Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Carl Platou: "Exhausted"

Carl Platou experienced the horrors of combat while stationed in the Philippines. In a 2007 oral history interview with Douglas Bekke, he remembered spending five days without food while surrounded by the Japanese in Leyte, and the consequences.

Oral History Excerpts

CP: Yes. I should tell you before you leave this...it was December 23rd. There was no artillery to support us because they couldn’t spot us and the artillery couldn’t reach us. Finally on the 23rd...

DB: Is this the period when you were surrounded? When you were out there by yourself for five days?

CP: Yes.

DB: Your company was surrounded.

CP: The company. Yes. Yes. Finally we got a message that the last hill, the last hill in front of us, about a quarter of a mile away, was going to be bombarded in the morning at five o’clock. A five-minute bombardment. We hadn’t had any artillery support at all in the prior thirty days. None. So McGinnis, Captain McGinnis, called us all together that afternoon about five or six, and he got the word. I don’t know how he got the word. There was going to be an artillery barrage on the last hill, which had eight machine gun nests on it. They were looking down this valley, the caribou trail. Everything was on a caribou trail. An oxen trail. And up there, about eight logs high, was where the big machine gun nests were. About a hundred yards wide.

DB: They were dug in. They were in bunkers.

CP: Yes. They were dug in, in bunkers. And they dug in deep. So there was going to be a barrage. The next morning we heard these screaming shells coming right over the top of our heads. You could hear it coming...boom! And then the screams of the Japanese. And then the cheers from us. Because we were to move out as soon as the barrage was over. It was to go on for five minutes. And then another shell hit. They sounded like the size of a locomotive.

DB: It sounds like a freight train going through the sky.

CP: It would go right over your head, and it sounded just like a freight train. You could hear that huge thing soaring and the scream to it and then, varoom!! And then the screams of the Japanese. Finally silence from the Japanese. They were all killed. So we moved out and I was the lead scout going down the center. Hogan and Dennitch were off to the left with the machine gun. Another guy by the name of Bose was on a machine gun to go over to the right. They were going to do a flank, and we were going to go down the center. So we started going down, and no shots came out. You don’t go right in the middle of the caribou trail. You go off on the side, and you sort of half hunch and crawl. Bent over. I got up against the palm tree barricade and started climbing up to look over, and there everything was a shambles. They were all gone. Parts were in the trees. Arms and legs here and there. Moaning. But nobody moving. So we all came over. It was then about seven o’clock. We sat down and said, “My God, down there, there’s the ocean.” The other side, at Ormoc. There were 50,000 Japanese killed at Ormoc. So this was our last battle and our last day. I sat down against a palm tree and Denapole sat next to me, and he tips his helmet back, just like that.

DB: Who is this?

CP: Denapole. Elmer Denapole. Great, great...great man. A great man. And he said, “Jesus, we made it.” All of a sudden a single shot rang out. I looked over and there was a hole right there. About two or three drops of red blood.

DB: Just above his nose.

CP: Just above his nose. He was gone. He was gone. We left him sitting there. We were all so exhausted. We were... If only somebody had taken a picture. Here I was, a hundred and twenty-six pounds in this mud and filth and dirt. I mean we stunk. We all stunk. We started walking down about eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock. Up came a Jeep. Some U. S. soldiers saw us. They got out of the Jeep and ran up to us, and here we’re coming out in all this mud and filth. We hadn’t shaved. Limping. We were all walking wounded. They stood and as we got closer they stepped back and parted and started to cry. You poor guys. They could tell in an instant what we’d gone through. So they loaded us into the Jeep and drove us down into Ormoc. There was a Catholic church. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to go back and see was that Catholic church. Because they’d taken the pews out, and that was the first aid station. They carried me in there and cut my boots off and my legs began to swell from the knees down. Just like balloons. We called it “jungle rot.” Like an elephant’s foot. You can hardly see your toes. The digits. You can hardly see them. It just swelled up. I couldn’t walk anymore. And when we were up in the jungles you never took your boots off because you couldn’t get them back on again. And we all knew that. So about five o’clock this doctor came by and put a big cardboard “E”, a piece of cardboard with a big letter E on it, around my neck.

DB: What’s that for?

CP: Evacuation. You will be evacuated tomorrow. This was Christmas Eve day. So I had something to eat. They were caring for us beautifully, and I said, “Where are the sentries?” It was getting dark. “We don’t have any sentries. We don’t need any sentries.” They said, “All the goddamn Japs are gone.” So I crawled off my stretcher. Crawled over to the confessional. Opened the door. Reached up and crawled in the confession booth. I slept in there because I figured if they came and threw some grenades or something, I’d be safe. When I crawled out in the morning, one guy said to me, “What did you do that for?” So I told him. He laughed. Then in the morning they picked me up on a stretcher and took me out to the hospital ship, Mercy. The ocean was beautiful. Beautiful. We pulled up next to this great big gleaming white ship.

Read the full transcript.



Platou, Carl; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Carl Platou Oral History Interview. Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.