Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Low rent travelogue, Chapter 2

Here's Chapter 2 of my Growing-Up-Military series, which I started last summer when I wrote about my first 2 years in Phoenix (1953-1955). After spending 6 more months in Colorado while my dad took a class, he was headed for Johnston Island and we were to follow shortly. I was a precocious little thing (disgustingly so), and managed to get in front of an open mic radio broadcast where I recited the Lord's Prayer from memory, and dedicated it to my mother and to each grandparent and to my daddy who was on his way to Johnston Island.
Johnston Island was originally used as a bird sanctuary until the American military took it over. The island was only a quarter mile wide and a mile long at the time (it has since gotten larger through dredging), so the base took up every square inch of it and made it resemble an aircraft carrier.
These scans are from an orientation booklet that they gave the guys - and I do mean "guys" because there were almost no women on the island at all - and the booklet points out in a couple of places that they can get all their necessities there - except "dolls".
My dad was very lucky that he wasn't there after 1958 because they started doing nuclear testing. The detonations were in space overhead, but there was one mishap that caused the island to get a good dusting of plutonium, along with quite a few other thermonuclear fails (Operation Dominic and others)
The base was used as a storage facility for all sorts of WMDs in the 70s, including nuke stuff, chemical weapons, sarin, Agent Orange, mustard gas... and there were a number of accidents involving those too during the 1990s (see the link). By 2003 the incredibly massive stockpiles and the facility were destroyed, and the island has been redesignated as a wildlife sanctuary, although not exactly the same condition that Mother Nature would have preferred. Below, a few barrels of Agent Orange, some leaky, from this website.

My mother and I didn't go to Johnston Island. The military didn't end up allowing us to go there, so our poverty forced us to have to move in with my maternal grandparents in Carbondale IL. They had a "room" in their basement, and those quote marks are appropriate as it was just an area with a couple of cots. The coal furnace was down there with us, and somebody had to continuously shovel the coal into the furnace to keep the heat going so it was a sooty and smelly place to live, although not the worst place I ever lived. It was very much the opposite of our next destination: Hawaii 1956. That will be Chapter 3.
[Unofficial website Johnston memories]


WeezieLou said...

i can't believe i never heard of the place, and i'm a history freak. thnx for the tour.

Blueberry said...

I didn't know that much about it myself until I was an adult going through my dad's stuff - and there wasn't much there - so I did some homework on it and was amazed at at how much hellishness could be inflicted on such a small place, and how much affection the previous inhabitants had for it.

enigma4ever said...

wow..this is so interesting...thank you...

Ptelea said...

I concur - this is very interesting. But as an environmental biologist, I am very skeptical of these 'former toxic' waste sites that get turned into 'wildlife sanctuaries' But it is still better than doing nothing.

Blueberry said...

At least people have finally left it alone, that's a start, but yeah, I hate to think about the toxic stuff left there and how long it will remain.