Eastern Fire

By Welford Sims
Midway-Eastern Island
Naval Security Group-CT2
July 19, 1957 – July 24, 1958

I had finished my laundry and was heading back to my room, which was the old film storage room in the movie hall. I was short cutting thru the old galley, torn down not long after this….when I heard the siren go off. First thoughts, “there goes the chief again testing some of the equipment.”  The siren then started wailing, up and down, up and down, so I figured there had to be more to it than a test, so I set my laundry down and ran back. I could see smoke coming out of the old reefer building, where we had our spare electronic parts and emergency food supply, aka C Rations, stored and where we had our “gym” as it was. By then several more guys had shown up and two of the guys who were on duty came with all the extinguishers they could find.

The fire was inside the insulation up near the ceiling, in the corner where the storage room was, so we dragged a table over and the chief started chopping at insulation while sending me to the roof. I found a vent where smoke was coming out and it happened these old vents were on hinges which made it easy to open and get in and as soon as I found where the smoke was coming out I started chopping in that spot. Smoke was thick and rancid, so the chief handed over chopping duties to another guy below, whom shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment, but it felt like a sick woodpecker chipping at it. Chief relieved me and we chopped at about 2 minute intervals. During one of my chopping’s, I felt the chopping from below stop briefly, then it started again like it had some power behind it! The ceiling would literally bounce every time he hit it with the axe!  Then the #1 chopper came into where I was chopping and sat down to watch!  I had to almost force him out so I could have enough air to breathe and with about 3 more chops, I was close to fire so grabbed a wrecking bar and gave a hard poke and it made a hole thru the 2-inch-thick board and fire shot out like a blowtorch. I stuck the bar back into the hole and called for an extinguisher, which I emptied into that tiny hole. That stopped it enough where I could get another chopper to assist me and we finished making a hole big enough to get to the fire, so we emptied another extinguisher into it, and about the same time they made it to the fire from beneath and soaked it from below.

Chief Green had called the fire marshal from Sand Island and by time he got there, the fire was out and all the marshal had to do was check it and declare it was “officially” out!

Some of the other guys I can remember being in the situation other than Chief James Green and me: Frank Vitale, A.C. Flowers, “Big John” Meek, Don Ray, Doug Swanson, and I am sure there were others I do not recall right now. We all got Naval Commendations which we were able to take to the geedunk and with $2.00 added to it could get a hamburger and coke!!

That was quite an experience.  While I was still there, the old chow hall was demolished.  Within a few years of my leaving, the movie hall was torn down, the reefer building was totally remodeled and made into a barracks from what I understand, and all memory of a fire was gone! Now, there is NOTHING left on Eastern except the runways, which are overgrown and not taken care of even though they have been designated a National Historic Treasure, an effort of IMMF.  At least some of the old berms, used to protect the planes during WWII are still in place and have not been bulldozed.

Midway then, Midway now, MIDWAY FOREVER!

Welford Sims
Midway-Eastern Island
Naval Security Group-CT2
July 19, 1957 – July 24, 1958