January 23

Today was fun as we finally went ashore to explore the island. We are anchored at the islet called Taroa (Ta-roh-a) on Maloelap Atoll, about 100 miles North of Majuro. Taroa was the largest Japanese airbase in the Marshall Islands before and during WWII. They also had bases on Kwajalein, Jaluit, Enewetak and some presence on Majuro, though it was not the capital back then, Jaluit was.

Being the largest airbase Taroa had several runways, fuel storage tanks, a shipping pier, and numerous defensive gun emplacements. Ashore today we saw many wrecked airplanes and airplane engines, the HQ which is a very impressive three story building, though almost at the point of collapsing now. We saw the massive fuel storage bunkers and several assorted bunkers used most likely for storage of weapons and materials. We also saw an assortment of rusted out Japanese bombs and a set of 3 long cylindrical aluminum tubes which appear to be either external fuel tanks or pontoons for float boats. They were in excellent condition (photos will of course be in the photogallery sometime in the next month or so).

The village was very lovely and well kept. A huge passel of kids followed us everywhere we went trying out their very basic English saying things like "What is your name?" and stuff like that. We also stopped in to see the school which was staffed with both Marshallese and visiting American teachers (all young volunteers).

We also visited the main runway which was very impressive in its sheer magnitude. Although the asphalt was almost completely subsumed by vegetation, you could see it in spotty patches. The length and breadth of the runway was incredible and you could see all the way across the island when standing on the opposite end of the runway. Between the airfield and the lagoon we walked through a forested area which was dotted with bomb craters, most of which were partially filled in with plant detritus, coconut husks and growing palm trees. And yet you could still tell these were not natural craters.

US forces bombed Taroa during the war but never invaded. They simply destroyed the airfield and infrastructure and left what remaining Japanese there were to sit out the war struggling to survive. Since they no longer could rely on regular supply ships to bring food they had to subsist on local fruits, vegetables and fish which was apparently difficult for them as they had no habit of living this way before they were bombed and the resources of the island were apparently not sufficient to support such a large contingent of outsiders. This same story is repeated in much of the Pacific islands where Japanese bases were destroyed and the Japanese left to fend for themselves.

We dived yesterday on the wreck just off the beach here. It is a cargo ship of approximately 200ft. It was fun though not incredible or outstanding in any way. Tomorrow or the next day we will move North and West along the edge of the lagoon to an island called Ollet (pronounced "wallet") about 4.5 miles away. This islet is reported to have 2 shipwrecks just off the beach, one of which is a Japanese gunship, though we have no more information then that. After a few days there we will probably head to the SE corner of the lagoon to an islet called Airik which is supposed to be a wonderfully protected anchorage with great snorkeling and fishing.