Oliver Babbitts

  • Birth Date: December 6, 1923
  • Place of Birth: Wisconsin
  • State of Residence: Arizona
  • Years of Service: 1942 to the present. He is in the retired reserves
  • Branch of Military: Army Corps of Engineers
  • Rank: Corporal (End of active duty) Warrant Officer 3 (Reserves)
  • Wars Involved In: WWII
  • Theater(s) of Operation: The Pacific Theater

When Mr. Babbitts was17 years old, he went with a friend to try and join the Marines. At the time, the Marines were only letting people in who had 20 20 vision. His friend got in, but since he did not have 20 20 vision they told him that he would have to register for the draft when he turned 18. On December, 7, he registered, and in January of 1942 he got his letter telling him that he had been called into service. He said that during that time, the country was under attack and under siege. “In the pacific, it could have gone either way because the Japanese controlled the Pacific with the devastation at Pearl Harbor.” One of the major operations that he was involved in was the operation on the island of Iwo Jima. He says that the island of Iwo Jima was of key importance because the range of the American B-29 bombers made it impossible for them the go around the Island of Iwo Jima on their way to Japan. The island had two air strips, and every time the American bombers would fly over the island, the Japanese fighter planes would take off and strafe (fly by and rapidly shoot) the bombers. After this, the Japanese on Iwo Jima would radio Japan and tell them when the bombers were coming. After the island was taken, the Americans put P-51 fighter planes there to escort the bombers so that they could bomb Japan.

After basic training he went to Army specialized training at Western Maryland College for engineering. When the Army decided that they needed that they needed more people in Europe and the Pacific, this training was discontinued. When he went in he was with 4005 Heavy Pontoon. These were boats that were used for making bridges. This was only needed in Europe. After the Army specialized training, he was sent to Fort Belvoir where he had to retake basic training. After this he had to take another basic training to learn tank maneuvering. This was where you learned how to roll out of the way of an oncoming tank. He was then sent to Seattle and Hawaii. They picked up a Hawaiian and four Filipinos. They trained these men because there were not enough people in the six units. They then went to Eniwetok. There they heard that the invasion of Iwo Jima had begun. They immediately went to Iwo Jima.

When he left the United States in 1943, he was told that he would be part of three missions, the first was to be on Iwo Jima, the second on Okinawa, and the third was on Japan. He was only involved in the operation on Iwo Jima. He was involved with water distillation. One of the problems with Iwo Jima was that because of its small size, it has not water. The Army Corps of Engineers brought in six ten thousand gallon distillation units. He started distilling water 6 days after the Marines had landed. Prior to this, water had to be shipped in. Though he was involved in water distillation, he always had to be on the lookout because the Japanese were everywhere On Iwo Jima, when he got there, the Japanese were moving throughout the island through a series of underground caves and tunnels. He also recalls that because the Japanese did not bury their dead, there were huge fly’s everywhere. He says that because there were no front lines, one of his main jobs was to protect the water, even though the water tasted bad because the Army said that the water had to have 2 percent chlorine. He says that they had to pump water throughout the night, and when there were storms, the intake pipes would be lost. They had to keep the intake pipe in the hold of a rusting Japanese ship. He says that the Japanese did not have any water and they would come out of their tunnels during the night to get food and water. Every morning they would have to throw grenades into the tunnel entrances. One time the tripwires around the area were set off, a Marine that was next to him told him that he had better get back. The Japanese came out and they attacked because they needed water. He says that the Japanese would come out of their caves and attack and go back into the ground. They had no fear of dying he said. The Japanese he says would hide under dead bodies on the side of the road and they would throw a grenade in a passing truck. Eventually, they began shooting the bodies on the side of the road as a precaution.

For the first three days, he lived on D and K rations. He says that he was very hungry because of this. When the Seabee’s came in, he became attached to them for rations and quarters. After this, he got better food. He was on Iwo Jima for 11 months. He says, “I would not trade my life for any other life.” He says that he has lived in an era with so many changes like the car, the plane, the jet, the moon landings, television, and much more. He says that he would not trade his life for anything. “I have lived.” he says. Of his service he says, “It was not easy but I am still proud of it.”

After the war, He joined the reserves and remained in the active reserves for 25 years. After this he joined the retired reserves. He went to work for American can and worked in flexible packaging. He also was a leader with the Boys Brigade. In 1982 he moved to Arizona because his two daughters and his grandson lived there. He now is a deacon and talks to history classes about his experiences during the war. He says, “I hope that we solve our problems without going to war. This is something that should be done and yet it just isn’t done. War is hell I’ll tell you, I have been there and I would not wish that on anyone.” He is proud of what he has done. Of his service he says, “It was not easy but I am still proud of it.”