[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 146 (2000), Part 15]
[Page 22129]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 22129]]

                          OPERATION IVORY SOAP

 Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I rise today in tribute to the 
men and women

who participated in a little known covert operation in World War II--
Operation Ivory Soap. During World War II, ``island hopping'' was a 
critical element in the U.S. Pacific strategy. The idea was to capture 
Japanese held islands of tactical or strategic importance and by-pass 
any far-flung or inconsequential bases. Once an island was taken it was 
used as a forward airfield for aircraft returning from long-range 
missions where they were repaired, rearmed, and made ready for the next 
vital mission.
  General Henry H. ``Hap'' Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Forces, 
recognized the need for forward-based, mobile air depots to support 
American bombers and fighters in the Pacific war. General Arnold and a 
panel of military officers determined the need for converting naval 
repair ships into hybrid aircraft depot ships. Eventually, six 440-
foot-long Liberty ships and 18 smaller 180-foot-long auxiliary vessels 
would be modified into Aircraft Repair Units, carrying 344 men, and 
Aircraft Maintenance Units, manned by 48 troops. Everything from the 
smallest aircraft parts to complete fighter wings were carried on these 
ships. The repair and maintenance facilities were manned 24-hours a day 
and the Liberty ships included platforms to land the ``new'' helicopter 
for quick ship-to-shore repair transport.
  The Army Air Force crews that manned these ships had to be trained to 
understand the nautical aspect of life at sea. Colonel Matthew Thompson 
of the Army Air Force was given the mission to turn airmen into seamen. 
Called back from Anzio in Italy, the Colonel had less than two weeks to 
organize the training program.
  The Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL, was the focal point for 
``Operation Ivory Soap'' training. Colonel Thompson contacted the then 
owner, Mr. Strat White-Spunner, regarding the use of the hotel as his 
base of operations where he intended to instill basic seamanship, 
marine and aquatic training in the Army officers and men of the 
aircraft repair and maintenance units. As a donation to the war effort, 
Mr. Roberts turned the Grand Hotel and its facilities over to the US 
Army Air Force to be used as its Maritime Training School. Operation 
Ivory Soap training began on July 10, 1944.
  Using the Grand Hotel, officers and men moved in and began living in 
``Navy style.'' All personnel referred to the floors as decks, kept 
time by a ship's bell and indulged in the use of tobacco only when the 
``smoking lamp'' was lit. The courses included swimming, special 
calisthenics, marching, drill, navigation, ship identification, 
signaling, cargo handling, ship orientation, sail making, amphibious 
operations, and more. Two men from each ship were also trained to be 
underwater divers. During a five month period, the school turned out 
5,000 highly-trained Air Force seamen. When they and their ships went 
to war, so did Colonel Thompson. The men of the operation participated 
in the landings in the Philippines, Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and 
Okinawa. Fighter aircraft and B-29s taking off from these bases flew 
continuous missions over Japan. Many lives, as well as aircraft, were 
saved because of the men of the aircraft repair and maintenance units.
  Perhaps the greatest tribute I can make to the exploits of these sea-
going airmen is to paraphrase the Merchant Marines who worked with them 
and who praised them as ``equal to any sea-going combatants they had 
ever served with.'' This is a testament to their skill and 
professionalism and the ability of this nation to adjust its resources 
to defeat the enemy. The Grand Hotel still stands elegantly on the 
banks of the Mobile Bay. A hotel whose rich southern history embodies 
the best traditions of this country.