[Tuttle wrote in real time as he was flown over the U.S. Navy’s island-smothering buildup on the Mariana Islands.]
Our plane ascends into an expansive blue field of distant white puffs, scattered high clouds well above our sight-seer’s flight plan. We start west bound, with a warm mid-morning sun behind us. As we gain altitude Tom makes a long lazy turn to the north. We level off and he points out some of the minor islands north of Saipan. After the big fighting was over we secured a few of them. Others are simply cut off. Whatever Japanese garrisons are left there will be tending vegetable gardens until the end of the war.
Turning back to the south, we pass Saipan on our right. Some areas where the fighting was hard are still pock marked and denuded. Other substantial areas are clear-cut and developed, including multiple airfields larger than the one we left. The 2nd Marine Division is camped somewhere between the clusters of runways and rows of Quonset huts. The rapidity of development since just last fall is awesome.
Tinian comes up quickly, and if our bases on Saipan are impressive, Tinian is simply gob-smacking. The whole island looks like it lost a fight with a giant cat. Parallel lines of broad white scratches cut across it at irregular intervals, with raw blisters of new buildings and other facilities ringing each big paw swipe. The largest ‘wound’ is called simply North Field, which has four parallel 8,000 foot runways and scattered parking for a secret but triple-digit number of heavy bombers.
Tom intends to cut across the middle of Tinian, to get me a better look, and communicates that to the appropriate party by radio. He is reminded to steer clear of the north end of the island, but otherwise cleared. We cut altitude and airspeed and move toward the center of the island, which from a low approach still looks tranquil and lush with green fur. Clearing the first line of trees, and conspicuous gun emplacements, the scene changes quickly.
I can barely see the ground for all the variety of patrol planes, long range fighters, inky black night fighters, and broad acres of shiny metal bombers. Most are parked out in the open, on pads off of curving paths that slink off of the runways and service ramps. The pads are scattered and staggered so an attacker can’t wreck a bunch of parked aircraft at once, but I think I could drop a rock from this plane at random and have even odds on dinging two of them in one go.
A southerly turn and another twenty some minutes flying brings us to Guam. I am still writing notes about Tinian as the facilities on Guam make themselves clear. Guam is the new home-away-from-home for a large part of the United States Marine Corps. The scene from Tinian is repeated, a dense clutter of war material making up most of the landscape. But the shiny bombers are here replaced by long rows and expansive clusters of tents, Quonset huts, and a growing variety of more permanent structures.
Guam today hosts two divisions of the United States Marine Corps. Before the war there wasn’t even such a thing as a Marine Corps division. Now there are six.