Life During Wartime: 3

Setting Up Camp

Start slideshow at right. Leapfrogging across the Pacific meant rudimentary accommodations for a short time, then on to another island to live in pup tents again. While starving Japanese infiltrators still snuck into camp to steal food (or worse), the airmen built civilization, one tent at a time. With no running water or electricity, improvisation was key. A sitz bath out of a helmet sufficed until tower showers were built. Washing clothing in a food tin had to serve until wind-powered washing machines were cobbled together.


And unfamiliar medical maladies abounded: along with trenchfoot there were bites by giant insects, giant crabs invading a bedroll, and mosquitoes everywhere. Malaria was an ever-present danger and fought with Atabrine, a tablet that had the side effect of turning the skin yellow, and the myth grew that it also made the taker sterile (untrue), so men had to be supervised in their dosages.



Island Life

Start slideshow at right. In a time when 90% of Americans attended church, one of the first structures built on the island was a chapel. Chaplain Dowden led services for all faiths and was always present on the ramp for a quick prayer for safety before a mission. 


 Once the snipers were eradicated, it became safe to explore the island: the phosphate factory, the infamous "Bowl" that cost so many lives to capture, the steep coral walls of the collapsed volcano forming the Bowl, and the occasional holdout sniper flushed from the jungle.


Soon pyramid tents were replaced by Quonset huts, and the business of war took a turn toward paper: clerks typed and filed, intelligence poured over reconnaissance photos, and missions were planned and executed. For every man in an aircraft there were three working just as hard on the ground to see to it that his risk over the target was not in vain.



Simple Pleasures

Start slideshow at right. But in war, men will do their best to forget what lies ahead. No sooner had tents been raised than craps tables were built of the extra wood, alcohol and cigarette bartering began in earnest, and officers' and enlisted men's clubs were built where a man could get a drink and try to forget that tomorrow he might die.


Physical exercise was encouraged but airmen were notorious for their disdain of calisthenics. Instead, they eagerly engaged in volleyball and baseball and friendly boxing matches.


Others chose quieter pastimes, such as fishing or floating in the lagoon, collecting shells to string on stainless steel wire to send home to girlfriends. Sheets became temporary movie screens until Theater #1 was built using plywood for a screen and steel runway matting welded into seats. Movies were old and often silent but no matter; they were a slice of home.  


And on an island, the ocean was always a way to cool off and get away from the bugs and heat. Improvised rafts and even sailboats were built and Angaur even hosted its first and only regatta.



the gist

THE goods