Behind the combat units were millions more men engaged in the unglamorous and not necessarily safer business of feeding the supply lines to the front. The Pacific generally had a smaller proportion of such supply troops than other theatres and those employed here worked long hours.
Sy Kahn was with the 244th Port Company, 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps. At the time they were based on Biak island, north of New Guinea, loading shells, and other supplies including vehicles, onto ships bound for the Philippines. For someone who was in the middle of the Pacific he was remarkably well informed about the progress of the war.
Biak – described as “a shitty little malaria and typhus infested atoll”, had been invaded in May and Japanese resistance had finally been overcome in August. The Japanese had fought to the death. U.S. casualties had been 474 dead, Japanese confirmed dead 6,100, with a further 4000 unaccounted for.
Kahn had been overseas for over a year and this was the first time that he had encountered black troops. His diary, as usual, recorded everything:
The war goes well on all fronts. Advances in Holland reported. Aachen has fallen after a week of street fighting, and other minor gains in France. In Italy continued small gains toward Bologna. Russians are fighting in Belgrade. Greece is close to completely liberated. The Russians are beginning to pierce Prussia and advancing south from Riga. The net tightens, it will strangle Germany soon.
Our landing in the Philippines [on Leyte] met little initial opposition and proceeds well. Here, we continue to load ships destined for there. MacArthur has “returned,” and it is 6th Army troops that are in the show. The 41st will occupy, I imagine, when they finish taking it.
As MacArthur said, from Milne Bay, the start of the push against Japan, we have come 2,500 miles in 16 months. Another year, a year and a half on the outside, to finish these Japs. More troops landed on D-day in the Philippines than in France on their D-day. Seven divisions it’s said.
This landing in Leyte right smack in the middle of the Philippines is of great strategical importance because it splits the defending forces on the islands in two and neutralizes, to a great extent, the Jap bases to the south in Borneo, Java, Celebes, Ceram, etc. There are 1/2-million ]aps behind our lines. A funny thing, modern war.
Only in China does the situation look bad. China has already lost much ground and four airbases. The Japs still push forward, and the Chinese are unable to hold. The Jap advance there is more or less a countermove to our advances in the S.W.P. How effective it will be, time will tell. The Jap navy, time and again, has avoided a showdown fight. They will be smashed when they do stand and fight.
At work I have been handling Negro gangs. They are really funny sometimes, and I like to work with them, and sometimes prefer it. The other day one fellow said to me after a hard first hour, “I don’t mind working with you, but you moves too fast” — and later — “When I carry this hook, I needs two men to hold me up.”
They have a great sense of humor and are most always bright-spirited. They are combat troops out of the 93rd who have been converted to service troops. They have colored officers, one of whom I saw today. Norm told me about him, a grad of a Midwestern school, studying for a M.A. in music when called into the army. He drives the men under him hard.
Today “stringing them up” on the dock, I told one colored fellow to be careful that a cable caught right in lifting an eight-ton truck, while he stood between truck and ship. “If she comes your way,” I said, “jump into the water.”
“But,” he said, serious and wide-eyed, “I can’t swim!”