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The Pacific--Training

We were walking on familiar terrain when it was announced that The Pacific would be shot in Australia. Warriors training groups had filmed “Sniper,” and “The Great Raid” previously Down Under, working from the Northern Territories down to the Gold Coast. We knew the plusses and the minuses and were determined to capitalize on the jungles and heavy rain forests of the north for training actors to portray Marines for this epic mini-series. We quickly did some forward reconnaissance and selected an area of flat, grassy plains backed by jungle-covered mountains south of Cairns in the NT as our primary training site. Also during the early stages of preparation for the Pacific, XO Mike Stokey and I spent time in Melbourne screening and selecting 85 local residents who would form our corps of trained Special Ability Extras surrounding the primary performers and 30 men of Japanese ancestry to portray IJA soldiers in scenes that called for a closer look at the WW II enemy in the Pacific.

Given the size of the training unit and the diversity of our curriculum, we asked for and got permission to field the largest Warriors Cadre since the vaunted Band of Brothers production. For training we fielded nine NCOs and four officers including the CO, XO and Lt. Bradley J. Hartsell, an expert in WW II Japanese history, training and tactics. Julia Dye filled the fourth commissioned slot as our Company Adjutant. We divided the training command into our Imperial Japanese Army cell and three platoons of a Weapons Company from the 1st Marine Division circa 1942-45. Mark Shuster and Sean Bunch handled the Assault Platoon armed with 37mm anti-tank cannons, flame-throwers and demolitions. Assault Platoon also provided our scout-snipers. Our Machinegun Platoon was led by Charles Currier and Roberto Garcia running squads behind both the .30 caliber water-cooled heavy and air-cooled light guns. The Mortar Platoon ran both 81mm and 60mm tubes led by Bruce Whitfield and Tony Lidyard. The Japanese contingent was trained and led by Hartsell and two of our familiar IJA Cadre from “The Great Raid,” Yuki Nagashima and Yutaka Izumihara.

Since we’d only been granted two weeks to complete a very ambitious training schedule, we took the unusual decision to train the Americans and the Japanese simultaneously from camp sites within a few hundred meters of each other and separated by heavy jungle. The presence of a “live “enemy” just beyond the next bush-covered hill added an edge to what we were doing with the Marines in training and worked well later in the schedule when we began to bump units into each other for ambushes and meeting engagements.

The training units quickly came to understand through long, exhausting hikes and scary moments on Observation/Listening Posts at night that the jungle and the weather are often as much of a burden as the human enemy. That lesson was intentionally taught and constantly reinforced as we moved through a truly grueling schedule of drills involving work in the bush both day and night. As usual, we used nightly stand-downs to answer questions and teach World War II history. An interesting and challenging aspect of our training was the requirement to begin with one series of period weapons and equipment and then move to another to insure the Marines in training could handle things like the M1903A Springfield bolt-action rifle as well as the semi-automatic M-1.

One of the greatest and most unique challenges we faced in training was teaching our Marines amphibious assault techniques as they would be hitting beaches from the ubiquitous LCVPs (Higgins Boats) and armored LVTs (amphibian tractors) at various phases of the production. The restored amtracs we used in both training and in production included both the very earliest models with no exit ramp and later models with a troop/cargo access ramp in the rear of the vehicle. While our riflemen, assault weapons crews and mortarmen got plenty of practice bailing out over the side of these vehicles, our machine gunners learned assault firing techniques using weapons fixed to the LVTs. All Hands quickly got used to being wet and covered with cloying, abrasive sand every time we got near a beach. The jungle and the humidity took a toll on our weapons so we spent long hours combining maintenance with instruction.

The Final Field Exercise (FFEX) at the end of training involved a full-blown assault from LVTs and LCVPs against our IJA unit defending a beach fronting the Coral Sea. We had practically everyone involved in the production watching from safe areas along the shore and nearly every camera in Australia pointed our way when the Marines landed. The training paid off handsomely that day and every other day as we moved through nine long months of shooting on The Pacific.