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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, November 10, 2016


On Guam in 1946, where I landed in mid-January, I was assigned as Staff Secretary to ComNatsAsia in the headquarters offices at Agana Naval Air Base.  The first few months were a happy time.  The commander of the Asiatic Wing of NATS was a wartime reserve captain, Carl Luthi, once a pilot with Northwest Airlines.  He ran a very relaxed and informal staff.
We had a crude “squawk box” system between offices; however, Captain Luthi did not like being sequestered alone in his office.  He had a pass-through hole in his office so that his desk and mine as staff secretary and administrative aide in the anteroom with our yeoman were effectively side by side and we could chat back and forth.
I was the junior member of a staff of nineteen officers.  Most were reserves with airline backgrounds.  Luthi liked the informality of the wartime Navy and kept it that way.  In the tropical heat we were not required to wear neckties during working hurs and our footwear was unshineable “boondocker” work shoes.
The quarters assigned me were a room at the BOQ at Commander, Marianas, headquarters high on a hill overlooking Agana Harbor and a Japanese prisoner of war camp that was still well filled.  (The Marines were still bringing more holdout Japanese soldiers out of the jungle almost daily.)
We were two to a room at ConMarianas and my roommate turned out to be Commander Earl Spaulding, the senior medical officer on the island and a very likeable officer.  Spaulding had a hospital at Agana NAB and a staff of nurses who resided in a guarded compound of Quonset huts adjacent to the ComNatsAsia offices on the base, also a series of Quonset huts.  That period from January to May of 1946 was a pleasant time in my Navy career, then changes started to occur.
The changes started gradually as the Navy began converting back to a spit-and-polish peacetime basis.  Some of or relaxed reservists began to be replaced by Regular Navy officers.  We soon were informed that included ComNatsAsia and Carl Luthi would be replaced by a career Regular Navy captain.
Meanwhile, we merrily went on our relaxed way.  Even though I was the junior officer, I was accorded some consideration by my fellow officers since one of my collateral duties was Motor Transportation officer and I controlled the assignment of jeeps from our motor pool. (Inevitably, I drove one of the newest of the jeeps.)
We found in March that the Navy was going to allow dependents to come to Guam as long as quarters for married couples could e arranged.  A housing area of married Quonset huts across the base was being set up but would not be ready for occupancy in the near future.
Commander Spaulding, my roommate at ComMarianas, came up with a great idea.  In the nurses compound at Agana NAB there was an extra Quonset set aside for the senior medical officer.  Spaulding had not occupied it because he enjoyed the camaraderie of the BOQ and the nearby ComMarianas officers’ club which was considerably more luxurious than the one on our base.  Earl’s idea was for the two of us to convert the senior medical officer’s Quonset to a two-bedroom dwelling and we could both have our wives come to Guam.
We worked on that Quonset ourselves every evening after working hours and on weekends using scrounged materials.  Meanwhile, in my assignment as Staff Secretary, I was in a position to hand walk our paperwork through the captain and through ComMarianas for approval.  On the 20th of March we applied for transportation for our wives to Guam.
Spaulding turned out to be a scrounger without peer when it came to furnishing our residence.  We seldom bothered with requisitions for furniture, but scrounged our own.  It was easy because some of the bases on Guam had already been abandoned, but the furnishings not yet removed.  Earl spotted an abandoned Marine base somewhere on the far side of the island.  As Motor Transportation officer, I issued truck trip passes and, for a bottle of booze, we could always get some of our enlisted men to help.
While I worked on wall finishing, Spaulding would disappear across the island with a truck and a couple of men.  He would return with, first of all, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, then living room furnishings from the abandoned Marine officers’ club.
Beds were another problem.  All we could find were regulation cots with thin mattresses until Early came up with another idea.  At the ComMarianas BOQ we slept in comfort on good Beautyrest single mattresses.  There was a BOQ two-story Quonset building that had never been occupied and it had a plentiful supply of new beds and mattresses, but our requisitions failed to produce any.  Ingenuity was required as, before we had our quarters completely furnished, our wives had sailed from San Francisco on the Navy transport USS GENERAL MITCHELL.  They were due to arrive together the third week in May.
We mounted a “Mission Impossible” type operation that reminded me of my procurement of hand tools at Ile Nou except this one required some close timing.  Earl had already paid off the CPO who was ComMarianas Master at Arms in charge of the buildings with a bottle of good scotch.  I issued an evening truck pass and got two of our enlisted men to assist.
On the appointed evening, Dr. Spaulding drove his chief nurse to the ComMarinanas officers’ club for dinner where he proceeded to apparently get quite drunk.  It was part of the plan that had to be executed with literally split second timing.  The key was that an officer escorting a female off base at night was required to be armed.  Spaulding wore his 45-caliber sidearm.
While they had dinner and Spaulding drank enough afterward to have booze on his breath, I took the truck work party to ComMarianas and located the unused building.  The Master at Arms was there, unlocked the door, then quietly disappeared.  We loaded four of the single beds that could be pushed together to form doubles and waited in the darkness until Spaulding hand his nurse appeared in the parking lot.
The main gate at ComMarianas had a double lane with a Marine guard on each.  We timed our arrivals at the gate so that Spaulding got there a few seconds Ahead of the truck.  When we pulled up Spaulding was in an argument with the one guard who had checked his sidearm and found that there was no magazine in the pistol.  The guard was insisting that he had to go back and get a magazine or he was not armed to escort the nurse back to Agana.
While Spaulding argued, apparently, a bit tipsy, the guard on my side was distracted by listening in on the conversation of the drunken commander.  He casually looked at my trip pass, did not inspect the cargo of the truck, and waved us on through the gate.  As we disappeared down the road, Earl suddenly found the magazine for his pistol under the Jeep seat and, he too, was waved on through.  Operation Bedsnatch was a complete success.  We had our beds and the boys who helped us had enough booze to throw a party in their quarters to which Earl and I were invited.  We went.

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