1944-1946 – Scrapbook compiled by an African-American soldier while serving as a member of an Engineer Aviation Battalion that built and repaired airfields throughout the Western Pacific during World War Two
Western Pacific: 1944-1946. Handmade Album.
This 54-page handmade scrapbook measures approximately 9” x 12” and was assembled by T/4 (Technician 4th Grade) Fred B. Metcalf using rattan twine and manila file folders probably obtained from a unit office. It documents the deployment of the 1889th Engineer Aviation Battalion (Colored) to the Philippines, Guam, and Okinawa where it built and repaired some of the most important Army Air Force airfields crucial to the advance on Japan. It contains nearly 120 items: photographs, clippings from service magazines and newspaper, cartoons, broadsides, documents, currency and fiscal items, and a handwritten page of numeric translations. All of the items, except one, have been pasted on the album pages. The album shows some wear, especially around the edges, and the rattan twine has snapped.
Most items in this scrapbook are ephemeral and clippings from service newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets that were distributed to the troops. Interestingly, Although there are a number of photographs, Metcalf included none of himself and only two are of his unit constructing an airfield; instead his photos are of things he found to be interesting.
Some of the contents include:
A small campaign map titled “Okinawa Finale” which Metcalf has captioned “The Route of the 1889th
A small image of Okinawans captioned, “Most Okies wear Jap costume”
A large image of the Guam Police Department with two native Guamanian guards
Several images of black soldiers (not necessarily from the 1889th) engaged in activities like ordnance disposal, beachhead construction, food inspection, etc.
A B-29 bomber on Guam
Eleven images of attractive, young Guamanian women from a pamphlet titled, “Glamour on Guam”
A five-panel image titled, “This Is The Engineers”, that appears to show African-American soldier performing in a talent show or unit band concert
A small uncaptioned image of a naked, but coyly posed, black woman
Two risqué cartoon two which Metcalf added his own suggestive captions
Two photos from Okinawa of a shrine that Metcalf has captioned, “Where they do Hari Kari [seppuku] / The mobile go here to pay for a mistake with their life. This is done in order to keep disgrace off the family name”
One photo of Okinawan horse carts Two photos of the 1889th working on the Naha airfield and Route #5 on Okinawa
A photo of the Japanese surrender document to the Tenth Army
Two photos of destruction caused by a typhoon that Metcalf captioned, “Boy it was rough as hell a 150 mile per hour wind / Typhoon”
One photo of four attractive “Comfort Women” that Metcalf captioned, “They were left behind by the Japs / Husel was their Trade”
A broadside titled “Attention Colored Servicemen” announcing a special Thanksgiving Night “Barn Dance” with “real oriental barbeque ‘pigs’ and state side liquors’ at the “B-29 Bar & Nite Club” in Pasay, Philippines, that featured “the colored Old Timers,” “Snake ‘hipped’ Jerry and Mary Carmen a South Sea Island Dancer,” and “a famous GI orchestra . . . to furnish . . . imported romantic music that we’ve missed during the terrible Jap occupation days. . ..”
An Okinawan money order and ration book
A Japanese war bond and a variety of Japanese and American occupation currency
The last issue of The Flying Dozer newsletter published on 31 January 1946 by the 933rd Engineer Aviation Regiment (the higher headquarters of the 1889th and three other Engineer Aviation Battalions
A broadsheet “Award of Merit” certificate presented to the four battalions of the 933rd on which Metcalf has identified the 1889th as a “colored” unit with a proud caption, “The first Negro Battalion in the Pacific to get this Award”
A document authorizing Metcalf to take home a “Jap Bayonet”. Very good. Item #010057
As the Army Air Corps watched the European war expand in 1940 and 1941, it developed a unit, an Engineer Aviation Battalion, that would be capable of occupying and repairing enemy captured airfield should the United States be drawn into the conflict. It was designed as a self-contained organization that could repair, rebuild, or construct airfields, even in inhospitable combat zones. It was manned by 27 Engineer officers and 761 enlisted soldiers and equipped with146 tractors, bulldozers, scrapers, graders, gas shovels, rollers, and an assortment of mixers, compressors, drills, asphalting and concreting equipment, rock crushers, draglines, and pumps. When these units activated, men with construction experience were steered toward these billets. 30 Engineer Aviation Battalions were deployed to the China-India-Burma and Pacific Theaters; as the army was segregated at the time, 13 of the units were manned by white soldiers and 17 by “colored” men. The 1889th was organized at Davis-Monthan Field in Arizona in April of 1943, deployed to the Pacific in May of 1944, and inactivated at Okinawa in February of 1946.
Technicians Fourth Grade, like Metcalf, were specialists and not combat arms non-commissioned officers. They were equivalent to and addressed as “sergeants.”
Comfort Women, or Ianfu, were young women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army. Throughout the war, the Japanese officially and systematically seized young woman and girls in occupied territories and enslaved them in "comfort station” brothels where they were forced to provide sexual satisfaction for the “comfort” of Japanese soldiers.
(For more information see, Craven and Cate’s Aviation Engineers in Europe, Africa, and the War with Japan in The Army Air Forces in World War II, “CBI Order of Battle; Corps of Engineer Units” at cbi-history.com, “TME Looks Back: African-American Engineering Battalions in the Pacific Theater” at the Society of American Military Engineers website, and “Japanese Military and Comfort Women” at the Asian Women’s Fund website.)
A terrific scrapbook documenting an often overlooked, but exceptionally important, facet of the Pacific War from the viewpoint of an African-American soldier.
Very scarce. At the time of listing, no other similar Engineer Aviation Battalion scrapbooks (black or white) are for sale in the trade. None have appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub. OCLC identifies two personal papers collections held by the Army War College with Engineer Aviation Battalion publications and ephemera; they may possibly include a similar scrapbook..