Original wartime snapshot (hand-colored) showing GIs on Guadalcanal with watermelons. As reported in the below article,
GI farmers on Guadalcanal "picked 3,500 watermelons off two acres; one of the melons weighed 60 pounds."
Photo Source: Bryan T. Stefancyk Collection.
The following article titled: Guadalcanal Goes Garrison, subtitled: Vegetables grow on battlefields, you get gigged for not saluting and there are 150 theaters. The men who fought there two years ago wouldn’t know the place., appeared in the 18 August 1944 issue of YANK: The Army Weekly, a wartime magazine published by the US Army. This article was written a year and a half after the February 1943 conclusion of the Guadalcanal Campaign by YANK Staff Corespondent, Sergeant Barrett McGurn. Guadalcanal Goes Garrison is an absolutely fascinating read showing the remote island of Guadalcanal's remarkably fast wartime transformation from a war zone in a South Pacific backwater to a booming and vital Allied base in the region.
GUADALCANAL – The two years since the Marines splashed ashore here in America’s first offensive of the second World War have brought a lot of changes. The sad truth, chums, is that Guadalcanal has gone garrison.
According to one story going the rounds, seven enlisted men in a bomber crew were turned in to their orderly room after a raid on Rabaul. One crew member was charged with having a light beard as the ship laid its lethal eggs, and others were picked up for wearing baseball caps and sweat shirts. Whether the yarn is true (and one fellow insists he was one of the seven), there is no doubt Guadalcanal is going strictly GI.
Where men once lived in comfortable foxhole sloppiness, barracks cots are now primed above rows of shoes shined like shaving mirrors. Saluting, once banned because it was a dead giveaway to snipers, is now compulsory at many ‘Canal camps. You have reveille, retreat, manual of arms, close-order drill and inspections. On this damp rock inspections are particularly painful because a rifle cleaned Friday night is likely to be rusty Saturday morning unless it is coated overnight with oil so heavy you’ll get gigged if you don’t find time to clean it off.
Those popular Guadalcanal mixed-uniform-styles – fatigue hat with sun-tan suit, or fatigue pants with sun-tan shirt – are now forbidden. And at Service Command Headquarters Company, the voice of the first sergeant may be heard of an evening driving the company out to police up the area – in the dark, or course.
Henderson Field, the Jap-built airport where some of the earliest Jap-American fighting took place, might remind you now of the Penn Station in Pittsburgh when you see the Red Cross girls serving free coffee and doughnuts from their trailer to the boys. There are now nearly 200 white women here – the Red Cross girls, Army and Navy nurses and New Zealanders. Stunned delight greeted the first of them a few months ago, but now there are grumbles from such characters as the truck drivers, who have to wear shorts when they give themselves and their trucks a simultaneous bath in the Malimbu River.
Many a GI arriving from the States still has a vague idea that he will soon be engaged in brisk hand-to-hand bayonet duels with the Japs. Instead, he learns that not a Jap has been seen for more than a year, although occasional rumors come through that a few are still up in the hills.
Rather than a primitive jungle beach, the GI newcomer finds a bustling civilization of a sort. Two piers for oceangoing ships run out from the black volcanic sand, and offshore lie so many ships that Guadalcanal now rates as one of the great American seaports.
On land the GI finds more than 200 miles of roads, some of them much busier than Main Street on Saturday night back home – so busy, in fact, that one chaplain never travels except between 1200 and 1300 hours and 1700 and 1800 hours. At these times the roads empty magically while the drivers chow up. Overhead the GI sees some of the 4,500 miles of telephone wire that are strung on poles on the ‘Canal. And if he looks around he’ll find other unwarlike facilities.
At a spot where patrols once encountered Japs, there is now a pleasant sun-bathed farm, which will soon cover 2,500 acres (nearly four square miles) and increase its daily production of a ton of fresh vegetables to 15 tons. The ‘Canal also has a lumber camp that turns out more than seven miles of board a day.
As late as January 1943, Jap artillery pieces hidden in the hills shelled one area. Now there is a gravel quarry here, with two 40-ton gasoline shovels keeping 100 trucks busy every day running to airfield and road-repair projects.
Where the battle of the Tenaru raged some three months after the first landings by the Marines there now stand two laundries that wash up to 20 tons of clothes daily.
There is an ice-cream plant that turns out 200 quarts a day – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Each Army outfit gets its turn, provided it picks up its allotment. Across the road from the plant is a rubber grove where the Marines maintained an important bivouac area during the fighting.
Running these State-like projects are GIs, many of whom have never seen a Jap. “This is the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing on Guadalcanal” is a frequent comment. True to Army tradition, some like it this way, some don’t.
PFC. James W. (Slim) Litton of Shreveport, La., foreman of one of two parts of the vegetable farm, feels half-and-half about his job. He is stormed with applications from other ex-farmers who would like to trade rifles for rakes, and he is aware that the only GI element in the soldier-farmers’ lives is their mess hall. There are no Army calls. When the ground is dry, the 60 EM get up with the sun and plow until dusk, just as they would as civilians. When it rains they work on their equipment, which, by the way, is so excellent that, according to Slim, “a poor man couldn’t look at it” in the States.
It does his farmer’s heart good for Slim to see the miracles of the Guadalcanal earth, which must be among some of the most fertile in the world. The farmers picked 3,500 watermelons off two acres; one of the melons weighed 60 pounds. Corn grows fast. There is a standard joke that you must jump back when you plant it or the stalk will hit you in the eye. Two months after planting you may have 18,000 ears per acre ready for the chow line. The farm’s crops are valued at several million dollars, thanks to the GIs, the fuzzy-headed natives who help them and civilian experts from the Foreign Economic Administration who give them technical advice.
Still Slim has a gripe. “I felt better in the Infantry,” he says. “More exercise. If we wasn’t climbing a hill, we was fixing to climb one.”
The 40 lumberjacks here have the same sort of professional amazement for the marvels of Guadalcanal. But they reserve the right to register a minor gripe or two.
Two-man teams – like the Californians, Pfc. Walter Shipman of Silverado and Pvt. Henry Alexander of Wilmington – chop down 8 to 12 jungle giants a day, trees averaging 150 feet in height. Just as Slim’s domain might be part of the Pennsylvania farmland, so the island’s jungle lumber camp resembles the Oregon woods, with the cry of “Tim-ber!” echoing through the forest. The yell is not a gag, for an instant after it is heard there is a crack, a hesitant crinkling far overhead and then a final shuddering crash as the tree collapses like a KOd heavyweight.
Winding through the jungle with its wearying tangle of “wait a minute” vines, you find Shipman and Alexander already at work lopping branches from their victim and brushing red ants from their glistening sweat-drenched backs.
The GI lumberjacks admire the ‘Canal timber for its hardness and quality. There is a lot of mahogany, teak and rosewood, and some rubber. Some trees are so hard that axes bounce right off, Alexander says. “I don’t know what they are,” he says. “Some of this wood I never saw in my life before.” But no matter how tough the tree, Alexander and Shipman usually get it down in about half an hour, even when the trunk is four feet thick. The wood here is of such good quality that, according to a latrine rumor, the wood in one crude little ‘Canal bridge would be worth $1,000,000 to furniture manufacturers.
S/Sgt. Lad Belehrad of Yonkers, N.Y., the “timber cruiser” whose job is hunting for good lumbering sites in the jungle, says he and some of the others are so impressed that they’re considering remaining on the ‘Canal after the war. In five months, he says, a man could make enough to take it easy for the rest of the year.
But the lumberjacks gripe about the stifling ‘Canal jungle, one of the hottest places on earth to swing an axe or push a saw. There is also so much shrapnel imbedded in the trees that teeth are often ripped out of the saws. Among the many jungle mysteries is a strange tree whose inky black sap raises a blister on the skin that lands GI lumbermen in the hospital.
At the gravel pit T-4 John Childs of Jefferson, Tex., member of a Negro Engineer regiment, has been running a shovel for eight months. He has no kicks at all. Ever since he was a little kid and hung around the trucks his father worked on, Childs has loved heavy equipment.
In population Guadalcanal is now the equal of many leading American cities. That means, there are odd jobs here no GI ever dreamed of when he got that letter from the draft board.
At the spot where Carlson’s Raiders left the perimeter and made their bloody sortie into Jap territory in the hills above Henderson, there stands a station hospital PX where Pfc. Orval Hjermstad works full time as a soda jerk. “I’ll never do this when I get back,” says Hjermstad, a mechanic in civilian life from Wallace, S. Dak. “Too much work. I twisted out 1,882 nickel cokes in one day.” But he prefers soda-jerking to his experiences with the Infantry on Munda.
Four GIs on the ‘Canal do nothing but repair musical instruments. Live music is popular here but few places on earth are harder on music-making devices. Cases mold, wood instruments come unglued, ants destroy gut strings, and the wire strings that are generally substituted rust in three days to three weeks even when vaselined. Most wood instruments have to be wired and bracketed together, which is just too bad for the tone. Electric-light bulbs are kept burning day and night inside pianos to keep the felt dry, but retuning is necessary once a week. One morning a drummer a drummer found a rat had eaten through one head of his drum and out the other.
The repair work on musical instruments goes on only a few yards from where the Japs had one of their main gasoline burial pits. Their plan was to protect the fuel from bombs and bullets. The idea worked so well that the fuel was ready for our use when we captured the area.
Pianos aren’t the only things that are kept dry with electric-light bulbs. Unit armories keep .45s dry that way, and Finance had to do the same thing with the piles of cash in its safe; even dollar bills were mildewing. Incidentally, Finance has other troubles with its bills. Crap games are rough on money. Each month Finance has to ship $50,000 worth of paper money back to Washington to be destroyed.
The ‘Canal has a full-time boxing promoter, Sgt. John Williams, former Chicago Golden Gloves welterweight champ, whose Saturday-night fights, staged near the place where the Japs had one of their big Lunga supply depots, draw up to 14,000 yowling patrons.
Williams finds that a lot of well-known States-side fighters, now GIs, don’t like to fight in these latitudes because the heat is so exhausting. Bouts have to be held to three 1 ½ minute rounds. Just the same he has put together a good stable: Coxswain Bob Foxworth of Sandusky, Ohio, AAU light-heavy champ last year; Cpl. Leroy Evans, 220-pounder who was Max Baer’s sparring partner and who is hard to match; Marines Moe and Harvey Weiss, twins from the Bronx, N.Y.; Cpl. Petie Mateo, who fought Small Montana unsuccessfully for the world bantamweight title, and Garvey Young, Marine, who beat Freddie Cochrane, welterweight champ, in a nontitle fight.
Pfc. Needom Langley of Spring Hope, N.C., of the ‘Canal’s full-time chauffeurs, figures he has clocked 15,000 miles up and down the island in his eight months here, even though most of the driving is along a 20-mile stretch from Kukum to Koli. Guadalcanal is 100 miles long, most of it still primitive bush with some natives wearing grass skirts – items that are only tourist bait on many another South Sea isle.
Guadalcanal has a full-time paper-storage clerk, Cpl. Byron D. Gilmore of La Crescenta, Calif. In his warehouse he has 35 million sheets in one tarpaulin-covered pile 17 feet high. In another pile are 10 million sheets of bond paper.
One of the former Jap hospitals used to stand near this warehouse, and for a long time QM’s stock of shoes and uniforms was stored there. The building has been destroyed. “Tojo’s Ice House,” down the road, is also out of commission, but for many months it supplied sweltering American troops with several dozen two-foot cakes of ice a day. A Jap generator still helps light a large part of Henderson Field.
Bridge rebuilding is also in the island’s catalogue of unusual GI occupations. Flash floods, pouring down from the mountains – some of which are a mile and a half high – will raise a stream 12 feet in 12 hours and knock out the piles under bridges by hurling big trees against them. Some bridges have had to be replaced three times in a year. A new system of pontoon bridges is eliminating much of the piling, however, and the bridges are lasting longer.
Even art has arrived here. T-4 William Simpson, a sculptor in civilian life, was transferred from his mule pack-howitzer outfit after he created a model for a monument to the Guadalcanal dead. Washington officials are considering the model, a seated symbolic figure, and if it is approved, Simpson will direct the project. It will be 30 feet high. Meanwhile Simpson has been assigned to the Lunga Art Academy, a woodshed operated by Special Service where GIs may pick up art materials free or do their sketching and painting in privacy and quiet.
Guadalcanal is so quiet now that its very peace is the main complaint. “You might say we liked Guadalcanal a lot better when the bombs were dropping,” said a lieutenant.
A captain agreed. “When the Japs were here,” he said, “there wasn’t any coke or ice, but it was a lot more interesting. In January a year ago, when three or four days passed without a raid, the men would say: ‘I hope there’ll be a raid tonight – a little excitement.’ Now this retreat every night; it’s chicken.”
“The hardest part of the war,” observed a major, “is just sitting around doing nothing.”
Many of the Guadalcanal troops do rear-echelon work, servicing combat men farther north, and some truck and duck drivers put in 12 hours on many days. But there is almost always time to kill.
Some of the men are using it to study. There are correspondence courses in bookkeeping, accounting, physics, math, Diesel engines, mechanics and refrigeration. And there are face-to-face classes in shorthand, grammar and geography.
But the favorite time killers are the movies. The ‘Canal has 150 theaters, many of them just coconut logs or oil drums in front of an outdoor screen. Audiences have been known to sit through an inch of rainfall to see a grade-C picture. What the theaters lack in roofs and soft seats, they make up in fancy names – the Coconut Bowl, Roxy, Oceanview, Lunga Palace.
The Lunga, with 2,800 bench seats, boasts a silver backdrop cut from a 900-pound barrage balloon that a destroyer towed in from the sea. It took 14 bathers three mornings to scrub off the sea and beach stains. Another ‘Canal movie, on the site of the Matanikau River battle, has a 25-foot screen, one of the highest on the island.
GIs have introduced so many diversions that sometimes the Guadalcanal scene resembles a summer resort in the States. At Kukum, you’ll see outboard motorboats and sailing skiffs and an occasional aquaplaner. GIs in diving masks study the beautiful colors of underwater coral. On Sundays, fishing parties in an outboard motorboat, made from floats of wrecked planes, travel up a river that was once a savage battle site. On the roads you may see a runabout made from salvaged plane wheels and a washing-machine motor, capable of more speed than the MPs allow.
Some GIs have trained the mute green parrots of the island to sit on their shoulders. Others, like T-4 Lewis G. Fife of Ogden, Utah, grow flowers around their pyramidal tents – for beauty and to keep the dust down. (The giant zinnias are so robust here that you can transplant them in full bloom from the gardens of outfits that are moving out.) Still other GIs make rings, P-38 models, bracelets and necklaces out of Jap propellers, bullets, shells and other odds and ends.
It’s a changed Guadalcanal.
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