George Raymond Whitney
1st Lieutenant – U.S. Army, 41st Infantry Division, 186th Regiment &
24th Infantry Division, 19th Regiment
World War II (1941-1945) & Korean War (1945-1956 Inactive Duty)
George Whitney, a San Francisco native, is the recipient of the Silver and Bronze Stars for his heroic efforts in combat during World War II. Whitney survived Japanese jungle warfare in New Guinea and the Philippines and is proud to have served on the front line fighting “bullet to bullet.” He was a member of the “Guardians of the Western Gate”, the 186th Regiment of the 41st Infantry Division, and the 24th Infantry Division, 19th Regiment. Upon his discharge, Whitney traded one jungle for another and returned to the highly competitive San Francisco Bay Area to build a prosperous construction business. While he built his business, Whitney also kept the skills he honed in the jungle as sharp as the saber he took off a Japanese officer during World War II by serving in the Army Reserves for 11 years. Whitney is a survivor, did what he was told, and is proud to have served in the Army.
George Raymond Whitney was born on February 21, 1920 in San Francisco, California. He grew up in San Francisco where his father was a truck driver with the Teamsters and his mother was a seamstress. Whitney graduated from Balboa High School in San Francisco in 1938. Upon graduation, he worked in a local grocery store and delivered groceries. At the age of 21, Whitney was drafted in the Army on October 21, 1941. His father had served previously during World War I and his family supported Whitney being drafted. At this time, the U.S. was not involved in World War II and the service requirement was only intended to be one year.
Whitney was sent to Camp Roberts in central California for basic training in October 1941. According to Whitney, “Basic training was rather crazy because they start out teaching you to walk, then they teach you to run, and then they did a lot of things that later on we never did use.” While at Camp Roberts, Whitney received little training beyond the firing of the M1 Garand and BAR. There were no special classes and much of the training was antiquated, as it came from old World War I manuals. Whitney felt the living conditions and food were fair. Coming out of the Depression, Whitney was thankful for the food on his plate. Housing was in a two story barracks and he slept on a cot with a blanket. Overall, Whitney’s morale was good, as long as he wasn’t peeling potatoes or any other mundane chore. In general, he felt most of the soldiers were real sharp and did a good job. Others, however, “didn’t like being in the service and did a terrible job,” claimed Whitney.
Whitney was still at Camp Roberts when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. From that point on, “it was mass confusion” and “nobody knew what was right,” noted Whitney. As a result, his training was cut short and he was assigned to the 41st Infantry Division, 186th Regiment in Washington State. According to Whitney, the 41st Division was a part of the National Guard and there were shortages of men with only about 60% occupancy. “They were shoving men around; putting them here and using them.” Whitney was assigned to a Rifle Company. He didn’t expect anything, did crazy jobs and did whatever he was told to do. It made no difference to Whitney to which Division he was assigned. “It was the “same problem; same answer,” explained Whitney.
Duties with the 186th Regiment varied at this time for Whitney. One day he could be performing guard duty along the beaches in Washington, and next he would be peeling potatoes or riding in a truck as a guard. According to Whitney, “it was total confusion in Washington, we moved around a lot, and they thought the Japanese were going to be knocking on our doors.” The primary duty of the 186th Regiment was to establish a ready force to provide security in the Northwestern United States; the “Western Gate.” As a result, the 186th Regiment was referred to as the “Guardians of the Western Gate.” Whitney noted that the “living conditions were a joke” in Washington. They were outfitted with Word War I equipment and uniforms, it rained all the time, and there were massive shortages of everything: food, ammunition and dry clothes. “It was a miserable place to be and the country was in tough shape,” he exclaimed. As Whitney would later learn, this misery would be nothing compared to life in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines.
Although Whitney’s service in the 186th Regiment was only intended to be a one year commitment, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the year extended into ‘the duration’ of World War II. The 186th, as a part of the 41st Infantry Division, was one of the first American Combat units to be sent overseas after Pearl Harbor. The 41st was also the first American Division trained in Jungle Warfare and the first American Division to meet the Imperial Japanese Forces, not in defense, but in an offensive operation. By early 1942, the United States committed to a new phase in the defense of the Pacific and a new command area, the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), was created with General MacArthur commanding. It was to be an international command with separate land, air, and naval forces drawn from the United States and Australia. The goal was to halt the advancement of the Japanese into Australia. The command determined that the best way to defend Australia was to meet the Japanese on New Guinea, and the way into New Guinea lay through Port Moresby, a harbor on the southeast Papuan coast. The Allies, as well as the Japanese, considered Port Moresby to be the key to Australia.
On April 7, 1942, Whitney and the 41st Infantry Division arrived in Melbourne, Australia and underwent intensive training. The transport to Australia lasted 30 days and the conditions were terrible. Whitney noted that they traveled through a storm off of the coast of Mexico and the “soldiers were all washed right out of their bunks”. Upon arrival in Australia, the 41st was greeted warmly by the locals. According to Whitney, “everything was different; it was interesting and a lot of fun, and we kind of enjoyed it.” “The locals loved us and our American cigarettes,” he joked. In Melbourne, Whitney’s training consisted of lots of walking, basic hiking, carrying things and learning to live in the rough. The training was antiquated and didn’t achieve anything, as it came out of the World War I manuals. According to Whitney, “everything was controlled and instructed by the bugle; from morning revelry to lights out.” In addition, there were still supply shortages and the equipment was still World War I era. In fact, the men regularly wore the soles of their shoes out due to all the walking. Despite the poor food and equipment, “living conditions were the only thing that they got right; tents and cots”, claimed Whitney. At this time he was a Private First Class.
From Melbourne, the 186th was shipped to Port Moresby, New Guinea where they waited for about ten days for the pass to open up. Due to the delay, Whitney and his Regiment missed the primary action near Port Moresby, at Dobodura, which was considered to be a major victory by the Allied air and naval forces. As the attack was already over, the 186th was assigned to chop down Kuna grass and dig holes to prepare for the continued defense of the area. Whitney noted that it was expected that the Japanese would return to this area, but they never did. From Dobodura, the 186th, as well as the entire 41st Infantry, worked up the coast of New Guinea. They were constantly patrolling, trying to locate the Japanese. A period of patrolling and training followed while elements of the 41st advanced against stiff resistance to the Kumisi River and then on to the Sanananda-Killerton-Gona area. The 41st continued to move through New Guinea along the coast in the Morobe area, and fought the long Papua-New Guinea campaign from June 1943 to September 1943. According to Whitney, they captured many Japanese prisoners of war especially in the area of the air base developing at Dobodura.
The 41st fought for 76 continuous days in combat against the Japanese in New Guinea and for 26 days survived on World War I leftover canned “C” rations. “The ‘C’ ration biscuits were so hard that the men had to dunk them in hot coffee otherwise they couldn’t chew them,” claimed Whitney. The living conditions consisted of foxholes and dried out river beds and creeks. “At the end of the day, the men would build themselves a little place to sleep and crawled in with a blanket and slept until the next day,” he explained. Overall, Whitney felt that he and his Division “did as good a job as anybody could have done anywhere. They were nothing special in his opinion; they had a job to do and they did it.” As far as he recalled, the mission in New Guinea was to kill the Japanese, run them out, or just get rid of them. Whitney also remembered being miserably wet many days in New Guinea. The area in which he was fighting was surrounded by a lot of water. He either had to lie down, or jump into a large pool of water regularly to save himself.
By the end of the Papua-New Guinea campaign, Tokyo Rose, in her propaganda broadcasts, referred to the 41st as the “Butcher Division” because, among all the records established by the 41st, it established a record for taking the least number of Japanese prisoners of war in the entire Pacific theatre. The 41st spent 45 months overseas, longer than any other Division, and earned the title of “Jungleers”. The victory was not without casualties in the 41st. In the first three weeks of the campaign alone, there were 923 casualties. Whitney explained that most were the result of illness or disease contracted in the jungle. There were also 85 men killed in action. Fortunately, Whitney received no injuries. The 41st not only fought the Japanese, but they learned to fight the jungle and conquered it. In sum, 5,000 Japanese soldiers and marines were killed in this campaign and the 41st proved that the Japanese could be beaten at their own game in jungle warfare and the morale of the Japanese was cracked.
After the success in New Guinea, the 41st returned to Australia for refitting and training. Whitney was offered Officer Candidate School (OCS) training at this time which he accepted. According to Whitney, it was in OCS that he “finally completed his basic training.” He trained for about four months in Australia, at an OCS outpost. According to Whitney, the failure rate in OCS was about 60% and if the men were sent to the United States for training and failed, it would be costly and time prohibitive to return the men back to the front lines. As a result, OCS training outposts were created to alleviate expenses and to ease the transition back to the men’s old positions. During his training, Whitney recalled studying a lot, learned to read maps, marched, learned to get in tanks and how to make demolition equipment. In sum, he studied everything he could for four months. Upon completion of OCS, Whitney was commissioned to Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 24th Infantry Division, 19th Regiment.
Whitney led a platoon in the 19th Regiment. It was Rifle Company which was to have 38 men at full strength. He noted, however, that his Company was rarely at full strength. Usually, there were casualties due to illness or combat wounds and the Company usually consisted of only 30 men. Whitney did not know the mission or goal of the 19th Regiment other than to fight the Japanese and win. He did what he was told and commanded his men to do the same. Overall, Whitney thought his platoon consisted of a bunch of nice guys; everybody did what they were told. If they didn’t, they got into trouble. His duties with the 19th Regiment were to lead the platoon, make sure that everyone did what they were told to do, and just take care of things. At every opportunity, Whitney took any special training offered. He loved to patrol which was dangerous and was always looking for new methods to improve his knowledge of what he and his men were to do.
Initially, the 19th Regiment was sent to Goodenough Island in New Guinea to train for Operation Reckless, the amphibious capture of Hollandia and Netherlands New Guinea. According to Whitney, “the purpose of this training was to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually before going to Hollandia.” Nobody checked first to see if the island was habitable. He claimed that “going to Goodenough Island was the dumbest thing we ever did because there was so much disease and we experienced over 100 deaths on the island.” The 19th trained on the island for one month and it was terrible. Things were so bad that all men were issued flea powder daily to dust over themselves to rid them of any disease. The men slept in foxholes and there was constant rain and mud which created havoc with transportation. Whitney and his men simply “lived day by day.” As a recent graduate of OCS, he felt he was really almost like one of his men. His Company treated him well and “they all knew that we were trying to do something good to build up the ability to fight a war.”
After training for a month, the 19th Regiment, as part of the 24th Infantry, was transported to Tanahmerah Bay in April 1944. The Division seized the Hollandia Airdrome despite torrential rain and marshy terrain. The 34th Regiment, of the 24th Infantry, moved to Biak to reinforce the 41st Infantry which later captured Sorido and Borokoe Airdromes. In total, 40,000 Japanese forces were isolated south of the landing at Tanahmerah and Hollandia Bays by the 24th Infantry. Whitney explained that his Company hiked and fought through the entire area trying to run the Japanese out. They moved up through the mountains and fought the Japanese that tried to get out. “It was just a big mishmash and we never knew what we were going to run into,” claimed Whitney. While in this region, Whitney and his Company initially slept in foxholes, but later received tents and cots after the area was cleared out. Despite severe Japanese resistance, the 24th Regiment was able to move rapidly through the region. After only two months, the 24th was able to cross the entirety of New Guinea.
According to Whitney, the thing that surprised him the most during these battles in New Guinea was that “you never get what you think you’re going to get and you don’t do what you think you should have done. It’s mass confusion. At the beginning, every battle has its problems. But as time goes on, things get a little better each day, food, ammunition, everything, it just got better with time.” In sum, Whitney felt that war itself was a big surprise.
After participating in Operation Reckless, the 24th moved into the Philippines and participated in the Battle at Leyte. Whitney was in Leyte for about one month and described his men as gutsy. As far as he knew, the mission in Leyte was to eliminate the Japanese. “The only way to eliminate them was to kill them,” Whitney explained. The goal of the 24th was to hop from area to area just like in New Guinea to eliminate the competition. According to Whitney, he received the surprise of his life when he and his Company landed in Leyte and tried to walk in. It took them two days to get off the beach with heavy fire from the Japanese. At that time, the 24th was short one landing craft and the landing crafts available had to make circular trips from the ship to the beach. When Whitney and his Company finally boarded, mortar hit the landing crafts in front and behind their landing craft killing most of the men in both vehicles. He and his men were not touched. The morale after the landing was ok. “The men were trained to make these types of landings just like the Marines and everybody did what they were told to do,” exclaimed Whitney.
After walking into a “hornet’s nest” during the landing and barely getting off the beach, Whitney and his men proceeded into the town of Palo, set up defenses to battle the Japanese who were fairly entrenched in that locale and fought for three days. The Japanese backed up and they took Palo. Whitney and his men continued to move forward across the island. They were in the left flank position because they had lost track of the Japanese. Once they found the Japanese, however, they had a “hell of a battle all the way as far as the highway to Armach,” described Whitney. The 24th was able to successfully cut off the roadway that led to Armach that the Japanese were advancing on. The battle was fierce and many men were killed on both sides with the Japanese constantly bringing in fresh recruits. According to Whitney, the Japanese brought in at least 25,000 fresh troops in Armach and were brilliant at resupplying their troops. During this particular battle, Whitney and his men were sent out to find a big, high mountain from which they could see the whole valley of Armach for scouting purposes. The maps and equipment supplied were inadequate and outdated and they could not find the mountain. They did, however, find the Japanese and a battle ensued. Whitney led the charge and stayed out in front of his Company with the scouts. His goal was to be informed as quickly as possible and prepared for anything. As a result, he accomplished a lot more and was never hit. Whitney described the fighting as “bullet to bullet” rather than “hand to hand combat”. One evening during the battle, Whitney recalled a Japanese soldier that crawled up a gutter of the curbing and fired on him. It was the first time he saw a flame coming out of a rifle.
In another instance, he remembered taking one of his best Sergeants, Ray Schon, and a couple of men to scout a hillside area. Upon seeing no Japanese, Whitney decided to cut through the brush and come down to meet the rest of his Company. It was raining hard and all of the men were instructed to keep their helmets on to avoid water going down their neck. Whitney saw two men approach without helmets and he assumed it was two of his men that were not doing what they were told. The men, however, turned out to be Japanese soldiers. Whitney and his men attacked and one of the Japanese was a captain. Whitney captured the captain and took his saber which he still has today. They returned to safety unharmed. At this time, the living conditions were terrible. It was constantly raining and the men just had to find a hole to crawl in, or they dug one. They were constantly moving and digging holes to sleep in. The fighting in this area continued for nearly a month, they stopped the Japanese from moving into Leyte and the 24th finally defeated the Japanese. As a result of their heroic efforts, the 24th received a Presidential Citation.
From Leyte, the 24th Infantry moved to Mindoro Island and then participated in battles on Marinduque Island, Nasugbu, and finally Manila. In these locations, Whitney and his platoon were constantly patrolling to make sure the Japanese didn’t move in on where they were located. According to Whitney, “it was constant pressure.” By this point, “the Japanese knew they couldn’t handle the Allied forces and would take off like wild animals when the patrols got too near,” described Whitney. One of Whitney’s duties also included acting as defense counsel in court martials. He was trained during OCS in martial law, but did not like the role. By this point in the war, Whitney had been promoted to First Lieutenant. The living conditions were still the same. The men shared rations of “10 in 1” which was always a problem because there wasn’t enough food. They supplemented the meals with rice left behind by the Japanese. Whitney recalled one instance while in Mindoro that a big supply of food was brought in. He and some of his men snuck in at night and raided the food. They were so hungry they risked getting caught by their superiors. Whitney and his men escaped with numerous boxes of food to tide them over.
Thereafter, the 24th Infantry moved into Luzon and were instrumental in keeping supply lines open at the Tugatie Bridge. There were two platoons moving by foot and truck patrolling north and south bound, day and night. Whitney and his platoon moved south to north. Overall, his duties remained the same; give orders and take orders. The men continued to sleep in foxholes and the food was poor. The majority of the work involved patrolling, keeping the supply lines open and keeping the men happy. The men were kept happy by frequent visits from local prostitutes and rations of beer. Whitney was regularly ordered to take a truck and five gallon water cans to fill with beer in Manila. He recalled with fondness drinking beer through a tourniquet hose on the way back from Manila and getting “drunk as a skunk”. During his time in Luzon, Whitney recalls only having trouble once with one of his men. The soldier did not want to follow orders. Whitney needed to make an example of him to avoid future altercations or disobedience by his men. The soldier was ordered to dig a hole, 3-foot-square and 3-foot deep as penalty, or be court martialed. The soldier chose to dig the hole and there were no more problems.
After Luzon, the 24th Infantry went to Manila and then Mindanao. The 24th landed on the west side of Mindanao and then walked 110 miles to the east side. Along the way, there were lots of little battles with the Japanese. The Japanese would burn bridges and the engineers of the 24th would rebuild them as they crossed the island. Whitney’s objective was the same; shoot or be shot. In late 1945, Whitney received notice that he was to be discharged. The Battalion Commander offered Whitney a promotion to Captain if he stayed in the Philippines. Whitney declined. On the day he was to leave Mindanao, no one told Whitney how he was going to get off the hill where his Company was located. He didn’t want to walk down alone because that was a good way to die. Finally, the battalion doctor instructed Whitney to take a wounded soldier’s stretcher on a jeep down to the hospital on the beach. Whitney was further instructed “to hang onto the soldier’s tongue, so that he did not swallow it and choke to death.” Whitney sat on the hood of the jeep with his rifle in his lap, grabbed a hold of the soldier’s tongue and never let go. The soldier had a huge hole in his head and the brain was exposed. As the jeep traveled down to the beach, the soldier vomited and moved around. Whitney, however, never let go of that tongue. Later, he would discover to his surprise that the soldier survived.
Whitney was eventually transferred back to Leyte for his discharge papers and sent home in late 1945. After a 25 day leave, Whitney was sent for debriefing in Santa Barbara and later transferred to Georgia to help train troops. While in Georgia, Whitney was hospitalized with malaria and yellow jaundice. Apparently, on the original transport to Australia, he was given a yellow fever shot using serum leftover from World War I. The majority of the men developed yellow jaundice as a result of the bad serum. Whitney was in the hospital in Georgia when he heard that the wars in Europe and the Pacific ended. He was thrilled because he could finally go home after he recovered. Whitney was finally discharged on November 20, 1945. He was just happy to go home and forget about war. At the time of his discharge, Whitney joined the Army Reserves and was placed on inactive duty.
As a result of his heroic efforts with the 24th Infantry, Whitney was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars, as well as the Presidential Citation previously mentioned. The Silver Star was bestowed on Whitney for saving 2 badly wounded soldiers in Leyte that he rescued while under fire by the Japanese. He received the Bronze Star for his participation in the treacherous landing and ensuing battles from Palo to Armach.
Upon his discharge from the Army, Whitney moved to Colma, California where he was a partner in a supermarket. Whitney remained on inactive duty and received no training and had no duties or obligations. When the Korean War broke out, Whitney was called to active duty in July 1950. He failed the physical due to a problem with his knee that was unrelated to his service. Whitney was given a discharge, but thirty days later the discharge was rescinded and he was placed on inactive duty. From 1950 to 1953, Whitney remained on inactive duty because he could not pass the annual physical. He finally retired from the military in the summer of 1956 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. After his retirement from the military, Whitney began to work in the construction industry and would later become a successful contractor in the San Francisco Bay Area. He relocated to Marin County where he currently resides. After his retirement from service in 1956, Whitney joined the Veterans of Foreign War for a few years and attended one Reunion of the 24th Infantry. As he is not really a joiner, Whitney is no longer involved with Veteran organizations despite being proud of his service.
Upon reflection on his service, Whitney thought service in the military was tough. He claimed, however, “you just did it, did what you were told, and if you could obey orders without getting angry, you win.” “People who don’t want to follow the rules are the ones that lose all the time,” noted Whitney. His scariest moment was in Mindanao when he discovered he was standing on a Japanese machine gun nest. His only regret about his service was not staying in the Philippines to get his rank of Captain. However, Whitney knew he made the right decision by returning home. Whitney believed that if he stayed, he most likely would not have survived since the 24th Infantry had tremendous battles after he left with lots of casualties. Whitney also recalled several humorous events during his service including his infamous beer runs and food heists.
In closing, Whitney felt he had an obligation to serve and that he should do like everybody else. He feels strongly that it “is an obligation of the citizens of a country to serve in the military.” Whitney did not feel that his service changed him or impacted his outlook on life. He went into the military with a positive attitude, a willingness to learn and obey orders, and he was one of the lucky ones to survive the jungle. George Whitney is proud to be an American and have served our country.
Interview by Nicholas Elsbree on June 23, 2012.