The United States did once again turn its attention to the Pacific Theatre. Johnny had thought that he would never encounter another jungle as inhospi-table as Guadalcanal until he landed on Bougainville. When his battalion hit the beach there, it was so narrow that tangled growth hung over the lapping shores. There was consolation in that they had immediate cover and advanced into the jungle against scattered sniper fire which was as blind as its source was invisible. The squad, now fully in force, cut through a mesh of growth and twisting vines. Stalking cautiously—on their knees crawling when the snipers ranged in—they moved along with drawn bayonets hacking away at the entanglement. Johnny felt the damp-ness of his knees turn to a sogginess and suddenly he was hanging onto a vine to prevent being sucked into the quagmire. He hoisted himself and swung out into a clearing. Suddenly a Nambu, a Japanese light machine gun, rang out at the rate of over eight hundred rounds per minute and shattered the vine above his hand. It broke loose and he fell into the mangrove swamp. He quickly slung his BAR onto his shoulder and slid his magazine belt above the slime. He scrambled to reach some growth to pull himself out of the sucking mud. Janie, panicky, slapped at the water in the pool while he stroked powerfully toward her. Chic, the assistant squad-leader, extended his rifle out to him and Pop held Chic to prevent him from falling in. "Hang on, LI. We’ll get you outta there, sucker," Chic howled and then with a grin. "Excuse the pun."
"Well, at least I found some open visibility in this damned jungle," Johnny joked as he took his bayonet and scraped the bog from his fatigues and raider boots. He tore off a huge leaf and wiped the stock of his rifle. Then he explain-ed, "Just above that mound in the middle of the swamp there’s a small ridge out there—probably where the Nambu’s coming from."
Chic smirked. "Well, it can stay there for my money. We’ll have to wait till the first platoon gives us some flanking action way over on the opposite fringe." They burrowed under the vines when snipers ranged in again. The Nambu followed with a relentless volley tearing the foliage and cracking the vines over their heads as each man pressed his face into the soggy earth.
Gunny crawled up to the squad and announced grimly, "Sorry, mates, but the lieutenant just gave the word that he’s in command of marines not a pack of moles.… Gotta move your butts outta here."
Dig yawped indignantly, "Moles?… Well, we ain’t water rats either."
"Jumpin’ Jehovah, Gunny!" Chic squeaked, "Crawling under Nambu fire is bad enough, but we can’t run or crawl in that stuff."
"I know, maties, but orders is orders. You know how these Annapolis guys are—we seem to attract them—they hate to have another platoon bail them out—especially if led by a Ninety-Day-Wonder. So anchors aweigh, my stout hearties."
Johnny, amidst the squad’s grumbling, took the point and eased himself back into the quagmire. Chic broke off a long bamboo stem and slipped into the muck and started poking the pole out in front of him, looking for higher footage.
Dig slipped in and looked over at Chic. "By golly… shucks, Chicago, you ain’t no old man—you don’t need a walking stick. Get rid of it and keep your rifle up." He looked over his shoulder and hailed his men to follow. Then he yelled over to Johnny, "Move along, LI, you’ll get sucked in again if you don’t move fast."
"Jeez, Dig, what about that Nambu?" Johnny asked anxiously. "If he opens up, then what?"
"Gotta hit the deck—mud bath is good for the skin. Try to work your way to a mangrove for cover."
The lieutenant called for 60mm mortars and they rained down on the ridge. Some snipers responded but their fire only dimpled the muck harmlessly. Johnny felt relieved when his footage seemed firmer and began to rise so that the muck was only knee deep. He quickened his pace and headed for a clump of uprooted mangrove stumps half way to the ridge. Pop edged up almost abreast of Johnny when a sniper pumped three rounds one dimpling the muck next to Johnny. He reeled round and saw Pop’s head slump into the mire. He waded over and grabbed Pop’s blanket roll to pull him up. Pop’s face was muddied bloody red. Pop gaped at him fearfully as the blood gushed from his mouth and torn cheek. Johnny dragged him toward the stumps and looking over his shoulder he called for a corpsman. He settled Pop against the sedge. Nambu fire opened up and half the platoon line receded back into the cover of the fringe. Johnny unhooked a grenade from his belt, peered round the clump.
Janie, behind her birthday tree, stuck her fingers in her ears as he came running back from lighting the cherry bomb under the coffee can. She peered round the tree and then wide-eyed watched the coffee can sail over the telephone lines.
Hot Nambu rounds thumped and steamed out of the mound. LI pulled the pin and let loose the grenade. It exploded, hideous screaming under it. The Nambu muzzle broke through the thick foliage and toppled into the mire.
Chic sloshed through and reached the stumps. He looked back at the squad and the rest of the platoon and felt abandoned. "Sure looks like you got the yellow belly, LI,… Now, maybe the rest of our babies will come out from their hiding and help us."
"Oh, I got that nest, for sure.…Wouldn’t count on it bein’ the only one though.…Wager there’s still a few aimed in on us up there," Johnny reminded him as he waved his muzzle toward the ridge.
"Check, just like the Ca-nal… moving cave to cave or bunks to bunks—slimy moles." Chic un-hooked his grenade and heaved it at the ridge. Then slammed his body into the mound of roots as Nambu fire whizzed by his helmet.
Dig came wading through the sludge as quickly as he could to join them but was cut down half way there. The lieutenant could be heard yelling for more mortars. The weapons platoon pumped a barrage onto the ridge, then set up its thirty caliber air-cooled machine gun and riddled the slopes while the rest of the squad went back into the muck in column form in line with the mound. Chic went back to fish out Dig who was immobilized and sinking into the primal slime. Johnny meanwhile, after wiping away the mud as best he could, held a bandage from Pop’s first aid kit, sprinkled with sulfanilamide, tightly to Pop’s cheek and mouth. Apparently the enemy knew that the clump served as partial cover from the new Nambu and began to sniper in from above, others having cunningly cached their yellow presence in the surrounding coconut trees. The squad was forced back again, then took blind shots at the trees. A brave corpsman slid into the swamp and sloshed through quickly to help Chic who was struggling to drag and slide Dig through the heavy mud toward the protective mound. The three miraculously escaped damage, though they were well in the line of sniper fire. They sighed thanksgiving in reaching the mound of protective stumps and roots. The machine gun was elevated and fired into the high foliage of the sniper trees. At last they got lucky; a Jap suddenly was dangling from his restraining strap.
The machine gun unit cheered and continued its deadly purpose. The squad ventured out again and suddenly there was now Nambu crossfire coming from higher up, and three men slumped into the swamp. The lieutenant himself rescued one of them, but when he went back for another, he was mortally wounded.
Johnny was preoccupied with trying to control the flow of blood. Pop’s face turned ashen and his eyes glazed as he slipped into shock. The corpsman looked grim, reporting, "They both need plasma." Dig was writhing in pain from his smashed collarbone. The corpsman shot him with morphine. "We gotta get’em outta here."...