MARINE CORPS BASE, CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
What once was a simple sugar cane field became a refuge for the bleeding and broken, where once a morgue was filled with the heroes of the “Greatest Generation,” Marines sit, conducting daily operations.
Before Camp H.M. Smith became a strategic command base with an area of responsibility covering more than half the Earth’s surface, it served the medical needs of war fighters.
On March 17, 1941, an act of Congress approved the purchase of a sugar cane field for a Navy hospital. Construction commenced in July. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, construction of the planned 1,650-bed facility was rushed to completion. The hospital was commissioned on November 11, 1942, but continued expansion was necessary due to the demands of the war.
Throughout WWII, the Aiea Naval Hospital would see thousands of wounded sailors and Marines come through its doors. February and March of 1945 was the hospital’s bloodiest months, when nearly 5,700 servicemen from the battle of Iwo Jima received medical care simultaneously.
On June 1, 1949, four years after the end of WWII, the hospital was deactivated and the Army and Navy medical assets were moved to what is now Tripler Army Medical Center.
A year later, the territory of Hawaii began plans to claim the old hospital for a tuberculosis sanitarium. However, in 1955 the Marine Corps purchased it for the future home of the Fleet Marine Forces Pacific.
The initial investment to purchase the 220 acres of land cost the U.S. government $912,000 and improvements cost an additional $14 million. By comparison, today a one-acre lot in Aiea, Hawaii, costs more than $1 million, according to Prudential Locations.
The total area of Camp Smith today, which is split in different areas on the island, includes 220 acres at Camp Smith, 137 acres at Puuloa Rifle Range and 62 acres in Manana Housing.
After purchasing the land, the first Marines arrived in October 1955. The camp did not become fully operational until two weeks before its dedication, Jan. 31, 1956.
The camp was named Camp H.M. Smith, on June 8, 1955 after the FMF Pacific’s first commanding general, General Holland McTyeire "Howlin' Mad" Smith, who led FMFPac from Sept. 17, 1944 to July 1945.
With a new name and tenants, the naval hospital became home to the largest field command in the Marine Corps, now known as U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
Later, in October 1957, Camp Smith also became home to the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command, making it the only Marine Corps installation that supports a unified combatant command. A unified combatant command is a United States joint military command composed of forces from two or more services, has a broad and continuing mission and is organized either on a geographical basis or on a functional basis.
Today, Marines at Camp H.M. Smith continue to push the Marine Corps mission forward in the Pacific. Their everyday operations support war fighters around the world and promote peace in unstable regions.