The Battle of the Million Dollar Tree
February 14, 2008
Aca,!A"I joined E Company [182nd Infantry Regiment] as a replacement, on December 1, 1943, on Vita Levu, Fiji Islands, shortly before the division left for Bougainville. Our motto was Aca,!EoeBorn in BattleAca,!a,,c and nothing could have been more true; we fought all over the South Pacific as the Americal Division.Aca,!A?
So began the World War II journey of James E. Sweeney that started in the small town of Nesquehoning, PA, and brought him to the Solomon Islands just in time for a war.
By early January 1944, all combat troops of the Americal were on Bougainville Island, relieving the 3rd Marine Division. Hill 260 was a piece of strategically located high ground, commanding the area near the Torokina River. High up on Hill 260 stood a banyan tree, 125 feet tall, surrounded by water and the enemy, with an observation hut atop it. From that high ground, the Japanese launched their great Bougainville counterattack.
In the early morning of March 10, Sweeney woke up to the sound of Corporal Bailey dropping magazines and bandoliers of ammunition near his bunk. Aca,!A"Jimmy, when it gets daylight, plaster the observation hut with all you got.Aca,!A? Before he left, he added, Aca,!A"be careful, snipers are in the trees.Aca,!A?
Later that day, the enemy began shelling the Americal defensive perimeter with artillery fire. A new soldier to the unit, a German-Jewish soldier, a recent immigrant from Germany, was hit with a mortar shell near Sweeney. Aca,!A"He fell to his left with only a sighAca,!A|. My BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] worked well at first, but by the end of the second day, I was only able to fire one bullet at a time. I had fired it so much and it was so hot that the barrel turned white.Aca,!A? SweeneyAca,!a,,cs service in helping repulse that great counterattack earned him the Bronze Star. According to the citation for that award, he Aca,!A"volunteered to crawl forward to protect the left flank of a machine gun squad, disregarding the danger to himself, he continued until he secured the position. He remained in position for two days, until he was wounded and forced to leave the scene of battle.Aca,!A? There were many brave men from Company E on March 10 and 11; together, they earned their company the Distinguished Unit Citation. The Americans finally secured the island but not without great cost. E Company suffered 22 men Killed In Action and over 100 wounded in about 36 hours of fighting.
History records this fight as the Battle of Hill 260. The men who actually fought it, however, remember it differently. They estimate firing a fortune against that hill and its towering tree -- a million dollars worth of ammunition, they say. To them, the fight of March 10-17, 1944, will forever be known as the Battle of the Million Dollar Tree. It is possible that, as you read this article, there are current American soldiers in the fight of their lives, - no less bloody, no less fierce, than the Battle of the Million Dollar Tree. Like Sweeney, they will remember it for the rest of their lives. These are the burdens soldiers carry for us. Stories and scars of long ago battles, current and past wounds, opened and relived, like the memory of a tree, in the middle of the South Pacific, on a hill covered in blood.