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All posts for the month September, 2015

[Tuttle and Major Lawless watched an engineer team practice installing a temporary bridge.]

At a whistle a gaggle of forty-some marginally uniformed men piled out of two trucks and spread out over the chosen work site. They ranged in age from teenage to forty-something. Another truck held sections of pre-fabricated frame work. One team of men got to work rigging sections to be lifted by a small tractor crane, which was then moving up into position between that truck and the planned span. The officers stood to one side pointing at nearby hills and depressions. The conversation I overheard was about what sort of security they would require to make a bridge here. Engineers are easy targets when up on the front line.

Two teams dug by hand to set the near side footers. Using the crane, the rigging team had laid out and connected the leading two ten foot long bridge sections and were rigging a third when the footer teams got their supports adjusted level with each other. By eye I figured they could cover this span with four sections, plus short on-off ramps. They could set the whole thing with two more lifts of the crane.

But then another whistle blew and everyone stopped to look. One of the officers jogged over to the crane and stepped up to the cab, telling the driver something over the sound of its compact diesel. The engine stopped as the officer stepped back down. The driver stood up, leaning out of the cab, with a dumb grin on his face. “This piece of equipment has been taken out of commission by ‘enemy action’. You fellahs are on your own!” The driver crawled out onto the front deck of his mechanical casualty and sat down to watch the show.

It was a good show. Confusion reigned for just a moment, workmen not sure which tools they should be holding. The officers in this bunch knew what they were doing though, and they jumped straight into the job. All the interconnected pieces were broken down. Every man, officer and enlisted, took hold of a hot steel bar and they walked each piece to the river bank and onto the waiting supports. Beads of sweat and expressions of profanity flowed off the men as they forced their will upon the heavy steel.

There are integrated rollers in this bridge system, so each piece can be rolled out half way, the next piece attached, and the deck extended progressively. The anchor men waded across with their tools to work on the receiving side, coming back several times for more tools and bigger levers. The entire bridge would need to be manhandled once the free end of it got across to the other supports. Eventually two large driftwood logs were commandeered into service as pry bars, and the span was set and ready for a test run.

The young fellows looked overly happy running vehicles across. First one drove an empty jeep and soon groups were riding over on the truck with all their tools. They had completed a satisfying job. I didn’t dare to remind them that their next job would be to come back and break down all those practice bridges.

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[Tuttle met an aspiring new writer while waiting out the rain in an Okinawan mess hall.]

By virtue of being in one place for a while, even though they are taxed by regular field exercises, some men have got a good bit of reading and writing done. One regular in our little library came by today looking for me. He wanted to pitch me on a book idea, before he went to the trouble of writing the rest of it.

I suppose that’s a normal thing, getting an advance to write a book, for a known writer. I’m not sure if it will work for Marine Corps Sergeant David Carr. Here all the way from Philadelphia, Sergeant Carr has been getting a taste of home from Raymond Chandler novels. I’m just a newspaper man, working for a newspaper publisher, so I can’t book anybody for a novel.

So here’s what I said I’d do. The knockout intro to his new spy thriller follows. Publishers take note!

I knew she was trouble the minute she came into my office. My office is a tank. Address: Half a barrel of gas from where it was yesterday.

She was Korean, born to Japanese parents. Her father had been a big shot with some big shot company in some big shot business. She was an orphan now – and a spy.

The fighting to get here was fierce. At least they told me it was. We haven’t seen any of it. Our job is to get this little lady to a dot on the map, then ditch her and pull back.

The whole operation, battalion size from the look of it, plus air support and artillery, was just for this little job. There’s not an anthill of terrain in this sector that either side cares about.

We’re in cramped quarters, but it’s not her fault. She’s tiny. The G-2 man with her however is big and loud. It’s too bad he has to come back with us…

That’s all you get for now, dear editors. Should you want rights on the rest, write for Sergeant David Carr, care of the 1st Marine Division. I for one am dying to see how he gets on with the Korean femme fatale, in the future tense.

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[Tuttle got to watch a bazooka range session, followed by a demonstration from an expert team.]

Hoots went out and big grins shown all around when the first rockets hit home. Sparks, flame, noise, and not a few flying chunks of former U.S. Army tank, M4A2 Sherman (zero mm gun), met their final resting place. Not every rocket found home, of course, and those shooters who missed risked getting fresh nicknames during the march back.

With the tank put permanently out of action several times over, and each pair having done a live fire drill, the instructors found there were exactly four rounds left. A question was put to the instructees, “How fast do you think a good team can put four aimed rounds on target? When you need to shut up an enemy gun, you need to make sure of it to save your buddies. So how quick can you make it happen?” After some murmuring a few answers rang out, “Three minutes!” to open, then a run down to “60 seconds!” before no one would go any lower.

The senior sergeant took dollar bets on that one minute over/under and told his privates to watch closely as two corporals took those four rockets to the center firing pit. I was volunteered to keep time, as the professional impartial observer. On my mark a martial ballet played out at a startling pace. I don’t think anyone looked at the rounds hitting, as they were watching nonstop action in the gun pit.

The loader danced from tube side to ammo side of the gunner in nonstop motion, putting a firm hand on the gunner’s helmet between each pass as a signal. I stopped my watch at 37 seconds, which was probably a little long as I watched the last round hit and the final bits of hot tank fragment fall back to the ground.

The column of Marines marched back to camp, a little wiser and about twenty dollars poorer.

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[Another big storm hit Okinawa, much stronger than the previous. It was not to be the last, nor the worst.]

Many tents were either torn from their rope anchors or simply ripped apart in place. The reader should note, the tent stakes in use here are not like what a civilian hiker has in his or her backpack. These are serious steel posts, driven into the earth with two-fisted hammers. Also the canvas of the tents is a heavy weave, and doped with sealant. The tents are tied down with taut ropes as thick as an adult finger. These are not trivial shelters. Still, the wind made them seem little better than a child’s couch cushion fort.

A check in the base hospital shows that there were injuries, some of them serious. Two dozen or so beds are freshly occupied, in a facility serving about 10,000 men, and I have reports of similar results elsewhere. There is no word yet on fatalities, but it is still early and there are piles of debris to sort through.

I didn’t have to go anywhere to observe damage to the fleet. From our battered tent camp (my particular shelter was one of the lucky ones), one can look directly down on Buckner Bay. Multiple transport and service ships are beached on the shore. A few have damage apparent even from this distance. I did go down to the bay to get better word. A tug captain tells me they’re going to start surveying the damaged ships and pulling the relatively healthy ones back out in the water. He won’t be the one doing it as his boat was smashed against a pier before being tossed ashore upside down.

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[A serious storm hit the island. No one knew that it was only the first of many, or that they would get worse every time.]

…Inside a solid building one hears strong wind whip around the corners and whistle through certain fissures when it turns just right. In a tent one hears the wind blowing around the tent, the tent fabric shifting and billowing, and every sound from outside as well. We couldn’t see the source of each noise, so every bump, crack, and rustle was a mystery.

One specter startled us like a noisy ghost. A rhythmic thump and rumble drew closer, quickly, from the direction of the bay. We all leaned that direction, straining to hear better. I for one jumped a foot off my cot when something suddenly pushed into the side of the tent, shoving the wall in a good foot.

I got volunteered, since I was up anyway, to go see what it was. I took one of the two lanterns we had lit and sloshed out into the rain, down off our wooden deck which had indeed stayed dry so far. Shortly I was standing over a rough wooden spindle, three feet long with 30 inch diameter rims. Someone had left an empty cable spool laying around and the wind took it. We had a new table.

Other tents were not so lucky. By daylight I took a quick survey and found many fellows wringing out their belongings, while their tent mates re-tied guy lines or added more heavy stakes. A few fellows walked by with borrowed shovels, looking to do their own drainage improvements.

A short convoy of an AMTRAC full of supplies, an ambulance, and a recovery vehicle ambled by. Several small units were out on maneuvers when the storm came. Some of them hadn’t been heard from. While scouts drove out looking for them, this ad hoc team was assembled to take out what they might need.

I for one am glad we got in a decent storm while many men are still here in training. If one hit in combat we’d be much less prepared.

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[Tuttle had a grandstand view for every manner of amusement, some of it put on by devious pranksters.]

…It is also not unusual to see a bridge drive by. Not a truck carrying bridge sections, but an actual self-propelled self-deploying bridge. It can drive up to a river bank, fold itself out over the span, and be driven right over.

Oh, there are people here besides the engineers. The bombers and long range fighters make some racket as they sortie and return. Ships come and go, taking supplies and liberty, heading back out into the fight or to bring us even more stuff.

The ground combat units here, who mostly just stayed on after conquering the place, are the 1st Marine Division, the 7th Infantry Division, and the 27th Infantry Division. The Army and Marine Corps units are camped generally on their respective sides of the island. They are refitting and retraining, as you might expect, but the pace of it leaves some of them restless.

Pranks are to be expected. Inter-service pranks especially. Add in the presence of a hundred thousand technical specialists, and the jokes can get intricate.

Colored smoke grenades are a favorite booby trap device so far. A delay mechanism is set in some way, so a machine will get along a ways before green or red smoke billows out from the engine compartment – or fills the driver’s cab. One group of on-looking Seabees thought it was hilarious to see an Army crane run straight over a jeep, the driver blinded by a well timed smoke bomb, until it turned out that it was the personal jeep of a Navy captain, who only got out a minute before.

Those Seabees kept the Navy officers’ latrines spic and span for the duration of their stay.

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