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The Battle for Mt. Bijang - 5: Withdrawal

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Retrograde Maneuver

Rusty's plan was to send 1st Platoon 50 yards down the hill to the rear to form a skirmish line. 2nd Platoon would then pass through their ranks to form another line 50 yards further down the hill. Once this was accomplished, 3rd Platoon would disengage from the enemy and move down the hill another 50 yards. Cavanaugh then ordered SGT Sorenson, who would travel with 3rd Platoon, to check each platoon he passed and do a head count. No one would be left behind and CPT Cavanaugh would be the last man off the hill.

"There was a notable interest by all concerned in complying with these orders," Rusty noted dryly.

As enemy fire increased, 1st and 2nd Platoons withdrew to their new positions down the hill, and 3rd Platoon amplified their rate of fire as they observed Japan’s troops slipping into 1st Platoon’s now vacant positions. MAJ John Cook was about to blow up their deserted 60mm mortar tube with a grenade when a mortarman rushed back up the hill to grab it. The trooper had been helping a wounded soldier off the hill then came back for his tube.

CPT Cavanaugh watched 3rd Platoon begin their own withdrawal then used his rifle to place several rounds into the wounded PFC Lipanovich’s SCR-300 radio. Making sure his casualties had all been evacuated, Rusty took off in a zig-zag line to safety as bullets snapped past.

Elmer Chuck Hudson 511th PIRJust behind the ridge’s crest, Cavanaugh directed positioning of the last Angels off the hill. While Rusty planned to be the last man off the mountain, one trooper remained forgotten on the ridge. PFC “Chuck” Hudson (picture to the right) still lay in the trench where medic PFC Al Haar had placed him and though under the effects of morphine, Chuck recognized that the firefight was beginning to die down.

Is D Company leaving without me? he thought with worry.

Chuck’s 2nd Platoon had moved 100 yards down the hillside before the mistake was realized. Without hesitation, seventeen-year-old PFC Billy Pettit and PFC LeRoy “Ritchie” Richardson rushed back up the slope, passing 1st Platoon coming down. Dodging several enemy squads while partially concealed by the smoke, after a nerve-wracking search, Billy and LeRoy found their wounded buddy and half dragged, half carried Chuck down to 2nd Platoon which was waiting in a ravine with great anxiety.

"I don’t know how any of the three of us were able to survive," Billy told me decades later. "It was a miracle no one was killed."

"I was lifted out of the area and do not remember a thing until I saw LeRoy ‘Richie’ Richardson and Billy Pettit," Chuck noted. In true Angel fashion, he promised his rescuers a case of beer. Upon reaching 2nd Platoon, PFCs Joseph "Joe" R. Miller and Alex "Big Chief" Village Center joined the effort to carry Chuck.

"They lifted me onto the poncho and bounced me down the mountain to safety," Hudson recalled decades later with deep emotion. "How do you thank someone for 63 years of life?"

Meanwhile, when SGT Ed Sorenson did his roll call, he came up short and told SGT Royalle A. Streck to join him on their own courageous trip back up the hill. The two sergeants made their way through the smoke until they found themselves within 3rd Platoons’ former positions on the hilltop. When no one responded to their shouts, they surmised they must have missed counting an evacuated casualty. Ed and Roy then looked up in alarm to see enemy officers in white uniforms moving to flank them.

"We executed the maneuver known as, 'Get the Hell out of here,'" Ed laughed.