Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

Dad didn't talk much about the war, the big one, that is, WW2. I knew he was stationed in the South Pacific and that he skinned his nose playing basketball; that was his only story.

I found out later what it was really like in a war in the South Pacific.

Dad was Captain of an engineering corp tasked with building runways on small islands as the US forces pushed westward. They, my Dad and his men, built the runways by hand. Sure, they had some mechanical equipment like trucks and bulldozers, but they hauled 80-lb sacks of cement from landing craft, through waist deep water, by hand, one by one.

80 pound sacks of cement. Hauled through water. To shore. By men. One at a time.

Think about it.

They had some kind of rock breaker that made gravel and they got the sand from the beach to create concrete (a mixture of sand, gravel and cement) which they carried in wheelbarrows to the site where the runway was going to be built.

Now, a runway back then might have been 2000 feet long and 18 inches deep. That's a lot of wheelbarrow trips.

I can't imagine the amount of toil that went into building those runways, and in the South Pacific heat.

Skinned his nose playing basketball, so the story goes.

I found out later that the camp was bombed nightly. Damaged planes crash landed on the runway, tearing it up which necessitated immediate repair. Malaria and other diseases were rampant. Food was in short supply. It was hot, humid and uncomfortable even when not being bombed.

And through all this these engineers simply did the work that needed to be done. Back breaking, dangerous work, day by day. Hauling concrete and steel by hand. Working in shifts around the clock. For years.

After the war was over, the trip home was a 6-week voyage on the open deck of a troop carrier. In the rain. In the sun. But, at least they weren't getting bombed every night. Deep clover by comparison.

I salute the men of the 864th Army Engineering Battalion for their personal sacrifice and doing the work that most of us couldn't imagine.

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