Class 3 at the Alamo Scouts Training Center at Mangee Point, near Finschhafen, New Guinea, started with 100 students - 10 officers and 90 enlisted men - in mid-May 1944. It was the only class to train at this site - as soon as the graduation ceremony was finished, on 22 June, the Scouts and staff began disassembling the camp to move it further west on New Guinea, near Hollandia. Class 3 was also the last class whose training was run by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Bradshaw, the first Director of the Alamo Scouts Training Center.
Four Alamo Scouts teams were formed from the graduating class, 4 officers and 24 enlisted men. They were: Littlefield Team, led by Lieutenant Wilbur F. (Bill) Littlefield; Lutz Team, led by Lieutenant William B. (Bill) Lutz; Farkas Team, led by Lieutenant Arpad Farkas; and Sumner Team, led by Lieutenant Robert S. (Red) Sumner. Farkas Team conducted only one mission, a reconnaissance in the Manokwari area, before its leader was recalled by his unit and his team was disbanded.
In July, Sumner Team went on two short missions, a two-day reconnaissance of Cape Oransbari in the Vogelkopf area of New Guinea, and a two-day recon of Manokwari. Both of these missions were in the "fairly routine" category - nothing out of the ordinary and pretty much in line with the team's training. By mid-August, Sumner and his men were working out of the Navy PT boat base at Woendi Island. Other members of the team included Staff Sergeant Lawrence E. Coleman, Corporals William F. Blaise and Robert Schermerhorn, and PFCs Paul B. Jones, Edward Renhols, and Harry D. Weiland. All of the Scouts on Sumner Team were from the 31st Infantry Division; most of them had graduated from the U.S. Navy Amphibious Demolition School at Fort Pierce, Florida before leaving the States. On the afternoon of 22 August, Sumner Team was alerted for a mission. It would be one like no other Alamo Scouts team had conducted.
Three days earlier a PT boat had gone into the Mapia Group, consisting of the three tiny islands of Pegun, Bras, and Fanildo. These islands, located about 400 miles south of Morotai and almost 125 miles east of Biak, contained a pre-war agricultural experimental station. The PT that day was looking for a downed Beaufighter plane, with an Australian crew. When it passed Pegun, three enlisted men from Fifth Air Force decided to go ashore to look for souvenirs. The PT boat dropped them off and continued to look for the missing airplane. After a sweep through the islands the aircrew was found, on Bras. Mechanics on the PT boat went ashore, repaired the plane, and it was airborne in a few hours. Then the PT headed back to Pegun to pick up the three airmen.
As they approached the island, all those on board the boat had their eyes glued to the shoreline of the small, fairly flat island. Without warning, one of the airman came running out to the edge of the surf, gesturing for the PT boat to get out of the area. Several shots rang out and the airman fell face down into the water. The PT boat left the area quickly and reported what had happened to its base, at Woendi, and to the Air Corps headquarters on Noemfoor Island. Included in the report was a request for someone to go in at Pegun and rescue the three airmen. Sumner Team was alerted, told they would depart sometime that night if the mission was approved.
Lieutenant Sumner wrote his mission plan from the sketchy details he obtained from the PT crew and the Air Corps passengers. He also had a recent overhead photograph of the area to help in the planning but it was of little real value. His order was short, just over two typewritten pages, and contained several courses of action for his team, depending on what they found. His team's mission was twofold: "To reconnoiter PEGUN ISLAND of the MAPIA Group to determine the possibility of effecting the rescue of 3 Air Corps EM left ashore . . . [and to] further reconnoiter Island for possible estimate of enemy personnel stationed there." The decision to actually rescue the airmen was left to the team's discretion, depending on what the enemy situation was in the immediate vicinity. The team ashore would also include an officer from the Netherlands East Indies Forces, Lieutenant H. Swart.
The contact team consisted of Lieutenant John R.C. McGowen, whose team had led the first mission conducted by the Alamo Scouts (see "The Recon of Los Negros" in Behind The Lines, May-June 1995), and four members of the team formerly led by Lieutenant Farkas: Staff Sergeants Ray W. Wangrud and Harold N. Sparks, and PFCs Jack C. Bunt and Charley D. Hill. Their mission was to help Sumner Team prepare for the mission, get them ashore from the delivering PT boat, act as radio contact during the mission, and pick them up as they were finished with their mission. By the time the mission actually went, Lieutenant Swart elected not to go and Corporal Schermerhorn was left behind because of an attack of malaria.
The Scouts would take carbines as individual weapons, although Coleman carried a sub-machine ("grease") gun and Weiland a BAR. Each man carried 75 rounds as his basic load plus two frag grenades; those with automatic weapons carried 150 rounds as a basic load. Four smoke grenades were distributed among the team as was one SCR-300 radio; the contact team on the PT boat also had an SCR-300. The 300 was a UHF, line-of-sight radio favored by the Alamo Scouts.
An estimate of the enemy situation on Pegun, provided by the Sixth Army G-2 staff, put the Japanese strength at about 350. Sumner, after briefing his plan and receiving approval to launch, was told by the Brigadier General McNider, commanding Cyclone Task Force (a force subordinate to Sixth Army), that the Alamo Scouts were only to attempt a rescue if they had sufficient firepower to be sure that they could get away safely with the airmen. "You can put your team ashore, lieutenant, but you will not make a fight of it," the general told Sumner. "General Krueger simply will not permit the loss of a Scout team on an operation of this type. If the arrangements are understood, then make the attempt as soon as possible."
Sumner and his team checked their equipment one last time and reviewed the assignments. Coleman and Jones were the boat security team, Renhols and Weiland were the beach security team, and Blaise would carry the radio. A sailor and one of the Scouts on McGowen's contact team would row Sumner Team ashore. When all was ready, the three PT boats in the party were loaded and departed Woendi Island just at midnight. A Coast Guard frigate was also part of this sea convoy; its mission was to linger over the horizon, monitoring the PT radio net, and be on-call to assist in the event of trouble. Sumner was glad to have the firepower of the two extra PT boats and the frigate available in case anything went wrong while his team was ashore.
At about 0320, the PT boat carrying the Alamo Scouts slowed to a crawl. Sumner, who had been watching the boat's radar scope with the Navy skipper, moved on deck and told his team to get ready. A rubber boat was put over the side and inflated. Coleman, the team sergeant, supervised the loading of equipment and then the Scouts. As the rubber boat was ready to shove off, McGowen leaned over and reminded Sumner to turn on the team's radio. Sumner told the rowing party to head for shore. Forty minutes later, the Scouts were ashore and the rubber boat was on its way back out. Just after the contact team departed, two of the Scouts swept the landing beach clear of footprints. The landing had been smooth and now Sumner Team was in its perimeter defense, all lying prone with one-third of the team on alert, changing status every half-hour. First light was due at 0530 and dawn at just after 0600.
Just at first light, Sumner was startled to hear a "loud rustling sound" followed by a sharp noise to his rear, in the direction of Weiland. As he turned to see what happened he heard the rest of his team snickering. A large palm frond had fallen from the tree above Weiland, just missing him. Soon after, the Scouts stiffened to wide-awake alertness as they heard two raps on his rifle by Jones. A nine-man Japanese patrol was headed their way. The patrol moved along casually, chewing fruit and throwing away the rinds, with their rifles at sling arms. The Japanese wore identical white jerseys with a large blue ball in the center of the shirt, blue shorts, and leather high-top campaign shoes. They were carrying Arisaka rifles. The patrol passed within 15 yards of the Alamo Scouts but kept going; this was obviously a routine patrol and not one out looking for the Scouts. The Scouts' infiltration onto the island had not been detected.
Off to the south, the Scouts could now see six small buildings in various stages of falling apart. They remembered that they had been told in their intelligence briefing that this island was sometimes used as a target for bombing practice by the Air Corps. Smoke rose from one of the buildings. Sumner assumed it was probably a cooking fire but he could not see any movement. Just 70 yards away stood a single story house with a screened-in porch. Sumner directed his team, by hand signals, toward this lone house. The Scouts crawled forward, two at a time. When they came to a depression about 20 yards from the house, they crawled down inside and paused to listen for sounds of any activity in the house. All they heard was the clucking of chickens. After 15 minutes and no movement, Sumner directed his men toward the group of six buildings.
Remaining in the depression, the Scouts moved to within 100 yards of the group of buildings. They could hear voices but were unable to be certain where the speakers were. Sumner moved to the edge of the depression and examined the area with his binoculars. He was able to see through two of the buildings and determined that they were not occupied. He could plainly see laundry hanging outside several of the other buildings but none of it appeared to be American clothing. The Scouts continued to watch the area, looking for signs of the airmen.
Suddenly, Jones, on the right flank, spotted two Japanese heading in the direction where the Scouts were hidden. As he passed the word to the others, he could see two more Japanese soldiers further behind the first two. Sumner turned his binoculars to his right and watched the Japanese, figuring they were about 150 yards away. Then, just as suddenly as Jones had spotted them, the Japanese disappeared from view. Sumner was certain they had seen his team.
Using hand-and-arm signals, he directed the team to head back to its pick-up point, with Coleman and Weiland, both armed with automatic weapons, making up the rear guard. As the Alamo Scouts began to set off, Sumner glanced at his watch. He was surprised to see that it was 0900; they had been on patrol for just over three hours.
The return trip was uneventful, marked by the same maneuver-and-cover action as the team used on its movement to the buildings. Wherever possible, they took advantage of the surrounding foliage and terrain to hide their movement. At last the entire team was reassembled at its pick-up point, with Jones and Renhols guarding the landward approach to their assembly point. Sumner was by now confident that there were no Americans being held alive on the island. He signaled Blaise to break the team radio out of its hiding place and tell the PT boats that the team was ready to be pulled out. As Blaise talked to McGowen, the rest of the Alamo Scouts listened to Japanese movement and talking. The sounds seemed to be coming from their right. Sumner now became concerned because he knew that the nine-man patrol they had spotted earlier was off to the team's left. Would they be able to hold off an attack from two directions? Blaise signaled to the team that the PT boats were on their way.
Sumner quickly calculated that the Scouts could probably hold off an attack from between 25 to 30 men, even if it came from two directions. He determined that it made good sense for the Scouts to wait for the Japanese to come at them rather that initiating any action. He remembered the general's caution in the final briefing, "You can put your team shore, lieutenant, but you will not make a fight out of it." He also knew that the Scouts would be most vulnerable once they were in the water.
Blaise crawled over to Sumner and whispered that the PT boats would need some visible sign from the team to determine its location. Sumner nodded and moved to the dune line and stood, facing the lagoon. Renhols moved over and stood behind his lieutenant, facing inland. As he felt Renhols' back against his back, Sumner heard Blaise talking to McGowen on the radio. Blaise signaled Sumner that McGowen could see the standing Scouts. "Send in the boats - we're coming out," Blaise radioed. The Scouts did not know how much longer the Japanese would wait.
As before, McGowen sent in a sailor and one of the Alamo Scouts from his contact team to paddle the rubber boat to the waiting team. As soon as he saw the rubber boat emerge from behind the PT boat, Sumner dropped to one knee and felt Renhols do the same. He decided that he now had no choice but for his team to wade out to the incoming boat. He knew that the two men in the boat could become targets and the only way to attract fire from them was to give the Japanese another, closer target. He was still confident of his team's firepower and decided to put them in the water. He was confident that this would, in the long run, bring the two elements (the Scouts in the water and the incoming boat) together quicker. Blaise passed on a report; the other two PT boats were on the way at full battle stations and an Australian Beaufighter was on station to give air support if needed.
Sumner spoke quietly to his men, telling them his plan to get in the water and move to the rubber boat. "We are going to walk out backwards - we haven't got a choice. Fan out and form a semi-circle." He sent Jones and Renhols out first. As they turned around in the water, facing the shore, he sent Blaise next, with an order to stay on the radio. Weiland and Coleman went next and finally Sumner, walking backwards to keep his eyes ready for any Japanese movement.
As Sumner got waist deep in water, the Japanese opened fire, from the front first and then from the right flank. The Alamo Scouts returned fire, aiming at what they hoped was waist level in the bushes on the dunes. The two automatic weapons fired in bursts and the remaining Scouts fired single shots. Almost at once the Japanese fire slowed down, then new fire came at the Scouts from their left. This was the distinctive sound of an Arisaka rifle. Sumner's worst calculations, incoming fire from two flanks, were now a reality. He directed Weiland, with the BAR, to return fire to the left. As the team continued to move backwards and shoot at the shore, the lieutenant glanced at Weiland again, watching him finish a magazine and quickly exchange it for a new one, putting the empty inside his fatigue jacket. Sumner described this later by saying, "Weiland was as cool as if he was on a KD range."
The Japanese fire picked up and continued to reach for the Scouts, zipping around them and ricocheting off the water as they moved closer to the incoming rubber boat. So far, no one had been hit. The loitering PT boat was unable to fire at the Japanese because the Alamo Scouts were in its line of fire. Then, at just about the same time, Blaise called for air support as McGowen was directing the Beaufighter to help the struggling Scouts.
The first of the Scouts in the water reached the rubber boat as the Australian pilot made his first run on the island, blasting all six of his .50 caliber guns and two of his 20mm cannons, roaring in, tail high, at about 30 yards off the ground. The Japanese fire died away very noticeably. The rest of the Scouts scrambled onto the rubber boat, which had taken several hits but was still afloat thanks to the compartmentation of its cells. The Scouts began paddling furiously and all three PTs now opened up on the island. One of the PT boats moved closer and soon hid the rubber boat from the beach fire. The Beaufighter made a second run on the Japanese positions.
The Scouts threw their equipment and weapons on board and quickly clambered onto the PT boat. As soon as his crew had hauled the rubber landing boat aboard, the PT commander pushed his engines to the limit, taking his boat and the Alamo Scouts team quickly to safety. The remaining PT boats shelled the island, covering the other boat. McGowen described the action afterwards: "When Red came out, the patrol boat [the Coast Guard frigate] came up and shelled the holy hell out of the place with 20s, 40s, and 3-inch. It was a beautiful sight." Incredibly, in all the shooting none of the Scouts had been wounded.
On the way back to Woendi Island, Sumner began preparing his After Action Report. He was very satisfied with the performance of his Scouts, confident that he had made the correct choice when he had voted for those he wanted on the team at the end of their training class just one month before. He concluded in his report that they had not found any evidence of the airmen and that they were probably dead. He noted later that virtually every contingency he had planned in his patrol order had happened except for the easy exfiltration.
Several nights later, Tokyo Rose gave the Japanese side of the fight in her broadcast over Radio Tokyo. "Imperial Marines have repulsed an Allied attack on the Mapia Islands with losses." The Scouts figured that, since none of them was hit, the Japanese had suffered the losses.
Three months later, in November, elements of the 2-167th Infantry landed on Pegun Island with no enemy resistance. The Japanese were gone. The commander, Lieutenant Colonel Leon L. Matthews, reported that his unit found the bodies of three enlisted men in a common grave. Two of them had their hands tied behind their backs and had been shot in the back of the head. Although none of them had dog tags, their uniforms bore markings of the Army Air Corps. The 2-167th was Sumner's parent unit; he was, as all of the Alamo Scouts were, only on temporary duty status from this unit while in the Scouts. In September 1945, Sumner met Matthews, who told the Scout team leader what the unit had found on Pegun. Matthews said that he had heard of the Sumner Team operation but thought Sumner, despite the uniform markings, was one of the bodies found. Sumner said later that this last remark did not "show too much confidence in one of his long time platoon leaders, does it?"
On 1 January 1945, in a ceremony on Leyte to present awards to many Alamo Scouts for several missions, the men of Sumner Team received Bronze Stars for their part in the attempted rescue at Pegun Island. By the end of the war, Sumner Team was one of the few early teams still together, although in June 1945 Sumner moved to the Special Intelligence Section of the G-2 staff. This section was created to control the activity of Alamo Scouts teams, particularly in their dealings with Philippine guerrilla units. Lieutenant Chester B. Vickery, a recent graduate from Class 7, took Sumner's place as team leader.