Bill Prettyman on Kwajalein atoll

1943 ?- Bill Prettyman in KwajaleinMy grandfather was a navigator for the U.S. Navy during World War II. From photos he sent back (probably to his future wife, Harriet Askew), it appears he spent some time in Micronesia, on the South Pacific island of Kwajalein. He never mentioned his time there to me, and I haven’t yet been able to find any other record of his being on Kwajalein besides these two photos.

I hope one day I can find letters, a diary, or other photos from his time on Kwajalein. Please let me know if you have or know anything concerning his time in the South Pacific.

The first photo shows Bill in boots and swim trunks standing on a beach. On the back of the photo, Bill wrote, “This is of me, of course taken on Kwajalein, the head is behind me, note the cee-gar”.

1943 ?- Bill Prettyman in Kwajalein

The second photo shows Bill in loafers and swim trunks posing with another man in shorts and shoes in front of an elevated tent-like structure. On the back of the photo, Bill wrote “T. Quinn + myself at Kwajalein”.

1943 ?- _____

In the early 1940s, Japan occupied the islands of the Kwajalein atoll, including its largest island, Kwajalein Island.

Battle_of_Kwajalein_map

The U.S. launched an amphibious assault on Kwajalein on January 31, 1944, and captured the island on February 5, 1944. The rest of the atoll was captured by February 8th. Shortly thereafter, Kwajalein became a staging area for further campaigns against Japan. The photo below shows Kwajalein Island immediately after its capture:

KwajaleinAirfield

Within just a few weeks, the U.S. had established its military base on Kwajalein. The base, seen from the air in 1944, is shown in the following photos:

Kwajalein Base 1944 AAF-IV-p686c

Kwajalein-of-the-Marshall-Islands-becoming-an-American-advance-supply-base

Yanks capture Kwajalein 77.09.1231

My grandfather did tell me that he helped establish the LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) system during his time in the Navy, and I was able to find some information about the Kwajalein LORAN station on a LORAN history website. According to that site, the Kwajalein station was built between July and September, 1944, had its on-air testing on September 28, 1944, and was operational as of November 25, 1944. I’ve found one first-hand account of the construction of the LORAN station, by Osmond R. Cummings of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

A fuller account of military activities on and around Kwajalein Island can be found in the U.S.  Navy’s report on their advance bases in the Pacific Theater (“Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Volume II, Part II: The Advance Bases”):

To support air offensives against, and maintain surveillance over, the by-passed Japanese bases in the Marshalls and the Carolines, an advance air base, with minor fleet facilities, was established on Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. Complete facilities were to be provided for the operation of landplanes and seaplanes.

Kwajalein Atoll is 66 miles long and has a maximum width of 18 miles. More than 80 islands and islets lie along the partially submerged reef, which surrounds a lagoon of about 655 square miles.

Land areas large enough to be developed are found at only three points on the atoll, Kwajalein Island and neighboring islands at the southeastern end, Roi Islands and nearby islands at the northern end, and Ebadon Island at the western end. The southern islands are covered with a dense growth of coconut trees and smaller vegetation; the islands to the north are wooded.

The Kwajalein area includes Kwajalein Island and the islands on the reef for 12 miles to the north and 10 miles to the northwest. Ebeye Island lies 2½ miles north of Kwajalein, and is separated from the latter by an unbroken reef. It is 1770 yards long and 230 yards wide throughout most of its length. Kwajalein Island, crescent-shaped and open to the lagoon on the northwest, is about 3 miles long and varies in width from 1,000 to 2,500 feet.

In the Roi area, considerable land exists only on Roi and Namur islands. Roi is 1250 yards long 1170 yards wide. Namur, to the east of Roi and connected with it by a narrow strip of land, is 890 yards long and 800 yards wide.

Kwajalein Atoll was highly developed as a military base by the Japanese. A major air base existed on Roi Island, and on Namur, connected by a causeway to Roi, were barracks, warehouses, a radio station, and a 450-foot L-shaped pier extending into the lagoon. Kwajalein Island contained many buildings, some of which were used as warehouses for a supply center. A 2,000 foot pier extended from the lagoon side of the island. An airstrip, 400 by 5,000 feet, had also been completed. Ebeye Island was the site of a seaplane base with hangars, two ramps, and an L-shaped pier.

On January 30 and 31, Kwajalein Atoll was subjected to heavy surface bombardment and air attack prior to landings by the Fourth Marine Division on Roi and Namur Islands and by the Seventh Army Division on Kwajalein, on February 1. The 121st Construction Battalion accompanied the first waves of Marines landing on Roi and Namur, as shore parties for combat teams. By February 2, Roi and Namur had been secured despite strong Japanese counterattack on Namur. Kwajalein Island was under Army control by February 5, and the entire atoll was secured by February 8.

2 thoughts on “Bill Prettyman on Kwajalein atoll

  1. Have you found any additional information regarding your grandfather’s time in Kwajalein? My grandfather was a radioman in the Navy and was also stationed there for a bit. I know he was there during the Atom Bomb test on Bikini Island and I have some pics of him there dated July 1946, but I’ll have to check with my dad to see when he arrived and left. Were you able to find any other dates for your grandfather? I could scan and email you some photos – there is always a chance that he might be in the background.
    Send me an email if you are interested.

    • Hi Kristin,

      Thanks for writing! I haven’t yet found any additional information about my grandfather’s time on Kwajalein, but I’m hopeful that perhaps I’ll one day find other photos or letters he mailed home to other family members or friends.
      I don’t yet know how long he was on Kwajalein, but he was on leave stateside in June, 1945, to get married, and he was discharged in November 1945, so unless your grandfather was in Kwajalein before Summer, 1945, he and my grandfather probably didn’t overlap. That said, if you find any photos you suspect might be 1945 or earlier, I’d love to see them. I’ll send you a separate email so you’ll have my address if you ever do come across possible earlier photos.

      Have a great Holiday,

      Michael

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