"Camp Tarawa" 1943...
Waimea community embodies proud history
Submitted by: MCB Hawaii
Story Identification Number: 200421317592
Story by Sarah Fry
WAIMEA, Hawaii(February 13, 2004) -- When Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of 1941, about 400 residents lived in the Big Island community of Waimea -- now known as "Kamuela" -- most of them employee families of the huge Parker Ranch, and a few related businesses. The community was diverse, including Hawaiians, Chinese, Filipinos and, by a significant majority, Japanese.
Waimea residents and cowboys -- known in Hawaii as "paniolos" -- quickly came together to organize 24-hour watches against further Japanese attack. The Hawaii National Guard, then the U.S. Army, set up an encampment at the edge of town on Parker Ranch.
Within months, thousands of American service men were fighting in the Pacific. After the bloody Battle of Tarawa in November 1943, remnants of the 2nd Marine Division arrived in Hawaii. Their wounded were unloaded at Pearl Harbor and taken to the Naval hospital at Aiea -- now the Marine Forces Pacific headquarters building at Camp H. M. Smith. The battle-scarred survivors who did not need hospitalization were taken to the Big Island of Hawaii to recover and rebuild the division.
Of the Marines shipped to Hilo, some were moved by truck, but most were loaded into open rail cars to travel the 65 miles to Waimea on a narrow-gauge line usually used to transport sugar cane. Fog and mist shrouded the passage and winds chilled the ragged division. A few division members were landed on the beach, 16 miles from Waimea by landing ship tanks, or LSTs.
The Marines' new camp was located in a saddle between Hawaii's two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, which towered in the distance. Ever-breezy Waimea was not the "island paradise" many of the men had expected.
The Marines were battle-weary and cold, still wearing the uniforms in which they had fought and sailed back in across the Pacific. Many were sick with malaria. Though their morale sank as they surveyed their new "home," before they could rest they would need to resurrect what they would come to call "Camp Tarawa." The good news was that a detachment of Navy Seabees arrived to help.
Parker Ranch owner Richard Smart had leased 40,000 acres to the Marine Corps for $1 a year. When 2nd Marine Division arrived, he moved out of his home, Puu Opelo, so it could become division headquarters. The Waimea school and hotel were converted to hospitals. Parker Hall became the local United Service Organizations.
Women took in washing. Families invited Marines into their homes on weekends for home-cooked meals. When Marines received "free" time, they joined forces with townspeople to play against outsiders, held boxing matches and basketball games.
The Marines sorely needed blankets and warm clothing items. Most personal gear had been lost in the battle. Entrepreneurs showed up to sell everything from newspapers to hot dogs.
As 2nd Marine Division began to recover and to retrain in earnest, it made major changes in the community. The Marines dammed the Waimea River miles upstream and piped water down to the town. They ran electricity throughout the area, replacing kerosene as the fuel for lights. They also built an icehouse, where they made ice cream for the troops and local children.
The division practiced amphibious landings, air cover and amphibious tank operations in preparation for its next battle assignment, at Saipan, then Tinian and, for the 8th Marine Regiment, Okinawa. When 2nd Marine Division left Waimea for Saipan, artillery units of "V" Amphibious Corps continued to train on the mountain ranges.
A few weeks later, trucks rumbled into town bearing the newly formed 5th Marine Division, just arrived from Camp Pendleton, Calif. These Marines donned new gear and equipment and seemed younger and more willing to laugh than the battle-hardened troops now on their way to the Marshall Islands.
The 5th Marine Division trained, in part, by assaulting two volcanic formations on Parker Ranch. Lava ash slowed the Marines' progress as they fought their way up the steep slopes, but many knew that their hard work at Camp Tarawa was in preparation for the coming assault on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi in the Volcano Islands.
The Marines introduced rodeo to Hawaii, where cattle raising and horse breaking had a long history as a business, not a sport. Parker Ranch provided horses, steers and calves for the rodeo, and a huge barbecue for the participants and onlookers to enjoy.
On Christmas Day 1944, the division mounted out for landing rehearsals at Maalea Bay, then headed for Iwo Jima. Those not killed or seriously wounded returned to Camp Tarawa in April 1945, and began to rebuild for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
When the war ended, the 5th Marine Division was sent to Japan for occupation duty, and the Army took over Camp Tarawa, auctioning off equipment and structures.
In 1984, the Waimea Civic Club erected a monument outside Waimea, along Mamalahoa Highway, to remember the one-time home to two Marine Divisions.
Photos included with story:
The Camp Tarawa Memorial honors the heroic Marines and Sailors of the 5th Marine Division, who trained at Camp Tarawa in preparation for the Feb. 19, 1945, assault on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. Photo by: Courtesy of the Pacific War Memorial Association
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