We Come In Peace
by CAPT John Wallace, USN (Retired)
ong before I had an inkling that I would wind down my life as a resident of Hawaii, I spent some memorable months of my early naval career in the islands.
In 1962, as my ship steamed along the coast of Oahu and up the Pearl Harbor channel, Hawaii was a vastly different place than it is today. The large open areas along Waikiki have long since blossomed into the overbuilt skyline of high rise hotels and condominiums familiar to today’s residents and tourists. The Interstate Highway system that now traverses Oahu wasn’t even a concept then, much less a necessity. Would you believe that an island state, roughly 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, contiguous to no other states, has three numbered Interstate highways…and still has daily gridlock? Those who long for the slower pace of Hawaii’s early years need look no farther than rush hour on these three arteries. For a three hour period at the beginning and end of each weekday, King Kamehameha’s foot soldiers could run laps around commuters oozing to and from work.
The purpose of our January 1962 deployment from San Diego to Hawaii was to build up certain Pacific islands in support of U.S. nuclear weapons testing scheduled that summer. Specifically, we were to move large amounts of cargo (everything from Nike missiles to Jack Daniels) to Johnston Atoll and Christmas Island, set up a weather station on Palmyra Island, and warn the inhabitants of Fanning and Jarvis Islands that Armageddon was about to erupt in their backyard. I was assigned the mission of taking a search party ashore at Jarvis to find, warn and if need be, remove any inhabitants. As it turned out, Jarvis had no human inhabitants—every foot of the almost barren rock was visible from the bridge of the ship. As near as I could determine, Jarvis served only as a bathroom rest stop for transiting birds who, either too uncoordinated to fly and poop at the same time, or lacking human targets, came from miles around to contribute to the growing mounds of guano. The island’s only structure, a dilapidated barn leveled by numerous Pacific storms, was a vestige of a once active guano mining enterprise, abandoned decades before.
The long transits to and from these isolated specks in the vast Pacific were accomplished at less than warp speed, which translated into many weeks at sea on a rolling deck; so we were always eager to return to our stable haven at Pearl Harbor. Those infrequent returns to civilization were, however, overshadowed by the knowledge that we would soon be back on the high seas, steaming toward the Southern Cross, about to become part of history as participants in a test which would, for the first (and last) time, launch and explode a nuclear weapon in the earth’s outer atmosphere.
Entered the Naval Air Reserve out of high school in 1955, serving with VF-782 as an AT striker at Los Alamitos NAS, CA.
After graduation from college, attended OCS and was commissioned in March 1961. His duty assignments included USS Polk County (LST 1084)as Deck and Gunnery Officer; Navy Language School in Anacostia, MD, studying the Russian language; ACNSG Fort Meade, MD. as a submarine rider; NSGA Bremerhaven, Germany as Communications Officer; Vietnam as OIC of Special Support Group to MACV SOG; NSG HQ in Washington, DC; Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA; NCS Rota, Spain as Operations Officer; NSG HQ; ACNSG at Fort Meade; CINCUSNAVEUR London, UK as Deputy DNSGEur; NSGA Puerto Rico as Commanding Officer; NSA Fort Meade; NCPAC Hawaii as Deputy NCPAC.
Retired in January 1989 and remains in Hawaii.