Addendum to "WWII Johnston Atoll"
Subject: My two attempts to escape from Johnston/Sand Islands


My first attempt to escape resulted in harsh, painful results.

Whenever a low pressure weather system passed over the islands, I could not breathe and would lie in my sack gasping for air. It was suggested that I go to sick bay on Johnston for some relief.

At sick bay I told the Doc that I had to get off the island because I could not breathe. He said, "No problem. Come back on Sunday afternoon and we will remove your tonsils and adenoids on Monday."

I reported to sick bay on Sunday, and that evening I was given a shot in the butt to prepare me for surgery on Monday. In the morning, I was led into a room containing a sort of kitchen chair onto which I was directed to sit facing the back of the chair with my arms crossed over the back of the chair and my chin on my arms.

I was still quite groggy, and two corpsmen faced me. Behind them was the lieutenant commander doctor who appeared to be nursing a hangover from Sunday night's festivities.

The corpsmen told me to open my mouth, and they proceeded to remove my tonsils and adenoids without further medication. It hurt like hell, and blood was spurting all over them and the room.

Instead of cutting the tonsil duct, they were yanking on it. I, of course, involuntarily let out some blood-spurting howls to which they replied, "You can take this. You're a Marine."

I spent six days in sick bay and was unable to eat any of the time because of my "damaged" throat. Because I was ambulatory, I had dish-washing kitchen duty five time a day. I became very weak and was finally rescued by my radar officer, who got me back to Sand Island and told me to stay in the sack until I regained my strength.

My second escape attempt happened shortly after Iwo Jima was secured, and where they had lost about 700 second lieutenants. The word was passed for volunteers for platoon leaders school to replace those lieutenants.

I was one of four out of fifty guys on Sand Island who qualified for the school. At our preliminary interview with the colonel, he asked me, "What do you do here, son?" I replied, "I'm in radar, sir." 

I was dismissed along with another radarman because radarmen could not be accepted into the program. The other two men were artillerymen, and they escaped from the island.

I "accidentally" managed to escape from the island by a quirk of fate in Apr 1945. I was heading for a game of handball when I saw a bunch of guys yelling around the pier.

When I got there, they said some guy had drowned. I looked around the 20-foot deep, clear water and saw a dark spot on the bottom. I dove in and saw the guy in a sitting position.

I got him under the arms, brought him to the surface and got him to the dock where the others pulled him out and performed artificial respiration.

Fortunately, he came around. He was CPL Ben DuBose. I kept tabs on Ben after his infamous swim. He was transferred to Pearl, and then went to the Philippines and later to Japan (occupation). He was in Army communications.

He was attended by corpsmen and a doctor after I brought him to the surface in 1945. He spent time in the hospital in critical condition. But he survived the experience and went on to lead a full life. We visited Ben at his home in Dallas in 1952. He died in 1995.

At the inquiry, in answer to the colonel's question about how the situation could be improved, I suggested better boat service at Sand Island.

I sensed the colonel was unhappy with my response. Dexter Allen Nesmith and I were almost immediately transferred to casual company at Camp Catlin on Oahu.

I believe my accidental rescue of CPL Ben DuBose led to this transfer, which I refer to as my "successful escape from Sand Island" (see 21 Apr 1945 Moaning News, right).

In Jan 1946, on my way back from Japan, I ran into my old radar crew in Hawaii. They had just been relieved from duty on Sand Island.

F.E. "Jim" DeVine
Reading, PA
Apr 2017
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Escape Attempts
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).