Huerfano County, Colorado
Lovdjieff Collection

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Chapter II


The Marianas consist of some fifteen islands strung in a north-south arc 450 miles long. They are situated about midway between the Marshall and the Philippine Islands, and a little north of the Carolines (Truk). Guam, the largest and southernmost of the islands, lies 1310 miles southwest of Wake Island (6 hours by air). Saipan, the second largest, is 1262 miles south of Tokyo (also 6 hours by air), and 1380 miles east of Manila (7 hours). The Marianas are the same distance north of the equator as, for example, the southern reaches of Mexico and India, most of Central America, the Caribbean Sea, Dakar, Bombay, or Rangoon. "Add the area of all the Marianas together, and you would have a piece of land a little larger than Los Angeles. They total 472 square miles."

The islands are said to be of volcanic origin, a remarkable fact considering that the Pacific—more than 68½ million square miles in area—achieves some of its deepest points in this region. Mindanao Point just east of the Philippines is 35,400 feet deep, and Nero Deep a short distance southeast of Guam is 31,614 feet. Thus, in considering the origin and formation of these islands we would be more nearly correct to visualize their total altitude and size by eliminating sea level and beginning the measurement with sea bottom, While this will not give us more space for B-29 fields; or increase the number of harbors, it will give us some appreciation of the scale of earth's geologic operations. If we let our imaginations go we might get this picture of the spectacle of a rising submarine mountain, or chain of mountains as in the case of these islands. There is violent and tremendous upheaval in this wet, black, silent world at sea bottom as a fierce struggle takes place between sea pressure and earth's volcanic force. Slowly the sea is overcome. Lava bursts out of the muddy floor, and as the molten rock creeps over the ooze, trapping shells, plants, and animals in its path, it discharges gases and steam which fly upward in myriads of bubbles. The water swirls about in powerful currents, and even the surface is disturbed. One eruption succeeds another, and through years, hundreds of centuries, centimeter by centimeter, the volcanic deposits accumulate, piling upward and outward. One day, with a mighty effort, the mountain breaks through the surface of the sea, flinging flame, clouds of steam, molten rock, and ashes high into the air. In that moment, when the sea can no longer come together over it, the submarine mountain becomes an island, and now in addition to putting up with currents and pressures of the sea, it must engage in unceasing warfare with all the forces which seek to destroy it, the winds and rains, the sun's heat, and night's chill. Eventually life forms take hold. Billions of roots pierce its rugged face, sucking, scarring, crumbling it into dust, clutching it greedily until death relaxes the grip. Meanwhile the volcanic action has died, and the fiery eyes are closed. With shrieks of triumph the forces of obliteration close in to complete their work. The last rocks and rugged slopes are made smooth and softened. Bit by bit, grain by grain, the mountain is broken down and dragged into the sea, the dust of rock and dead roots alike, until at last it is worn away completely, until at last the hostile waves close over it in a rush of howling glee.

But what about the coral we see all over the islands? How did it get here if these islands were volcanic in origin? Coral, first of all, is defined as a (1) calcorous secretion of various marine zoophytes (invertebrate animals resembling plants). "

"The coral animal secretes about its side and base an external skeleton of calcium carbonate. The animal is correctly termed a polyp, and its skeleton, coral.

" . . . Coral polyps may live singly, but many kinds reproduce by budding new polyps from the margins of the older and thus develop colonies in which many individuals co-operate to build a complex stony skeleton.

"It is well known that corals thrive and made reefs in the sea, but only where it is warm and shallow. Accordingly, the coral reefs in the rocks of past geologic ages are regarded as evidence of mild temperature and of shallow water. Corals have been important agents in rock formation at various times in the past. (There are many groups of animals that live exclusively in the sea. Corals … are an example. Their occurrence as fossils in a rock implies the presence of the sea at some former time, even though the fossils are now far inland, or at great elevations in the mountains, as the Eocene fossils in the Himalayas at 20,000 feet. The coral reefs so common in the Silurian (320 million years ago) limestones of northern Indiana, and outcrops west of Hudson Bay, in Ontario, New York, and Kentucky, and even in extreme northern Greenland, where bare rocks now project beyond the margins of a perpetual ice cap, leave no doubt that a great bay or inland sea like the Baltic or Hudson Bay covered these regions during Silurian time.) At present, coral reefs occupy an area of about half a million square miles of the shallow seas, and their limy debris spreads over a vastly greater area."

While the Marianas were still submarine volcanic mountains, they afforded places where coral polyps could deposit their skeletons between eruptions. Layer upon layer this coral was laid, encompassing shells, bones of larger animals, fossils, etc., in all the various and beautiful designs characteristic of coral today. But how, we wonder, is it that we find coral so many hundred feet above sea level if the polyps arc marine animals? The only explanation I have come across is earthquakes, but what takes place I do not know. Apparently earthquakes in this instance would result from shifting rocks below sea level, and would in turn effect the sinking of some parts of an island and the rise of other sections. Earthquakes are supposed to be still common in the Marianas, but to date we have felt no tremors, only the shocks of blasting in the coral quarries. As a result of the triple action of volcanoes, coral polyps, and earthquakes, then, we have islands like these Marianas.

"Major General Sandeford Jarman, Commander of the Army forces that built the B-29 base on Saipan, recently gave official recognition to the coral-building polyp's help in our war against Japan when he said: 'If we hadn't found coral here we wouldn't have won in the Pacific. It has enabled us to push across the Pacific from the beginning. It has been our salvation.' On Saipan, for example, coral enabled United States engineers to build the B-29 base from which our giant planes are bombing Japan. One of the engineers' biggest tasks was surfacing the fields. To get material they hacked out two coral quarries. To move the excavated material they built a highway to the field. Not even a general's car could use the road unless it carried coral. Tons of crushed coral were spread over the field, and it soon was in operation.

"Our forces have met or used three major classes of coral formations in the Pacific: (1) The atoll, which is a ring-shaped barrier enclosing a shallow lagoon--Tarawa is an example. (Eniwetok, another such coral formation, is said to be one of the largest anchorages in the Pacific.) (2) The fringe reef, which is a coral barrier encircling an island, as of Truk (and some of the Marianas.) (3) The barrier reef, which is like a huge fringe reef. The great Australian Barrier Reef that stretches 1,250 miles along the northeast shore of Australia is the world largest reef of this type.

"The polyp that deposits coral consists of a central sac, or stomach, with tiny feathery arms, or tentacles, which anchor themselves to the bedrock of the sea. The animal absorbs a limy substance from seawater, which it secretes. This forms a hard shell when the animal dies. A coral reef or atoll grows as billions upon billions of these creatures die and leave their skeletons firmly fastened together. Little is known about the rate of growth of those coral deposits, except that it varies widely according to the food supply and ocean currents.

"As coral seldom grows outside tropical waters, there are no coral reefs north of Florida. However, coral is found occasionally in shallow water as far north as New England. Our West Coast has no coral reefs at all, owing either to the steepness of the shore, or to the crumbling nature of their sub-marine foundations."

As a result of the combined operations of polyps, volcanoes, and earthquakes, the terrain of the Marianas is rugged. Erosion may be credited with leveling some of the islands as, for example, Tinian. Generally the soil is light brown in color; almost like iron rust, and is hardly more than from six to 24 inches deep anywhere before it yields to solid coral. The ground is dusty in dry weather, and exceedingly like clay when wet. It can rain heavily all night, and by the next afternoon vehicles passing on roads, will churn up massive clouds of dust. When there is a blast in the quarry, yellowish-gray clouds of dust are thrown up. As rich and suited to agriculture as the soil appears to be, it is actually lacking in a number of essential minerals. Except for sugar cane which thrives well here, the soil requires a great deal of fertilizer when used for other crops.

The shoreline of these islands is generally lined with cliffs and jagged coral reefs. This is especially true of the northern and eastern shores. Broad sandy stretches of beach are at a premium, as are good harbors. Most of these are located on the western and southern coasts of the islands. I have visited several points along the shore of this particular island. One of them is the small beach where one of the landings was made last July. There is very little of interest there. The beach is still uneven where shell craters were thrown up. Numerous coral rocks stick out of the water, and among them greenish-white breakers froth angrily. There is a cleaned-out Jap pill-box in the vicinity. A fishy marine stench pervades the atmosphere.

The northern shoreline is much more interesting to me for in a rather small way it satisfies a desire I have long had, to stand on some high cliff by the sea and watch the battle of waves and rocks. The cliffs are small, more often only big boulders, dirty gray in color, and extremely jagged from the unceasing lashing of wind and water. The sea is constantly in motion, rising and ebbing, rearing itself on its haunches then pouncing angrily over the rocks. The area is fascinating because of this mad play of lovely colors and violent motion. As the water trickles back into the sea, it reveals flat stretches at the water's edge where crevaces in the shore hold pools of water. Here in the pale pinks depths are soft brown sea plants and small fish darting back and forth. A wave thunders over the rocks, submerging the pools with swirling water and foam, but the boulders stand firm, and the vanquished water falls back into the sea. Again the pool becomes still and clear, until the next wave sweeps in. Over and over this goes on, but not for an instant is it monotonous and boring. And here, at low tide, the men hunt shells and cats-eyes with which they make souvenir necklaces.

In the hill portions of the islands there are many caves. Some of these appear quite natural to me, and presumably most of them are. Some men, however, have returned from explorations of these caves, with the opinion that many of them look artificial, man-made, evidently built by the Japanese in event of an invasion. Now most of the defenses and fortifications on Saipan and Tinian were built facing southward (toward Guam) from which direction enemy attacks seemed most likely. It is believed by some men that in conjunction with this anticipation the Japs laid up great supplies and stores in these caves. Some men even say that they suspect the caves are connected by hidden passages to form an intricate network of underground defenses. But all this I dismiss as mere conjecture or wishful thinking in an attempt to romanticize these islands with an aura of danger. There are caves in which Jap soldiers and some civilians are still hiding, but from these we are safe as long as we stay away and let the infantry and marines take care of then. Japs in caves are hard to get out. Few surrender because in doing so they lose all rights, privileges, etc., of Japanese citizenship; they are ostracized, excommunicated, becoming men without country. Patrols of Marine and Infantry units are sent out daily into the regions of the caves. On Guam these are located at the extreme northern and the southern ends of the island, and there are still some Japs in the southeastern end of Tinian and in the hill districts of Saipan. I have no reports on the success or failure of these patrols. A few men who have explored the cleared-out caves have brought back, flags, service records, books, currency, shell casings, straw floor mats, and other such souvenirs. Such hunting is a great sport out here. Only last night some kid wandered into our tent selling little ammunition bags "with Jap writing on 'em, and they're real silk." Needless to add, the prices for souvenirs are exorbitant.

The sea around these islands is every bit as colorful as that at Hawaii. From some high point on the islands, the ocean in the distance is usually dark pinks. At dawn or at sunset when it turns to purple it looks a little frightening. Near the shore the ultramarine becomes aquamarine and very transparent. You can see beyond the bottom of your ship even when it is drawing more than 22 feet of water. Where the colors change from dark pinks to light and then to green, the lines of division are very marked, but the colors somehow never mix or blend. There is one place on this island—down at the swimming beach—where you can stand on a ridge overlooking the sea, a ridge very much like the palisades at Santa Monica, and if you look down you can see through the pale pinks depths the dark coral rocks dotting the white sandy floor. It looks like a submerged garden.

Plant Life

Not much of the vegetation is familiar, though it is abundant everywhere. Most of the trees, shrubs, flowers, weeds, and grass are beyond my meager botanical identification ability. From a distance, as for example the view we had from the ship, the island appears to be draped with lush verdure and clumps of trees. The green mantle varies from shades of dark pine to the bright green of sugar cane which looks like young corn. Palm trees are not nearly as abundant one would suppose from the designs put on wrist bands and bracelets, even though the men on Guam are pretty tired of coconuts. The cultivation of coconut palms once constituted the chief occupation on these islands. Banana trees are plentiful, but not many of them are as big as the one in Cincinnati's Conservatory of Flowers. There is also a type of shade tree which from a distance looks like rather tall hedge. These trees have been planted in long rows, criss-crossing the island; they seem to designate boundaries between cane plantations. They are ten to fifteen feet high, and their leaves are like those of a willow but arranged like a locust. In the wind they rustle with a soft, melodious shush. Someone said this tree is called Japanese Willow. Whatever its name, it is the most abundant tree we have on this island. One can only imagine how lovely it would be as a landscape feature around a pretty white cottage. There are other trees, sometimes very unusual, always interesting, like the one which at present is leaf-less and bears a fruit like avocadoes in appearance, or the one which exposes half its roots in a thick, tangled mass between its gnarled trunks and dense foliage and the ground.

There are many brilliantly-colored flowers and blossoming shrubs. None of them is like anything that blooms in Colorado. I can give you only my impressions of them, a mass of red-blossomed bushes glowing in the morning sunshine; royal purple flowers gracing the ditch, along a road; flashy yellow blooms brightening the ruins of a farm house; dainty little pink flowers lighting up dark, shady spots; and delicate, heavily-scented, lily-like blossoms—these are typical on this island.

The abundance of sugar cane is remaining evidence of the chief occupation and agricultural products of these islands in recent years. This will be discussed at greater length in later sections of this book.

Of course grass grows rapidly, and weeds take root almost anywhere, even in the tents in which we live. In that respect these islands are hardly different from Colorado.

The fauna of the Marianas is not peculiar as say that of Australia, deer, wild boar, fruit bats, wild cattle, goats, fruit pigeons, wild ducks, and other jungle fowl make up most of the larger animals. There are several types of lizards. One is a small chameleon which is harmless. It thrives on insects and chirps lustily. Another is the slightly larger type with a bright pinks body and long brown tail; its bite is supposed to be infectious. The largest is the four-foot monitor with sharp teeth and claws, but it will sooner run away from you than try out its armament. One of the best features about these islands is the complete lack of danger from snakes. No cobras, rattlers, boas, or copperheads here. The only snake is called Typhlops Braminus, a harmless black little reptile four to six inches long and of the thickness of clothes-line wire. Except for a few cats and dogs which have wandered into our area, and the domesticated cattle, pigs, and black bulls penned near the civilian area, this enumeration accounts for the larger animals on the islands. Birds are not numerous, and most of them live among the cliffs and trees of the more rugged regions of the islands.

Yesterday morning I went for a little walk. Instead of returning by way of the road after I had delivered the mail to the post office, I cut a semicircle through the trees along the crest of a ridge overlooking the northern tip of this island. Beyond the rocky, wave-lashed shore stretched the Pacific, gray and calm, two stately tankers, gently rising and foiling, plunged ahead through the little waves evidently they were headed for the USA. Slowly they crossed the silver path where sunbeams played on the shimmering waters. Shadows from passing clouds raced across the bright water, and the breeze whisked about the smoke pouring out of one of the ship's funnels in lovely patterns. Going home! Oh, God, that heart-wrenching feeling!

At last when my eyes tired from the glare of the sea, I turned and continued on my way to the Squadron area. The ground on this part of the island is soft and spongy, and pierced here and there by sharp, gray coral rocks. The thin trunks of the trees swayed in the breeze, and their leaves whimpered softly. I noticed many snail shells in the area. Now snails are nothing to get excited about, but the moment I discovered a snail itself I had to stop and watch it. It glided smoothly over the damp earth and dead leaves, dodging twigs, going around rocks, feeling its way with its tentacles, moving along as gracefully as those ships at sea. A ribbon of wetness marked the way it had come. As I looked about I found many other snails in the immediate vicinity, all of them, like myself, out for a morning stroll, Their shells, light brown streaked with white, did not seem a burden to these brown gastropods (Phylum Mollusca, Carl Stark!). The moment I picked up one of the shells the antennae, at the ends of which the eyes are located, sank back into the head, and. the animal promptly withdrew into its shell, at the same time secreting a sticky clear liquid evidently for the purpose of making it repulsive to the holder. I was as fascinated by their appearance and behavior as Ulysses MacCauley watching the gopher in the opening scenes of The Human Comedy. Shortly after our arrival here, the cooks of one of the Air Service Groups collected a large number of these snail shells and arranged them on the ground in front of their tent to spell the word "cooks." The next day half the letters had walked away.

But I am forgetting the most abundant specimens of wild life we encounter, rats, mice, and ants. All my life I have done my utmost to avoid mice. I never had to put up with them even when I occupied a basement room at Loustalet's during my sophomore year at CSCE. Certainly I could never understand how Wilbert Proffitt could catch them, tame them (he said), and play with them. To me they always represented dirt, filth, disease. It took me fully three weeks to get sufficiently accustomed to their scampering around the tent in the evening. I don't jump up and scream any more while trying to imagine the sensation of having a mouse run up my trouser leg, and I have reached the point where I can manage to say "Whoosh!'' at them, as Ernie Hudson recommends. The mice look innocent enough, but I can not get out of my mind some of the stories men have told about being awakened at night by mice hopping across their chests, running along their arms, or scratching the palms of their hands. Only yesterday Pfc. Arthur J. Sullivan told me about the patient who fell asleep one night with a candy bar in his pajama pocket. He awoke the next morning to discover that a mouse had eaten through the pocket, the wrapper, and had gnawed at the candy.

As for that other pest, the rat, ugh! My skin tingles just to think of him. The only time I had seen a rat before I came to the Marianas was when Mr. Marvelli used to catch them in his chicken coops. The first rat I saw here while standing in the chow line one morning was darting through a pile of lumber strewn around the mess hall. A couple evenings later one appeared in our tent. He crouched there without flickering a whisker. Behind him stretched his long gray tail. The men who had been huddled over a game of "hearts" quickly forsook it.

"Throw a knife, Bymel," McBride whispered rather hoarsely.

"Here, give it to me, I'll throw it," brave Goldstein said.

My back was turned to them. I could see only the rat; he must have bewitched me. He seemed to be laughing at all the rumpus he was creating among us. Suddenly a knife hissed through the air, dug into the earth not quite an inch beyond his head. Without even looking at it, or at us, he turned around and leisurely rambled out of the tent.

The Supply Sergeant, Clarence F. Wheeler (lanky Freddy of South Amboy, New Jersey), told us how he was awakened one night by a fearful racket in the supply room. He sat up on his cot, reached over for a flash-light, turned it on to find a rat moving a box which two men had failed to budge during the day. That was enough for Clarence. The next day traps were procured and set. Since then four rats have been caught, and each interred with proper ceremony.

Another group of men in a pyramidal tent told me recently that every morning they wake up in time to watch a rat come traipsing down the tent pole and walk nonchalantly out the tent. Cpl. Robert Ong of Smog-City, Pennsylvania, showed me the trap he devised, but I'm afraid that Bob will be caught sooner than the rat.

These rats are large, about the size of young kittens, with a tail longer than their body. They do not burrow or gnaw, but prefer to snuggle in cozy nooks under trash heaps or rubble piles. They are capable of climbing vertical pipes, and can run on wires easily and with amazing celerity. They abound on the islands in great numbers, necessitating shots against bubonic plague. Is there a more eerie sound in the world than a rat's chomping under your bed at night?

No sketch of the Marianas would be complete without a mention of insects. Flies and mosquitoes are foremost among the aerial types. Keeping the bivouac area clean, using insect repellant and mosquito bars, the constant breeze, and aerial spraying of the islands have resulted in the curbing if not completely eliminating the danger from malaria and dengue fever. Flies are thus controlled too. Malaria and dengue fever discipline is constantly and rigidly enforced. Wherever water is stored in containers, as for instance, fire extinguishers, a film of oil is sprayed on the surface. All latrines are covered and well-screened, and garbage from the mess hall and living quarters is carefully disposed of. Certainly flies and mosquitoes are not as numerous as during the first days our troops were on these islands.

Centipedes and scorpions inhabit these islands and cock-roaches too. To date I have seen only one centipede, and despite all my worries prior to landing, I have encountered no scorpions. There are several kinds of butterflies, none larger than those we see in flower gardens at home. The most prevalent kind is one with black wings, a pale pinks dot on each wing near the center of the insect's body.

What rats and mice are to bigger animal life, ants are to the insect realm. I guess the islands simply could not exist without them. Far more than Jap air raids or Jap Military-at-Large our worst foes are these ants. There are grasshoppers, "Junior B-29's" Pfc. George Neeld dubbed them the first day; and there are moths and all sorts of bugs and crickets and spiders that frequent our tents at night. But they are nothing beside the goddam ants! They get into everything, no matter where you try to hide it. If you leave a bit of food on your footlocker, or drop some crumbs on the ground, in a matter of seconds it will turn into a boiling mass of ants. Overnight the wrapping paper of a candy bar will become an empty shell.

Cpl. Goldstein fell asleep one day with a piece of home-made fudge within reach. Seems that his "boss" Sgt. Jordan just got a package of the stuff from his girl. Goldie dozed only a few minutes when he felt a ticklish sensation on his arm. He awoke to find a little river of ants going and coming on his arm. The stream trickled down his shoulder to the fudge, then back up the shoulder, down the arm to the board on which Goldie had been lying, and from there it stretched interminably on the ground. Goldie says he still shivers very time he remembers the creepy sensation of ants crawling up and down his arm.

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