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All posts for the month July, 2015

[It wasn’t all work and no play even in the raw Pacific theater.]

Baseball is nuts here. Every base has a team, with natty custom uniforms and groomed fields to play on. Every field unit, down to battalion size or even smaller, has a competitive team with whatever equipment they can get a hold of. Somehow every ship with more than 9 sailors on it shows up with a team itching to play (I suppose they practice over the water with sharks and rays as bases). Leagues form up spontaneously any time two teams are within a day hike of each other. The Navy formally organizes a larger league for the whole Marianas. You’ve probably read about the top level leagues run by the military. If you don’t follow, know that last year Navy beat Army for the “Pacific World Series” in Hawaii. Both are dead serious about putting up good teams for the rematch this year.

Today a top-flight match was played on a professionally laid field. Construction teams here did not neglect sport and recreation facilities, and Trimble Field is one of their best. Named after Jimmy Trimble, who passed on a pro contract to fight with the Marines and was killed at Iwo Jima, the field has a fine scoreboard and a few small grandstands. The top teams of the Third and Sixth Marine divisions faced off for a full nine inning game. It’s an open secret that major leaguers in the military are kept out of risky combat roles, but the Marine divisions still have plenty of ringers.

I hitched a ride up to the field, which wasn’t hard because practically everyone was heading there. Upon arrival I gave up hope of watching much of the action. The few grandstands were burdened with brass, and guys were standing ten or twenty deep along the foul lines, all the way out further than Ty Cobb’s longest home run. People watching was going to be my sport for the afternoon.

Baseball on Guam, 1945

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[For the first time Tuttle got to watch a large bomber attack form up and head off into the sunset toward Japan.]

The large Army air bases are fifteen miles from where I am near the giant naval station, but the bombers can be heard before they even get airborne. The insistent hum from thousands of cylinders in hundreds of radial engines shoves through the few gaps in the range of hills that cover Guam. The hum becomes an angry buzz as the engines rev and the 200 inch diameter propellers rip into the warm evening air, pulling the planes in close groups down parallel runways. The sound sharpens and takes focus as pairs of bombers come into view past the hills that had hidden them, slowly climbing over the water.

The evening sun warms each shiny silver bird with a fiery orange hue. I think it must look much the same when they circle back over a freshly fire-bombed city, widespread fires lighting up the sky as the injured city calls out her attackers in the sky.

The planes turn and continue climbing, moving to where they will meet bomber groups from the other islands. On each mission dozens or hundreds of planes from Guam meet a similar number from Tinian and/or Saipan. Together they pick up dozens or hundreds of fighter escorts near Iwo Jima.

The whole force moves toward Japan, where it will either split up or focus on just one large or important target. At night aiming points are found by radar. Coast line features, river junctions, and large landmarks show up well on even the most basic set. Thankfully Japanese defense radar and night fighters haven’t been very effective so far. That was a big unknown when the Army Air Force first started night bombing runs last spring, and at that time they had no option of fighter cover.

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[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.

Seabees base on Guam 1945

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[As always, Tuttle took time to sit down with the low ranking servicemen who make everything work.]

Over lunch I talked to some of the technicians based here. They work in different units, each of which has a job to do that changes as each base evolves. The Navy has got base building itself down to an art form, after lots of practice. Building an airfield, operating an airfield, operating planes out of the airfield, and doing heavy maintenance are jobs of different units. They each move into a new area in that order, just as some of the people and gear from the previous units are moving on to the next raw island.

Warrant Officer Lloyd Daniel, of Livingston, Montana, ran a team of earthmovers as the Seabees were expanding the small air strip the Japanese had here before. That airstrip is now almost twice as long as it was, and it has new brothers. His bulldozers are somewhere in the Philippines now, and most of his team is right behind them. He expects to fly out after finishing paperwork here.

Herman Davis, from Bowling Green, Florida, is an electrician’s mate with the unit that actually runs the base. They take over from the Seabees, and “make it civilized,” as he says. Sitting next to him is aviation ordnanceman Tom Close, of Pensacola, Florida. Tom works on guns and bomb racks, and often runs parts for the heavy maintenance guys.

I found these guys from different units sitting together not because of their common professional interests, but because of baseball. They are the core of the infield for the base team, and they’re worried about what to do for a shortstop once Mr. Daniel leaves. I’m sure they’ll do fine, but they’re from a relatively small base. The other bases each have a top notch squad, as does each combat division in the Marianas. They have a competitive league going, and big games coming up.

I asked the guys about other topics of interest, like the British election and the big conference at Potsdam, Germany. I couldn’t get a stated opinion on any of it, though they get regular world news here. They are much less concerned about how Prime Minister Clement Attlee will get along with President Truman than the number of combat aircraft they can help get in the air over Japan. They will debate the Potsdam proceedings only after the Japanese throw their own guns into the sea and give up.

Atlee, Truman, Stalin at Potsdam

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[Tuttle kept up writing during his long journey across the Pacific.]

The Navy runs a fine airline. I am just settling in from a series of flights, island to island, on NATS, the Naval Air Transport Service. It must be right to call NATS an airline, because it has its own in-flight magazine, updated monthly. The magazine has everything one would find in a commercial airliner publication: travel tips, information about destinations served, news about partner airlines, and features about the different aircraft flown and general airline operations. Except, in this case the details are decidedly special interest: safe handling of explosive souvenirs, care of the injured in Guam, the Navy taking over planes and routes from Pan Am, and forced-air warming of planes which stop in northern Alaska.

The humor section of the current magazine includes a bit about one hard-fighting Marine who swears he is done fighting forever, even with his mother-in-law. Letters to the editor and assorted amusements fill out the magazine inside its two-color cover. I left the Jean Parker pin-up photo for the next fellow.

The Navy has brought me to the Mariana Islands, specifically to a base they call Marpi on the northern coast of Saipan. Saipan is the northern most of the three major islands we hold here. It is part of what the Japanese took to be the main line of defense of their enlarged empire. It took several flights to get here from Hawaii.

Seats on NATS flights are normally hole-in-one carnival prizes for anyone who doesn’t have explicit orders to move across the ocean at aircraft speeds. On short notice I squeezed on to an already overloaded R5D (Navy name for the C-54, which is the Army name for the DC-4) cargo plane which was going straight through to Manila, stopping only for gas. The hold was jammed full, mostly with a ‘confidential’ cargo . The crew was happy not to have the usual load of VIP passengers to fuss over. With their plane full of cargo they had just one passenger seat to offer, and they practically recruited me to fill it instead of someone actually important.

My “air hosts,” including the actual air host, showed me one special feature of our plane. It has refrigerated storage, just for bringing whole blood across to combat areas, several hundred crated pints at a time. There were a few dozen units loaded on my trip, and you may wonder why, as there is little active combat and the blood only lasts a few weeks if well cared for. Not all injuries come from combat. In fact, only a narrow majority of casualties in most campaigns are a direct result of being bombed or shot at. We have well over a million men out here moving around, building things, or practicing destroying things. Injuries happen, and all of them are a long way away from anything you would recognize as a hospital.

The hosts I mentioned for the flight were Lieutenant Frank Spalek and Lieutenant Carl Kube on the flight deck, and Flight Orderly Raymond Holman, coincidentally all from different parts of Nebraska. A flight orderly is to the passenger just a steward or flight attendant, but they also do half the work of the ground crew and all the work of the galley crew on a civilian flight. If a box of cargo comes loose or a life jacket is misplaced or a passenger gets a cold cup of coffee, it’s on the record of the flight orderly.

NATS Packet cover, July, 1945

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[Tuttle got to watch Navy sailors in an amphibious landing practice, under live fire.]

The Heyliger ran parallel to the beach, from left to right, in front of where the assault boats were lining up at the hands of their green crews. We came about and made another pass in the opposite direction, as the three or four dozen boats finalized their formations (with much yelling and flag waving and not a few expletive-laden constructive criticisms).

Then the boats were off. We made a lazy turn out to sea to let them pass, then hurried in to move across behind them. At this point they were still about a mile from shore. Our five inch mounts roared out more shells, shooting over the heads of the men in the tiny bobbing craft, as many more and larger ships would do in a real assault.

Lieutenant Logan assures me that all the sailors have piloted these boats many times in practice. But this is their first live-fire test, and it shows. The natural instinct under fire is to duck – but it’s hard to drive a boat that way. Some boats drifted out of their lanes, then jerked back into formation. Some kept drifting, and I saw a couple near misses.

We got past the lines of assault craft, where I thought we would stop and watch. But we kept up speed and turned inland, quickly overtaking the first wave. Just when I was sure we would run aground the ship made another hard turn back out to sea, and we started making smoke.

The breeze was up and down today, but right then it was up. The smoke screen walked briskly down the shallows of the beach. Visibility couldn’t have been more than twenty feet. We couldn’t observe the boats any more, of course, but by this time observers on land were moving in to greet the boats, grading each young ‘captain’ on where he put his boat, compared to where it was supposed to be. It hardly seems fair, but unfairness is what some say is practically the definition of war.

Destroyer making smoke in practice near the Hawaiian Islands

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[Tuttle watched people play as well as work, and Hawaii was a great spot for play even in war time.]

A soldier, sailor, or Marine can find something to do or see on any budget of time or money. Small shows run all afternoon and well into the evening, as late as the recently relaxed curfew and blackout rules will allow. Surfboards and small boats can be rented. Young men are always looking for a contest. It is now regular sport for crews from different units to race the fast traditional outrigger row boats as soon as they learn how to handle them with even minimal proficiency. You can bet some wagers are taken on those races.

Speaking of vice, prostitution was still legal here until late last year. The tax office is not happy about the regulated trade going away. The Army and Navy medical staffs are worried about a jump in venereal disease rates. What hasn’t changed is that there are thousands of young men here with time and money on their hands.

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[Tuttle took care to paint the background scene for readers back home. The details he included are missing in other histories, the ones about presidents and generals.]

Today I wanted to see some of the island myself before I saw more of the military side. I looked for a ride over to the famous Waikiki beach a bit to the east of downtown Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. A poster of bus routes reminds riders that priority should be given to military personnel and civilian war workers going about their needful business. Some people tell me that my work is important to the war effort, but I still looked around for busier looking riders before getting on a bus.

One errand they ran me through yesterday was to change out some of my currency for “Hawaiian” money. Wary of Japanese invasion, which seemed inevitable just three years ago, the government called in all the paper money from people in Hawaii so that it couldn’t fall into enemy hands. But with a half million inhabitants and likely millions of servicemen and support people about to be moving in, there was a need for replacement cash, pronto.

The expedient-if-inelegant solution was to stamp “HAWAII” on the front and back of millions of existing bank notes. I suppose a lot of the marked notes will become souvenirs someday. Right now mine is marked for lunch money and bus fare.

Honolulu bus map, 1945

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[On this day Tuttle witnessed a big to-do with traveling VIPs and had dinner with a one of the base officers to talk about it.]

“From there I can only speculate.” I naturally encouraged his speculation. “MacArthur wants something, and is going to the highest levels to get it. Truman is away, still on a boat heading to Europe .” Commander Lambert poked the air with his fork to emphasize the next point, “It would be just like MacArthur to make an end-around play and put his guys in front of the real decision makers while the President is away.”

I asked rhetorically if they would be in such a hurry if it was a scheme planned in advance. The Potsdam conference was scheduled months before. It looked to me more like something had come up suddenly, and they wanted a quick decision, before some other impending thing happened.

Commander Lambert considered it a moment and agreed. “It’s one of those things we’ll probably never know about. Things will just happen one way, and we’ll never even think about how it could have been done differently, with who knows how different a result. People have a funny way of thinking about history as a string of inevitable outcomes.”

On that we also agreed, as we split the bill and looked for a ride back to base. My own flight out is due to leave tomorrow. After one last check of my luggage I will turn in and get ready for the long passage west to the other end of the world.


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[In this snippet from the book, Tuttle takes the time to learn from the enemy’s ancient teachers.]

In preparation for my adventure in the Pacific, I took to reading up on the Japanese and what it is they read. In Japan they look at ancient Chinese texts the way we read ancient Greek plays, history, and philosophy. One of the oldest texts on the topic at hand is a short treatise called The Art of War, by a fellow they call Sun Tzu. At the time of writing, Chinese lords had been fighting back and forth for territory and prestige for over a thousand years. They’d made a regular business out of it, and Sun Tzu had plenty of examples to work from.

One section caught my eye, about fighting far away from home and how enormously expensive it is. Sun Tzu even listed tables of expenses and his commentators gave logarithmic ratios of how it’s a hundred times more expensive to fight ten times farther away. When there are chariots carrying nothing but spare parts for other chariots, and food for the chariot drivers, and food for the troops guarding the chariots, only a fraction of the supplies that leave home will actually get to the army in the field. Fighting far away from home is terribly expensive.

In this war we literally could not be fighting any farther from home, unless the Japs have a base on Mars and we decide to attack that too.

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