1944 – 23rd BS (H)

Gallows humor involving men known to Leo Carter by name and face.


The 13th USAAF, 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 23rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) was my father’s unit and it had, as was commonplace at all levels, it’s own local news outlet – “Munda Mournings”.  This page was printed either in late January or early February 1944 – while my father was there – and contains many barbs and inside jokes.  The comment in the red box, however, may have been funny at the time, but it is no longer.

It reads:  The “Lost Battalion” of World War II has been found at last — or, at least a few of the survivors.  They were on “Buttons” all the time and we wonder how many happy homes we broke up, when we mustered them back into the service.

And the humor here is truly dark – “Buttons” was the code name for the island of Espiritu Santo where, on 21 JAN 43, the 13th USAAF established its headquarters, as well as the first base of 23rd BS (H).   It is also the largest of the islands which make up what in 1980 was created the nation of Vanuatu.  The 23rd BS (H) had moved from Espiritu Santo on 9 JAN 44 to Munda, New Georgia, and no doubt things had been a little chaotic with many things left behind only to be found later.

But, there was, in fact, a “Lost Battalion Of WWII”.  It was the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, the unit in which Leo Carter’s military life began.  He was in training as a radio operator when, in August 1941, he was accepted into the Enlisted Pilot program and processed out of the Battalion.

On 20 NOV 41, the battalion departed San Francisco for Hawaii, but owing to the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was diverted and landed on Java on 11 JAN 42.  Then, on 3 MAR 42, Java was overrun by superior Japanese forces and the entire battalion was captured, which was common knowledge both throughout the military services and on the home front.

From MAR 42 to SEP 44, there was no word about the then imprisoned battalion’s fate and the survivors were not repatriated  until the war was over.

The whole story is in 1941 – There But For Fortune