William Sabel     350th Engineer Service Regiment

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Abandoned AA defenses

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Wrecked Zero

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Upside down Zero

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William Sable in Corn Field

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G.I. Cooks

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Sabel with Watermellon

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Sable with tomatos

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Loading watermellon crop

Farming Background
I was a poultry farmer prior to my induction into the army in April 1941 and enjoyed gardening. When I saw the rich dark soil in the cocoa bean plantation where our regiment was bivouacked, I wondered if flowers and vegetables would grow here in the tropics. In my weekly airmail letters home to my folks, I requested a few seeds be included in each return letter. The next letter contained radish, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and zinnia seeds. It wasn't long before I had a small flower and garden patch growing along side my quarters. I remember the zinnias would grow into huge shrubs in that hot, humid, tropical climate, as there was no frost to curtail their growth. The flowers would continuously bloom and the seeds would fall down into the moist fertile soil and start growing again. I can only assume that my zinnias are still growing on a few of the tropical islands in the South Pacific.

After nine months on Santos, our battalion was ordered to Munda in the Solomons and we arrived a couple of months after the Americans had fought a terrific battle and recaptured the island from the Japanese. When my platoon was building the commanding general's mess hall, I noticed him puttering around a small garden along side his quarters. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned the garden I had on Santos and how successful it was. When the vegetable farm project on Kolombangara was being contemplated, he remembered my interest and spoke to our colonel about it and who, in turn, asked me if I would be interested in running the operation. The fresh produce was to be sent back to the base hospital to augment the drab, dehydrated menu that the wounded men were served during their recuperation. Needless to say, they were much appreciated by the patients in the hospital after the farm became operative.

I accepted the challenge and with 5 enlisted men whom had previous agricultural experience and a landing craft borrowed from the navy, we set out for Kolombangara Island 5 miles away, in January 1944. The British furnished 16 male natives to help on the farm. Through the Red Cross, a variety of seeds were obtained from Australia and New Zealand including watermelon, muskmelon, okra, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, radishes and a bushel of field corn that made good roasting ears when mature. From our outfit I was able to procure a small caterpillar tractor as well as a single bottom plow.

Our mission was to farm Vila Airfield, the old abandoned airdrome that the Japanese had carved out of the pre-war coconut plantation when they took over the island in their bid to dominate the world. The trees on the plantation had been planted in a checkerboard pattern about twenty feet apart each way. To hastily construct the airfield, the Japanese cut the trees flush with the ground. When we tried to plow, we would hit the buried stumps and ruin the plow. We found it best to farm a narrow 10-foot strip between the decaying stumps.

Solomon Islanders Help
When the native helpers first arrived, I asked one of the educated men how to say, "Don't plant the seeds too close." He rattled off something that I couldn't understand and I told him he better write it down. He wrote, " Lopu lete va soku." The natives would get quite a kick out of me trying to speak their language and they would giggle like little kids when I tried to converse with them in their native tongue.

The natives had never tasted watermelons before and enjoyed eating the fresh watermelons as much as we did. I instructed them how to dry the seeds and replant them in their home gardens. For the past fifty-five years I have been wondering if the natives on the island of Kolombangara are still planting and relishing the watermelons I introduced to the island some 55 years ago.

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