The beach on the southern tip of Leyte in the Philippines was shadowed by more than 350 artillery soldiers who stood in formation wondering what was ahead for them. They were puzzled and worried. They had fought on Saipan and joined the Marines in the battle for Tinian. Now it is December 1944 with Christmas just a few days away. Furthermore, they reasoned, their battalion had not assembled like this since they left the States in September 1942. Just what was this all about? In a few minutes they would know.
The battalion commander, with a few sheets of paper in his hand, soon appeared and stood on a crate where all could see him. He began, “I have been ordered to furnish one half of the men in the battalion to participate in a secret mission. I do not know what this mission is. To be fair in naming who will be chosen for this mission, I have arranged all your last names in alphabetical order and will call out every other name.”
After many names were sounded he came to mine, Harold Moss. The next morning, I, with my carbine and 45 pistol, and others chosen for the mission, boarded an LST (Landing Ship Tank), a vessel with two huge doors on the front through which tanks and vehicles could be loaded. Its discolored paint, rusty and dirty appearance was evidence the vessel had participated in a lot of combat action. Squealing little monkeys darted and ran everywhere and the stench was almost unbearable. As I thought and wondered what would come next, my recollection of the Kamikaze that dove into the hold of a vessel unloading its cargo just four or five hundred yards from our encampment, clouded optimism about this mission.
Our convoy was soon enroute to somewhere. As I recall, we were lead by a cruiser, I think three or four LSTs and a naval vessel. The cruiser was attacked by Japanese suicide planes and I believe suffered a heavy loss of sailors. Whenever an alert condition existed, we were put into a round tube-like cavity below the deck, and the round hatch above us was locked. Five or six of us were put in each alert hatch. It was a very disturbing time for me when I was in the hatch, because we could not open the hatch and had to depend on our release by a crewman.
Finally, the mission became known to us over the loudspeaker system. Our vessel was carrying ammunition to support a planned invasion of the Philippine island of Mindoro. We were to unload the ammunition, place it on the beach, and get out as rapidly as possible. To do this, we would form a line like a conveyor belt, enter the hold, pick up a box, carry it to the beach, stack it, and get back in line and keep the belt moving. During this unloading operation, the Japanese attacked our ship and ripped one of the lifeboats from the vessel. This was only minor damage, and the attack did not slow down our moving conveyor belt. I believe the two other LSTs were hit by the Japanese and suffered some damage.
I can’t recall how long it took to unload our vessel, but I clearly remember that it was late afternoon and the sun was about to disappear. Darkness would soon cover us. As I stacked my last ammunition box and walked back toward the ship, there was no vessel there. Nor were any other ships there. There was no one in sight and five of us were still on shore. In despair, we shouted, waved, and fired our weapons, hoping a ship or someone would rescue us.
I guess the Lord heard us because an LC8, a small craft appeared in the fading light. The navigator saw us, let down the front ramp and got us aboard.
The convoy was now far out, and our small boat labored at full speed to reach it. In this chase, our large ships came under attack by Japanese planes, but we finally came alongside. Nets were hanging on the sides, and I was able to climb aboard despite the rough water and the columns of water from exploding Japanese bombs. This was the most distressful situation I experienced during the war.
I would judge that the mission was accomplished.-Harold Moss