War put Solomons Island on map Isolation: The tiny village that grew from one man's failed oyster cannery gained prominence in World War II as a training site for U.S. troops.

Way Back When

May 30, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When Capt. Isaac Solomon arrived in Calvert County in the late 1860s and purchased the small island that later bore his name, the only thing on the tiny spit of land was a farm and a single house.

A businessman and a promoter, Solomon had devised one of the first formulas for successfully canning oysters. He brought over men from the Eastern Shore to dredge oysters and work in his cannery. After the failure and closing of the cannery, the little village and its sparse population remained.

"For fifty years there was no outside communication with the world except by water. There was a steamboat to Baltimore three times a week, but the islanders had little traffic with strangers," reported The Sun.

"During those happy years the people lived in happy disregard of all sanitary measures. There were plenty of mosquitoes to spread disease, and according to all rules the place should have been visited by frequent epidemics. But they never came."

All that changed with the coming of World War II. The population on Solomons swelled from 263 to 2,600. "The simple life of oystering in winter, crabbing in summer and entertaining week-end fishing parties is gone," reported The Sun. "Almost overnight the island became a part of the great world."

In 1942, the Navy established the Solomons Island Amphibian Base -- often called the "cradle of invasion" where Army, Navy and Marine Corps amphibious forces trained.

"The Allied design for invasion and conquest of enemy-held lands has brought new and complicated techniques into amphibious operations," reported The Sun. "The techniques are intended -- as they already have done -- to make improbable in this war a disaster such as Gallipoli of World War I."

LCI's, or "landing craft, infantry," and LST's, "land ship, tank," and thousands of troops which "invaded" Calvert County became a familiar sight for residents of the lower Chesapeake during the war.

"As great task forces of these and other ships approach an invasion beach, 'rocket boats,' small craft, are put overboard. They race shoreward at great speed and hurl their missiles at defending forces and fortifications. And these are deadly missiles, too, for they are another version of the bazooka, the tank destroyer," said The Sun.

In an ironic twist, in August, 1942, Marines trained at Solomons Island hit the beaches at the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Theater of operations.

"The peaceful fishfolk of the Chesapeake feel that the name of Solomon was redeemed when their tiny island served as the scene of maneuvers by Marines now driving the Japanese into the jungles of the tropical Solomons," reported The Sun.

"The only resemblance between the 'elbow-like spit of land' on the Patuxent and the 71,000 square miles of 'green hell' jungles in the Pacific archipelago of the same name is an excellent harbor." Troops trained at Solomons Island and two other Chesapeake Bay amphibious bases landed on other Pacific beaches and landed at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

"Thousands of hard-muscled blue-jackets are manning these attack craft," reported The Sun. "Without them and their comrades on all other types of landing vessels, the oceans would be barriers against attack instead of highways of invasion."

Rural and quiet Calvert County would never be quite the same.

"Crabs, scared from Mill Creek by the propellers of the landing craft that long made it a haven, have returned, but the tranquility of old days on this remote islet jutting from the southern shore of Calvert County in the Patuxent, appears to be a permanent casualty of war," reported The Sun in 1945.

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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