When the 1st Marine Division saw their “R and R” destination in the distance, they saw an island paradise. And that was just fine with them. After the tough fighting on New Britain, they needed rest, they needed to recover, and they needed to refill their ranks with new recruits. And there on the horizon, Pavavu promised all of that.
Where is Pavavu? We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the pivotal battles fought on and around Guadalcanal (the largest of the Solomon Islands), so you probably have a good idea of its general location. Just an hour’s boat ride west of Guadalcanal lies the Russell Islands, sort of a subset of the Solomons. The largest of the Russell Islands is Pavavu.
Anyway, when the weary Marines arrived on shore in May of 1944, those promises were shattered by reality. Pavavu was a massive coconut grove…a massive, untended coconut grove. Coconuts weren’t harvested here, they simply fell to the ground and rotted. They were everywhere, and in places they were 2 or 3 feet deep. Imagine if you can, the pleasant aroma of an entire island covered with smell of rotting coconut milk. It’s what greeted the arriving Marines.
They spent weeks dumping loads of rotten coconuts into the swamps. And the land crabs!! Apparently they had a thing for rotten coconuts, because they were everywhere. The Marines tried killing them, but they stunk worse than the coconuts, if that was possible. They tried burning the bodies, but the stench was intolerable. And there were huge rats.
There were no vegetables, no fruits, and no fresh meat on Pavavu. So everything had to be shipped in…usually in powdered form…and bug-infested. The “island paradise” was a nightmare that drove numerous Marines crazy. And while they made their situation livable, it was still a tough existance. Suicide rates were unusually high among the men.
July and August were spent training, and it was with some sense of relief that on September 4, 1944, they left Pavavu behind. But they didn’t know that their destination, a little place called Peleliu, would make Pavuvu seem like the paradise it wasn’t.
Recommended Reading: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa