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Okinawa - the last weeks of the 801st

Pacific Theater ribbon

Bent flagpole
The battalion flagpole, bent over by the force of the wind
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Typhoon damage
Damage to the hospital area
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Typhoon damage
Damage to the camp area
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All photos from the battalion official history

The big event of October was Typhoon Louise, which ravaged Okinawa starting at around 1500 hours on 7 October. Throughout the night and into the morning screaming winds and sheets of rain ripped down every tent and shredded quonset huts as well as power and communication lines. The tall battalion flagpole was bent over parallel with the ground from about twenty feet up. Men took cover in the four sturdy mess halls, underneath heavy equipment, and even in the traditional Okinawan burial caves built into the surrounding hills.

This could have been the legendary "Divine Wind" (kami-kaze) the Japanese had been hoping to save the Empire. The American fleet off Okinawa in Buckner Bay was in chaos. Twelve ships and landing vessels were sunk, over 200 had gone aground, and over 30 more were severely damaged.Thirty-six men were dead, and hundreds injured. Almost all food, medical supplies and equipment stores ashore were destroyed, as well as most of the housing and buildings. Many aircraft at Kadena Field were damaged, some beyond repair. Had the war not ended just weeks before, the destruction and damage of Naval vessels, aircraft and especially supplies would have had a tremendous impact on the proposed invasion of Japan.

The morning revealed a scene of devastation to the drenched and exhausted men of the battalion. But these were engineers, and they had lumber and tools. Reconstruction began immediately, but with a different tent frame design that would hold up better to the next typhoon. Motivated by the concept of a dry place to sleep, seven hundred men worked nonstop through the day. About 75% of the camp was rebuilt when Higher Command roared up in a jeep and forcefully directed that not another nail was to go in another board until surrounding units (who lacked the luxury of tools and a lumberyard) had been put back into order.

October also saw the creation of a number of athletic teams to provide the men healthy entertainment in their spare time. The battalion baseball team, the 801st "Dust Eaters," won four games and seemed destined to become island champs when, in the words of the official history, "a few bad breaks, coupled with an Okinawa drizzle," saw them lose the final game in a score of nine to eight. Touch football teams were also formed by Companies A and B, Battalion S-3, and the officers, and competed in a heated rivalry.

The 801st "Dust Eaters"
The 801st "Dust Eaters"
photo from battalion official history
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As the year came to an end more and more men were becoming eligible to be shipped home. Even though the war was clearly over there were simply too many men overseas and too many tasks yet to accomplish to simply send every man home at once. The Navy and Merchant Marine were running flat out in "Operation Magic Carpet," with even aircraft carriers being pressed into service to carry personnel home to "the States." Each man had an eligibility score, based on criteria such as service time, expertise, and decorations. The goal was to have the men who had seen the most service, or who had hard service such as combat, be eligible to go home first.

By December the 801st was completing projects or turning them over to other units. In mid-December they received a telegram from headquarters acknowledging that they had "become inoperative due to transfer of personnel" and authorizing them to turn in their equipment pending operational movement orders. The World War II service of the 801st Engineer Aviation Battalion was over.

Next: The road home

Getting an ice machine

Dad was Charge of Quarters one night – the senior enlisted man in charge at headquarters while all the officers were sleeping – when he was approached with an unusual request. “We need to borrow one of the Prime Movers.”
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