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PAGE TWENTY-THREEJanuary 12. Finished story No.16 in the morning; and planned to drive out to Parachute Battalion in the afternoon, but Ham came over and told me that General Harmon was holding a press conference at 3 P.M. So I attended that instead. The conference was a farce, as the General told us nothing we didn't already know. The questions had all been submitted to him inwriting previous to the conference, and he had all his answers carefully prepared so as to give us no information. He is a nice fellow, however. I think Dick Tregaskis prepared the questions.
New Caledonia: January 12
All the correspondents were pretty sore because of a report that CINPAC had issued an order barring all correspondents from air transportation. We planned on going in a body to Admiral Halsey to protest. We never did. Tregaskis went alone, and got no where. Was told that even if there were space on a plane, no correspondent could occupy it. The order is typical Navy. And vindictive.
An M.P. called me at 4:30 the following morning. I shaved and drove over to the Signal Corps lab, where I picked up Cpl. Wold of Oakland, Calif., a Signal Corps photographer. We headed for the Pack Artillery camp in Dumbea Valley. I missed the turn and drove about seven or eight miles too far beyond. It was very cold, and we were both chilled through. And it was supposed to be mid-summer down there. New Caldonia is about the same distance south of the equator that Hawaii is north, and has a similar climate, but there are more marked changes in temperature.
We finally reached the Hq of the 97th F.A.Bn., and had ham and eggs, toast and coffee at the officers' mess. At least I did. Vold ate with the enlisted men. After breakfast, we drove over to "B" Btry. Watched the men pack 75 mm guns on mules. The guns and their mounts break down and, with ammunition, are packed on six mules to the gun. The heaviest load is 350 lbs, a cumbersome piece almost as long as the mule.
I was given a horse, and rode with the battery. We were out two or three hours. Each mule is led by a soldier with full pack, carrying a slung rifle. The trails are narrow and often very steep. The men are constantly stumbling or slipping and falling. When they are not cursing their mules they are cursing their rifles. A slung rifle under those conditions is something of a handicap. Why they don't let the mules carry them, I don't know.
Occasionally a mule's pack strikes the side of a hill, or another mule rushes forward and pushes him, and he falls off the trail. Sometimes they are killed, but a mule is mighty tough. There was one mule with us that had rolled 300 feet down a mountain side with his pack a short time before, but he was back on the job.
Those boys went through that terrific grind every day, seven days a week, with no time and a half for overtime and no strikes. They were hard as nails. "Rugged", they call themselves and their job. And they are.
We were in the mountains all the time, as the camp is at the head of Dumbea Valley right at the foot of the mountains. Sometimes we were in the open where we could look down from the narrow trail hundreds of feet into the valley below. Again, the trail wound through niaouli forests. Rounding the side of a mountain, it might be comparatively level. In places it seemed almost vertical, and the animals and men dug their toes in and scrambled up. I don't know how the men kept from being trampled. You children know from experience how animals lunge up a steep trail.
The views when we were in the open were beautiful. Below us was the beaut- . . .
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