Birthday: October 07, 1921
Family: George Engler & Lucy Weston
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Unit: 147th Field Artillery
Post: Chief instrument and signal section
Alan and Robert Engler
With friends in New Guinea.
Alan Engler was in the South Dakota National Guard before entering the war. After one year of college with the goal of becoming a math teacher, he was sent for training with the 147th field artillery. Because of his training in math, he was placed in the instrument section for the war, which means he didn't work directly on the guns. His job, which required a lot of math, was to receive information (like the type of target) and compute instructions for the people on the guns.
"In 1941 they decided that they were going to reinforce the Philippines, so we were put on a troop ship to go to the Philippines. And on the way to join our convoy we got propeller problems and they put us into Pearl Harbor to get repairs...and we pulled out of Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning November 30, 1941 which was exactly a week to the day (of Pearl Harbor)...we were a week out of Pearl Harbor when we heard it was bombed."
On board ship when they heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed he was in disbelief. "We couldn't believe that it could be happening because we were just there and we could see the number of ships and the number of airplanes flying overhead all the time. How any airplane could come in there and surprise them like that...it was amazing to us that they could bomb that naval base and get away with it as much as they did...I have to consider myself very very lucky to have been in the right spot at the right time...somebody was looking after me evidently."
"We were in the convoy that was very slow... and so we all had to stay together of course...we kept going towards the Philippines even after we heard about the bombing." Within the week they got word that they could no longer get into the Philippines, it had already fallen to the Japanese." So, if I'd been a week earlier, I'd have been in the Philippines and all American soldiers were captured tin the Philippines, and if I'd been a week later, I'd have been right in the middle of Pearl Harbor...So, we went down to Australia...then they sent us up to Darwin which is in the very northern part of Australia...February 19,1942 they started bombing Darwin, and they'd bomb it everyday...
...In May they (the Japanese) got an invasion fleet ready to go into northern Australia, and we had by that time broken their code, and we found out that they were having this invasion force and we stopped them in the Coral Sea battle...they intended to invade Australia, and they could have just walked in because there were just very few American troops there." In fact, the only Australian troops there were home guards. Australia is nearly the size of the U.S., so a coastline that large is very hard to defend. "They could have gone in anywhere they wanted to without any problems."
He and the other men in this area suffered through very hot, tropical weather, and much rain. "Everyday during the winter it would rain, tropical downpour, then during the summer there was no rain whatsoever for six months."
They had landed in Darwin around the first of the year in 1942. After about six months they could see that they had stopped the Japanese and that they would no longer have to defend Northern Australia. They were then sent to an army camp in Eastern Australia, along with other troops that had started to arrive.
The Pacific Campaign was divided into two parts. Alan was in the 147th Field Artillery battalion that was attached to an infantry regiment from the Arizona National Guard. His battalion was comprised of about 500men, and the infantry regiment around 25,000. Altogether totaling about 30,000 men, it was a small combat team that would be attached to a division that needed help, or on smaller islands where a full division wasn't needed, they would go in by themselves.
The first island they entered was east of New Guinea. They took the island because of an airstrip located there. Luckily, the Japanese didn't defend the island very well, so it was taken easily.
"The next island we went into was near northern New Guinea. By that time the Japanese had taken most of New Guinea and it was decided that in order to get to the Philippines they had to take the rest of New Guinea and leap from there up to the Philippines...the problem with New Guinea is that it is the second largest island in the world...we'd take an airstrip, and then to defend it was the problem. You had no way of preventing the Japanese from coming around us through the jungle and then catching us from the rear.
On this island his job was a little more challenging than usual. "Ordinarily artillery doesn't have a problem because the infantry is ahead of us, so that they don't have infiltration of the enemy. But here the troops were strung along the beach lengthwise for maybe a mile, and the Japanese could come in from the jungle and strike us at any point along there, so we had quite a bit of problems with infiltration at night." Several men lost their lives when the Japanese would throw hand grenades at them.
One of the challenges Alan had to deal with was the climate. New Guinea lies immediately South of the equator that makes it extremely hot and humid with rain everyday, at night it would cool off so the men would be wet and cold. It would rain everyday, and at night it would cool off so they'd be wet and cold.
Everyone slept in foxholes in the mud because of course there weren't any beds. "When we'd move along...everybody would dig foxholes...usually three people to a foxhole...one would have to stay awake all the time...you were lucky if you got any sleep. You were nervous of course, in fact you never knew when they were coming in, just on edge all the time." They fired throughout the entire night to try to surprise the Japanese.
While on the islands, Alan witnessed one of the most unfortunate accidents: "...as a kind of an exercise they decided to use the 503rd Paratroop Battalion that hadn't been used that in the Pacific just to reinforce our regiment and give them some training. They decided that they would parachute them in on the airstrip...we took the airstrip and then the planes with the paratroopers come in, the only problem is that they came in too low, and when they jumped the parachutes didn't have time to open fully. There was a lot of people hurt."
The jungle was filled with animals. "There were a lot of mosquitoes and people were coming down with malaria quite a bit because of the mosquitoes. There were lizards and scorpions, the scorpions were the worst...they'd get in your shoes and bite and cause problems." One time while by himself in the jungle, "I had just finished setting up my instruments, and walked over and I looked around. Here (I was) face to face was (with) a mountain lion. I stared at him and neither one of us knew what to do, and finally he ran off, fortunately."
Throughout the war he had some close calls, but was glad to be in the company of people that he knew, including his brother who was with him throughout the entire war. The people he was with shared similar ideas and methods.
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104