Marines make first landing on renovated WWII airfield in the Pacific

Marines make first landing on renovated WWII airfield in the Pacific

The Marines recently landed their first fixed wing aircraft on a recertified airfield on the Pacific island of Peleliu, which jarheads captured after brutal combat in 1944.

The KC-130J Super Hercules tanker with 1st Marine Air Wing landed Saturday, marking the first time the Corps has landed such an aircraft on the installation since the service recertified the airfield in early June, according to a Marine Corps press release.

The Marine Corps Engineer Detachment Palau, MCED-P 24.1, contains engineers from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group. The detachment spent the past few months rehabilitating the airfield to accommodate large, fixed-wing aircraft such as the KC-130J.

“I feel privileged because I was in Peleliu in 2021 and saw the airfield transform into what it is now,” said Sgt. Brandon Gonzalez, a combat engineer squad leader who led vegetation removal and assisted with unexploded ordnance sweeping. “It truly is an honor to have been a part of this mission and see it come to fruition with a KC-130 landing.”

That airfield puts Marine aircraft within 1,000 miles of Manila, Philippines, which is a major Pacific partner nation of the United States. The island is approximately 1,400 miles from Okinawa, Japan ― home of the 3rd Marine Division and the bulk of U.S. Marine forces in the Pacific.

Guam, which has seen a flood of military investment, construction and is the planned future home of a new Marine littoral regiment in the coming years, is about 1,500 miles from the Philippines.

The next closest major Marine contingent is in Hawaii, which is more than 4,600 miles from both Peleliu and Okinawa, Japan.

“Today is a historic moment as we land a Marine Corps aircraft on the ‘Sledge’ runway,” remarked Maj. Christopher Romero, Marine Corps Engineer Detachment Palau commanding officer. “This remarkable achievement demonstrates the strategic importance of our mission and our dedication to regional stability and security.”

The “Sledge” title is in honor of its namesake, Pfc. Eugene Sledge, who fought in the Battle of Peleliu with the 1st Marine Division and later authored one of the key Marine memoirs of the war, “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.”

September marks the 80th anniversary of the battle.

The Marines are experimenting with new ways of integrating airpower and covering the vast distances of the Pacific for combat and combat support operations, a far cry from what was needed in the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ongoing upgrades and expansion on Guam mirror improvements to facilities on the islands of Tinian and Saipan.

Commandant Gen. Eric Smith testified in a congressional hearing earlier in 2024 that the Corps also was experimenting with durable, quick installation matting to install air strips in small areas when needed.

The Corps isn’t the only service ramping up its air-focused installations in the region.

In March, the Air Force announced a $400 million upgrade to its airfield on the tiny Pacific island of Yap, about 1,000 miles southeast of China and part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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