The following are my recollections of Midway and Eastern Island in 63-64 …
I was with the Naval Security Group Detachment (CT community) on Eastern Island. The WWII runways darned near covered the whole island. The boat pier was located approximately half way up the Northern side. In this general area was located the barracks, mess hall, ham shack (KM6CE)/pool room, TV Quonset hut and a warehouse that served as a garage in the day time and movie theater at night. On the eastern end of the island was the administrative offices (Old DF Shack). Located near on the southeast corner was the civilian scatter antenna array. Our HFDF shack was located on the western end of the Island. It was the AN/GRD-6 which used the U-Adcock array. The watch schedule stood was four-section (8 hours watches), scheduled eve, day, mid, with 56 hours off (days off for seaman and below were rare … we were the fodder used for working parties … unloading ships, burn detail, etc…).
While I was there in 1963/64, the Mike boats were our primary mode of travel between the islands (run on somewhat of a fixed schedule). They enabled us to go to Sand Island to the PX (believe at that time cigarettes were 10 cents a pack, haircuts were free). They also allowed married personnel to travel from work to housing on Sand. During foul weather, the tugs or crash boats were used to transport personnel (if possible). There were some days even they wouldn’t venture out. Our barrack were made of wood and consisted primarily of 4 large cubicles, each set up to accommodate 6-8 people (bunk beds). On the east and west ends of the building were smaller cubicles set up for senior personnel (not accompanied) and other rates (non CT’s). In addition, there was a small laundry with washer & dryer and our recreation room with a Ping-Pong table. The walls of the cubicles went up ¾ of way to the ceiling. Needless to say, life on Eastern was interesting. Some of which is described below:
- Big ole harry brown spiders … wouldn’t you know the island was inhabited by them. It was stated the spiders were imported to keep down the fly population (this I believe although they could have done a better job).
- I remember waking one morning around 4am and felt something on my chest! I snapped on my bunk light (I’m on the top) and there is this big wharf rat sitting on my chest! Well, at the time, it wasn’t funny, but it was later after I quit shaking. The rat probably slept on my pillow the rest of the night as I knocked it off using my pillow and I didn’t bother to get down and check on it, or my pillow until daylight! It’s a wonder I didn’t wake everyone up. No, I don’t know whether the rat got up there by itself, or maybe one or more of my friends put it there. No one took credit for it anyway.
- I gained the name of “Dusty” while on Eastern. I had a habit of picking up hand fulls of dirt and tossing them in the air while playing fast-pitch softball at 3rd base (crouching half way to home). The prevailing winds usually blew the dust towards 1st & 2nd base … needless to say, these two gentlemen tagged me with my nickname (LOL).
- Attitude? I didn’t have a stinking attitude. I remember one day the Operations Officer was staring over my shoulder (watching me work) and I got tired of it. So I did the only thing I thought I could do at the time (and get away with); I signed off my log to the Lt. and walked out of operations. I didn’t say a word (which was probably a good thing). Of course, my supervisor (Mike) came out and asked me what was going on. After I told him, he laughed, and told me to go back to work! I did, and guess what? The Lt. never came close to me after that. But, he would glower at me from across the room!
- Three of the most popular island residents were our dogs. Boat’s, Lonnie and another (whose name escapes me). Lonnie, the female, had the run of the island along with everyone on it. If something was happening to anyone, Lonnie knew about it. There was a great joke about Lonnie sleeping in a different cubicle every night and her favorite sleeping position, was on her back! Note, she was the only female on the island.
- Besides the Gooney Birds, I remember the Moaning Birds the best, we use to sit at night and listen to them. Sometimes it made you feel very lonely. They sounded like someone crying. The Sooty Terns were thick as flies. When you were walking around on the island, they would swarm and fly just above your head. There was a lot of other birds on Eastern – but one of most colorful that I remember was the Frigates.
- You could watch TV in a Quonset hut outside the barracks behind the ham shack (KM6CE). With one station on the Island you were kind of locked into whatever was on. The Ham shack also had a small room attached with a pool table in it.
- We used to watch the Willy Victors taking off and landing (on Sand). You could spend a lot of time watching them. Bird strikes seemed to be signified by the number of Gooney Birds stamped on the side of the aircraft. Right Geno?
- At times, we use to stand on top of the barracks and watch the Russian ships on the horizon as they monitored activity at Midway. They were usually on patrol around Midway at least 50 % of the time if I recall correctly.
- I remember one day when control in Hawaii called up and asked us to verify a bearing on the cable ship that was running the Transpacific cable, from stateside to Japan (I think). I told them the ships transmitter was too close to the island to take a bearing (signal was too strong). When asked if we could please try again, I told them to wait, walked outside and looked at the ship. Then I proceeded to tell them to draw a line straight West of us as the cable ship had just entered the channel between the two islands. That would put the ship approximately 200 yards West of where I was sitting.
- Promoted to seaman (E3) Jul 16, 1963 ~ when it came to completing qualifications for seaman, I had to pass oral exams given to me by a Machinist Mate 2nd Class before he would sign off. Don’t recall his name, but this was the first time I found out that there were actually some floors onboard ships – which by the way consists of half decks located in the bilges. While written exams were being done at that time, the oral exam was much harder and better prepared me. I had completed my practical factors for seaman earlier in the year, but seems they were mysteriously torn up when I got into a beer induced verbal dual with my assistant supervisor at a party. Like I said once before, I learned early on that you could say anything you wanted to as long as you were willing to take the consequences.
- All intramural sports were played on Sand Island (softball, football, basketball, etc.). You didn’t think they would let perfectly sane people come over to our island did you? It also allowed us Easterners to sneak a case of beer or whiskey back in the equipment bags (sometimes the gear was left on the other island until the next day). Yes, all the clubs were on Sand Island (no beer machines on Eastern).
- One of our biggest rivals was Air Ops and we loved to tangle with them. And if you have never played 9-man flag football by Midway Island rules, you haven’t played football. It made tackle football seem like kids games. We use to come out of those games black and blue. You actually were playing tackle football without pads. The funniest game was one night against the local high school (dependents). Of course, the crowd and the refs were all on the kids side. So, you couldn’t hit the kids hard without encountering the wrath of the crowd (LOL)!
- Seems for whatever reason that I can’t think of today, I ordered a crossbow out of this magazine while on Midway. It was kind of neat, so we (a friend and I) decided we could go out back of the warehouse and shoot arrows into targets (like bales of hay). Let’s just say, Gooney birds were not really safe on that island for a while … we also tried shooting sharks off the pie. I don’t think we ever hit one. I know, some of the guys use to dive for eels off the side of the pier … they were in some old pipes down near the bottom.
- One of our past times was walking the beaches early in the morning (especially after a storm) and picking up the “Fish Balls” littering the beaches. They were in all kinds of sizes ~ I remember taking some home. But I have no memory of whatever happened to them (divorces do that to you)!
- Mid rats was a real treat. Someone usually went to the galley while everyone else went to work and fixed meals for everyone (our cook gave us the keys to the place). This was kind of neat for me, as junior man, I would have to drive everyone to work (in the pickup rain or not) then drive the crew that had been relieved back to the barracks. Then I would take whoever had been fixing the meals to work. Almost matched Kami Seya, Japan for great food. By the way, during inclement weather when the boats weren’t running and we had to go to emergency rations, it was steaks for all meals! Believe that, emergency rations were Steak! Beat the hell out of the reconstituted Eggs and Milk!
- It wasn’t all bad being the junior man in the watch section. While I had to make a lot of coffee (for whatever reason, my boss liked my coffee – heavy & black), hold a lot of field days, I also got to leave early most of the time to take the pickup back to the oncoming watch section. Whenever one of the 3rd classes would bitch about me leaving early, the boss told them all they had to do was hold field day, make coffee and the sundry of other things us junior people got to do! With that, they could leave early with the truck. Believe it or not, I had one 3rd class that thought this was great! At least for a while, but then it got old and I got my job back.
- Remember the time when USO show girls were brought on a tour of Eastern Island ~ did we ever give them a treat, grown men running through the shrubs eyeing the girls hooting and hollering, making fools of ourselves. Needless to say, no other USO show was shown Eastern Island at least while I was there.
- Movies were brought over and shown in the warehouse – only picture I ever remember seeing was Irma Laduce with Shirley McClain. Apparently, the Naval Base chaplain had banned the movie from being shown, but our enterprising movie operator managed to “borrow” the film for the evening …… it was eventually shown to the whole Island after we borrowed it.. · The day president Kennedy was killed we were on the firing range qualifying with the 45 cal Pistol. That night, we sat on full alert and armed on the beaches, waiting for I know not what, no one had any idea what was going on. A prelude to war? Well, as everyone knows, nothing happened.
- Christmas 63, it was said that Bob Hope, supposedly while on his way to Japan, circled the Island (why didn’t he land?) and taped a message to us boys there on the Islands of Midway. I never verified this to find out if it was true or another one of our fairy tales?
- The day the Russian sub had to come into Midway for repairs just happened to be the day one of our space capsules (Mercury series I believe) was to be brought into Midway for transport back to Hawaii. Needless to say, the Navy loaded the capsule onto the pickup carrier and returned straight to Hawaii.
- Deep Sea fishing was great! Caught the first Tuna of the season that first day in the channel! That’s also the day I made the bossan mad when I cut his line! We took another hit right after I pulled in my tuna and as I was closest to the line, I started reeling it in. When it breached near the fantail, I immediately cut the line. That fishing boat was not big enough for that shark and me! Many more trips were made.
- I also remember the day that we chased a sea turtle all over the inside of the lagoon in a small boat (with oars – and motor). For some reason or another, we decided it would make great turtle soup. So, as we followed it, every time he popped his head up, someone would try to lasso him. Well, this went on for about 3 hours. Well, we eventually caught him but just before we got back to the pier, he slipped the noose and got away. It was probably best …!
- Finally, the day arrives and I’m under orders to NSGA Kami Seya, Japan
- Extended on Midway an extra month to take the 3rd class exam. Guess it was a good thing I did, I made it.
Feb 18, 1964. I remember the day I was leaving the Island very vividly (almost like yesterday). I remember after the longest wait inside the terminal, we finally boarded the aircraft. After what seemed like hours, the pilot was starting the engines (there were only two) something fell to the tarmac. We were immediately deplaned and returned to the terminal. After a lengthy repair, we were all told that this week’s official log flight from Midway Island to Hawaii was canceled. We then learned the aircraft was going to return to Hawaii anyway (for repairs?). Guess what, all volunteered to leave on that flight, figuring if the pilots trusted the aircraft enough to return it to Hawaii, we weren’t going to spend another night on Midway. Needless to say, we arrived in Hawaii safely.
If I had it to do over again, I would still be there (smile)!