Thursday, September 25, 2014

10. A day at the beach

Hollandia, where Dad recuperated from his wound, was on the north-central coast of New Guinea. Dad had been elsewhere
on the island during his service and also spent time in New Britain and the Admiralty Islands in the Bismarck Sea. 
On Feb. 25, 1945, my father, Charles M. Pride, lay on Imbi Beach on a bay near the large U.S. military installation at Hollandia. Dad was a lieutenant in the First Cavalry Division, and he had been wounded five months earlier during the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. He was in Hollandia for treatment of the wound at the military hospital and for convalescence from what was then called “battle fatigue.” He had no idea that this day on the beach would win him a medal.

Gen. MacArthur's headquarters at Hollandia.
Before the war, Hollandia had been a small port settlement  in what was then known as Dutch New Guinea. Air raids before the Americans landed there in 1944 destroyed every house in town. The Americans secured the area and built a sprawling base to replace the one at Finchhafen, where my father had also been during his tour of several Pacific islands.

The new base included a tactical center, an oil depot, a recreation center for officers, two hospital with a total of 2,000 beds, an ice plant, dry docks to repair destroyers and General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters and radio station. MacArthur had been based in Brisbane, Australia, but intended to return to the Philippines. Hollandia was a step in the right direction.

It was an unpleasant place. Because of the mosquitoes, the Americans had to take the anti-malarial drug atabrine, which made their skin turn yellow. When it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid and hard to sleep at night. In one letter to my mother Bernadine, my father wrote: “All it does is rain here. We sit out in the movies in it and everything else. We are used to it. I check my feet every once in awhile to see if they are webbed.” He was there during the rainy season, December through March, when monsoons affect the climate of the northern coast of the island.

But Dad did get to the beach. He was a good swimmer. The army had recognized this and trained him as a swimming instructor at Camp Adair, Ore. As his letters often mentioned, he also liked to loaf and lounge around.

He was lying on the beach on Feb. 25, 1945, when he heard two soldiers were in danger of drowning 150 yards offshore. The men were flailing and hollering for help. The lifeguard, a Texas private named Allen C. Gibbs, swam to them but could not haul them in. He left them his life belt and swam toward shore.

The citation with Dad’s Soldier’s Medal, an award given for “heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy,” tells what happened next:

“Laboring under a severe physical strain, [Private Gibbs] was unable to reach the shore and was brought in by Lieutenant Pride who, despite a strong undertow and heavy breakers, was already swimming out to aid the two imperiled soldiers. Although his strength was spent, Lieutenant Pride secured a rubber boat and, with another soldier, rowed out through the reefs to save the drowning men. Returning to shore, the boat capsized several times, but Lieutenant Pride managed to bring both men to safety.”

Thus did Dad go to Imbi Beach one hot and humid day and come home with a medal for heroism.

Next: Naval envy.
The first wave of U.S, infantrymen moves beyond the beach near Hollandia, New Guinea, on April 22, 1944.

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