Based on the letters of Earl Philip Reinhalter (1922-1953). Edited by his son, Earl Philip Reinhalter (1950-).

<- PREVIOUS LETTER December 6-8, 1944: Jap Paratrooper Attack
San Pablo, Leyte, Philippines

The following is based on multiple sources which disagreed greatly in their accounts of what happened. I have done my best to combine their various viewpoints into a coherent narrative.

            - Earl Philip Reinhalter (1950-)

      In early December 1944, elements of the Japanese 16th and 26th Divisions in the central mountains of Leyte combined with the 3d and 4th Airborne Raiding Regiments from Luzon to attack airfields that U.S. forces had captured in the San Pablo-Burauen area. The primary goal was to destroy the aircraft there so that they could not interfere with a large convoy of reinforcements and supplies that was heading for Ormac Bay.

      At dusk on December 6, several incendiary bombs fell on the San Pablo air strip, setting a gasoline dump afire and burning a liaison plane, followed by the landing of 250 to 300 paratroopers. They burned three or four more liaison planes, a jeep, several tents, and another gasoline dump, throwing ammunition on the latter. Two more waves of paratroopers were planned during the next twelve hours, but they never materialized, apparently because so many of the transports used in the first attack had been shot down and were no longer available to carry the second and third wave.

R. Johnstone    

      Harmonicas, Jew’s harps, pigeon whistles, wooden clappers, flutes and a gong were used by the paratroopers to coordinate with each other immediately after landing. For example, harmonica was headquarters and flute was the work company.

      During the night of 6-7 December, confusion reigned on the airstrip. There was uncontrolled and disorganized firing and much difficulty arose in establishing a coordinated command. The only American troops in the area, a small detachment of the 11th Airborne Division, consisted of elements of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, the signal company, Headquarters Battery of the division artillery, special troops as well as Air Corps service troops (likely meaning the 3rd Airdrome Squadron). Lt. Col. Douglas C. Davis, the commanding officer of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, organized the miscellaneous service troops into an infantry unit to protect the San Pablo air strip. The 674th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, which was at the mouth of the Bito River, north of Abuyog, was to leave its guns at that place and come to the assistance of Colonel Davis’ force.

      At dawn, after most of the paratroopers had assembled on the San Pablo airfield, they moved north and west to the northern edge of the Buri airstrip and joined elements of the 16th Division. Meanwhile, the troops of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion moved out toward the airstrip and met the 674th Field Artillery Battalion, under Col. Lukas E. Hoska. The artillery battalion swung into line and the two units moved out as a provisional infantry regiment under Lt. Col. Davis - the airborne engineers on the left and the artillery battalion on the right.

      They encountered strong resistance to the west of the San Pablo air strip. After advancing north of the strip, the engineers ran out of ammunition. The field artillery battalion went forward to a coconut grove, also to the north of the air strip. The gap between the two units was closed by a strong patrol. Since the food and ammunition situation remained uncertain, the composite force went into a perimeter in defense of the San Pablo strip, where it remained for the next few days.

      By noon of December 8th, U.S. Army troops had driven the Japs out.

San Pablo air strip in 1946

      Although the Japanese managed to destroy a few American supply dumps and aircraft on the ground and delayed construction projects, their attacks on the airfields failed to have any effect on the overall Leyte campaign. Unfortunately for the Japanese, these particular fields were not yet operational, and there was little opportunity for destruction. The Jap convoy attempting to enter Ormoc Bay was destroyed, and American amphibious forces captured the beach where the convoy was intended to disembark. Once Leyte was lost, the Japanese gave up hope of retaining the Philippines, conceding to the Allies a critical bastion from which Japan could be easily cut off from outside resources, such as rubber and petroleum from Borneo and Sumatra, and from which the final assaults on the Japanese home islands could be launched.

Here are the primary sources for this account. I have quoted generously from the ones that are public domain. I recommend these more thorough write-ups to anyone interested in military history.

Military censorship prevented soldiers from writing home about the December 1944 attack. But months later, after they had moved to a new location, the Squadron Pulse newsletter was able to publish this article about it (April 28, 1945, issue).

FLASHBACKS --- By L.H. Stringfield.

      December 6th was our first clear day, and in the evening the bent & shattered ridge of palms, flanking “Fluke River,” glared in lazy black silhouette against a burnished copper sky. [“Fluke River” was probably the Daguitan River, which was about half a mile south of the San Pablo airfield. - Ed.] It was relief from the weeks of almost continual rain and sloshing about in ankle & knee deep mud. With a change in the weather, so changed the men themselves----from glum, sunken, wearied souls to men that could laugh, chafe and jibber-jabber perhaps about---Gloria, the wash-woman, blood flukes, the dog-fight during breakfast, the irksome artillery at night and of course home.

      This was the evening of the 6th, when by degrees seven different kinds of hell broke loose, ending in an apocalyptic climax. The unfolding of events leading up to & including the “big moment,” will have by this time been told in so many unrecognizable, personalized forms that for the benefit of those who do not possess a composite picture of it all, this little summary, we hope, will help clear up the confusion.


      We’re Air Corps, true---but you wouldn’t’ve thunk it from 6:30 on this particular eve, nor for 60 hours thereafter. We lived Infantry, ate Infantry (with less rations), looked Infantry & suffered Infantry.

      This is the story: Here and there eyes curiously stared upward. There was nothing too unusual about the group of medium bombers up there, except that they were in a perfect V formation. This we had never seen before anywhere....They were just “Navy planes flying around like this morning,” someone said, but the spectacle was impressive & more eyes came out to stare, wonder and be glued. Then, like thunder, the evening’s splendor and the men’s wonderments burst into shreds. The right hand side of the V formation broke & before wits could be gathered, planes were twisting and diving everywhere, while the remainder of the V continued its flight. Bombs were dropped, but this brought little attention, for now in the fray were scores of enemy fighters, seemingly from nowhere, joining their brothers in raising general hell. By now, after a moment’s hesitation, our ack ack boomed from scattered places. For about 3 to 5 minutes, it was like a circus. You couldn’t see all the show at once. Some of us just to say we shot at a Jap, took pot shots with carbines at the low diving planes. Some merely looked on, bemused, while others dashed to foxholes with cottontail alacrity. After all, this was not much more than what we were used to seeing every day, so why get all hot & bothered. Then as though controlled by a magician’s hocus-pocus, the Nip planes vanished. Only the hiss, crackles & explosions of a nearby fire bore evidence of the unfriendly visitations--all else was quiet, too quiet for 3 long minutes. The feeling was irrepressibly expectant of something bigger to come.

      It did! ---- The climax that could’ve knocked everyone over with a feather. It was an incredible sight. There coming bigger than Job’s turkeys [referring, perhaps incorrectly, to the old saying "poor as Job's turkey" - Ed.], were low flying hedge-hopping transports.....coming right at us. Some of us thought they were bombers, but of course Reinhalter’s surmise takes the cake. He said that they were C-47’s & that we’d have mail on the morrow. His utterances, subsequently proved false---and how false!

      As though on an electric frequency, voices cried in unison, “Paratroopers!” Yes, Jap paratroopers----scads and scads of ’em floating down like Mauritian mushrooms, showing a pinkish orange in the still glimmery red sunset. Ack ack roared, belched and spewed--carbines cracked, Tommies burped & sputtered. But the big grey, sinister transports still came over, bearing the brazen Rising Sun insignia, with greenish silver spurts of exhaust from the engines. They buzzed directly overhead, about 300 ft in groups of 3 and 5’s and still the Japs dropped. About all I can remember at this point is emptying a clip, inserting another & with Bill Butto taking off, like raving maniacs, to reconnoiter “Fluke River,” & get some Japs. Not wanting Purple Hearts, we rocketed back amidst a hail of bullets and sensibly got into foxholes. Night descended fast and perimeters were set up in no time. The men responded like seasoned vets that they were. After the troopers landed, no shots were wasted and the time was devoted to entrenchment and circumspect defense. We were alone against unknown numbers of the enemy, only later to learn that 200 dropped----each loaded down with 175 lbs of equipment, grenades, mortars, etc.

      After a night of volley and thunder, listening to the bop-bop-bop falsetto of Jap machine guns, our own growling rat-tat-tats and the swish of mortar shells, et al., we realized the “Battle of Fluke River” was well under way. As sun bit thru the dawn greyness, it revealed a bunch of haggard, mud-caked, mosquito-welted GI’s, each with a sadder tale to tell than the other. But before we could crawl to our breakfasts, which consisted of a flapjack and a half cup of coffee (tasting like a Marzetti’s dinner in Columbus), the Nips decided to pester us some more. Zeros first strafed the area, but our fighters were hot on their tail and drove them away before any damage was done. Some of the fellows saw one of the Nips burst into flames, but by this time the chief concern of the rear (Bloody Gizzard Ridge) perimeter was the fusillade of hot lead coming from beyond Fluke River. I saw Basso hit the dirt with his perennial stub of cigarette hanging from his mouth, but nails scratching away dirt furiously. I saw Hofer, Butto, Ivanick & J.T. Goodman preparing for the worse. Somehow we were visualizing an Alamo. Like always, shooting stops as quickly as it starts. The lull found us milling around to see what if anything reshaped our area during the nite. Near our latrine (Fort Maggot) was a dead Jap Sgt Major shot thru the neck, slumped in a cluster of nipa with his Luger still in hand and his parachute tangled about his body. He got his promotion which made him Warrant Officer 2nd Class. Before too many sights could be taken in....shooting started again, and we took off like striped-buttocked pterodactyls. Later in the day we got word that a battalion of Japs broke thru from the mountains and were heading our way. Of course this meant more excitement. With nerves on end as they were, even a swaying coconut high on a lofty palmetto, made one swear that it was a Jap patrols, armed to the teeth, investigated, only to find the milked fruit (or is it vegetable) doing the suspicious swaying.

      It is beyond the scope of this paper to list everything or even a partial list of things happening during this now-famous attack. Censorship forbades [sic] us to mention some of the particulars, but of course some of these things are not lively subjects to talk about…rather things to be remembered in a hallowed manner. Nevertheless, the 3rd turned Infantry, held perimeters and showed we had the guts to take it. The Battle of “Fluke River,” at any rate proved Yamashita’s words were said in vain. Quoting, “We are squeezing the Americans out of.....” All we can say is horse dung, brother. [This quote cannot be found elsewhere. The source is unknown. - Ed.]

Another on-the-ground account comes from the monthly “history” report of the 2015th Quartermaster Truck Company (Aviation), covering the period of December 1-31, 1944, likely written in January 1945, signed by Captain August L. Tonne:

      Ironically enough, the Sons of Nippon apparently thought we would appreciate a gift on the 3rd Anniversary of America’s entry into this war; and in keeping with their usual over-enthusiastic methods to “spill Blood for the Emperor” no sacrifice was too great. Henceforth, about 200 paratroopers dropped to certain death during the twilight hours of the 6th. Of these, perhaps two-thirds landed on or near the San Pablo air-strip, but most of them had been killed before they hit the ground. The few who survived the hail of lead from American guns, offered only minor resistance and caused only slight damage to planes and fuel installations around the strip. The writer counted 22 fighters, 4 medium bombers, and 23 transports that took part in this particular raid.

      All of the personnel in the [quartermaster] unit spent the nights of the 6th and 7th on guard within the area. There were only a few minor causes of extreme fright of enlisted men and these were quickly checked to avoid panic. The morale and discipline of the unit as a whole was excellent and not one shot was fired at anytime by our men, although small arms fire was heavy in or around adjacent units. No enemy troops entered our area, but it was said that several were killed in the wooded section to the rear of the unit. Approximately 48 hours after the initial raid, [Philippine] guerilla troops reported that the San Pablo vicinity had been cleared of all Japs.

      Enemy air raids continued spasmodically, both day and night, throughout the month with no material effects on the Company.

Source: Pages 389-390 of PDF file made from microfilm reel A0389, obtained from Air Force Historical Research Agency).

      At the time of the attack, Manila was still under Japanese control. A different view of the battle was promoted in the December 8, 1944, issue of The Tribune, published on the third anniversary (on Japan’s side of the International Date Line) of the Pearl Harbor attack and what they called the Greater East Asia War. Headlines announced, “Japanese Air-Borne Troops Land on Enemy Bases in Leyte” and “‘Troops From Skies’ Engage U.S. Forces At Enemy Airfields.”

      The opening lead: “Landing from the air on the American airfields on Leyte Island on the night of December 6, members of the Japanese Takahiro air-borne unit launched a close-range attack on the enemy at the points, according to an announcement issued by the Imperial General Headquarters at 2:30 p.m. today.” Photos showed paratroopers boarding a plane and seated inside.

      It was apparently during this battle that my father earned his Purple Heart. According to family lore, a bullet grazed his temple. His sister Yvonne told me that he didn’t say much about it in his letters because he didn’t want the family to worry about him, and that even after he returned home from the war, it was some time before he discussed it.

      Information about other casualties has been difficult to find. My request for squadron records from the National Personnel Records Center was repeatedly delayed. Every time I asked for a status update, the “estimated date of completion” was pushed back by several more months. Then the process came to a complete halt when the coronavirus pandemic shut down operations there altogether. As of this writing, eighteen months after my initial request, I’m still waiting.

      One clue is in my father’s letter of April 29, 1945. Concerning a Jap infiltrator who was killed at his base, he said: “I was glad to see a Jap killed. It kind of makes up for one of my buddies who wasn’t so lucky one time at my old base.” That seemed to imply that at least one person in his unit was killed.

      Additionally, Leonard Stringfield, editor of The Squadron Pulse newsletter, mentioned in the captions in his personal photo album the names of three soldiers who were “later killed”: Sgt. Robles, Al Radler and George Hoffstead. He noted that Radler died on December 7, 1944.

      The battle also took an emotional toll on the men, as my father’s letter of May 27, 1945, noted:

“After the Jap paratroop invasion, some of the other boys were sent home with shattered nerves. Some of the guys don’t seem to be able to take it. They just crack up mentally when the going gets really rough. I have seen some soldiers tied down with ropes in an ambulance. They had gone completely wild. Mentally cracked - battle fatigue.”
      As the war was ending, the editor of The Squadron Pulse newsletter conducted a brief survey of the men in the unit (September 16, 1945, issue):
“The first question asked, ‘What in your opinion was the 3rd's roughest experience?’ The second question, ‘What was the roughest personal experience or when most scared?’

“REINHALTER: The 3rd’s roughest experience was, without a doubt, the Jap paratroop incident at San Pablo, Leyte, Dec 6, ‘44. 2. My roughest personal experience was in connection with that mentioned above.”
      Below are two photos that my father mailed home.


The Kindle book includes the letters; all 23 issues of the unit’s wartime newsletter “The Squadron Pulse,” which was originally edited by Leonard Stringfield; all 12 issues of the “Pennant Parade” newsletter that Stringfield published while sailing home after the war; complete text of the U.S. government booklet “Pocket Guide to Australia,” which soldiers heading Down Under were given to read; more than 200 photos; pre-war and postwar family history; and over 700 explanatory endnotes.


This page established: October 6, 2020             Last updated: February 23, 2023

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