Midway to California

By Martin Barker

Midway Island in the early 1960’s was a nice enough duty station, but one no one really wanted to be assigned there. Midway Island is located in the middle of what they call the “Big Pond.” Midway Atoll is a collection of three small islands in the North Pacific, and one of the most remote places on earth.

EDITOR NOTE: Here is an epic aerial photograph taken by the Author of this article, Martin Barker. He is kindly allowing it to be shared under BCGs “Creative Commons” Licenses. Thanks Martin!

Midway Attol ~ (Epic Photo Credit) Martin Barker

Midway Attol ~ (Epic Photo Credit) Martin Barker

The larger Island was officially named “Sand Island” and was about three square miles in size. The smaller Island was called “Eastern Island” which is about a quarter of the size of Sand Island. The weather is semitropical.  They have summer and they have winter. That’s it.

The island was home to about 3000 people when I was stationed there in the Sixties, however it was mainly military personnel and their dependents.  Now the population consists of about forty fish and wildlife staff. The island is about the size of the Washington Mall.  The distance from one end to the other could be walked by a lonely, drunken Sailor in less than an hour.

The major downside for all the young single men stationed there was the complete lack of available female companionship. No local population. No female-type Naval personnel, with the exception of a few “senior” Navy nurses who cross-decked to our tiny, little Island command from the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, respectively.

The standard tour of duty here was one year. One. Very. Long. Year.

I liked to spend my off duty hours at the Fleet Reserve Club.  This was a place where we could go and unwind after duty. We would go to drink, eat, and compare notes about how long until our tour of duty was over, with the other military personnel marooned, um, stationed there. My tour had just begun.

bucket midway atollI noticed a stainless steel pail hanging on a hook attached to a plaque on the wall. The plaque was decorated with some Boatswain’s Mate‘s very intricate and well done rope work.  This pail looked almost ceremonial the way it was decorated and displayed at the club. It would make anyone wonder what its purpose and function was. I was very curious myself…

I Finally asked the bartender what the story was with the bucket.

He replied,”everyone who is stationed here is required to take the pail, go to the west side of the Island, fill the pail with sand, take it to the east side of the island  –and dump it.” Seeing the rather confused look on my face, he continued…

“Eventually we figure we’ll be able to move this Island all the way back to California!”

EDITORS NOTE: We are searching high and low for a photo of the actual pail that is the star of Martin Barker’s “Sea Story.” Please contact us in comments if you have one. Thanks Shipmate!

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One response to “Midway to California

  1. Great story and amazing how you spent time on that island that is so tiny and how they have this tradition with the sand pail.

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