Guam, Wake, and Midway
Guam, Wake, Midway. We would be stopping at those three islands, two of them no larger than flyspecks in the 6500 mile sheet of salt water which lay between us and Hawaii.
This clipper was not like ordinary passenger planes. We had no assigned seats but were free to sit in the lounge, which was as large as a living room, or in comfortable chairs in the main cabin. Berths were available for those who wanted a nap. The meals, served on tables in the lounge, were elaborate and delicious. The difficulty in obtaining reservations on these clippers, I learned, was not related to space in the planes themselves, but to available sleeping facilities for the overnight stops at Wake and Midway.
Normally I hug the windows, to observe any possible sights down below. But the endless ocean—from two miles up—was a placid desert, while the plane’s library had a stack of American magazines and newspapers, some of which were scarcely a week old. Providentially, some of the news magazines were older. For the first time in nearly a quarter of a year—one of the most crucial periods in world history—I caught up on news of the German blitzkrieg across the Low Countries, the fall of France, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and even of the Roosevelt-Wilke election campaign in the United States.
Much of my news, for months, had come in one paragraph bulletins which were printed—sometimes in a foreign language—from the wireless dispatches received by the ships on which I traveled.
It was back to a window seat just in time to see our approach to Guam and a great churning of water as we “landed” off Sumay Point. A launch transported us to shore where dinner awaited us at Pan American’s hotel.
Guam’s capital, Agana, lay seven or eight miles across the island and, even though darkness had come, I persuaded one of the clipper passengers—a middle-aged woman—to share the cost of a taxi for an exploratory trip around Guam. Next day I learned that my share-the-ride acquaintance was a Mrs. Archibald, daughter of the man who, along with John D. Rockefeller, Sr., founded Standard Oil Company. She had once sponsored a National Geographic Society expedition in New Guinea, and had participated in part of it.
A nearly full moon came up just as our taxi trip started and we had a strange, highly-satisfying introduction to an island paradise. It was nearly midnight when I tiptoed into my hotel room where my Pan American roommate, Mr. E. W Hopper, manager of Manila’s Insular Sugar Company, was sound asleep.
The 4:00 A.M. breakfast call came all too soon and long before daylight we had assembled at the pier. Seven more passengers were to join us, and a dozen people, mostly young American wives of naval and marine officers, were down to see them off Eight native girls, dressed in hula skirts, danced rhythmically to the strains of guitars. It was before daylight; the moon hung low in the west and the morning star gleamed like a brilliant lantern above the low mountain to the east. Those going away were garlanded with leis. We boarded our launch and pushed off into the darkness for the plane. There were good-byes, as soft music floated across the water. Dawn was just creeping in as we reached the clipper; off over the headland a rosy glow of rising sun touched the clouds banked above. Light crept up fast now. For several miles our great clipper taxied close to the coral studded beach, then swung around and started back on our takeoff It was warm, cloudy, and the atmosphere was heavy. For eighty seconds we rushed and roared through the water, rising a fraction, then settling back. Almost at the end of the bay we were finally airborne. Later I was told that because of the heavy atmosphere we had barely made it. One time a plane had to make five attempts before getting away and on one occasion a clipper had to wait for better weather the following day.
Circling the harbor we started out over the whole island of Guam itself We were low. I saw Agana with its tin-roofed governor’s palace. The island extended for perhaps twenty miles farther. There were grand views of the shore with the coral reef and the brilliant colors of the coral beneath the water. Thick clumps of coco palms covered much of the land, with clean open spaces between. Someday I’d like to return to Guam.
Our passenger contingent—now numbering forty-five—included some of the more influential business executives and government officials of the Far East, and the day’s flight to Wake did not provide enough time to become acquainted with all of them and hear their stories and concerns about the threats hurtling like cannonballs toward this part of the world.
There was a Chinese general on a diplomatic mission to Washington, a Dutch delegation from Java on similar business to our state department, and a code and cipher expert just returning from Chungking.
One passenger was on a mission completely unrelated to international tensions. Dr. Ross was transporting a rare and valuable plant from the Philippines to Hawaii. In Manila, I had seen him carrying and guarding it carefully and, just as our clipper began making ready for its glide into the harbor at Wake, Dr. Ross showed me a copy of the cablegram in which he had notifrseed Honolulu parties of the plant’s arrival.
All of Wake’s three islands are no larger than a dozen city blocks. They are twelve hundred miles from any other islands in the Pacific but, being approximately half way between Guam and Midway, they are vital for transpacific flights. The whole group was not visible until we had nearly reached the water; then the coral lagoon could be seen as we glided down. Just offshore, the surrounding ocean was essentially bottomless; these tiny specks of land are the tops of steep mountains. Ours was a perfect splash down. We taxied up to the pier on shore and saw anchored a few feet from us our sister ship, the California Clipper. She had come in from the other direction with fourteen passengers. This trip seems to be an incubator for superlatives. The meeting of these two planes will increase Wake’s population tonight to the greatest figure she has ever had. All crews have to sleep on board and the passengers must be crowded three to a room.
From the pier we walked through an avenue of trees to the hotel close at hand. It was a beautiful afternoon and a couple of hours before nightfall, but the first thing I learned was that picture taking of any kind was strictly “out.” This was final. For a nature lover, however, Wake is a tiny box of jewels. This I discovered on a walk about the principal island. It is only a quarter of a mile wide by a mile long.
The three islands of the Wake group are separated by narrow channels, with a coral reef connecting the ends to make a perfect water enclosure. It is no harbor for ships, for there is no entrance, but for a seaplane it is ideal. Its waters were crystal clear, alive with multicolored fish.
A Walk across Wake
Starting my walk, I met one of the clipper’s officers, going out to inspect the radio station and direction finder. He invited me along. We cut across the island and found them, enclosed in unlocked buildings. The instruments were intricate. “We are under Guam control the first half of the journey,” he explained to me carefully, “then we switch to Wake. Our ship follows the direction finder in landing.”
After making these inspections we started out exploring, for he had never walked around the island either. In four minutes we had crossed it, and were soon on the coral beach. I haven’t had much experience with coral beaches and this was the most interesting stretch I had ever visited. He had spent several months on other Pacific isles, helping to install radio stations preparatory to the clipper’s New Zealand flights, so was well acquainted with the various marvels we found. Loose pieces of coral and shells almost completely covered the shore. But mixed in amongst the coral wonders were hundreds of hermit crabs. They are born without shells but soon acquire discarded ones to fit them. As they grow they discard those for larger ones. We saw them of every size from that of a dime up to that of a baseball. They were brilliant red and could make good speed across the sand. As we picked some up they objected strenuously. But I carried one with me, to exhibit to Dr. Ross.
The beach, on the island’s outer side, was almost solid coral. Coming to the channel separating our island from the next one, we circled and were soon on the lagoon side. Here was sandy beach which we followed back to the hotel. Our tour, including the radio stations, the coral, and the crabs, had taken just over an hour. Wake is a tiny pinpoint in the world’s greatest ocean. That planes can zero in on it unerringly speaks well for aerial navigation.
At dinner I ate with three of the officials of the Wake port, including the airport manager who is in charge of the island, and from them learned much of interest. Wake is at the end of the world’s longest milk route, all fresh milk as well as vegetables being brought by clipper from Honolulu. Most of the staples, including frozen meat, eggs, etc., come in by steamer twice a year.
“It is cheaper to import eggs than to import chicken feed and care for the chickens,” the manager explained.
But there are several hens on the island as an experiment, and a few vegetables are grown in a little garden. The place boasts one car and about two miles of travelable road or trail. All water has to
be distilled from the sea.
Some of us had a short walk along the beach by moonlight, perfect in all its beauty, and then early to bed.
Next day, traveling on, there was the crossing of the International Date Line, where tomorrow becomes today. There was a moon-sprinkled night at Midway, following a before-dinner “stage show” of gooney birds. I learned that top soil for this island had to be imported from Hawaii. Only those trees are planted which can grow in sand.
Midway had some of the same interesting aspects as Wake, although she boasted two automobiles instead of one. One day, so I was told, those two cars had a head-on collision. Traffic hazards even on a two-car Pacific Island.
Again, before daylight, we took off from Midway. More exchange of experiences with passengers and crew. More reading. Then below, one after another of the tiny islands of the Hawaiian chain began appearing, some of them coral reefs, some volcanic. The city limits of Honolulu extended out more than a thousand miles to meet us. Soon we were gliding above Kauai, and then over Oahu. Our Honolulu Clipper settled majestically down onto the surface of Pearl Harbor and a launch carried us ashore.
There, back of a set of guard ropes, and waving to me frantically, were Helen and our two young daughters. Frantically—and joyously—I waved in return. Of course it would probably be an hour before I could clear customs and inspections and be in their arms. So I thought.
Our two-and-a-half-year-old Adrienne, with a huge lei in her
hands, pulled loose from Helen and ducked under the ropes.
“Daddy, Daddy. ” In an instant she was out to me, had the lei over my head, and her arms around my neck.
It was only for an instant. A furious inspector jerked her loose. Helen, with Barbara, rushed out to retrieve her and I had a chance to give them huge embraces before the inspector angrily herded them back beyond the ropes.
In the confusion, I had dropped the cork helmet I was wearing and Adrienne had joyfully picked it up. Seeing this, the inspector became even more upset.
“A hat like that could conceal contraband,” he muttered, as he had jerked it from her.
In half an hour I was embracing my whole family legally and unmolested—without benefit of inspectors.
You Don’t Know Hawaii
Among the first things we filmed in Hawaii were Pearl Harbor and the defenses at Hickam Field and Schofield Barracks. We felt these would be vital if war erupted in the Pacific, so exerted considerable efforts to obtain official permits which would make the adequate coverage of these places possible.
We also decided to do a complete motion picture on the peaceful aspects of Hawaii and in this the girls played an important and interesting part. It would be called You Don’t Know Hawaii.
We journeyed out to the Blowhole, which soaked us with its spray as we filmed it; we discovered a dozen rainbows—some even two at a time—in the rain-drenched beauty of Manoa Valley and we found floral magic as we filmed orchids and leis and night blooming cereus; we spent sunny days and moonlit evenings on Waikiki’s sandy beach.
The girls stayed with close friends in Honolulu as Helen and I flew down to the big island—Hawaii—and made an automobile circuit around it. Our camera drank in scenes of half a dozen beautiful waterfalls, the sugar cane harvest and—soon to become history—cattle being loaded by rope and derrick onto ships off shore at the Parker Ranch, second largest cattle ranch on American soil.
As a culmination of my Circle of Fire sequences we also filmed Hawaii’s active volcanoes.
Back to Honolulu. A crisis had developed. War scares were prompting an exodus from the Pacific area. All planes, clippers, and ocean steamers were booked solid. No chance for passage. Our only hope was to be put on a waiting list.
We waited, and while doing so made the trip around Oahu in a rented cat We waited some more, and took another such trip. More waiting, more trips. Probably a dozen times we circled the island.
There was time to get my Circle of Fire film footage developed at the Eastman lab in Honolulu, and from Eastman we obtained use of a projection room. Scene after scene, episode after episode, drama after drama of Asian or East Indies life came alive on the screen. Helen gasped for breath as the literal and figurative volcanic portrayal unwound from the reels of film. I shivered a bit myself, as the scenes stirred memories. Even the footage which had been nearly melted by equatorial heat was well-nigh perfect. This was more than I had dared hope for. Hawaii has been called the paradise of the Pacific. We were in seventh heaven as we left the Eastman lab.
For several weeks we waited for some form of passage to the mainland. There were opportunities to take long afternoons of swimming, wading, and playing in the sand at Waikiki Beach. Barbara and Adrienne loved it. They played with the Hawaiian youngsters. We explored floral gardens and museums Barbara’s great love was Manoa Valley, with its frequent rainbows. We went there often, and tried to get to the end of some of those colorful areas. Our enforced weeks of waiting gave us opportunities to relax together as we had never done before.
Then, quite suddenly, due to a cancellation, a four-berth cabin on a Matson Liner for Los Angeles became available—if we could be on board in two hours. We had been packed for weeks. Dispatching a cable to friends at home, by evening we were waving farewell to Waikiki and Diamond Head. Five days later three carloads of our closest friends met us at Los Angeles Harbor.
That night I began wading through stacks of letters which my part-time secretary had arranged on my desk. Dozens of them contained inquiries about bookings for Circle of Fire, others contained signed contracts for such showings.
Next day Helen started editing the film. Our first showing, a few weeks later, was in the thousand seat Merton E. Hill auditorium of Chaffey Junior College, in our home town. The house was packed. We received a standing ovation.
Circle of Fire had been launched.