Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

WILLIAM ORR

1923 - 2015


6th Infantry Division

“Sight Seeing Sixth”

 Patch

1st Infantry Regiment

Unit Crest


WILLIAM G. (BILL) ORR

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 Army, WWII, Pacific

 

William G. Orr was born in San Antonio in 1923.  He grew up on a family farm near Carrizo Springs (Zavala County) and graduated from Carrizo Springs High School with the class of 1941.  He enrolled at Texas A&M and while a student there he also joined a unit of the Army Reserve. At the end of the next year, he did not return to school after the Christmas holiday break, and very quickly thereafter he received his “call-up” notice.  Bill entered active duty on March 1, 1943 and was sent to Camp Hood, Texas for Basic Training.

 

After his individual training, Bill was ordered to Camp Luis Obispo, California and assigned to the 6th Infantry Division.  He arrived there in early June 1943 and was further assigned to Company F, 1st Infantry Regiment.  Bill remembers the division was training for combat and preparing for overseas movement.  He worked at receiving new equipment as the division was being brought up to full strength. He was granted a ten-day leave during the four months after his arrival before the division was ready to deploy.

 

The 6th Infantry Division would be sent to the Pacific, serve seven months in combat along the northern coast of New Guinea, then participate in the invasion landings on Luzon and in the Battle of Manila, and would close out the war fighting in the mountains northeast of Manila, after having seen 306 days in combat. Here are more details about what they were doing, and Bill Orr’s part in it.

 

The division arrived in Hawaii September 20, 1943 and moved into positions manning the beach defenses of Oahu Island.  They continued that mission for approximately four months and also had two weeks of intensive training in jungle warfare.  In January 1944 they were shipped to New Guinea and set up camp at Milne Bay, a previously secured location near the extreme southeastern tip of the island.  Bill says, “We were camped in a coconut grove at Milne Bay and spent the next several months in training.” Meanwhile, Australian and American troops were fighting further up along the northern coast, driving the Japanese forces out as they leap-frogged their way up the island.  In late May 1944 the 6th Infantry Division took ship and moved up the coast, landing in the Maffin Bay area on June 6th.

 

After relieving U.S. troops in contact with the enemy, the division entered battle on June 20, 1944 at Toem.  Fighting continued until July 12th, but the most intense combat was in the first ten days during the taking of Lone Tree Hill, key terrain leading to the capture of Maffin Airdrome.  The Japanese attacked in force at night and there were several days of heavy rain that slowed the division’s progress. Pfc Orr recalls, “There was one night I won’t forget.  We were in a dug-out position, a covered bunker, and it rained all night. It rained without letting up and the dug-out filled up with water. It filled up completely, but because of the enemy close by, we had to stay put there all night, it was really miserable.”  Maffin Airdrome was captured along with Japanese engineer construction equipment, weapons of all types and a large amount of supplies.  After the Maffin Bay area was secured, the 6th Infantry Division again loaded on ships and moved up the coast, this time to Cape Sansapor, near the extreme northwest corner of  New Guinea.

 

After a massive bombardment, the division landed unopposed on July 30, 1944 and almost immediately began construction of an airfield.  Enemy forces in the area, unlike the elite troops encountered earlier, were not well organized and were largely ineffective.  Plans for a large scale Japanese counterattack were discovered by monitoring radio messages.  Many enemy troops were destroyed by artillery fire timed fifteen minutes before they had intended to hit the 6th Division.  Japanese forces put up some resistance but Sansapor was secured without sustaining heavy combat losses.  Bill remembers one particular incident about the approach to Sansapor, “We were attacking enemy fixed positions on a hill.  They had a large weapon (artillery) set up at the base of the hill and we had come up against it.  A flame thrower gunner with us had just started to fire when at that precise instant the enemy gun fired.  The muzzle blast of the gun blew the flame back on the flame thrower gunner and he was badly burned.”

 

After the Sansapor area had been secured and the division had settled in to conduct training, 1,800 casualties were sustained from an outbreak of “Scrub Typhus.”  On December 20, 1944, the division sailed for the Philippines.

 

The 6th Division participated in the invasion of Luzon, landing at Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945 and began to push inland from the beachhead.  In the coming days they advanced, against opposition, into the Cabanatuan hills, and it was during this early phase that William Orr was wounded.  He says, “It was January 25, 1945, near Santa Barbara, only a short distance inland. The terrain was open farm land, 5-6 acre plots that were divided by rows of brush.  We were advancing against Japanese troops in fixed positions, dug in along those rows of brush.  Tanks had been brought up to assist in the attack, but everything was stalled and nothing had been moving for some time.  I got up and went out to check out a nearby position, found it empty excepting for one of the enemy dead inside, and returned to my position.  Just as I had gotten back there I was hit by a single rifle shot, I believe it was one of their small .25 caliber rounds. The bullet went through my upper left arm and then through the front of my abdomen, with entering and exiting wounds penetrating the peritoneum, but fortunately not tearing any of the digestive organs. A Medic was nearby and he reached me quickly, applied bandages, and had me put on a litter.  The Battalion Aid Station was very close, maybe 500 yards to the rear of our position, so they didn’t have to carry me very far.  But, going back through one of the brush dividers one of the bearers fell and they dropped the litter (but, it didn’t hurt a bit).  The Aid Station put me in with an ambulance load of wounded and sent us off to a Field Hospital.  On the way a Japanese small arms round hit the ambulance, making a loud noise.  It didn’t hit anyone but it sure scared all of us. In the Field Hospital I was in a great deal of pain and was given a lot of morphine, apparently without it being recorded. Then I was moved to another Field Hospital nearby and since I was still in pain they gave me more morphine. Then I got really sick, throwing up, not what you want to do if you’ve been shot in the gut. I’d had too much morphine. A regular transport plane, not equipped for medevac, flew me with a plane load of other hospital patients to Mindoro where I stayed for about a week.  From there I was sent to Leyte and put in a regular hospital. I don’t recall any special treatment to prevent infections, I know there was no penicillin used then. The soldier in the bed next to mine, who had a foot wound, developed gangrene, I detected it immediately from the smell.  He was quickly taken away for amputation, there was no other alternative. At the time, patients were being returned to duty before their wounds were healed and that’s what happened to me also. After two weeks on Leyte I was checked out of the hospital and sent to the Replacement Depot. It took them another week to send me on my way back to Company F.”

 

Meanwhile, the 6th Infantry Division had captured Munoz on February 7th, and then driven northeast to Dingalan Bay and Baler Bay by mid-February, isolating enemy forces in southern Luzon.  Bill’s 1st Infantry Regiment was sent to the Bataan Peninsula where, in coordination with Philippine Commonwealth forces, they had cut across the peninsula from Abucay to Bagac by late February.  The division then pressed the fighting northeast of Manila. It was at this point that Bill Orr rejoined his unit. He says, “My wounds had still not closed and had to be kept clean from the seepage and constant discharge, so the Commander told me not to go back to my squad, but to stay back in the kitchen area where it would be more safe and easier for me to take care of myself.  That didn’t last long.  That same night the kitchen area was hit by enemy shelling.  Next morning I went back to my squad.

 

The company had lost men in leadership positions at all levels and I was promoted from Pfc to Staff Sergeant and became Squad Leader.  After about ten days in the area north of Manila we moved into Bataan and the companies were strung out, placed in the villages along the coast, protecting them from the Japanese coming down out of the mountains and raiding them for food.  After that we were shipped to northern Luzon, fighting in the mountains and that’s where we were when the war ended for us in late July.”

 

After VJ-Day the 6th Infantry Division moved back to the Lingayen Gulf and was shipped to Korea with the mission of occupation of the southern half of the US Zone of Occupation. By this time, SSG Orr was acting Platoon Sergeant.  They landed at Inchon and initially were quartered in miserable living conditions in an old factory building as the division was unloaded.  Unloading was a slow process, the harbor was shallow and the tides forced delays.  Bill’s unit finally was moved by train to their designated area, but had just arrived when he was put on a truck and sent back on the return trip.  He had enough points and it was his turn to return home.

 

At Inchon, Bill was put on a ship bound for home.  He arrived in Portland, Oregon on December 2, 1945, travelled to San Antonio by train, was discharged at Fort Sam Houston on December 17th, and was back home in Carrizo Springs in time to celebrate Christmas in 1945.

 

In the first few post-war years, Bill farmed at Asherton (near Carrizo Springs).  He then found employment with the Texas Highway Department and he worked for the state for 32 years.  For most of that career he was a construction inspector for the department in Del Rio. He married and he and his wife Lois had five children who grew up there.  In the last few years before his retirement, he was moved to Austin and worked as bridge inspector. He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the past eleven years, and this month Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot William G. Orr. Bill Orr III passed away June 29, 2015 and will be interned at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

 


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