e got marched off the transport and loaded aboard a narrow-gage railway train. This route was usually only used to transport sugar cane to a mill for conversion into sugar. We relished that ride on the slow moving flatcars. It was great to get a smooth trip instead of a slogging on foot or being jammed into the back of a hard-axle truck. We got dumped off at Honakaa, herded into trucks and transported about twenty miles over a dusty road to Kamuela, a tiny village in the saddle between the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
"Camp Tarawa" was just a name. We had to construct it from scratch with the help of a SeaBee battalion. When we arrived, the navy's construction battalion was still nailing together tent decks. We slept on the rough lava beds until the lovely pyramidal tents were erected. Moving into a tent with a wooden floor, overhead shelter, and canvas cots was sheer bliss.
We had established a deep respect for the SeaBees during the campaign on Guadalcanal where they shared the shelling and bombing with us as they worked on Henderson Field. Now we forged a lasting love affair with them. They kept a hot kitchen open and welcomed us into their mess halls. Our mess was still dishing out "C" rations and Spam. They had access to Naval stores. Their menu wasn't especially superb but they shared what they had with us. I guess we were like wistful ragged orphans with our runny noses pressed up against the candy store window. A fried bacon and egg sandwich or a piece of apple pie was a memorable treat.
The SeaBees consisted mostly of older men with special building skills. Now when I write "older", I realize how relative age is--- my Marine companions were mostly in their early twenties. Now we were getting new replacements of seventeen and eighteen year olds who were still trying to learn how to cope with a razor. I was twenty-five, so I often got called "Pops", and I did feel paternal towards these eager, young kids. By now, I had discovered that war isn't a glorious adventure. The campaign in the Solomons was bad enough, but the bloody carnage and terror of Tarawa erased any lingering ideas I had about the glamour and gallantry involved in the killing of other human beings.
The civilians of Hawaii didn't greet us with flower leis and smiling Aloha's. They were apprehensive and wary of these notorious, vicious, Marine killers. It was weeks before they realized that we were not monsters, and began to treat us with friendship and tolerance rather than dread.
Soon after our camp was set up we were informed that our Battalion was to be split. Half of the personnel would form the nucleus of a new outfit, the 2nd 155mm Howitzer Battalion. Along with five others of our twelve-man H & S Instrument Section, I got assigned to this new outfit. I had to say goodbye to some of my old comrades but all my closest friends were transferred too: Marty Petersen, Phil Anderson, Bill Evans, Jimmy Francavilla and Max Jasso. We became the core of the new section. The new 2nd 155 became part of the Fleet Marine Force. This meant that we could be attached to any outfit that needed additional artillery support.
Our section got new members fresh out of boot camp sent from a Replacement Battalion. As our section's senior corporal, I was delegated to pick them up in Hilo and bring them back to our camp. I remembered how forlorn and apprehensive I had felt months ago back in San Diego when I was escorted into a new outfit, so I tried to be friendly and gentle as I herded them around like a benevolent mother hen. I brought them to our camp, checked them in with the First Sergeant, took them to the Quartermaster to get their folding cots and blankets, gave them a tour of our camp area, and introduced them to our section members. I remember the names of four of those new members: Stan Fillion, a cheerful eternal optimist; Doug Morrison, a really smart little guy who was great with math computations; Jim McNamer, a good carpenter and general fix-it-up guy; and John Jassunas, an older recruit, a naturalized American citizen from Estonia who was so neat and precise that he was soon made our number one draftsman. I am proud of how our section welcomed the new recruits and made them feel part of our team. Of course, we told them lurid tales of our past glorious accomplishments, and we impressed upon them the fact that they had lucked out by being assigned to the finest outfit in the whole Marine Corps.
I was surprised when Lieutenant Brown was made the new Battalions's Junior Intelligence Officer and put in command of the FDC and the Instrument Section. My old buddy, Red Brown, had been commissioned while we were in New Zealand and transferred into another outfit. Now he was back, and it was a great reunion.
Service protocol forbids fraternization between Officers and enlisted men, but our friendship didn't stop just because Red now had a bar on his shoulder and I only had two chevrons on my sleeve. We had shared too many battle experiences and had made to many memorable liberties together to let some Marine regulation strain our relationship. It took some acting on our parts when we were together in the presence of other troops and I had to come up to my old comrade, stand at attention, salute, and give a report. I was supposed to be solemn and respectful. Red and I always avoided direct eye contact because we had trouble repressing grins at the absurdity of the charade.
Our battalion now had twelve weapons with real clout. The basic rules of surveying gun positions and plotting target areas still applied, but suddenly we were dealing with distances measured in miles rather than yards. We got transits, new measuring chains, and plotting gear. There were intensive training sessions as we struggled to learn how to handle all this new equipment. Our firing range was in the saddle between Maura Kea and Mauna Loa, a desolate stretch of cactus and lava beds. Artillery rounds had pulverized the smooth lava flows into a sharp, abrasive rubble. We could completely destroy our boon-dockers after only a few days of surveying exercises in the area. It seemed as if I was forever "breaking-in" a new pair of shoes.
I made a two-day liberty in Hilo with Ray Kehoe, a corporal in the H&S FDC, Fire Direction Center. We visited the USO and listened to new records. "Old Black Magic" was one of them. That tune always transports me back to a peaceful, sunny afternoon in Hilo. We played miniature golf, went to a movie, and then discovered an oriental bathhouse. This was a memorable adventure. We soaked in a huge wooden tub of almost boiling water, then got salt rub-downs from a huge summo-wrestler type who rinsed off the salt by blasting us with hot water from a pressure hose. I recall Ray and I cowering in a corner, trying to protect our eyes and other tender parts from the stinging jets. When it was all over we felt great. I guess we decided that our money was well spent on this mild torture. I suppose this was an early example of the presently popular hot-tubs and shower massages.
Mostly we spent our liberties on the northern tip of the island. Trucks would run to Honakaa, Kona, Hilo, or Hawi. The little town of Hawi attracted the fewest troops, so we usually opted to go there. Our small instrument section group discovered a tiny village, Kohala, about three miles away, and we tried to keep it a secret. We hiked out there to the sugar refining plant and made friends with the workers. There wasn't much to do but we hung around the little general store, ate ice cream, and went skinny dipping in the surf at a tiny beach. Pretty tame stuff, but we had more fun and ended our liberties in much better shape than the troops who had spent all afternoon in Hawi's two bars drinking the awful rot-gut whiskey made from sugar cane squeezings.
Lt. Brown had some clout in the battalion and I shamelessly exploited my connection with him in order to keep our section off guard duty, garbage details, and mess hall duty. Red always managed to schedule a priority training exercise when our turn came to serve any of these distasteful tasks. We often used his authorization to check out a truck and a rubber boat from the motor pool and inform the First Sergeant that we were going on a survey training mission to Hapuna Beach, about fifteen miles away. We used the rubber boat like a surf board, paddling it out until we could catch a wave and ride it in to the beach. The flexible boat would invariably fold in the middle and dump us into the boiling surf. We thought we were having a great time, and I suppose we were, but now I shudder to think of the dangerous risks we were taking. Anyway, no one got drowned before the First Sergeant caught on to what we were doing and put a sudden end to our "training excursions".
The new 2nd 155 Howitzer Battalion was attached to a Provisional Brigade. Then we were detached from the brigade and assigned to our old outfit, the 2nd Division, for an invasion of some unnamed island. By now, we were getting paranoid and distressed by all these reassignments. It seemed as if no one knew what the hell to do with us. It was about this time that we began to think of ourselves as orphans. The Leatherneck Magazine dubbed us "The Forgotten Battalion" and this name has stuck with us.
About the middle of May we loaded aboard an LST, Landing Ship Tank, and sailed northwest. We anchored off the island of Maui and spent several days making practice landings on the beaches. These rehearsal exercises were much easier than our previous landings from the big troop transports. LSTs are about one third the size of the dear old President Jackson. They had a ramp on the bow that lowered to the waterline and this allowed us to jump directly from the ramp into a landing boat. I never had to climb down one of those damn treacherous landing nets again. The LSTs did have a disadvantage though. Since they were so much smaller than a transport they pitched and rolled nauseatingly even in smooth seas. During the first few days at sea I always spent most of my time hanging over the rail puking, before I managed to acquire sea-legs. Unfortunately, I had to suffer with this sickening indoctrination every time I sailed off on an LST.
After about a week at Maui, we sailed northwest to Oahu and anchored at a pier in Pearl Harbor. Every day we were sent ashore for close-order drill and calisthenics, which we called "Organized Grab-Ass". One afternoon a new, not-too-bright, 2nd Lieutenant had us march back aboard ship in cadence. Those twenty pairs of big feet encased in boon-dockers striking the gang-plank in rhythm was too much for those old timbers. The plank broke and dumped us into the narrow stretch of murky water between the ship and the dock. We were deposited near where the ship's bilges emptied into the harbor. I clung to the floating remains of the gang-plank and tried to ignore the garbage floating by. Amidst the potato peelings, cabbage leaves, egg shells, and soggy paper where items I resolutely refused to identify. We all finally made it to the pier and another plank was run up to the deck. This time we straggled aboard without marking time.
I was one of the walking wounded. My hand had been squashed between two braces. I thought my fingers were broken but they were only torn and bruised. The medics had to saw off my ring, a ruby birthstone my parents had given me when I graduated from high school. Until now it had never been off my finger and it was a treasured talisman... my link to home. I tied it on the chain with my dog-tags and wore it around my neck until I was able to get it fixed in Honolulu about five months later. I've worn it ever since. I kept telling the corpsmen that they should write me up for a Purple Heart but they just ignored my suggestion, but I did get to sleep one night in the sick-bay between clean sheets after a luxurious, hot, fresh water shower. This made my impromptu frolic in the sewage almost worthwhile.
One night, soon after this, we were awakened by the General Quarters horns going off. Our ship upped anchor and pulled away from the docks. When we were allowed to go up on deck we could see and hear explosions at a pier about a mile away. Several LSTs were exploding and burning. Sabotage was suspected but never proven. Guard details were doubled and security was extreme throughout the balance of our stay at Pearl.
About the 1st of June, we sailed southwest from Hawaii and rendezvoused with a big convoy at Eniwetok. Now we were told where we were headed. Our battalion of artillery was assigned as support for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Marine Divisions and the 27th Army Division who were to invade the Marianas Islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.