The Motley Crew

Contributed by Trooper
Ben P. Moody,
F & HQ Troops

Copyright 1999 by 112th Cavalry Association

All Rights Reserved

Lord, when I look at these faded old Kodak Brownie snaps of that "Motley Crew" you assembled at Ft. Bliss and Ft. Clark who were told they were going to become cavalry men, you'd have to think it was some kind of joke. Most of us were skinny, all legs and arms. Most were 16 to 20 years old—green as grass in almost all respects. We were a fantastic mixture—short and tall, big ears and feet, and almost all from not very affluent families. Not half were high school graduates; we were mostly products of the big depression and lucky that the worst was apparently behind us—or so we thought. We were kids of ranchers, farmers, city workers, insurance salesmen, grocers, shoe repairmen, car salesmen—you name it and we probably had a representative. So this is the group that is going to become a crack Cavalry Regiment? You gotta be kidding!

We came after the sabre was gone. There were no Indian or border bandits to steal cattle or horses. The McClellan saddle was modified to have a skirt instead of that leg-pinching spider strap. We had 1903's and rode with both snaffel and curb bits (at the same time). Lord, who decided to punish my horse by ordering the use of 2 bits in his mouth at the same time?

Even with all our differences and faults, it wasn't long until we were sitting straight, back arched, heels down, toes out and those 4 reins neatly folded over our hands. Some took a little longer than others, some horses took a little longer too, but soon the columns moved with an indefinable beauty. Each man was proud of how his leather looked and how his horse glistened in the Texas sun. (Are you sure these are the same men?)

That doesn't mean it was easy. Every time the corral gate closed behind you, you groaned just thinking about how many times your rear was going to pound that McClellan before you saw the gate again. Cold mornings were worse than hot. You never got used to those first jolts you had with the saddle and you wondered if things would get better—or even worse.....probably worse.

Up the side of the road for 50 miles to Garner Park. Past old Mr. John Nance Garner, leaning on his gate in Uvalde, waving at every single passing Trooper. Knowing who he was surely made every trooper sit a little straighter even though over 40 miles had already taken its toll on their rears. Now it was hot and there were still over 10 miles to go. Your horse was sweaty and you knew you had a good 1 - 2 hours to dry and groom him, feed & water him and bed him down—that is if you ever got to the stopping place. After all that, you'd eat, pitch tents and try to wash the grime off your face (probably in the horse watering trough while "Chicken" or "Bess" or "Cleve" or "Slots" and all the others were slurping water alongside you). But, don't let the 1st Sgt. see you do that! He'd say something a little stronger than, "That's not nice," and you'd likely wind up on guard or stable duty to take up that little bit of rest you would have gotten.

You'll be 'up and at em' before daylight comes and the whole routine starts all over. Damn, I can't afford to think about that ride back—I just don't believe I can do it. But, you do it. It'd be far too embarrassing to ever give up and fall out.

We had very few chances to visit among the Troops other than our own, but we did find time to make a friend here and there from other Troops.

A lot of days and many miles later we were in New Caledonia with Australian horses. General Kruger thought he could use horse cavalry in the jungles he knew we had to cross. The monsoon season changed that. Constant rain and the horses standing in mud day and night soon softened the carnera bands on the hoofs. We stood night after night moving them every few minutes to what seemed like a little higher ground. No luck. The horses went. I hope they eventually went to their Happy Hunting Ground knowing they had done their best. To Big Bob, Clancy, Cleve, Sue Baby, Chief and all the rest: With all the work you made us do to care for you, we missed you. Now we were foot soldiers.

A lot of things changed. The squad exercises now meant we carried the light '30s—the heavy '30s and the BARS on our backs and necks. We marched the 9 miles from Dumbea Valley to the coast daily at a trot, wringing wet with sweat and swatting mosquitos every step with a small leafy branch. We were foot soldiers. Yeah! Great!

We first went to Townsville, Australia for supplies, then to Woodlark Island near the Solomon Islands. We were there to protect the SeeBees while they built a landing strip of the coral so fighter planes could reach Rabaul, New Britain. By then the Motley Crew had become a disciplined Regiment. A Battalion of Field Artillery was added to us in November 1943 and we were then called "A Regimental Combat Team" (RCT). None of us had any idea what that meant at the time, but we would learn. Our RCT, only a fraction of the size of a Division, much smaller even than an Infantry Regiment, was destined to become a small, mobile fighting unit. No Japanese soldiers were on Woodlark but they bombed us there. We then moved to Goodenough Island to resupply and on December 15, 1943, we made the first northward attack in the South Pacific. It was at Arawe, New Britain that A Troop was shot all to hell trying to assault the beach in rubber boats. Who the hell thought up that move? There was little opposition by the main body at first. We were ordered to form a main line of resistance (MLR) at the head of the peninsula we landed on. The Japanese reorganized and reinforced from Rabaul. We sat there a long time wasting Troopers on patrols. "Washing Machine Charlie" saw to it we didn't sleep much by cruising up and down the peninsula dropping bombs at will night after night. We crouched in the holes and cursed him for weeks. That is until 40mm anti-aircraft guns were brought in. Very soon the "Charlies" came no more. Finally, General MacArthur decided our diversion for the Marine landing on the north of the island was no longer needed. Small tanks were sent and we routed the Japanese, but not before Smitty, and the two Jack Johnsons and Eddie and many others had ended their lives on that grubby peninsula.

Arawe was but a Kindergarten chore compared to the 52 days on the Driniumor River near Aitape soon to come. The trek to the Driniumor River from Aitape in the mud and rain was an introduction to the days ahead when the Japanese 18th Army came up from by-passed, dreaded Wewak determined to wipe out the Driniumor line, so they could then attack Aitape and Hollandia.

The Japanese forced a breakthrough between the 112th and the ocean and causing us to begin a "perimeter" defense instead of a "line" defense. These perimeters changed continuously. Patrols were ambushed and men killed daily. A spot called Afua became a focal point for attacks by the determined Japanese, but our 148th Field Artillery Battalion saved the day several mornings by firing over our perimeter at a hellish close range to blast the attacking Japanese. "C" Troop and others sustained daily Banzai charges at daylight. All were repulsed, but not without loss to the "Motley Crew." It was too early in the war for choppers. The wounded were carried by natives and Troopers nearly 5 miles to the coast where trucks took over the litters: the mud covered, blood soaked fatigues, crude bandages and racks made of bamboo to try and hold wounded in somewhat of an upright position. Some of the hastily made contraptions reminded you of Rube Goldberg drawings. Echoes of, "Get 'em to the coast," "Quick," "Get going," still reverberate in my mind. Our meager first aid station could do little but patch and send 'em on their way, but they did one hell of a job considering what they had to work with. You could only quietly stand, teary eyed when you watched a litter train disappear into that dark rain, always down a muddy jungle trail, heading to the coast. Who would die before the ocean came to view? Who would die the first night in the Aitape field Hospital? Who would make it? Oh, God, what a pitiful sight. There was so little that could be done for them. To stand and watch that last man in the train slowly disappear into the jungle was like a slow motion dream. Patrols were out deep in the Japanese infested areas day and night. Some patrols were lost for days, some were ambushed, some had to leave Troopers where they fell, and others were ambushed later trying to retrieve the bodies.

Oh, God, is this the same "Motley Crew" you assembled at Ft. Bliss to teach them dismounted drill and the Manual of Arms? How could it come to this?

Here you stand in those soggy boots that haven't been off your feet in a week. Your stinking fatigues and your M1 that rusts overnight in that hellish jungle. Your head aches and the lump in your throat never goes away. Always another litter train passing through. Any man, yes, now a man, who saw these things can never return to the trivial problems of yesterday and rid his brain of these images. These things will be with you forever. You may as well face it.

The Motley Crew went to the Philippines attached to the 1st Cavalry. A lot of the same scenes. Popovich, Clifford Lee, and many others went that far before finding their fate. Some Troopers' wounds killed them years later, many Troopers were stopped in their tracks. A half century has gone by since then but the images, the dreams, are still crystal clear. They will always be crystal clear.

And now we have grown old. How lucky to have had these years to be blessed with family and friends. The most cherished friends are the survivors of the Motley Crew. We meet as often as we can and stay in touch with one another in various ways. We respect each others views and we are grateful for all these "extra" years we have been allowed to have. We freely cry when another Trooper's death is announced. Our sorrow is indefinable when we learn of another's serious illness.

Hey there, Trooper! Sit up straight! Straighten your tie! Eyes front! It's 1993 and you're still here? A large percentage of the Motley Crew is already gone - even those who survived the war. It's very close to time to close our book and "fade away" as the story goes. Lean back, smile, think of the many blessings God has given you and remember.

One day that Motley Crew of 1940 will assemble at a cool, running stream, unsaddle, and hug each other. We were brothers then, still are, always will be.

On a green and distant hill,
A line of Troopers standing still.
Their heads are high,
yet all eyes weep,
Another friend is now asleep
He rests in God's eternal care.

He stood with us in times now gone
Times of laughter, of fear,
of dreaming of home.
We'll meet again - we Troopers all,
We each but await The Bugle Call.

 

vline.gif (829 bytes) Location: Kouowa Bay, New Caledonia, 1943

The natives took the Troopers out to kill a deer. they headed off the island on the boat. The Troopers were confused at first, but then the dogs were sent up onto land and they ran the deer out onto the beach where the natives could shoot them.

3 standing in back (left to right):

A native, Arthur Mendoza, and Claire Wilke

Sitting in the boat (left to right):

Guide, Dean Walley(in middle right beneath Mendoza), the deer is laying next to Dean and one dog is visible at Mendoza’s side. The other dog is on the far right of the boat.

Standing in the water in front (left to right):

Ben Moody and another native


 
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