On 1 March 1944, we set sail from Pearl Harbor to Johnston Island aboard the APA USS Livingston [right]. In one hold there were about 200 of us with canvas sacks stacked about 10- or 12-high with about 18 inches between sacks around the 4 bulkheads. I always grabbed the top sack to be out of the way of the vomit spewed by seasick Marines above.

In the center of the hold were four 50-gallon drums around which the walking sick could puke out their guts. I remember hearing guys praying to die because they were so sick. Fortunately, I never became seasick. However, when the sailors locked the water-tight hatches at night, I’d feel pangs of claustrophobia.

We arrived at Johnston Island on 6 March 1944. There is only a shallow, narrow channel into Johnston, so we had to disembark at sea at the end of the channel. The swells were running about 12 to 15 feet at the time.

We went over the side carrying our rifle, loaded pack, helmet and gas mask kit and down the landing nets into the old-fashioned Navy Liberty-type boats. Being inexperienced, many guys did not time their jump properly and fell into the sea between the ship and the boats, and some just dropped into the boats. I was just as inexperienced but luckily timed it so that I stepped off the net onto the partition that separated the coxswain's station from the rest of the boat.

It was a beautiful sunny day to ride in the channel to Johnston where the Navy band was playing "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now” (whatever "now" is).

On Johnston we were assigned to the search radar unit, which consisted of a a 200-foot tower whose operating unit was underground. Our quarters were in a Quonset hut on top of the operating unit. The unit could search the air and sea for 150 miles.

We were unfamiliar with this type of radar so the current crew had to teach us so we could relieve them for duty elsewhere. Within a couple of weeks we were competent to operate the unit. Then the Navy took over the island and brought radiomen in from ships for us to teach them to maintain the unit. They soon became radarmen first class while we stayed corporals and PFCs.

I remember we used to climb the 200-foot tower and ride around on the huge concrete counter weights for recreation.

 Once the Navy had the unit in hand, we were sent over to Sand Island to revive and operate the ancient 268 AA unit, which was originally destined for Wake Island before it fell to the Japs.

This unit was not operable when we arrived, but with a lot of work we had it ready to use with the 90-mm AA battery. The war was about 1,500 miles west of us so we used it mainly for tracking tow planes for practice, firing the 90s.

Sand Island at the time consisted of two islands connected by a single lane coral roadway about 600 feet long [right]. The NE island was natural and about 5 acres. Here were our mess hall, theater, boat dock, handball courts, underground ammo storage, and small barracks for an Army Air Corps radio navigation unit.

The SW "island" was completely dredged up from the sea and was about the size of a baseball diamond. It was about 18 inches out of high tide, and you could stand in the middle, throw a piece of coral, and hit the water. Here we had Quonset huts for the officers, noncoms, and the troops; four 90-mm guns and support equipment, head, slopchute, and a Navy desalting unit.

Each morning we had troop and stump for an hour in fresh khakis with rifles. After that we all had to check and clean our respective equipment until lunch. The afternoon was spent grab-assing, playing handball, swimming, fishing, etc. until about 1600 when the slopchute opened for beer and ice cream.

The most horrific instances occurred when for one whole week, we had no chocolate ice cream; only vanilla and strawberry because the ice cream machine broke down. Then the movie machine broke for a week. A shark even got into our swimming area.

There was one technological foul-up after another, and how we won the war I'll never know. To keep up the morale and from cracking up altogether, we were allowed to go on liberty to the Big Island once a week with our loaded rifles and cartridge belts.

When I was on Sand, there were no women around so we were practically naked all the time. That's the way we swam, and the only equipment we had were the wooden carved goggles that the native Hawaiians used.

We’d swim out to the reef for shells, and I still have a couple of cat’s eyes. We used to swim out to the seaplanes and bum fresh milk and fruit from the crews.

On Sunday, 2 April 1945, our radar officer, Lt. Randolph H. Ogg, was swimming alone at the reef and drowned. He's buried in Punch Bowl Cemetery on Ohau. Lt. Ogg apparently died of a heart attack. He was swimming alone and was a straight type of guy who didn't imbibe.

One gyrene fell from the 100-foot tower on Sand, and six Seabees on Johnston died from bad moonshine they’d cooked up. 

All deceased enlisted men were put on "channel duty" at the "outside" end of the channel which, in those days, was quite narrow and shallow. Only a small supply freighter could come through. 

When someone died on the island, enlisted men only, they’d be put into mattress covers, weighted down, and taken to the end of the channel on the crash boat. Their bodies were then slid over the side to stand "channel duty" for eternity.

Jim DeVine
Reading, PA
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WWII at Johnston Atoll
Aerial approach to the former base on Johnston Island (top). The ship channel is visible as a darker blue area starting at left and continuing up around the right side of Johnston, with Sand Island on the near side (bottom).