Fixed Bayonets—Paratroopers and Banzai at Grubbs Ravine

Lt. Bill Calhoun called the Japanese banzai attack during the airborne assault on Corregidor—a jagged, rocky island fortress at the mouth of Manila Bay—by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in February 1945 a “night of a thousand hours.”

In this excerpt from Kevin Maurer’s 2020 book, Rock Force, we relive the night as Calhoun, a platoon leader in F Company, and his dug-in platoon are almost overrun by a Japanese banzai charge aimed at pushing the paratroopers off the high ground.

The attack comes days after more than 3,000 paratroopers jumped onto the island—hemmed in by sheer cliffs, pockmarked by bomb craters, bristling with deadly, spiky broken tree trunks—and wrested it from more than 6,500 Japanese defenders.

This excerpt was originally published in Rock Force by Dutton Caliber. Read the whole story here.


A star shell from one of the destroyers patrolling the black seas around the island shot into the sky. Riding a tail of smoke, it hit the top of its trajectory and exploded, lighting up the area around Battery Hearn.

Rock Force, by Kevin Maurer, was released Dec. 1, 2020.

Rock Force, by Kevin Maurer, was released Dec. 1, 2020.

First Lt. Bill Calhoun popped his head up above the lip of the crater and scanned the rubble and brush down in the road for any sign of the Japanese. He squinted his eyes, looking for any movement as the shell slowly burned out and night overtook the light once again.

Calhoun rolled back into the crater with his two runners and waited for the next shell. There was no pattern to their firing. No schedule. The shells seemed to appear at random like lightning bugs. One second light. The next second dark. So far, he hadn’t needed light. Everything was quiet since the two mortar rounds had struck the top of the hill just after sunset.

Exhausted and thirsty, Calhoun lay down on the edge of the crater next to the large ventilator shaft. The concrete roof from the shaft extended overhead, about a foot, giving him some cover. It was around midnight, and Calhoun had finally let his eyes close when he heard loud yelling along the eastern perimeter.

Imperial Navy Lt. Takeji Endo’s A column was coming up Grubbs Ravine.

Calhoun grabbed his helmet and rifle and crawled to the edge of the hill. The shouting was coming from the railroad cut. It started with a single voice. Then a group chanted a response. Call and answer. Call and answer. The volume increased as the group got closer. Soon, the answer came right on top of the call until it blended into a climax.

All around him the paratroopers on the eastern side of the hill stirred. Those asleep were shaken awake. Men shouldered their rifles. The machine gun crews made sure extra belts of ammunition were ready. They knew what was coming.

Banzai.

The paratroopers heard stories about the Japanese tactic. They’d heard the stories of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal. The Japanese charging and screamingBanzai!” “Totsugeki!” (charge), “Blood for the Emperor!” Some even yelled, “Marine you die!” Now it was the paratroopers’ turn.

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The yelling grew closer, the sound rolling up the ravine like a wave. Each answer louder than the first.

Call.

Answer.

CALL!

ANSWER!

Calhoun couldn’t make out the exact words. As he listened, bits of cement from the overhang stung his face. The chanting masked the sound of machine gun rounds from the valley covering the advance. First squad fired back. They didn’t see a target, but they weren’t going to let a challenge go unanswered.

Lt. Bill Calhoun. Photo courtesy of the author.

Lt. Bill Calhoun. Photo courtesy of the author.

Then the crackle of a star shell broke through the cacophony of gunfire. Calhoun saw the shell rocket into the sky, then arrows of light cut through the darkness until Grubbs Road was under a spotlight. Calhoun peered down from the hill. There, to his disbelief, were Japanese Imperial marines marching up Grubbs Road in a column of fours.

It looked like a parade, or a column of troops during the Civil War. No one looked for cover. They marched in formation up the road, chanting, moving steadily forward. Japanese officers in the rear, their swords out, goaded the men on, leading the chants, making certain that no man lagged behind. Calhoun looked past the first rank. The formation snaked down the road as far as Calhoun could see. They were heading for Topside.

So much for fewer than 1,000 defenders.

The Japanese would be in range in minutes. Calhoun turned to one his squad leaders.

“Get a bandolier of ammo from every rifleman over there and BAR clips,” Calhoun ordered, sending the paratrooper scrambling over to the southwest side of the hill.

He turned to Pvt. Edward Thompson.

“Crawl up to Lee and Phillips and check the situation,” he said, knowing the mortars were his best weapon to break up the attack.

Mikel was still watching the shafts when Calhoun sent him to the north side to check on the first squad and the machine guns. Behind him, Calhoun heard the thump of mortars.

“Hang it. Fire!”

The rounds whistled into the air, coming down on the Japanese defenders at the head of the column. Razor-sharp shrapnel cut down the first men in line. They fell to the ground, some dead, others writhing in pain. Those behind stepped over the fallen men, filling the ranks, and advancing.

Calhoun heard a steady thumping behind him as more mortar rounds arced over his head and crashed down on the Japanese, scattering the ranks for a few seconds before they reformed, gaps filling in as the defenders advanced. Calhoun watched some of the Japanese defenders throw up as they staggered past their fallen comrades. The paratroopers had heard that the Japanese soldiers drank beer and liquor before a banzai attack. A little liquid courage before their officers drove them into a certain death.

Pilots approach the island of Corregidor as a battle rages beneath during World War II. Photo courtesy of the author.

Pilots approach the island of Corregidor as a battle rages beneath during World War II. Photo courtesy of the author.

The mortar rounds took a toll on the ranks, but the Japanese continued to advance, crossing the intersection of Grubbs and Beltline Road. They were past Battery Hearn and heading for Topside, and there was nothing Calhoun could do. He cursed under his breath. Had he been able to notify higher headquarters over the radio, they could have called in naval fire from the cruisers and destroyers lying offshore, or called in the 75 mm howitzers or 81 mm mortars on Topside and snuffed out the attack.

Instead, all the Navy could do was shoot star shells.

Staff Sgt. John Phillips, in one of the mortar pits in the middle of the perimeter, did his best to beat back the Japanese. His crews kept up a steady barrage of mortar rounds at first, but Calhoun heard the thump of the mortar slow. Each gun had about 50 rounds. By now the supply was exhausted, and the Japanese were still coming.

As soon as they were in range, the American .30 caliber machine guns opened up, knocking down the front ranks and slicing through the column. Like water, the holes filled and the Japanese soldiers pressed forward. Staff Sgt. Donald White, a 2nd platoon squad leader, was dug in on the east side. As the Japanese pressed on, he moved out to protect his squad’s flank and was hit by a machine gun burst.

He died instantly.

As the thinning column neared the overturned trolley cars, the Japanese soldiers moved off the road toward the base of Way Hill. First Lt. Bill Bailey was set up on top and his men opened fire, hitting them from the opposite side.

But no amount of gunfire would deter the marines from drawing blood for their emperor. No doubt, in the rear, Japanese officers urged them on by questioning their loyalty and, when that failed, with the tips of their swords. But to the paratroopers, the Japanese defenders just kept coming.

The battle raged under a parade of star shells. It was like a long blink. One second, the Japanese were illuminated. Easy targets. But then the darkness returned. When it did, Calhoun knew some of the Japanese were slipping past and heading for Topside. When the next shell rose into the sky, the Japanese were gone.

They’d pulled back down the road.

There were Japanese troops in the ravine. A lot of them. He figured they’d found shelter in the tunnels but were now massing for another attack. They’d stopped the first attempt, but they’d be back.

Calhoun took a deep breath and said a quick prayer. He thanked God for watching over him and his men. He also asked that God continue his watch because he was still in harm’s way. Then he was up on his feet, moving down the line checking on his men. Ammunition was running low despite the extra supply taken from the ammo dump earlier. He knew if they ran out of ammunition they’d be overrun.

“Fix bayonets,” Calhoun said.

He then told each of the paratroopers that the rest of F Company was about 300 yards away on top of Way Hill, across Grubbs Road.

“You know where the rest of the company is,” he said, in case they were overrun. A survivor would have to get across a column of advancing Japanese marines first, but at least there were friendly faces nearby. “Try to get through and get across there to the company. That’s all we can do.”

Col. George Jones briefs his staff at Corregidor. Photo courtesy of the author.

Col. George Jones briefs his staff at Corregidor. Photo courtesy of the author.

It was just after midnight when Lt. Endo assembled almost a thousand Japanese marines at the western end of Cheney Trail. Topside was 500 feet above and the marines slowly worked their way up the sloping trail under a black, moonless night.

They reached Topside without being detected. The Japanese marines had made it within 50 yards of Company D’s lines when they stumbled into a squad set up across the trail.

The Japanese startled the paratroopers and the attackers were past the squad before a shot was fired.

The lead marines kept pressing forward when they ran into 1st Lt. John Lindgren’s mortar platoon, set up in a crater in the middle of Cheney trail. Lindgren’s men managed to get off a few 60 mm rounds, a gesture more than anything else during a confusing fight where nothing could be seen.

Subdued voices started giving commands, and a few paratroopers shot at movement. In the chaos the survivors fell back to a bunker off the trail. They fired their rifles at the vague shapes of Japanese marines, who shouted and milled about in confusion in the darkness in front of them.

Once the head of the column stopped, the Japanese bunched up on the narrow trail. Endo pressed the attack instead of bypassing the company.

Unlike Calhoun, D company was boxed in by steep cliffs. The paratroopers had nowhere to go, and like F company, they had no way to call for help.

First Lt. Joseph Turinsky was in the plotting room of Battery Wheeler during the banzai attack. He’d just established his command post after replacing Gifford’s platoon. He’d been unable to tie in with Bailey and Calhoun’s position on the ravine’s north side, leaving a 500-yard gap between the two companies.

The Japanese marines drove Turinsky’s men back as they charged toward Topside. The paratroopers fell back to a crater and bunker near Wheeler Point, a small outcropping southeast of the battery of the same name. Lindgren and the surviving paratroopers from the mortar platoon and skirmish line, having abandoned the crater in the middle of the trail, joined Turinsky and his men. A wild shootout erupted at extremely close quarters. With nothing but a sheer drop at their backs, the paratroopers stopped wave after wave of frenzied attacks. Turinsky tried to rally his men by climbing on top of the bunker’s blast wall and firing his carbine but was quickly killed by rifle fire.

At Battery Hearn, Calhoun heard the gunfire around Wheeler Point. His men were only a few hundred yards away as the crow flies, but there was nothing he could do. He had his own problems. Between attacks, he worked his way down the line, checking on his men. Jacked on adrenaline, they found that the waiting was worse than combat. During the lull, whatever nightmares each paratrooper could conjure came to fruition. Every noise was the enemy. Any second they expected to get overrun.

Finally, after an hour, the chanting started again. Faint at first. Then louder and louder. Soon, Calhoun saw the fuzzy outline of the columns coming back up the road. He looked up into the black sky.

“Where are the flares?” he thought, trying to will a star shell into the sky to illuminate the area.

When the column was in range, the paratroopers opened fire again. Lampman’s BAR was set on a concrete base. As the battle raged, he was left alone near the top of the magazine. Set to single shot, his BAR got off a few rounds at a time. He never opened up full automatic. The Japanese likely thought he was just a rifleman and concentrated fire on the machine guns down the line, allowing him to cut down marine after marine.

Pvt. Lloyd McCarter was in the third squad, positioned on the south side of the hill, facing away from the action. He had heard the first attack, of course, and desperately wanted to get involved when the second one started. Like Calhoun, he had heard the chants start up again. The thump of the mortar, the rattle of the .30 cal machine guns, rifle fire filling the gaps—his blood boiled as the east side of the hill erupted. McCarter saw a few Japanese skirt past the hill and head up toward Topside. There was a gap near the northeast corner of the hill. He leveled his Thompson submachine gun to fire but realized the distance from the hill to the road was too great. He was out of range.

Pvt. Lloyd McCarter served as a scout at Corregidor and received a Medal of Honor for his actions there. Photo courtesy of the author.

Pvt. Lloyd McCarter served as a scout at Corregidor and received a Medal of Honor for his actions there. Photo courtesy of the author.

McCarter scanned the area and spotted some high ground near the entrance to a tunnel that led to a storage house for explosives, gas, and powder. McCarter grabbed his Thompson and headed down the hill. He found a spot in a shallow gully near a bump, which was where the trolley tunnel ran into this corner of the hill, supplying the magazine with heavy munitions and equipment. He squatted in the gully and opened fire.

This time the column was in range.

McCarter laid his Thompson over one of his big heavy arms and pumped short burst after short burst into the Japanese column. He yelled obscenities at the Japanese between shots. What exactly he was calling was lost in the cacophony of battle, but it was obvious to those on the hill, whether in earshot or not, that McCarter was making his presence known and was not the least concerned with his welfare.

He was one of those rare individuals who was in a state of great exhilaration in combat. Utterly fearless, he didn’t seem to consider his own safety there in the gully, alone and exposed. He simply saw the enemy, and attacked. A few Japanese went down, and he shifted the muzzle of his Thompson to the next cluster of men in line and fired. He emptied several magazines into the oncoming banzai charge.

Then click.

He pulled the trigger again but the gun didn’t kick. The submachine gun wouldn’t fire. It was jammed or broken.

McCarter didn’t have time to figure out which. The Japanese were still coming. He scrambled up the hill and saw Pvt. Benedict Schilli’s BAR lying in the dirt. Next to the rifle lay Schilli, wounded, having taken shrapnel in the left leg. He was out of the fight. McCarter snatched the rifle and scrounged for more ammo. Racing back to the bump, he got behind the BAR and squeezed off burst after burst, the .30-06 rounds cutting into the columns, knocking Japanese to the dirt. He fed the powerful rifle one magazine after another. There was no shortage of targets as McCarter blazed away.

Then the BAR jammed.

McCarter tried to clear it, but failed. Back up the hill he went, this time returning to the gully with an M1 Garand and a bandolier of ammo. Clip after clip ejected as he poured rounds into the oncoming Japanese defenders. When there were no more Japanese on the road, he stopped firing and sat back into the hole.

There were more than 30 Japanese bodies around the gully.

The map Jones’ troops used to plan their defense at Corregidor. Photo courtesy of the author.

The map Jones’ troops used to plan their defense at Corregidor. Photo courtesy of the author.

Soon, rounds cracked over McCarter’s head. A Nambu light machine gun fired at him. McCarter couldn’t pinpoint where the Japanese marines were set up. He tried to lure them out by firing at the trolley cars. Finally, he exposed himself so they could see him. When the Japanese opened up again, McCarter ducked down and zeroed in on their position. They were set up near the overturned trolley cars as he had suspected, just north of his position. He fired clip after clip as fast as his finger could squeeze the M1’s trigger.

Ping.

The clip ejected and he slid another one home. But the rifle wouldn’t fire. McCarter cleared the chamber, but the rifle wasn’t jammed. The operating rod was split. The Garand’s operating rods tended to crack after a great deal of use. Weaponless, he started to head back up the hill for a third time when a Japanese round smacked him in the chest. He stumbled back and fell into the bottom of the gully.

From the top of the hill, Pfc. Richard Lampman saw McCarter lying in the hole by the road. From afar, McCarter looked dead. But they weren’t sure, and McCarter’s unit mates refused to let him lie there exposed.

“Follow me,” Lampman said to a couple of paratroopers as he dashed down toward the gully. The rest of the paratroopers peppered the trolley cars with covering fire. Bullets exploded around the gully as Lampman and the rescue party arrived. A few of the paratroopers fired back in a vain attempt to keep the Japanese heads down. Lampman grabbed McCarter by his web gear and yanked him out of the gully. He dragged him to the top of the magazine and into the large crater near the big ventilator where the mortars were set up.

Calhoun knelt down next to McCarter.

The bullet had hit McCarter in the middle of the chest, stopping near his heart. Calhoun was worried the man would soon go into shock, but despite the blood and the trauma, McCarter was calm. If anything, he was angry to be out of the fight.

“If my dadgum gun hadn’t worn out, I’d of stopped them all,” McCarter said.

Calhoun took up McCarter’s busted rifle and shook his head. He had never seen a split operating rod. But Calhoun didn’t have time to dwell on it. He had seven wounded and the medic was out of plasma. Besides McCarter and Schilli, Aimers, who only hours before had drilled the Japanese officer through his own field glasses, was shot. Pfc. John Albersman, Pfc. Lawrence Rainville, and one of the machine gunners had also been hit by Japanese fire. Calhoun needed to get them to the aid station. But it was still dark, meaning no movement. Plus, all of the wounded men couldn’t walk and needed litters. But Calhoun couldn’t spare a man.

While Calhoun checked on the wounded, Staff Sgt. Chris Johnson gathered up ammo from third squad. Bayonets were fixed again, and trench knives readied. Dawn was still a ways away, and the radio net was still closed.

“Where are those flares?”

Up on the magazine, enemy fire had every man on edge. The Japanese light machine gun from under the trolley car north of the hill kept everyone down. Pfc. Pasquale Ruggio made the mistake of standing up and was immediately killed.

Any movement drew fire.

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Calhoun went to check on the wounded several times and assured them they’d get back to the aid station and Capt. Charlie Bradford (Doc) as soon as they could clear a path.

“Don’t worry,” McCarter told Calhoun on one of his visits. “I’m doing alright.”

Despite the chest wound, McCarter never went into shock. He was a tough man, and complaint was not in his vocabulary.

While Calhoun waited for another attack, Endo gathered his officers. With more than 500 men in tow, he’d made it through to the ruins of Corregidor’s noncommissioned officers club, close to Mile-Long Barracks and the regimental headquarters set up inside.

“The objective before you must be taken at all costs,” Endo told his officers. “To do so, every officer and man must give his all for the emperor.”

Endo drew his sword and took his position in front of the column. The sun was breaking the horizon as his men broke into a howling charge. The paratroopers on Topside were just waking up, reaching for first cigarettes or a quick breakfast, when they were greeted by a throng of screaming Japanese marines rushing across the parade field. Men who had been shaving dropped their razors and grabbed their rifles. The enemy horde crashed through American positions, trampling over surprised paratroopers, as they raced toward Mile-Long Barracks. The American soldiers did not remain stunned for long. Soon, cries of “Banzai” were drowned out by the roar of machine gun fire.

A group of six marines made it to the door of the headquarters, but a sentry with a carbine stopped their charge. Col. George Jones, hearing the gunfire outside, rushed out, his pistol drawn. He shot three attackers before they could infiltrate the building.

Less than an hour after his final speech, Endo’s charge was over for good. The bodies of Japanese marines were strewn across the parade field. Among the dead was Lt. Endo.

  *   *   *   *

Back at Battery Hearn, as Endo’s troops had prepared to rush the parade field, Calhoun had heard the chants start up again. His eyes shifted from the road to the sky and back again, searching the darkness for a hint of enemy movement. He would have pulled the sun over the horizon if he could. The situation was critical. Every paratrooper knew that there wasn’t enough ammunition left to stop another attack. Finally, the first rays of light stretched across the water.

With sunrise, the radio net came to life. Calhoun snatched the mic from the radioman in his command crater and called over to Bailey.

“There are Japs between us,” he said. “We are cut off to the east by the Japs in the railroad cut and to the north by Japs under and around the trolley cars.”

His men were low on ammunition, Calhoun added. The company had no way of stopping another assault.

“Roger,” came Bailey’s reply, crackling over the radio. “I’ll alert battalion.”

After Bailey signed off, Calhoun heard another message through the static. Capt. Henry “Hoot” Gibson’s voice came over the net. The commander of the Battery B, 462nd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, he had a battery of .50 caliber machine guns on Topside, several hundred yards behind Calhoun’s position.

“We’re looking right down the railroad,” he heard Gibson say. “There’s a bunch of people in that concrete railroad cut behind you. Is that you?”

Calhoun picked up the radio mic.

“No sir,” he replied, “that’s the remnants of that bunch that had been attacking us.”

“Okay,” Gibson said. “We’ll take care of that.”

The Japanese were hiding in between the 14-foot concrete walls that Calhoun’s platoon had walked through the day before on their way to Battery Smith. From behind his position, Calhoun heard the thundering roar of .50-caliber machine guns. The Japanese couldn’t climb out of the concrete valley—they were trapped. The gun’s massive bullets tore the enemy to pieces. It was a turkey shoot.

Nearby, Sgt. Phillips and the other mortarmen searched through dozens of discarded shell cartons, finding only a half-dozen mortar rounds. They fired them at the railroad cut, blasting any survivors. When the firing stopped, Calhoun sent a patrol down to the cut to check for anyone who may have somehow lived through the barrage. They arrived to find a huge bomb crater next to the wall on the far side. Phillips’ mortar rounds had landed in the crater, killing a dozen Japanese soldiers who had been taking cover from the storm of .50-caliber bullets. Their corpses were so mangled that Calhoun’s men couldn’t get an exact body count.

The last banzai charge had been stopped before it even started.

Out of danger, Calhoun immediately organized carrying parties for the wounded. Lampman and three other paratroopers lifted McCarter down the hill, headed for the aid station. From the magazine’s large concrete double doors emerged a Japanese marine, who threw a grenade at the men. His aim was poor, and the grenade hit a steel pole that carried the electric wire into the magazine and then dropped back on him. The paratroopers didn’t wait for the explosion. They kept their heads down and headed for Topside.

With the wounded out of harm’s way, Calhoun focused on eliminating the Nambu machine gun under the trolley car. He brought the bazooka team over from the west side.

“The machine gun is under the trolley car,” he told the gunner, pointing.

The loader slid a rocket into the tube, and the gunner aimed the bazooka at the turned-up floor of the car. The rocket hit square, but it didn’t explode. The rotten wood wasn’t solid enough to detonate the round. Instead, it buried itself into the hill behind the car.

“Hit the rails,” Calhoun told the gunner.

The loader slid another rocket into place. The gunner zeroed in on the rail and fired. The rocket sailed across the road but missed. After the second rocket, the Japanese answered with a burst from the machine gun, forcing the paratroopers to duck.

The loader went back to work. But the gunner was shaken by the gunfire. He couldn’t focus and missed the rail again. The miss was again answered by the machine gun.

“McDonald,” Calhoun said. “Come here.”

Calhoun knew Pfc. Bill McDonald was an excellent marksman.

“Yes, sir,” McDonald said when he got to Calhoun.

“See that rail?” Calhoun said. “Hit it.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” McDonald said.

Without hesitation, McDonald took the bazooka, carefully aimed, and fired. The round hit the rail and exploded, sending shattered steel into the hidden gunner.

After the explosion, a single man staggered from the trolley car, dazed and bleeding. When he saw the paratroopers, he sat in the dirt, crossed his legs and raised both arms above his head. He bowed several times toward Calhoun and the men on Battery Hearn.

Calhoun was baffled. Was he surrendering? He grabbed the radio mic and called over to Bailey.

“Take him alive,” Bailey ordered. “Regiment desperately needs prisoners.”

The intelligence officers on Topside wanted to know how many Japanese were on the island and where they were hiding.

Calhoun organized a patrol of five paratroopers led by Pvt. Mikel to go down to the trolley cars. But before they headed off, he warned them to hold their fire.

Paratroopers approach the ordnance machine shop: Paratroopers approach the ordnance machine shop. Photo courtesy of the author.

Paratroopers approach the ordnance machine shop. Photo courtesy of the author.

“One of you all is gonna get trigger-happy and want to kill him,” he said.

He reminded them that the men who captured a prisoner received three days of R&R—rest and relaxation—as soon as possible. For men who had endured days of intense combat under a scorching sun, there could be no better incentive.

The patrol moved out, following the trail down toward the trolley car. They were within 10 yards when the Japanese gunner pulled a grenade. One of the paratroopers instantly shot him dead.

“Damn,” the paratrooper said. “For a while there, I thought I had me a three-day pass.”

A short while later, Pvt. George Mikel and two other men returned to destroy the Japanese machine guns. As they approached the trolley car, they passed a bomb crater with four Japanese marines sprawled out dead inside. They continued on, unfazed, and began to inspect the car, looking for the guns. Mikel circled off alone to look on the other side of the trolley. A few seconds later his mates heard him scream. They raced around the car to find Mikel tussling with the four “dead” marines, one of whom was trying to stuff a grenade down Mikel’s shirt.

“They’re alive!” Mikel shouted. “They’re alive! Shoot the bastards before they kill me!”

The paratroopers opened fire, knocking the men down as Mikel broke free. When he had first seen the four Japanese, they’d been lying dead in a foxhole. Once his attention had shifted elsewhere, those four had turned out to be anything but dead. On Corregidor, a man couldn’t trust even a corpse.

  *   *   *   *

When the news about Wheeler Point reached the aid station, Capt. Bradford gathered his gear. At dawn, a squad escorted him to Lt. Turinsky’s position. Most of the casualties he found there had lost a great deal of blood, and he began at once to administer first aid.

Fourteen paratroopers had died overnight, and 15 more were wounded. More than 250 Japanese marines were strewn along a 200-yard stretch of Cheney Trail. After that point, D Company changed the name of the area to Banzai Point.

  *   *   *   *

Calhoun was angry when he heard what they’d lost overnight. Standing over Sgt. White’s body, he realized no one at regiment even knew D and F Company had come under attack. No support had come from the ships offshore or the planes overhead.

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His mind drifted back to Lt. William Campbell, who had been shot in the head while surveying Battery Wheeler a few days earlier. If the 503rd had called in support from the warplanes in Mindoro, maybe Campbell would have had a chance to get off this island and see his newborn son. White, killed the night before, would still be breathing, too.

Calhoun stared down at White’s face, yellow now with a waxy sheen. Tears rolled down Calhoun’s cheeks.

“Damn,” Calhoun said. “Damn, Donald, why’d you have to move out further to protect your squad’s flank?”

The futility of the war was too much to bear. Calhoun knew the truth. Paratroopers in rifle companies were not to think before they acted, nor were Japanese marines, forced by their superiors to charge up a hill into the teeth of a machine gun. They were merely instruments of war, sent by planners to complete the mission regardless of the personal cost. A truth about fighting men that Tennyson expressed in The Charge of the Light Brigade:

“Theirs but to do and die.”


Excerpted from ROCK FORCE: The American Paratroopers Who Took Back Corregidor and Exacted MacArthur’s Revenge on Japan by Kevin Maurer, with permission from Dutton, an imprint of The Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Maurer.

Kevin Maurer

Kevin Maurer is an award‐winning journalist and the bestselling coauthor, with Mark Owen, of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden; No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL; and, with Tamer Elnoury, American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent. He has covered the military—particularly the airborne and special operations forces—for 17 years, including embeds in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and east and central Africa. He lives in North Carolina.

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