Kalae, the southernmost point of the big Island of Hawaii, starts the
march to the north and west for more than 1,600 miles of the straggling isles that form
the Hawaiian Archipelago, ending in the middle of the limitless Pacific in the sandy speck
called Kure, that like a period to a long sentence, makes its dot beyond Midway. Three
fourths of the Hawaiian group are the tiny far-flung coral islands; pin points on the map,
bright spots amid the deep blue from the plane, hidden in distance and sunshine. The big
beautiful islands, with their lovely names,
The names of many of the small islands show the impact of ships and sailor men, their expressive endings give vividly the hazard that all deep water men fear. French Frigate Shoal, Frost Shoal, Brooks Shoal, Two Brothers Reef, Dowsett Reef, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Gambia Shoal just before Midway. Each is but the small part of a reef that shows its hard back above the surface, surrounded by the breakers tumbling foam. Too late in the dark Pacific night, the wandering sailing ship heard the merciless roar, in vain the big wheel spun"Hard a'weather!"then the sickening crunch of the stove-in timbers, the complaining thunder of the helpless canvas, the agonized faces of men in smothering surf, that obliterated the figureheads calm stare.
The windward side of Oahus steep shores stops the never ending parade of salty rollers that form for her an encircling necklace of sparkling white. Invigorating this sight, to eye and mind, in the first full light of morning, from the hollow din of the climbing bomber.
The tall young Marine Major of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and I are the only passengers. Son of the President of the United States, he is going to join his tough outfit at Midway. We sit on our bunks opposite each other, drinking coffee, and I bellow above the roar my deep interest in his fathers hobby of ship models and nautica. He shouts back, smiling through his glasses, "Lord, Commander, its more than a hobby. Its a vice!" The plane is now roaring high above the flat pattern of surf that washes the feet of Kauais gorges. The voluptuous verdure covering the island is rich against the sparkling sea, broken in bold masses of light and shade by the sharp wedges of the hills. The island falls away below and astern, our last glimpse of green, and we are enveloped in the great circle of the sun-drenched horizon.
At ten thousand feet the waves remain motionless and all sense of speed has ceased. This is a big Navy PB2Y, and we climb the ladder to the upper deck and watch the pilots navigating her. Side by side with their ear phones on, they look steadily ahead, now touching this or turning that gadget on the complicated instrument panel. At 11:15 the Captain takes his phones off and shouts to us, and we see a white speck on the horizon. By 11:30 French Frigate Shoal is below and to port. Shaped like a submerged razorback hog, its sides rise above the deep azure of the ocean, a great solid rock coated dead white with the droppings of birds. Without a trace of vegetation, lonely and gaunt, it slumbers in the empty sea. At noon the Major and I descend to our deck, and are given heaping plates of French frieds, steaks, peas and bread, washed down by cups of apple juice. Sitting on our bunks with our plates on our knees, we eat, grin, and shout now and then. Finished, we put the cleaned plates on the deck for the man to find, and each falls back conveniently into his bunk and sleep.
Topsides again, sitting abaft the pilots, the most incredible sight begins to unfold before my delighted gaze. In the distance a brilliant emerald green line curves toward us, more luminous than a rainbow, fringed with clean white surf against the rich violet of the surrounding sea. As we pass directly over Pearl and Hermes Reef, the encircling sands are warm rich yellow, and the shoals inside a selection of all the handsome variations of greens and cerulean blues. Then like a crescent moon of ancient iridescent glass, it floats away astern, an opalescent jewel.
Later the Major and I, holding onto the backs of the Pilots chairs, strain our eyes for the landfall of Midway. Gradually the shoals begin to glow dead ahead, like a smoking emerald. As we near, the whole changes into a rich Egyptian jewel, the blues and greens relieved by antique tans, set flush in the polished purple surface of the Pacific. We brace against the sharp bank, as round and round we glide down to the dancing color that rushes up to embrace the plane. Those two tiny spots of white coral sand in the blinding lightis this Midway, that we see so large in print?
The buildings and water tanks emerge in glittering brightness, white on white, as the tiny white cars are discernible only by their moving shadows. Suddenly we are amidst the thousands of flying birds, their white breasts dyed a peacock green by the reflecting coral water. We shoot along just above the surface with that seeming exhilarated speed, skip like a seashell, and foam through the limpid water as clear as crystal. The waters over the reefs surrounding the harbor are almost too brilliant to look upon. I am drunk with color and deaf with silence, as we wait for the boat to take us ashore. Standing on the hot white coral sand of the one big dock, blinking in the intense light, we are in a stained glass world, in the exact center of the Pacific. Either east or west, stretches an ocean broader than the Atlanticwe are a speck of sand midway between America and Japan.
The first day of June blossoms into light and color over Sand Island and the smaller Eastern Island, which with their encircling coral reefs, are known as Midway. Long before dawn men are arising from their damp and musty tombs below the sand as white as snow. Sailors, Marines and Soldiers push up the flat white doors, arise through the entrances, their footfalls silent in the soft sand. They move off ghostly in the night to their posts. The myriads of unseen birds, like damned spirits, swirl about them, screaming and crying incessantly. The mourning birds are moaning and sobbing like tormented souls. The surf beats on the reefs with a muffled roar, like a lonely dirge.
As a sign from home to the eastward, far over the surrounding oceans edge, the sun rises and drives the night in flight beyond the western rim of the world. It sparkles on the blatant bugle, illuminates the rising Stars and Stripes on the tall pole, flashes the wings of the circling birds. The flying planes shining bellies gleam in the first speeding rays, as westward they follow on the heels of darkness. In the immense empty sky and sea sweeps the Dawn Patrol.
In the long low room deep under the sand, at a crude table sits the Naval Air Station Commander. His narrow face serious, his eyes intent, as he speaks crisp orders into the white phone. His khaki shirt is open at the neck, his helmet with gas mask dangling, binoculars and automatic hang on the bulkhead behind him. Men appear and disappear at the nod of his head; through the curtain, up the long incline, out the small opening to the hot sunny sand. They jump into their cars, with engines left running, and plow and bump away to carry out his orders.
Across the little lagoon that forms the harbor, in his crowded busy dugout on Eastern Island, the Colonel of Marines reads the dispatches just at hand. The Sweat streams down his cheeks and drips from his nose on the unlit cigarette. His helmet is tilted back on his head, forgotten for the moment. His eyes are deep from lack of sleep, as they dart over the papers under the hot electric light. The Army Aviation Colonel is inspecting his men and planes,asking questions, giving orders, scrutinizing, weighing and planning. The big metal birds, their stretching wings slanting slightly upward, squat unconcernedly, their propellers motionless. A fleeting shadow passes, and he glances aloft at the descending Navy plane against the blazing sun.
In the scraped out sand holes covered with netting, the A.A. gunners crouch in the
shadow, squinting at the light, their bronzed torsos dark against the sand. The PT boats
are warming up their engines and the racket drowns the birds shrill calls. Sand Fort
is a high white bank
Midway is nearer to the Japanese-held Island of Wake than it is to Pearl Harbor. The sword of Damocles dangles from its single thread over such a spot, at war. With our Navy spread thinly all over the world, an overwhelming enemy fleet might strike at any time. Air patrol scouts are always scanning the Pacific from dawn to dusk. Any one of them might be the first to sight the enemy far to seaward and spoil a surprise attack. On the sand its an uneasy feeling, thinking that the Japs might come from any quarter of the horizon, at two small anchored islands huddled close together, at a fixed point known to all the world.