A Soldier and His Browning at Woodpecker Ridge – May 24, 1945

Woodpecker Ridge - May 24, 1945

Woodpecker Ridge - May 24, 1945

On May 24 1945, in oppressive Philippine heat, an American soldier sat behind a Browning 1917 water-cooled machine gun – smiling . That soldier, along with the rest of the US Army’s 38th Division “Cyclones”, for the months and years prior had seen some of the most brutal warfare in Pacific theater. On this day, he and all of those other men, had once again fought for their lives and a country’s freedom – The battle for Woodpecker Ridge was one in a series of intense firefights culminating in the capture and control of key dams just outside of Manilla. Another harsh day, yet this soldier sat there smiling.

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Woodpecker Ridge – May 24, 1945

Using only paper and a pencil, Jim Bodrero, a combat artist working for Disney Studios, memorialized that soldier at Woodpecker Ridge doing what an Army machine gunner does best. Except Bodrero mixed in an unmistakable Disney brightness – somehow turning the horror of that day into a hope for victory.

The fact that Bodrero sat calmly with a slate and a pencil and created such a powerful image of a lone American soldier while machine gun fire, mortars, artillery and death surrounded them both is awe-inspiring. How many other sketches did he create under similar circumstances? How many made it home? How many did not?

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Woodpecker Ridge – May 24, 1945. Regarding the racial slurs; it was a different time and war is hell.

If you could talk with that soldier sitting behind his Browning, he would joke about being able to fry eggs on the water jacket covering his barrel. He then would tell you about the waves of Japanese soldiers that had attacked his position so many times over. He would tell you about transitioning to his 1911 during belt changes or mechanicals to save himself and his crew. And the piles of enemy soldiers that had fallen just outside his nest.

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Disney artist Jim Bodrero (right).

He would tell you that he did not like being a soldier – not because he wasn’t proud to serve his country – but because he felt responsible for every man he served with in the 38th; a massive load that no man should have to carry. That soldier fought every day as if his position behind his machine gun meant life or death for him and the rest of his unit. And I’m sure it did.

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Woodpecker Ridge – May 24, 1945

That same soldier would tell you about being injured from artillery shrapnel and later, while recovering, asking his childhood friend Leonard Spainhour, also in the 38th, to sneak him in a Thompson submachine gun. A gun that he kept under his hospital bed because enemy soldiers were running night attacks. After a Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain failed to convince him to surrender that Thompson, it finally took a full bird Colonel promising to protect all the patients to make him relent.

I am lucky and proud to have that soldier’s original sketch hanging in my office as a constant reminder of duty, honor and sacrifice – that I also have a responsibility to fight for a greater good. It’s folds and creases are the lasting evidence that it rode in a fatigue shirt pocket through God know’s what, for the rest of the war.

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My Grandfather sometime before combat operations in the Pacific.

I have that soldier’s gifted Colt 1911. An iconic sidearm that symbolizes a refusal to give up despite the overwhelming odds of failure and a true embodiment of the saying “one man can make a difference”. I have that soldier’s Combat Infantry Badge – a beaten up piece of metal that he earned and the one material good for which he was proud to own.

I also have some spent .30-06 brass; not kicked out from that Browning 1917 some 70 years prior, but fired from the seven Garands’ at that soldier’s final salute.

My grandfather's sketch always reminds me of this Norman Rockwell WWII art.

Norman Rockwell – Browning 1917

 

Alcoa Aluminum.

Alcoa Aluminum – Browning 1917

In the decades that followed the war, my grandfather returned home to the Midwest and like the rest of that Greatest Generation, worked hard, raised a family and helped to rebuild our country into an industrial powerhouse. He influenced his children, grand children and even great grand children to be good human beings and the importance of service and sacrifice. Quite a journey for a man who never even finished middle school.

And, as immortalized in that sketch, through good times and bad, my grandfather always wore a smile and was proud to be an American.

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Pete

LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Pete.M@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • jng1226

    Awesome. Just F’n awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  • TheSmellofNapalm

    Thanks, what an inspirational read

  • Hal P.

    Great story thanks

  • gunsandrockets

    Very interesting.

    Air dropped napalm wasn’t the only innovation during the fighting in the Philippines. I saw somewhere that the USMC exploited new close-air-support doctrine while flying SBD Dauntless dedicated to the mission.

  • Harry’s Holsters

    One hell of story!!! Thank you for taking your time to share this! We need more moving stories like this to be shared.

  • Badkarma060

    Excellent story! These are the stories they should be reading the kids in school.

  • DIR911911 .

    grandpa looks crisper than a brand new $100 bill in those dress greens

  • epicrad

    Probably my favorite TFB post to date, thanks for sharing!

  • Dan Patterson

    Your granddad was a good man.

  • politicsbyothermeans

    Thanks, Pete. I wish there were more like your grandfather around these days.

  • Dave Atkinson

    Wow! Incredible story. God bless our warriors! Could not get our current media hounds to write this about our soldiers now with such reverence.

  • Flintshooter

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Mikial

    Watching the video brought tears to my eyes. Giving that Garand to him was a stroke of kindness and respect for an old warrior. The look on his face as he held it was worth a million times the cost of that rifle. My father (who became a father much later in life than most) served in Italy in WWII and I spent 2 1/2 years in Iraq.

    I am proud to own a 1943 manufacture Garand, and whenever I hold it or shoot it, i wonder what stories it could tell. You can see the discoloration on the grip of the stock from the sweat of the men who have held it.

  • Mikial

    Apologies for posting twice, but i knew I had this photo and just had to find it.

    This is a WWII Soviet tank crewman who found one day that the tank he had crewed through the war had been preserved in a park. His emotions when he visited the tank that had seen him through years of warfare are evident in this photo.