The survivors of the 1979 Fire lay the flowers with a ceremonial wreath at Big Guns Gym on Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji, Gotemba, Japan, Oct. 18, 2019. The ceremony is held annually on CATC Camp Fuji to remember the tragic fire that happened Oct. 19, 1979. It took the lives of 13 Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and injured others including Japanese rescue workers. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Stegall)
The survivors of the 1979 Fire lay the flowers with a ceremonial wreath at Big Guns Gym on Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji, Gotemba, Japan, Oct. 18, 2019. The ceremony is held annually on CATC Camp Fuji to remember the tragic fire that happened Oct. 19, 1979. It took the lives of 13 Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and injured others including Japanese rescue workers. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Stegall)

CATC Fuji remembers 1979 fire

by Cpl. Sarah Stegall
U.S. Marine Corps

COMBINED ARMS TRAINING CENTER, CAMP FUJI, GOTEMBA, Japan- Another year has passed for Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, as the somber occasion brings Marines, sailors, and members of the local community together on Oct. 18 to remember the lives lost in a tragic 1979 fire.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Fuji Fire that occured Oct. 19, 1979 caused mainly in the wake of Typhoon Tip.

The gym at CATC Camp Fuji was filled as U.S. service members and members of the local community came together in somber remembrance.

“It’s important that we pass down the history of this base to all the Marines that come through,” said Col. Michael D. Reilly, commanding officer with CATC Camp Fuji. “It’s an annual time for us to reconnect and reaffirm the commitment was have to one another.”

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division training at the camp in 1979, were braced for the typhoon in Quonset huts located just downhill from a fuel farm.

Rains from the typhoon were so strong that the retaining wall holding the fuel bladders was eroded, causing the bladders to slip. As a result the hoses from two 5,000-gallon rubber storage bladders released fuel down the hill towards the huts.

The doors were barricaded with parachute chords and some were even nailed shut to protect them from strong rain and wind.

Within moments, rivers of fuel flowed down towards the Quonset huts and were ignited by kerosene heaters that the 1,200 young Marines used to keep warm. Flames swallowed the 15 tightly-shut huts which made up nearly the whole camp.

American and Japanese fire crew members working through the typhoon managed to control the fire in a matter of over two hours, but could not stop it. Only time had the power to put the flames to rest.

43 Marines and sailors, along with three Japanese employees were hospitalized, some urgently transferred to Yokota Air Base as well as Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

With nowhere to live, members of the camp received invitations to stay with some of the local residents as the local Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.

In the following months after the fire, 13 Marines passed away.

“Through that catastrophe and devastation, we actually have a mutual support agreement with the Takigahara garrison and Gotemba Yama town fire departments that we are going to be there for one another for fires or any kind of emergencies that take place in all three of those different areas, we practice and exercise it to this day,” said Reilly.
"The memorial is for all the lives lost caused by the fire and the typhoon."

Every year members of the two nations gather to remember and honor those who unexpectedly lost their lives on a day that will never be forgotten.

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