Thursday, March 31, 2016

27) Betty's Letters Burned Up In Beach Attack

9th FS Unit History- late May 1944

"At night, air alerts kept the ship gun crews busy - dashing from their bunks to their posts.
On 16 May the anchor was raised and the Berry sailed a mile or so over to the smaller Hollandia Harbor by the town itself. Like all New Guinea towns it had no size. In fact, we could see only one little European type house. We could see Jap supplies stacked on the beach, including radial engines apparently new and mounted on assembly mounts."

"The 17th found us finally beginning to unload. First to be unloaded was tentage and boxes, all of which had to be man-handled off the LCT once it was beached. The fact that the tentage was wet did not make it any lighter for the "9th Squadron Stevedores". As our equipment and personal luggage were piled on the beach, our men went ashore to guard it and to load it on trucks that were supposed to come down from the airstrips in the mountains behind the town. The trucks did not show up, so some of our men stayed on the beach with the equipment, others scrounged around for something to eat and then bunked for the night on Pancake Hill. There were several alerts but no raids that night. The 9th was now split five ways. The air echelon had arrived at Hollandia strip, part of us was still aboard the Berry, a few were on the beach, some on Pancake Hill, and the rest were enroute between the beach and the airstrip."

"Late that afternoon clouds of smoke arose from the landing area on the beach, and that evening a large explosion was heard followed by several more. A hill obscured the flames, but after dark we could see the glow from the fire and occasional tracers streaking across the sky. Three of our men on the beach guarding baggage and equipment were right in the middle of what looked to us aboard ship as quite a catastrophe. Cpl. W. Williams, while trying to save our equipment and baggage, was nearly torn apart by bomb fragments and died that night in a hospital on the beach. This news reached us the next day (19th) and to say we were shocked would be understating our feelings. Cpl. Williams had been with us since we left 'Frisco as the 49th Pursuit Group in January 1942. The 9th, particularly the armament section, had lost one of its most popular and well-regarded members."

"Although we knew that a great deal of our personal baggage and squadron equipment had been destroyed, we learned to some satisfaction that the trucks that should have moved us and our supplies up to the airstrip had been used to haul aviation gasoline out of the very dump which exploded. On the following day smoke was still coming from the beach, but the LCT's and the winch gang got together and we continued unloading. A sizable amount of men and equipment had been put ashore by dark. After several more delays, the loading off was finally completed on the 25th of May and men and equipment started to arrive at the airstrip. The air echelon's activities were by far the most interesting, and the ground echelon soon caught up on the story of the advance echelon's achievements."

"The ground echelon left for the beach on the 30th and again the 9th was split up, hopefully for only a short time. The end of the month found the air echelon at Hollandia preparing to operate as efficiently as possible with about 60 men. The ground echelon had started to load their equipment on LST's which were due to sail shortly for Biak Island." 

(Ken Clark’s Unit History posted on

  1. Burned Letters---In December of 1981 my parents, Jack and Betty Riley, showed these letters to me.  At that time I asked why there were so few of Mom’s letters saved.  Mom, remarked, quite uncomfortably, that they had all been burned up on a beach. At the time I thought that perhaps Dad had just lost or not saved them and hence her discomfort in talking about it.  But, after reading the 9th FS Unit History I now realize that Jack’s personal belongings must have been among those burned on the beach in this account.  It is only after this date that I have any letters written by Betty.  There is no way to know if he was on the beach that afternoon, but it is very likely that his personal belongings were among those that burned.
  2. CPL. W. W. Williams--- Here is a link to the Findagrave listing, which shows a photo and obituary, for 25 year old Woodrow W. Williams who died while watching after the equipment and baggage on the beach.   Link to info about W.W. Williams
  3. Stevedore--- A person who loads and unloads boats in port.
  4. Hollandia--- The battle of Hollandia at the end of April 1944 caught the Japanese by surprise.  It involved 80,000 Allied troops and was led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.  The 9th squadron followed in May.  Link to a video about the Battle of Hollandia

Again--many thanks to Ken Clark and others for their extensive information on posted on

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