THE KWAJALEIN HOURGLASS

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1989

IN THE LAGOON -- TREASURES AWAIT DIVERS

Scuba diving right off the beach at Kwajalein can still yield an occasional surprise.  Jeanette Johnson 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.

Brother 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 Troy.

Chuck Cannato & John Gavin Image

(L) Chuck Cannato and John Gavin (R) who served together on Kwaj during the war keep in touch.

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. "Our 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."

Along with 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 like nowadays.

Gavin 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 year.

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." In 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 the lagoon.

"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 rightful owner." 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."

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