Carl Platou: "Are We Going To Make It?"
The formidable Japanese struck terror in the hearts of Americans serving in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Known for fierce devotion to their cause, they would fight to the death, and perferred suicide to capture. Carl Platou, a member of the 11th Airborne Division, served on New Guinea, and Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines. He was among the first Americans to land on the home island of Japan after the surrender as part of the occupation army. In a 2007 interview with military historian Douglas Bekke, Mr. Platou vividly recalled jungle combat experiences that brought him face to face with the enemy.
Oral History Excerpt
DB: You’re sitting in your foxhole at night, and the Japanese were infiltrating your position. Now there are two of you in the foxhole?
DB: One’s awake and one’s asleep, or you’re both awake depending on the situation?
CP: No. You’d be on two hours and off for two hours. Awake for two hours. What you would do is...at night, when it started getting dusk, getting darker, all of a sudden it would start. Like fireflies. You’d see on the base of a tree. Little white specks. Little white specks. Little white fluorescence in the foliage and you’d memorize that. You’d remember that. Because if anything ever blocked those little lights you knew there was somebody crawling up, coming in.
DB: This was the natural phosphorescence from decaying wood or something?
CP: Yes. Correct. And I’m surprised I’ve never read anything about it by anybody. But it sure was prevalent with us. And of course in the jungle it was constantly raining, constantly wet. You were sitting in water all the time and when you go to the bathroom you couldn’t get up and go out. You did it right there. So you became a stinking mess. Everybody. There was no sense of cleanliness or... I mean you’re just immersed in mud all the time. It was just...constant. There’s no way you could get away from it, because you had to be in the hole every night. Then when you move on to the next hill you keep moving up through these jungles. You had to keep digging a new location.
DB: What was the experience of being the recipient of a Banzai attack at night? It’s pitch-black. You can’t really see your hand in front of your face and there are these people running towards you as fast as they can, screaming, shooting, trying to kill you. Did you have support? Did you get flares?
CP: You had a number of things. First of all, you had a number of hand grenades. Right there by your nose. You had a trench knife made with a long, twelve-inch blade. You didn’t want to shoot your own rifle because then they would know where you were shooting from. Because of the fire flash of your rifle. So you’d throw grenades at them. You had your bayonet on your rifle so you were ready to stick them. This one guy that almost got me...this is the result. He was trying to infiltrate in the dark.
DB: You point to a scar on your wrist.
CP: Yes. A scar on my wrist.
DB: About a five-inch scar.
CP: Yes. Six inches. He tried to get in...you could smell them. First of all, you could smell them. Secondly, you could sort of sense him.
DB: This is in Luzon now, or Leyte?
CP: This is Leyte. And Aubry Miller was sound asleep. It must have been about four in the morning. Three in the morning. Something like that. You also sense them. Then I saw this one little light blocked out and thought, here it comes. So he rushed and I had my left hand up. I grabbed him by the shoulder, and I had my knife and killed him and then rolled him out. There’s little Aubry Miller. Suddenly he woke up and said, “What’s going on?” I said, “I’ll show you in the morning.”
DB: Was it his bayonet that got you on the wrist?
CP: No. It was his hand. They wouldn’t come in with a bayonet. They would come in...and I’ve got his rifle at home, by the way...in a glass case. They wouldn’t come in with a bayonet. They would have a rifle tied onto their back. Strapped on the back. But they’d have a hand knife. They wanted to stab you. You had to keep your composure as it is getting closer and closer. There is a book that deals with this sort of experience.
DB: Is that The Rising Sun, I think?
CP: The Rising Sun, in which there were interviews of officers of the 511 Parachute Regiment who talk about the Banzai attacks. And in the morning you find bodies four or five deep, stacked up. Because, when they really start getting very close together, then you do shoot back. But you don’t shoot from a distance. You wait until they’re right on top of you.
...They just come like madmen. Just like madmen. Without any sense of rationality. I mean just...mad. Infuriatingly mad. We had our weapons, and the M-1 was an automatic rifle. You just kill them. They had single bullets. Their equipment was not at all like ours. So then out of their fury they’d rush.
It was all so terrible. All so terrible. It’s just...the worst part was...it started getting dark at night and you hear this “Hoi” and “Hoi” and “Hoi,” all around. So you’d know you’re surrounded. First of all, you know you’re surrounded. Then you wonder, my God, here we are now. Like, for instance, after five days, you’ve not eaten anything and you know you’re not as strong as you were in day one, and you wonder, are we going to make it tonight or are we all going to be killed? Is this the night we’re all going to be killed? And so you...it was terrible.
Platou, Carl; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Carl Platou Oral History Interview. Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.