Thursday, March 11, 2004


MY LIFE AS A STEAM SHOVEL As Told To Pvt Roberts...

I was born in 1938 in the city of Yawata, Japan. My parts were forged at the Imperial Iron and Steel Works located there. The plans for my construction came from a steam shovel that was bought after the Panama Canal was finished. I was the latest thing in high tech in those years.

In 1942 I was shipped by barge to the Island of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands In the South Pacific. There the Imperial Japanese Navy was ordered to build an airfield with my help. I was just barely rigged up when an exploding force of United States Marines came swarming over the airfield I was working on and they commandeered me to do their work, as they had no large, great Steam Shovels like me.

I was then assigned to the 1st Marine Aviation Engineer Battalion . They checked me all out and put me to work right off. These Marines called the airfield I was working on Henderson Field. I believe “Henderson” was a Marine Aviator killed at the battle of Midway Island in the central Pacific.

All hell broke loose a few nights latter as the Japanese Navy and air force started to shell and bomb the airfield.

This lasted on and off for several months as the Japanese wanted the Island back real bad. As Guadalcanal was the vital key to their shipping in the South Pacific. I musta been forged under a lucky star as all those shells and bombs missed me. After this Historic Airfield was completed with my help. The Marines went on to win their campaign in the Solomon Islands.

Late in 1942 the Sea Bees were formed to do the Navy’s construction work, The 1st Marine Aviation Engineer Battalion was then renamed the “1st Separate Engineer Battalion. This Engineer Battalion was assigned to be the Engineers for the 3rd Amphibious Corps. This Corps was made up of the 1st 2nd and 6th Marine Divisions. When the Marines fought for and took the Island of Tinian, in the Mariana’s group, I was partly dismantled and put on the deck of a large Navy Transport and shipped along with the 1st Separate Engineer Battalion to the Mariana’s.

They were to help me build the largest airfield in the world at that time .I only needed a few good men so it didn’t take many Marines. I was the key that cemented all this great work together. I was sure glad to be back with this great outfit of Marines.

Of course the Sea Bees got all the credit there as they did on Henderson Field, for all this construction. But the Marines did get even somewhat by eating all or most of their food. Sea Bees always had great food and they always welcomed Marines. Marines, whenever they got a chance stood in their mess lines. The Sea Bees would always announce, “Navy personnel only” All Army troops must leave the area. Maybe the Army Air Force there couldn’t fix food so great. I have never heard anyone bragging about Army food.

I would of liked to have been in this chow line with the Marines, but would of looked out of place. Maybe I was suited better for Army Air Force food. It mixed better with my diesel fuel. The army probably couldn’t taste the difference.

On arrival at Tinian I was placed in a coral quarry to shovel out material for the runways for those beautiful B-29s.

Our Marine dump truck drivers were from “C” or Charlie Co. Company. The Island Command gave them the “Red Flag” so they had priority of all the roads on Tinian and over all other trucks. Army and Sea Bees, had to yield to them. The Army really wanted this Airfield built in a hurry.

Eventually this was a weird thing for China, maybe, for as Marines in general have a great attitude , Charlie Company drivers had even a bigger one. The Marines that went there after the war. Started driving in Peking and would only drive on the right side. The Chinese drove, what few cars and trucks they had, on the left [wrong] side of the road. The Chinese used charcoal burning trucks and a lot of mule drawn, two wheel carts. When trucks collided with a Marine truck, there was burning charcoal thrown everywhere. Sooooooo the Chinese government on New Years day ’45 –’46 changed all this around to save what was left of the Chinese trucks and had them drive on the right side. The Chinese mules had a hard time switching over to the right side. You know how mules can be. To this day, with the exception of Hong Kong, China drives on the right side. Thanks to the boys in Charley Company, 1st separate Engineer Battalion.

In late 1944 the B-29s bombed and destroyed the Imperial Iron & Steel Works in Yawata, Japan. Soooooooo what comes around goes around and my birthplace was destroyed by the very B-29s I build the runways for. A pilot from Continental Airlines flew over Tinian on his rout from Guam to Hong Kong not to long ago and reported to one of the famous old members of this Battalion that he saw an old wreck of a steam shovel rusting away in a coral quarry. Sure wish I could have gone on to Okinawa and China with this Engineer Battalion . Maybe I would have become a great and famous monument at the Marine Corps Base In San Diego like when they raised the flag at Suribachi. I would be proud to have my bucket painted with Stars and Stripes.

Semper Fi....
from your favorite rusty old steam shovel.
My friend Marine Richard Roberts is a WW II and China Marine. Please see his several stories posted to GyG's Marine Vignettes--Tales of The Corps.
Thank you, Richard!
Semper Fidelis
Dick Gaines
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Semper Fidelis
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