Junk in the Jungle

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The Senate's Mead Committee had charged that the handling of U.S. surplus property abroad was a confused muddle (TIME, April 1). This week TIME Correspondent Frank McNaughton, on an inspection tour of Pacific bases, added some details:

How long will they last, the mountains of surplus supplies piled helter-skelter on the Pacific islands? There are uncounted thousands of cranes, bulldozers, power shovels, road graders, tractors and trucks. On Oahu and Luzon, there are at least 3,500 airplanes in various states of disrepair. On Tinian, Guam and Okinawa, there are tens of thousands of tons of medical supplies.

At least 80% of this material is out in the open. On Guam, half a million cases of beer were piled in the hot sun along with 187,000 quarts of Old Grand Dad, Old Taylor, and other whiskeys. The tropical weather won't hurt the whiskey but it can ruin beer in a month, wear away paint and rust metal in six. Supplies not ruined by the weather are liable to be swallowed by the jungle. A storage lot which has been scraped clean with a bulldozer may be overgrown with vines in less than two months.

Touchy Subject. The Army and Navy no longer have the people to take care of the surpluses and are more than anxious to get rid of them. I heard many rumors of wanton destruction or dumping of supplies. I privately questioned over 200 G.I.s (out of the hearing of officers), but could not substantiate a single case of wantonness with eyewitness evidence. The services have developed an inferiority complex about such stories; the Army once spent $25,000 to investigate reports that jeeps had been pushed off a cliff. One soldier finally admitted that he had invented the story and had written to his Congressman in the hope that he would be called to the States to testify. The truth is that the Army & Navy are saving, storing and guarding a fearsome lot of junk that any Missouri farmer would dump into the nearest creek.

For the Lean Years. Both services are open to criticism on one score: besides the goods they declare surplus, they are hoarding a two-year (in the case of the Navy) or three-year (for the Army) supply. The Army has $1,451.000,000 worth of equipment in the Pacific but only expects to declare surpluses of $535,000,000. The Navy plans to let go of only $400,000,000 worth, out of $2,000,000,000. High-ranking Army & Navy officers explain that this will prevent them, from being caught short if Congress does not come through with military appropriations. But the policy might soon leave the services with a lot of obsolescent, rusty, unusable equipment.

Even the stuff already declared surplus seems to be more than the Foreign Liquidation Commission can sell. Now that theater commanders are authorized to ship goods back to the U.S. if FLC does not dispose of them (TIME, March 4), they do not give the FLC much time to make a sale. Said one admiral: "Either they sell the goddam stuff in 30 days or I'm going to put it on a ship and send it to Frisco."

For Lean Neighbors. This is hardly a solution of the problem. Dumping a billion dollars worth of goods into the domestic economy might raise a political uproar. More important, transporting the goods would cost almost as much as they are worth.

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