World War II U.S. Paratroopers - Beat the Odds
This is the story of how something that started out so dreadfully wrong, turned into something perfectly right....
In 2010, Jim and I were invited to an event to honor WWII veterans in Southeastern Connecticut. At the meeting we learned that WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 1000 per day*. The intent of the event was to express gratitude to the veterans for serving in World War II before they passed on.
It was a very pleasant gathering with several local dignitaries as guest speakers. After the guest speakers, the Secretary of State (at the time), Susan Bysiewicz, asked that veterans speak up and take a few minutes to tell a story about their experiences in WWII. Quite a few of the veterans told stories. Ms. Bysiewicz indicated there was time for one more and my other half, Jim raised his hand and was chosen to speak.
I was so impressed and proud of him. Normally a shy person, he spoke beautifully and related the most interesting story of all the veterans. He started by saying: "This is the story of how something that started out so dreadfully wrong, turned into something perfectly right."
Jim was a paratrooper with the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater in WWII.
After a little background information about WWII, we will relate Jim's story.
Background Of The Island Of Corregidor Prior To World War II
Prior to WW2, the Philippine nation was a U.S. protectorate. In order to defend the main island of Luzon and the capital of Manila from a western attack the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a fortress on a small island in Manila Bay. The island was called Corregidor.
The U.S. Army built barracks, a parade ground and a golf course for troops stationed there.
The island of Corregidor is shaped like a tadpole and is approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and 3 miles (4.8km) long. It has steep wooded cliffs in which there were hidden gun emplacements. It was occupied by units of the U.S. Army.
During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in May, 1942 they captured Corregidor to silence the guns and imprison the American occupants.
The U.S. defense of the island was exemplary, but the Japanese succeeded in taking the island. The invasion was extremely costly in terms of the casualties and time to both the Americans and Japanese.
Japanese Taking Of Corregidor 1942
World War II Begins
and so does Jim's story
Photo of Corregidor At Entrance to Manila Bay
In early 1945, during the re-taking of the Philippines, U.S. Navy ships, maneuvering around Manila Bay were being fired on by guns, manned by the Japanese, on Corregidor.
It was decided that Corregidor had to be taken back.
In remembering the Japanese situation earlier in the war, it was decided that an infantry amphibious landing would be pre-empted by a surprise parachute assault to secure the beach for the infantry units.
My outfit, the 503rd Parachute Regiment combat team, would make the jump.
Here's where things first start going terribly wrong:
Our best intelligence sources told us there were 850 Japanese troops on the island.
There were actually over 7,000 enemy troops.
The Problem is......................
We could only muster 52 planes which would suffice for one reinforced battalion (1000 men). With the intelligence information we had, this was thought to be sufficient to secure a perimeter on "topside" overlooking the beach where the infantry would come in. The rest of the regiment would come in later as reinforcements.
On the morning of the assault, my battalion (the 3rd) would begin jumping at 8:00 a.m. and cover the beach. Then, at 10:00 a.m. the infantry would begin their landings on the beach.
I am not aware if our command knew that the Japanese commander thought that an air drop was impossible. The Japanese commander deployed his guns facing the sea in readiness for an amphibious attack.
The Japanese commander knew it would take at least 1000 yards (.9 km) for a plane load of paratroopers to safely jump. There was no space on the island clear enough to jump that was larger than 250 yards .
There were the old parade grounds and golf course, from before the Japanese capture of the island in 1942. However, these were strewn with rubble from the bombing and shelling of the concrete and tin roof barracks. There were also sheared, pointy tree stumps.
The Japanese commander thought these two areas were not serious drop zones. On the other hand, our commanders thought it would be okay to use the parade grounds and golf course.
was for the planes to approach in 2 columns (26 planes in each column). Each plane would drop 6 or 7 paratroopers; swing around, get at the end of the line, come back over the drop zone again, drop 6 or 7 more, and repeat this maneuver until all the troops have jumped.
On the day of the jump, things went pretty much as expected.
As the planes approached, the boats with the infantry were positioning offshore. (The Japanese commander may have thought the planes were bombers making a last "softening up" run before the infantry came in. He made no changes).
We completed our jump successfully by all accounts.
We suffered 25% casualties, mostly jump injuries on the broken concrete barracks and tree stumps. We were able to form a defense perimeter on "topside". We still had 750 able bodied men and were able to knock out some heavy weapons aimed at the beach.
So far everything that could have gone horribly wrong, had gone perfectly right.
While I made a reasonably easy landing within the drop zone, several planes dropped the other troopers too early.
They landed in the wooded cliff below "topside" and on the beach below. They were in the areas where the enemy was most concentrated and hidden.
This is where they phrase "horribly wrong" fits.
These paratroopers were able to amass in small groups, and proceeded to the rendezvous point.
The Japanese military conducted all operations based on commands from the top. The foot soldier does nothing until he receives an order from his immediate commander, who receives his orders through a chain of command, from the top.
Thus said, one group of paratroopers, who were dropped in the wrong place, were making their way to "topside". They ran across a group of 7 or 8 Japanese soldiers. A quick fight ensued and all but one of the Japanese were killed. It turns out the dead included the island commander and some of his staff. The one prisoner taken happened to be the commander's orderly.
This is where something horribly wrong turns into something perfectly right.
Now there are are over 7,000 Japanese troops on Corregidor doing nothing; sitting around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
With their command out of commission, there was no one to do this.
It had been decided by the Japanese on Corregidor to conceal their communications by using telephones rather than radios. All calls went through one center. If one outpost wanted to communicate with another outpost right next to it, it still had to go through this center.
Now, another group of paratroopers who were dropped in the wrong place, were trying to make their way from the cliffs to "topside". They ran across this phone center and after a fight, completely destroyed the phone center and all Japanese communications on Corregidor.
Here again, something horribly wrong turns into something perfectly right.
There are over 7,000 Japanese troops sitting around waiting to hear from their dead commander on their dead telephones.
Some of the most intense combat followed the next 9 or 10 days.
It took 12 days to defeat them. All but approximately 50 Japanese troops were killed or committed suicide.
Of the 50 survivors, 20 were taken prisoner, 20 remained hidden in the wooded areas. Approximately 10 were picked up by our navy as they tried to swim away from the island.
Inside The Pacific War Memorial On Corregidor
Airborne & Special Forces Museums and Other Information
Jim and I had the privilege of visiting these museums several years ago.
The Airborne & Special Operations Museum and the 82nd Airborne Division Museum are fairly close to each other in North Carolina.
- Airborne & Special Operations Museum
Located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA A great place to visit for more history and information on paratroopers and other special ops forces. It has extensive exhibits. They include miliary weapons and uniforms of the both the US forces and th
- Home - 82nd Airborne Division Museum
Welcome to the 82d Airborne Division War Memorial Museum The museum is dedicated to telling the history of the 82d Airborne Division from 1917 to the prese
- US Army War College
Jim and I visited this library about 3 years ago. It is a huge library, with an extensive collection. For anyone interested in doing serious research on the United States Army it is a treasure trove of information.
- The MacArthur Memorial, Norfolk, VA.
We also visited this museum and memorial in Norfolk, VA. It has an interesting collection of information and artifacts related to General MacArthur's service and World War II
- National WWII Museum
Located in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
More Information on Corregidor and Photos
Many of these links offer pictures and additional insight into the fighting on Corregidor.
Some of the pictures are of the way Corregidor looks today, showing ruins and war memorials. By looking at several different angles of the terrain on Corregidor, you will get a better idea of the placement of the troops in Jim's story.
- My Manila
An interesting group of photos of the various war memorials on Corregidor. They include: the US memorial, the Japanese memorial and the memorial honoring the Filipino and American fighting men (Brothers in Arms).
- Panoramas of WWII Landmarks 1945- 2007
Photos of the mortors, barracks ruins and the Malinta Tunnel . It also includes the Japanese Garden of Peace a Japanese War Memorial.
- Corregidor -- Island's Geographic Sectors
More information on Corregidor, plus a gallery of pictures. This includes pictures of the island terrain which will give you a good idea of hill and cliffs
- The U.S. Airborne, WWII
Information on the 503 PIR and their other activities, achievements and sacrifices in WWII in the Pacific
In Loving Memory of Jim
This article is dedicated to Herbert (Jim) Margosian
Thank you Jim, for sharing this story with us all.
In 2013, the United Stated Department of Veteran's Affairs figures indicated that World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 600 per day.
Of the 16 million who served, only 1.2 million remain alive today.
It is projected that by 2036, there will be no remaining World War II veterans alive.
100% of the earnings from this article are donated to Operation Gratitude
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Ellen Gregory