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During World War II, Navy medical personnel moved quickly to reduce the impact of malaria and other tropical diseases in the Pacific War. Personnel trained in preventive medicine oiled malaria breeding areas and sprayed DDT. Physicians and Hospital Corpsmen dispensed quinine and atabrine as malaria suppressants.
During the first months of the Okinawa operation when Marine Corps and III Amphibious Corps units were occupied in the northern part of the island, casualties were light and health and sanitary conditions were readily kept up to standard. During the last two-thirds of the operation on the southern part of the island, however, the fanatical resistance of the well-entrenched foe, torrential rains, blinding dust and torrid heat complicated all matters of sanitation.
At the very offset of the operation effective sanitary measures were instituted. The beachheads were sprayed with DDT from carrier-based planes beginning on L plus 3; after L plus 10, land-based bombers continued the operation. Attached to the combat teams were sanitary squads consisting of one Hospital Corpsman and 19 Marines. Their function was immediate non-specific insect control in the combat area during the assault phase. These teams, supplied with spraying equipment and DDT in oil, proved invaluable in their specific tasks. Following behind the combat teams, the sanitary squads sprayed all dead bodies and the adjacent ground with DDT.
The Malaria and Epidemic Control Units attached to the Marine divisions performed a valuable function in the investigation of epidemic disease conditions, mosquito and fly control, and preventive medicine in general. The 50 man detachment furnished the 1st Marine Division Malaria Control Unit by the 145th Construction Battalion enabled them to cover efficiently much greater areas than would been possible otherwise. The 6th Marine Division Malaria Control Unit was handicapped by the repeated refusal of the commanding officer of the 58th Construction Battalion and the commander of the construction troops to furnish the necessary personnel. It was not until May 27, 1945 that they finally complied with directives on the subject.
In spite of such handicaps the 6th Marine Division Malaria and Epidemiological Unit functioned in an outstanding manner. The entire Division area was infested with fleas; malaria-bearing mosquitoes were present; stagnant water, open heads and decaying food all presented problems. The control program consisted of spraying the entire area and the dwellings with DDT both from the air and by means of hand sprayers. DDT powder was used freely on clothing and bedding. Rice paddies were drained; all mess halls were screened; open heads were covered, and atabrine discipline was carefully supervised. The valuable work of the Malaria Control Units and the Naval Research Units in checking the validity of pre-invasion medical information permitted a concentration of effort on the prevention of these diseases which were a potential threat to the health of the invasion forces.