96th Infantry Division Deadeyes Asssociation

THE BRIDGE

   Horn yelled, "Peterson, get your gear and report to Ski at Headquarters, on the double."

   As a private in a combat infantry company, I know it can only mean trouble when you're singled out for anything. I'm part of a team, here; we've been trained to work as a group. Horn didn't grab a bunch of guys to go out on patrol, or paint rocks. or do the kinds of no-brain sluff that privates do best - he picked me. By name. Maybe it's KP, or I'm going to be decorated, or court martialed, or ...  

   We (Company C. 383rd Regiment. 96lh Infantry Division), with the help of a few other units, had invaded Lcytc, P.I. at M minute on October 20, 1944, and then participated in front­-line combat activities until yesterday, November I. Now we're doing patrol duty, mopping up, and resting up in a "rear area"

   Anyway, you don' I argue with Horn.  I got my stuff and went to HQ. First Sergeant Cendrowski told me I'd been "volunteered" for detached duty. "Elliott will give you a ride over to regiment. You're gonna guard a bridge for three days, then report back to me." Okay. So they need a dependable, courageous, responsible man who can work without supervision, That?s why they picked me -- makes sense.

   At regiment I learned that our detail consisted of six other outstanding privates and me, accompanied by 14 Filipino guerrillas. A captain briefed us: "We're opening a supply route from Dulag, across the island to Ormoc, about 35 miles. The map shows seven bridges over streams in­tersecting the road, and we need 24-hour guards on each bridge to secure the road. One man and two guerrillas at each bridge; you'll be relieved in three days. Move out."

   We helped each other load onto a deuce-and-a-half; drove down the coastal road to Du­lag, and turned west on the new supply route. Not much of a road, even by Leyte standards. but vehicles should be able to meet and pass without too much trouble.

   The truck stopped at each bridge, and three guys got off with their gear and a 10-day sup­ply of rations for their replacements. At the fourth bridge, about 18 miles from the coast and a half mile past the barrio of Matagpa, I think, I unloaded and two guerrillas followed. We look our supplies to the side of the road, and watched the truck roar off to the west and disappear in a cloud of dust.

   It was a nice area - flat lowlands, with scattered groves of trees, sugar cane fields. random brush, a few typical thatched-roof homes visible. There were some native folks near-by, bathing and washing clothes in the creek, looking on curiously, enjoying the mild, sunny day.

   We carried our supplies across the road, and introduced ourselves to each other. Abe and Manuelo knew little English, and I knew no Visayan. I sent them to ask some local folks whether we could occupy a vacant hut near our bridge, II seemed to be empty, in good condition, about 16 feet square. with an elevated boar floor, palm-frond walls and roof. Abe told me that a small Japanese unit had occupied the hut for a month or so until a few days ago. The Filipino family who owned it had moved away before that. So we moved in, threw our bedrolls on tile floor, stowed our rations, examined the "kitchen" area, and went out to in­spect our bridge.

The bridge spanned the road, about 22 feet wide. It was just slightly below road level, and consisted of two coconut logs, each about 14 inches in diameter at the butt-end; one butt north, one butt south. The logs lay directly on the muddy soil that was the creek bed, At this time, how­ever, the creek consisted of shallow pools along the course, and a trickle of water under the bridge. Big deal. The first three bridges we'd seen were more impressive - two of them even crossed running streams.

But we had been sent here for good purpose; our bridge was a vital link in the supply chain to help restore democracy in the Philippines  and rid the world of tile tyrannical Japanese. We would protect this structure from all enemies, foreign and domestic. walk our post in a military manner, and prevent such damage to its structural integrity as might be inflicted by saboteurs or nature. A heavy burden, but we could handle it, for three days, anyway. Piece of cake.


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