Mahaska County

Cpl. Robert H. Kiser



Robert H. Kiser was born 8 July 1924, on a farm approximately five miles east of Pella, Iowa, to Ira and Eva Lena (Manly) Kiser. Prior to starting Elementary school, my family moved to a farm just outside Oskaloosa, Iowa, where I completed my K-12 schooling in May 1942.

Following high school graduation, I worked for the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation for eight months. In November 1942, I enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After passing the written and physical exams for pilot training in Chicago, I was told it would be two to six months, before I would be called for active duty. I grew tired of waiting and consulted the recruiting station where I was offered an alternative of joining another branch of the armed services and when my turn came up for pilot training, I would be transferred to the Army Air Force Base. I returned to Iowa and enlisted at Camp Dodge. After taking the physical I was told I could serve in the Army, Navy, or Marines. I chose the Army and was sent to Camp Roberts, California for infantry basic training.

In 16 weeks, I was on my way to join the 148th Infantry on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. I became a rifleman in the First Platoon of C Company. The primary action on Guadalcanal was the nightly bombing raids by the Japanese.

The defense technique at that time was the utilization of search lights to spot the enemy plane and then our anti aircraft batteries would attempt to shoot the plane down. Most of the air raids were by a single plane. However, occasionally there would be two or three.

The 148th, the 145th, and the 129th Infantry Regiments made up the 37th Division. Following some brief jungle combat training the division embarked via troop transports for the invasion of Bougainville. Boarding a transport by climbing the cargo nets with your rifle and all of your other possessions were a significant task. While we were waiting on the beach for the Higgins Boats to take us out to the transports, the soldier seated next to me shot himself in the hand so he wouldn’t have to go. (He did rejoin our group about 15 months later and got in on about five months of combat.)

The 148th’s task in the invasion was in reserve of the 21st Marine Regiment who made the first wave of the landing on 1 November 1943. The 37th would land on 7 November, and relieve the Marines who returned to Guadalcanal. It was a six day trip from Guadalcanal to Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville where we landed. We disembarked via the cargo nets into the Higgins Boats for the trip to shore.

Japanese resistance was heavy. There were numerous dog fights and several Jap Dive bombers scored direct hits on the ships in the convoy. The ship C Company was aboard, a Jap bomb hit a cable and knocked the detonator from the bomb. It crashed into the Hold without exploding as we were going down the cargo nets. The Japanese had landed a reinforced battalion a few hours ahead of our landing.

However, they were caught in Marine fields of cross fire and were soon decimated.

On my first day on the beach I saw and talked to a Marine who was in my high school graduating class. We relieved the 21st Marines within a week, they were very happy as the bodies of that decimated Japanese battalion were about 300 feet from their position and the stench was almost unbearable. Almost immediately, we began expanding the perimeter so we were far removed from that problem. The mission on Bougainville was to establish a defense perimeter of 23,000 yards to protect air fields, we were needed to bomb New Britain and New Ireland (major Japanese naval and air bases). Holding the perimeter were the 37th; the American Division; and a Fijian Infantry Regiment. After the perimeter was established the Japanese did not threaten the perimeter for about three months. Although they had 60,000-100,000 troops on Bougainville, they believed the perimeter was a feint and that a larger landing would take place in the vicinity of their main facilities. During those three months we constantly did combat and reconnaissance patrols. The most difficult patrols were those in which a platoon would go up the coast in Higgins Boats for 15 to 20 miles and then patrol back through the jungle to the 148th front line. Once we got strafed by one of our Navy planes that thought we were Japanese.

The 37th was scheduled to go to either Australia or New Zealand for rest and relaxation (r&r) in March 1944. However, at that time the Japanese moved about 20,000 troops across the mountains to mount a three pronged offensive in hopes of driving us from the island. The patrol action became a daily contact experience. And the listening posts established a few hundred yards ahead of our lines became a dreaded experience. At night the Japanese would get real close and call out all sorts of things in an attempt to determine our exact position. If they were successful, the fighting would be with bayonets and knives. One evening just as it was getting dark, I was returning alone from the Company Command Post on a jungle trail when I met a Jap soldier in a GI uniform. The only weapon I had was a 45 caliber hand gun, which I was not used to using. Before I could get the 45 out of the holster the Jap disappeared in the jungle.

A few days later when the First Squad had listening post duty, I leaned my rifle against a tree while I was trying to communicate with a Fijian Patrol who was using two New Guinea Scouts. There were just starting on a combat patrol. When the scouts got about 20 feet beyond, I heard one of them let out a combat yell that we had never heard before. It was scary. Then they started killing Japs who seemed to be everywhere. By the time I had recovered my rifle, which had gotten knocked down in the melee, there were six dead Japs on the ground.

Several days after the above encounter, elements of the First Platoon were determining a field of fire in our defensive position. The Sgt. in charge directed me to cross and proceed along a barbed wire barricade. I proceeded about 300 feet along the barbed wire to a point where the Sgt. directed me to turn right and proceed for another 300 feet. During this time the Sgt. and the rest of the men were on the opposite side of the barbed wire. I sensed that I was in a mine field so I told the Sgt. that I would go no further in the direction ordered. The Sgt. became furious and ordered the rest of the men to cross the barbed wire and proceed ahead of me. They all refused. The Sgt. then crossed the barbed wire and after telling me what he thought of me took three steps in the direction he order me to go and stepped on the type of land mine that bounces about four feet in the air when triggered. Several pieces of shrapnel came close enough to me to leave burn marks across my stomach. My chest was covered with blood but nothing had penetrated below the skin. When the Sgt.’s body was recovered, it was determined that I had walked about 300 feet through that mine field without triggering a single mine.

The next week I received an order from battalion headquarters to scout for a company sized patrol from the 24th Infantry Division. They had just arrived on Bougainville and were supposed to relieve the 37th for r&r in Australia.

The patrol was to proceed about 20 miles in front of the perimeter into Japanese held territory. An earlier incident really upset me about this order. I was on listening post duty when a platoon sized combat patrol passed through the listening post. This was their first combat patrol experience. They got a few hundred yards beyond the listening post and were pinned down by Japanese fire. They radioed for help and we sent a squad out who killed the two Japs who had the patrol pinned down. When I reported to Battalion Headquarters, they told me the patrol had been postponed for a week. One week later when I reported they indicated the patrol had been canceled.

The 24th Infantry Division never did relieve the 37th. The rest plans were canceled. The First Battalion missed the main thrust of the Japanese attack. The Third Battalion of the 148th Regiment; the 129th Regiment and the 182nd Regiment of the American Division were the most directly in the path of the Japanese attack. One Company in the 182nd Regiment went from 150 to 25 men in one day.

Elements of the Australian Army relieved the 37th, which started preparing for a first wave landing in Lingayen Gulf on Luzon Island in the Philippines. The 37th boarded Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s) in Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville and proceeded toward the Philippines. The convoy continued to build as we proceeded toward Luzon. When we got close to the Central Philippine islands (Mindora Strait), the Japanese attacked the convoy with significant strength. Many planes were piloted by Kamikazes. One of these just missed our LST by 50 feet. The cruisers and Destroyers got a few of the planes that got real close however from our LST we could see two Kamikazes score direct hits on our Navy ships.

Further away the dog fights between out planes and the Japanese were spectacular with the Japanese being defeated decisively. The Japanese withdrew and we never observed any more of them until we reached the Lingayen Gulf.

This was the largest landing force of the war in the Pacific. C Company of the 148th Regiment was among those who went in the first wave. It was quite a sight to behold. In the distance our dive bombers were bombing the shore; many dog fights between fighter planes were occurring; two battleships were firing their 16 inch guns; dozens of cruisers and destroyers were also firing their guns. This landing was far different than Bougainville where we disembarked via cargo nets into Higgins Boats. Here we left the LST in a tank like vehicle that could go on the water as well as on land. The one I was in did not make it to shore, the last 50 yards required walking through waist deep water. Japanese resistance was light and C Company rapidly moved inland. Our first thought on seeing the open countryside after spending 17 months in the jungle was this is like going from
night to day. We began the march to Manila. The First Cavalry Division and the 37th began a two pronged drive to the City. Sporadic resistance required physically demanding marching. Many times for example we would start marching at midnight and march for 15 or 16 hours. Then we would dig in and perhaps within four or five hours we would have to return to approximately where we had started because we had overextended out line.

On a reconnaissance patrol, I jumped from a bridge onto a dry creek bed and injured both of my feet. I kept going however and a few days later were sent on a motorized night combat patrol. The first few miles were boring and I fell asleep. Suddenly the jeep braked hard and attempted a U turn. I was thrown from the jeep. Fortunately I landed on my feet but was so close to a Japanese soldier with a bayonet on the end of a rifle that I could touch him. The Jap chose to turn and run. I jumped into a ditch just ahead of a burst from a Jap machine gun. My fox hole companion all through the war was laying next to me and he got hit with that fire. Our one man army, a BAR gunner from the second squad flanked the machine gun and got the machine gunner and his assistants. However there were still many Japs there. We proceeded to our patrol destination. We returned the same route and when we reached that place we proceeded at full speed with most of us firing as rapidly as possible.

We resumed our march to Manila the next day. My injured feet made it impossible for me to keep up, so the Company Commanded ordered me into an ambulance and headed for the field hospital. From there, I was flown to a hospital on Leyte Island. The 148th was getting close to Manila when I left. They incurred heavy casualties in the battle for Manila. Of the 160 men who went ashore at Lingayen Gulf only 13 answered roll call when C Company was sent to regroup.
The 37th went North after a rest period and experienced heavy casualties until the end of the war. I was only back with C Company for one day following my release (66 days ) from the hospital in Leyte. I was hospitalized for Infectious Mononucleosis and twice for Malaria.

At the time of my discharge, I was a Corporal 148th Infantry 37th Division. I was in the Pacific from 23 August 1943 until 29 November 1943. I earned the following medals and ribbons: Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Asiatic- Pacific Campaign with three battle stars and one arrow head, Designating the first waive landing on Luzon, Northern Solomons, Southern Philippines, Luzon, Philippine Liberation medal with one star, and two Presidential Unit Citations.

A few months after my Army discharge, I enrolled in Drake University. During my second year, I married Holly Ann Quick. During the next eleven years, four children were born to this union and I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree with a business major; a Master of Science Degree with a school administration major; taught business subjects in the Ute High School for five years and moved to Prescott, Iowa, where I became Superintendent of schools. While Superintendent of Schools, I enrolled in the Doctoral program at the University of Northern Colorado. The family moved to Sgt. Bluff, Iowa in July 1960, when I became Superintendent of their school system. I continued the doctoral program in the summers and graduated in December 1965. I resigned as the Sgt. Bluff superintendent, July 1, 1966 to become Director of Personnel for the Sioux City Community Schools. I resigned that position in November 1966, to become the founding President of Western Iowa Tech Community College. I retired from Western Iowa Tech after 25 years of challenging, enjoyable experiences. In March of 1995, I accepted the interim position of Executive Director of the Tri State Graduate Study Center. I resigned 30 September 1995, to once again enjoy the freedom of retirement.

Submitted by Robert H. Kiser.