75 Years Ago: The Butcher’s Bill at Buna

Lt. Harold B. Chandler, Jr., Citadel Class of 1939, Killed In Action 5 December 1942 attacking Buna Village with his platoon of E Company 126th.


By the end of the Buna-Sanananda Operation on Papua New Guinea, the 32nd Infantry Division had sustained over 90% casualties across its three Infantry regiments.  Of these, the 126th (Michigan Guard) was certainly the hardest hit; the 128th (Wisconsin Guard) fared only slightly better, and the 127th, while arriving later as the reserve was committed to the engagement, still suffered very heavily in the end-game and mopping-up operations.  In more than one infantry company, those still on their feet numbered one junior officer and two or three enlisted; in at least one case, a company had no officers, and its enlisted had to be rolled in with another in the same battalion.  A lot of inexperienced draftees, Guard, and reserve officers had grown up quickly, and in doing so paid a great cost in return for lessons learned about jungle warfare.

Our approximately thirty-two South Carolinians had also paid somewhat of a price for this first, albeit near-disastrous, land victory against the hitherto unbeaten Japanese troops.  What follows is a breakdown of their collective situation after the campaign.

[NOTE: Lt. David Atkinson, Clemson ’34, did not travel to Australia from Ft. Devens due to back injury sustained in training.]

Avinger, A. Norman Jr. (Clemson ’37): D Company 126th, malarial casualty at Buna, Sanananda Front.  Returned to duty with Service Company 126th.

Ballentine, Carroll Furman (Clemson ’39): Anti-Tank Company 128th; survived the campaign but further outcome unknown.

Barrineau, Timothy (Clemson ’39): Cannon Company 127th, possibly transferred out of unit during the campaign.

Beaudrot, Joseph Louis (Clemson ’41): Anti-Tank Company 126th, in “Huggins Roadblock” (Sanananda Front) from start to finish.  Malarial casualty, one of only three  remaining in his platoon, himself and two enlisted men.  Did not return to duty with the 126th.

Bell, Thomas E. Jr. (Clemson ’39): Survived, assumed command of E Company 128th, Urbana Front.

Blackmon Clinton R. (Clemson ’41): Survived, transferred to his original K Company 127th at the end of campaign.

Carlisle, William Aiken (Clemson ’39): Wounded by sniper, Warren Front; returned to duty, 1st Bn S-3 (Operations), 128th.

Carter, Horace Hall (Wofford ’39): Company F 126th, evacuated with heart condition on Kapa-Kapa trek, later returned to 126th Regimental Staff duty.

Chandler Harold Bradford Jr. (Citadel ’39): Killed In Action during attack of 5 December 1942, E Company 126th, Urbana Front.

Cheatham, Frank Cook (Clemson ’40): D Company 127th, Urbana Front. Survived, but recurring malaria and a back injury kept him from returning to duty with the 32nd Inf Div.

Commander, Robert Charlton “Charlie” (Clemson ’36): Malarial casualty, eventually returned to duty with 1st Bn HQ 128th; Warren Front.

Cottingham, John E. “Ernest” (Clemson ’41): Killed In Action during attack of 21 November 1942 (first day of combat action; leading platoon of A Company 126th (Col. Carrier’s Detachment), Warren Front.

Crouch, Henry M. Jr. (Clemson ’39): D Company 126th, Sanananda Front; malarial casualty, uncertain about further duty with unit.

Dannelly, Sheldon Marchus (Wofford ’39): Survived, commanding remnants of A and C Companies of 128th on the Warren Front.  Assumed command of C Company 128th after campaign.

Evans, Thomas Harold (Wofford ’40): Survived; K Company 126th but manned supply depot on Sanananda-Soputa track; uncertain about further service after the campaign.

Fraser, Powell A. “Pop” (Presbyterian College ’41): Survived, assumed command of E Company 127th at end of campaign. Awarded DSC.

Fulmer, Tally Doyle (Clemson ’39): Survived, assumed command of C Company 127th at end of campaign. Awarded DSC.

Gibson, Harold Cleveland (Clemson ’39): Survived, Company M 126th, Sanananda Front.  Possible malaria casualty, further service with 32nd Inf. Div. unknown.

Hill, Hoyt B. Jr. (Clemson ’41): Survived, Cannon Company 126th, Sanananda Front.  Further service with the unit unknown.

King, William T. (Presbyterian College ’41): Survived, Company M 128th, Warren Front; later to Regimental HQ 128th.

Mahaffey, Dennis M. (Clemson ’36): Survived, serving with A Company 126th (Col. Carrier’s Detachment), Warren Front.

McKnight, Benjamin G. (Clemson ’41):  Died Christmas Day, 1942, of wounds sustained leading patrol of I Company 128th, Warren Front.  Awarded posthumous Silver Star.

Lee, Bevin Derias (Wofford ’25): Wounded in action while commanding L Company 126th, Sanananda Front; returned to duty with 126th as Regimental S-1 (Adjutant). Awarded Silver Star.

Lee, Ralph M. (Citadel ’41): Survived, ended campaign with transfer to Anti-Tank Company 127th.  Further service unknown.

Little, John J. (Wofford ’35): Survived, commanding or serving as exec of H Company 126th; Urbana Front.

Martin, John M. (Citadel ’41): Killed in Action, 7 January 1943.  Not clear whether he was with C Company 127th or had transferred to Air Corps when killed.

Peabody, Herbert Gale (Wofford ’40): Division HQ, wounded in action, did not return to duty with the 32nd Inf Div.  Awarded DSC with Oak Leaf Cluster .

Potter, Charles M. (Clemson ’41): [unconfirmed] wounded in action 25 December 1942, possibly H Company 127th, Urbana Front.

Thackston, William Harold (Clemson ’39): Survived, served with 128th Regimental, also 1st Bn HQ 128th, during campaign; afterwards transferred to K Company 128th, Warren Front; later assumed command of K.

Thomas, Marvin M. Jr. (Citadel ’41): Survived, serving with 127th Regimental HQ at end of campaign.

Williams Harry M. (Citadel ’39): Survived, sole officer of decimated G Company 126th at end of campaign (only three men left effective).  Moved to 2nd Battalion Staff (S-3, Operations) 126th for duration of the war.

Wolfe, Russell Simmons (Clemson ’39): 1st Bn. HQ 127th, malarial casualty; returned to duty, commanding the 127th Regt.’s 1st Bn. HQ until invalided by recurring bouts of malaria.

By the end of January 1943, all elements of the 32nd Division were either back in Australia or preparing to go, and were due for a long recuperation period of almost a year before re-entering combat.  Nearly all the men of the 32nd Division who survived came back to Australia with ailments requiring at least some hospitalization or extended care.  If not debilitating malaria, then some other diseases or fevers, also tropical ulcers and parasites.  Some malarial cases were able to return to combat infantry duty, others were so bad they came back only briefly, were transferred into support or supply roles and eventually rotated home.  The healthy ones ended up staying on duty for the duration of 654 recognized days in combat, equating to 13,000 total hours until either receiving a sporadic and very dear rotation order or getting killed in later action.

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