The Avengers of Battan
Zig Zag Pass The Philippines WWII
Sargent Dana Frame
I wrote this story 30 years ago as an antidote to the nightmares I was having, re-living the bloody battles of combat. I was told if I put my memories on paper, it would relieve my nightmares. One never forgets this kind of tragedy, no matter how old you get. I will be 83 this year and it is set in my mind as graphically clear today as it was the day it happened.
Japanese Marines were holding Zig-Zag Pass. It was predicted it could never be taken. We, the 38th Cyclone Infantry Division, had never been in combat, and this is what we were facing.
The number of Veterans of this conflict left to tell the personal stories of Zig-Zag Pass, are becoming fewer and fewer. I was only eighteen at that time, most of the men were in their 30's and 40's, I doubt if they are around now.
Our division had just finished a 6 month assignment in New Guinea, mostly unloading bombs from ships. The heat was unbelievable!! We were just 10 degrees from the equator. Refrigeration was a luxury not known there. I remember burying our soda & beer in the ground for cooling, which wasn't much cooler. We thought our camp in the jungle was close to hell. We found out later that this was heaven compared to combat.
Heading for we didnt know where, we were put in a convoy of ships. The ships finally unloaded at Laity Island in the Philippines. We were on guard duty there. After three months we shipped out again, back on a troop carrier in a large convoy of ships, destroyers, submarines & other combat fighting vessels.
We knew we were in for something big, we didn't know what, until we arrived off the coast of Luzon Island in the Philippines, at Subic Bay. Our convoy was moving in a huge circle, at the same time lowering large landing craft
loaded with combat troops, while the big guns on our ships were blasting away at the beaches.
When a landing craft was in the water, it would join others in a smaller circle,until all the landing crafts were in the water. I need not tell you how scared we were, you could see the panic on men's faces, without a doubt we were praying! We were not discussing theological questions about the existence of God. WE WERE PRAYING!
The command was given the order to hit the beach. We came out of the circle and headed for the beach. The landing craft couldn't quite make it, so we jumped off the end of the craft and waded the rest of the way. To our delight there was no enemy waiting for us.
Our next assignment was a twenty mile hike. Twenty miles can be exhausting and excruciating with full back pack, cartridge belt, hand grenades and rifle. But that was incidental compared to the sniper fire, artillery, and the loss of several men along the way.
It was getting late in the evening so we dug in for the night. I dug my fox hole nice and deep. I had a sense that there would be big trouble that night. We were in a small valley with a horseshoe hill surrounding us on 3 sides. A perfect set up for disaster. It was a long day and I was so very tired. We had a quick dinner of C rations. While we were eating we looked up on the ridge above us, 600 to 700 yards away. There we saw a column of Japanese marines circling us. I cannot begin to explain the panic in the very depths of my being, And, I'm certain everyone else had the same feelings. I was getting ready to get down in my nice deep fox hole, where I would be pretty safe, when my Platoon Officer called my name, "Frame, you go with these two men, back on the side of that hill, and keep us informed of what the Japs are up to."
He was evidently going by a training manual. It was hard to believe he would send men into a sure death trap. The Japanese would be coming down that hill at any moment. Our artillery would be zeroing in on them. Our own troops would be turning 30 caliber machine guns at them, and we would be right in the middle.
YOU OBEY ORDERS IN COMBAT!!
The three of us took off with our rifles and radio transmitter, and snuck up a ravine for some cover. We climbed the hill for a couple hundred yards. It was getting dark and there were some artillery shells exploding around us.
We had to take cover fast. My two buddies went to one side of a small hog-back ridge we were on. I went to the other, I don't know why. I believe it was because I saw a large tree that had fallen. I crawled up under it as far as I could get, and pulled leaves up over me.
It wasn't long before all hell broke loose. The Japanese were attacking our troops in the valley, throwing mortar and artillery shells down on them.
Our troops were lighting up the skies with flares, and saturating the area with machine gun fire. I could see it all from under my tree.
I thought my platoon commander was sending me into great The only thing that attacked me was mosquitoes. They were big and nasty biting right through my clothing, I think they enjoyed eating through repellent. Funny how a little insect can be so unnerving in the midst of deadly artillery.
The next morning we radioed that we were coming in, we were afraid we would be picked off by our own men. I don't remember what we had for breakfast, food doesnt taste good with your guts in knots.
We started our push into Zig-Zag Pass. The enemy didn't push very easily, they were dug into the ground, with tunnels and bunkers, so concealed you could step over them, or fall into them. It was really slow advancing. We were pinned down with sniper, and machine gun fire so much of the time. Our artillery and fire bombs from low flying airplanes would clear out the jungle in front of us.
That didn't get rid of the Japs. They were down deep in the ground and would pop up almost right under you. I was walking along the side of a tank as it moved along blasting at bunkers.
A Japanese marine jumped up out of a hole just a few feet away with a TNT charge, ran to the tank, threw the charge under the tank and ran back to his hole. I wasn't fast enough to get a shot at him.
We had just taken a hill and we were feeling at ease getting ready to dig in for the night when all of a sudden the enemy cut loose with a machine gun.
Several men were hit before we could hit the ground . One of my buddies standing beside me, got his arm half shot off. Over the hill from us, artillery dropped in on the men in the valley. A man's head flew up over our heads. We were lying on our stomachs trying to dig in for the night. I felt cramps in my stomach, feeling I was terribly constipated. I snuck back down over the hill and nothing happened. I kept hurting so I told the medic and he examined me. In short, he told me I was having an appendicitis attack, and would have to go to the hospital.
Was that good news to me? You better believe it!! I was getting out of this mess. I was transported by ambulance to a small emergency hospital about ten miles back.... I was put on an operating table. An army Captain with a 45 hanging on his hip, and a male nurse carrying a gasoline lantern, checked me out.
The Captain said, You have a busted appendix and need to be operated on immediately. He gave me a spinal injection, which numbed me from the waist down. Half way through the operation, the Japanese started throwing hand grenades and firing on the hospital. I thought I was lucky to get away from the front line, now I wasn't so sure! I could hear the hospital help running outside. I was looking for the enemy to come through the tent at any moment. The doctor had to sew me up fast. I was put on a cot and left alone. I was the only one in the tent. I couldn't move because of the spinal injection. I tried to roll off the cot, and get under it so I could hide, but I couldn't move so I did the only thing possible: I prayed
The next morning I was taken to an army hospital in the town of San Antonio, I believe. Word was trickling in from wounded soldiers saying that I hadn't been gone long before another counter attack on my company took place, with lots of casualties. I was in the hospital a couple weeks when the head nurse caught me and another patient out behind the hospital, riding a bucking burro!
In a few more days I was headed back to combat. I caught up with my company. They were retaking Clark Air Field which is close to the City of Manila. I hadn't been in combat too long when my heavy cartridge belt came down over my incision and tore it open. Back in the hospital and another operation! They removed gauze that the first doctor missed when he sewed me up too quickly. I'm surprised he took the time to sew me up, while hand grenades were being thrown at the tent.
Zig Zag Pass was taken from the Japanese and I thank God that he spared my life through that battle.
Clark Air Field
There were bullets zinging over my head, artillery and mortar shells bursting all around, only a few of us left in my Infantry Company. I was down in my fox hole writing my mother a letter. I was trying to tell my mother that I didn't think I was going to make it back..., seeing so many of my buddies shot down all around me, their bodies riddled with bullets and shrapnel, breathing through holes in their backs, begging me to finish them off with no medic around.
My body was always tense, waiting for that bullet with my name attached. A few weeks before I wrote my good bye letter, the Japanese just before darkness and under the cover of the thick jungle, positioned themselves just 30 to 40 feet outside of our perimeter, which is a circle of men in fox holes. A fox hole is about 3 to 4 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet in the ground. At night our artillery would put a barrage of explosives all around us, about 75 to 100 feet out. To keep any infiltration of the enemy from coming in on us under the cover of darkness, this time they had already come in, laying only a few feet from us.
That night we were ordered to unload our guns, fight hand to hand, with knives, shovels, or what ever we wanted to use. We were fighting the Japanese Marines. No way, if I could help it, I was going to tackle one of those big guys in hand to hand combat.
I had a 38 special hand gun tucked away for close combat. The Japanese attacked us. I could hear them coming from the other side of our position. I could hear the sound of clashing weapons, moaning ,and intense fighting. They were coming my way. I can't tell you how scared I was.
I lay on my back my knees drawn up, my head on my helmet, my 38 pointing at the opening. And I prayed!! Then I went to sleep. Am I a hero or what? I had a dream of the brightest beam of light shining down from the heavens. I must of slept for a couple of hours. When I woke up every thing was quiet. I stood up to relieve myself, over the edge of the fox hole.
The next morning my squad leader told me he was ready to jump me, thinking I was the enemy. He also told me a Japanese soldier had stepped over my fox hole while I was sleeping. The moon was shining down through the trees. He evidently thought I was dead, and went on.
Hold this hill, no matter what!
We accomplished our mission.... but with so many casualties. I drew this sketch from a photo that I saw that resembles this mountain , I just couldn't get it out of my mind. I had nightmares for 20 years reliving the combat battles of this hill.
Leading up to the taking of this hill my squad was picked to take out a machine-gun bunker, I new there was no way we could do it without loosing our lives, I panicked, I got cramps in my stomach, and I was left behind. Couple hrs later I got the message, my best friend , my buddy, my front scout companion, was taking down by machine gun, and the Japanese were using him as a sand bag.
This is where
we lost all of our officers, one large artillery shell took them
all out, as they were all grouped together eating. I was standing
a few feet from them when it happened. The concussion from the blast picked
me up and laid me out in a slit trench that was used for a
garbage pit. When I got up, I was happy to see blood all over me
- I thought I was wounded and would be getting out of there!! To
my dismay it was only jelly. With all of our officers gone, I realized I had to
take command. At that time there were 1 or 2 of our original
older men but I didn't think they could handle the job. We had
maybe 21 men out of the 200 we started with when we took the
hill. The rest were all new replacements, new from the states and
scared to death!! Night
was coming on. We were constantly under mortar fire from the
Japanese. They were just on the other side of the ridge, no more
than 50 to 100 feet away.
From my foxhole, I could see the lights of Manila ( eight to ten miles away) shining so brightly on this hill. A new supply of hand grenades had just arrived by Philippine carriers.
They were the only things that were going to save us. I ran to each fox hole along the top of the ridge, under mortar fire, to give each man his share of the grenades. I lost count of the number of nights we just threw hand grenades all night long. This hill was the highest and had to be held for the security of the entire operation. The Japanese had knee mortars, a small shell 8 to 10 inches long.
They were so close, 50 to 100 feet from us. We could hear them shoot them off and that tipped us off. We could see them up in the air arching to come back at us. We would run to the other side of our perimeter dodging them. A few days before our officers were killed, two of my buddies and I were occupying two slit trenches and a fox hole at the top of the hill over to the left. For 3 or 4 nights straight we threw hand grenades. Three or four other men replaced us so we could get some rest. That night the enemy threw a satchel charge of explosives in on them. There wasn't anything left of them to pick up. God moved me again. A few days later we saw them coming, some replacement troops with a new company commander. He was a first Lieutenant. You could see his shiny silver bar from three hundred feet away. That bothered me! The first thing that came to my mind--he would get us killed!! I decided not to tell him that I wasn't an officer, so I could have some say in our operation. Some one told him I was in charge and he called me sergeant. I didn't correct him. He brought orders with him that we were to make a reconnaissance in back of the enemy lines. The next day we prepared for our scouting mission. It was to be about a weeks journey. I need not tell you how scared I was with a new commander and new troops that had never been in combat. We took off on our patrol. Our new commander wanted to follow the path that the Japanese had been using, a perfect place to get ambushed. I confronted him about it. He said, "Well sergeant, which way would you have us go?"
We cut a new route with our machetes through the jungle until we got through their line. We were to check on their supplies, troop movement, and troop strength. We were completely isolated from our battalion. Supplies were dropped from small air craft, for which we had to fight the Japanese. Water, which tasted like gasoline, was dropped in 50 gallon drums. We would burp gasoline all day long. A large group of Japanese came with white flags wanting to surrender, but we thought it was a trick. We opened fire on them and they ran back into the jungle. There was an artillery observer with us. He would lay artillery protection around us at night to keep the enemy from penetrating our encampment. The mental comfort of artillery protection caused us to sleep like babies, even though there was shelling all around us. Being refreshed by sleep did not make the week any less miserable, wading through rivers, swamps and jungle in the same wet boots. When we got back to friendly territory, trucks picked us up to take us back to our Battalion headquarters. I was so glad to be back in a safe area--but very disappointed at what I saw when I entered my company. There were too many men lying around on their bunks that I thought should have been with us in combat. I realized they had been wounded or sick, but they looked healthy to me. To make things worse one of my buddies came to me and told me that my name was on the bulletin board for Battalion messenger.
The next day I was to report at 5 am in the morning. I couldn't believe it! These dead beats lying around on their bunks, while I was dodging bullets, leading the company, and this was my thanks!! This would be the first night out of a fox hole in weeks, and getting out of my nice soft bunk at 5 am wouldn't be easy. But, I did it, and I delivered some messages, including one to my new company commander. I went into his office saluted him, and handed him a message. He immediately said, "Sergeant, why are you on this detail?" I told him I wasn't a sergeant. In a few days he called me to his office and handed me sergeant stripes, and a 3 day pass to a rest area.
The Japanese surrender came soon after my return to camp. My company was ordered to go back into the mountains and escort the Japanese out. A few weeks later I returned to the USA and was discharged at Fort Meade Maryland. I bought a car and headed home to the farm in West Virginia