Edwards, Richard: Kwajalein Island

“Navy 824” is all of the address that I can remember of Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, that was my home from 1954 to 1958. My dad received orders for this island in the Pacific, and we headed there in 1953, driving across the United States from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Since concurrent travel was not authorized for dependents, we had to wait until quarters were available. My brother and I were enrolled in public schools in San Francisco while awaiting word that we could proceed. In early 1954, the family followed when quarters on Kwajalein became available.

Getting to “Kwaj” or “the rock,” as Kwajalein was called, involved taking a “Mars” seaplane to Hawaii and then a military transport to the island. As a second grader, the two-level seaplane was a great adventure, one of many we experienced in our association with Kwaj.

Upon arrival in Kwajalein, my brother and I had our next adventure, an extremely painful one. Upon arrival on the island, my brother and I were placed in the care of one of my dad’s subordinates while he, my mom, and sister went to secure the living quarters. For two rambunctious kids, he made a great choice in taking us to one of the outdoor pools. For over four hours, about 60 miles from the equator, we played and baked with nothing but our bathing suits. When my parents reclaimed us, we could have passed for properly cooked lobsters. We had 2nd degree sunburn that blistered overnight and started draining. A trip to the dispensary the next morning resulted in sunburn treatment recommendations and ointments. The next two weeks were painful laying on sheets and covered with ointments as blisters drained, dead skin dried, and finally peeled. We next became massive scratchers due to the itching new skin. Later in life, we became highly susceptible to skin cancer requiring several visits to our dermatologist each year.

Despite the pain of the sunburn, I have nothing but great memories of Kwaj. It was great going “native”. Unless going to school, shopping, church, or special occasions my brother and I ran around with shorts and no shoes. When required, we wore “go-a-heads,” the name used for flip-flops. Callus on our feet when we left was over 3/8 inches.

The family lived on Kwaj from 1954 through 1958. I completed 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade in Kwaj. At the beginning of the school year in 1954 my mother was offered a teaching position and taught the whole time we were there. She loved teaching in Kwaj. I think that she moved to the 4th grade at some point. The schools were operated by the US Navy at that time. High school students took correspondent courses, or went to boarding school in Hawaii. I was entering the third grade that year. Guess what! My mother was my third- grade teacher. Try to get away with anything in school if your mom is your teacher. Good luck! One memory from school occurred when I first arrived on island and the school was at the opposite end of the island from housing. It was later moved to the family housing areas. During recess, I was on a concrete pipe I was not supposed to be on and slipped off of it into the ocean. I was not sent home to get dry clothes, instead, I drip-dried seated at my desk. I did stay off the pipe after that. Also, going to school in Kwaj was one of the experiences that made me interested in teaching overseas, which I did for 30 years with DODDS.

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