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Geiger Field - Preparing to fight Japan

American Theater Ribbon

After what the official history called the "shortest thirty days in history" the men reassembled at Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington. The 801st Engineers were assigned to the Fourth Air Force, and would see the remainder of its duty in the Pacific Theater. Most of the men returned on 21 and 22 April, although some groups did not arrive for several days. Waiting for them were 215 enlisted replacements, most recruited from the Air Corps, to take the place of men who had been left behind on the Azores.

Prepping the ground

Building the skeleton

The Butler Hanger
Three stages in the construction of the Butler Hanger
photos from the battalion official history

The primary mission now for the 801st was preparing to ship out for the Pacific. Each enlisted man went through a week of specialized training in Army Air Force Aviation Engineer School. There was practical on-the-job training constructing a concrete-floored Butler Hanger (using the same construction principals as the Butler Bins seen on farms across America), the laying of a half-mile of asphalt pavement, and the laying and removal of a prefab bituminous surface.

But parades and shows were also a priority, a sign that the war was close to being won. On 28 April, as Soviet troops fought their way into the outskirts of Berlin and Mussolini was hung by partisans, the 801st was awarded first place in a Base Parade. This was in spite of the large number of new recruits and a shortage of web equipment and weapons.

The Geiger Field Public Relations Office selected a number of 801st enlisted men to give War Bond shows in Cheney, Washington on 19 May, in Latah on the 26th and Spokane on the 28th. The battalion's M16 gun carriage with its quad .50 caliber machine guns, an antiaircraft weapon with a tremendous rate of fire mounted on an armored halftrack, proved to be a big hit at each of these show.. On the 24th the battalion again took first place in the Base Parade. The biggest parade of all was in Spokane on Memorial Day. All men were excused from their technical schools to participate. They were joined by the Geiger Field Band and the Women's Army Corps detachment. Earlier that day in Berlin, Hitler had committed suicide.

A bronze service star was awarded on 1 May to veteran personnel of the battalion for their Azores service.

 

There were signs that the future would not be all shows and parades. No one in the 801st knew it, but back in Washington plans were being finalized for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, a campaign that would dwarf the bloody struggle for Okinawa then in its final stages.

On 15 June a convoy of five officers and 160 enlisted men left for the firing range at Yakima, Washington. Live-fire practice was held on the .50 caliber antiaircraft machine gun, M16 Gun Carriage and 60 mm mortar with high explosive ammunition. Two officers and 20 enlisted men traveled to Port Hueneme, California for two weeks of Amphibious Training.

The battalion knew their time at Geiger was soon coming to a close when Lt. Col. Galanti issued orders that all personnel should be issued all possible passes. Although full day or multiple-day passes were not given, 50% of the 801st received evening or "off-duty" passes each day. Dances were held at the Base Service Club, and the hot spots of Spokane echoed nightly to the men of the 801st.

Early in the morning of 6 July 1945, all personnel were restricted to company areas. The 801st was assembled in parade formation with full pack and gear, and duffle bags were loaded on trucks. The Geiger Field Band led the battalion in a last parade down the base's main street and to the loading area. The band played one last piece in farewell - I've Been Working on the Railroad - as the men boarded the trains. The trains pulled out at 0800, heading west, toward the Pacific.

Next: Shipping out - Part 2 >

Kite flying and
a cattle massacre

Quad Fifites

The 801st went out into the field for several days to practice using the battalion’s fifty caliber machine guns as anti-aircraft weapons. more >