfield of Biak.
Lieutenant Boyer was attached to the headquarters of the 91st Photographic Reconnaissance Wing, a unit whose commander, Colonel Ralph O. Brownfield, admitted he knew nothing about photo reconnaissance, criticized his officers, and showed a robust concern for his own comfort. On July 11, 1944, at wing headquarters in Nadzab, Boyer noted his fellow officers' discontent:
THE SUBJECT NOW UNDER DISCUSSION is Colonel Brownfield and his staff's house which is to be constructed at Biak. The rumor goes it will be a six bedroom, one recreation room, one dining room, one kitchen and two bathrooms complete with lavatories. Major [Hubert] Chenery, our signal officer, has expressed many sarcastic remarks about the house.
The officers knew that Brownfield's plans went too far. On July 15, Boyer observed:
Captain [Jack] Chapin said last night that General [Walter] Krueger was the person who issued the order that no more individual units would erect buildings. His policy is that the only constructions will be mess halls and warehouses and headquarters and all will be prefabricated and he is issuing material according to the number of men.
Brownfield was oblivious to such concerns. Two weeks later, Boyer wrote:
Lieutenant Colonel [James] Ilgenfritz departed for Biak to aid or rather direct the construction of our new camp. Major Smith, in our A-4 logistics section, said that Colonel Brownfield told Ilgenfritz that if he didn't get anything else done he was nonetheless to get Brownfield's house completed.
On August 1, a bulletin came back from Ilgenfritz. Boyer recorded the letter, followed by sardonic comments from Chenery, who understood he would be the next officer sent forward:
"Supply here is tough. The things we need most to work with aren't here or so we're told. Please send me two cases of drinkables for trading stock from the officers' mess as soon as you can. It will help. We also need more men, some hammers (6-12) which cannot be gotten here, also some 24 " or larger pipe wrenches. Two, if possible draw the four 50 KVA [kilovolt amp] generators down there and ship them with the first water shipment. They say we cannot draw them here.
"Chenery can send his telephone men any time. Field wire is available. We need more transportation bad. Send some water pipes too if you can. With little suction hose and foot valves. We are badly handicapped because the tractor and rest of shipment isn't in.
"Ask Stafford to send my serum syringe and directions and Powell to send me film for my camera. Tell Colonel Brownfield initial progress is slow because of supplies. Getting under way. Will write more fully later.
"In haste, Ilgenfritz"
Major Chenery said that because lumber was so hard to get at Biak, supply might have to fly lumber from here for Colonel Brownfield's house on Biak. The lumber must be tongue-and-grooved.
Boyer traveled to Biak. He made no entries for a week. On August 9, after returning to Nadzab, he wrote out his wartime diary's longest entry:
Returned from trip to Biak. Major Chenery sent me up to learn what was wrong with the communications system. Upon arriving, I learned the equipment the 25th Photo Squadron had turned over to the communications team to use was as follows. One SCR-188 (75-watt transmitter) had been saltwater-soaked and was thus inoperative. The large radio set became inoperative when the grid of the PA [power amp] tube began to go positive and Master Sergeant Morrow couldn't find what was wrong with the bias.
Lieutenant [Harold] Phillipo who was in charge of the station said that to add to the snafu, Lieutenant Colonel Ilgenfritz first couldn't make up his mind where to locate the transmitters, the power units would not work, the men classified as mechanics were only mechanics on paper, and the men could not draw cigarettes nor receive their allotments which griped them to no end. Lieutenant Hilgerson said first that Lieutenant Colonel Ilgenfritz was going to have the headquarters in a semicircle, then changed his mind a day later and said to leave them constructed as H-type.
Upon my return I talked with Major [Cecil] Williams about the conditions at Biak and when I told him that the Wing buildings were not up, the area had not been cleared of the scrub vegetation, the coral rocks had not been blocked and it was considered quite a laborious operation to hammer them down, no water had been piped to the area, generators had just been installed, and all tents had not been wired, the major asked "What in the hell have they been doing up there for the last three weeks?" Perhaps the major should have been told all the men said they had the GI's (dysentery) the first three days there because of the water. Lieutenant Colonel Ilgenfritz did not escape, although as several of the men pointed out, he did not suffer too much for he had a refrigerator and beer to drink whereas they had neither.
The mess sergeant at Biak said he had lost fifteen pounds in one week but he was not sorry he had come with the party, because "of course it is rough up here, but it makes one think he's doing more for the war effort." The sergeant's mess hall was a small structure, about 15' by 35' in which he had four tables for eating, all his stores, and his two gas stoves. The floor was the unmolested coral ground and one had to watch his step while walking to a table [coral has sharp edges]. The food was exceedingly good, fresh meat once a day. However we found several small black insects in our bread. Tropical butter was served all with dehydrated potatoes and cabbage, beets and carrots. Why the Army feeds us so many beets is a mystery. One week at Nadzab we had beets every day. Everyone ate in their mess kits, even the lieutenant colonel, but no one seemed to mind.
Because the B-24s (F-7s) [the photo recon version of the Consolidated B-24 heavy bomber] of the mapping squadron will operate from Biak, and thus will need standing weather reports, and because it was practically impossible to call a weather central by phone, I drove to the Sorido airdrome control tower. The strip was being repaired and only an MP [military policeman] was on duty so I proceeded to visit with him. He said his outfit landed six days after the invasion and while unloading, the PT [patrol torpedo] boats shot down four Jap planes in the harbor. In those days everything was blacked out at night "whereas now, no blackout discipline is ever observed except during a raid." He added, "many men had been lost while souvenir hunting, in fact two captains were killed yesterday. The Japs had used rice sacks for protective measures and when these became wet and spoiled, large green flies would breed within them. The flies were everywhere. The spoiling salmon in the wooden kegs added to the stench of the decaying bodies. And another thing, I have been on New Guinea ten months without a furlough. However, I can't gripe. The 41st Division has been here thirty months and none of them know when they are going home. The general of the 41st is a real Joe, he said the other day he was going to teach his men to take prisoners and wear shirts. In fact, this place is already becoming civilized--making us wear shirts. Oh yes, the natives really hate the Japs. You see the Japs took the native women all except two old ones from the large valley down the coast. Saw one native the other day with a sack full of Japs' ears."
Before departing the MP exhibited a sea shell bracelet he was making for his girlfriend.
One night we had an air raid. The threegun signal was at 4 a.m. We woke, dressed, and sleepily walked outside. For approximately ten minutes everyone stood around saying "Well, let's get it over with so we can go up to bed." Just a few minutes later you could see the shells explode from the ack-ack [anti-aircraft] guns. No one moved and we stood by admiring the display as the motor noise and the firing came nearer. We rushed down to the beach and into the stench of the coral caves (several of these caves have decaying Japs within). We came out when the guns stopped firing and saw the light beams from the beacons in the fleeing Jap plane. In the morning we learned the plane had dropped two bombs and a flare on the dock.
Corporal [Earl] Dare learned of my presence at Biak and came over to see me. He said he saw the Australian nurse whom the Japs had held on the island. The nurse was flown to the mainland and was reputed to be pregnant.
Lieutenant Phillipo said a boatload of beer came into the harbor but too many boats had higher priority at the dock. Was rumored the men will be rationed to three packages of cigarettes per week.
Late one night I had a long talk with Staff Sergeant Obermann who has been overseas 29 months and doesn't know when he will be sent home. He said, "I always hope I will be home every June, March, and Christmas. The last time I saw my wife was March 1941, I left the States in June--and, Christmas just because it's Christmas. And if you want to know about screwing, you should know about First Lieutenant [William] Southard. He was once one of our best photo pilots. He got his DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross medal] by flying over Wewak, being intercepted, dropping his belly tanks, flying low over the dunes getting the important pictures, then beating it home. He never tried to impress anyone and disliked anyone who did. He didn't go well in the Guerry, Post, and Brownfield clique, who were afraid of him. [Alexander Guerry and Arthur Post were highly-decorated reconnaissance pilots.] In order to hold Southard down, he was made mess officer, and after improving the mess, more than ever before, Guerry, Post, and Brownfield were envious, so after being overseas ten months, flying more missions than anyone else, Southard went home with the same rank, probably sent if you ask me."
Staff Sergeant [William] Hiester and I flew back on a C-47. We reached the strip at 0930 [9:30 a.m.] and the plane didn't take off until 1300 [1 p.m.]. Aboard were two Allison engines (being sent back for routine maintenance), the pilot, co-pilot, radio operator, crew chief, engine sergeant, two officers from the 41st Division who were going home after being overseas 30 months ... , and three officers from the Engineer Corps. One of the latter was worried if the plane could lift such a load.
Before take-off I had a long talk with the pilot who had been flying in the theater for 13 months and his squadron has never had a casualty. He said when they were flying supplies to the outpost at Tsili Tsili, all the cargo planes were scheduled to arrive and leave at the same time each day. A couple of months later they learned via their intelligence officer that the Air Force was using the cargo ships as bait for the Jap fighters.
He also confirmed the story that at one time one couldn't get lost between Nadzab and Gusap because the route was marked by wrecked C-47s. He said that whenever a C-47 was jumped by a Jap, the pilot would set the plane down in the kunai grass in the floor of the valley.
Heat, stench, buzzing flies, broken equipment. Dysentery. Air raids. Officers muddling assignments and sergeants doing their jobs. Massacre jokes, sexual frustration, hopes for romance. Young airmen talking about pregnant nurses, middle-aged noncoms thinking about their wives. Envy and rivalry. Soldiers flying south on furlough side-by-side with aircraft engines flying south to be overhauled. No beer and too few cigarettes. Boyer's report on Biak is a precis of war in the Southwest Pacific.
Back in Nadzab, on August 10, Boyer found that disgruntlement had reached the Wing barber shop.
The commonest comment of the day: "Will Colonel Brownfield kick Lieutenant Colonel Ilgenfritz when Brownfield gets to Biak and finds out Ilgenfritz doesn't have his eight room house completed." The HQ barber said some of the enlisted men were discussing going over to Colonel Brownfield's chicken lot, catching a couple of hens and having fried chicken.
Boyer was in charge of delivering the next shipment of supplies and airmen to Biak. Sunday and Monday, August 13-14, began with heavy labor and ended with a frustrating delay.
Loaded 5,000 pounds of equipment in an F-7 during the afternoon which will be flown to Biak and the time of take-off is 0600 a.m. tomorrow. Arranged for a truck to pick up myself and five enlisted men to haul us to the plane, and breakfast for the men at 5 a.m.
The switchboard operator called and rang my phone at 5 a.m. and I ate a breakfast of two fried eggs and hot cakes, and found the truck waiting at the designated place at 5:30, but no enlisted personnel could be found. A few minutes later Master Sergeant Johnson appeared and he didn't know where the other men were located. I found two still eating. By 5:45 Sergeant Johnson was loaded and I learned Sergeant Lennox of the Signal Company had already gone. Staff Sergeant Hollinwood wasn't completely packed and Pfc [Private First Class] Bloom acted as if he didn't give a damn about moving by waiting until we picked him up and when he did, he decided to go to get a drink and then Sergeant Hollinwood wanted to know if he could go to the latrine. We departed from the area at 0600, arrived at the strip only to find the plane in the process of taking off. Major [James] Warner was quite griped about this situation but nevertheless arranged for us to take a plane tomorrow morning.
On Tuesday, August IS, Boyer made an earlier start, backed up by a brace of captains, Jack Chapin and Owen Sexton.
The operator woke me at 4:30 and I called Captain Chapin and Captain Sexton, who were going along in the same plane, and called the motor pool to check on the truck which was to take us to the strip. The truck arrived at 5 a.m. as scheduled and because no mess personnel were at the kitchen, we left the area without any breakfast. Arrived at the plane at 5:50, loaded our baggage. Captain Rogers, our pilot, then learned we did not have parachutes, so therefore delayed his take-off until we secured them from 20th Mapping Squadron engineering. The trip up was uneventful and most everyone slept, including the co-pilot. Arrived over Mokmer strip on Biak at 1100 but were not permitted to land until 1130 because of the heavy traffic (Mokmer was the only airstrip in operation). The equipment was unloaded and I went to seek transportation to camp area but found it impossible to get either from the base's air freight or from our own organization. Captain Chapin remained with the equipment at all times while Captain Sexton acted irritated and no one knew why. After all, he wouldn't help anyone load or unload. Reached camp with equipment at 3:30, unloaded, ate, saw Major Chenery who said I would return to Nadzab to find out what was wrong with the radio station.
On August 23 the tension broke. This time the rumor spread not in the mess hall, but in the officers' showers.
Heard in the showers this evening that Colonel Brownfield had been relieved of command of the Wing and was being returned to the States. Major [W.H.] Minnock, who was in the shower, said: "Well, there'll be some changes made now--changes to the good. Conditions certainly couldn't get any worse." Warrant Officer Hene (the source of the rumor) said, "I hope to hell the first thing he'll do is to get a new adjutant."
Talk in the mess explained why Captain Sexton had been so surly on the tarmac. On August 24-25, Boyer wrote:
Captain [Frederick] Campbell, a personal friend of Captain Sexton, said at the breakfast table, that Colonel Brownfield learned that Captain Sexton had made certain remarks, uncomplimentary of course, about Colonel Brownfield taking his washing machine and other similar items to Biak via C-47. Colonel Brownfield called Captain Sexton into his office and proceeded to eat his ass out (eating one's ass out is the highest degree of reprimand).
It seems that when Colonel Brownfield learned what Captain Sexton was saying about him (Captain Sexton was scheduled to fly to Biak, arrived at the plane, loaded his equipment, only to unload in order that Colonel Brownfield's washing machine could be sent--result, the captain remained and the washing machine went to Biak), Colonel Brownfield called an officers' meeting and said, "I have never heard of such disrespect as being shown in this headquarters. If any of you have anything to say about me, come and say it to me in my office or I'll have you transferred or court-martialed." No one stepped forward.
It seems as though Fifth Air Force has been hearing of the conditions in the Wing for a long time, in fact they had heard that Colonel Brownfield had gone to the air service command and ordered several flushing toilets for his house at Biak.
Retribution overtook Brownfield. He had overreached himself in ordering flush toilets in a land where his men used wooden-seat privies. The news suggested to the men that in fact there was a God--or, at least, that Fifth Air Force ultimately did know what it was doing.
The 71st spent a hot summer amid the glare and coral dust of Biak. In November its squadrons moved to the Philippines--to Leyte, then to Mindoro, and finally to Binmaley, outside Lingayen. From there they moved north to Ie Shima, off Okinawa. They were flying missions against the Japanese home islands, preparing to support the invasion, when the war ended.
Boyer came home in November 1945. He wanted to farm, but couldn't afford it, so he went to graduate school to study psychology instead. He taught at the University of Mississippi from 1955 to 1989, training two generations of teachers and tirelessly supporting the Mississippi public schools.
In 1955, Brigadier General Ralph O. Brownfield was reduced in rank and resigned from the United States Air Force, following findings of corruption in his dealings with a civilian contractor. Acquitted of criminal charges, he repeatedly filed lawsuits seeking vindication and lost pay. He also ran more than once for Congress. Both the courts and the voters rejected his claims.
ALLEN BOYER, Rocky Boyer's son, lives on the North Shore of Staten Island with his wife and family. He has written numerous law-review articles and book reviews for the New York Times. His longtime day job was senior appellate counsel for the New York Stock Exchange Division of Enforcement. Rocky Boyer's War is his fifth book.
Caption: Colonel Ralph Brownfield (above, left) got little respect from his 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group. It didn't help that he knew nothing about either of the unit's main duties--military reconnaissance and photography. Rocky Boyer (above, right) regularly ripped Brownfield in his diary.
Caption: Ralph Brownfield at his desk. According to Rocky Boyer and others in the 71st, Brownfield spent less time working than worrying about his personal comfort.
Caption: Orders came down that army units in New Guinea would erect only prefabricated common buildings, such as the Biak mess hall shown here. Nonetheless, Ralph Brownfield ended up with a custom-built eight-room house with two lavatories for himself and his staff.
Caption: Douglas C-47 Skytrains on Biak's Mokmer Strip in June 1944. The Skytrain was a military transport workhorse. On Biak, cargo included Ralph Brownfield's assorted luxuries.
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|Title Annotation:||I WAS THERE|
|Author:||Boyer, Rocky; Boyer, Allen D.|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2017|
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