Huerfano County, Colorado
Lovdjieff Collection

NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.

Chapter VI


It is hard to imagine how the civilian natives reacted to our capture of these islands. It is hard for us to try to imagine it because few of us, if any, have been so scarred by war as to lose all our household possessions, our home towns, members of our families, our food, clothes, our whole way and habit of life.

"Recently, I heard John Mason Brown say that he felt it almost a disaster that we in America had not been bombed. He has no more desire than you, or I, to see American children mangled. But he feels, and justly so, the need for imagination to be shaken, hearts wounded, until complacency is torn out of us. He feels, as do others fresh from the front, that his attempt to give us realization of men's experiences at war is too often a shouting on deaf ears. Lavish spending . . . . black market weaving a sinister ugly mesh of lawlessness and greed and hardness of heart throughout our country . . . unwillingness to make room even on the edge of our imagination for the psychic injuries that killing inflict for wreckage of men's dreams, for the terrible loneliness which is harder to bear than physical danger: this turning away, this refusal to identify with the suffering and sacrifice of the young is a sight hard on eyes that have so recently looked at unnumbered acts of heroism done so simply, as jobs that must be done. Though many of us have never for a moment believed that war is necessary, that it solves human problems, or that 'good' can come out of it, few of us realize the profound evil that it loosens in men's spirits. When we learn to assess this psychic damage, when we place its total side by side with the awful waste of lives and energies and materials, when we find the intellectual courage to add to this sum the appalling stunting of children's bodies and emotions, then surely the human spirit will turn in loathing, and refuse to use war as a means to get anything, whether it be riches, or national power, or 'sovereignty' — or freedom, for what will freedom mean to a generation too weak to use it.

The natives here have actually suffered the loss of their hones and mode of life. One thing certain, if we were in their place we too would have more than blinked our eyes at American might. Even we who have lived in an industrial and mechanized America would have been numbed at the sight of the task force with its countless ships, planes, guns, and men. In the path of its fierce power, towns, farmhouses, Jap communications centers, fortifications cracked and crumbled like charred logs in a fireplace. The sugar mill on Tinian was now completely demolished. Great steel and iron girders, wheels, machinery, boilers, and vats with walls a half-inch, thick were pierced, splintered, and wrinkled like bits of tin foil. Shell craters dotted the islands, and almost wherever you looked you could see shell casings and bomb fragments, debris littered with rags and torn bodies, ugly in death and iced with flies. The stench of battle hung like a cloud of incense in the humid air. In Agana the gray, weather beaten cathedral, stood like a tumbled-down sand-table structure. One section of its roof remained intact. This was supported by splintered beams and uncertain walls perforated with shell holes. Not a trace of stained glass or sashes remained.

As if battle and sniper wounds were not enough, as if living in pup tents in the middle of the rainy season were not enough, Americans were plagued by swarms of flies and mosquitoes. The troops had to guard against dysentery, against untreated ground water, raw or unwashed vegetables, against going barefoot because of the sharp coral and the danger of hookworm. They had and in some measure must still watch out for contagious skin diseases like impetigo, eye and ear infections, athlete's foot, and other fungi infections. The warm, moist air of these islands is especially conducive to the growth of fungi.

Another of the effects of the battle was the destruction of whatever roads and railroads existed prior to the invasion. There were few of these to be sure, for in this respect Japanese development was sad indeed. The railroads were a miniature, narrow gauge affair used in hauling cut cane from the fields to the mill. More often than not its locomotion was human energy. One of the first jobs the Seabees tackled was road construction, and what progress they have made! Today, to cite an example, two roads running the length of Tinian, Broadway and Eighth Avenue are wide, four-lane highways with parkings of trees and grass left untouched dividing the lanes into one-way thorough-fares.

There was hardly a lull between the sounds of exploding shells and the, noises of our construction machinery. Bull-dozers, haul trucks, cranes, big shovels, rollers, generators, and so on, made their way clumsily from freighters anchored in harbors onto "ducks," thence to shore installations remembered affectionately as DP's (Distribution Points), and finally to the various places where they were assigned. In the driving rains men pitched their pup tents and subsisted on C and K rations for many weeks. Here and there the first Quonset huts reared their caterpillar bodies. Shore batteries and anti-aircraft installations were set up, and the mysterious webbed hands of radar apparatus stuck out of heavily camouflaged shelters. Construction of warehouses, communications centers, airfields, control towers commenced quickly. Two dangers were ever present: enemy aircraft and enemy snipers.

" . . . Two lone palm trees, now on duty with the Army as electric-line poles, were once standing on the surface of the island. Aviation engineers have scooped out millions of tons of coral rock for roads and airstrips, leaving these two lone trees jutting up as symbols of their progress.

"But it is not only geography that has changed in the Marianas. Bombardment groups and aviation engineers ran in on the heels of the invading ground forces. The island was still infested with Jap snipers.

"Quite aside from the menace of enemy survivors, the mere business of keeping alive was a battle. Men found shelter from the pelting tropic rains where they could--in one-time geisha, houses, warehouses, hangars, all smashed by the terrific bombardment that preceded the invasion. The destruction had ripped loose thousands of square feet of corrugated tin which was used to cover fox-holes and build lean-to's.

“Dengue-bearing mosquitoes swarmed over the island and stabbed anyone who wasn't under a net by nightfall; their victims could only sweat out eight days of wishing they were dead. Many men kept going with raging fevers rather than collapse in the mud or a flooded foxhole.

"Chow was strictly C ration, unless somebody 'accidentally' shot a cow or a goat. Open season held on chicken, but such kills were usually eaten privately.

"Rank went by the boards in the early days of the occupation. Insignias were torn off as long as there was sniper danger. There was no saluting, and everybody was 'Butch' to everybody else. Clerks, KP's, officers, and crewmen were welded together, and nobody rode herd on anybody else."'

It was on June 21st, 1944 that the aviation engineers of the 'flying castles' went to work (on Saipan). Within the first 24 hours they filled 600 holes and craters and watched the first VII American Air Force Thunderbolt fly in to a safe landing.

"By June 26th, the engineers had added another 1000 feet to the former Japanese runway and covered it with stripping. They began construction of a field for fighters, transport planes, and the coming B-29's and started digging coral at hillside quarries. This was carried away at the rate of a truck-load every 40 seconds, 24 hours daily for several months. (Note: On Tinian this record was surpassed for there a truck-load of coral was dumped on the airfields every 11 seconds.)

"Between the quarries and the field a highway was built over which a fleet of more than 100 dump trucks raced day and night at 40 miles an hour. (Still wondering why gasoline, auto parts, and tires are scarce?)

"In, mid-October Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansel, Jr., of San Antonio, Texas, ... landed the first B-29 on Saipan."

"The Saipan end of that long but passable road--the Tokyo Turnpike--is paved with asphalt and crushed rock, and that crushed rock is the exclusive production of an Engineer Construction Battalion. . . .

"After two months of 'rest' and reorganization, following 10 months in the South Pacific, this battalion, under Lt. Col. Donald L. McClain boarded a transport and made a Cook's tour of the Central Pacific before finally arriving at Saipan July 6th.

"The next two nights are still 'must dates' on the memory list of the majority of the men, for the bivouac area was only a few miles from the fighting and in front of the artillery.

"Enemy planes heightened the entertainment, while Jap artillery on Tinian took pot--shots at the nearby airfield--and their aim is notoriously poor.

"Within two days the battalion was operating 10 miles of the Saipan railroad, unloading and assembling equipment, and salvaging Jap engineer material. Early construction jobs included AACS buildings and temporary hospital facilities.

"A particularly pleasant assignment was the building of the nurses' quarters.

"One job report states 'some difficulty was caused by enemy sniper activity at night.' This terse account does not mention that this was the day patrols by this one platoon accounted for over 30 dead Japanese soldiers.

"The basic mission of this battalion on Saipan was to quarry and crush rock for the surfacing of asphalt runways, taxiways, and hard-stands for B-29 bombers. By July 15 one quarry was in the process of being opened and a 150-ton per hour crusher and screening plant erected.

"The assembling of a Pioneer Portable Crusher is a project in itself, for the primary unit alone comes dismantled in 30 crates, grieve then with M Sgt. K. White, of Taft, California, when he found that not only were vital tools missing, but many parts warped and damaged in transit. Grieving, however, won't get it done, so the sergeant and his colleagues at the Kapikai Welding Shop set to work and by August 5th the crusher was in operation.

"The next big problem was quarrying the rock. The site selected was a cliff near the airport. The rock was there, a marbleized coral-limestone formation, "but it was blanketed with about an acre of clay. Bulldozers and shovels, however, soon had the clay stripped and the quarry was ready for production. . .

"Blasting rock loose is usually done by drilling holes in a pattern, packing the holes with dynamite and setting it off in such a manner as to give each charge maximum efficiency. Only a few men in the Battalion were skilled in quarry work. To them goes the credit for training drill and powder crews.

"An Ingersoll-Rand pneumatic drifter wagon drill mounting is an efficient machine for drilling rock, but the wear-and-tear on its human attendants is terrific. With the weather at its hottest and wettest, dengue fever filling the sick book, and the chow a monotonous repetition of "beans and C ration stew, these drill crews worked eight to ten-hour shifts, seven days a week and drilled the holes.

"Today these crews average 100 feet per drill in an eight-hour shift--considered good by civilian standards.

"The demand for asphalt was by this time too great for one plant to handle, so in 15 days Sgt. White erected another complete crusher near a new quarry site developed from a large crater.

"In the early stages, this quarry was subjected to much sniper activity, but nothing like that can floor an engineer, so the work progressed. Getting the rock here was often a matter of splitting boulders with jack-hammer drilled holes.

"Behind the devastating assault of the first B-29 raid on Tokyo was a story of amazing accomplishment. When our amphibious forces seized Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, in the lower Marianas, 'Tokyo Rose' soft-spoken. Japanese propagandist, belittled the importance of the invasion, saying that sizeable airfields could not be hewn out of the rocky surfaces of the volcanic islands."

"Saipan runways are the longest in the Pacific (up to 1 December 1944). They are the first to be asphalt concrete surfaced--a system that is the most expensive, yet built in the outposts to meet the needs of the B-29's requirements which exceed all previous concepts of engineering and supply basing for long-range bombers."

The New York Times Magazine for 14 January 1945 contained an article, by Sidney Shalett entitled "Plane's Eye-View of the Pacific War," in which Mr. Shalett records his impressions of a recent tour of various island bases out here. By way of introduction he says, "When you fly 2400 miles from Oakland to Pearl Harbor in eleven and one-half hours, or 2700 miles from Pearl Harbor to Eniwetok in less than thirteen hours, it's hard to appreciate logistics. You forget that while you are covering 200 miles and better in one hour, a supply-laden freighter or a troop transport does exceedingly well to make thirteen or fourteen miles.

"But when you fly over a convoy, doggedly plodding through the endless ocean and before you can get a good look at it the bobbing nose of the lead ship is only a speck behind the twin-tail of your four-engined magic carpet, you begin to suspect what logistics means. Then you set foot on some minute coral stepping stone and see, piled amid the shell-amputated coconut stumps, the mountains of supplies that the unlovely gray ships must haul to satisfy the appetite of the Pacific War. . .


"The young Navy lieutenant at Susupe, the internment camp for more than 14,000 Japanese civilians captured on Saipan, gave an alliterative spelling of the Japanese word: 'Dekimas'ka,' he spelled. 'It means, “is it possible?" You use it if you wish to tell a Japanese in a polite way to do something.'

"We thought of a different way we might use the phrase 'Dekimas'ka' in connection with Saipan. Was it really possible we had done so much, in so little time? The Japanese had had the island more than twenty years; we took, after one of the bloodiest struggles only last July. Already it was our first big Superfortress base in the Pacific, the monster B-29's rising from its coral run-ways on their sworn mission to make Japan 'bleed internally.' Army planes had dusted the island with DDT to knock out dengue and other diseases. There was a gigantic coral quarry; carved out of a mountain in ninety days, where the working lights blazed brightly all night. On one of the many highways leading to a critical project, drivers of the 6 x 6 trucks loaded with material from the quarry had set themselves a schedule of one truck passing a given point every twenty seconds, twenty-four hours a day, (The Japanese, incidentally, when they move on to an island, do their construction work on a toy-gauge railway, pushed by hand.)


"Guam is like Saipan. Tough Hank Larson, the Marine major general who is island commander, told us that Guam was going to be a 'little Pearl Harbor.' Some time later it became obvious what he meant when the story was published that Admiral Nimitz was moving CINUPAC headquarters to Guam. Guam, a big island (225 square miles), has everything--harbors, staging areas, training camps, airfields, supplies, hospitals, a great naval operating base in the making. While we were there we couldn't help thinking of the perennial row back home as to just whose fault it was that we were tardy about fortifying this valuable bastion, thus making it so easy for the Japanese to take it away from us. We have it back now, and there is no longer any question about asking Congress for the money to fortify Guam. The way it looks, it isn't likely that the Japs or any other people are likely to take it from us again.

“We've had Guam since 1899 and the Guamanians, having had good treatment at our hands, have been our loyal friends like the Filipinos. When the Americans returned to the island, the residents of Agana, the capital, who actually were proud of the fact that virtually every building in this city of 12,000 was damaged by our bombardment, came out of the hills to greet us with unrestrained joy."


Robbin Coons, Associated Press Correspondent at a B-29 base on Tinian wrote this article on 20th February 1945. The following excerpts were headlined in one newspaper, TINIAN BECOMES MAJOR AIR BASE. "This greatest, of B-29 bases--probably the greatest military airdrome in the world--throbs night and day with an ordered frenzy of construction activity designed to achieve further impossible goals within impossible deadlines.

"The impossible already has been accomplished, It has been done, is still being done, by the application of tremendous quantities of American machinery, sweat, ingenuity and spirit to the island's only useable raw materials, coral and water.

"Along the white, hard-packed coral roads . . . jeeps and trucks and tractors are racing.

"Under white moonlight or blazing sun, under sudden shower or warm dry winds the work goes on. Scattered Japanese air raids were as ineffectual in halting it as were numerous other obstacles.

"This island is separated from Saipan only by a narrow strait, and only one hour by air north of Guam, reverberates dully at intervals with blastings at the local coral quarries. Dump trucks are waiting to load the crumbled rock, to scurry in endless shuttling lines to the latest of B-29 fields being completed. Power shovels carry-alls, mighty hammering drills rend the air in purposeful symphony with the intermittent roar of big planes overhead--the planes which are the reason for Tinian's military being.

"There were grins on the faces of army, marine, navy, and air men all over Tinian as the word went around: 'We've been announced,' Before that, Guam and Saipan made the headlines and Tinian was under wraps--to the public--as a 'Marianas base.' Yanks on Tinian are proud of their island and of their work. A mighty joint effort by all hands. . .

"Plans for 'laying out' the island were completed long before the American assault. Because Captain Paul J. Halloran, commander of the 6th U. S. Naval Construction Brigade, is a New Yorker, he noted a similarity in outline between Tinian and Manhattan islands, and laid it out Manhattan-style, with a Broadway, a Chinatown, a Central Park, (Riverside Drive, Canal Street, 42nd Street) and other metropolitan landmarks. He studied the small Japanese air strips from the air, and as soon as possible he flew and landed on these strips and all other possible sites, selecting the best. Five months after the assault, the first B-29's landed on the first of the series of giant runways. . . .

"Brigadier General Frederick Von H. Kimble of the Army Air Forces, who is Island Commander, declares that Tinian's air fields, with their coral construction, can take any airplane of any weight now in existence.

'This island,' he says, presents the greatest potential striking power of any base I know--and it is within striking distance of the enemy.'

"To endorse that statement, you have only to stand on a hill-top and look down one of the air-strips, with its giant ships burnished proudly in the sun, its ground crews working at top speed to ready them for missions.

''Elsewhere on the island you can see bulldozers tearing through cane fields, clearing and leveling sites for further construction. While the Japanese held Tinian, sugar was the island's main industry. Its principal crop now, and (for) the duration, is giant winged troubles aimed at Tokyo.”

Here is a picture of the Marianas today which pretty well summarizes this chapter. "(The islands) are both thrilling and engaging right now. Scores of thousands of troops of all kinds are here. Furious building is going on. Planes arrive on schedule from all direction as though this were Chicago Airport--only they've come thousands of miles over water. Convoys unload unbelievable tonnages.

"These islands will hum throughout the war and they will never return to their former placid life, for we are building on almost every inch of useable land.

"Fleets can base here between engagements. Combat troops train here. Other troops come back to rest. Great hospitals are set up for our future wounded. Pipelines criss-cross the islands. Trucks, bumper to bumper, dash forward as though they were on the Western Front. Ox-cart trails turn almost overnight into four-lane macadam highways for military traffic.

"There is no blackout in the islands. If raiders come the lights are turned off, but they seldom come any more. The Marianas are a pretty safe place now.

"Thousands of square tents, thousands of curved steel Quonset huts, thousands of huge, permanent warehouses and office buildings dot the islands.

"Lights burn all night and the roar of planes, the clank of bulldozers and the clatter of hammers is constant. It is a strange contrast to the stillness that dwelt amidst this greenery for so many centuries.”

The other day a ship unloaded its cargo onto a pier in this island's harbor. This is the first time this has happened. To us who landed via "ducks" this is remarkable progress. But even we, deeply impressed as we are, probably feel none of the profounder thrill the engineers experienced in standing by and watching the first ship come in safely after weeks of arduous labor building a breakwater, dredging, driving piles and covering them with coral gravel. So simply--almost glibly said, yet how gigantic and back-breaking a job it was.

Return to the Huerfano County Home Page
© Karen Mitchell