Crater of Mt. Surbachi, Iwo Jima, 1965 by Joe Richard
Iwo Jima Stories
USAF Air Traffic Control Squadron, 1964th AACS,
April 1958-April 1959
United States Air Force
Fred Puente's Story:
I spent a year on Iwo starting on April Fool's Day 1958. I was USAF in the Air Traffic Control Squadron ( 1964th AACS). We ran the control tower & the GCA unit which was set-up about 1000 ft. from the runway, which if I recall, is (was) one of the longest in the Far East at over 10,000 ft.
We lived in a Quonset hut right at the radar site and actually enjoyed a pretty good lifestyle given our situation.
We had a big refrigerator (and as I recall, an electric range) and an outdoor BBQ pit and some mess sergeant allowed us to take food from the mess hall so that we could fix some of our own meals including cook-outs once in a while.
The outhouse (latrine) was probably the worst situation but we always had plenty of hot water for showers and the cubicles were always very neat & clean.
Large rats were also occasional unwelcome guests in the hut if a door was left ajar which made for great sport.
We had a couple of vehicles assigned to our unit and we could come & go to the "main base" as we wished or we would walk back & forth.
The movie screen was outdoors and the film changed every night and then we would hit the snack bar before heading back across the runway to our hut.
I spent many hours taking photos and reading books from the library which was well-stocked.
Also, if you were creative you could come up with a number of reasons to get off the island to go to Japan (Tachikawa AB) for eye exams, hearing tests, dental work, etc. Iwo had a small dispensary with a doctor. I think that he was a doctor! Might have been a medic!
Those C-130 rides were noisy & cold at 30,000 ft. sitting in the back in a sling seat or trying to sleep on a pile of laundry bags.
Played lots of poker - payday stakes and I think that the only guy who made money was the guy who " kept the books" as he dragged some small amount of money from every pot for services rendered.
We seemed to have lots of "down-time" as we were always on "stand-by" status. When an aircraft was 100 miles out the tower would give us a call and we'd go out to the GCA unit and crank it up and get the scopes aligned but because the weather was always almost perfect, all we had to do was monitor the incoming flight as a back-up in case they had a problem.
We spent lots of time "boondocking" that is to say exploring the island, esp. the main invasion beach (south and east of Mt. Suribachi).
Still some unexploded ordnance around the island and we were supposed to mark it with a stick (flag) and call Air Police as I recall.
We could also draw 30 caliber ammo from the Air Police and do some "plinking" around the island at cans, sharks or whatever moved.
We kept the 30 cal. carbines at the hut but no ammo as I recall.
Seems to me that we had lots of bob-tailed cats running around as well. Sort of domesticated cats gone wild. They might be called ferral cats.
Typhoons were exciting! When we would go to Condition Red or whatever we called it we would head for the caves and lay low for 12-18 hours or so. On a few occasion I got to ride it out in the tower which had steel shutters we would drop over the big windows.
The tower was concrete & steel so we were OK. There was also a new Communication Center not yet on-line that we used a couple of times but it was full of scorpions. They must have shipped in with the equipment in big, wooden crates.
Made for sleepless nights.
I'm sure that there are still a few guys who served in the 1964th with me and it would be fun to make contact again after all of these years.
Note: To view images taken by the web master of World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words during his year on Iwo Jima, please click on the following link to my World War II Stories Photo Album:
WW II Stories: Iwo Jima Photo Album 1965-1966
Did YOU serve on Iwo Jima?
Did you know that there is a group of veterans who have gotten together to form an association of servicemen, no matter what branch of service, who served at one time or another starting at the invasion of the island on February 19, 1945 and continuing until the island was eventually returned to the Japanese in 1969?
Black Pearl Veterans
The materials depicted on this page were reprinted with kind permission of the subject of our essay -- Harold M. Spears.
We, at the World War II Stories - In Their Own Words web site wish to offer to Mr. Fred Puente our most profound THANK YOU for his poignant story of his personal experiences -- during his military tour of Iwo Jima and especially for allowing us to share those memories.
Original story transcribed on 19 October 2004
September 5, 2002.
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