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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Surgeon General of Midway - Part 1 - A little geology and a little history

Midway along with Kure Atoll is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian chain stretches more than 1200 miles from the big island of Hawaii to Midway and Kure at the other end. Millions of years ago, Midway was actually a large shield volcano, worn down over time and then rebuilt today by coral. Understand that Midway is actually three Islands, Sand Island (where I was located), Spit Island, and Eastern Island (this was where the war occurred). The islands are surrounded by coral reefs with a lagoon in the middle between the islands. Part of the reef has been dug out to create an entry and a harbor for ships.

Eastern Island, left and Spit Island, right

The islands are actually subtropical lying above the tropic of cancer and about at the same latitude as central Florida. I was there in December 1981. The days were mostly pleasant and sometimes a little humid. The nights were usually chilly down into the 50's. I remember the wind blew all the time, and I don't mean a gentle breeze, but many days of howling gales, so nighttime could be uncomfortable.

The highest point anywhere on Midway is about 4 feet above sea level. There was nothing to stop the constantly howling wind.

Although Eastern Island was the home of the original base, it had been abandoned in favor of Sand Island which was quite a bit larger. Eastern Island and the very small rock, Spit Island had been designated as bird sanctuaries. I had asked about possibly visiting the other islands while I was there but I was told they were strictly off limits and special permission from the Fish and Wildlife service was required. Besides they also said there were no regular way to get over to the other islands.

Shortly after I arrived I was amused by a sign which informed us that in the event of a tsunami, a siren would sound letting us know that one was on the way. Sadly, there were no instructions as to what to do after the siren went off. Being only 4 feet above sea level, there would be no place to hide. I decided on the first day there that I would plan on tying myself to a palm tree to avoid being swept away and then untie and swim for the surface after the surge had passed. Fortunately the sirens never went off.

In June of 1942, all hell broke loose on these islands and in the waters surrounding these islands as the Japanese attempted to take them from us. The action was a debacle for the Japanese as they ended up losing four aircraft carriers. With their fleet destroyed and their invasion hopes ended, the tide of the war turned against the Japanese forever. I remember standing on the shore by myself looking at the ocean. With the hair standing up on the back of my neck I tried to imagine what it was like for our guys on Midway in 1942 and for our sailors and aviators on our ships. All that remained now was the sound of the wind and the ocean breaking over the reef, and a monument below......

On this site, 140 nautical miles from the international dateline, the world's last Easter morning sunrise service is traditionally held. "He is risen! He is risen indeed!"

In my next installment, I'll talk more about my arrival on Midway and my duties with the US Navy.


  1. I don't remember you telling me about the tsunami warning and your planned response. That would have been very scary.

    Debbie Hamilton
    Right Truth

  2. I may not have told you about that sweetie. It was kinda an uneventful joke with everyone on the island.

  3. Actually, a lovely site I went close by in 1958 on the Yorktown which was then a CVS. How was the fishing.

  4. Ron, no fishing occurred. I spent most of my time playing navy and working ham radio.