In 1941, when the Imperial Government of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it was Japan’s reaction to the United States flexing its power by denying the Japanese access to iron and other materials necessary for an industrial country. The United States was mainly reacting to the Japanese invasion of China and its repeated massacres of the Chinese people, particularly the “rape of Nanking.”
In 1944, the United States undertook a very ambitious operation to retake the western Pacific islands, the Marianas, the Marshalls, New Guinea, and other territories. Most of these islands lie within 10 degrees of the equator, and many a small atolls. The fighting the occurred on many of these islands was so intense that to this day live ordinance is still washing up on the shores.
In the early 1980s I had the good fortunate to work on one of those island atolls, Kwajalein which is a part of the Marshall Islands. Kwajalein itself, though tiny, endured nearly a week of intense fighting before the U.S. won. To this day a tank from the battle still sits where it became immobilized on a coral reef as-well-as a number of Japanese ships that were sunk in the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon.
The runway in the picture above is about 1.2 miles long, to give you an idea of how small this, the largest in the atoll, is.
Kwajalein is the world’s largest atoll. The maps above will give you an idea of its location in the Pacific and a map of the islands of the Kwajalein Atoll itself. The picture is of the main island of Kwajalein, also known as Kwajalein, that sits a the bottom of the atoll. It is also called the most remote inhabited place on earth. That is because access to it is somewhat limited. The islands tend to be under 1 mile in length and where most large jets require at least that for take-off, you must take a small aircraft to get there. The Marshall Islands sit 2400 miles west south west of Honolulu and about an equal distance from Australia.
In this picture of Roi-Namur the runway is 4000 feet long, and the island, as it lays along the reef, only about 1.2 miles long.
This picture above is off the island Roi-Namur which sits at the very top of the atoll and where I worked while there. On the island of Roi-Namur sit two radars which track both near-earth and deep space satellites. I was involved in the near-earth tracking station known at Altair.
This picture is of the beach on Roi-Namur. It is typical of the beaches to be found on the lagoon side of the atoll. The lagoon is a relatively shallow portion of an atoll that sits between the islands. An atoll is the coral top of an ancient volcano. This being true, the ocean side of the atoll represents the mountain side which typically drop off many thousands of feet into the depths of the ocean around it.
The temperature varies between 76 and 85 on any given day year-round. The water temperature sits at about 80 year-round too. The island is basically immune from typhoons and other heavy wind storms because of its close proximity to the equator. While the storms may form near-by they move northward away from the islands well before the gain much force. It is also nearly immune from Tsunamis because it lacks the gradual beach incline needed to concentrate the energy of the Tsunami into a large wave. If a tsunami were to hit the island it would flow past it relatively unnoticed.
Many people for the U.S. have gone snorkeling on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and Hawaii. But the coral of those places pale in comparison to the relatively virgin reefs of the western-Pacific atolls. Although the Marshall, Solomon, and Caroline island groups each have plenty of resorts, they are so out-of-the-way that few people ever consider them.
The estimated population of the entire Marshall Islands in 2010 is only about 70,000 permanent residents spread among 29 separate atolls and another 5 individual islands. Most of the islands do not allow automobiles. The islands are all so small that travel on any single island is reserved to foot traffic.
The Marshallese people are not Polynesian but Micronesian, a subtle but important distinction. They settled the islands some 4000 years ago but their origin is unknown. Today’s Marshallese are, unfortunately, almost entirely dependent upon the United States for their existence. Since the 19th century they have been subjected to Dutch, German, and Japanese rule so that by the time World War II ended they no longer had the survival skills of their ancestors. But they are a very friendly people who ask for little and are more than willing to give much.
The Kwajalein Atoll is a veritable aquarium of strange and exotic sea creatures. The fish alone rival any that can be seen in the finest of aquariums. There many types of rare and beautiful cowries, snail-like mollusks, hermit crabs, and even lobsters. While snorkeling is was within arm’s reach of a large yellow-fin tuna.
The picture above is of cowries native to the atoll. Some, the tiger cowrie in particular, can fetch a hefty price on the open market.
Because of the nature of its business, defense, Kwajalein is not open to the public but other atolls in the Marshall Islands are and are equally as beautiful. Majuro is such an island and an example of its beaches is below.
Relative to almost anywhere else in the world one can visit, the Marshall Islands may well be among the most pristine. I cannot recommend them highly enough, particularly those of you who are truly tired of the crowded usual tourist destinations.