Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time Magazine and Wideawake Field: January 1944

General George Marshall, Time's 
Man of the Year, January 3, 1944

Boobies on the Runway
Time Magazine
January 3, 1944

"If we don't hit Ascension
My wife gets a pension."

"So, sing U.S. flyers of the South Atlantic.

"This week the Army officially revealed why. Tiny (34 square miles) Ascension Island, 1,400 miles from the bulge of Brazil, is one of the vital links in the Air Transport Command's world-girldling chain of airfields. Ascension is the dot in the ocean that made it possible to fly Lightning (P-38) single-seated fighters across the South Atlantic to combat fields in North Africa and England.

Army Engineers were sent to Ascension with greatest secrecy in March 1942. In three months they converted the pile of volcanic rock into a base.  Since then Wideawake Field has handled 5,000 planes.  

The difficulties of maintaining the place have been its remoteness, its lack of any natural advantages, its birds. Hundreds of thousands of "wideawakes" (terns) stubbornly nested on the handy, open runways. No matter how often they were shooed off, back they came.

The Army appealed to ornithologists, who scratched their heads. Cats were imported, but large-winged boobies routed the cats. [Note: history now tells us, this story may not be true. But it did make good copy.] Dr. James Chapin, associate curator of the American Museum of Natural History, made a special trip. His uncomplicated solution was to destroy their eggs until the birds gave up, nested elsewhere.  Last week ATC personnel ate eggs, walked on eggs, had the situation at Wideawake 'fairly well' in hand."

Robin note: This is another piece I found in the scrapbook my grandmother, Mary E. Wilson Chapman, kept of my father's wartime adventures. I bless her for doing this and my family for saving it all these years. One of the things I like best about this piece:  Time Magazine's breezy writing style, with quirky sentences and wonderful wordsmithian inventions like "world-girdling," a hyphenate I find almost impossible to say!  (Good thing I never found it as a surprise on the teleprompter.)

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