The Fourth of July, 1946

There is nothing like a satisfying conclusion, and the fact that I was headed home on this day of celebration of liberty made me feel all the happier. But then I saw something that somehow has been symbolic of my whole stay on Christmas, and it really is my Christmas message to all my friends and family. It is that if we just go about doing our normal duties and trying to meet our responsibilities without fanfare, we will find that much good can come from it.

The Last Alcoholic Major

Captain Roeber had spent over a year on Christmas Island by May of 1946, flights from Oahu had been reestablished, morale was good, and both he and MIDPAC felt that he needed to be relieved. So we were informed that a major who had served in a Federal Post Office all during the war, was to be sent in as his replacement. He arrived as per schedule, the captain filled him in on his duties and left for Oahu on the same plane. I reported to my new commanding officer, and very shortly was told that my uniform was not smartly pressed, and was not regulation and that I was to sharpen up.

The Dogs

I have mentioned the dogs above, and they were the cause of two of my strongest recollections. I have also mentioned the fact our enlisted men were composed of both stateside and Hawaiian GIs - to the best of my recollection about evenly divided, and all were competent at their particular tasks, and required more recognition than supervision. However, there was one scarce commodity on the island (other than women) that both groups vied for, and that was the company of one of those small, scrubby male dogs.

The Brits

Well, we didn’t call Major Sinclair and his wife Brits - the term wasn’t even in use then, and anyway they were New Zealanders. Once they invited us all over to London for a party. The island almost encircled the shark-filled lagoon something like a crab’s claws. One point of land (or claw) was called Paris. It was the abandoned site of a French missionary’s attempt to colonize the island and was now the home of thousands of sea birds and their eggs. (It is now a bird sanctuary.) The tip of the other “claw” was called London, and was Major Sinclair’s base of operations.

The Spitting-Mad General

Perhaps their prayers were answered. As time went on we had to send GIs with extended overseas experience home, and this included radio operators. Finally we were down to only enough operators to man the radio station 12 hours/ day (as I hazily recollect) and not at all on Sundays. At the same time a like situation had developed with the pilots who had flown the weekly plane from Oahu down to Christmas. We simply had no planes at all.

Blister Bugs and the USO Troop

The “blister bug,” a night flying creature much attracted to light like the moth, yellow, winged and about half an inch long was about the only prominent insect species on the island. Lt. Roeber warned me early never to slap one of these creatures if it happened to light on me, because if I did I would soon find that its juices would raise a nasty welt. At that time pyrethrum spray cans were the insecticide weapon of choice, and pyrethrum was totally effective in knocking these creatures down from around the light fixtures in the base office.

The Scientists

I found the two physicists from Carnegie much more to my taste. Their work was important, because it provided much needed information on radio transmission interference for much of the Pacific. As a result they felt needed and important and were happy and easy to get along with. One was a ham radio operator and I asked him once to send a message to one of the stateside GI’s families when our regular radio communication became very limited.

The Medical Officers

Two medical officers, both majors, served on Christmas Island during my time. The climate was so pleasant and the work so untaxing that they had very little to do other than treat the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders for yaws, a venereal disease apparently endemic among them. As a result both men, and particularly the last, who had previously been a neurosurgeon at a military base on Oahu, felt over-qualified and their conversation consisted mostly of grousing and complaining.

The Base and the Island

The base had once been the site for the island hopping planes that took troops to the South Pacific and once when Japan was a threat in the Eastern Pacific had garrisoned an infantry division. But that was long past in 1945 and most living quarters were now deserted with ineffective insect protection. However, there were still large sheds with thousands of spare parts, C-rations, and tropical chocolate bars, which I often commandeered. I was never alcoholic, but chocolate was another matter. There was also a tank farm of aviation gasoline that was a particular responsibility.

The Island Commander(s)

The American Island Commander was 1st Lt. Ferdinand P. Roeber. He was a kindly looking gentleman of about 55 who had served in World War I. He was a native of Chicago and a house painter by trade. He had served faithfully as a second lieutenant in the Reserves ever since 1918, had been declared over-age-in-grade, and had been relegated to recruiting duty for the whole of World War II.