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A Finger on the Wide Web of War

by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation



IN THE MARIANAS ISLANDS (Delayed) - February 22, 1945 - You may wonder why we have American troops at all here in the Marianas Islands, since we are 1500 miles away from the Philippines, China, or Japan itself.

Well, it's because in this Pacific war of vast water distances, we have to make gigantic bases of each group of islands we take, in order to build up supplies and preparations for future invasions farther on.

The Marianas happen to be a sort of crossroads in the Western Pacific. Stuff can go either west or north from here. Whoever sits in the Marianas can have his finger on the whole web of the war.

Thus the Marianas are becoming a heart of the Pacific war. Our naval and military leaders make no bones about it, for the Japs know it anyhow, but they're too far away to do anything about it.

The Marianas are both thrilling and engaging right now. Scores of thousands of troops of all kinds are here. Furious building is going on. Planes arrive on schedule from all directions as though this were Chicago airport - only they've come thousands of miles over water. Convoys unload unbelievable tonnages.

These islands will hum throughout the war and they will never return to their former placid life, for we are building on almost every inch of useable land. Supplies in staggering quantities are being stacked up here for future use. You can take your pick of K-rations or lumber or bombs, and you'd find enough of either to feed a city, build one, or blow it up.

Fleets can base here between engagements. Combat troops train here. Other troops come back to rest. Great hospitals are set up for our future wounded. Pipelines criss-cross the islands. Trucks bumper to bumper dash forward as though they were on the Western front. Ox-cart trails turn almost overnight into four-lane macadam highways for military traffic. There is no blackout in the islands. If raiders come the lights are turned off, but they seldom come anymore. The Marianas are a pretty safe place now.

Great long macadam airstrips are in operation and others are being laid. The Marianas are the seat of some our B-29 bomber fleets which will grow and grow and grow.

Thousands of square tents, thousands of curved steel Quonset huts, thousands of huge, permanent warehouses and office buildings dot the islands. Lights burn all night and the roar of planes, the clank of bulldozers, and the clatter of hammers is constant. It is a strange contrast to the stillness that dwelt amidst this greenery for so many centuries.

There are 15 islands in this chain, running due north and south. They string out a total distance of more than 400 miles. We are on the southern end.

We only hold three islands, but they are the biggest and the only three that count. The other islands are completely "neutralized" by our occupancy of these three.

There are a few Japs living on some of the others, but there's nothing they can do to harm us. The islands we haven't bothered with are small and worthless. Most of them have no inhabitants at all.

The islands we took are Guam, Tinian and Saipan. Guam had been ours for many years before Japan took it away from just after Pearl Harbor. Tinian and Saipan had been Japanese since the last war. We took the whole batch last summer.

Guam is the biggest and southernmost. Tinian and Saipan are right together, 120 miles north of Guam. You can fly up there in less than an hour, and our transport planes shuttle back and forth several times daily on regular schedule. They have to make a "dog-leg" around the island of Rota, about half way up for there are still Japs on it with 50-caliber machine guns, and they'll shoot at you.

I've been on all three of our islands, and I must admit two things - that I like it here, and that you can't help but be thrilled by what the Americans are doing.

And from all I've picked up so far, I think it can be said that most Americans like the Marianas Islands, assuming they have to be away from home at all.

The savage heat and the dread diseases and the awful jungles of the more southern Pacific Islands do not exist here. The climate is good, the islands are pretty, and the native Chamorros are nice people.

Health conditions among our men are excellent. They work in shorts or without shirts and are deeply tanned. The mosquito and fly problem has been licked. There is almost no venereal disease. Food is good. The weather is always warm but not cruelly hot. Almost always a breeze is blowing. Anywhere you look, you have a pretty view.

Yes, the islands are a paradise and life here is fine - except it's empty and there is no diversion and the monotony eventually gnaws at you.

Ernie Pyle