During the final months of the Pacific War, MacArthur tasked the Eighth Army under Lt. General Robert Eichelberger with liberating the Central Philippines. The 40th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit from California, Nevada and Utah, played a key role in this all but forgotten campaign. In March 1945, the “Sunshine Division” landed on Panay, encountering stiff resistance in places during a ten day battle to clear the island.
On the first day of the landing, March 18th, two Signal Corps photographers followed an infantry company from the 185th Infantry Regiment ashore to photograph the fighting and their advance. A company of M4 Sherman tanks spearheaded the push into Panay’s jungle interior, and the men of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 185th Infantry followed cautiously behind. The photographers, Lt. Robert Fields and T/5 Howard Klawitter, ignored Japanese incoming machine gun and light artillery fire and stayed right with the GI’s of Alpha Company, snapping photos as they dashed forward with them.
As the combined force pushed up along a dirt road, they encountered heavy resistance and Alpha Company took cover behind the tanks. The Shermans blasted away at the Japanese defenders while Fields and Klawitter, standing a few yards apart, snapped pictures of the firefight.
Both photographers went down within minutes of each other. Fields was killed and Klawitter wounded. These two photos are the last ones they took.