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The Battle for Mt. Bijang - 2: Recon & Approach

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"That Hill": D Company's Recon and Approach

Captain Stephen Cavanaugh 511th PIROn March 12 (X+40), at about 1600, CPT Cavanaugh (pictured right) was summoned to COL Lahti’s Sugar Central CP to converse with Regimental S-3, MAJ William F. Frick, before meeting with Lahti atop the roof where the Mt. Bijang bombardments could be observed. Studying the mountain and Mt. Makiling to the east, Cavanaugh and Big Ed discussed the need to clear the enemy off the mountains and I Company’s failure to do so. They also discussed the fact that their maps were considered fairly inaccurate and that no aircraft were available for aerial photography. Cavanaugh would have to do a visual reconnaissance on his own.

Departing Lahti’s CP with a fragmentary order for attack, Rusty returned to Dog Company’s area and gathered Grandpa/1LT Andrew Carrico, now Cavanaugh's Executive Officer, and the platoon leaders to discuss the mission. Rusty then spoke with 2nd Battalions’ LTC Frank S. “Hacksaw” Holcombe to apprise him of and review the situation. While Grandpa, the platoon leaders and their NCOs checked equipment and drew out ammo and 1/3 K-rations, Rusty returned to Lahti’s CP to coordinate plans with "Big Ed" and I Company's CPT Kliewer.

COL Lahti then leant the two company commanders his personal jeep and during a break in the shelling and bombing, Rusty and CPT Kliewer plus 2/511’s XO CPT Julius J. Toth used the jeep to survey enemy positions and potential avenues of approach. Their route took them down Highway 1, through Real then south-west on the Santo Tomas-Lipa Highway then back to Sugar Central.

The plan was for I Company to again push up the hill, this time using the northern slopes, towards the crest while D Company marched up from another direction. Since Lahti left the final choice of line of assault up to him, Rusty chose a new southern-slope route since he agreed with CPT Kliewer that the western slopes were the worst for approach. Noticing that Mt. Bijang sat just in front of Mt. Makiling and the draws between the two presented a more protected avenue of approach, Rusty decided to move D Company up the hill’s southern slope using its small ridges for concealment as there was very little foliage on the incline.

It was assumed that I Company would be in position to call for the pre-planned artillery fire first and that D Company would assist in the attack on the crest (this would not prove to be the case). Upon capture of the hilltop, Rusty and D Company were to then protect I Company's organization and deployment on the crest, then return to Regimental reserve. Captain Cavanaugh was specifically told that his company would return to the regimental perimeter that night, so he elected to have his men leave their heavier packs at their camp (for most, this included their entrenching tools, a decision that would soon come back to haunt them) and only one 61-mm mortar with 24 rounds would be carried on the assault.

Cavanaugh then spoke with the regiment’s artillery liaison officer who promised 105mm howitzer support before returning to check on D Company’s preparations. He discovered that since the regimental communication's officer had gathered all the SCR-536 radios to repair them, his radioman PFC Roy C. Lipanovich would only have an SCR-300 to use (the artillery liaison also has a radio for communication).

Rusty said of the attached artillery liaison, a lieutenant, "This young officer proved to be a great artilleryman, and showed great courage during the entire operation."

The next day, March 13 (X+41), after breakfast Rusty ordered his 95 men (including some new replacements) to move out down the dirt road to their Line of Departure, about two-and-a-half miles away. Item Company had already left at 0715 and the paratroopers felt some comfort during their "hike" after watching twelve P-38s drop 100-pound high explosive bombs on suspected enemy positions to their front.

Mt Bijang 511th PIR D CompanyMoving in a column of platoons, with one file on each side of the road, CPT Cavanaugh had 3rd Platoon then Company Headquarters lead off with the mortar squad while Grandpa’s old 1st Platoon followed about fifty yards behind. In the already ninety-degree heat, 2nd Platoon brought up the rear with 5-10 yards between each trooper and everyone was surprised when 2nd Battalion's Executive Officer MAJ John R. Cook caught up with D Company in his jeep and told CPT Cavanaugh that he would join them in their push up Bijang's southern slope. It was a decision that would soon place him squarely in harm's way.

Cavanaugh, radioman PFC Roy C. Lipanovich, and the company runners traveled at the head of 1st Platoon before Rusty ordered a rest at 0850. Fifteen minutes later Dog Company was back on its feet and Rusty and his Company HQ entourage moved up to march with 3rd Platoon as they crossed open fields. As they approached the hill's edges, friendly artillery began roaring in from the north.

"(Our artillery) fired on the mountain with heavy shells for hours, I believe, before starting our climb upwards," noted Pfc. Elmer C. "Chuck" Hudson "Shells were still coming in when we got to the foot of the mountain. I remember the shelling was so close that shrapnel was raining down on our steel helmets. After the shelling stopped, we moved forward up the mountain."

Their pace quickened when the faint sounds of rifle and machine gun fire were heard around 0945. I Company had found the enemy on their own approach so with a reminder to use the ridgeline for cover, CPT Cavanaugh’s sweating paratroopers began their own long hike up the hill. With scouts leading the way (one-hundred yards ahead, still in visual contact), 3rd and 1st Platoon traveled abreast while 2nd Platoon brought up the rear. A little before 1200, 1st Platoon flattened when a small enemy outpost was discovered and SGT William L. Dubes and his two scouts killed the sentries. Bill had just returned from a Hollandia hospital and as Executive Officer Grandpa made the trusted veteran 1st Squad Leader, 1st Platoon.

As Bill led the column onward, Grandpa/1LT Carrico and Rusty/CPT Cavanaugh shared a quiet look. What else lay in store up the hill?