|BY GORDON BRYSON||MARCH 1995|
The huge man was not from Waimea. Everyone from Hayashi
Store knew that, but he was not army either; they had departed some weeks
before with a roaring of the deuce and a half trucks that had left the
streets of Waimea muddy and rutted for the paniolos and horses. His blue
eyes burned into theirs. He had on a government issue t-shirt and dark
green pants without pockets in the back. The pants were stained and torn.
"Do you have clothes?" The man had trouble speaking and seemed to see them as strange, as strange as he looked. "I need clothes," he mumbled again, reaching into his front pocket for money.
Behind the huge man were other marines in various levels of undress, not like soldiers who had been in town for the previous year. Quickly, the Hayashi Store sold all of its clothes and blankets to the shivering men. Later, truckloads wandered around town, cursing the cold wind that wasn't supposed to have been part of their trip to paradise. The remnants of the proud Second Division, the heroes of Tarawa, had come to Waimea to rest from the bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps, to replace the dead and wounded, and to prepare for the crucial battles of Saipan and Tinian.
The tents had been left stacked in the pasture and had to be set up. Not enough water could be had in town in spite of the seemingly continuous rain. Most critical was the lack of sleeping bags and blankets. Some bureaucrat had expected the marines to come prepared; it was their motto, after all, and he had apparently decided that since each marine had been issued blankets and sleeping materials along with a complete uniform that they would arrive ready for the Waimea weather.
The division had come directly from its victory at Betio. Much of the equipment had been lost in the fierce battle. Men had had little time to sleep and less space in the crowded troop ships. The Japanese National Landing Forces had fought to the last man, preferring suicide or being destroyed while carrying explosives to surrender. The bodies of the U.S. marines had filled the lagoon and the palm groves from one end of the island to the other. Horrified men had stripped off their clothes to rid themselves of the smell of Betio and its memories. Since they were in the midst of war, they had been shipped directly to Oahu, had left their wounded for treatment, and had disembarked at Hilo Harbor without their packs or their uniforms. Marines marched or staggered into waiting trucks to begin the cold journey across the Saddle Road. Others filed into the narrow-gauge cane train that wound through deep gulches and small towns. Smiling people threw fruit into the train. One marine was hit in the stomach with a coconut. All of them tried hard to smile back at the strange people who looked so little like the families they had left behind on the mainland. A few squads rode in landing craft to nearby Kohala beaches and hiked several miles up to their cold, windy camp. The ranking officers, "brass," flew into the new camp landing strip, later to be called Bordelon Field after it got its first coat of asphalt and concrete. The newcomers called their new home Camp Tarawa in honor of one of the greatest sacrifices that the Corps had ever had to make to save its country.
The town was as taken aback as the marines. It had been glad to see the hundreds of army trucks rumble into town in 1942. When Pearl Harbor had been attacked, the National Guard of Hawaii had been on maneuvers on Maui. Hisa Kimura was one of the only paniolos who had a weapon, a 32 pistol. He and several other men from town had guarded the beaches from the invasions that many expected to follow the Japanese attack. Indeed, Admiral Yamamoto's plan of battle called for an invasion of the Big Island shortly after he had destroyed the remnants of the U.S. Navy at Midway. Fortunately for Hisa, the miracle of Midway shut the door to Japanese conquest of Hawaii.
Shortly after that battle, the army stationed Company F 299th Infantry and a medical detachment in the town and around the rest of Kohala. They set up their tents under trees and under the cover of the hills. Paniolos and farmers were told to drive stakes into their fields to keep enemy planes from landing. America was not to attain air supremacy for another year. Blackouts and mobilization of men and resources followed the army's arrival. Men from Kohala and Waimea rushed to volunteer and were assigned to the war in Europe. Many were told that they were too valuable to the war effort in their jobs as farmers and ranchers. Farmers began to farm intensively and ship their goods to the Food Center in Hilo. Parker Ranch sent cattle to Honolulu while supplying necessary beef to the men in uniform in its own town. Many townspeople redoubled their Red Cross work that had begun in 1939 and was to last the entire war. At first they had knit navy blue, gray or maroon beanies, sweaters and socks for the English people under attack from Hitler's Luftwaffe. Later they sewed bandages for use at the American troops in Europe. Finally, the mothers and sisters sewed "sennimbari" bands with one thousand stitches to protect their men on the European front.
Families received ration booklets for gasoline, liquor and foodstuffs. Each person received a thirty-five cent coupon per day. Inventive youngsters waited behind particularly bad bumps in the ridged Waimea road. Marine trucks could be counted on to bounce at least one or two boxes of cigarettes or food onto the road. Many older townspeople thought that the luck was just a little too good to be true. In order to sustain themselves, many Waimea families began to raise "Victory Gardens." Acres of beans and potatoes supplied the civilian needs, so that the "boys at the front" could eat the best that America could provide.
The men of the Second Division were different. They had come to Waimea
from the tropical heat of Tarawa, so that the many suffering from malaria
could recover from their illness in the cool plateau breezes. After
their first shivering months of getting adjusted to the climate and
getting necessary equipment and replacements, the division began to
train for battle on Island X. Many of the officers guessed that it would
be Saipan after extensive maneuvers took place in Hamakua cane fields.
Landing with air cover and amphibious tanks was another drill practiced
On weekends, the marines and town got to know each other. Ball games pitted combined teams of marines and town men against outsiders. Boxing matches and basketball games were held at the sports center. Women and girls joined the USO dancers at Barbara Hall (Kahilu, now Parker School) so that endless lines of seventeen and eighteen-year old veterans could grasp a moment of peace. Women took in washing from the thousands of boys so far from home, and some weekends took these lonely visitors in for a home-cooked meal.
Below: Daily march of the marine band through Waimea
Waimea leapt into the twentieth century because of the technology and
plenty that seemed to have followed the marines into town. An electric
generator allowed settlement houses to be lit by bulb rather than kerosene.
The Waimea Elementary School and the Waimea Hotel became a 400-bed hospital
with modern medical facilities. The engineers dammed the Waikoloa stream,
constructed reservoirs to supply water to the division and the town,
and erected temporary Canek structures behind the St. James Church.
An ice house helped marine cooks to turn out seeming tons of ice cream
for delighted town children and adults. Entrepreneurs from all over
the island began to show up to sell the thousands of papers that the
marines read and the hills of hot dogs that everyone consumed while
watching the ball games at the park.
Finally, the harbor master went to Hilo to rehearse the complex embarkation and disembarkation of a division of heavily equipped marines. One spring morning, hundreds of truck engines coughed to life, and grim men stared at Waimea for the last time; Tinian, Saipan and Okinawa awaited.
Just days after, it seemed, new trucks rumbled into town bearing the Fifth Division. Well-dressed and well-equipped, these men immediately went about their maneuvers. Pu'u Ula'ula and Buster Brown were scaled daily so that men would be ready to climb the infamous Mt. Suribachi when the time came, and live ammunition drills covered squadrons as they crept forward on the lava deserts that surrounded the camp. It seemed as if the Second had never left, but these marines seemed younger and more prone to laugh.
Like a cowboy riding a horse, Waimea had gotten the hang of caring for a division of marines. By this time the hamburger stands and newspaper kiosks were almost permanent. "The Magnolia" and "The Chuckwagon" sold thousands of meals a week. Each day, Tsugi Kaiama picked up a steer from the ranch slaughter house and ground it into hamburger with her gas grinder. Her hamburgers tasted better because steak and rib sections joined the rump as the whole cow went through the grinder. Later she added celery and bread crumbs to give her burgers the perfect taste. "No one from town could ever eat them," attested Hisa Kimura. "The lines were too long." One day, Tsugi, or "Sue" as she was called by the marines, saw a boy who looked local in the endless line of diners. When she asked him if he were local or not, he introduced himself as Ira Hayes, an American Indian.
The Chock and Hayashi stores had racks of kimonos available for the
young men to send home to mothers and sweethearts. The young marines,
loaded down with pay that had backed up while they were in battle, often
gave the shop girls all of their money and told them to shop for "good
presents." Thegirls would select the proper merchandise, total up the
costs and return the change to the trusting marines.
Not only were the marines trusting. Hayashi Store kept its huge piles of money in boxes. Mr. Hayashi would collect and carry the boxes to Parker Ranch Manager's office for transportation to the bank in Honoka'a. No one ever thought about robbery.
Everyone in town eagerly scanned the wall of the park backstop for the sign, "Ball Game Today!" One weekend, a team of town players and marines took on a visiting team that had several major league players on it. The local boys lost by the respectable score of 4-3. Each morning the marine band marched through the town, usually with a band of delighted children in tow. In a wild rodeo, marines from the Southwest and a few "lobs" who had never ridden a horse challenged the local paniolos to feats of cowboy skill. The results of this contest were not as close as the ball game, but no serious injuries resulted. Bruised contestants consumed several steers at the barbecue that the ranch threw for the competitors.
More informal parties took place in "Honey Cow," what the marines called Honoka'a.. Men on furlough took the school bus down to the local bars and returned in raucous moods. The owner of the bus company finally had to direct the bus drivers to transport their adult guests separately because the children were getting too much of an education. Other marines on furlough started walking along the roads out of Waimea. When picked up by local drivers or riders, they told their carrier that they wanted to see "where the road went." Usually they ended up in local houses, sharing a good meal and marvelling at the normal life they were momentarily a part of. Sometimes they got lost and had to be carried back by paniolos who rounded up khaki-clad strays as readily as they caught the bovine variety.
The town had fallen in love with the marines. Children had gotten used to ice cream at their school lunches. The teenagers expected to have professional musicians like Bob Crosby's (Bing's brother) Band. Daring twelve-year olds hid in the bushes of Camp Tarawa to watch the latest movies at the camp's outdoor theaters. Farmers and store owners expected to sell whatever they had in a matter of days.
But wartime romances can be short, and, on Christmas 1944, the Fifth Division left for final rehearsals at Ma'alea Bay and the invasion of Iwo Jima. The men who had not been killed or seriously wounded returned in March, but the camp finally closed in November as the Fifth was transferred to Japan for Occupation duties. Many of the boys who had played ball with the townspeople or eaten Thanksgiving dinner at Kohala homes were never heard from again. The army took over the camp, held an auction, and suddenly the town receded into the mists like Brigadoon.
On July 3,1984, the Waimea Civic Club renewed old ties by erecting a monument to the brave servicemen who had been our guests during World War II. The late John Raleigh, journalist and veteran, had provided the dream that many others took and made real. A large rock, symbolic of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, with a brass plaque made from shell casings now stands at the gate of Pu'uopelo on Mamalahoa Highway. Richard Smart generously supplied the land that the monument stands on just as he had supplied the many acres that Camp Tarawa occupied during the war.
Now, the ties are about to be renewed. After the recent gift from Becky Carter, wife of A. Hartwell Carter, the former manager of Parker Ranch, Alice Clark began to mobilize efforts to bring the veterans and the town back together. On March 19, veterans and members of the town will reunite to remember those times of excitement and peril. To reapply Churchill's famous quote to both the town and the men that defended them so bravely, "Seldom have so many owed so much to so few."
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