GUAM

Barber's Point lies on the southwest corner on Oahu, just west of the inlet to Pearl harbor. It was here that the real staging was to take place, that of organizing and equipping ourselves to maintain all kinds of Navy aircraft. By now, it was increasingly obvious that we were going to be a part of an invasion force headed for some yet to be Japanese island campaign. At Barber's Point, there were tents for enlisted men and Quonset huts for the officers. Discipline was rigorous.

Our Personnel Officer found that out the hard way, unfortunate for him. He and a carousing friend were returning through the front gate late one night, both intoxicated. The gates were guarded by armed Marines. He paid no attention to the guard's command to stop whereupon the Marine did what he had been ordered to do - shot him as he drove into the restricted area beyond the gate. Marines don't miss. He died on the spot. No one played games or took security lightly after that episode.

We were getting well organized and building up our test equipment inventory when the word came down that we were to cut forces from 430 officers and men down to 125 total. My Radio- Radar operation was allotted 21 total. I had the unpleasant duty of selecting those who would stay in Pearl and those who would go. I ended up with a couple of young Chief Aviation Radiomen and 18 of the best experienced men in the group. This gave us adequate capability in radio, in radar, and in aircraft electrical to do lots of maintenance work.

We got very serious once our staff was reduced. Personal contact was made with the officers in charge of the Naval Air Supply Depot at Pearl City. It was like a candy store. What we needed, we got. In addition to the necessary test equipment and service manuals, we managed to acquire a 35 mm movie projector and sound system, a mobile shop truck, a mobile 15kw auxiliary power generator along with many other handy to have tools.

Any sailor that is worth his salt took pride in his ability to scrounge what he could use. The crew that I had picked were all well qualified in that technique and it did pay off. After all, we were the guys going to the fighting front. When we finally did arrive at our destination month's later, things like full sized motor scooters showed up in the shop areas. Today, I would have to admit some responsibility to that procurement, too. All materiel was packed in big closed wooden crates and marked with the code name "DUVA". We had to keep a manifest on the contents of the numbered boxes in order to know what we had when we finally arrived.

We did have time off in Hawaii. I enjoyed the beaches to some degree but not like before the war. It was different. I had a lot of Officer of the Day duty, seemingly mostly at night. The duty involved policing other detachments as well as our own. One night I received word that a couple of black sailors were into a knife battle in one of our tent areas. As OD, we wore the usual .45 automatic and plenty of ammunition. I got over to the trouble area pronto to find two big black men facing off at each other with knives at the ready. They had an audience of 20 or so other blacks. Apparently these boys had come off liberty, had gotten into a drunken argument and were going to settle it. My little white 120 pound body sporting a gold braid was not a great deterrent to these two boys. However, with a lot of fast talking and a drawn .45, they were eventually convinced to give up the knives, and I returned to my OD station on very shaky legs.

On the morning of June 15, 1944, we finished loading a cargo ship with all of our crated equipment, including the shop truck with one carefully stowed movie projector and a couple of dozen cans of the best movies that could be obtained. Sailors like movies, and we certainly had to keep our moral up during the early days of action until supply lines could be established. Just good planning.

With the cargo ship secured, we boarded a Navy troop ship. The officers fared pretty well with their quarters on the top deck but the enlisted quarters were four decks deep ending at the bilges. Their quarters got pretty dense during those forty hot tropical nights. As usual, the officers had to stand OD duty in the various sleeping quarters to maintain order during evacuation in case of a torpedo. We had detachments aboard other than CASU- 43, a total of 1300 men a number of whom were black soldiers of the Army. Part of my OD duties took me to the 4th deck down in the black quarters on the midnight watch. Although we wore .45s, it was a common joke among fellow officers that the .45 was issued to you to provide a prompt suicide if anything happened while you were down there. Lucky for me, 40 days aboard that tub in the far Pacific areas brought no problems.

We still didn't know where we were going but the speculation was increasing that it would be the Marianas. We were steaming in the general direction of Eniwetok Atoll in a big task force of cargo ships and a screen of cruiser and destroyers. It was comforting to know that they were out there. About 25 days out, and as many saltwater showers later, we did arrive at Eniwetok Atoll. It was a place of desolation. A flat barren stretch of sand with a long airstrip and one big canteen operated by the Army, was all there was. There were as many B24s and B25s as could be handled on that long spit of land. Their mission was that of bombing Truk and other Japanese island strongholds to "soften them up" for the coming invasions.

We got underway with another big convoy of troop ships in the latter part of July. This time it was announced that the target was in fact, Guam. The strike was to be a combination attack on Guam, Saipan and Tinian. Not long after we left Eniwetok harbor, we heard reports from the States of the heavy bombing against those three islands. The actual invasions began during the last days of the month of July while we were still a couple of days at sea.

Arriving at Guam behind the Marine assault troops, we steamed into the Apra harbor at the edge of the Orote Peninsula on the west side of the island. It was amid orderly confusion. We offloaded into amphibious landing craft that could be brought right up alongside the ship for loading, then driven up on the beaches to unload personnel and cargo. The CASU's crates, the truck, and supplies were arriving on separate ships so we didn't immediately see them offloaded.

All our personnel came prepared to rough it having full packs, rifles, ammunition, and K rations for a supply of food. We were prepared to last for three or four days if we got pinned down under fire. Actually, the landing of our men went fairly smoothly, a little water here and there but it was warm weather on Guam. The beaches were very crowded with military traffic of all kinds but it was well directed.

Our destination was the Japanese airstrip at Agana located in the middle of the island on a high promontory about eight miles inland. Agana, was at that time as today, the small village capitol of Guam. Roads were minimal. With the heavy military traffic they soon became all but impassable.

The Marines had done a good job in eliminating the Japanese from the immediate areas of occupation in the past couple of days. What Japanese defenders were left had retreated back into the heavy jungle and didn't give us much trouble.

We arrived at the bivouac area about mid afternoon, a clearing at the west end of the runway amid what looked to be an old coconut plantation area. There were burned out Japanese Zeros and other wrecked aircraft around the airstrip which had been caught in the our raids, similar to the destruction we had seen on Tulagi Island a couple of years before. We set up camp, pitched tents, posted guards and prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon planning the next move.


Officer complement of CASU-43 - Skipper, Exec, Machinists, Weapons, Stores, Structures, and Radio-Radar Officer McKinley

About the time we were finished with the camp set up, here came the electronics truck which we had so carefully packed, slogging up the road. We had left a Chief Radioman at the harbor to locate it and drive it over. This was a significant event. We now had the truck, a power generator, a good deal of our test equipment, and of course, the movie projector. Morale shot up immediately. I assigned a couple of radiotechs to get it going, and proceeded to get the Skipper's OK to consider a showing that evening. We actually did show a movie to CASU-43 personnel on the first night on Guam. We didn't know how many Japanese soldiers were watching it from the edge of the jungle, but they gave us no trouble.

With the camp secured and guards in position, sleep was possible, however I don't think there was much of that the first night. The Japanese had been driven back into the bush. We could hear sporadic gunfire all night but it seemed to be a mile or two away from the camp. After we were there for a day or two things got a little more interesting.

Those Japanese that remained on the island were getting hungry and thirsty. They would come down at night and raid our stockpiles of supplies and more particularly try to get at a spring that was just beyond our camp. The Marines had trip flares set up in the vicinity of the spring. For the next few nights we would see an occasional flare go off indicating that some unfortunate Japanese soldier had triggered the trip wire. The flare would be followed by a round of automatic gunfire. The next morning the evidence of what had happened during the night was dramatic.

Early the second day we surveyed the airstrip and the location for our shops to be. It took a couple of days for the SeaBees to clear the strip and get set to build our shops. Our shops, radio, radar, and electrical, were to be housed in Quonset huts, a half round, corrugated metal roof-side affair that measured roughly 20 by 40 feet. The ends were vertical corrugated sheet metal with doors and windows. They had plywood floors and were very easy to assemble, making good shelters for personnel, shops or warehousing. This was the universal shelter in the forward area, during WW II.

The SeaBees were the construction arm of the Navy. They could build anything. Our site around the Agana airstrip was situated on the top edge of a mesa that overlooked a vertical drop of about 300 feet to the northwest. The island of Guam was built up of coral, a porous limestone like substance that was ideal for building roads, foundations, airstrips and what have you. By the time I left Guam fourteen months later, that cliff had been cut back some 500 feet by the construction crews for building material usage.


Radar shop on Guam


Radio shop on Guam

The airstrip was put into service the next couple of days and we started supporting anything that flew in. We had ourselves well organized in duty shifts. We were operating out of tents and the truck. The carrier aircraft from the nearby carriers that needed major service, readily found our facility. There was more than one SB2C dive bomber that had landed too hard on a carrier and had suffered a 'broken back', or ruptured fuselage structure. They were mended and sent back or just used for spares.

There was a Marine squadron of F4Us on the strip that was helping the carriers pound the island of Tinian, still in Japanese hands, just to the north of Guam. I recall one of the F4Us returning one day with a full sized coconut wedged between the lower cylinders on his engine. He had dropped a little too low on a strafing pass over his target.

The closest call that I had on Guam occurred about 2:00 am one night through my own stupidity. We had been on the island about four days and I had been assigned Officer in Charge of directing the unloading of supplies into our stockpile area during the mid watch. Things were going OK with the unloading with no trouble from the few Japs still around. I volunteered to drive down to a nearby SeaBee camp about a mile away, to get some hot coffee for the crew. Of course I drove in blackout conditions, no lights.

I arrived at the SeaBee's camp and in the pitch black, walked around the end of one of the Quonset huts trying to find my way to the galley door. I had taken about two steps when I felt the barrel of a carbine in my stomach and at the same time a quivering voice ordering me to halt. I thereupon did some very fast talking in my unmistakable Iowan brogue and pleaded with the guard to use his flashlight on my face. It all worked but I'm not sure who was the most frightened. That could have been a very serious situation that night. Needless to say, I returned with the coffee, a much smarter man about forward area security.

The rainfall for Guam amounts to 90 inches per year. The only problem was that it all comes down in the fall months and we were just moving into that period of time. Our little tent city was situated on an area that was somewhat hollowed out in the center, like a giant plate. Our first rain came in torrents one afternoon, and flooded the camp with about three feet of water. It remained for some 45 minutes when all of a sudden, a huge eddy developed in the center of the area and the entire pond drained into the earth in about 10 minutes leaving behind our belongings all soaked but on fairly dry ground. The water had broken through the thin top soil and had simply disappeared into the porous island core. From then on we made it a point to keep that drain open.

There were occurrences that did remind us of where we were. One night a group of Japanese soldiers including several of their officers, stormed one of the Marine outposts in what appeared to be a "Kamikaze" or suicide attack. They were mowed down with Browning automatic rifles during their charge. I saw the pile of bodies the next morning. The automatic rifle fire had torn great chucks of flesh out of the bodies. Not a very nice site.

We had heard that the Japanese fought to the death, and here was a practical demonstration. However, some prisoners had been captured on Guam. There was stockade full of them, I saw them.

As time went by and the shops were well established, the SeaBees built tents with raised plywood floors for the officers and set up a Quonset for an Officer's club all on the brink of the cliff overlooking the blue Pacific. The enlisted men lived in tents which had been moved to a more desirable area than the original site. Life got pretty bearable from that point on. Most of the few Japanese soldiers had been killed or captured. There were a few that stayed in caves in the hills until the end of the war. They gave us no trouble.

As the weeks went by, the Radio, Radar, and Electrical Division of CASU-43 had grown to our original 125 personnel. In addition to the carrier aircraft, the F6F fighters, the TBF torpedo bombers, the SB2C dive bombers, we handled maintenance of a B24 Photographic Squadron, an A26 Marine Attack Squadron and various transients aircraft. I had very little trouble with the administration of the personnel. There was an occasional heated argument over the best way that the operation could be improved. I had a great bunch of sailors.

We somehow picked up a reputation of handling special jobs. One of these involved installation of communication gear at a rocket practice range back in the hills. It afforded diversion and a jeep ride now and then. By this time, I had a radio receiver set up in my tent and was listening to news from the States on a daily basis. My tent became the information point in officer's area. The U.S. was making a lot of progress in the Pacific and particularly in Europe.


My prized possession - the Jeep

As a part of my duties, I was assigned to an Accident Board to investigate local crashes. I was called one Sunday afternoon to a site about four miles southeast of our airfield. It was reported that a P51 had gone in. When we arrived, we really couldn't identify what kind of a plane was involved. There was nothing visible but part of a bent propeller blade and a little ruble around the crash area. In questioning the civilians in the area, we found that this plane had apparently dived straight in from an altitude of at least 10,000 feet. Later information that came to us indicated that an Air Force pilot had used this method to commit suicide. He did a good job including an automatic burial. There wasn't enough of that plane left above the ground to serve as a head stone.

In a second crash, a C54 which is similar to the civilian DC4, was returning from the Philippines one night in bad weather and missed an approach to our field. On going around for another try he got himself too far to the south, and had intercepted a 1300 foot hill top. Upon investigation, we found that the plane, had left propeller marks on the top ridge of that hill, then had flown on for about a mile down a long canyon, loosing altitude all the way. The pilot had then made a sharp left turn and had crashed squarely into a vertical cliff. No one lived through that crumpled bit of wreckage that we found at the bottom of that cliff.

Around mid January of 1945 I was advanced to Chief Warrant Radio Electrician. That meant that I was now a fully commissioned Officer with a 1/2 inch, broken gold stripe on my sleeve. I now wore the full naval officer's insignia on my hat. I remembered how awesome it had been as a Navy boot to see a real Navy 'Mustang', and thinking 'now I are one'. The only thing left was to go the route of Ensign, but I had a lot more authority, respect and freedom now than I would ever have as an Ensign.


Chief Warrant and the Radar maintenance crew

As soon as things had settled down and life got into a routine there on Guam, I started an engineering correspondence course with the Capitol Radio Engineering Institute of Washington, D. C. The mail service took time but always came through, so it all worked quite well. I found the course to be intensely interesting answering a great many questions and filling in holes that had been generated over the past several years in working with radio technology. The lessons wasted no time on anything other than fundamental electrical engineering. It was probably the smartest thing that I could have done because it placed me at a real advantage later when the war was over.

There was time for recreation. I had full use of my jeep in which I could go any where I wanted as long as it was on Guam. We managed to find a few wild banana trees on Sundays. I built a small sailboat later on, which I used in the spectacular lagoons that dotted Guam shores. One of my men located a couple of old wing tanks and promoted a worn out Japanese outboard motor to fabricate quite a water vehicle.

I was able to get some time with my Marine Corps friends on the airstrip, to fly with them in their Cessna L-5 observation planes. The ever present problem was one of being so far away from home and family. There was one consolation, however. As long as I was assigned to the CASU activity, it was not likely that I would find myself involved in another invasion task force, I hoped.

It was the first of June, 1945. The war in Europe had been won. Iwo Jima had fallen to the U.S., Okinawa was in the process of being taken. The Navy was involved in very heavy fighting with devastating losses in all these invasions. Kamikaze pilots, some 3000 of them were sacrificing themselves in Japan's defense in the battle for Okinawa. We lost 25,000 men on Iwo Jima and the killed and injured on Okinawa totaled 49,000 men. The Air Force had set up B29 bomber strips on the north end of our island, on Tinian and on Saipan and were pounding Japan proper with massive daily bombing runs.

Preparations were in the making for the final push on the Japanese mainland. There was an area cleared off in the coral earth several miles north of our airfield which measured five miles long and a mile and a half wide. We could see it all from our tent quarters on the cliff. There were what looked like tens of thousands of jeeps, bull dozers, trucks, personnel carriers, rows upon rows of crates, supplies, building materials and everything imaginable that we would need for the invasion of Japan proper. That supply area was growing daily. Guam was now the staging point for what was going to be the biggest and bloodiest show yet.

Japan had lost 100,000 men defending Okinawa. It was not difficult to realize that the battle for Japan was going to be a terrible thing and there was no turning back. Japanese would fight to the death, they had demonstrated that fact over and over with their suicide charges on the ground and their Kamikaze runs on our ships. It was estimated that it would cost 3 to 4 million human lives total before it was over.

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