Island for Sale

No, it’s not one of the Hawaiian islands, those are already all taken. But it’s the closest you can get: Johnston Atoll is around 750 miles (1200 km) SW of Kaua’i. And it has all the trappings of a tropical paradise: 4 islands making up almost 700 acres in a blue lagoon, 20 miles of fringing reef, migrating birds, incredible diving, palm trees, deserted beaches, not to mention a runway to land your private A380 (747’s are old school now).

Johnston Island with the runway, and smaller Sand Island in the forground, atoll reef not shown:


BUT… the source of that photo should give you pause, because the US government hasn’t been kind to isolated islands in the Pacific, and Johnston is no exception. The “listing” for this island on the “property disposal” website gives us a few clues:

The deed will contain use restrictions because the atoll was used by the Defense Department for storage of chemical munitions and as a missile test site in the 1950’s and 60’s. The island can be used as a residence or vacation getaway but it does not have utilities or a water supply. The airstrip and the golf course are closed.

After reading that, the big thought in my mind was “Can the airstrip and golf course be rehabilitated?” But you should really be thinking “When the government admits to a missile test site and chemical munitions storage, what is it really hiding?”

Fortunately, the CLUI (Center for Land Use Interpretation and maybe government website interpretation) fills us in on the details: the missiles were of course nuclear warheads detonated above the island, the munitions storage was actually a chemical weapons incinerator, and the government forgot to mention the open-air biological weapon tests. While all that was supposedly cleaned up, again according to the government, there is the little detail of radioactive debris from failed nuclear rockets which first rained down on the area and was then buried in a containment structure that will be breached by the ocean in 50 years. When CLUI says “industriously exotic” they don’t mean regular industry in an exotic location.

Another great blog about Kaua’i called Island Breath has a long article about what it was like to live and work on Johnston Island. It also answers further questions like “Do you really think they were able to collect all the little pieces of a plutonium rocket that exploded above the atoll?” (No.) It’s haunting to think it was fully inhabited (except for children and schools) several years ago and then they just razed everything, swept up any “hot” debris and left the island to the birds.

You would think that leaving all the housing and recreational buildings would increase the value, but no:


And now it can all be yours. One detail I like from the governmnent website is that it seems like you get your own zip code in Hawaii (96558, formerly a zip code assigned to the Armed Forces in the Pacific). How cool is that.

This post is going to be tricky to tie to Kaua’i, but I finally figured it out with a bold theory. Some people here complain about vog, the volcanic smog that sometimes is blown across the state from the Big Island. When the volcano is really active and winds blow the wrong direction, vog travels 300 miles to Kaua’i in concentrations strong enough to give people headaches and nausea. So, the final, unanswered question is “Did any fallout, radioactive debris, bio-agents, or chemical weapons residue so freely released in the air above Johnston Atoll ever reach Kaua’i?”

Update: A map comparing the distances:

750 miles to Johnston from Kauai, just over twice the distance to the Big Island
Source: Google Earth. Click image to download location into Google Earth.

And some history of the populations on Johnston Atoll:

1797-1900 US, British, and Hawaiian ships visit the islands and try to claim them [Jane Resture]
Sept 1909 One lucky person leased the whole place from the Territory of Hawaii to mine guano [ibid.]
1920’s The island is made a bird sanctuary and naturalists conduct surveys [ibid.]
1930-1940’s The island is given to the US Navy who begin dredging and bulldozing to establish a plane and submarine refueling base [ doesn’t give much population info but has a detailed description of the chemical weapons work]
Johnston Island enlarged but before full expansion by the military

1950-90’s Johnston island is expanded from original 46 acres to 625 to host an average of 1,100 US military and civilian contractor personnel []
Jan 2004 Around 200 people finishing the cleanup [ibid.]
May 2005 All US government personnel left the island [CIA World Factbook, though it was June according to markinthepacific]

With all of those “alumni,” there is even a message board and a website for the now dispersed community, with their own theme songs, beautiful underwater photos, and a video slideshow of life on the island. The slideshow has photos of some of the chemical weapons, the amazing infrastructure built to process them, the final dismantlement, and through it all, the people and sights on the island. Another island resident has posted a lot of photos up until his departure on the second to last flight. It really is/was a fascinating microcosm.

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  1. Mark says:

    Perhaps you could buy the island as a long-term investment. What’s the half-life of radioactive waste and incincerated biological weapons?

  2. Dave says:

    Was there for a year, loved it except being away from the family, best assignment the Army gave me!!!

  3. Marc says:

    I was there on Sand Island as a Coast Guard Radioman in 1974-75. Unbelievable numbers of fish, including gamefish and various types of shark. The near end (photo) of Sand Island was so heavily populated with nesting seabirds at one time of year that it was virtually one bird per square yard. I hope it’s reverted to what it always ought to have been. BTW, the island is now a sanctuary, not for sale, so far as I know.

  4. Ryan says:

    I, too, spent a year there and completely agree with dave. I wish I had gotten there sooner and stayed longer. And no, it is not for sale. Gone to the birds.

  5. Joe Mazzola says:

    I also was there. Worked on and off 1968 to 1972 as a civilian Fireman. Very deselect but extremly hard to beat the climet and water recreation.

  6. Don Eddleman says:

    I was stationed on Johnston Island for 1 yr as a tower operator in the USAF 1954-1955.what a change from the first time I saw it.

  7. David says:

    I was stationed on J I for 18 months in 4/1987 to 10/88. Was the best tour I ever did. Softball, bowling (I was the Manager) :) I was assigned to the Motorpool. Partied at the Tiki club and made coral boxes on my off time. WHAT A TOUR!!!

  8. Jack Attebury says:

    I was on project 437 with the Thor on JI from 1965 to 1970. I went there from Vandenberg CA 98 days at a time for 5 tours.
    It holds a lot of fond memories for me. I was one of the first “Pacific Atoll Divers” and help build several of the diving rafts. I worked the Pads (1&2)and had no problems with radiation. I don’t think it is a problem.

  9. John says:

    I was there from 4/75 to 5/76. It was a whole ‘nother world. The chemical muntions that were stored there were eventually incinerated on the island. I do n’t know what happened with the Agent Orange nor the radioactive (plutonium) waste from the warhead that was destructed right after launch. I do know it was one of the most memorable periods of my life.

  10. wayne yonce says:

    I was on Johnston in 1946 as an 18 year old member of the Naval Air transport squardon VR-12 detachment.We seviced R5D transport aircraft.My last duty station before discharge from the WW II Navy.

  11. Marty Kiepke says:

    I served in the U.S. Navy for a year in 1968. I went diving in the lagoon and thought it was a good duty station. It has a nice climate year round. We took the base colonel out on weekly fishing trips and spent 60 days on bikini atoll while stationed there.

  12. Terry Peacock says:

    I was there in 1952-53 with my father, a Captain in the USAF. Wow, what an experience. My brother and I used to play in the old WWII gun bunkers, not to mention the various aircraft wrecks around the island.

  13. Ed Shepard says:

    I was on JI in 1970-71 in the Air Force, Helped to build the bunkers, would love to hear from some of the guys from that era, when did they start bringing woman to the island???

  14. Ralph Simmons says:

    I was on the rock in ’88. I was in charge of 2 teams installing the temporary back up generators. Best 6 month TDY I ever did. It would be great to have a JI reunion.

  15. Roy Whitehead says:

    I was 18 , station on JI in 1952-53 for a long year. All my teeth were pulled in a very small room w/ no air cond.. But ther were no ac any where. JI was a mile long . I could write a book about that year in a young boy life!!

  16. Bill Taylor says:

    I was stationed on Sand Island 8/73-9/74 with the Coast Guard. Too many great memories to count. I have written a few of the stories and included some pictures at my
    if interested.

  17. David Borden says:

    I was on Island from 1995 to 2003. I met people that I will charish forever and my wife. It was the best part of my life. I will never see anything as great as the water and coral as there is there. I sometimes wish it never ended.

  18. William Lindsey III says:

    Was a contractor on Johnston in 1980. Dismantled the missile silos and launch facilities, as well as the LOX plant. Prepped all of he material for export to Hawaii.
    Mel Kaneshiro and I loaded all 500,000. empty bbls that once contained Agent Orange onto a Young Brothers, HTB barge for transport to Flynn-Lerner on sand Island Road, Honolulu Hawaii.

  19. William Lindsey III says:

    The Army Chemical Corp pumped all of the Agent Orange from 500,000 bbls onto the chemical incinerator ship Vulcan. The Agent Orange was supposedly incinerated at sea, away from the Island.
    One contaminated missile launch facility and silo was left intact and surrounded by cyclone fencing due to radiation.

  20. Dan Roncalli says:

    Had bought the whole lock stock and barrel of Sand Island; Akau, and Hikina are national wildlife refuge operations; the news that Johnston was for sale was actually limited to Sand; sorry, no longer for sale. It’s all real clean when I’m not gasping (kidding–no gasping; listen Ma, no asthma), and the bird-watching is tremendous; hey, what was that? We love to take the grandkids flying about on our day’s off, which is all the time. Best to all you fellow old contract civilians.

  21. Andy says:

    Hi Dan, are you saying you’re the new owner? I admit I never followed up on this story, nor did I track down all the details of what was for sale–you know how blogs are. I vaguely remember reading they had withdrawn the sale, but obviously, I haven’t followed the story and don’t know what really happened.

    This post has attracted some visits and comments from Johnston veterans, so I’d love to follow up if you have more details for me. Leave a comment or email me, andy a t great-hikes dot com.

  22. Ted Fullard says:

    Like Jack, I too was on JI with project 437 out of Vandenberg, but from 65 to 68. I still have my Atoll Divers patch someware. Didn’t have a bowling alley when I was there, but I did learn how to carve leather.

  23. Barry says:

    I worked at Johnston atoll on the jacads project in 1995. Rocket disposal project. After the chemical was processed it came out of the plant as a green crystall. A lot of the guys I worked with handled the crystals with no Ill effects. The only harmful substance after processing was heavy metals which is bad but nothing like gb and vx gas. I carried a gas mask and two shots of atrapine the whole time I was there. There was plutonium in the ground that they tried to deal with. They had no success while I was there. Plutonium was also found in the surrounding coral (relatively small amounts). I remember the red hat area that I was not allowed to enter. Who knows what was held in all those bunkers besides bombs and rockets from all over the world. Green peace tried to enter the lagoon once and was told if they came within so many miles that they would be blown out of the water (they turned and left). You can’t get there from here. The rock.

  24. Mike Bill says:

    I agree the Rock was a great place to serve. I was there from 1969 to 1970. Saw two launches and that island shook with the force of a small earthquake. Interesting facts on the internet about submarine surveys of the island; some indicate a cave (indicating limestone) half way down to the sea floor. My father also was on the island during WWII as it was a refueling base for submarines during that time. Great part of history the island played also check out the first experiences with EMP.

  25. Vincent Dancause says:

    I was stationed on JI on and off from Oct 66 to Nov 68. Was a great place to be stationed.

  26. craig says:

    Is there anyone who could send me photos of what life was like there? For those that have been there, would you say the dangers of the chemicals pose any risk to current or future inhabitants.
    Please send pictures to craigkoller35 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  27. Rob Honeycutt says:

    I was there from 63 to 64 as a Crypto Communications Tech in USAF. Was great duty, a beautiful place. Too bad it was spoiled by all the nasty stuff. I dont seem to have suffered any ill effects so far..keeping my fingers crossed.

  28. John Poston says:

    I also had the opportunity to serve on JI in 1971-1972. During that time the Navy moved Mustard and Nerve gas to be stored in the newly built bunkers. The Army had about 150 personnel responsible for moving the chemicals from the ship to the bunkers. All personnel on the Island were required to carry Atropene injectors in case of a spill, which there were none. General Westmoreland came to the island to thank the Army for a perfect job, but dressed down a soldier for uniform discrepancy. Never thought much of the guy after that. The fishing was fantastic, and so was the scuba. There were a lot of great things to do, scuba, tennis, golf, racquetball, and bowling to mention a few. Got to manage the bowling alley (4 lanes), but the downside was there were no women!

  29. Charles Slade says:

    Can’t believe it’s for sale, I’m sure the Gov’t has included some strict clauses in the deed, seeing how there is Pu still buried there, enough to arm several missiles with absolute devastating payloads. A functional runway to fly the material out. There’s a reason it was left to the birds and i don’t think it will ever be for sale!

  30. Andy says:

    Hi Charles, thanks for that perspective, that thought was nagging me too. I wrote this article a while ago, but I never followed up to see what happened. I seem to remember hearing the military withdrew the sales offer, probably for the reasons you state. Why was it ever listed in the first place? A mistake in the bureaucracy? Testing the real-estate market? If anyone knows, feel free to leave a comment.

  31. Gary R Edwards says:

    Two Trips from Vanndenburg 70 & 71
    Fuel System Maint. Lox Clean Room.
    Scuba Diving, Sailing,
    Shark fishin at shit shoot for six foot sharks for the big rige in harbor. Largest 1275 LBS. 15 ft.

  32. Nathan McFadden says:

    I was stationed out there from 4/95-4/96. I was an MP straight out of basic and schooling. I had a fantastic time with memories to last the rest of my life. The only problem was that being my first duty station it gave me an unrealistic expectation of what Army life was like. lol

  33. Mike shockey says:

    I was there 69 to 70. Usaf postal services. After two weeks i developed red rash all over my body. I am not sure what caused it. VA doctors call it psoriasis. Still have it today. Loved my tour there. Steak night every thursday, swimming, shark fishing at the shit chute. Only place i have ever been where beer was cheaper than coke.

  34. bo says:

    I really want to visit that atoll

  35. John Martin says:

    Had the pleasure of serving on JI Sep 1972 – Sep 1973 as a USAF comm maintenance tech. Logged a lot of dives and did a lot of sailing. Additional duty on the decon team, so got the see all the bad stuff. Spend some good times at the rigger loft. Remember steak night every Saturday. Don’t miss all the blood samples I had to give.

  36. RolandB says:

    I spent a delightful year on JI in 1971-72. If anyone wants a perspective or pix email me.
    Rsbnontw at gmail dot com

  37. Bill P. says:

    As a contractor I spent two different tours at JI resurfacing the runway there in 1996 and again in 2000. It was the absolute best duty ever! We were able to check out gear for scuba diving and take boats to and around the surrounding islands. The coral is like none other there, including the sharks! Also taking deep sea fishing trips out on the old WW2 landing crafts that had been converted.
    Some of my best memories!

  38. Barry Nesja says:

    I was on J.I. all of 1954. I was in the air weather service sending up weather balloons. It is a shame what the government has done to that peaceful little island!

  39. Neil C. Hamilton says:

    Retired First Sgt, MP sergeant when on JA from 1976-77

  40. Frank Matranga says:

    I was there in 1958, before they began making it bigger. it is a shame
    what they did to that island. It was
    a clean island always breezy and
    the beaches were clean . Now i under
    stand that tons of garbage wash up
    on it every year. Plastic of every kind
    Nets and it has been polluted with
    the waste from the testing years and
    then a incinerator of all things.
    I only hope the birds survive all that
    we have done to it. I would have
    liked to have spent a month on that
    island,enjoying the sun the water
    and the quietness.But that will never
    come again,only fond memories remain.

  41. L Peet says:

    I had the pleasure to spend a year on JI 1989 to 1990 with the Military Police Company. While there had the pleasure to crosstrain with the 54B’s and 55B’s. Great place for outdoor recreation had an outdoor movie theater, Tikki Club, civilian ran mess hall. It was also the first year the military started allowing women to be stationed on the island. Which if you think about it what’s the big deal there were more civilians than military anyway.

  42. RP LECHNER says:

    I was there as an AF dependent from 54-56. My father was Base Commander of the multi forces stationed there. We had a one room Quonset Hut as a schoolroom and would cross the taxiway to swim out to the raft diving board at recess. Friday nights was $1 all you could eat lobster night at the officers club with movies on Friday and Saturday night. Church services, Catholic, Protestant & Jewish were all conducted by the same Marine Corp Captain Jesuit Priest Chaplain. It was an amazing childhood experience.

  43. Andy says:

    It’s very interesting that there were children on Johnston as well, you’re the first to mention it. Anybody know how may kids were there at a time, and whether there were others in the later years?

  44. Robert J Green Jr says:

    I went there as a sound tech with three bands for DOD AFE and MWR. Each time I went there it was so cool to see the reaction of each band member on our free time there. To watch the Shark feeding was so cool to see. The food was the best.

  45. Scott says:

    I was there in the mid 80’s as an Electronics Tech for the Coast Guard. I was the picture of health, great physical shape. After 6 weeks there I contracted a neuro muscular problem and was discharged.
    Other wise the Island was very cool.

  46. Alvin Wong says:

    Was lucky to visit JI twice while on active duty with the HANG. Once before President Nixon went around the world to celebrate that we landed on the moon and after he came home safely. Our mobile equipment made sure Air Force One stayed on course. I remember that the tallest building was only three floors and you could see the whole island from there. One of the civilian cooks took me fishing with his throw net. On his first throw he caught so much fish he could not lift the net. They had to build an Olympic size pool because there were too many sharks. The shark tournaments were real. Did not know about all the bad stuff the military had done there. Hope the future is better since they are gone. There was one seal that had a problem with us taking his fish.

  47. Ernie Didier says:

    1977 – 1978 ARMY MP
    Watched bombs rot. Remember fondly our security cart races in the Red Hat zone. Watching, with anticipation, the mail being off loaded from the airplane to the mail jeep and standing in front of my PO box, fingers crossed. Steak night was the best, boy did they feed us well. I was there when the Russian sub surfaced, mechanical problems???
    My time on the Rock was a unique experience.

  48. Chris Fox says:

    One thing you will never see for sale at any Military Memorabilia show is the Red Hat Pin. I still have mine. I was there from Nov 87 to October 88. I emergency PCS’d when my Dad died of a stroke. I packed up and left in 6 hours. I never got to say goodbye to all my friends. It was a great place made great by all the people and the lack of everything else (except beer, movies, great chow, and great water). Id go back if we could.

  49. Stephen DeBrular says:

    Was stationed there in 94 as an MP and I’ve got to say, I still miss the rock!!! Would love to go back in time and be there again. What an amazing experience.

  50. Leif says:

    If the airport is closed, I assume the only way there is by boat??

  51. Liz says:

    Stationed there as an MP….ran around it daily. Most amazing sunset and sunrises ever seen :)
    Fond memories of the steaks grilled on Saturday evenings :)

  52. Carey Grzadzinski says:

    Was there for 2 years, 90-91?. Stayed a contract to long. Lost my fiancee, a couple close relatives while there. Got Island fever real bad the last few months. Took me many years to get over it. Was real fun at first.

  53. jerry snyder says:

    was stationed there from 1980 to 1981 liked it there but have had bone and breathing and some other problems was there as MP but was trained to be a 54e and bb handler, remember fishing off the garbage dumb and the landing boats was there when the sail boat was rescued and when the japanise fishing boats transferred injured personnel, belonged to choir boys soft ball team. really hated in hailing stuff from ceilings. Was there when they stripped the ceillings clean.

  54. Thomas Bond says:

    Worked as a electrician on the bomb burner in 1987, reef was incredible, had a great time there.

  55. Larry Norton says:

    i landed on JI possibly Dec ’61.. Radio operator on 1st MSL Div. command aircraft (C-97) converted tanker). Out of Vandenberg enroute from Einewetok. At EWK Dec awaiting for re-shot of aborted Atlas launch. Down range WX track and carried back nose cone. At EWK 6 times 61-62

  56. charlton Lindler says:

    Any WWII guys left? I was there Oct. 44 til Nov 45. We had quite a celebration when Japan surrenderd. Nothing there but birds and coral rock..

  57. Stephen says:

    I was there from 87 to 88 as well, was one of the greatest times of my career. The only bar you could ever go to with no Money and come back lit with cash in your pocket, the contractors really took care of the MPs.

  58. Terri Knudsen says:

    I (female) was at JI as a contractor-Environmental Manager from 1993-1994. I too loved the island and the gorgeous lagoon. The color of the ocean was a stunning azure blue to a bright torqoise . But so much to do to keep us busy, and to lessen the remoteness and isolation. I enjoyed the outdoor theatre…a lot.

    Calls to home were difficult to make because there were only 10 lines coming into the island.

    Regardless, the serenity and evening skies were unreal. Loved the night skies there , and
    night shark diving that shook me.

    Wish I could relive it!

  59. David says:

    At JI from ’90-’97. Started with FCDNA, then to Raytheon, then to Kalama Svcs. Taught diving every day and if not teaching, would be diving for fun.

    Amazing island in the middle of nowhere. Some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories from those before me. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  60. Gail Davis says:

    Father, Capt –> Major Richard (Dick) Davis was a pilot during WWII and reupped in Korea til killed in plane accident in MD in 1965. I suspect he would have flown through there as was in SAC and them military transport in early 60s, stationed in Hawaii. If anyone remembers him from their time on JI or anywhere I would love to hear from them. Family was devastated with his death and never talked about his military service or early life. I was just a kid and he never spoke of his work either. I was too young to ask questions.

  61. Mike Benton says:

    My Dad was stationed there with 16th Defense Battalion (USMC), 1942-44. He spoke of the place occasionally. It was very small, flat, isolated, and without much action. I heard him speak negatively about it only once near the end of his life, though. He said, “They shouldn’t have left us out there for that long”. I guess 18 months under those conditions would wear on most.

  62. L.Johnson, USCG Retired says:

    My first assignment after basic training was at the USCG Loran Station, Sand Island, Johnston Atoll. I have to say it was a great time for me to learn about the multi-cultures. The warm waters swimming and snorkeling was amazing. Fishing off the reef was one of those events you never forget. I’ll remember those days!

  63. Brian says:

    Landed on JI in 77-78 55B10 bomb reno. wish I still had my red hat pin. will remember the friends I made,joel my room mate.cowboy cowdon.and others. what a trip its been.

  64. Mike Johnson says:

    I was stationed at JI with the Air Force May 71-72. The 2194th Comm Sq. I remember playing Mountain Ball with the Comm Sq Mosquitos. The occasional Saturday beer-ball. Loved it. I remember the NCO Club/everybody club the Sunset Bar (I think that was it’s name), where most of the first termers and Hawaiians hung out. Spent time at the Rigger’s Loft with great friends. I remember the great Hawaiians that provided the infrastructure. Great food at the dining hall. The stupid sub-titled Japanese movies on Thursdays. Even though the Hawaiians tried to explain that they weren’t Japanese. AFRTS locally broadcast and at the end of my stay 3 hours of TV each night. Three USO shows. Not Bob Hope. Ann and her Country Sweethearts. All older than my mom. A bible college choir that was very under-attended and a Polynesian review. Really bad idea. Very young girls in grass skirts dancing for men who hadn’t seen women in too long. Add beer. Someone wasn’t thinking. I can also remember pulling tidal wave watch on the top of the JOC building when they were exploding an underwater nuclear device at Eniwetok Atoll. I was there when they off-loaded the nerve gas. I think they actually did a sort of dirty dozen thing with a group of Army guys supporting the off loading and storage of the gas for the Army Chemical Company. As a switchboard operator I remember placing scheduled morale calls each evening for all the people on the atoll. I remember small navy ships coming in for a few days. I think they were buoy tenders. We felt a little better about our remote/isolated tour when these guys came ashore and thought they were in heaven after being on their ship. It was my first assignment and I did 20 years. Good people, good weather and a good time..

  65. Roger M. Sobin says:

    I was stationed on JI all of 1975. Jan 1, 1975 to Jan 3, 1976 — the one year was great, but those extra 2 days drove me crazy.

    Served the A.F. as the Protestant Chaplain. Played a lot of softball and golf. I also developed with another guy there — a photo picture pamphlet that was used for publicity. I have a copy somewhere on my computer and if I locate it — will sent it here later. Also had an cartoon artist make drawings and created a coloring book to be sent back to children.

    Love to talk with anyone about JI (rmsobin @AT@ aol .DOT. com)

    While there — I thought many times of a novel to write, that when the Air Micronesia flew out one day — three small airplanes land and take over the island. As I recall, the military were not to resist — thus, those assigned to JI would be taken captive. All communications were cut off, and the world would not even know for several days. But then, the neat folks on JI would take matters into their own hands and re-take the island with creative ways . . .


  66. Tom Cochran says:

    I was at J.I. 1954 and 55 along with my two older brothers. I turned 7 years old while we were there. There were many families with children there during the time we were there. Although I was quite young, I have great memories of our time on the island. At that time Sand Island was just a small chunk of coral inhabited by thousands of birds. The only time we wore shoes was on the rare occasions that we went on class trips to sand island. It’s terrible what the government has done to a beautiful paradise. Any other military brats who were at JI during that time please send me a note.

  67. James E. Henderson says:

    I was a Pacific Missile Range contractor on Johnston Atoll from June, 1968, to June, 1970, operating and repairing the computers there and doing some programming. I was sent to Panama when my company failed to make the low bid to continue the maintenance contract.

  68. Kyle Mosher says:

    I was an MP on JI from 9/86-9/87. Great duty. Great food, lots of down time and recreation. Quite a few leaks though, and the hotline wasn’t fun. Other than that, it was a good tour.


    Station at JI Nov 81 to Dec 82 267th Chemical Co. I was an Ammunition Spe.

  70. Gary says:

    I was on Johnston Is. 1955/56. Air Traffic Control with AACS Sq.
    Transferred from Chitose Air Base on Thanksgiving Day 1955 in dress blue’s. A little hot walking across the “melting asphalt” ramp and taxiway to check in. Great overseas assignment.

  71. Greg Coker says:

    I was there from Dec 87 to Nov 88. I had a great time there. Served with the USACAW MP Company and worked part time at the bowling alley. Chris Fox if you get back on this thing, email me at coker_greg at hotmail dot com.

  72. Ghardin says:

    was there in early 80’s guarding all the chemicals. scary stuff.

  73. Travis says:

    My dad was on the island from july 15 to around aug 15 in 1982. We think during the repaving of the runway he was exposed to the chemicals that were on the island. They tore up the old runway and repaved it and he was on the paver during the resurfacing. I am trying to find records to prove he was on the island but seems that no one can help. does anyone have records of civilian contractors that worked on the island? he said he was temp enlisted in the air force. he has had health issues very similar to A.O. its a little scary that the government would allow civilians on the isalnd.

  74. Rick Knudson says:

    I was on JA for 10 years from 1972 to 1982, working for Holmes & Narver, the civilian contractor. When I came onto the island, there were no women. After they disposed of Agent Orange on the ship Vulcanas around 1974, women were permitted on the island – they came 2 x 2 – two in the Dining Hall, two in the Dispensary, two in the office, etc. When I left in 1982 there were approximately 1000 guys and 20 women! They were very popular – a couple of guys met their wife there. Went out there right out of college for $3.00 an hour. Worked 6 days a week, Sundays off. Taught myself how to swim in the Olympic sized pool – then swam 1/2 mile every night after work and a mile on Sunday. Started jogging and biking around the island – 4 1/2 miles on the perimeter road. The NCO Club burned down around 1976 or so. Then was permitted to go to the O Club (Tiki Lounge). Best food anywhere – Prime Rib on Wednesday night and Steak on Saturday night. Great Aloha with my co-workers at the Waikiki Club, Riggers Loft, Manila Machine, and other clubs. Great weather – better than Hawaii. One radio station through an undersea cable – this was before satellites. Initially one C-141 per week bringing passengers, cargo, and newspapers and mail. Then Air Micronesia started landing for fuel and brought in mail. Three flights going downrange and three flights going to Hawaii per week. In my job, I got to meet the aircraft and talk with the stewardesses. Candy was the best one! I look back at this time as perhaps the best 10 years of my life!

  75. Andy says:

    Hi Rick and all the others who have been sharing stories from Johnston. I have never been there, but it sure sounds like an fascinating place. I’m sure that working in small groups on an isolated island forged a lot of memories. It sounds like the military and its contractors took care of you down there, but it still doesn’t sound like fun to handle the chemical weapons.

    This post has by far the most comments of any on my blog–and it’s not even related to hiking on Kaua’i. No matter, I really enjoy hearing all the stories, so thank you all and keep adding your comments. If anyone wants to email one of the commenters, please email me (the moderator) and I will try to get you in touch: andy at great dash hikes dot com

  76. Bill Starkey says:

    Stationed at JI 1957 Comm Grp, Det 1, USAF from Feb ’67 to feb’68. At that time Island was under AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) and the Navy JTF8.6.. I worked AFCS tech control in the JSOC building and the receiver site on north island.

    The first successful launch from Pad 1 took place while I was there. I was able to get outside and watched the Thor lift off the pad on an east bound trajectory. It was absolutely COOL!!! The sound was deafening, it literally vibrated your entire body.

    The greatest scuba diving ever.. The marine life was amazing! Sharks, mantas, barracuda, wahoo, tuna, and an unbelievable array of reef fish.

    Unfortunately, some guys has real problems with the isolation. They crawled into a bottle everyday when they got off work… Being limited 5 bottles of booze a week and all the beer you could drink, it was easy to do.

    Several R&R’s to Hawaii kept me civilized, while steak nights at the chow hall, movies under the stars, pool, swimming, a lot of other activities made for good duty. For a remote assignment, JI was really good!

  77. Ellen Gauthier says:

    There for a year n 2002. Most awesome job ever

  78. James says:

    No, there were children on Ji. I worked there at the demi and there were no masks small enough to fit children, thus they weren’t allowed on the island. I have fond memories, but wouldn’t want to live there.

  79. Tim Nelson says:

    I made four tours to Johnston from 1966 to 1969. I was an Automatic Tracking Radar technician as part of project 437. I think the last three tours I was at building 990 at the far corner of the island. I’m not good with names but it’s possible I had some overlap with Jack Attebury or Ted Fullard. The missile guidance was hi-tech for it’s day. Building 990 was the backup for the main guidance. Got to be involved in real launch. Just before launch the Radar’s Magnetron failed, so I replaced it even though the interlocks were being overridden. Earned me an extra stripe.

  80. Allan Atkins says:

    was on JI with the Thor/Delta program TDY from Vandenberg AFB, CA in the 1960’s , enjoyed my 3 month tours. Made a lot of friends was with a guy named Kelly Brown.

  81. Roger Krueger says:

    Best tour of duty in my 10 years. Would love to revisit.

  82. jerry snyder says:

    there was family there for a while there was a tropical storm that was really bad and they evac all non military personnel and the plane went down east of the Island and thats when things changed still remember the giant shark jaws on the wall of the headquarters bldg

  83. Tony Manganaro says:

    Spent a year there on Remote Tour of Duty with USAF from 1967-1968.
    Was the most peaceful tour I ever spent anywhere, Scuba diving in crystal waters, perfect temperatures, a huge swimming pool, fantastic food any time day or night, 5 cent bar drinks at NCO club during happy hour as opposed to the 10 cent standard price. Had 2 thor missiles there that we maintained. The liquid oxygen venting was great for the hangovers from the 5 cent drinks the night before. Was lots of shark fishing off of the Dump ramp at south end of the Island. Garbage (food waste mostly) was dumped at about 5pm and the sharks were all coming in by 4:30pm..they were quite familiar with the schedule.
    Roommate was Patrick Flaherty if I remember correctly. Loved the place cause I couldn’t spend my money either, so managed to save a little bundle. Great memories.

  84. Patrick Mulcahy says:

    I was stationed there in 1965 as a military policeman. The duty was great. 12 months of beautiful weather. Beats vietnam. Got to see the Thor missle launched in 1965. It would be fun to visit again.

  85. Owen says:

    My dad was a coast guard diver in the late 80s. He was never stationed there but was servicing the bouys once during the incinerator days. Also for anyone wondering the incineration would not leave any dangerous residue behind unless every once in a while the incinerator would have a hiccup or stop working perfectly and anyone downwind of the facility was basically dead. When my dad was servicing the marker bouys he heard the signal from the boat that there was an emergency. He and his dive buddy surfaced unfortunately his buddy split his head open on the bottom of the boat, when my dad saw the guys with the biohazard suits on he knew he was dead and started to splash himself with water and was about to start injecting himself with atropine and 2pam but the guys on the boat said it was just a joke. Which was a F**k you situation

  86. Jon says:

    Never been to the island but I went down a major rabbit hole after finding the place on google maps. This thread is amazing!

  87. fryyyy says:

    anyone know who Jodi Jacobsen is? there is a memorial on johnson island? Anyone have a photo or text of what the plaque says?, thank you.

  88. Jen B says:

    WOW I LOVED reading all of your stories! I’m not a military person only an off-the-beaten path traveler who happened to see the Atoll on a map and thought I’d Google it. Boy am I glad I did. I would LOVE to go see it for a few days. You guys are amazing and thank you all for your service, past and present.

  89. Trevor T says:

    Great reading. I was an AF brat on Oahu ‘67-‘74. My dad was stationed at Fleet Weather (Pearl), Kunia Tunnel and on the flight line at Wheeler as a meteorologist. My time on Oahu was the best of my life. JI sounds like a paradise too. Thanks all for your stories.

  90. John levasseur says:

    Was there for the best 2 yrs of my life.

  91. Karin D. says:

    Was there from 8/1988 to 9/2003 as a civilian working for the DOD. Best years of my life. Met some great people whom I still call family and stay in touch with. Loved every inch of that island and would still be there if I could.

  92. Jerry d nelson says:

    I was there working for Holm’s and narver in the mid 60’s. Yes the weather was unbelievable and that prime rib on wed. And stake on sat. Was out of this world.worked with a guy named john burger,if any one knows him give him my e-mail.

  93. Ben Spurgeon says:

    I was stationed on the Rock from Aug 95-97 definitely my 2 best years in te US Army. The duty hours were long, we worked 9 on and 3 off when I was there. The recreational activities were outstanding. Golfing ocean front, outdoor movie theater, Waikiki on a Saturday night for bbq and bingo, deep sea fishing on te weekends, Saturday night karioke and the tiki lounge, bowling, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, diving, water skiing, or just sitting on the beach next to the marina with a platoon mate drinking homemade sangria. I loved it with all my heart. You will never see such beautiful ocean waters in your life. I remember water skiing on an ocean as smooth as glass not a boat on the ocean but ours. Used to ocean kayak to the barrier reef which was a few miles from shore and against regs but definitely worth the trip.

  94. Ron says:

    I was stationed on JI from Jul91-92 in the MP Company. It was a great tour of duty where I have countless fond memories. Did more SCUBA diving than I’ll ever do again, along with great work and play. I wish I could relive that time.

  95. sky says:

    Guys remember the outside movie theater? I was at JI from 70-71 2194th comm sq AFCS did you remember the sign posted swim at your risk “sharks, sharks” , they even had some old nikes
    on lanch pods..loved the tour,,lets see how many trees were on the island..and the birds that nested just about every where..

  96. Allan Atkins says:

    Was there in the 70’s with the Air Force, Thor Missile 437 program. Enjoyed my time there. Had a lot of friends on the “Rock”. Enjoyed the movies and the fishing.

  97. Allan Atkins says:

    My Dad was stationed on Sand Island with the Coast Guard.

  98. Kevin Kelliher says:

    Hello everyone, I was on the “The Rock/JI” from 1978 to 79. Its was the best time of my life. Being away from home was the only drawback but I had enough sense, in my youth, to understand the “true” benefits of JI. From scuba driving (NAUI cert. @ JI), Shotokan Karate instruction, waterskiing, deep sea fishing, swimming/driving @ the olympic size pool, training @ the weight room, playing basketball, The Tiki lounge, movies etc. . . . what more could I or anyone ask for? Going down the main street of the Island was like going in a median size town anywhere across the US.

    Yes, it was paradise. It had even more things to do than @ Fort Hood in Texas. I PCS’d from there to JI. Oh, the food was out of this world. Prime rid night there was three HUGE pieces of meat . . . rare, medium and well done. BUT, even having all these things . . . I understood, back in the day, the greatest value of JI . . . I said to myself I wanted to work on the Rock in my retirement years!!! House boys in 1978 were making a $16/hr and tax free. What a great gig!!!

    Throughout the decades after leaving, I’ve periodically checked into web-sights about JI. Well, as the millennium came (year 2000) I heard about JI’s closing. I was truly sadden as I wanted to go back to the Rock and possibly work for Holmes and Narver. Now that I’m retired (careers in the military and education) and my kids are all grown . . . I’d love to find another JI in the world to close out my life in a “Jimmy Buffet world” similar to JI. Being from the East Coast, Key West is the closest thing to the Rock for me but it doesn’t have the benefits of overseas duty as JI.

    In closing, I’d like to give a “shout out” to Freddy and Brian from I think from Colorado (or in that neck of the woods/US, my Chi-Town scuba driving Bro (sorry I can’t remember his name), roommate Rock from Texas and all my other military comrades and island friends. Oh, I sold my white Raleigh bike to someone from the main island who was a civilian working on the Rock . . . wondering if the bike still exists!

    I’ll close for now Aloha and Mahalo.

    Kevin Kelliher (ConRi boy . . . Connecticut/Rhode Island area)

  99. Terry Retherford says:

    Worked for Raytheon and United engineers from 90 to 95 had some great times scuba diving loved the island for its beautiful weather but also couldn’t wait to get off sad part is you can never return.

  100. Susie B. says:

    I was there part-time and full time from 1994-2003. I loved the island and became an diver and took up kayaking among other activities. Made many friends who I see now and then. It was an opportunity to take part in history that few can experience. What a wonderful place to experience another way of life, diving in clear blue water.I’ll always be thankful for this time in the middle of the ocean.

  101. Dawson says:

    Was there in 88/89 as an MP – it was my first duty station and was amazing. The duty was boring but everything else was spectacular. The weather, food, gym, comradrie, movie theater, late night food deliveries from the tiki club, or just going to the tiki club and remembering to take your hat off so you didn’t have to buy a round of drinks. An unbelievable experience for a young man. Going to Panama a year later during the invasion was a bit different – ha!

  102. Henry Covington says:

    I was in the Army stationed on Johnston Island:
    1987-1988 as an SGT/SSG
    1997-1998 as an SFC and
    1999-2000 as an MSG/1SG
    As you can see I enjoyed my tours on the “ROCK”, I was there when the first round when in to JACADS and there when the last round when in. So , Many Great Memories.

  103. Scott VanEtten says:

    Was on JI in 1990-1991 (2 TDY assignments) with United Engineers&Constructors, Environmental Division. Did worker safety assignments and disposed of metal missiles after incineration and scrubber liquids. Wrote procedures. Best part was the diving and sailing. Saw rays, reef sharks, huge moray eels and small dragon morays. Went fishing on the landers and caught 80-100 tuna. Great time but couldn’t stay long. Had a wife back home.

  104. Jock Harmon says:

    I was on JI in 1947. I was 3 months old,don’t remember a thing. Dad, a staff sgt in the USMC had to remodel the quanset hut for us. By the pictures it looks like we spent a lot of time outside. All the laundry was was washed in bags in salt water then a hung out in hope of rain. Dad talked about the large numbers of gooney birds and walking around the island in the evening. Would be nice to visit even though there’s nothing there.

  105. Rodolfo Arriaga says:

    Hello, My name is Rodolfo, I was on the Island in 1974, 1975. Fourteen months after Hurricane Celeste struck the island with over 118 mph winds for over nine hours and reported storm seas of over fifty foot. With the island only seven foot above sea level, contrary to Military reports of no damage, there was over 3.2 million dollars damage to the island facilities. The Agent Orange, (AO), that stacked less than twenty feet from the waters edge on the beach, on the NW end of the main island,had arrived just six months before the Hurricane hit the island in August 1975. The result was the strewing of the barrels of AO over the entire island and into the offshore waters of the lagoon. This resulted in the contamination of the entire atoll and its potable water sources and supplies. Stationed on the island, at the time, I like most others considered it a great place. The time there left me with some great memories and good times with friends I made there. Unfortunately, I also became very ill on the island. The result of the contamination I incurred while snorkeling with a buddy offshore of the AO storage area and inadvertently and unknowingly diving off of the concrete culvert that drained the AO re-drum pit.
    Hindsight is 20/20. Now thirty-four years later, suffering from AO contamination related disease and illness. I do not remember Johnston Atoll with very much fondness. One of the things I learned was that upon leaving the island at the end of my tour, was the redacting of my medical records pertaining to the illness I suffered there and everything else regarding Johnston Atoll therein. Now i realized that what many of us considered Paradise, was unbeknown to many of us, a contaminated hell. A hell that would haunt and our and our families physical and emotional health. The sad part, the U.S. Government knew of this, that is why our medical records were redacted of all pertinent information supporting the effects.

  106. Andy says:

    Hi Rodolfo, thanks for the information about agent orange on Johnston, a side of the story that I hadn’t heard about yet. I always hear about contamination of military bases, and it does sound scary. Kaua’i had the same issues with storage and disposal of the stuff, it was a jungle warfare training zone for a while.

  107. steve says:

    went to hawaii many times, had a friend who had family there, her brother or cousin gave me a t shirt,
    (most likely he was stationed there)
    the famous tiki lounge t shirt, I would like to see that shirt remade there
    is a picture online, the shirt is blue
    the t shirt I had was black. Coolest shirt I ever owned. thanks

  108. Charles Dancey says:

    I was stationed on Johnston in 1942. Served with many good men. Wrote this poem to the love of my life back home in Illinois:
    “Oh Johnston! Fair Johnston! Where sand dunes & rock piles grow,
    Every beach leads to another beach, with water around and below.
    Generous nature kindly marks these waters as a home for sharks
    And carefully reserves this air for diarrhetic birds to share,
    Leaving us the land of Johnston Isle, a sacred speck of sovereign soil,
    Our own small beloved bit of coral bones and bird shit.
    We will give the bastard Jap a beautiful hell-to-breakfast scrap for every inch of this dear crap.”
    So many good people that must be remembered.

  109. Dave Walker says:

    Was with the 10th ADS supply squadron from 11/73 to 11/74. I also volunteered at AFRTS and had my own radio show and served on the DP team for a while. Even though when I was there it was an isolated tour I have many great memories of my time there and those I served with. Hind sight is always 20/20.

  110. Jerry says:

    Jerry USN-ETN2 I spent 1965 on JI as the electronics technician for the JTF-8 Navy Boat Group. It was paradise in the mid ’60s, before the incinerators and all the pollution and radioactivity. Is Sand Island still a bird sanctuary, or are they all dead?

  111. Jerry says:

    Dave – We all appreciated AFRTS. It was very popular with everyone. When I was there in the mid ’60s, :Paul Caravan was the DJ and Radio/TV host. Thanks for your Service!

  112. Jerry says:

    Sorry Dave I got my dates of service wrong. I looked it up in my service records and I was on Johnson Island from June 1966-June 1967. I was actually on Treasure Island in 1965. My Navy time was divided between 3 islands (Treasure Island, Johnson Island, and Swan Island) I also served on 3 ships (USS Bonne Homme Richard CVA31, USS Acme MSO508, and USS Impervious MSO449) Sorry, us old guys sometimes get our dates mixed up.

  113. Hal says:

    I have been told that recently
    ( 2019-2020) the atoll had been sold to a private/Corporate party. Can anyone disclose to me any info regarding that or point me to a source that could help me ?
    I am fact checking that and as a retired 55B I would really like to know this info as would many I know stationed there in the past. Thanks.

    [Note from the blog owner/moderator: I removed your email from this comment, you shouldn’t post it on the internet. I am interested in this news too because I haven’t heard about it either. If anyone can confirm, I will send you an email privately.]

  114. Terrence McCormick says:

    Was stationed on the ROCK from 88-89 with the MP Co. Being from the northeast, this was a huge transformation. Loved the men and women I worked with in the Red Hat area (Chem Heads too). Great duty assignment with lots of diving, fishing, and yes the food!!!

  115. Rob Honeycutt says:

    As an update to my really old post, I have been diagnosed with lymphoma, which I blame on my 10 months walking around in plutonium dust in 63-64. Yes 57 years later, BUT plutonium has a 2400 year half life. My ticking time bomb has exploded in my body.

  116. Ben Spurgeon says:

    Hal. Highly unlikely that it was sold. It’s property of the wildlife refuge and team members of C.A.S.T go out there on a rotational basis. You can find some videos on YouTube.

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