THE KWAJALEIN HOURGLASS
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1989
IN THE LAGOON -- TREASURES
Scuba diving right off the beach
at Kwajalein can still yield an occasional surprise.
discovered this fact on a dive in the ski-boat area. About
100 yards offshore, at a depth of 60 feet, she turned over a
rock to see in there were any shell underneath. No shells
were there, so she flipped the rock back to its original
position and moved on.
Wait a minute. "Something
registered that didn't look right," she recalled later.
She went back, turned over the rock again and looked carefully.
Amid the coral rubble on the bottom was a ring, encrusted with
coral and corrosion. Back on shore, Johnson examined her
find -- a man's gold class ring from the LaSalle Institute in
Troy, NY, class of 1941. The initials "J.G." were
inscribed within the band. It was in good condition, but
the stone was missing. J.G. was probably a serviceman here
during the war. How did he lose it? Might he have
lost more than just the ring? Did she really want to know?
"I decided I wanted to know,"
Johnson said. "The ring should really be returned to its
owner -- or if necessary, his family or heirs."
Johnson showed the ring to Larry
Fureigh, who was soon heading stateside on vacation. She
asked him if, while he was there, he could try to find an
address for LaSalle Institute so she could write and try to get
the ring back to J.G.
But Fureigh doesn't do things
halfway, nor does he delay. He got on the phone from Kwaj
right away. After a few calls, he was in contact with
Brother James at LaSalle Institute, a high school in Troy.
James looked through the class yearbooks for 1941 and found that
there was only one J.G. that year -- John Gavin. What's
more, the school had a current address for him. By
coincidence, Gavin lived in Schenectady, only a few miles from
(L) Chuck Cannato and John
Gavin (R) who served together on Kwaj during the war keep in
Can you imagine his surprise when
he gets a call asking him if he lost a class ring at Kwajalein?
Gavin was delighted that his ring had been found after so many years.
Talking with Johnson on the phone, he said he was stationed on Kwaj in
1944, somewhat after the invasion.
outfit on Kwaj," Gavin wrote later, "was VMB-613, a small close-knit
group of 15 planes -- PBJs or B-25s in Army language.
I was a tail gunner."
Just like people do now, members
of his outfit spent time in the water during their off-hours. In
fact, that's how the ring was lost.
"A guy names St. Germain and I
went out in the lagoon in a small two-man rubber life raft. Since
I had lost some weight, the ring was lose, so I asked him to hold it.
He lost his balance and the ring went overboard. It's been a long
time, but I would guess it was about 50 yards from the shore and over my
head -- maybe six to eight feet of water. A few guys helped me
look for it, of course, to no avail."
the ring, Johnson and Fureigh sent a number of items to Gavin, such as a
Kwaj calendar and some copies of the Hourglass, to show what Kwaj is
still in touch with a number of men from his outfit. "One guy from
Illinois has been rounding up as many of the outfit as possible for
reunions. Out of 500 enlisted men, we had 80 in Norfolk, VA last
We are meeting again in
1990 in Long Beach. All of us were on Kwaj, so you can
imagine how popular the literature you sent me is going to be --
especially the calendar."
turn, Gavin sent a few mementos to Johnson, including a dollar
bill from his wartime pay. The bill was stamped with
"HAWAII" so that if the Japanese captured a large amount of
currency in the Pacific area, it could be recognized and voided.
This particular bill bears the autograph of
Boris Karloff, who visited the men at Kwaj with a USO
Show and spent some time talking with them in their Rec Hall.
"For all his horror movies," Gavin said of Karloff, "I can best
describe him as a very warm, soft spoken, perfect gentleman."
Forty-five years is a long
time for an item as small as a ring to be lost at sea and still
be recovered. Even more unlikely is that this ring was
recovered after all the changes that have taken place along the
lagoon shore on Kwaj.
In 1944, the Lagoon Road was
really near the lagoon. Although trailers are located
there now, at that time, the area was water. Where Gavin
lost his ring is now buried beneath tons of sand dredged from
"Considering all the
dredging, filling, and storm strong enough to cause the ski-area
shipwreck to move from laying on its side to an upright
position, it's amazing the ring was ever found," Johnson
declared. "I'm just glad it finally made it back to its
And what does Gavin intend to do
with his long lost possession? "I have already done what
most guys do," he said. "I gave it to my high school
girlfriend -- who happens to be my wife of 38 years."