“On 4 October, 1940, I enlisted in the Army at 39 Whitehall Street in New York City. I was sent to Mitchell Field on Long Island. 15 months later I was a proud member of the newly formed 80th Pursuit Squadron.
I had really enjoyed my tour of duty at Mitchell. Every weekend we would go to NYC. At 99 Park Ave there was a USO office that gave us free tickets to shows and stage plays.
Then came 7 December, 1941. Pearl Harbor attacked by the Japs. The radio announced that all service men were to report back to their stations.
January 1942 I was assigned to the 80th Medics. Out Flight surgeon was Lt Patrick. The enlisted men were Sgt Conway, Cpl Pedroso, Pvt Manges, Pvt Smekeo, Pvt Martz, Pvt Thompson, and Pvt Horowitz. We boarded the train at Mitchell to transport us to San Francisco where we boarded the Maui. The ship had a serious mechanical problem. We were unboarded and sent to Angel Island. While we were there, they gave us passes to San Francisco. Finally, the ship was ready, we were onboard and on our way. We formed a convoy after passing the Golden Gate bridge. We had a heavy cruiser sailing on our starboard side. The Pacific was so rough that at times the cruiser would go down below the waves then it would come back to the surface. On the ship we were supposed to sleep below deck in bunks that were six high. A majority of personnel took all their gear and set it up on the top deck. As the medics we had to maintain a sick call room on board the ship. We had quite a few cases of sea sickness.
When we arrived in Brisbane, we were divided evenly on both sides of the ship. This was done so that the ship would not go aground. When we disembarked we were taken to Ascot Racetrack until they decided where to take us. They gave us mattress covers and had us stuff them with hay form the stalls.
Where were in Australia, we were stationed on Archer Field, Lowood, and Petri. On our free time we would go to Brisbane by 2.5 ton truck, which I myself drove at times. In the pubs the liquor was rationed, so they were only open for one hour. All the service people would try to down as much as they could in that one hour.
On the 20th of July, 1942, we were shipped to Port Moresby. We disembarked at night. That was really a nightmare. We were put on trucks and taken to a camp another outfit had vacated. On the journey all we saw was devastation and bomb craters. I thought it was the end of the world. At Port Moresby it was touch and go. We were not stationed very far from the Owen Stanley mountains. It was rumored that the Japs had come across and killed a number of U.S. servicemen. Someone fired a shot from one side of our camp one night. Then someone fired from the other side. We had our own little war going until our commanding officer for the situation under control.
On 8 November 1942, the 80th moved to Milne Bay. My first night there was quite exciting. The Mess building was on a hill, and our tent was a short distance away. Washing Machine Charlie came over to drop his bombs on the strip. When we heard the klaxon horn, we rushed out to find a place below ground. In the dark we found this ditch, so we all crouched down. It did feel a bit damp, and it smelled like a garbage dump. Then we realized that we were in the drainage ditch from the Mess Hall. We never did get that smell out of our clothes, but we did survive the air raid.
Another thing about Milne Bay, all the good Japs were buried on the other side of the Strip. They had tried to make a landing just prior to our coming there. Someone had taken a bulldozer and buried them all. Also, while at Milne Bay, most of the 80th had contacted malaria.
On 6 February 1943, we went back to Australia (Mareeba) until March, then we returned to Port Moresby. On 21 March 1943 at Port Moresby New Guinea, the Jap were bombing us every night. We had dug our own trench outside our tent. When we got the warning of an air raid we would usually get out of the sack and grab our helmet and gas mask, jump into our trench and wait out the attack until we were given the all clear. Well, this time after it was all over we returned to our tent to rest until morning. In the morning when we arose, upon going outside we found a 3-foot bomb (unexploded) stuck in the ground located about 8 feet from our tent.
On another occasion, we were being transported by ship to our next base of operation. A Jap torpedo plane came in low strafing the deck. He dropped the torpedo too soon-what luck for us. Whoever was at the wheel of the ship turned to port. The torpedo went right by us. The gun crew shot his wing off and he crashed into the ocean. To my knowledge none of us were injured.
On another occasion, we were aboard an LST. There were five LSTs in the convoy. The Jap suicide planes hit the LST on our right, the one on our left, and the one behind us which was transporting the other half of our squadron. However, the guys were rescued and brought on to our base of operations.
The next time we were on a Navy attack ship. On top of the deck were different size landing craft. When we arrived at the beachhead at D+5, they lowered our ambulance into a one vehicle landing craft. I had to descend over the side on a rope ladder-a feat I had never experienced before. I made it down and drove the ambulance on to the staging area.
When we were leaving Cape Gloushester by C-47 one of our aircraft crashed. It seemed like it was always raining there. We lost two men from the Headhunters.
On another occasion we had a lecture by an officer from the Chemical Warfare Department. He explained all about mustard gas. We were all issued impregnated clothing.
One day we got a call that someone had to pick up this fellow who was down on the beach. When we arrived, we way that he had taken off his clothes and buried them in the sand. He had a leather belt around his waist with a knife in a sheath. He was really not violent, but he acted very scared. He was sent to the Hospital to be returned to the U.S.
We also lost a man in our squadron to what they call today “friendly fire.” There usually were four men to a tent; two bunks on one side, and two on the other. One man had just finished cleaning his .45 caliber Tommy Gun. He mistakenly put his finger on the trigger and the GI on the other side of the tent was hit.
I spent 3 years of my life as a Headhunter. I am very proud to be a member. I was stationed in 15 different locations, starting at Mitchell Field and ending my tour at Mindoro.”
– Manny Pedroso