8 Hawaii

It was still Christmas when we disembarked from the Langley and traveled a couple of miles from Pearl Harbor toward Honolulu. The entire casual battalion was housed in a newly erected camp. We lived in six-man pyramidal tents, while outside there was either bare ground or mud, depending on the weather. After the big rush to get out of the States, I was to spend the next two months here.

Every day we were assigned to working parties, all having to do with the construction of camps. The first part of the war was fought in the South Pacific, and Hawaii was outside the mainstream of traffic. Now, the war had shifted to the North Pacific, which made Hawaii the major staging area. Obviously, the building of camps was important, but we didn't have our hearts in it as that was not the reason for joining the Marine Corps. We had liberty on the weekends and while liberty was much better than working, Honolulu was a very poor liberty town due to the huge number of servicemen. They outnumbered the civilians.

I made three very significant discoveries. First, the casual battalion was very poorly organized. While they had a roster of names, they actually had no way to keep track of anyone as there was absolutely no chain of command. After breakfast there was company roll call, then we would just be split into groups to go work. Secondly, all it took to go on liberty in Honolulu was an ID card, which I had at all times anyway. Thirdly, there was a big hole right in front of my tent.

At the bottom of the hole was the end of a large concrete pipeline, but for some reason construction of it had stopped. After breakfast and roll call I would return to my tent, change clothes, drop into the hole, duck my head and walk right out of camp, underneath the fence and the highway, and emerge into the civilian housing area for Pearl Harbor employees. There I would catch the bus to Honolulu. I had liberty every day after that, returning in time for dinner.

Being as records were so incomplete it also affected payroll. We received only a fraction of the money due us during those two months so I was always broke. Most days I would simply go to Waikiki Beach where I found a bathhouse. For five cents I could rent a locker and a swim suit. My clothes would go in the locker and I would go into the ocean. Waikiki Beach was not as wide as it is now as much of today's beach was brought in by truck. You also needed to avoid the barbed wire on the beach that had been placed there to protect it from Japanese invasion. Joyce and I have been to Waikiki Beach a couple of times since those days and I have enjoyed seeing the girls in their skimpy bathing suits. Unfortunately, I don't believe I ever saw a girl on the beach during any of my wartime excursions. On the other hand, it was not crowded either. A few times I appeared to be the only person enjoying it.

Figure 45. On liberty in Honolulu. January, 1944. Len is on the right in the back row.

Both of my older brothers were in the service. Lyndon was in the Army in Panama, and Gaylord was in the Navy in a Seabee Battalion (construction battalion). Gaylord had been in the Aleutian Islands and I had been informed by letters from home that he was now in Hawaii. I went to the Red Cross in an attempt to find the location of his unit, but was informed this was classified information. Every sailor I saw in town with the Seabee insignia was stopped and asked if he knew where Gaylord's battalion was but no one could help me. One evening he suddenly showed up at my tent. His unit was not only stationed adjacent to mine, but our tents were on the same corresponding side. If I had stepped outside and shouted his name real loud he would probably have answered! We went on a few liberties together after that.

On February 28, 1944, I was transferred out of the casual battalion. I went aboard the USS Doyan and traveled to Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. The following day I went 65 miles by truck on a very winding, rutted road, and rejoined the Second Marine Division.

This time I was assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 8th Regiment. Since leaving New Zealand the division had fought the Battle of Tarawa, suffering extremely heavy casualties. Thank goodness I had missed that or this book might not have been written. The camp, called Camp Tarawa, was located high in a saddle between the Kohala Mountains and snow-capped Mauna Kea.

Joyce and I have been back to the Big Island of Hawaii and it is a wonderful and interesting tourist destination. It is hard to believe what a dull, desolate, and isolated location the Parker Ranch could be in 1944, especially when there was no available transportation.

Because of the elevation it was cold. Our source of water was from melted snow and it was ice cold. As there was no hot water, showers were brief and infrequent. We were outside the small town of Kamuela on land owned by the huge Parker Cattle Ranch. While we were given liberty, there was really no place to go. I would be there about three months and I think I went on liberty twice.

There were two reasons for picking this location. One was that it was believed after all the combat the division had been in, it might be best if it was separated from more civilized folks, especially as many residents of Hawaii were of Japanese ancestry. Secondly, this was supposed to be a healthy area, especially for all the Solomon veterans who still kept having recurring attacks of malaria.

The first few days at Camp Tarawa I was kept busy handling supplies. Then our group of new arrivals was asked for a volunteer. This was always met with great skepticism, but as I was bored with moving boxes, I stepped forward. I was met by the man I was to replace and he assured me this was a good deal, which I found out to be very true. I was supposed to operate a sterilizing unit, which was a large four-wheeled trailer that could be pulled behind a truck. A small gasoline engine drove the pump and other mechanism. A diesel-fired burner turned water into steam which could be used for several purposes, but primarily to sterilize hospital bedding or medical equipment.

Figure 46. Camp Tarawa in Hawaii. Len's tent was in the lower right unit.

Figure 47. A view of the location of Camp Tarawa in 2001.

Figures 48 (left) and 49 (right). This memorial is all that remains of Camp Tarawa today.

My tutor fired up the unit and gave me very basic instructions on how to operate it. He then demonstrated one of its uses. A shower unit was nearby and he ran a hose to it and showed me how to run a steady stream of hot water. He then invited me to have a hot shower. I did so and it felt wonderful. He then asked me to run it for him while he did the same. When he finished his shower he told me to shut it down and from now on I would be on my own. I had been holding the temperature at 105 degrees, but as the gauge went much higher I was curious how hot I could make it. I spun the wheel that controlled it and a scream came from the bathhouse. Although the entry door was visible, some poor Marine had entered without my seeing him. At least he had a story to tell his buddies that night as they shivered under their cold showers.

Running the sterilizing unit was a good deal. All I had to do was standby in case it was needed, and many days I did nothing at all. On those occasions when I was working I always had a number of people stop by and ask questions as it was a rather unique piece of equipment. I always tried to answer the inquiries, but in truth I knew very little about it as my instructions had been so rudimentary and I didn't even have a manual to refer to.

One day a lieutenant stopped by. He barely acknowledged my salute and greeting and just poked his nose around in a most obnoxious manner, acting as if I were not even there. I thought if his mother had not taught him any manners, perhaps I should. Two vents for releasing the steam were located about waist high in the middle of the unit. The valves that operated them happened to be on the opposite side. By getting down on the ground I could see the lieutenant's feet. When they stopped in front of the vents, I stood up and spun the valves open. There was a very satisfyingly loud yell. I ran around to that side and found the lieutenant in a freshly steam-cleaned uniform. I apologized profusely for the accident, while he grumbled something about the fact that he shouldn't have been there anyhow and hobbled off in the direction of sick bay.

On March 12th, I celebrated my birthday by going to Hilo and boarding the troopship USS Calvert. We spent the next few days making practice landings at Maalaea Bay on Maui. This was the first black sand beach I had ever seen.

By the end of April preparations were seriously under way for another campaign. My days of leisure were over and I was working every day now. My main task was to provide steam for steam-cleaning truck engines. The trucks were to go ashore and land from tank lighters after the initial invasion. Mechanics were busy cleaning the engines and equipping them with a snorkel, which was a pipe extending upward from the carburetor so that the engines could be practically submerged for a short period as the trucks came off the tank lighters into the ocean and before reaching more shallow water.

Early in May I was busy generating steam. Pop-off valves on top of the two boilers were supposed to release excess steam so the pressure would not reach an unsafe level. I had been having trouble with the valves sticking so I tried to keep an eye on the pressure gauges and release the steam manually when the pressure became too great. This day my attention was diverted, the steam built up, and there was a loud explosion. Parts of my sterilizer rained down over the immediate area. This was not too serious a loss as the heavy piece of equipment would be left behind anyway and my work was nearly completed.

Years later, while a police officer for the City of Salem, Oregon, I took my patrol car to the city shop to have some minor work done on it. While talking to the mechanic I learned he had also been a mechanic with the motor pool for the 8th Regiment in Hawaii. While reminiscing about our experiences, I mentioned the subsequent landing on Saipan. He stated he had missed the invasion because just before leaving Hawaii some yahoo had blown up a sterilizing unit and he was left behind to repair it. I told him he should thank me for possibly saving his life.

On May 13th, we boarded the troopship USS Cambria for more maneuvers in the islands. On May 22nd, we went into Pearl Harbor. We stayed for about a week while other parts of our convoy gathered. On May 30th, we put out to sea. On June 9th, we entered Eniwetak lagoon in the Marshall Islands and learned our destination was the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands. The Second Marine Division was joined by the Fourth Marine Division and the Twenty-seventh Army Division, which made our convoy the largest I had ever seen.

We left two days later, and in the darkness of early morning, June 15, 1944, we reached Saipan.

Last Modified: 01/01/2019
One Man's View by Leonard E. Skinner (2001)