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  New Guinea, the land of jungles and mountains, of Fuzzy Wuzzies and thatched houses, was to be the staging area. Jump school, which was to qualify nearly eighty-percent of the men, including glidermen, as paratroopers, was opened. Operating in conjunction with the 54th Troop Carrier Wing at Nadzab, the 187th conducted combined troop-carrier training at Dobadura. The 187th was committed to the Battle of Leyte Island, in Operation King II, on 18 November with the 11th Airborne Division mission of relieving the 7th Infantry Division along the line Burauen-La Paz-Bugho, and of destroying all Japenese in that sector.  They were resisting furiously at this stage. Yamashita had announced that the decisive battles of the Philippines would be fought on Leyte.  
  While the 7th Division was relieved the 187th Glider Infantry was left on Bito Beach. Colonel Hildebrand, the 187th Regimental Commander, was placed in command of all rear areas and assigned the mission of securing vital corps installations. The problem of securing the Air Force Headquarters was solved by separating the 674th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, later a part of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, and the 675th from their guns, and assigning them protective missions as infantry.    
  When the Division plunged into the mountains, the 187th finally left Bito Beach to join the inland fight.  Before quitting Bito Beach, the 187th men experienced their first encounter with Japanese paratroopers.  Striking for the rich prize of material on the beaches, three plane loads of Japanese pathfinders, advance elements of a Japanese airborne striking force, roared in over the beaches in the early morning hours of 29 November 1944. Their planes, looking like C-47’s in the dark, were mistaken for regular couriers from Biak. One of the three crash-landed on San Pablo Airstrip and all its occupants were killed. The second skidded in near the command post of the 20th Armored Group, killing two Japanese and leaving eleven presumably free in the jungle. The third plane crash-landed on the beach at the north boundary of the Bito Beach area. Needless to say, the air invasion never materialized.  
  The first combat parachute jumps, the 11th Airborne Division made, were on the 4th of December 1944 when Battery B, 457th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, parachuted into the Manarawat Mountain stronghold to provide artillery support for the 511th PIR troops in the mountain. Shortly after, men of B Company, 187th Glider Infantry Regiment, parachuted into Manarawat, jumping from L-4 artillery liaison planes, to take over the mission of securing the Manarawat position. The operation placed one platoon of the 187th at Manarawat, the Second Battalion at Burauen Heights and the remainder at Bito Beach. At the same time the Japanese were preparing a coordinated airborne-ground assault to seize the airfields at Burauen, San Pablo and Buri. The Japanese 26th and 16th Divisions, were scattered and behind schedule, and when they met the American paratroops in the jungle they were decimated.   
  At about 1800 hours on the 6th of December 1944, a flight of Japanese bombers came out of the west over San Pablo Airstrip. The bombers circled well overhead and dropped a few bombs while their accompanying fighters remained high and well out of range. Two flights of C-47 type aircraft in a “V” of “Vs” came in slowly over the field at about seven hundred feet.  Suddenly the air was filled with Japanese paratroopers.  About 300 men of the Japanese Katori Shimpei Force dropped on the strips and attacked in all directions.  Although the Japanese had picked some of their best men to make the attack, and surprise was complete, utter confusion was apparent amongst them once they hit the ground.  Many were killed before they could take up a fighting position. Others inflicted heavy damage and dug in to make the airstrip untenable. The Japanese quick release harness, in many cases, released troopers while still five or six hundred feet from the ground.  The Japanese paratroopers had evidently been commanded to destroy the liaison planes and supply dumps.  They set fire to planes and everything flammable in the dumps. They attacked the bivouac of division personnel manning the supply installation and destroyed their camp. The only division troops present at this time were from the 127th Engineers, the Signal Company, and Headquarters Battery of Division Artillery.  
  The 674th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion was ordered to leave its guns on Bito Beach and get to the airstrip prepared to fight as infantry. Thereafter, throughout the Leyte Campaign, this is the way they fought.  At daylight on the seventh, just as an attack by headquarters people got started. Colonel Hosak arrived with his 674th Artillery-infantry men. The Japenese were holed up all around the strip but initially the strongest resistance was made in front of the Engineers. The 674th pushed across the strip and into a coconut grove some seven hundred yards north of the airstrip. Here they halted and dug in for the night.    
  On the eighth, Colonel Hildebrand arrived with the First Battalion of the 187th to take over the task of clearing the airfield.  Meanwhile the remnants of the Japanese 16th Division were doing their part in the so-called coordinated attack.  Lieutenant Hurster of the 187th set up a perimeter around the 44th Station Hospital with forty men, including cooks, supply personnel and drivers. This cordon held and no Japanese penetrated it during the night. Next morning patrols crossed the rice paddies and killed the remaining Japenese.  
  One regiment of the 16th managed to mount a halfhearted night attack on the 11th but it was repulsed with heavy losses. About 1500 men, survivors of the 16th Division, assembled northwest of Buri Strip and, on 6th December, launched an attack through a swamp. Inflicting heavy losses on American service troops stationed at Buri, they dug in and prepared to fight. Moving into Burauen Heights at this time, the First Battalion of the 187th met a portion of this force and destroyed them. The 187th then turned back to dislodge the Japanese force on the north edge of the Buri strip.  While the First Battalion was clearing the Burauen airfields the Second Battalion of the 187th relieved elements of the division north of Anonang where they had contained one of the two main  
  Japanese concentrations. The other Japanese portion was west of Mahonag, where the long sought Japanese supply road was found. It was decided to cut this supply trail at Anas, a deserted village, to sever the Japanese in the mountains from their supplies.  
  Directed to join the 511th at Hacksaw Ridge, the Second Battalion of the 187th arrived as the 511th attack became a route, and the Second Battalion was ordered to proceed to the coastal plain.  With the first Japanese position destroyed it became imperative to reduce the second. The enemy held area was on two parallel ridges. The rear ridge, where the Japenese were most thickly dug in, was known as Purple Heart Hill. Failing to find an avenue of approach into the position, the 187th’s First Battalion, back from Anonang, turned north, and in a wide encirclement, had ended up north of the Japanese position.  
  On the night of the 26th, artillery, mortars and machine guns pounded the Japanese. On the 27th, the Second Battalion stormed Purple Heart Hill and stayed atop it. The Japenese who were not killed were scattered to the north and west. Those moving north ran into the First Battalion of the 187th,which had attacked southward along the gorge. An after-battle search of the area disclosed 238 Japanese bodies in addition to many fragments of bodies, arms and legs, mangled by artillery. Also in the Purple Heart Hill area was found the end of the main Japanese supply trail, which wound over the hills and through gullies from Ormoc Bay to Anonang.  
  By the 15 January 1945, the 187th had closed into Bito Beach, with the rest of the Division, for rest, recuperation, and reorganization.  
  Courtesy of “The Lt. Vincent J. McDonald Chapter” a quarterly published Newsletter.  
  Minor editing was done to this article by the WebMaster  
  Copyright © Leo F. Kocher  
  11th/511th Airborne