This is a post about history, geography, military secrets, beer, racism and religion. I know you’re thinking and wondering how I’m going to meld those topics together. Well, read on for the answers…
History. Many years ago, well about 57 or so, the US Coast Guard gave me an all expense paid trip to Ebeye Island. The only hitch was that I had to work. My job in the USCG was fixing broken things and our LORAN station on Ebeye needed fixing.
Sidebar: LORAN means Long Range Aids to Navigation. That little thing they used before GPSs were born. Ships and planes would home in on the signal so they didn’t get lost.
Geography. Now for those that don’t know and are interested, Ebeye is the third rock up (on the eastern rim) from Kwajalein Island in the Kwajalein Atoll. The Kwajalein Atoll is the largest atoll in the world, being about 90 miles from one end to the other. The tips of volcanic mountains sticking out of the ocean form atolls. Kwajalein Island is the southernmost island in the atoll. Google it, it’s interesting.
Military secrets. Before we departed for Ebeye we suffered through two or three briefings by the commanding officer of the Ebeye Island USCG station, which, by the way, occupied about 13 acres of the 51 acre EbeyeIsland. About 5,000 natives occupied the other 38 acres. From maps I’ve seen, Ebeye has enlarged north along the reef…on top of the garbage dump I used to use for our construction trash.
We were repeatedly told about two important things—
- Kwajalein Island was a Nike-X Missile test site and we were to tell no one, I mean NO ONE. We weren’t even to allude to missiles in any conversation or letter with our families or friends off the island. I mean NO ONE! I mean NO information of any
kind! Do you understand that? How important it was that we keep the secret?
- The Marshallese natives didn’t like the USCG, so we shouldn’t wander around the island alone.
More on military secrets. The military secret thingy was interesting. We got our mail once a week when the plane came in from Hawaii. After a couple of weeks, our weekly mail delivery included an issue of Time Magazine. Guess what was on the cover? If you guessed a
beautiful night photo of a Nike-X missile fired from Kwajalein complete with description you’d be right. However, since this was still a military secret that no one could know about, we remained barred from talking about it. The only thing we could do was (and we did this) tell our friends and families to buy that issue of Time, but we couldn’t talk to them about it. To say that we had fun with this is to say the least.
More on the natives. We arrived on Kwajalein and spent a few days there until we build our living quarters on Ebeye. Well our first day on Kwajalein, two good friends and I decided to visit Ebeye. The three of us thought alike. We wanted to meet the Marshallese natives and we really wanted to get along with them. On the boat ride to Ebeye we talked to the Coxswain (the guy who drives the boat) who happened to be married to a wonderful native of Ebeye. We found that beer was the one commodity the natives loved.
Beer. Well, to make a long story short, we used beer to make inroads with the islanders and we were very, very successful. So successful in fact, we could go where we wanted and mingle with the natives in many ways, and drink beer. We had fun on Ebeye and shared our lives with those beautiful people. I’ll never forget that wonderful experience.
Sidebar: The beer “adventures” is a whole post on it’s own. Just let me know if you want to hear about it.
Racism. Aw, racism. Now I get to that ugly undercurrent in our psyche that exists in too many people and that many don’t want to recognize because then they have to deal with it. As I said, the Marshallese people living on Ebeye were (and still are) a very wonderful and beautiful people. They led simple lives, made do with what they had, and were more than willing to share that with us. We did a lot for the people and the people did a lot for us. The experience was mutually beneficial and we asked nothing of the people…just a sharing of lives.
One day my two good friends and I were walking around the island. We ended up walking on the pier as the launch came in from Kwajalein. An American working on Kwajalein got off the launch and approached us. He asked us questions about the people and we answered honestly. He really seemed to us to be a good person with a good personality and sense of humor. We had a good conversation for about five minutes, and then it got strange. He asked us what the people called us. We didn’t understand the question and he kept asking us in different ways. The people called us by our given names…simple, nothing complicated. Then we came to understand that he was asking he was asking us what they called us as a group. Well, they didn’t refer to us by anything other than our names or “Coast Guard” if they didn’t know us. He mentioned that the Hawaiians used the word “Haole”, did the Marshallese use a name like that.
Haole defined: A word that is sometimes disparaging in referring to white people, but really means “one who is not descended from the aboriginal Polynesian inhabitants of Hawaii.”
The Marshallese didn’t use a name that described our group, or our race. At least I didn’t know of one…the subject never came up. However, they knew what haole meant. We provided the visitor with the definition of haole and went so far as to tell him that it was not a racist term. We were never bothered if an islander referred to us as haole because, gee, that’s what we were. After more discussion with him trying to get us to tell him what they referred to us as a group, especially using the word haole, we told him that very few Marshallese used the word haole, but never in a bad way. That’s when he said, “Well, if I’m a haole, they’re a bunch of f**king n****rs! Then he turned around and re-boarded the launch. His remark was so out of character for the conversation we were having, so shocking, so racist, so emphatic that it caught us completely by surprise. We were dumbfounded and stood there, literally, with our mouths open. Three guys that fought, laughed, lived and travelled together were absolutely shocked. Mouths open and staring at that asswipe, unable to speak. You could have knocked us over with a feather. Had we not been so completely taken aback by his remark, we would have thrown him off the pier. We did agree that with his attitude he should stay on Kwajalein and not bother the people on Ebeye. It became his great loss because he could have learned a lot from the people, especially tolerance.
Religion. Last week’s mass was about our neighbors, not just the people who live near us, but everyone, everywhere. I’m going to use the words from the missalette about the Good Samaritan because they are better than mine are.
To be a neighbor is to reach out to help anyone in need, setting aside any barriers that either society or selfishness might set up. To be a neighbor is to open one’s heart to another, recognizing in the other the image of the God who created them. To be a neighbor is to treat another with mercy.
We need to be good neighbors and set aside those barriers. We need to understand others who are different from us; we need to open our hearts. Too many on the radical right don’t want to be neighbors. They use the bible to support their positions and they ignore the parts of the bible that call them to be decent, honorable, caring neighbors. If they don’t, they remain like that asswipe on the pier and they should go away and just leave us with peace.
Sidebar: Religion on Ebeye would also make a good post. Let me know if you’re interest in reading about it.