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.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Special Delivery Sand

From Long Beach, Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean.

Today, I got a surprise package from a woman I know--but whom I've never met. She and I have emailed one another quite a bit since my father died.

She was stationed on Ascension Island serving with the USAF when Dad died--and with me here and she on Ascension, she helped me arrange to donate my father's World War II Ascension Island papers to the Island Heritage Society.

She's back living in the States now and emailed to say she had something to send me.  The box just arrived and when I opened it, I discovered it was a bottle of sand from Ascension Island's Long Beach. That's where my father and the other American soldiers camped on this volcanic British Island during the early days of the war. Seventy years ago.

This is a lovely thing, silly as it may seem to you, for her to have done for me. I'm delighted to have the sand. Shari Parkhill--that's my pen pal's name--loves Ascension Island too.

The sand is really beautiful and gritty, with a bit of sparkle in it from some kind of crunched sea shells or minerals. You can imagine the way this stuff got into the GIs' shoes, their hair, their clothes and their equipment. They wore out everything trying to work in it.

Sand in my father's shoes.

But the strangest thing is the way this inhospitable island got under my father's skin and into his heart. Islands do that with certain people and my father was apparently one of those. After he was long gone from Ascension he could not stop talking about this strange place where, in 90 days, working around the clock with much hardship, he and the other men of the 38th Engineers built Wideawake Field. It is still in use by the USAF today.

William Ashley Chapman on Ascension Island's Long Beach, for the 40th anniversary of Wideawake Field's construction, 1982.

There was sand in this bottle and a message. The message was: Robin,  now you have to go to Ascension Island too.

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