PAUL M. NESTLER

Major | Field Artillery

 

Oh, well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow, tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow.  The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath. 
– Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

JAVA

 

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Faint conversations and clinking of glasses and dinnerware drifted out from behind curtains that lapped at the edges of open windows that let in the warm evening breeze.  Hotel guests leaned over their balconies to drink or smoke beneath arches adorned with a rainbow of glass geometry.  Below lay a lush tropical garden, ringed by an extensive perimeter of marble columns that supported the balconies.  Sharp footsteps along the corridors sounded staccato against the indistinct chatter and soft laughter, and curious patrons glanced up from their lounging to see who walked with such purpose at this time of the evening.

 

Between the endless pillars of the second floor, First Lieutenant Paul M. Nestler sauntered down the corridor of beautiful tile.  He was retiring to his room late after working tirelessly among the island locals all day.  Beneath lamps along the walls, he glistened with sweat that had soaked through the fabric of his khaki uniform, darkening his back and under his arms.  He removed his cap with a snap and smoothed his hair that had been combing straight back since grammar school. 

 

In one hand, Nestler clutched a large leather briefcase stuffed with considerable value.  His other hand hovered over a pistol and a menacing bolo knife that bounced at his waist.  Having been issued the .45 and the knife might have made him more paranoid about his responsibility for the satchel in his hand.  If it were not for his sturdy build, he might have looked like an armed child, confused between being a boy scout or a businessman, for he had a soft, full face with smooth features, except for his sharp nose.

 

For his stay on Java, Nestler had been furnished with comfortable accommodations in a suite with an expansive bedroom, a sitting room, and a bath.  The Hotel Oranje was an elegant building from a fairytale that exuded luxury with an air of romance.  The architecture, a blend of Oriental and Colonial British styles, attracted so many locals and travelers that it had already been enlarged twice.  In the mid thirties, during the second redesign, the old main building was converted into the ballroom and a new lobby designed in the new Art Deco style that further pronounced the crisp premises of whitewashed walls with sharp edges.

 

It was possibly the fanciest place he had ever seen, and was certainly much more pleasant than the dusty camp at Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.  It was just as hot in Soerabaja, but the tropical climate was more appealing than the arid land in Australia.  The heart of the city in western Java was a hub for activity and was an exciting new experience for Nestler.  Days earlier, he and Lieutenant Cook had struggled to arrive at the hotel after they hired a horse drawn cart to take them from the airport.  The Europeans who worked at the hotel found humor in their transportation, explaining that only the natives used these kedos, indicating that it was a service below men of their status.  Everything on the island was so foreign.

*

Photo Credit: Sherry Doney

The Darwin region of Australia’s Northern Territory is consistently hot year round with scattered plots of slender trees crowned with brittle leaves, low-lying scrub, and extreme wet and dry seasons.  The 147th Field Artillery Regiment, originally destined for the Philippines in late November 1941, rerouted to the northern point of the Australian continent after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  After 54 days at sea, Lieutenant Nestler and the rest of the regiment disembarked and set up camp in the bush fifteen miles inland on January 13, 1942.  The men of the South Dakota National Guard were the first American troops to ever walk on Australian soil.    

 

They crunched through the dry bush wearing tropical pith helmets and khaki shorts, marveling at the wild kangaroos and ant hills towering over their tallest soldiers.  The Australian bush was expansive and easy to get lost in if one did not know the country.  Very few white men knew the land beyond the roads.  Almost immediately, Nestler’s A Battery left for Myilly Point to assist in offloading at the Darwin docks.  It was hard labor, but their living quarters in private houses was a luxury that eased the rough day’s work.

 

Due to the deteriorating situation in the South Pacific, it became crucial to assist the small number of Australian forces in the Northern Territory in defense of their coast.  It was well that the artillery regiment should have landed when they did.  The Japanese had already spread through the American-occupied Philippines, British Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies at a terrifyingly quick rate and threatened to invade Australia.

 

Desperate to protect the southwest Pacific territory, the American headquarters in Melbourne concocted plans for a special mission.  They radioed the Darwin area commander, Colonel John A. Robenson, on the afternoon of January 19 with orders for a secret mission: to gather six bold and resourceful junior officers of good judgment and depart to the island of Java with funds to procure supplies and hire blockade-runners to ship to troops trapped in the Philippines.

To his friends, the Colonel was a genial man and referred to affectionately as ‘Robbie.’  He was also known as ‘Angel Pie’ during his days at West Point, but he probably hoped this name stayed closed under the cover of the 1910 edition of the yearbook.  He was a warm friend to many, especially his classmates, but he carried a reputation for destructiveness and an extreme weakness for women that never faded, even through his marriage. 

 

To those serving beneath him, he was stern, ornery, and intimidating.  His salty exterior shrouded his wit and generosity.  He put on a very soldierly appearance and expected the same from those in his command, but his excessive drinking – continual drinking – kept him at the rank of Colonel for twenty years, having been passed over by his peers and former West Point classmates who now had stars on their shoulders.  On the journey to Australia, he notoriously patrolled the deck with a riding crop in hand, eager to discipline enlisted and officers alike.  He continued to wear breeches and spurs from his old cavalry days on the Mexican border.  Within the 147th Field Artillery, he was known as a ‘real 14-carat son of a bitch’ and referred to as ‘Iron Whiskers.’ 

Rumor had it that Robenson originally received the assignment to the Philippine Department to ‘get rid’ of him, but he thought his old buddy General Wainwright had requested his company there.   Obviously, the reason for his assignment with the 147th was a matter of perspective.  Major Mann from Sioux Falls was even taking up a collection to get him killed.  Every officer was going to contribute a months pay.  But these were, of course, only rumors.  It is true, however, that one Filipino steward did try to stab him over his abuse to the troops and ship’s crew on the voyage over.

 

To his credit, he was swift to deal his iron hand to the Australian warvies who thought they could load and unload supplies on their own time.  After four days, they had barely touched the ships at the dock, and 25 more lay anchored in the bay.  Robenson had no patience for this.  He set up machine guns and borrowed bayonets from the Navy for guards at the docks, and in days had smoothed over the situation with blatant disregard for political repercussions.

 

The Colonel reviewed personnel records and interviewed all of the officers in Darwin meeting his criteria for his mission, which he was taking very personally.  On entering his office, it was surprising to learn that Robenson summoned them for praise rather than discipline.  For him to consider these junior officers capable of accompanying him said volumes about their character, for he was quite particular and everybody knew it.  He had to rely on instinct during the interviews.

 

“Hard to pick ‘em from ten-minute interviews,” he griped later.

 

Young Paul Nestler was ecstatic to have been chosen for the secret mission.  The Colonel chose five others from area units:  infantry officers Captain S. J. Randall, First Lieutenants Franklin H. Andrews and J.C. Boudoin and artillery officers Albert B. Cook of the 148th and Second Lieutenant Roy E. Stensland of the 147th.  He also took with him Private John Elliott Lundburg, a young clerk typist.  Andrews and Stensland were slated to head to Celebes while the others ordered to Java on January 19th.  Each carried a pistol, bolo knife, and enormous sums of money.  The mission was allotted an astonishing total of ten million dollars to spend on supplies and transportation.

 

Curious members of the regiment stopped them as they were leaving.

 

“What’s in the suitcase?” They asked.

 

“I got a quarter of a million dollars,” Nestler replied with a rare grin.  “Cash money!”

 

He opened up his satchel to reveal it brimming with wads of currency.

 

After three days, the four junior officers with the Colonel and Private Lundberg were ready to depart and boarded an overloaded C-39 in the early morning.  The pilot, Captain Harold Slingsby, requested everyone to move into or as close to the cockpit as possible to compensate for the 1500 pounds of extra materials on board.  They all squeezed in except for Nestler and Lundberg who pressed their backs to the door of the front compartment.

 

Slingsby throttled the engines to full power and the ship lurched forward, groaning and shuddering as it crawled down the runway.  As they picked up speed, the men realized the plane was struggling to become airborne, and about halfway down the airstrip it was still chugging along the ground.  They prayed for lift and hoped the mission was not doomed from the start.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, the nose of the craft finally lifted enough to barely clear the end of the runway.  The take off was so close that the propellers shaved off portions of the trees at the edge of the strip and clipped leaves drifted to the dusty ground as the aircraft slowly disappeared.

After a trip of foul weather, the C-39 finally touched down at the airport in Soerabaja where a Far East Air Force officer offered them accommodations in field barracks.  Despite the impending threat of Japanese invasion, the streets were filled with throngs of people.  The city was thriving, and activity continued well into the night during blackout conditions.

There were thousands of men in the Philippines battered by the Japanese onslaught.  They had little ammunition and equipment to fight with, lingering food, and nowhere to flee.  Worse, they felt abandoned and hopeless.  MacArthur was desperate for supplies and firmly believed that the Japanese blockade was passable – if the ships were bold enough.  The final line of one message to Robenson read:

 

Only indomitable determination and pertinacity will succeed, and success must be ours.  Risks will be great.  Rewards must be proportional.

 

*

Photo Credit: SDNG Collection

 

The next morning, Robenson ordered his officers to meet him at the Hotel Oranje, and Nestler and Cook took their kedo to the hotel where they met the others and sat down for their briefing on the special mission.  While the other officers were to search for sailors willing to make the run to the Philippines, Nestler’s assignment was to find canned goods and other dry rations to send north.  He and Lieutenant Cook remained on Soerabaja in charge of operations.  Robenson ended up spending very little time there, but was keen to all of their activities.  He disapproved of Cook and Nestler accompanying Lundberg to a movie, asserting that officers and enlistedmen should not fraternize, and otherwise enforced that the mission was strictly for business and they should derive no pleasure from the luxuries (and women) that the exquisite Hotel Oranje offered. 

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It may have been easy to purchase large amounts of consumables, but money was not everything to the ship captains.  Even worse, the Pacific Fleet was still crippled and very reluctant to sail west of Pearl Harbor even though their own personnel on Bataan and Luzon desperately needed assistance. 

 

The British and Dutch turned down nearly every request as well; all agreed that such an action could only result in the destruction of valuable vessels.  For private ship owners, to sail through hostile seas was not worth any sum if they felt they would not return – or even make it – to the Philippines.  There were, however, a few brave ship owners willing to run the suicidal route.  Secrecy and deceit were the essence of the mission.  Ships crews were not to be informed of their destination and the vessels were encouraged to display flags of neutral and enemy nations.

 

The servicemen in Australia were typically dismissive of the ideas from higher command.

 

“That was the kind of thing they dream up,” said one GI.  “Marshall, you know, sitting with his feet on a desk someplace.  Who’s going to take a damn ship up there to the Philippines right through the Japanese Navy going five miles an hour for the fuck-ass money?  Well…there ain’t that much money.”

 

Unfortunately, it was true.  Money was no good to the dead.

 

Nestler and the other members of the mission worked tirelessly toward success, encountering many generous souls eager to help, but just as many who declined with bureaucratic excuses.  Despite finding a few crews, transports, and all the necessary food and ammunition, these politics stood in the way of relieving the incessant need for help in the Philippines.  It became tiresome and frustrating to negotiate trade and regulations with the authorities that controlled trade in the East Indies.  Even those with seemingly infinite connections and influence were cut short in their efforts to help with the special mission.  It was, if anything, extremely disheartening, and progress began to deteriorate and look grim.

The group barely secured two steamers when the Japanese began bombing the island on February 3d, and from then on attacks came almost every day.  Cook and Nestler spent time working on the Florence D, a fast little cargo ship that Robenson barely pried out of the Navy’s hands.  After the Florence D sailed alongside the Don Isidro, the Taiyuan was the next project for Cook and Nestler.  Loading the ship during constant air raids was problematic when the local stevedores fled at the first hint of an incoming plane.  Forcing native convicts to work under armed guard did not work either – they simply escaped when the guards took cover.

 

By the end of the month, with only $250,000 left of the original budget (carefully counted) and Japanese bearing down on the island, the men on the Robenson mission received orders to evacuate and return to Australia.  There had been only a few supporters for the mission that most considered to be unfeasible.  The ships that did sail from Java did not make it far out to sea.  If they were ever heard of again, it was a report that they were bombed by the Japanese. 

 

Paul did manage to procure two beautiful saddles destined for the 26th Cavalry in the Philippines, but understanding the impossibility of delivery he felt they were better suited for himself and the Colonel.  While the Japanese bombed the island, he carried the saddles and his few belongings onto the transport ship prepared to sail out.   When the old vessel pulled away from the docks, it groaned in an effort to keep up with her escorts.  When they finally made it out to sea, the Japanese targeted and quickly sank the faster escorts, but spared the slow transport.  Left abandoned in the waters south of Java, Paul hoped after all of their work that he would at least survive the voyage back to Australia.

Cosmopolitan November 1945

NEW GUINEA

 

 

When he returned to Darwin, Paul found the town had been hit hard by the Japanese about a week earlier.  This was the first of many bombing raids to occur over the next several weeks.  The first night raid occurred on March 31st.  From their camp outside the city, the Americans could hear the drone of incoming planes and the muffled whoomphs of bombs hitting.  Long beams of searchlights illuminated three bombers in the night sky.  A month later, the 147th suffered two casualties from these bomb runs.  The threat of invasion died down within the next couple of months after the American victories in the Midway and Coral Sea battles and soon the entire Australian division in the Darwin area was defending the coast. 

 

 

Paul regaled his peers with far-fetched stories of his special mission, not just on Java, but Bali and other places he never visited.  In one tale he detailed baling out of a P-40 with the pilot and making his way back to Manila on the Florence D.  The P-40 was a single seat fighter and the Florence D sank near Australia – his plot holes were quickly exposed.

 

The 147th Field Artillery departed the Northern Territory at the end of June for Ballarat.  They traveled 2000 miles to the southeast coast for some rest and re-equipping with the new 105mm howitzers to replace their World War I vintage weapons.  Though they trained heavily, Paul had plenty of time to explore the city and nearby Melbourne.

Officers of the 260th.  Nestler likely third from left, middle row with arms crossed.
Unknown officers with alcohol?
Unknown officer
Living arrangments?
Burial of Capt. Thomas Rozum 1942
Burial of Capt. Thomas Rozum 1942
Burial of Capt. Thomas Rozum 1942
Burial of Capt. Thomas Rozum 1942

In October, the 147th continued to tour up the east coast to Camp Cable where they served in grueling garrison duty under a demanding commander.  Many said they would have preferred to have been back in the bush of the Northern Territory than suffer the arduous work and training they were put through at Camp Cable.  There was far too much focus on aspects of service that had nothing to do with war or artillery and the 1st Battalion celebrated when they received orders in June 1943 to convert to a provisional truck battalion and land on two unoccupied islands north of New Guinea.  Paul was so close to leaving with them but was transferred to E Battery before the sailed.  The 2d Battalion joined the 1st a month later on the two islands of Woodlark and Kiriwana.  Though air raid alerts were frequent on both islands, they were often cautionary and Japanese planes rarely appeared.  Their tent cities kept the men relatively comfortable through torrential tropical storms, but insects were always pestering.  Outside of these inconveniences, the islands were marvelous.  Beaches of white sand ringed the interior jungle home to thousands of exotic species of flora and fauna.

 

Their next home on the opposite coast of New Guinea was Oro Bay, a swampy hole filled with rats and muck and a tremendous disappointed compared to their previous island stays.  Their only escape was in November to support the invasion of Gasmata where drivers delivered supplies under fire.  It was their last invasion before the regiment was disbanded at the end of December 1943.  The artillerymen were disappointed to see their beloved regiment – the last regular regiment of artillery in the Army – dismantled without ceremony into two battalions linked only by lineage on paper.  The 1st Battalion was redesignated the 260th Field Artillery Battalion and Paul was transferred back to his former battalion when they moved out of Oro Bay to settle at the operations base on Finschhafen.   The new camp had been expertly constructed by Navy Seabees who created terraces up the gentle slope of a coconut grove.  The year was pivotal for the Pacific war and the battalion ran their trucks constantly on twelve-hour shifts.  At the nearby docks, ships dumped machinery, equipment, food and other supplies to be transported north when needed.  The work did not let up until late in the year and by 1945, the war for the battalion seemed to be slowing down.  Those with enough points began to depart and Paul was gone by the end of February.

Photo Credit: SDNG Collection & Sherry Doney

KOREA

 

After the 7th Division was stripped a few times over to outfit the other divisions fighting in Korea, the Army was feverishly assigning officers and men in any way they could to get them over to Korea.  Some men were simply told to choose a unit and find a job within their specialty field while others were posted to billets that were already filled.  Organization would follow once operational or casualties would reduce the number of personnel needing proper assignments.  The artillery battalions were particularly frenzied.  Only a few days earlier, Captain Nestler was at Camp Carson working with pack mules before being whisked off to the Far East.  He quickly filled an operations position in the 57th Field Artillery, assuming responsibilities under Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Tolly to coordinate information throughout the battalion, maintain the situation maps, prepare fire plans, and coordinate resupply.

 

After surviving the miserable voyage from Japan to Inchon, the first mission of the 57th Field was to support the 31st Infantry Regiment at Suwon Airfield.  The first few meals of lukewarm C rations held Paul over until the kitchen trucks arrived from the landing ships.  Throughout the hamlets of mud and straw homes, they encountered small outposts of North Koreans, all of whom were wearing white civilian clothing instead of any uniform.  The fleeing enemy troops were mostly pillaging food and seeking shelter, but there were many digging into the hills that fired at the artillerymen.

 

It was a very different war for Paul.  Rather than the oppressive anxiety of a massive invasion across the South Pacific, the enemy instead was sneaky, desperate, and infiltrated everywhere.  Routing them out and pushing toward the 38th parallel was so rapid that the frontlines became staggered and uncertain.  Frequently the infantry commanders needed the artillery to hold fire until they were certain no friendly troops were in the area, but once they requested the guns, the North Koreans did not stand a chance.  The Inchon-Seoul operation was brief, successful, and the 57th Field’s introduction to the war in Korea.  By late October, they were at sea again preparing for the landing at Iwon and the approach to the Yalu.

Winter in the mountains was brutal, frequently below zero with fierce winds and little warmth from the sun during the day.  Shelter was scarce and when the battalion did occupy a small village, they only occupied public buildings for command posts, switchboards and kitchens.  If vehicles did not run constantly, they would fail to start if left for more than twelve hours.  As a result, they consumed gasoline in much larger quantities and icy roads posed a problem of resupply.  Any kind of logistical issue compounded due to the weather.

Headquarters Battery settled on one of the shelves on the south side of Hill 1250 on November 27th, about one mile south of the inlet to the Chosin reservoir where the 57th Field Artillery’s A and B Batteries retired with the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry.  By road, their distance was closer to two miles as the path curled up and the east along railroad track hugging the coastline.  The Marines who were on their way out of the area reported no signs of enemy activity within a ten-mile radius, but Korean refugees passing through mentioned seeing enemy soldiers accumulating to the north.  After a quiet month with only one memorable engagement, nobody took these comments seriously and assumed they would be headed to the Yalu at dawn.

Photo Credit: Ivan Long Collection

 

Around midnight, all tabs on the switchboard at the fire direction center began to drop and calls routed through the channels for S-2 and S-3 began to illuminate what was erupting at the forward position near the inlet.  The operators tried to communicate these desperate missions from the infantry to the firing batteries, but they got no response as A and B Batteries were overrun.  All they could do was wait helplessly and listen to broken snippets of information about the forward units fighting for survival.

As the twilight sky faded into a glowing dawn, the Chinese reached striking distance of the Headquarters.  They threw mortars and small arms fire in their direction, mostly for harassment, but enough to inflict casualties on the battery, wound the commanding officer, and kill the executive officer.  Small groups succeeded in fighting off the enemy with their personal weapons, but the .50-caliber and 40mm shells from the halftracks dealt the most damage to the assaulting force.  In the early morning aftermath, they began to pack up the command post to consolidate with the forward perimeter.

 

It took most of the day on November 28th to move Headquarters and McClymont’s AAA Battery, but by late afternoon before dusk they were all assembled at the 3d Battalion perimeter.  Between the few standing buildings, packs of vehicles and firing batteries, American dead lay zipped in sleeping bags where they were killed, frozen bodies of Chinese had stiffened in grotesque positions, and survivors picked through piles of dead searching for food and ammunition.

 

Before nightfall, the Chinese struck again.  The powerful guns of the halftracks dissolved most of the opposition and the second night was much less severe than the first, but their ammunition and supplies were dwindling.  By daylight, the Chinese melted back into the nearby hills, allowing time for Colonel Faith’s battalion to join the survivors at the inlet perimeter.  Two air drops went over that afternoon, but not all of the materiel could be recovered.  The little food that did come from the drops was most welcome.  The third night at the inlet was relatively quiet, but the fourth night was brutal.  Ammunition was low all around.  The artillery was hesitant to expend previous shells, .50-caliber and 40mm was scarce, and even riflemen were choosing their shots carefully.  Unlike the previous nights, the Chinese did not withdraw in the morning.  They remained on the low ground and the breakout had to happen under fire.

 

The 31st RCT was abandoned with orders from the Marines to fight their own way out.  It was difficult to organize a withdrawal under fire throughout the morning.  Survivors frantically piled what they could not take into holes to burn, stripped and broke down damaged vehicles and stuffed wounded into the trucks that were still running.  Only one of the 40mm halftracks was still operational and ammunition was so scarce that most men had only enough for a single clip.  An air strike just before noon allowed enough time for them to start fighting south.

 

They bypassed the first blown bridge by crossing the bumpy, frozen stream bed.  Wounded men in the trucks screamed in agony as they were knocked around.  The more severely wounded died from the trauma. 

After about three miles the convoy reached the first roadblock at a hairpin turn near Hill 1221.  Several officers led small groups up the steep slopes of the hill to surprise the Chinese from their rear.  After several small engagements, one which left Colonel Faith mortally wounded, the groups managed to reach the log roadblock and begin dismantling it.  By the time they cleared it, there were signs of Chinese approaching the convoy again.  Any vehicles that were damaged from bullets or simply would not start were abandoned.  The able transferred the wounded with as much care as possible despite their own wounds and frostbitten hands.   It was quiet after fighting through the roadblock and it began to snow again.  They reached another blown bridge that once spanned another tributary of the reservoir which was fortunately bridged by the railroad parallel to the road. 

Walk of the Long Shadows by Master Serge

Photo Credit: Ivan Long Collection

 

After darkness, the motor column slowed again as the forward trucks reached Hudong-ni.  Chinese on the hills fired down on the convoy, and Chinese from below the berm fired up.  The poor vehicles were stuck in the crossfire.  For many of the survivors, this was the end.  There was no escape except to cross the ice on foot and those who were able had to choose to make the trek or die.

 

It was the halfway point to their destination and refuge when the column disintegrated.  For an hour they tried to fight their way into Hudong-ni before electing to run the vehicles through.  When Chinese fire immobilized the leading trucks and raked the rest of the column, it was over.  Groups of silhouettes charged down the hills in relays, building up at least a battalion sized force.  With only a few loose rounds each, there was no chance the remnants of the task force could fight them off.  The men scattered and headed for the ice.  Chinese approaching the abandoned convoy threw explosive and phosphorus grenades into the trucks, killing the pitiful wounded.  There was an overall feeling of regret and guilt for leaving them, but to survive Paul had to turn and leave the burnt trucks filled with corpses.  By midnight only the dead and dying remained at Hudong-ni.

It was the halfway point to their destination and refuge when the column disintegrated.  For an hour they tried to fight their way into Hudong-ni before electing to run the vehicles through.  When Chinese fire immobilized the leading trucks and raked the rest of the column, it was over.  Groups of silhouettes charged down the hills in relays, building up at least a battalion-sized force.  With only a few loose rounds each, there was no chance the remnants of the task force could fight them off.  The men scattered and headed for the ice.  Chinese approaching the abandoned convoy threw explosive and phosphorus grenades into the trucks, killing the pitiful wounded.  There was an overall feeling of regret and guilt for leaving them, but to survive Paul had to turn and leave the burnt trucks filled with corpses.  By midnight only the dead and dying remained at Hudong-ni.

*

The falling snow made for poor visibility, and keeping a bearing toward Hagaru was difficult.  As dawn neared, Paul found himself at the southern tip of the reservoir facing the tent city of Hagaru that still seemed operational.  The remnants of the task force reached Hagaru-ri in isolated groups beginning on the night of December 2d.  Unshaven, frostbitten, dirty and tattered, they wandered into Marine lines.  The situation map in the operations center had the local Army units posted with a large red ‘X’ and question mark over the tactical sign for Task Force Faith.  Survivors continued to arrive over the next few days until December 6th when another breakout to Koto-ri was scheduled.  The last of the wounded were airlifted out of the short airstrip, and Nestler was among the able-bodied members organized into a weak provisional battalion.

 

It would take 38 hours to fight through eleven miles of terrain swarming with Chinese.  When the combined Marine and Army forces tallied their losses upon reaching Koto-ri, the 57th Field Artillery had an astonishing majority of soldiers unaccounted for.  Those who were known to have died were noted as such, but many could only be marked as ‘missing in action.’  Those who perished endured the impossible and fought the battle once – survivors would relive the traumatic experience for the rest of their lives.

 

Paul Nestler was among the missing during the final assault.  For the next three years, his wife and parents waited eagerly for news of his return from a POW camp, but he was never heard from.  While his remains were recovered during Operation Glory, he has not yet been identified and rests unknown in one of the many boxes at the Punchbowl Cemetery.  Physical and dental characteristics furnished by his mother and wife were not enough to find a match and sadly, with no children, no siblings, and unknown birth parents, a DNA match may not be possible to acquire.  May his soul live in paradise.

Nestler PH Doc.jpg

Photo Credit: Sherry Doney

Sources:

Appleman, Roy Edgar. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Texas A & M University Press, 1987. 

Edmonds, Walter D. "The Robenson Mission." They Fought with What They Had: The Story of the Army Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1942. Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1992. 371-92. Print.

Gray, John Edward. Called to Honor: Memoirs of a Three-War Veteran. Brent, 2006. 
Mossman, Billy C. Ebb and Flow: November 1950-July 1951. Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1990. 
Risch, Erna, Chester L. Kieffer, Alvin Stauffer, William F. Ross, and Charles F. Romanus. The Technical Services.. The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War against Japan. N.p.: n.p., 1956. 21-25. Print.

Rogers, Bogart. “Help for the Heroes of Bataan.” Cosmopolitan, Nov. 1945, pp. 46–136.

Rogers, Bogart. “Help for the Heroes of Bataan.” Cosmopolitan, Dec. 1945, pp. 70–154. 
“Robenson Interviews.”  Beulah Williams Library Archives manuscript collections.  FF30, Box 72. Northern State University (Aberdeen, S.D.)

“Robenson Mission: Various Photocopied Letters and Articles.” Beulah Williams Library Archives manuscript collections.  FF31, Box 72. Northern State University (Aberdeen, S.D.)

Underbrink, Robert L. Destination Corregidor. United States Naval Institute, 1971. 
Vallowe, Ray C. What History Failed to Record: A Phantom Force - Lost to History. 2015. 
Webb, Robert G. The Pacific Odyssey of Capt. William H. Daly and the 147th Field Artillery Regiment, 1941-1946. South Dakota Historical Society, 1993. 

 

A very special thank you to Sherry Doney who enthusiastically replied to my message seeking information on Paul.  She is currently among the closest links to Paul as the daughter of his widow.  She generously supplied the portrait, Purple Heart certificate, and photos from Australia.  Information about his adoption also gives some hope of positively identifying his remains in the future.  It was a pleasure to be in touch with her and I think we both found great meaning in connecting the way we did.