Marines heading out to sea in any of the Navy’s fleet of amphibious ships get quickly and acutely familiar with a few spaces inside those large gray warfighting hulls: their berthing space, the ship’s gym and the enlisted mess decks.
There’s usually nothing spectacular about those spaces, which are often crowded and offer little in the way of physical privacy or familiar comforts of home. But aboard Makin Island, the Navy’s newest big-deck amphibious assault ship and homeported in San Diego, what would have been some storage area off the main mess decks has been remade into a cozier space with a more intimate “cafe” feel.
Unlike the fluorescent-lit, Navy-blue color schemes more typical of ships’ mess decks, this area called “Carlson Cafe” features walls wrapped in paneling, blue vinyl-covered bar stools and booths and tables topped with the Mandarin phrase of “Gung Ho” on red vinyl.
The cafe, which is opened during the ship’s meal hours for E-6s and below, is named for the late and innovative Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, one of the more colorful leaders among the Marine Corps’ small but elite World War II force known as Marine Raiders. Carlson had served in China and adopted the phrase “gung ho,” which means “working together” in Mandarin, for his men of 2nd Raider Battalion known as Carlson’s Raiders. They and another group of men – “Edson’s Raiders” of 1st Raider Battalion led by Col. Merritt Edson – were formed in February 1942 and quickly deployed to fight in the island campaigns in the Pacific. Their legacy was short-lived – the Marine Corps disestablished its four Raider battalions two years after their formation – but the more than 8,000 men who earned the title were pivotal to the Marine Corps’ development of its unique amphibious warfare capabilities and its reconnaissance, force recon and special operations communities.
The Carlson Cafe includes a growing collection of Raider memorabilia. News clips and movie posters, including of the 1943 flick “Gung Ho” that told the story of Carlson’s Raiders, hang on the wall. Wooden cases display Carlson’s combat medals and a period uniform. “They’ve got room to grow,” noted Navy Senior Chief (SW/AW) Donnie Ryan, the ship’s public affairs chief. “Gung Ho” is designed into the table coverings. Sconces on the walls can provide some “mood” lighting, an improvement on a ship where glaring overhead fluorescent lights are the norm.
That may be welcomed once Makin Island leaves San Diego Nov. 14 on its maiden deployment, leaving a force of three amphibious ships, including dock landing ship Pearl Harbor and amphibious transport dock New Orleans with Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit for the Persian Gulf and Western Pacific regions.