KWAJALEIN ATOLL
REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS


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H I S T O R Y
BEFORE
WWII
DURING
WWII
1944
BILL ILES
1944
CURTIS PARTCH
1947
ED SPILMAN
1950 - 1951
GENE WOOLIEVER
1951 -
1969
1970 -
1989
1990 -
1994
HISTORY
COMES ALIVE



Kwajalein Air Terminal - 1956
(Courtesy of the family of Harold "Bud" Mathis.)

After WWII to Vietnam

1951-1969

US Army at Kwajalein Atoll

Most recent residents of Kwajalein know that U.S. Army management of Kwajalein and Roi-Namur started in 1964. Few realize that the Army had a great deal to do with the development and eventual mission on Kwajalein long before 1964.

Recognition is due the Army for its participation in the 1944 invasion. But it was also the Army in the years following the war, 1951-57, that really helped shape the future of Kwajalein and Roi-Namur and developed the islands as we see them today. Army participation in the development of Kwajalein started out on the hot desert sands of New Mexico and in an isolated Florida swamp later to be called Cape Canaveral.

For more than 40 years, including 30 years of command - the Army, with its planners, engineers, and scientists, has played an integral part in the development of one of the most complex, sophisticated research centers in the world.




1953 - 1956

Kwajalein in 1953 is a sleepy little island the world has almost passed by. The Korean War is over. Some atomic test work at Bikini and Enewetak is keeping Kwajalein busy in a supporting role.

The U.S. Navy construction program begun in 1951 is still active and the new terminal, Building 901, has just been completed. By 1955, the construction programs are drawing to a close, and the island population is down to less than 2,000.

Roi-Namur has been closed down for several years. The Marines are long gone, and some Marshallese families have moved back on Namur. Once again, the jungle has almost covered the runways at Roi.

The Coast Guard has a new navigation system called LORAN, and a station to use the system is being built on the south tip of Ebeye. There are about 1,500 Marshallese living on that island and about that many more on Ennylabegan.

Halfway around the world, the Russians are getting ready to launch a rocket/satellite called Sputnik.

In the small cotton town of Huntsville, Alabama, advertised as the "Watercress Capital of the World," the Army is busy reactivation the old Redstone Arsenal, much to the surprise and curiosity of local residents. There seem to be lots of Army uniforms and people in business suits in town, along with several folks speaking German. The citizenry is asking "What's going on?"

Out in the New Mexico desert at a place called White Sands Proving Grounds, the Army is finishing up a program to launch 64 German V-2 rockets and fire several American made rocket engines. The Army has launched a new ground-fired rocket called Corporal. Over in the small New Mexican village of Orogrande, 50 miles north of El Paso, the first Nike rocket has been successfully fired from a special carrier mounted on a long-bed trailer.

While the Army has had some success with an over-sized, made over V-1-type rocket called Redstone, the American space program overall has been dismal. Army rocket programs are reorganized into a group called the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) that is to be located at Redstone Arsenal.

By 1955, a new program called Jupiter has become a crash program in the space race. The first launch of Jupiter C on Sept. 20, 1956, ends with an outstanding flight of some 3,335 miles and an altitude peak of more than 682 miles.




1957 - 1962

The Soviets successfully launch Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957. At Cape Canaveral, the American satellite program launches another Vanguard missile that settles back down onto the launch pad and blows up! No one realizes the impact of all these occurrences and the effect they will one day have on those sleepy islands of Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, and Ebeye in a Central Pacific lagoon.

During the years between 1957 and 1960, the new Atlantic Missile Range at Cape Canaveral, Fla., is doing a booming business launching the Atlas missile, our first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Army has just put a new satellite called Explorer 1 into orbit, and the Navy is getting some good results from a submarine-launched missile called Polaris.

The Soviets have been equally successful with their ICMB programs, launching missiles that fly out over the North Pacific Ocean. There is a growing concern in the Pentagon about the need for rapid development of a countermeasure weapon capable of destroying enemy ICBMs before they can reach targets in the U.S. The Army Nike program at White Sands employs a new rocket called the Nike-Ajax. The range of the Ajax is limited; it would not be effective on ballistic-type missiles. However, the new Nike-Zeus and Nike-X missiles being built will provide the range needed to reach the upper limits of the atmosphere and intercept an enemy ICBM.

The use of the missile against an actual ICBM target in space must be tested. If ICBMs like the Atlas, Minuteman, and new Titan could be launched from some place in California and fly west across the Pacific, an Army ground-based Nike-Zeus interceptor rocket could be launched from an island or a ship in the Pacific to intercept and destroy the incoming ICBMs. The use of a ship launch is ruled out for technical reasons. The big question in 1957-1958 is where to put an island launching facility.

An old Army base called Camp Cooke, near Santa Maria, Calif., become available. Cooke provides the necessary land and remote location requirements to set up the ICBM launching facilities on the Pacific Coast. Considering the flying range of the American ICBMs, several island bases in the Pacific are under consideration as the launch facility for Nike-Zeus program rockets. Kwajalein wins out for a variety of reasons, and a crash program begins to build Nike-Zeus technical facilities.

Since early 1954, the Pacific Missile Range, controlled by the Navy, has been operating a small rocket research program from its base at Pt. Mugu, on the southern coast of California. Most of the operational testing up to that time has included only small, land-based, short-range rockets and submarine-launched missiles under study by the Navy. The missiles are launched from Mugu and usually land in the ocean a few miles offshore.

A new Washington directive changes the entire scope of the Pacific Missile Range, expanding the test area several thousand miles to the west. A whole new mission objective has been established. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile, Ala., and the Honolulu District Office (HED) are given the task of administering the design and construction of facilities on Kwajalein. The Corps office in Los Angeles is busy getting ICBM launch pads and silos built at Camp Cooke.

The Air Force is given the overall management job at Camp Cooke (later named Vandenberg Air Force Base), while the Navy retains control over Kwajalein as part of the Pacific Missile Range. The Army is to manage the intercept program on Kwajalein. The Vandenberg and Kwajalein facilities, more than 4,000 miles apart, are to be built on a crash basis from 1958 through 1963.

The Navy reluctantly continues to administer Kwajalein during this initial rapid construction program, but Navy resources are taxed. No one anticipates the congestion caused by several hundred construction people working on a myriad of building projects at Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, and several islands in between.

There are only a few work boats, fewer airplanes, no helicopters, no commercial supply ships, and very little support equipment to provide power, water, communications, and everyday living necessities.

The Navy needs help in a big hurry in 1958 as the first technical contractors begin bringing in engineers, scientists, and administrators, many with families. Almost overnight there is a big demand for schools, housing, and stores that sell such things as clothes, curtains, and baby food. A logistics contractor called Transport Company of Texas (TCT) is contracted to come to Kwajalein to operate schools, a hospital, a dental clinic, supply, transportation, and public works. The first couple of years are classics in confusion, with duplication of effort, cost overruns, and general Catch-22 situations almost every day. As the logistics and technical contractors arrive, Navy military and civilian public works and utility personnel begin to phase out, although a few of the Navy civilian staff transfer over to work for the contractors. The transition is slow and painful.

In spite of the logistics difficulties on Kwajalein and Roi-Namur, the Army makes the first successful ICBM intercept using a Nike-Zeus launched from the southwest end of Kwajalein in July 1962.




1963

In spite of the somewhat hectic years prior to 1964, the Army technical program, planned earlier, continues to meet some success. On Roi-Namur, a new program called Project PRESS is beginning to see some good results. This is a complex radar retrieval program watching Russian ICBM flights over North Pacific Ocean areas.

The Navy wants out of its Kwajalein role. There is now a big question in the minds of the Pentagon planners: What other branch of the military or what civilian office might manage the Kwajalein operation, with the Navy continuing the role of overall manager of the Pacific Missile Range?

Both the Army and Air Force put their proposals to operate Kwajalein on the desks of Pentagon chiefs in early 1963. The Army wins out, or so it seems; but it was later agreed that the Army also wins a lot of headaches! The Nike-Zeus program is redesignated as the Nike-X Project and placed under the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

Kwajalein, you're in the Army now!




1964 - 1966

In July 1964, the U.S. Navy formally transfers command of Kwajalein Pacific Missile Range Facility, which will now be known as Kwajalein Test Site (KTS). The project office will be located at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. The Navy has been in charge of Kwajalein for 19 of the 20 years the military has been on island.

July 1, 1964, is a typical warm day at Kwajalein. Promptly at 0900 hours, the Navy band and Marine color guard begin the change of command ceremony in the area between the terminal and the chapel. Dressed in starched white uniforms, the naval staff under Capt. Allen makes an impressive showing. The Army is represented by the new commander, Col. Glen Crane, and his boss, Col. Ivey B. Drewry. The change of command goes off without a hitch.

One newspaper reporter is later to note in his dispatch that "the Navy was not very impressed with the new Army bunch showing up in khaki shorts and pith helmets!"

The new Army commander's first order is to "Get rid of that Navy anchor that sits in front of Headquarters!" The anchor is promptly moved by the new logistics contractor, Global Associates, to the small boat marina.

Col. Crane, with the newly arrived technical and logistics contractors, begins to reshape Kwajalein into an entirely different type of operation. Outer island bases will now be supported by either recently ordered high-speed boats or newly arrived Sikorsky helicopters. Col. Crane helps christen a modified LCU newly named the Tarlang ("Storm-proof" in Marshallese), which will ferry the new influx of Marshallese workers twice daily from Ebeye. Commercial shipping like the Bear Lines begins to call, bringing in fresh food products, construction materials, and everyday necessities.

By 1965, the island infrastructure and community systems are working fairly well and are able to support the new technical mission for Nike-Zeus. Other projects such as PRESS, KREMS, and Speedball at Roi-Namur are also progressing well.

Kwajalein is to be governed along the lines of Hometown, USA. A town council, made up of the managers of civilian contractors along with representatives of the various military and civil service departments, meets weekly with the Army commander to discuss - and often to argue out - various community needs. A school board is established. Many other island groups, including the hospital, chapel, and recreational agencies, give verbal reviews of their operations to the island management committee. The island is run as a military facility, but day-to-day operations are tempered to coincide with needs of a civilian population.

To counteract the confinement of a tightly closed community of a 685 acre coral rock, the Army sets up recreational programs designed to meet the needs of almost everyone. The program is to be supported entirely from the small profit on merchandise sold at the local Macy's and Gimbels stores.

Movies every night and an occasional stage show are set up at the Richardson Theater. Movies are also shown at the Oceanview and Yokwe Yuk clubs at Kwajalein, and the Tradewinds at Roi-Namur. An old construction warehouse is insulated, air-conditioned, and configured for and indoor family movie theater called the "Ivey". The Ivey plays movies seven nights a week and a Saturday cartoon matinee.

"I was a Kwaj resident from April 1965 to June 1967. I want to let you know about one item. The movie theater you identify as "Ivey". That building had been closed and vacant when I got to Kwaj, but with population growth, the Army refurbished it as you describe. However, the "Ivey" was really "Ivey Hall", and was named after the overall KTS project commander, Brigadeer General Ivey O. Drury. PS: He did not like the dedication."

William Graves (6/4/08)


An enlarged marina allows docking space for leisure boats. Some small Cal-20 sailboats and Boston Whalers are purchased for fishing and sailing. Scuba diving is soon one of the most popular pastimes.

The Nike Flying Club is established at Kwaj and Roi. The old Navy Holmberg Fairways are turned into a first-class nine-hole golf course. Soon a Kwajalein Golf Club locker house with snack bar is built, paid for with recreation funds.

In late 1964, the Corps of Engineers contractor, Pacific Martin Zachry (PMZ) begins a lagoon dredging program that will result in the addition of some 55 acres of land on the west end and 35 acres on the north end of Kwajalein.

A test site on Meck begins to take shape as lagoon sand and coral rock almost double the original size of the island. Meck will become an integral part of the new Safeguard Project.

By 1965, the technical programs at Roi-Namur are well under way using the big TRADEX radar system. The old Navy C-47 flights to Roi have now been taken over by the four engine C-54s. The number of daily passengers doubles between 1964 and 1965, as the technical programs accelerate on Roi-Namur.

Col. Crane departs Kwajalein in 1965 and returns to Redstone. He is replaced by Col. Melvin Clark.

Under the command of Col. Clark, Kwajalein and Roi-Namur continue to see an accelerated push in the inter-continental ballistic missile intercept program. The Atlas missile is successfully flown out of operation silos at Vandenberg, impacting in the Kwajalein Lagoon. This is a cause of concern to the Soviets. Their intelligence ship, nick-named "Brand-X" by Kwaj people, begins routine patrol of the sea-lanes around Kwajalein Atoll.

The War in Vietnam grows more complex. By October 1966, the number of Americans serving there reaches 300,000. On Kwajalein, daily flights of C-141s and even old Globemaster C-124 troop and cargo aircraft refuel enroute to Vietnam. The transient barracks (later to be called the Kwaj Lodge) fills to capacity every night with flight crews. One floor of the PBQ is set aside for troops transiting to Vietnam.

Hardline communication cables are laid across the lagoon floor to connect a series of radot stations being built on several outer islands. Helicopter pads are built on each of these islands. The first airborne technical work crews begin a daily commute from Kwajalein to new installations on Gagan, Omelak, Gellinam, Enewetak, and Legan.

The population on Kwaj swells to almost 4,000. Macy's holds sidewalk sales because their merchandising space is limited and is shared with the Bank of Hawaii and the post office. Christmas toy sales reach a new high with the opening of Toyland in Warehouse 702, and real Christmas trees are sold at Surfway.

The big news out of Washington is that President Johnson is consedering a delay in production of the Nike-X missile, despite the great success of recent flight tests at Kwajalein. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tells the NATO ministers in Paris that the U.S. believes the Chinese are developing an ICBM that will be able to reach the U.S. or Europe. The Joint Chiefs recommend producting of the Nike-X as soon as possible. Nike testing goes on at Kwajalein, but few resients are aware of the impending Nike-X discussions. Prototypes of new interceptor missiles called the Spartan and Sprint are already in assembly.

On Ebeye, the Corps of Engineers contractor finishes the first of 77 four-family houses and turns them over to the Marshallese government.




1967

Col. Clark is replaced by Col. Frank Healy. The big news out of Washington is that the Nike-X will be deployed at startegic sites around the U.S. The entire program has been renamed Sentinel. Meanwhile, on Memorial Day at Kwajalein, there is an impressive military service to rename Kwajalein Airfield Bucholz Field in honor of Pfc. Fred Henry Bucholz. He had been posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in the Battle of Kwajalein in 1944. Two high-speed, 90-passenger air-conditioned boats named Spartan and Sprint are put into service to support personnel on Meck. Macy's has a first with a fur coat sale. The ladies will have to wait for a trip to the mainland to wear their new trappings. There is panic about where to store the furs out of the hot and humid Kwaj weather until temporary storage space is designated at the reefer plant. Two new BQs are built on 7th Street and named Ocean and Palm. The post office on Kwajalein sets a record when the one millionth pound of mail for 1967 is received Dec.18.




1968 - 1969

The island rushes into 1968 with a bang as the first Spartan missile is successfully launched at Kwajalein in early March.

On Meck, the first support buildings and utility structures are finished up rapdily and are being turned over to technical and logistics contractors for use. After the Meck runway is completed, the FAA from Hawaii visits Meck to certify it.

On Kwajalein, another launch of a Spartan missile in May follows the announcement on April 18, 1968, that Kwajalein Missile Range (KMR) will be a separate test site from the Pacific Missile Range.

Construction is begun on Kwajalein Junior-Senior High School in May, while the installation of new aluminum house trailers is nearing completion. By late 1968, the first residents of the new Northland Camp trailers begin to move in. Someone notices the brilliant reflection of sunrise and sunset on the metal trailers and says it looks like a "silver city." The name sticks, and Silver City becomes home to hundreds of Kwajalein workers over the next 10 years.

On the southwestern end of the island, the huge concrete DCCB begins to come up out of the ground, while the old Zeus buildings ZAR, DR, TTR, and MTR are either modified to support Spartan or are used for other purposes.

A rash of streetlight failures puzzles the logistics contractor. Investigation reveals huge termite nests built up from under the ground through the 25-foot hollow metal light standards. Termites have eaten out much of the underground wood cover and wiring insulation. Emergency funding for a major project to repair streetlights eaten up by termites is requested. The Army has a tough time convinceing Washington!

Col. Healy leaves Kwaj and is replaced by Col. Don Millar, who has been on island only a short time when Tropical Storm Phyllis hits Kwajalein Lagoon. Damage on Kwaj and Roi-Namur is limited to uprooted trees and a few roofs blown away, but on Meck and the smaller outer islands, the damage is severe.

Ocean water has rolled completely over Meck, washing away construction workers' barracks and new warehouses. Piers on all outer islands are destroyed, stranding several workers who had been preparing for a mission. Helicopters are dispatched to rescue them even before the high winds die down. Luckily, no one is killed, but the Spartan-Sprint project is set back several weeks.

Richard Nixon is sworn into office as the 37th President of the United States on Jan. 20, 1969. In March, the Sentinel Systems Command is redesignated as the Safeguard Systems Command. It continues to conduct tests on the Spartan and the new Sprint missiles at Kwajalein.



On to 1970





H I S T O R Y
BEFORE
WWII
DURING
WWII
1944
BILL ILES
1944
CURTIS PARTCH
1947
ED SPILMAN
1950 - 1951
GENE WOOLIEVER
1951 -
1969
1970 -
1989
1990 -
1994
HISTORY
COMES ALIVE





1999-2007