Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 11

When I last left Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32d Division the rages of battle had taken their toll. Six weeks of savage fighting to reclaim the area around Buna left the entire division on the brink of extinction.


The remaining elements of the 32d Division went to Australia to recover over the first few months of 1943. It would take until April before all the men of the 32d could fully be evacuated back to Australia.

With the first stage of the Papuan campaign finished, I have turned to The 32d Infantry Division in World War II by Major General H.W. Blakeley as my primary source document for this section of my research. I pulled additional information from HyperWar: New Guinea.

The 32d Division spent months in Australia at Camp Cable getting recovered, retrained, and resupplied. The unit made a miraculous recovery.

Back to New Guinea

December 22, 1943 the 32d Division again returned to the battle plans. They would return to New Guinea.

New Guinea Lines 1943-1944

The Japanese forces had taken a bloodied nose in the first stage of the fighting for the 2nd largest island in the world. Both sides suffered major losses, but the Japanese took the defeat at Buna. Despite that fact, they were still a formidable foe. The Japanese held the strategic advantage in the South Pacific. They had plans to make for Port Moresby.

The Allied forces were pushing back against Japanese strongholds across the Pacific realm. Operation Cartwheel was the name of the Allied offensive. One by one, the operation claimed places the Japanese had inhabited. The 32d Division would join the larger efforts by taking part in Operation Dexterity.

Operation Dexterity

The 32d Division would take part in efforts to neutralize enemy forces at Saidor. The move would help to sever the Japanese supply lines. Assigned to the Michaelmas Task Force, the division would take part in a beach landing. Battle plans, drawn up with only the aid of aerial photographs, split the force into 3 groups, each with an assigned beach for landing. They called the landing points red, white, or blue. They would split the second battalion of the 126th up with one company landing on the white beach and one on blue. Leadership set D-day for January 2, 1944.

32d Division Troops Saidor
Troops of the 32d Division near Saidor.
(DA photograph)

The beach landing near Saidor went smoothly. Few enemy troops were in the area and they killed most of those in the first push. American casualties of the landing were small, 1 killed, 5 wounded and 2 drowned. Over 6700 troops successfully made the landing. The Saidor area was home to a prewar air field. Getting the air field operational was a key part of the Saidor mission.

For the next several months, elements of the 32d Division patrolled and protected the area of operations around Saidor. The Japanese forces withdrew from the area east of the line, bypassing the men at Saidor, and engaging in a brutal march through the mountainous terrain to reach other Japanese forces at Madang.

The reports from the days as they passed detail small pockets of enemy resistance around the Saidor area. Information on the 2nd Battalion of the 126th puts the men near Sel on January 5, 1944. The forces faced off with a contingent of enemy forces the same day. Days passed with little enemy activity. January 8th saw another small attack by the Japanese.

Beyond the enemy, the terrain of New Guinea once again proved to be punishing. Rain fall totals during the time range during some days in the double digit range. Monsoons battered the island.

In March, the 2/126th accepted a new mission. The battalion moved to Yalua Plantation. They received the task of cleaning up straggling enemy forces. The men of the 126th landed on March 5. On April 14, they contacted the Australian forces. Operation Dexterity was a success.

The mission to take Saidor was a huge improvement over the missteps of the battle of Buna. The Allied forces were turning the tide.

Follow my blog to continue my mission to retrace the steps of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32d Division during their service in the southwest Pacific of World War II

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 10

Courage Under Fire

In my last post about Fred L. Jacobs and the other men of Company E of the 126th the troops were in rough shape. They had launched 3 failed attempts on Buna Mission with catastrophic consequences. By the end of December 19, 1942, most of the men of the 32nd had suffered either combat injury or jungle sickness. The 127th came in to relieve the men of the 126th, the men of the 2/126th moved to the rear to recover.

Buna Mission

The 127th faced the same daunting challenge of merciless crossfire in the triangle. Leadership realized that the task required a new approach. On December 20, 1942, they abandoned attempts to cross the triangle.

Battles raged across the area while the men of Company E were getting recovered. Losses were significant, but they made progress. By December 28th, 1942, the Japanese forces, cut off from the attack on the new approach, could not hold the triangle. The Japanese forces abandoned their 14 bunkers before the Allied forces could take the area.

“I walked along there and found it terrifically strong. It is a mass of bunkers and entrenchments surrounded by swamp. It is easy to see how they held us off so long.”

General Eichelberger to 
General Sutherland After touring the triangle

December 29, 1942

Urbana force was now in the position to take Buna Mission. On December 29, 1942 they moved the men of 2/126th back into the line. They moved into the area of Government Gardens to join the push on Buna Mission. The final attack on Buna Mission would jump off on the morning of December 31, 1942.

Battle of Buna Mission map

While heavy fighting raged around Buna Mission, the men of the 2/126th including Company E, made gains that day. They cleared the Government Gardens of enemy forces and gained about 300 yards of territory. On the Japanese side, the forces were becoming desperate in the face of Allied advances.

January 1, 1943

The fall of Buna Mission was imminent as Allied forces approached from all directions. The Japanese started attempting to escape the advancing forces. On January 1, 1943, Japanese troops were spotting trying to swim away from Buna Mission. Leaders of the Japanese troops, Colonel Yamamoto and Captain Yasuda, met at a central point and killed themselves in the traditional Japanese manner of slitting their own bellies.

The remaining Japanese forces dug in at Buna Mission continued a fight to the death. By 1700, the battle for the mission was over. After six weeks of fighting, the battle for the Buna region was officially complete.

January 9, 1943

Elements of the 126th would see further fighting in the jungles of New Guinea. On January 9, 1943, the last of the 126th received relief. The toll had been heavy. When the 126th marched into the battle of Buna they had numbered 1400 fighting men. On January 9th, they were down to 165. Those 165 were in bad shape.

The Heavy Toll

The 126th evacuated for Port Moresby on January 22, 1943. The report on troop strength on January 20, 1943 showed Company E with 1 officer and 16 enlisted men in fighting shape.

32d Division troops departing for Port Moresby, 4 Feb 1943
DOBODURA AIRSTRIP. 32d Division troops departing for Port Moresby, 4 February 1943.

The Papuan Campaign was one of the costliest in terms of human life lost of the entire Pacific region. The men of the 126th were off for a heavy dose of rest and recuperation in Australia.

Fred L. Jacobs was awarded 3 purple hearts during his service in World War II. I don’t know the details of how he was injured but looking at the casualties experienced by Company E I suspect one of his purple hearts were earned around Buna.

Follow my blog to continue the journey of Company E. 126th Infantry Regiment, 32d Division through the South Pacific of World War II.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 8

Battle of Buna Continues

December 5, 1942 saw the first gains of the 32nd Division forces on Buna village. A platoon of 18 men and a machine gun had managed to push past the line to dig in on the beach between Buna village and Buna mission. Japanese reinforcements could no longer reach the village. The U.S. forces were finally in an advantageous position. Buna Village looked sure to fall.

Battle of Buna Dec 1-16, 1942

The toll for the day was high and the progress came with a high cost. Among those injured during the fighting was General Waldron. He was shot in the shoulder while commanding troops near the front. General Byers replaced General Waldron as commander of the 32nd Division.

It was 1800 that evening when General Eichelberger and the rest of his group of officers left the command point for the rear. The troops had still not taken Buna but General Eichelberger had seen enough to change his opinion about the lack of fighting spirit in the men of the 32nd. On December 6, 1942 Eichelberger noted that the troops had fought hard and had high morale.

December 6, 1942

December 6, 1942 the troops reorganized after the fighting of the previous day. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner were still holding off the Japanese forces trying to reinforce the forces in Buna village. Leadership drew up plans for an attack on the village on the following day.

Herman Bottcher at Buna Gona
Herman Bottcher STROK Time/Life

The attack was led by 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. Companies E and G would attack on the right and left. Company H would offer support fire. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner would hold their position and Company F were set to be reinforcements.

The plan was for the attack on the village to begin in the early afternoon. The Japanese had other ideas. They attacked the men at Bottcher’s Corner at 0600 from both the village and the mission. Reinforced with a fresh platoon from H company, one of the men at Bottcher’s Corner noticed the enemy attack as it was approaching under the cover of the jungle. Cpl. Harold L. Mitchell of Company H. was a forward observer when he saw the Japanese creeping toward Bottcher’s forces. As the enemy was about to attack, in an act of foolish bravery that saved the day, Cpl. Mitchell charged the Japanese with a yell and a bayonet. The Japanese forces were bewildered by his actions and they hesitated their attack and fell back. With his actions Cpl. Mitchell alerted the rest of the forces of the impending attack which allowed the U.S. forces to cut down the enemy approach. Cpl. Mitchell escaped his one-man charge without a scratch.

Companies E and G began their attack at 1335. The approach followed a barrage of artillery and mortars. Once again, they met a heavy determined and fortified enemy. Headway was hard to find.

Japanese Bunker
Reinforced Japanese Bunker.

An hour later things were at a stalemate. Company F came up to support Company E and G. The line still did not manage to make significant headway.

December 8, 1942

December 8, 1942 the U.S. forces attacked again. The troops began moving forward at 1415. Once again, they hit the enemy with a barrage of mortars, artillery, and machine gun fire. Once again, the enemy stood against the attack.

The Japanese had fortified bunker systems. Taking the enemy forces often came a high human cost. One by one the Japanese strongholds fell as men whose names history has forgotten exhibited feats of insane bravery. Japanese leaders made one last attempt to break the U.S. approach on Buna Village that evening. An enemy force of less than 150 men attacked from both Buna village and Buna mission. The attack failed. The tide of the battle had turned in the favor of the allied forces.

Repulsed a Dozen Times

By December 9, 1942, the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry had attacked Buna village a dozen times without taking the objective. Company E had heavy losses, it had less than 50 effectives left. The entire battalion was only 250 men. They were so understrength that it was becoming a challenge to hold the ground they had gained. Relief arrived by way of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry. Company E was relieved and moved to the reserve area.

The battle for Buna village would only continue for a few more days. After the heavy fighting and extreme losses of the 2/126th the village was in U.S. hands on December 14th, 1942.

Tides finally seem to be turning in favor of allied forces with the fall of Buna village. Much work remained. The 2/126th moved to the rear to catch their breath but it would be a short reprieve. Follow my blog to trace the steps of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32nd Division through the battles of the South Pacific during World War II.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 7

Battle of Buna rages on

Fred Jacobs service photo WWII
PFC Fred Jacobs

In the last blog post, the men of Company E, 126th Regiment were outside the village of Buna. They had thrown attack after attack at the entrenched enemy, but each time the Japanese forces repelled the U.S. forces.

An impatient MacArthur changed command of all the forces. Gone was General Harding. General Eichelberger oversaw the operations in the region, and General Waldron was leading the 32nd.

General Eichelberger toured the front lines on December 2nd and returned a scathing report. His review of the men was less than flattering. On December 3rd, the troops got a hot meal, their first real meal in weeks.  The General reorganized the troops. He issued orders for a renewed attack for the 4th.

Warren and Urbana Fronts Battle of Buna Gona 1-16 December 1942
Battle lines Battle of Buna 1-16 December 1942

Leadership pushed the attack for the 4th back to give the troops and leaders more time to get prepared.

December 5, 1942

December 5, 1942 found the Japanese forces just as dug in and determined as ever. Battle started at 0830 on the Warren front. A 1000 attack followed on the Urbana front. The allied forces threw everything they had at the Japanese to end the stalemate.

On the Urbana front, the men had a little rest and food. They were ready to finish the job they had started on December 2. The plan of attack had the 2/126th attacking the perimeter of Buna Village.

Generals Eichelberger and Waldron were both at the command point on the morning of December 5th as the attack got started.

B 25. Image corrected to reflect more accurate version of plane used at the time

The renewed attack on Buna Village started with nine B-25’s raining bombs down on the enemy position. Artillery and mortars followed the B-25’s. At 1030 the infantry forces started to move in.

The Japanese had several hundred men in the area. Their forces were dug into elaborate bunkers and barricades. They would be a formidable opponent.

With each attempt to approach the village, the U.S. forces met with fierce resistance. Company E. under Captain Shultz battled an entrenched enemy. They pushed forward through heavy enemy fire until they reached an enemy line 50 yards from Buna Village where they had to dig in.

Company E would take heavy losses that day. 1st Sgt. Lutgens who kept a journal of the trek across the Stanley Owens received severe injuries along with 1st Lt. Thomas Knode. One man who lost his life that day was Sgt. Harold Graber who jumped up and fired his weapon into the enemy strongpoint holding up the advance.

General Eichelberger, unhappy with the progress of the attack, took control of the operations himself. He ordered Company F, which was in reserve because of heavy losses from the previous battle to pass through Company E’s line and take the village. Other leaders questioned the order, but they followed it.

“Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive”

General MacArthur to General Eichelberger

The stakes couldn’t be higher for any of the men at the Battle of Buna as it raged into its second month. General MacArthur still had pie on his face after being run out of the Philippines by the Japanese. Ego and pride seem to be massive motivators in many of his decisions. He forced poor choices and hasty actions that added hardship to the hell of war.

It is only safe to assume that the mission statement that General Eichelberger left Port Moresby with was a factor in his decisions in December 1942 when he ordered Company F to push past Company E and take Buna Village. He had a do or die mission.

1st LT Odell had recently taken leadership of Company F. He described the results of the mission in his own words.

“The Lieutenant General explained what he wanted, and after a brief delay, I brought up the company and deployed accordingly. Pravda [1st Sgt. George Pravda] was to take half the company up one side of the trail, and I the other half on the other side. We were given ten minutes to make our reconnaissance and to gather information from the most forward troops which we were to pass. It was intended that we finish the job–actually take the Village–and [it was thought] that we needed little more than our bayonets to do it. Well, off we went, and within a few minutes our rush forward had been definitely and completely halted. Of the 40 men who started with me, 4 had been (known) killed, and 18 were lying wounded. We were within a few yards of the village, but with . . . no chance of going a step further. . . . [Pravda] was among the wounded, and casualties were about as heavy on his side”

1st LT Robert H. Odell

Company E had failed to breach the enemy line. The Japanese repulsed company F. One unit, a platoon of Company H, gained ground by pushing to the north. Under SSGT. Herman Bottcher the unit knocked out several enemy positions, crossed the creek, and dug in on the beach.

The unit, 18 men and 1 machine gun, fought off enemy attacks from both Buna Village and Buna Mission. Bodies piled up on the beach with neither side able to retrieve the dead. With Bottcher and his men holding the beach, it cut the village off from reinforcement. Buna was still in enemy hands but for the first time in days, there was progress.

Follow my blog as I continue to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs and the unit he served with during WWII

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Courage Under Fire: Growing Up in the South Pacific of WWII Pt 6

It has been a few weeks since the start of my blog on Fred Jacobs and his experiences during WWII. My goal when I began was to see what details I could dig up, and I expected to finish before Veteran’s Day. It didn’t work out that way. I didn’t expect the wealth of information I would turn up on the day-to-day movements of Fred’s company through the war. Nor did I expect the vivid details. Silly I suppose but it is what it is. With that being said I will work to continue the story of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of the Red Arrow Division through World War II despite the passing of my original self-imposed deadline and the growing length of the series.

On the outskirts of Buna

November 30, 1942 found the men of Co. E a few hundred yards from Buna Village. The Japanese had a heavily fortified force in the area. Back in Port Moresby, General MacArthur sacked General Harding. Leadership of the 32nd Infantry Division passed to General Waldron from General Harding.

General Albert W. Waldron (center, facing forward) commanding general, 32nd Division Artillery, discusses plans for the impending battle on 15 November 1942. He was appointed by Maj. Gen. Robert Eichelberger as commanding officer of the 32nd Infantry Division on 3 December 1942, but was wounded by a Japanese sniper on 5 December 1942.
General Albert W. Waldron (center, facing forward) commanding general, 32nd Division Artillery, discusses plans for the impending battle on 15 November 1942. He was appointed by Maj. Gen. Robert Eichelberger as commanding officer of the 32nd Infantry Division on 3 December 1942, but was wounded by a Japanese sniper on 5 December 1942.

Away from the politics of Generals, the men of the 32nd Infantry Division faced more immediate issues. Bad intel had underestimated the enemy forces. The night of November 30th into December 1st was a restless night. The troops expected a counterattack, but it never came. 

On the morning of December 1, the troops tried to take Buna a second time. Colonel Mott sent troops up to reinforce the men of Co. E, 126th for the attack. They knocked Japanese bunkers out with mortar fire from Company H, and the rest of the forces could advance. The troops were on the verge of taking the village when battle field confusion led to a halt in the advance. Another restless night peppered with machine gunfire and very little rest passed for the men.

Battle Lines of Urbana and Warren Fronts

December 2, the men again made a push on Buna. Once again, the enemy withstood the assault. The men of Company E were showing signs of extreme battle fatigue. Fever ran rampant in the units. They suffered from a lack of rations and other supplies.

On the evening of December 2, after Company E attacked without success for a fifth time, Colonel Mott made a note in his diary about the state of things on the front line outside of Buna.

“The troops that we have left are weak and tired and need rest and reinforcement.”

Colonel Mott December 2, 1942

As part of a bigger shaking up in leadership, they removed Colonel Mott from his position on December 4. Leadership of the forces Urbana forces passed to Col. John E. Grouse.

“Scrambled like eggs”.

General Eichelberger describing troops on the front on December 2

Conditions on the front dismayed General Eichelberger when he toured the front lines on December 2. He ordered the men regrouped and reorganized. They fed the men who had been surviving on starvation rations their first full meal in a week on December 3. Battle plans for an attack the next day were underway.

Updated Battle Lines

Follow my blog to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs through the hell of World War II with the Red Arrow Division.

Courage Under Fire: Growing Up in the South Pacific of WWII. Part 5

On November 23, 1942 the men of company E were engaged by the enemy in combat for the first time. Japanese forces opened fire on the men. The men were forced to dig into foxholes.

While the men of Company E, 126th were patrolling and engaging with enemy forces west of the bridge over Entrance creek bigger plans were underway for the full assault on Japanese forces at Buna. The battle was scheduled for November 30, 1942.

The forces set to take Buna had been divided into two forces, Warren and Urbana. They were set to approach the enemy within hours of each other.

Situation on Approaches to Buna
Evening, 30 November 1942

The men of Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, were ordered to attack in a northeasterly direction. They would occupy the main strip and secure the small coconut plantation north of the Entrance Creek bridge as they moved through the area.

Things did not go as planned from early on. There were delays. Enemy fire, rising tides in the swamp, and overall confusion were issues that plagued the mission.

“As soon as it was dark, preparations began. When these were completed, we each grasped the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly shuffled forward in the pitch black of the night. Our only guide was the telephone wire leading to the jump-off point, and the troops in the foxholes along the way who had been holding the ground recently captured. There was no trail and consequently several hours were required to travel as many hundreds of yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was forbidden until after the attack was well under way. Japs encountered along the way were to be dealt with silently.”

Robert H. Odell, Lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 126th of that night.

At 0400 the attack began. Companies E, F, and G, 126th made contact with the enemy. Darkness still blanketed the men as they reached a line of Japanese machine guns posts.

All hell broke loose. There was more lead flying through the air . . . than it’s possible to estimate. Machine gun tracers lit the entire area, and our own rifle fir made a solid sheet of flame. Everywhere men cursed, shouted, or screamed. Order followed on order….Brave men led and other followed. Cowards crouched in the grass literally frightened out of their skins.”

Lt Odell

As the battle raged the allied forces gained the momentum. Companies E and F, 126th overran the enemy outpost and gained the ground at the eastern end of the main strip. Once again the men encountered enemy forces which they dispatched.


Colonel Mott tasked Company E, 126th infantry with the task of taking the village. The men moved on Buna Village via the main track. It was 0600 when they attacked the village. 300 yards from the village they discovered an enemy force dug into heavily manned bunker lines. The men of Company E were stopped in their tracks by enemy crossfire.

Changing Leadership

Behind the front lines of Buna, MacArthur was growing inpatient with the time it was taking to take over the island. The powers that be wanted results and quick. Instead, the men on the front lines were tired and sick. They were ill equipped and poorly trained for the mission they found themselves on. MacArthur ignored the logistical hell of the situation on the ground and instead axed General Harding in hopes that new leadership could take the island.

Courage under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of WWII. Pt 4

The Battle of Buna Gona

It was a savage journey over the Owen Stanley Mountains for the men of the 2/126th. They finished their march and filed into the Natunga area on November 2, 1942. The arduous ordeal they experienced had taken its toll on the unit. The men wore ripped uniforms, most of them had missing underwear and socks. Their shoes were falling from their feet. Men, bearded and muddy, emerged after 42 days in the mountains. They were hungry, sick, and exhausted. They would get a few scant days to recover.

“before the 32d Division had its baptism of fire, the troops were covered with jungle ulcers and riddled with malaria, dengue fever, and tropical dysentery.”

Commander of the 2/126th General Eichelberger

Suck it up and soldier on

The men of company E. spent a week getting resupplied and fed in the Natunga region. The battle of Buna Gona was set to begin. Allied forces had orders to take the beach region of the island from the Japanese forces. Despite the hard journey across the mountains, spirits remained high. The troops remained cocky. Notes of the time show a fighting force eager to get their feet wet.

Allied forces remained convinced that Buna would be a pushover. Leaders speculated that the Japanese had withdrawn many of their troops. Natives who surveyed the area and made reports back to allied forces suggested there were few enemy forces in the region. The allies expected little resistance as they made the final push to the beach.

“I think it is quite possible that the Japanese may have pulled out some of their Buna forces.”

General Harding October 14, 1942

General Harding continued to underestimate the strength of the enemy forces. Allied forces didn’t suspect the strength of Japanese fortifications. As October progressed, Harding expressed confidence in a quick victory. The allied forces continued to suspect that the Japanese had withdrawn most of their forces. These were serious miscalculations. The Japanese were dug in and they had not withdrawn their forces.

When the war plans were drawn up the allied forces began to make the final push toward the Buna-Gona beachhead. The Americans were on the right and the Australians on the left. The Girua River divided the two forces. The forces began to move on November 16, 1942. The 126th would be on the east side of the river moving from Bofu toward Buna Village by way of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura.

Unexpected Orders From the Rear

As the troops advanced the decision was made in Fort Moresby to transfer the 126th from the command of the 32nd infantry division to the Australian General Vasey. On the ground leadership questioned the decision. None the less, orders were followed. On November 19th Colonel Tomlinson of the 126th was ordered to report to the 7th Division.

November 21, 1942 Colonel Tomlinson worked to work up the plan of attack for the 126th. Fred, and the rest of 2nd battalion would remain in reserve at Soputa to be called when needed. The 2nd battalion’s recovery period would be short. On Novmeber 22 orders came in for the 2/126th to report back to the 32nd. The 2/128th had run into trouble and needed back up. It was back across the now flooded Girua River for the men of the 2nd battalion. November 23 at 9:30 am the regiment regained Harding’s forces.

126TH INFANTRYMEN PASSING THROUGH HARIKO on their way to the front lines.

Under Enemy Fire

On November 23, 1942 Company E, 126th infantry regiment began its mission by swinging wide near Entrance Creek. It moved 400 yards, then turned northeast. The company moved another 400 yards and was approaching a crossing to the creek when heavy enemy machine gunfire erupted. The men dug in. Their foxholes filled with water. They dug in and waited for further orders.

Battle of Buna-Gona November 16, 1942 to January 22, 1943

Company E of the 2/126th, 32nd Infantry Divison shipped around the world and slogged through one of the most miserable military marches in history. Enemy fire drove the men into water filled fox holes as the battle of Buna Gona started to get underway. Follow my series on Fred’s experience in World War II to continue his journey through the Pacific southwest.

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Research Tip of the Week

Every Tuesday I try to provide a research tip. These are tips that I use daily in my own research to help me be the best genealogical researcher I can be.

This week my tip is in regards to records and fuzzy facts. My genealogy research right now is centered around a man who served in World War II, Fredrick L. Jacobs. I am trying to discover details of his service and the story behind his three purple hearts.

Source Documents

Fred’s records were lost in the St. Louise, Missouri records fire of 1973 which destroyed most of the Army’s personnel records. A request to the National Archives turned up only a sad form letter. I set out to see what I could discover about this interesting research subject.

One of the first details I noticed about my vitals on Fred Jacobs was that his year of birth varied from year to year on his source documents. In this instance I was more curious about the actual year than some…Fred was either 18 when he enlisted for World War II…or he lied to say he was 18 when he was in fact only 17. Sneaky, sneaky!

Primary Vs. Secondary Sources

I used the various source documents I had to determine if Fred was in fact born in 1921 or 1922. Fred’s birth record, a primary source, has been elusive so I have had to use the various documents I do have and weigh the evidence presented with secondary sources.

A source document is considered strongest if it happened at or near the time the event occurred. Birth records are considered the primary source for a person’s birth information. Without a birth record I needed to look at the records I did have located.

Fred Jacobs on the 1930 Census

Weigh Secondary Sources

The first record I have for Fred is the 1930 census. His age correlates with the younger date of birth. The 1940 census too agrees with the age of the previous census. In 1940, just a few months after the 1940 census, Fred suddenly aged one year on his enlistment papers. After his service ended Fred’s year of birth once again reverted to 1922. His headstone reads the year 1922.

Based on these various source documents it seems certain that Fred lied about his age to enlist in the Army for World War II. My research tip of the day is to compare your source documents to understand why there may be distorted facts from one document to another.

Find more on Fred L. Jacobs on my blog about his service during World War II.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of WWII Pt 3

The Papuan Campaign

Fred L Jacobs

On September 28, 1942 Fred would have been with the rest of the men of Co. E at Bootless Bay where they bivouacked. The rest of the 32nd Infantry Division would arrive at Port Moresby by air on September 29, 1942.

During this time a battle plan was being developed for an attack on the enemy. General MacArthur and Australian, General Sir Thomas Blamey, hatched a plan which would see the Australian forces drive the Japanes forces down the Kokoda Trail. The combat leaders wanted to send the entire 32nd Division to march over the mountains to flank the enemy in the area of Buna. Less hasty minds understood the journey would have a negative effect on troop readiness. Eventually MacArthur and Blamey decided on splitting the force. Only one battalion would march across the mountains. The rest would be transported.

Allied Advance Across Owen Stanley Range
26 September-15 November 1942

When the final plans were drawn it would be the men of the 2nd battlion of the 126th regiment that were ordered to slog across the Owen Stanley Mountains on the Kapa Kapa Trail . Fred’s unit was included in those who would march. Straight-line distance, from Port Moresby to Buna is 120 miles.

Kapa Kapa Trail

Members of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 32nd Division, in an Army Bantam Jeep crossing a river on the Kapa Kapa Trail on Papua New Guinea during October 1942.

By all accounts, the Kapa Kapa trail was more mountain goat path than feasible option for troops to travel. The men of the 2/126th would blaze their own trail. The troops would deal with unrelenting rain. They would cut their way through jungle brush. Often, the mud on the trail was so thick the men sank to their knees.

October 7, 1942 a detachment from Co. E was sent on an advance guard team for the leg of the trip from Nepeana to Jaure. The remainder of 2nd Battalion would follow on October 14, 1942. Company E would once again be leading the way.

The march across the Owen Stanley Mountains was brutal. Fred Jacobs would spend 42 days in a nightmare world as he and the rest of the 2nd Battalion cut a trail through some of the world’s most dense jungle. They suffered their first casualty on the march within days when commander Lt. Col. Henry Geerd died of a heart attack. Major Herbert Smith assumed leadership from the fallen leader. The men marched on.

Lieutenant Paul R. Lutjens of Big Rapids, Michigan was a platoon leader in Company E. Undoubtedly Lutjens experiences are very close to what Fred would have experienced. The men may have been in the same platoon. Lutjens recollections are as follows:

Company E was a day or so ahead of the rest of the battalion and Lutjens, for most of the way, was out in front of Company E.  His detachment moved in single file along the muddy jungle trails, each man three or four yards from the next one.  It didn’t take them long to decide that there were items in their full-field equipment they could do without.  They cut their blankets in half.  They dumped their mosquito nettings at the side of the trail.  Though it rained unrelentingly every afternoon and night, they discarded their rain coats.  Each man kept one uniform – the one he had on.  They abandoned their shaving equipment and other toilet articles, keeping only their tooth brushes – with which they tried to keep their rifles clean.

“What difference did it make, washing your teeth, if you could clean your rifle?”

Lt Lutjens

“Day after day the Battalion plodded through some of the worst and wildest jungle in the world.  They went through waist deep streams and along trails that were waist deep channels of mud.  Half the time they could not see the sky – only matted leaves and vines. It would take five or six hours to go a mile, edging along cliff walls, hanging on to vines, up and down, up and down. Men got weaker and began to lag back.  It would rain from three o’clock in the afternoon on, soaking everything.  The rivers they crossed were so swift that if you slipped, it was just too bad.  There wasn’t any way of evacuating to the rear.  Everyone was driven on by the fear of being left behind.

“Their bones ached and dysentery had hit almost every man.  They were filthy and caked with mud, and washed themselves only when they happened to be crossing a river.  They climbed to 8,000 feet, to the top of the gap through which they stumbled over the Owen Stanleys.  It took them seven hours to crawl the last 2,000 feet.  They couldn’t march for more than 15 minutes without lying down and resting.  They crossed at a place called Ghost Mountain [Mount Suwemalla] to which Lutjens devoted a few lines in his diary.

““It was the eeriest place I ever saw.  The trees were covered with moss a half a foot thick.  We would walk along a hogback, straddling the trail, with a sheer drop of thousands of feet two feet on either side of us.  We kept hearing water running somewhere, but we couldn’t find any.  We could thrust a stick six feet down in the spongy stuff we were walking on without hitting anything real solid.  It was ungodly cold.  There wasn’t a sign of life.  Not a bird.  Not a fly.  Not a sound.  It was the strangest feeling I ever had.  If we stopped, we froze.  If we moved, we sweated.”

– Lt Lutjens

“The men were gaunt and down to a shadow – eyes sunk deep in their heads.  On the highest point in the trail there stands a simple monument to mark the grave of a doughboy who died on the road to Buna.  His epitaph, such as it was, was carved into the soggy pages of Lutjens’ notebook:

““Today we lost PFC.—–, who died at 2:00 p.m.  Dysentery and fever . . . a damn good man.  The trip was a little too much for him.”

Lt Lutjens

The harrowing march across the Owen Stanley Mountains was trying not just for the men on the ground. Their march was deadly from the air too. The men had to be resupplied by air drops during the journey. On November 5, 1942 the C-47 Broadway Limited crashed into the Owen Stanley Mountains near Natunga. All the men on board were killed. The men of the 126th were able to locate the crash site and recover the remains of all those killed later on the same day.

The 2/126th would emerge from their mountain trek on November 20, 1942. The men staggered into Soputa battered and bruised for their troubles. To a man they suffered from jungle rot, malaria, dengue fever, and near starvation. They were worse for the wear. They would get a few days to catch their breath before being sent into battle. The battle of Buna Gona was raging and bodies were needed at the front.

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Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 1

History remembers the celebrated. Genealogy remembers them all.

Fred L. Jacobs service photo

Frederick L Jacobs has been a topic of genealogical curiosity for me. Like most my research subjects I never met him. He has been the topic of many stories, most of which are long on vagueness and short on detail. Fred was my husband’s grandfather.

Fred Jacobs spent a fair portion of his life haunting a bar stool at the bar in a small Michigan town by the name of Paris. His wife tended that same bar. Every day he could be found wearing blue jeans, a pocket t-shirt, suspenders, and his highly decorated American Legion hat. Fred was a popular relic in the small town farming community where he spent most of his life.

This blog series is my attempt at trying to trace his life during World War II.

Just a small town boy

I had all the genealogical vital stats on him. Fred Jacobs was born to Joseph Jacobs and his wife Eula Payton. Fred was the third son. He was born in Michigan on December 12, 1922. His family had recently made the move to the region from Cabell County, West Virginia in the months before he was born. His father, Joe, worked in the road construction industry.

Fred Jacobs grave

In the Army now.

Fred was just shy of his 18th birthday when he enlisted in Big Rapids, Michigan on 15 October, 1940. He lied about his date of birth by a year when he signed paperwork to join the Army. He would spend the next 5 years experiencing some of the most brutal jungle warfare of World War II.

During his time in combat Fred Jacobs would be awarded the purple heart three times. With the passing of time, information about the circumstances of those awards is undoubtedly lost to time. The medals remain a token to his sacrifice while the sacrifice has been lost to history.

Purple heart medal

Like so many soldiers who served during World War II, Fred’s service record was destroyed. The disastrous fire in 1973 of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in near total destruction of a majority of the Army records held there. A request to the National Archives turned up one of the disappointing form letters and the offer of a scant scrap in the form of a last pay statement. So much valuable information up in a puff of smoke.

It would be easy to admit defeat and stop the search there. Call it a day and a lost cause. For years I did just that as I avoided devoting any precious research hours to the cause. I wasn’t motivated to dig deeper. Time and again conversations would turn to that old box of medals and those three purple hearts. Like a book unread it was time to crack the cover on this tale.

I turned my attention to the box of medals and military memorabilia. Inside was a red arrow patch. I had an enlistment card transcription. A mystery….and this series…was born with the effort to sleuth out details about Fred Jacobs and his service during World War II.

red arrow patch

Dig Deeper

I started by learning more about the unit patch. He kept that red arrow, it had significance. The Red Arrow Division, a nickname for the 32nd Infantry Division, is a military division with a long and storied history. One of the units in the 32nd was 126th regiment. Company E was the National Guard unit called up from Big Rapids, Michigan on October 15, 1940. Big Rapids, Michigan was the station where Fred enlisted on October 15, 1940. Using this information I have tried my best to retrace what were his possible steps over the next 6 years.

In the fall of 1940 the United States was not officially at war. Tensions in the world were growing more strained and it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would be pulled into the world’s conflicts. That was the circumstance which led to President Roosevelt ordering over thirty-five thousand men to active duty on September 15, 1940 with a report date of October 15, 1940. The United States was preparing for war. Fred Jacobs enlisted in the Army.


During the last week of 1940 the 32nd Infantry Division was ordered to Louisiana for training. The division would participate in a training action known as the Louisiana Maneuvers. The units traveled by train to Camp Beauregaurd in Louisiana for the first step in what would be a long journey around the world.

Infantry Soldiers of the 32D Division stand at attention in a company street at Camp Beauregard, LA.

Stay tuned for more about Fred Jacobs in my next post in this series.