Camp Maui

“Prizefighter’s Training Camp”

Maui Marines No Ka Oi”
(Maui Marines Are The Best)1

Sergeant Mike Frihauf's squad at Camp Maui, spring of 1944.
Sergeant Mike Frihauf’s squad at Camp Maui, spring of 1944.

“There are many legends concerning the way in which the Fourth Marine Division got Camp Maui as a rest camp,” wrote ex-combat correspondent David Dempsey in 1946. “Some say it was intended for the Army but they would have none of it – which made it just the thing for Marines. Others say it was a deliberate conspiracy on the part of the High Command who wanted to simulate combat conditions. Whatever the truth, everyone agreed that originally, the term ‘rest camp’ was a misnomer.”2 Dempsey’s sardonic assessment – shared by many Marines – did hold a grain of truth. The 1,600 acre plot of land was originally rented by the Army, who paid fifteen different owners a yearly rate of $15,000. The Army had yet to develop the land by November, 1943, and transferred the majority of the contract to the Marine Corps.3 The 48th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees), veterans of many building projects on Maui, were assigned the task of transforming pineapple farms and open land on the slopes of Mount Haleakala into a base capable of supporting twenty to thirty thousand men. The efforts of the Seabees were hampered by the elevation of the camp – 1,800 feet – and the rainfall, which averages two hundred inches a year. However, within a few months, “Camp Maui” could boast of a collection of 16-foot square tents to house the troops, with Quonset huts for galleys, mess halls, and ordinance.4

The bulk of the Fourth Marine Division arrived in the third week of February. As the troop transports arrived in the scenic Kahului harbor, Marines fresh from their first combat experience gazed over the railings at an idyllic island that was thankfully not enveloped in smoke and flame. “At close range it was prettier than ever,” wrote Dempsey. “The long convoy of trucks that wound from the Kahului docks through Paia and Makawao passed under blossoming flame and shower tress, past hibiscus and wild roses, past green clapboard houses from which curious islanders peered.”5 “I wish I could describe this place to you – there is a lot to tell – the scenery here is fabulous – breathtaking in its beauty – strange and exotic plants and people,” wrote Philip Wood, a weapons platoon leader with Able Company, 24th Marines.6

“Rest Camp” isn’t exactly an accurate term – more like a prizefighter’s training camp, where you go to put on weight, get back in trim. We need some of that – a lot of new equipment to replace all that was lost or damaged, and a chance to relax the boys’ minds – they’ve been under a tension for a long time now. All they – we – want to do is get back to some safe spot and eat and sleep and loaf in the sun – and see some green hills and foamy cold beer, and see a buxom open-faced country lass.7

The division would make the journey from Kahului to Camp Maui three times before the war ended. “Each time Maui seemed more beautiful,” says Dempsey.8 Scout Alva Perry(A/1/24) was more direct: “Each time we came back to Maui, we replaced those of us that were killed and wounded in our last battle. When we came back from Iwo there was hardly anyone left that I knew.”9

February – May 1944: Recovery from Flintlock and Preparation for Forager

Camp Maui as seen from the air. Official USMC Photo.
Camp Maui as seen from the air. Official USMC Photo.

The Marines arrived at Camp Maui with a whirlwind of activity and emotion. They had just faced their first combat; their stained dungarees set them apart from the “rear-echelon pull,” many were struggling with memories of combat, the loss of friends, or slight wounds. Each company found a built-in welcoming committee in the contingents left behind to handle the administrative task of transferring an entire division from base to base; clerks, staff officers, and some men deemed not suitable for combat crowded around the friends they had trained with, taking stock of souvenirs and listening eagerly to stories. Exhausted from their cruise, the Fourth Division was happy to set foot on friendly soil for the first time since the thirteenth of January. The island was quiet and clean, free of blasted tree trunks, shell holes, the smell of death and the odious task of cleaning up a combat area.10 Surely, they thought, here was paradise.

View of the eastern portion of Camp Maui. The 23rd Marines inhabited these tents. Official USMC Photo.
View of the eastern portion of Camp Maui. The 23rd Marines inhabited these tents. Official USMC Photo.

Alva Perry’s initial enthusiasm for the natural beauty of Maui was tempered by his experience with its climate. “The first night we were there, we put our shoes under our bunks. The next morning all our shoes were found at the bottom of the company street. They had floated down during a downpour.”11 The Fourth Division’s first base of operations, Camp Pendleton, was a new facility with the latest in training equipment, solidly built barracks, an arid climate and easy access to prime liberty spots like Los Angeles and Tijuana. Camp Maui, by contrast, was an isolated series of canvas tents and metal huts, with endless rain and little electricity. The war diary for the 24th Marines recorded that “there were no lights in the new camp and the whole area was ankle deep in mud from recent rains. General aspects of this ‘rest camp’ seemed discouraging. All hands were quarantined for one week.”12 The 25th Marines, arriving in early March, found conditions only slightly better. Pfc John Lane (G/2/25) drew a tent with a wooden floor and bare bulb overhead; many tents were not wired for electricity until later in the spring. Roads were little more than tracks gouged into slick red mud. For sanitation, Pfc Carl Matthews’ company had “a twelve-foot long urinal… fashioned from sheet metal [that] hung on one wall. Another cubicle had lavatories on one wall…. beyond that the shower, with ten or twelve spigots that emitted the coldest water this side of the North Pole. There was no roof.”13

Outdoor bathing facilities, Camp Maui, 1944. Official USMC Photo.
Outdoor bathing facilities, Camp Maui, 1944. Official USMC Photo.

Work had begun on new training areas for machine guns, grenades, demolitions, bazookas, tanks, and artillery, but no one wanted to think about drill. For the first week after their arrival, most Marines were left to their own devices. “Life here is not bad at all – they call it a rest camp, and strangely enough they almost mean it,” wrote Phil Wood.

We didn’t do anything the first week except get squared away, and now we have a light training schedule – with the emphasis on athletics and recreation. Our tents are pretty comfortably set up, and our Officer’s Wine Mess just went into operation. We have a good bit of time to ourselves, to write or read or walk around the place, or to censor mail, damn it. The climate is very comfortable, except for a lot of rain, but we’re almost at the end of the season, they say.14

Wood, who was in charge of censoring the mail for the enlisted men of his regiment, listed letter writing as a prime occupation in the first days at Camp Maui. “The Regimental Post Office is sold out of Air Mail stamps – 20,000 of them, and all the ones of other denominations, too. The boys are really pouring out the letters home…. I have to censor the damn things. It’s an hour or two out of each day.”15 Open-air amphitheaters provided films after dark; Al Perry and his friends sat on sandbags in the rain to watch Esther Williams on the big screen.16 For most of the Marines, the quality of the movie was of little importance. “They are old and incredibly bad,” opined Phil Wood, “but no matter – there are girls in them.”17

As long as they were present for roll call in the morning and evening, most Marines had free reign to amuse themselves. Some headed for the exotically named towns of Haiku, Makawao, Kahului, and Wailuku, which eventually housed USO functions. Phil Wood spent his first liberty on Maui in search of a simple pleasure; he split the cost of a hotel room with three friends so each could take their first hot shower in over a month. That done, they found “a wonderful little drinking spot – summery tables around an open, sunny patio – warm, dripping with tropical flowers…. Of course, we drank like fish in the few drinking hours we had…. We went roller-skating, and I performed much more brilliantly than I ever did sober.”18

The acquisition of alcohol quickly became a primary concern. Heath O’Briant (C/1/23) turned a working party into a beer party after his squad pilfered a few cases of beer from a slow-moving supply truck.19 Regimental clubs (“slop chutes”) supplied enlisted Marines with two bottles of weak beer per night; those with a serious thirst went to the newly built Post Exchange to buy alcohol-based Aqua Velva aftershave.20 Others hopped over a fence dividing their camp from land belonging to the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and returned with fresh fruit to supplement their rations. The narrow docks at Kahului always had crates of packaged pineapple awaiting cargo ships; these were raided so often that the Alexander Baldwin Company, a major exporter, submitted a bill for $10,000 to Major General Clifton Cates.21 Al Perry ate so much pineapple that he swore never to touch the fruit again.22

Though wine and song could be acquired in camp, the third part of that time-honored trio – women – required an off-base liberty. “As usual, we arrived here after other service outfits, and now when the Marines start for town, the local fathers lock up their daughters and drive their female goats up into the hills,” griped Phil Wood23. Al Perry concurred: “The Hawaiian people were really good to us although we truly believed that they hid their daughters when we came to town.”24 On his first liberty in a “small, quiet town” – probably Haiku – Wood encountered the first female he’d seen since leaving California. “Gee, a woman!” he wrote. “The first woman… in almost two months. That’s just about as close as you can get to them around here, too – just to see them.”25 Local hula troupes put on shows for the Marines, but the girls were less titillating than professional: “The hula girls took their art seriously, and tried to bring the Marines some of the old Hawaiian culture,” said Dempsey. Occasionally, a battalion would hold a dance at a local hotel or the Maui Country Club.26 Anyone without a date could at least have a souvenir picture taken with a lady in traditional Hawaiian dress – and for only a quarter extra, they could get a kiss.27 The lucky ones would retreat to nearby Kauhikoa Hill; the sounds that emanated from the treeline after dark earned it the name “Giggle Hill,” which endures to this day.28

Souvenir photos were perennially popular. All photos are from the author’s collection.

Some Marines found less conventional approaches to pursuing the local girls. On an errand to enlist civilian help for a battalion’s worth of khaki laundry, Lieutenant Wood and Captain Irving Schechter took a long jeep drive to the other side of the island. There they found a “sleepy and quiet” town, where the overseer of the local plantation took them on a tour while trying to find a laundress. The Marines visited several households, even sharing tea with an old Japanese couple, before acquiring the services of a Filipino household. “[The] three young daughters chatted gaily with us. The eldest was getting married in a few days – we happened to have liberty then, so she invited us to the party,” wrote Wood.

When we got there, it had already been going on for twelve hours – her family had built a shack – just a frame with a floor out in the middle of what in New England would be the town common – didn’t look much like one – a stretch of bare brown earth, packed hard by the hordes of barefooted children, and shaded by varieties of these fantastic flowering trees.

The shack was shingled with palm leaves that glowed green fire when the sunlight hit them – the pillars inside were twined with orchids and ropes of flowers that looked like tiger lilies. 50 or 60 people were inside, dancing to the native orchestra – sometimes the native dance, and sometimes “Melican style.” We hadn’t entered the door before the bridegoom’s brother grabbed us, piloted us over to a table, and heaped our plates with Filipino food…. There were drinks – some sort of punch, but it must have been mild, for no one was drunk.

We didn’t stay more than a few hours, but the party went on. Apparently they eat, then dance, then eat until everybody is exhausted and goes home – and the poor bride and groom have to stay until the last wedding guest has been sped on his way. We left just at dark, as the moon was beginning to rise – the heavy scent of the night – blooming cereus filled the air – we didn’t say much during the long jeep ride back to camp.29

Two enlisted men from A/1/24 wound up with “the perfect setup,” according to Wood.

[They] struck it up with a native, and were invited to his house – very clean and nice – the old boy has three daughters – two of them very pretty, and they organized a barbequed pig picnic for the two Marines. The girls played and sang and did their native dances – long flowing black hair and decked in flowers – the old man insisted that they come again next liberty, piled them with fruit to take back to camp. They’re the two most envied men in the Company. Sounds like Nordhoff and Hall, doesn’t it?30

For most Marines, though, off-base liberty was a much tamer affair. “Liberty consisted of a ride in the back of a truck to Wailuku, the county seat town of the island, where there was a USO, several bars and a small area of retail shops, typical of a small town almost anywhere,” remembered Donald Nordlie of the 23rd Marines. “There were a few small restaurants and coffee shops but their fare was quite limited. After all, there was a war on and the islands were a long way from anywhere.”31 As time passed, the camp expanded and quality of life improved. “Movie screens were built in each regimental area,” records Dempsey. “Ball diamonds were laid out and boxing rings constructed. Company libraries were opened, and Marines had their choice of 73 magazines. Chaplains, somehow, procured enough lumber for chapels; electric lights were installed in all tents; public address systems were wired into the company areas and used for piping announcements and the latest music to Marines.”32

Boxing matches, whether formal or not, were popular spectator sports. Officers of the 24th Marines watch a prizefight on Maui during the spring of 1944. The captain at center is Irving Schechter of A/1/24; the lieutenant at left is Bill Carbeau, B/1/24, killed in action on Saipan. Photo by Harold Rediske.
Boxing matches, whether formal or not, were popular spectator sports. Officers of the 24th Marines watch a prizefight on Maui during the spring of 1944. The captain at center is Irving Schechter of A/1/24; the lieutenant at left is Bill Carbeau, B/1/24, killed in action on Saipan. Photo by Harold Rediske.

Soon, the Marines had more to focus on than hitching a ride to town. They had struck a serious blow to the Japanese, had seen some combat and taken casualties, but all knew the war was a long way from over. The latest Table of Organization – guidelines for the personnel structure of every unit in the Corps, from Divisions to squads – went into effect in early March. The latest in the series – known as the “F-series” – had been designed to account for lessons learned in combat (particularly at Tarawa), as well as for increased availability of material. Extra Browning automatic rifles were added to each rifle squad, giving them a substantial increase in firepower. Heavy weapons companies were disbanded entirely, and the men were split among the other companies in their battalion.33 Other changes were deemed necessary to address changes in unit structure, or to fill vacancies left by casualties. To a junior officer like Phil Wood, the whole process seemed needlessly complicated:

There have been many changes made in our outfit – most of them caused, not by casualties, but by Col. Hart’s belief that we have been too long in our present jobs, and need a change – new faces. Also the fact that Headquarters Washington has changed the organizational setup of a company. What used to be a separate heavy weapons company – heavy machine guns – is now a part of our rifle company – to that new platoon is added my section (3 squads) of light machine guns. And my mortar section has been slightly increased – my command now consists of the mortars, and Company Headquarters personnel. Which suits me fine. Our Battalion Commander wanted to make me Transport Quartermaster…. A responsible job and all that, and someone has to do it, but I didn’t want it. It meant leaving my men, and the Company, and I like working with the mortars – and it’s too far behind the lines. So the Captain and I screamed like wild Indians, and I stayed. But most of the rest were juggled, and they were all very unhappy about it. I think it’s a Hell of a theory myself.34

John Seymour, of C/1/23, was pleased that his company gained “49 good men” from the dissolution of the weapons company.35 The newly created machine gun platoons meant that each company had effectively doubled its automatic firepower; the addition of more BAR gunners made a Marine rifle company a lethally effective unit, capable of laying down a devastating amount of fire. Corporal Glenn Buzzard, a gunner reassigned to C/1/24 in March 1944, described the workings of his new platoon on Maui:

You had four squads in a platoon, two sections, a gun in each squad, so that’s four heavy water-cooled machine guns and four light machine guns. You used the light air-cooled machine gun in the daytime; then at night you set up your air- and your water-cooled machine gun and you’d cross your fire, set up interlocking fields of fire in a solid wall right down the line. You needed firepower. That was the name of the game. They let us fire the machine gun from the hip. You had to have an asbestos glove which they gave you. We’d tape that asbestos glove right on the barrel…. Then you’d put an ammunition belt around your neck and tie it on to that gun. The worst thing was you couldn’t put a whole belt through it because you couldn’t control the belt… so you cut the belts, which were canvas. You only fired it when you really needed it.36

PFCs Richard Dues and Bernard Elissagaray joined A/1/24 during the spring of 1944. Dues was 18, Elissagaray 17. Both were fresh from boot camp.
PFCs Richard Dues and Bernard Elissagaray joined A/1/24 in the spring of 1944. Dues was 18, Elissagaray 17.

In addition to the new structure, there were new replacements to train and get to know. “The D-1 section and its subordinates were faced with the problem of the acquisition and disposition of the Division’s personnel,” wrote John Chapin, a lieutenant serving with K/3/24. “The casualties at Kwajalein had to be taken into account: how many were permanently lost to the Division, how many would eventually be coming back to duty, when, etc.? The replacements that had been received had to be apportioned to the various units to fill their gaps and bring them up to full strength.”37 The division’s losses had been relatively light compared to bloodbaths like Guadalcanal or Tarawa, but the integration of new men still posed a problem.


“The replacements that arrived to fill the gaps left by Namur’s casualties (in the Kwajalein battle) had to be trained in all the complexities of field work,” explained Chapin. “Most of these replacements were boys fresh from boot camp, and they were ignorant of everything but the barest essentials.”38 Baker Company, 24th Marines – one of the hardest-hit units in the late battle of Namur – was faced with integrating over eighty men into the ranks, a combination of administrative personnel, reassigned machine gunners, and replacements. New squads and new platoons were organized, new leaders were promoted, and new assignments were doled out – all of which took time to implement.

“It was immediately apparent that the continuation of camp construction and talkiemaintenance, the anticipated delay in replacing essential equipment, the acquisition of ranges and maneuver areas, the adverse weather conditions, and the requirements of reorganization and rehabilitation would all contribute to the difficulty of executing a coordinated and progressive schedule of training,” read the Fourth Division’s report on the battle of Saipan.39 The Division Training Directive, issued on March 3, proved impossible to follow completely. Most of the established areas, such as firing ranges and training courses, were run by the Army and Navy; with each branch of the service training for the next operation, the Marines rarely had first crack at them.

The 24th Marines claimed their “eventual training accomplishments were largely the result of using ‘left over’ areas and facilities.” In addition, “battalion and regimental exercises were too few, and not of sufficient duration, because of the ability to obtain areas for sufficient lengths of time.” Their schedule consisted of small-unit tactics, familiarization with individual and supporting weapons, and eternal conditioning hikes.40 Demolition specialists destroyed fake bunkers with satchel and pole charges and assault teams sweated under their seventy-pound flamethrowers at specialized schools, but again the training areas were insufficient. Following the lessons of Kwajalein, coordination between infantry and tanks was heavily emphasized, as were night problems. Occasionally, the men were taken to both mature and burned sugar cane fields to simulate the terrain of the next objective.41

“Week after week was filled with long marches, field combat problems, live firing, obstacle courses, street fighting, judo, calisthenics, nigh and day attacks and defenses, etc.” wrote Chapin. “There were also lectures on the errors we’d made at Namur. Added emphasis was placed on attacking fortified positions.”42 The 23rd and 25th Marines, slated to be in the assault waves of Operation Forager, spent much of April practicing landings from attack transports moored off the Hawaiian Coast; the 24th, in reserve, spent as much time as they could on the training courses. Division staff participated in the “Duckbill Problem,” a top-secret exercise tailored to the coming invasion of Saipan; the results were so promising that most of the solution was simply copied during the actual operation.43

cigaretteThe Division’s training was also hampered by inspections and formal ceremonies. Shortly after arriving on Maui, Colonel Hart decided to improve the spit-and-polish of his 24th Marines with a regimental inspection. Replacements and veterans alike were drawn up in formation along an unpaved road; each vehicle that passed kicked up a cloud of red dust. Four hours later, the disgusted Marines were coated with dirt and privately cursing the colonel. George Smith, a machine gunner with A/1/24, claimed bitterly that Hart was enjoying a “liquid lunch.” At last, the colonel and his staff arrived. As he made his way along the ranks of his regiment, Hart touched each man’s dusty weapon, shouted “Rust!” and eventually reached such a fit of pique that he cancelled all liberty for the regiment.44 The enlisted men dubbed the colonel “Old Rusty” while officers like Phil Wood (left), who could not complain in front of their men, vented their frustration in writing. “I expected a relaxation on that stuff on the theory that all hands are tired…. But Hell no – it’s worse than it ever was. And it’s the petty stuff I can’t stand. The one thing that makes it positive I won’t stay in the Corps in peacetime.”45 The regimental report was of a similar opinion, citing that “the loss of a training area which could not be reassigned” as a serious issue, and rather primly recommending that “proper evaluation should be placed on formal inspections and ceremonies, so as not to make them too frequent.”46

Some ceremonies, though, were more beneficial than detrimental. On April 27, the entire division was called out for a parade. Among the assembled brass was Admiral Chester Nimitz, then Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. With the Fourth Marine Division drawn up smartly before him, Nimitz took the podium and delivered a speech congratulating the men on their performance during the Kwajalein campaign. “The world knows of the gallant performance and achievement of the men who fought at Roi and Namur Islands…. There, the Fourth Division wrote another brilliant chapter in the chronicles of the Marine Corps.”47 His speech “was very moving – he set just the right note,” wrote an awed Phil Wood. “He mentioned three names, typifying those killed who we shall not forget – Stephen Hopkins, Col. Dyess, and Jack Brown, whose father was with him in the same outfit.”48 The somber moment turned to one of pride as the citations for personal medals were presented. This inspiring moment stuck in the memory of young Lieutenant Wood:

About 35 [medals] were awarded, and almost 90 percent of them went to the 24th Marines. No Congressional Medals were awarded, but 6 Navy Crosses were – the next highest honor. Colonel Hart got one, a company commander in the 2nd Battalion got one, and four were awarded to enlisted men – one man in “B” Company and 3 in “A” Company! Think of it! There are about 65 companies in the Division, and “A” Company got 3 out of the 4 awards made to enlisted men! And to top it all, two of those men were in my platoon! [Corporal Arthur B.] Ervin and [Sergeant Frank A.] Tucker. I felt pretty damned proud, I can tell you – not many Platoon leaders in the American forces can say anything like that.

Ervin told me after it was over that he almost burst into tears when they told him he was getting the Navy Cross – he meant it, and for a tough, hard-bitten little guy like that to feel that way.

[First Lieutenant] Harry [Reynolds] was awarded the Silver Star, and another man, Cpl. [Michael] Frihauf the Bronze Star, so it was a pretty drunken night last night.49

The increased training schedule and the morale-building visits from “The Brass” could mean only one thing – the Division was bound for combat once again. The notion of imminent deployment led to increased fervor among the liberty hounds to squeeze every last moment out of life. A team of gunners from A/1/24 who found their evening plans thwarted by a turn of guard duty on “Nob Hill” – the residence of various headquarters units. As they were assigned to their stations, the gunners caught a glimpse of the pile of supplies they were supposed to guard. A pair of folding canvas chairs – “like the kind they have in Hollywood” – lay on the ground. Temptation proved too much, and the grinning gunners presented their skipper and platoon leader with the comfortable chairs. Before the day was out, it was known far and wide that Major General Clifton Cates – the Division’s commander – was hopping mad over the theft of his personal camp chairs. The new owners – Phil Wood and Irving Schechter – turned the plunder over to the irate general and managed to prevent any disciplinary action against the well-meaning thieves. On another occasion, Phil Wood broke out his mortar section in marching formation in the late afternoon. The men cursed and complained, thinking they were being taken on a special work detail. Instead, the lieutenant led them to a clearing in the woods where he had arranged grilled hamburgers, cigars, and ten cases of beer as a celebration for a round of promotions. The resulting party was a success – “everyone got potted – we even had to carry one or two of them home when it broke up around midnight. We talked and chatted and sang old songs around the fire – and one squad put on an impromptu floor show, which, as I remember it, was very funny.”50

Phil Wood (standing) with his mortar section, April 1944.

On May 8, 1944, the Fourth Division began embarking aboard transports for a division-wide rehearsal. Several days of exercises followed, with Marines clambering down nets or driving in amphibious through the huge doors of specialized landing ships, then churning towards the shores of Maalea Bay. Peaceful Kahoolawe Island was bombed, strafed, and overrun by the 23rd and 25th Marines. Apprehension grew as the veterans recalled their experiences on Roi and Namur and the new men desperately wondered how they would fare in battle.

As the fleet prepared to debark, one final tragedy occurred that seemed almost like an omen. On May 21, 1944, the 24th Marines aboard the USS Calvert were tied up along Hickam Field, near Pearl Harbor. All hands were living aboard ship, but liberty was granted to twenty percent of the men each day. George Smith was visiting the airfield with friends when “all of a sudden this damn explosion went off. I mean, it rocked the whole island!”51LST 353 virtually disappeared in a string of violent explosions. Burning pieces of the ship landed on seven other craft, all moored closely together. Each carried a volatile load of ammunition, supplies, and high-octane aviation fuel for amphibian tractors. A horrifying string of explosions ripped through the massed fleet, sending debris, sailors, and Marines in all directions. The fires raged for twenty-four hours, delaying the timetable for Operation Forager. In all, six ships of the invasion force were lost, and two were damaged so severely that they had to be pulled from the coming operation. When the casualty list was finalized, 163 were dead and 396 were wounded; of those, 11 dead and 78 wounded were from the 23rd Marines. Replacements were quickly found to replace those lost, and loading continued with additional caution. The disaster in West Loch, Hawaii, was immediately covered up for fear of jeopardizing the fleet’s invasion plans; it received so little press after the war that George Smith mentioned several veterans of the Pacific who had “never even heard of it.”52

Ships burn at West Loch on May 21, 1944.

The fleet departed for Saipan eight days later; the Marines learned of their destination, timetable, and role in the coming battle only after losing sight of the coast of Hawaii. Few could imagine how they would welcome the rainy, unfinished confines of Camp Maui upon their return in August. For many, it would be their last glimpse of a peaceful world.

I hope it won’t be too long before I see it all again. By next summer, it must be.53

August 1944 – January 1945: Recovery from Forager and Preparation for Detachment

The fighting for the Marianas Islands took a heavy toll on the Fourth Division. While the invasion of Tinian was being regarded as the perfect example of an amphibious campaign, the three-week battle of Saipan had mangled the Fourth so badly that hundreds of men had to be borrowed from the Second Division to bring its regiments to anything approaching fighting strength. Several Marines remarked that the return journey to Maui was notably more spacious since most companies could muster barely half their strength. Rowland Lewis of C/1/23 had a different experience:

My memory of the SS Young America says that the number of troops aboard was so great that we received only two meals per day. That after only receiving two K-Rations per day throughout the Tinian operation made for a bunch of hungry young men. Fresh water was also in short supply and armed guards were stationed at all drinking fountains to prevent anyone from filling their canteen. Getting a drink of water usually entailed waiting several minutes in line for your turn.54

Citizens of Maui greeting the division at the docks on August 24, 1944, could not help but notice the difference in the men they were beginning to think of as “Maui’s Own.” The Marines had been in transit or in combat since the end of May. Far fewer trucks were required to transport the men up the long hill to the gates of Camp Maui, and those who climbed into the trucks had lost a significant amount of weight; their staring eyes appeared huge in shrunken faces. They had been out of combat for slightly over two weeks and the strain was beginning to ebb – but conquering two heavily-defended islands within six weeks had taken an undeniable toll on the survivors. Baker Company of the 24th Marines departed with 224 men and returned with just over ninety; this ratio was not uncommon for other companies.55 The discomforts of living in tents in the rain must have been forgotten in light of recent experiences living in muddy holes without cover, facing Japanese bullets.

As had happened after Kwajalein, the Marines were allowed some time to themselves upon their return. Planners were ready to roll out a new four-part itinerary to get the division ready for their next assignment; but from late August until September 10, few formal activities were scheduled. As after Kwajalein, letter writing was often the first order of business. The Marianas campaign had been a lengthy fight, and most men – especially those who had suffered superficial wounds – sent missives to their families, all of whom had been following the news with dreadful anticipation. Others wrote letters to the families of friends who had been killed. Lieutenant Frederic Stott (C/1/24) was typical of those who sent condolence letters; his friend Philip Wood had been killed on Saipan, and Stott’s letter provided Wood’s family with details and closure that were painfully absent from the standard Western Union telegram.

A steady stream of men arrived at Camp Maui over the following weeks. The most welcome were veterans returning from the hospital; many had been hit on Saipan and spent their convalescence at US Naval Hospital #10 on Oahu. The majority were replacements, filling the ranks for those who would not return. Some, like Gunnery Sergeant Joe Driskell joined the battalion as seasoned veterans – Driskell had earned a Navy Cross aboard the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, served with the Raiders on New Britain, and taken part in the liberation of Guam – but most were fresh from training. Second Lieutenant Jim Craig (L/3/24) arrived on Maui in late 1944 and spent some time in limbo with a number of other new officers. He received a summons from Lt. Colonel Alexander Vandergrift of 3/24; no less a person than the son of the Commandant. He related his meeting with the intimidating officer to his son:

Colonel Vandergrift gave them a pep talk and vaguely described what he expected of them. “You will live, eat, and train with your men. You will become one with them. Now, I know this is your first assignment, but keep in mind, you’re in command. Let ’em know right from the beginning who’s running the outfit…. I want you [Lieutenants Craig, Walker, and Ware] to report to Lieutenant Makowski over at L Company. He’s short of rifle platoon leaders. His company took a beating on Saipan and he needs you as replacements. If there are no questions, you are dismissed.” None was expected.56

Craig, Walker, and Ware were assigned to the First, Second, and Third Platoons of Makowski’s L Company.57 First Platoon were “the characters of the company,” and Craig had to assert his authority quickly. After catching a number of his men goofing off on a field exercise, young Lieutenant Craig called his men into formation. “Now I don’t give a damn what kind of experience you guys have had or how many campaigns you’ve been in, but you are going to do this my way and we’re going to be out here all day until you get it right. Do I make myself perfectly clear?” This was a gutsy move for a replacement officer; some of his men had been with the company for three campaigns, and combat veterans often held a low opinion of “shavetail” lieutenants fresh from training. In Craig’s case, though, the tactic worked. He had no more problems with his platoon, and “quickly learned all their names, nicknames, and idiosyncrasies. Through rigorous training together they gained the confidence they would need to rely on each other in combat.”58

The rigorous training for Operation Detachment – the code name for Iwo Jima – began on September 10, 1944. After considering the deficiencies of the previous spring’s regimen, the upper echelons decided on a four-phase schedule. Phase One, lasting four weeks, concentrated on individual and basic training “with proficiency in use of weapons and discipline the primary objectives.”59 Though the veteran Marines felt that they had more than demonstrated their proficiency with their weapons while fending off banzai charges on Saipan and Tinian, they were compelled to practice alongside the replacements. Fortunately, Camp Maui was better prepared to meet the needs of the Marines in the latter months of 1944. More firing ranges had been constructed while the Division secured the Marianas; Opana Point boasted the largest rifle range in the Pacific with one hundred individual targets.60 “On the outskirts of camp, a demolitions area, a live-grenade course, a pistol range, and 1,000-inch machine-gun range were set up,” reported Dempsey. “Five miles east of camp, in a gulch opening into the sea, was the Division’s bazooka area, and along the coast, east of camp for about ten miles, were combat firing ranges which permitted the maneuvering and firing of tanks and halftracks in coordination with the infantry.”61 The scheduling problems that had plagued the Marines before Saipan had been mitigated by the camp’s expansion.

Phase II, a three-week period lasting from October 8 through 28, focused on offensive and defensive tactics with units ranging in size from a single squad to a full battalion. Phase III, the longest and most intensive part of the schedule, was devoted to combined arms training. Emphasis was placed on coordination between different branches of the service; infantry practiced assaults with tanks, the artillery joined in to provide supporting fire, planes flew overhead in mock strafing runs and dropping practice bombs. The combined-arms portion of training culminated in four days of practice landings along Maalea Bay.62 For Lieutenant Craig, the landing drills were exciting – he even enjoyed being drenched by the trailing wave that followed in the wake of his craft – but veterans, who had been through actual combat landings two or three times, were irritated by the constant soaking and the need to clean sand from their weapons.63 The fourth and final phase, lasting two weeks, was at the discretion of the division commander; Major General Clifton Cates decided to spend the time in additional combined-arms practice. Craig recalled a typical day of this training regimen: breakfast with the other officers, a morning of open-air classes reviewing small-unit tactics, and afternoons spent putting the lessons into practice in wooded gullies. He led his platoon on hikes – Dempsey noted that the Haleakala crater provided “a challenge to those who thought they had tough leg muscles”64 – and enforced strict water discipline. Occasionally, Marines attended lectures or presentations by officers fresh from combat; attendance was mandatory for officers, and Craig learned of the battle of Tarawa nearly a year after its conclusion from such a lecture.65

As had happened after Kwajalein, new replacements were assigned to fill the gaps in the ranks. The waves of volunteers had diminished somewhat; the new faces belonged to older draftees who had been assigned to the Marines, or to youngsters just months out of high school. “Old salts” of three campaigns – most of whom had barely reached twenty themselves – treated the replacements coolly. Many draftees took pains to conceal their serial numbers, which indicated that they had not volunteered.66 Jim Craig was perplexed by the standoffish manner of the veteran officers of his company until one pulled him aside to explain:

Look, Craig, we don’t mean to be unfriendly. But you have to understand something about combat. We all lost a lot of good buddies on Saipan and Tinian, guys we’d gotten to know real well. That’s the problem, see. You get to know somebody real well one day and, bam, he’s dead the next. It’s real hard on you. Sometimes it seems like you’re just better off not getting too close to somebody for fear that he’s going to get killed. So it’s nothing you did. Don’t take it personal. It’s just that we’re afraid to lose another buddy. You’ll understand what I’m talking about one of these days once you’ve been in combat.”67

The restraint of most veterans faded somewhat over the long winter months. Alva Perry found a close friend in Eddie Bookwalter, a draftee assigned to his platoon in A/1/24. The two were unlikely friends. Bookwalter, age 27, was a tattooed and heavily-muscled fisherman from Tacoma, Washington and had once hoped to join the American Olympic swimming team. Perry hailed from Nashville, volunteered for the Marines at seventeen, and was a corporal by nineteen. Though Bookwalter was older, Perry outranked him and had the added luster of three campaigns, a Silver Star medal, and a tally of dead Japanese notched on the stock of his BAR. Bookwalter, impressed by the young corporal, mentioned his history as a wrestler and claimed to want nothing more than to wrestle an Imperial soldier to death. Soon the two were inseparable. Perry vowed to join Bookwalter on his fishing boat after the war and received letters and photographs from Bookwalter’s wife, Mary.68 The bonds of comradeship would serve them well in the coming months as they faced combat on Iwo Jima.

Perry’s friend Eddie Bookwalter is the shirtless Marine with the swallow tattoos. Photo by Alva Perry.

The strain of training was alleviated, as always, by liberty call. The construction of movie theaters improved, though the quality of the films shows did not. The division formed a variety show – the “Fubar Follies” – which, when augmented with additional acts and the 24th Marines’ Band, became the “Just 4 Fun Show.” The performers toured the “foxhole circuit,” entertained Marines on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, and became the best-known service troupe in the Pacific.69

The Fourth Division was renowned for its athletic program; battalion- and regiment-sized competitions gave way to games played against neighboring Army, Navy, and Marine units stationed on Maui and the surrounding islands. Within the boundaries of the camp were several baseball diamonds, boxing rings, handball and volleyball courts; gymnasiums, golf courses, swimming pools, and football fields could be found in the surrounding towns. “As a result, the Fourth was a division that was sports-minded to a high degree; and this paid off a hundredfold in combat and rehabilitation,” wrote Dempsey. The Division’s football team, coached by Lt. Colonel Leroy “Pat” Hanley (of Boston University) and led by Lieutenant Howard “Smiley” Johnson (of the Green Bay Packers) went undefeated against teams like the Kaneohe Klippers and the Maui Seabees. 70

The undefeated 1944 football team, Camp Maui. Official USMC Photo.
The undefeated 1944 football team, Camp Maui. Official USMC Photo.

Marines continued to hitch rides to town; Jim Craig was often tasked with driving to the local jail, collecting the forlorn men picked up for drunkenness or troublemaking, and returning them to camp.71 Others forged romantic relationships, though steady girlfriends “were seldom,” according to Al Perry. Perry met a high-school girl in Paia who was working at a halfway house for alcoholics. The girl was of Japanese ancestry. Perry was invited to meet her parents; he got cold feet after seeing photographs of a relative who “looked remarkably like Tojo.” Realizing that “this would never work,” Perry fled the house and never saw the girl again.72 Holidays like the Marine Corps birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve were marked by improved chow and drinking binges and provided another welcome respite from training.

New Year’s Day, though, provided a change of a different sort; the Marines gathered their personal equipment, formed ranks, and proceeded to Kahului Harbor. There, they once again embarked aboard the hated attack transports for days of rehearsals interspersed with brief trips ashore to Pearl Harbor. On January 27, the rehearsals ended, and the Fourth Division set sail for Operation Detachment. Veterans prayed that their luck would hold for one more tour; replacements looked forward to the test of battle with apprehension and excitement.

March – August 1945: Recovery from Detachment and Preparation for Downfall

“Who will ever forget the reception that Maui gave the Fourth when it returned from Iwo?” asked David Dempsey. “It is not an exaggeration to say that no division anywhere received a more heartwarming welcome when it came back from battle.”73 Cheering crowds lined the streets as the Division disembarked from their transports and boarded the trucks back to their camp. Many Marines clutched pamphlets that the throng pressed upon them:


Hi, you Marines! Welcome home! It’s no “snow job” when we tell you that the servicemen and women and the civilians of Maui are throwing this big shindig for you because we think you’re just about the greatest guys that ever landed on this Island. When the news came over the radio that the Marines had hit Iwo Jima, everybody asked the same question: “Are the Maui Marines there?” Then we heard the newsflash that you and a lot of other Marines were in there pitching. After that, nothing else that happened seemed to matter very much. We don’t need to tell you that everyone from Hana to Lahaina is mighty proud of you. And when we read that you had named that first street “Maui Boulevard,” we were practically bursting at the seams.

So welcome to Maui – the old friends and the new! Welcome to Iao Valley and Haleakala – to the rainbows and the rain (that everlasting rain at Camp Maui) – the steaks and the banana splits – the pineapples and the poi – the carnation leis and the steel guitars. But, most important of all, welcome back to all the folks on Maui who think it might be a pretty good idea to add a new word to the famous slogan MAUI NO KA OI and let the world know it is now MAUI MARINES NO KA OI!

– The People of Maui

Marines disembarking from a transport at left are given a traditional Hawaiian greeting; the trucks passed under a celebratory sign as they drove to Camp Maui. April 4, 1945.
Marines disembarking from a transport at left are given a traditional Hawaiian greeting; the trucks passed under a celebratory sign as they drove to Camp Maui. April 4, 1945.

The number of leftover pamphlets must have reflected the losses suffered by the Fourth Division. Nine thousand and ninety eight Marines had fallen in the thirty-six day battle. Of these, 1,806 were dead. Alva Perry – wearing the wristwatch of his slain friend Eddie Bookwalter – realized that he was one of seven men of his company who had not been wounded since their departure from California slightly over a year ago. The Marines were treated as heroes, but most wanted nothing more than a chance to eat, drink, rest, and do nothing at all. As soon as he was able, Perry decamped to Kaluhui where he ordered “a large sirloin steak and one dozen eggs on top and a giant milk shake. I felt I needed to get my weight back up to 170 pounds.”74

The training regimen began again; the objective, though officially classified as secret, was known to almost everyone. Jim Craig heard rumors of fighting on Okinawa – after looking the island up on the map, he realized that his division was bound for Japan.75 All six of the Marine divisions were slated to take part in Operation Downfall, scheduled to begin in October, 1945. Estimates of casualties ran into the millions for the Allies, and the tens of millions for the Japanese. With this awesome task in mind, the Marine Corps began training relentlessly; the task was complicated by the sheer number of casualties suffered on Iwo Jima. Perry’s Able Company had only twenty-seven men with combat experience; the rest were fresh replacements.76 The routine began anew – the new men struggled to measure up to the standards of the veterans, while the veterans shunned the new men for fear of losing more friends. Men went on liberty in the same small towns, drank weak beer at the slop chute, or played baseball at the newly named Smiley Johnson Field.77

Jim Craig was in a field bivouac in August, 1945. One day, one of the company cooks mentioned hearing that a “super bomb” had been dropped on Japan. Nonplussed, Craig told the man to forget the rumor. The following day, the same man claimed that “the scuttlebutt is that this may mean the end of the war.” Again, Craig dismissed the story as a fabrication. However, the news began to spread among the enlisted men, and Craig had his hands full maintaining discipline. On August 15, Craig was lying on his cot when he heard someone shouting that the war was over. Radio Tokyo was off the air. A few days later, the official word was passed down that Japan had sued for peace after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.78 As more details became known, the Fourth Division swelled with pride as they remembered their role in the capture of Tinian – Enola Gay and Bock’s Car had been launched from bases on that island. John Seymour of C/1/23 recalled not being impressed by news of the bomb – he and his comrades had long since decided that the war would not end until they had personally killed every living Japanese. Later, as the rumors gained strength, veterans still could not believe that they had survived.79

On September 2, 1945 – the day the Japanese signed surrender documents in Tokyo Bay – a lone field music, Salvatore Girolano, climbed to the top of the Camp Maui guard house. He raised his bugle to his lips and began to play. The sound carried across the rows of tents, the solidly-built buildings, the paved roads, the roofed-over latrines. Girolano played in all directions, trying to spread the news to Marines across the island, from the rifle range to the crater of Haleakala to the patios and bars of Haiku. Out in the boondocks, Guy Rowe’s company received an extra hour for their lunch break, then picked up their weapons and went back to their training.80

Alva Perry was in his tent awaiting orders to go home. He had served through four campaigns, lost many friends, and stopped keeping track of the men he had killed when his tally reached 120. He had twenty-six comrades as close to him as brothers; twenty of them were just recovering from serious wounds. Their former skipper, Major Irving Schechter, called the twenty-seven men together in front of a painted memorial – the roll of honor for their 24th Marine Regiment. Perry knew he should feel happy to be going home, but “we had left too much on the four islands we had fought on…. I was very depressed. I didn’t really know why I felt as I did.”

Perry, his comrades, and the majority of the veterans of the Fourth Division boarded the escort carrier USS Attu for their final destination: the United States.81 The population of Maui lined the streets once again to bid farewell to “Maui’s Own.”

Today, few of Camp Maui’s buildings remain. The ground is now a public park; Giggle Hill has a large children’s playground, and some claim they can hear the laughter of Marines and their girlfriends on dark nights. The centerpiece of the park is the memorial to the Fourth Marine Division, whom the people of Maui still consider heroes.


1This play on Maui’s motto “Maui No Ka Oi” – roughly “Maui Is The Best” – appeared in pamphlets given to the Fourth Division when returning from Iwo Jima. The Fourth Division was occasionally known as “Maui’s Own.”

2Dempsey, MSgt David. The Fourth Marine Division In World War II. Reprint, Capt. Carl W. Proehl, ed. Nashville, TN: The Battery Press, 1988. pg 120.

3Kanda, Al. “Camp Maui.” Updated May 8, 2009; accessed March 14, 2010.

4Department of the Navy. Building The Navy’s Bases In World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946. Vol. II. Washington; United States Government Printing Office, 1947. pg 152.

5Dempsey, pg 120.

6Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated February 27, 1944.

7Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated February 13, 1944.

8Dempsey, pg 120.

9Perry, Alva. “ A Personal History of the Fourth Marine Division in WWII.” Accessed March 13, 2010.

10Somewhat perversely, the front-line Marines were compelled to clean up their own areas of combat following the fighting on Roi-Namur. The negative reaction was so strong that the division’s official report on the action specifically forbade the practice for combat troops and assigned it instead to rear-echelon units.


12Chapin, Captain John C. The Fourth Marine Division in World War II. Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters , U.S. Marine Corps, 1974. pg. 13.

13Goldberg, Harold J. D-Day In The Pacific. Indianapolis; Indiana University Press, 2007. pg 43.

14Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated February 27, 1944.


17Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated February 27, 1944.


19Seymour, John, et al. “Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines.” Accessed March 14, 2010.

20Goldberg, pg. 43.

21Seymour et al. Accessed March 14, 2010. Cates circulated a memo to all units in the division after Iwo Jima, stating that the money for “goods received” would come from the division’s Rec Fund.

22Perry, Accessed March 14, 2010. After three tours through Camp Maui, Perry had similar feelings towards Spam and Hawaiian music.

23Wood, Philip Emerson. Personal letter dated February 27, 1944.

25Wood, Philip Emerson. Personal letter dated March 3, 1944.

26Dempsey, 120.

27Wood, Philip Emerson. Personal letter dated May 6, 1944.

28Ako, Sam. “Haiku: 4th Marine Division Park.” Maui Weekly, Maui, HI. July 13, 2009. Web. “Giggle Hill” is the site of the 4th Marine Division Memorial Park.

29Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated April 6, 1944.

30Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated March 16,1944.

31Nordlie, Donald. “The Leatherneck.” Transcribed by the MGG Project Team. Accessed March 15, 2010.

32Dempsey, pg. 120.

33The infantry regiments of the Fourth Division were composed of three battalions apiece; each battalion contained four companies lettered A-M (excluding J). The fourth company of each battalion (D, H, and M for First, Second, and Third Battalions) was designated as “weapons company” and fielded three platoons of heavy machine guns and one of 81mm mortars. Each MG platoon was attached to a rifle company in combat, while the mortars attached to battalion headquarters.

34Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated March 3, 1944. Wood’s remark about Colonel Franklin Hart’s “belief” is likely based more on conjecture than fact, though muster rolls for his company indicate some shifting among platoon leaders. Transport Quartermaster (or TQM) is “a job peculiar to the Marine Corps, concerned with Combat loading and unloading of ships. I would have had charge of all the supplies for the Battalion.”

36Buzzard, Glenn; quoted in Smith, pg 83.

37Chapin, Captain John C. The Fourth Marine Division in World War II. pg. 13.

38Chapin, Captain John C. Breaching the Marianas: The Battle For Saipan. Washington, DC; Marine Corps Historical Center, 1994. pg 6.

39Fourth Marine Division Operations Report Saipan: 15 June to 9 July 1944. pg 8.

40Ibid. “Annex I – Report of RCT 24.” pg 1.

41Ibid. pg 1-2.

42Chapin, Breaching the Marianas: The Battle For Saipan. pg 6-7.

43“Annex I – Report of RCT 24.” pg 6-7.

44Smith, George A. Email received 2007.

45Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated March 16, 1944.

46“Annex I – Report of RCT 24.” pg 5-6.

47Dempsey, pg 121.

48Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated April 28, 1944. PFC Hopkins, a machine gunner in Lt. Wood’s platoon, was the son of Roosevelt’s adviser Harry Hopkins; Lt. Colonel Aquilla Dyess was the commander of 1/24 and recommended for a Medal of Honor; PFC Jack Brown, a nineteen year old gunner from 3/24, stowed away on a transport to be with Corporal Earl Brown and was killed on the night of February 1, 1944. (No mention was made of Carl and Howard Cooper, two brothers from D/1/24 – Carl was killed on Kwajalein.)

49Ibid. Lieutenant Wood is slightly off on his recounting of the distribution of medals. Division-wide, four Medals of Honor were awarded (three posthumous, one to a man in the hospital); seventeen Navy Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, sixty Silver Stars, twelve Legions of Merit, forty-five Bronze Stars, and 611 Purple Hearts.

50Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated May 6, 1944.

51Smith, George A. Personal interview, 2009.


53Wood, Philip E., Jr. Personal letter dated June 15, 1944. This is the last line from the last letter Phil Wood ever sent; the date is that of the landing on Saipan.

54Lewis, Rowland, quoted in John Seymour. “Chapter 6: Return to Maui and More Training.”

55The Fourth Marine Division lost 7,810 men killed, wounded, and missing during the fighting on Saipan and Tinian. Of this number, 5,981 were suffered on Saipan – almost 28% of the division’s total strength.

56Shivley, John C. The Last Lieutenant. New York, NY: New American Library, 2002. pg 45.

57Craig mentions only the last names of Makowski and Young (the company executive officer); he never learned the real names of “Smokey Bear” and “Turkey Hughes,” leaders of the machine gun and mortar sections, respectively.

58Ibid. pg 46-47.

59Fourth Marine Division Operations Report: Iwo Jima. “Annex George: RCT 24 Report.” pg 2.

60Dempsey, pg 134.

61Ibid. pg 121.

62“Annex George: RCT 24 Report.” pg 2.

63Shivley, pg 48.

64Dempsey, pg 121.

65Shivley, pg 47-49.

66Contrarily, when the seasoned volunteers began complaining, draftees would tease “What are you complaining for? You asked for this, didn’t you?”

67Shivley, pg 49.

69Dempsey, pg 120-121.

70Dempsey, pg 124.

71Shivley, pg 50-51.

73Dempsey, pg 124.

75Shivley, pg 132.

77Lt. Howard “Smiley” Johnson was killed in action on February 19, 1945.

78Shivley, pg 135-136.


81Perry. The Marines instituted a points system whereby those with longer service or previous wounds were rotated home for discharge first. Perry also claims that two of his cohort of 27 survivors went “over the hill” so they could stay with their Maui girlfriends.

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