Stewart, Edward Lee (P2, C4, L21)
Staff Sergeant Edward Lee Stewart, 19, of Keith, Harlan County, was killed in action on December 7, 1944, while serving with his unit, Company A, 149th Infantry, on the island of Leyte, Philippines.
Stewart enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard at Harlan, Kentucky, on 18 October 1939, with. He was inducted into federal service with his unit on 17 January 1941.
Stewart was killed in action on 7 December 1944, and is buried in the Mill Springs National Cemetery, Nancy, Pulaski County, Section G, Site 33.
No documentation has been found to detail the circumstances his death. However it would seem likely that he was killed in the vicinity of San Pablo or Buri airstrips on Leyte.
149th Sees First Combat of World War II
See also: Grigg Martin C MAJ Opns 1-149th Inf Battle Buri Air Strip, Leyte 7-11 Dec 1944
The 149th arrived as part of the 38th Division by ship at Bito Beach, Leyte in the Philippines on 6 December 1944. The 2d Battalion was assigned to the task of unloading the equipment and supplies from the ships. The 1st Battalion was assigned almost immediately to the 11th Airborne Division — alerted at 0200 hours 7 December for movement to San Pablo airstrip in the Burauen area.
At San Pablo airstrip the advance elements of the battalion were met by Major General Joseph Swing whose greeting and order to the battalion was, 'Glad to see you. I am General Swing of the 11th Airborne Division. We've been having a hell of a time here. Last night approximately seventy-five Jap paratroopers dropped on us of which we have accounted for about fifty. Fifteen hundred yards from here on an azimuth of 2730 is another airstrip just like this one. Between here and there are about twenty-five Jap troopers. It is now 1400. I want that strip secure by nightfall.’
The battalion moved out at 1430 hours and after five hundred yards encountered a rain swollen swamp that proved difficult to cross with shoulder deep water in places. Contact between companies was lost crossing the swamp. A Company and arrived on the near side of Buri Air Strip at about 1630 hours. Much enemy activity could be seen on the far side of the strip and many more Japanese were in the area than had been estimated. C Company had been delayed by a light skirmish and did not arrive at Buri Strip until about 1800 hours. The battalion commander ordered the two companies to form a perimeter defense for the night.
The Japanese had become aware of the presence of the Americans on the south edge of the airstrip and the battalion was harassed all night by Japanese rifle and machine gun fire. The enemy also got inside the perimeter at times and threw grenades. During the night the battalion fired many rounds of ammunition against the infiltrating Japanese.
C Company and part of A Company advanced across the open runway without any difficulty but immediately upon entering the dense jungle on the far side of the strip they were hit by devastating small arms and mortar fire from well concealed Japanese positions and were forced to withdraw after a sharp fire fight.
The 149th RCT Commander visited the HQ of the 11th Airborne Division, at San Pablo at about 1200 hours 8 December. The G-2, 11th Airborne Division estimated six hundred and fifty Japanese opposing the 1st Battalion. The 149th RCT Commander was given control of his battalion and the 2d Battalion, which had completed unloading the ships was ordered to the Burauen area. B Company joined the 1st Battalion 1600 hours 8 December. The 2d Battalion arrived at the San Pablo Strip the next day and was used for local security and for extensive patrolling throughout the area.
The 1st Battalion consolidated its position during the remaining hours of daylight 8 December and prepared to launch a frontal attack with two companies the next day. The enemy continued to harass the perimeter during the night of 8-9 December
The attack on 9 December was launched with a five minute mortar preparation. Both companies were able to cut their way through the brush for a few yards before they were again forced to withdraw.
A shortage of ammunition began to be a concern. Efforts to resupply the Battalion bad been unsuccessful until late in the afternoon of 9 December when a pack train arrived from San Pablo Strip with ammunition and K rations. About the same time the pack train arrived, the regimental commander landed on the strip in a cub plane despite the fact that one side of the strip was still in the hands of the enemy, who fired at the plane as it was landing. The returning pack train evacuated casualties.
On 10 December A and C Companies began to attack at 0800 hours and B Company in Battalion reserve. The turning movement to the left was to be hinged on A Company. The turning movement was partially completed when A Company became involved in a fire fight with B Company and it was several minutes before it was halted.
The two companies completed the maneuver, aligned themselves and moved to the west methodically reducing the enemy strong points encountered. They had advanced approximately one hundred and fifty yards when approaching darkness forced preparations for their defense for the night.
A and C Companies resumed their advance to the west at 0800 hours 11 December, to clean out the remaining enemy. B Company moved across the strip, turn right and clean out the Japanese in that area. There was less enemy resistance and by 1200 hours operations were reduced to mopping up the area.
The 2d Battalion assumed responsibility for the entire area and at 1430 hours relieved the 1st Battalion which moved to Burauen for rest. The battle for Buri Air Strip was over.
Three hundred enemy dead were found in the area after the operation was over and a reported two hundred more Japanese were forced to withdraw from Buri Air Strip to the interior of the island. During the battle the 1st Battalion had, lost forty men killed and approximately one hundred were wounded. It had required five days to accomplish
While no definitive information has been found it is believed that the following members of the Kentucky National Guard also perished during this engagement, in addition to Stewart: Willie Alley Co C, 1-149th 8 December; Fred Henson Co C, 1-149th 8 December; Delmar Adams Co B, 1-149th 9 December; Millard Adams Co B 1-149th 10 December; and Warren Stambaugh HQ Co, 2-149th 10 December.