[After finally getting ashore on Okinawa, Tuttle was shown around the island.]
“Job one here was air fields. The Army went right for the two big ones when we landed here at the beginning of April. By mid month they were flying fighters out of there directly into the fight.” We crested the center ridge line of the island just then and I could see the handy work of the engineers at Kadena and Yontan airfields. New long runways, composed largely of local coral, shone in the sun. Aircraft parking areas ran off in all directions, and more were being graded. “The 8th Air Force is still coming over from England, picking up B-29s along the way. Two other air forces are already here, running long range fighters and medium bombers.”
I asked about some large tent camps that were briefly in sight at the northernmost leg of our journey. I could just make out barb wire topped fences around the camps. “Those are for the Okinawan civilians, and the Jap POWs. For now they’re one and the same to us. Interrogators are sorting them out, which is gonna take a while. But it’s not like there’s anywhere for the actual civilians to go anyhow.”
We turned to the south, along the west coast of the island, and the narrative turned to shipping. “Once the airfields were laid down, the top priority was getting the ports dolled up. Naha,” he pointed just ahead and to the right, “has the only port to speak of here, but it’s small. As you saw we set up dozens of new piers in the other bay to add capacity.”
The race is on to get enough port capacity to support the big bombers once they get up to speed here. All that bomb tonnage has to go from shore-to-ship-to-shore before it is delivered by air to Japanese factories and harbors and airfields. I was deposited back on to the largely naval side of the island, where I could forage for basic essentials I would need until my luggage showed up from Guam.
A stunning bit of news came and stuck around today. Unofficial reports say the large cruiser USS Indianapolis was sunk with great loss of life over a week ago. I checked up and there is no official word or press report about it, but guys ‘in the know’ swear that radio traffic went around about a big search and rescue operation that should be still going on.
One of my new tent mates is particularly anxious for news. Warrant Officer Henry Weber served on the Indy with her float plane team until last October. He was an old salt compared to most recruits coming in. “We had just taken on a batch of new kids in the aviation group when I was transferred. I took a real shine to my one machinist’s mate. I hope Mitchell got off, and good word gets to his momma. He used to write home just about every day.”