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Kwajalein Atoll

Landsat 7 Satellite Image of Kwajalein Atoll

Kwajalein Atoll (; Marshallese: Kuwajleen )[1] is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is named Kwajalein Island, which its majority English-speaking residents (about 1000 mostly U.S. civilian personnel) often called by the shortened name, Kwaj . 13,500 Marshall Islanders live on the rest of the atoll, mostly on Ebeye Island. The total land area of the atoll amounts to just over 6 square miles (16 km2).

The atoll lies in the Ralik Chain, 2,100 nautical miles (3900 km) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, at . The USS Pennsylvania sunk off Kwajalein Atoll after atomic bomb testing on 10 February 1948


  • Geography 1
    • Kwajalein Island 1.1
    • Passes near Kwajalein Island 1.2
    • Other islands in the Kwajalein atoll 1.3
    • Wrecks in the lagoon 1.4
  • History 2
    • First sighting by Europeans 2.1
    • Colonial 2.2
    • League of Nations mandate 2.3
    • Early Japanese influence 2.4
    • Japanese militarism 2.5
    • Forced resettlement 2.6
    • During and after World War II 2.7
      • American amphibious assault 2.7.1
    • Evolution into a U.S. military installation 2.8
    • 21st century 2.9
  • Current use by U.S. military 3
    • Testing sites 3.1
  • Wartime memorials 4
  • Kwajalein Island 5
    • Recreation 5.1
    • Economy 5.2
  • Land lease disputes 6
  • Infrastructure 7
  • See also 8
  • Footnotes 9
  • External links 10
    • About the Marshall Islands and current events 10.1
    • Transportation 10.2
    • History 10.3
    • Work on Kwajalein 10.4
    • Kwajalein community 10.5


Kwajalein is one of the world's largest coral atolls as measured by area of enclosed water. Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 16.4 km² (6.33 mi²) and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 2174 km² (839 mi²).[2][3] The average height above sea level for all the islands is about 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in).

Kwajalein Island

Kwajalein Island is the southernmost and largest of the islands in the atoll. The area is about 1.2 square miles (3.1 km2).[4] It is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long and averages about 800 yards (730 m) wide.[5]

Kwajalein Island's population is about 1,000, mostly Americans with a small number of Marshall Islanders and other nationalities, all of whom require express permission from the U.S. Army to live there. Some 13,500 Marshallese citizens live on the atoll, most of them on Ebeye Island.[6]

The water temperature averages 81 °F (27 °C) degrees and underwater visibility is typically 100 feet (30 m) on the ocean side of the atoll.

Passes near Kwajalein Island

  • SAR Pass (Search And Rescue Pass) is closest to Kwajalein on the West reef. This pass is manmade and was created in the mid-1950s. It is very narrow and shallow compared to the natural passes in the lagoon and is only used by small boats.
  • South Pass is on the West reef, north of SAR Pass. It is very wide.
  • Gea Pass is a deep water pass between Gea and Ninni islands.
  • Bigej Pass is the first pass on the East reef north of Kwajalein and Ebeye.

Other islands in the Kwajalein atoll

Kwajalein Atoll map from World War II. This displays the wartime code names for the islands. About four of the names on the map are still actively used in English.

Other islands in the atoll:[7]

Bigej is covered with tropical palm trees and jungle. People from Kwajalein island in the south of the atoll have visited it for picnics and camping. It is a site of cultural significance to the indigenous people of Kwajalein atoll, as are most of the small islands throughout the atoll. Some Kwajalein atoll landowners have proposed developing Bigej to look similar to the landscaped beauty of Kwajalein islet, for the exclusive use of Kwajalein atoll landowners and their families.

Little Bustard (Orpāp, [1]) and Big Bustard (Epjā-dik, ,[1] 'little Ebeye') are the first and second islets respectively north of Kwajalein island on the East reef, and are the only islets between Kwajalein and Ebeye. During low tide and with protective boots, it is possible to wade across the reef between Kwajalein and Little Bustard.

Ebeye is not part of the Reagan Test Site; it is a Marshallese island-city with shops, restaurants and an active commercial port. It has the largest population in the atoll, with approximately 13,000 residents living on 80 acres (320,000 m²) of land. Inhabitants are mostly Marshall Islanders but include a small population of migrants and volunteers from other island groups and nations. Ebeye is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Many of its residents live in poverty.[8] A coral reef (visible and able to be traveled at low tide) links them to Kwajalein and the rest of the outside world.[9] It is the administrative center of the Republic of the Marshall Islands at Kwajalein Atoll and the Kwajalein Atoll Local Government (KALGOV). It is completely separate from the United States military operations in the atoll.

Ebadon (Epatōn, [1]) is located at the westernmost tip of the atoll. It was the second-largest island in the atoll before the formation of Roi-Namur. Like Ebeye, it falls fully under the jurisdiction of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and is not part of the Reagan Test Site. The village of Ebadon was much more largely populated before the war and it was where some of the irooj (chiefs) of Kwajalein Atoll grew up. Like many other key islets in the atoll, it has much cultural and spiritual significance in Marshallese cosmology.

Enmat (Enm̧aat, [1]) is mo̧ or taboo, birthplace of the irooj (chiefly families) and off-limits to anyone without the blessing of the Iroijlaplap (paramount chief). The remains of a small Marshallese village and burial sites are still intact. This island is in the Mid-Atoll Corridor, and no one can reside there or on surrounding islands due to missile tests.

Ennylabegan (Āneeļļap-kaņ, [1]), or "Carlos" Islet, is the site of a small Marshall Islander community that has decreased in size in recent decades; it was once a bigger village. Until 2012, it was actively used by the Reagan Test Site for tracking activities during missions and has been one of the only non-restricted Marshallese-populated islands used by the United States Army. As such, power and clean drinking water were provided free-of-charge like on the other military-leased islands. This is likely to be phased out if the island ceases to be used for mission support.

Enubuj (Āne-buoj, [1]), or "Carlson" Islet which was its 1944 World War II U.S. operation codename, is situated next to Kwajalein Islet to the northwest. It was from this island that U.S. forces launched their amphibious invasion of Kwajalein island. Today, it is the site of a small Marshallese village with a church and small cemetery. The sunken vessel Prinz Eugen, used during the Bikini Atoll atomic weapons tests, is along the islet's northern lagoon side.

Gugeegue or Gugegwe ( ; Marshallese: Kōn̄e-jekāān-eņ, [1]) is an islet north of Ebeye and is the northernmost point of the concrete causeway connecting the islets between them. Gugeegue is just south of the Bigej Pass which separates it from Bigej islet.

Illeginni was used as a remote launch site for Sprint and Spartan missiles during the 1970s, with Meck (see below) as the primary control center. Coral soil dredged from the northeastern tip of the island was piled up to build a berm supporting the missile launchers. Several remote controlled tracking cameras and other devices were also built on the island, and serviced by boats or helicopters landing on a pad on the western end of the island. Today a single tracking camera remains in use, along with telemetry equipment to support it.[10]

Legan (Am̧bo, [1]) is uninhabited but it has a few buildings on the southern part. Most of the island is thick jungle like most in the Marshall Islands. Unlike most islands, Legan has a very small lake in the middle.

Meck is a launch site for anti-ballistic missiles and is probably the most restricted island of all the U.S.-leased sites. It was originally built up as part of the Nike-X program, as the main island was already filled with equipment from the earlier Nike Zeus program, some of which remained in use during Nike-X testing. A large berm was built on the northern end of the island to support the missile silos, while a Missile Site Radar was build to its south, on the western side. A small airstrip running north-south at the southeastern end of the island provided STOL service to the base, although the strong prevailing winds from the west made for very tricky landings. Air service was later deemed too dangerous, and replaced by helicopter pads at either end of the runway. After the Army's main ABM programs shut down in the 1970s, Meck has served as the primary launch site for a variety of follow-on programs, including the Homing Overlay Experiment and THAAD, among many others.

Ballistic missile testing occurs at Kwajalein.

Nell has a unique convergence of protected channels and small islands. The Nell area is unique and a popular destination for locals and Americans sailing through the area with proper permissions from the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (All non-leased islands are strictly off-limits to American base residents and personnel without applying for official permission.)

Omelek is uninhabited and leased by the U.S. military. From 2006 to 2009, it was used by SpaceX to launch 5 Falcon 1 rockets.

Roi-Namur has several radar installations and a small residential community of unaccompanied U.S. personnel who deal with missions support and radar tracking. Japanese bunkers and buildings from World War II are in good condition and preserved. Roi and Namur were originally separate islets that were joined by a causeway built predominately by Korean conscripted laborers working under the Japanese military. There is a significant indigenous Marshall Islander workforce that commutes to Roi-Namur from the nearby island of Enniburr, much like workers commute from Ebeye to Kwajalein. These workers are badged and have limited access to the island like their counterparts on Kwajalein, although access is granted for islanders who need to use the air terminal to fly to Kwajalein. Roi-Namur used to be four islands: Roi, Namur, Enedrikdrik (Ane-dikdik), and Kottepina. The pass between the islands was filled with sand that was dredged from the lagoon by both Korean laborers working for the Japanese and Americans between 1940 and 1945. After the war the resulting conjoined islands were renamed Roi-Namur.[11]

Wrecks in the lagoon

Because of the World War II Battle of Kwajalein, the lagoon contains the wrecks of a number of ships and also several aircraft. Some of the wrecks have been identified:

  • Concrete barge - deliberately sunk as a breakwater near Ennylabegan (Carlos)[12]
  • Prinz Eugen - sunk by accident near Enubuj (Carlson) after a post-war atomic bomb test[12]
  • Akibasan Maru - Japanese 4,607 ton freighter below "P-buoy" with the actual buoy marker no longer there. Sunk January 30, 1944.[12]
  • Ikuta Maru - 2,968 ton Japanese freighter at "P-North" just north of the now missing P-buoy.[12] This is listed as being one of the transports for Allied prisoners of war during World War II.
  • Unidentified wreck at G-buoy, 115 feet (35 m) in length.[12]
  • Tateyama Maru, K-5 side.[13]
  • Asakaze Maru, K-5 upright.[13]
  • Tyoko Maru (or Choko Maru), a 3,535 ton freighter, at "barracuda junction". Sunk December 5, 1943.[12]
  • Barge, between South Carlson and Sar Pass.[12]
  • Wooden auxiliary sub chaser wreck near South Pass. The wooden hull has almost completely deteriorated.[12]
  • Shonan Maru #6, grounded at Gebh Island to avoid sinking but blown up.[12]
  • Shell (or Ebwaj) Island wreck. 110 feet (34 m) trawler or whaler.[12]
  • South Shell wreck, similar to the Shell Island wreck.[12]
  • Daisan Maru, a former whaler, near Bigej Pass.[12]
  • Palawan, an engine freighter captured by the Japanese during the Philippines. Sunk by the US Destroyer Harrison January 31, 1944 near Bigej.[12]
  • Shoei Maru, a sunken freighter resting upside down at the O-buoy.[14]
  • A Japanese aircraft just west of Ebeye.[15]
  • A PBM about 1 nautical miles west of Ebeye.[15]
  • Four B-25s, a TBF Avenger, an F4U, 4 Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, and a C-46 in the western reef inside Roi-Namur.[15]


First sighting by Europeans

The first recorded sighting of Kwajalein by Europeans was during the Spanish expedition of Ruy López de Villalobos in January 1543. The atoll was charted as Los Jardines (The Parks) because of its fresh appearance and trees.[16][17][18][19] Los Jardines remained well located in most 16th and 17th century charts in the 8-10°N, as reported by the Villalobos expedition chroniclers. However, at some point in the late 18th century, due to some transcription error from the old Spanish maps, they start to appear in the nautical charts shifted northwards to 21°N, thus creating phantom islands that even if largely sought and never found remained in the charts of the Pacific till 1973.[20]


Kwajalein (Kuwajleen) Atoll was an important cultural site to the Marshallese people of the Ralik chain. In Marshallese cosmology, Kwajalein island was the site of an abundant flowering zebra wood tree.[21] This was thought to have spiritual powers. Marshallese from other islands came to gather the "fruits" of this tree.

This, explain many elders, is a Marshallese metaphor that describes the past century of colonialism and serves to explain why Kwajalein is still so precious to foreign interests. This story was the origin of the name Kuwajleen, which apparently derives from Ri-ruk-jan-leen, "the people who harvest the flowers".[22]

League of Nations mandate

The earliest-known Japanese record of Kwajalein and the Marshall Islands appears in the writings of Suzuki Keikun, who was dispatched to the Marshall Islands in 1885 to investigate a Japanese shipwreck. Following the Spanish–American War in 1898, Imperial Germany purchased the Marshall Islands from Spain, and they experienced 16 years of peaceful German administration. At the outbreak of World War I in Europe, however, Japan joined the Triple Entente and seized the Marshall Islands against only token resistance. In 1922 the island were placed under Japanese administration by a League of Nations Mandate. The islands of the Kwajalein atoll, especially the main island, served as a rural copra-trading outpost administered by Japanese civilians until the beginning of World War II in the Pacific in December 1941. It was then occupied by the Japanese military.[23]

Early Japanese influence

There was some Japanese settlement in Kwajalein Atoll (known in Japanese as クェゼリン環礁, Kwezerin-kanshō), comprising mostly traders and their families who worked at local branches of shops headquartered at nearby Jaluit Atoll where Japanese civilians numbered in the several hundreds to nearly 1,000 at the height of the Japanese administration. There were also local administrative staff at Kwajalein. With the establishment of Kwajalein's public school in 1935, schoolteachers were sent to the island from Japan. Most Marshall Islanders who recall those times describe a peaceful time of cooperation and development between Japanese and Marshallese, although Marshallese (and other Islanders or Okinawans) were not considered on the same social tier as Japanese.[24][25]

Japanese militarism

In the late 1930s, Japan began to centralize military power in Micronesia in line with its expansionism into the south and throughout Oceania. This was a radical break with the League of Nations Mandate under which the islands had been peacefully administered.

Korean forced laborers (see Korea under Japanese rule) were sent throughout the Pacific beginning in the early 1940s, under strict orders from local Japanese-controlled city offices throughout Korea. Over 10,000 were sent to the Micronesia (Nanyo Gunto) area alone—mostly from the southernmost provinces of Korea—and thousands were sent to the Marshall Islands. In some atolls, such as Wotje, those forced laborers were joined by Japanese prisoners from Hokkaido (mostly political prisoners who had spoken against the Japanese government). In Kwajalein, Koreans were placed in battalions and other specialized groups, sometimes with Marshallese, to build fortifications throughout the atoll. Whenever there were American air raids, the mainly Korean construction teams had to work night and day to fill the holes that American bombs had made.

Archaeological evidence and testimonies from Japanese and Marshallese sources indicate that this project would likely not have begun until the 1940s and was not even complete at the time of the American invasion in 1944. A second wave of Japanese naval and ground forces was dispatched to Kwajalein in early 1943 from the Manchurian front, most of whom were between the ages of 18 and 21 and had no experience in the tropics. These young soldiers were poorly trained, were mostly in the army, and the supply ships that were meant to provide them with food rations were sunk by Americans en route. Thus they had a very rough existence on Kwajalein and often succumbed to illness like dengue fever and dysentery—as did many of the laborers. As the tempo of military ideology increased, soldiers at Kwajalein became harsher and more violent toward Marshall Islanders, whom they often suspected of spying for the Americans.[26]

After the war, a US Naval War Crimes court tried several Japanese naval officers here for war crimes committed elsewhere. At least one was condemned to death.[27]

Forced resettlement

When the first runway was built on Kwajalein island by Korean laborers, the Japanese public school was demolished and moved, with all civil administration, to Namu Atoll, and Islanders were forcibly moved to live on some of the smaller islets in the atoll. The trauma of this experience—together with the influx of these young, underprepared troops—surprised the local population, and many Islanders make clear distinctions in their recollections of civilian and military Japanese for this reason. This is the first known instance of forced relocation in Kwajalein Atoll, and similar events happened throughout the Marshall Islands beginning with Japanese militarism.[28]

During and after World War II

On February 1, 1942, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) launched a series of raids on the Roi Namur airfield and merchant shipping in Carlos Pass, where they sank several ships.[29]

American amphibious assault

U.S. Infantry inspect a hole after capturing the Kwajalein Atoll from Japan during World War II

On January 31, 1944, the 7th Infantry Division, spearheaded by the 111th Infantry Regiment performed an amphibious assault on Kwajalein. On February 1, 1944, Kwajalein was the target of the most concentrated bombardment of the Pacific War. Thirty-six thousand shells from naval ships and ground artillery on a nearby islet struck Kwajalein.[30] American B-24 Liberator bombers aerially bombarded the island, adding to the destruction.

Of the 8,782 Japanese personnel[31] deployed to the atoll (including Korean forced laborers), 7,870 "Japanese" were killed.[32] U.S. military documents do not discriminate the Japanese from Korean dead; however, the Korean government's Truth Commission for Forced Labor Under Japanese Imperialism reports an official figure from the Japanese government of 310 Koreans killed in the American invasion of Kwajalein. Whether this figure represents Kwajalein islet or the whole atoll is unclear. Since no distinction was made between dead Japanese soldiers and Korean forced laborers in mass graves on Kwajalein, both are enshrined as war hero guardian spirits for the Japanese nation in Yasukuni Shrine. This enshrinement is solely due to the commingling of Korean and Japanese corpses in this one case and has not occurred with the remains of other Korean forced laborers elsewhere.[33]

Additionally, while many of the native Marshallese successfully fled the island in their canoes just before the battle,[34] an estimated 200 were killed on the atoll during the fighting. Kwajalein was one of the few locations in the Pacific war where indigenous islanders were recorded to have been killed while fighting for the Japanese. Many Marshallese dead were found among those killed in bunkers: The flat island offered no other protection against the heavy bombardment. Taking refuge in bunkers resulted in many Marshallese deaths when their shelters were destroyed by hand grenades.[35] Some Marshallese were reportedly induced to fight by Japanese propaganda which stated (in a similar manner to the later Battle of Okinawa) that the Americans would indiscriminately rape and massacre the civilian population if they successfully took the atoll.[36]

On February 6, 1944, Kwajalein was claimed by the United States and was designated, with the rest of the Marshall Islands, as a United Nations Trust Territory under the United States.[37]

Evolution into a U.S. military installation

In the years following, Kwajalein Atoll was converted into a staging area for campaigns in the advance on the Japanese homeland in the Pacific War. After the war ended, the United States used it as a main command center and preparation base in 1946 for Operation Crossroads, the first of several series of nuclear tests (comprising a total of 67 blasts) at the Marshall island atolls of Bikini and Enewetak. Significant portions of the native population were forced to relocate as a result of American weapons testing and military activity in the islands between 1945 and 1965.[28] The German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was towed to Kwajalein from Bikini Atoll after the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests. It developed a leak, was towed out, and sank in the lagoon.

By the 1950s, the Marshallese population working at the base at Kwajalein had grown. The conditions in the makeshift labor camp on Kwajalein islet were such that the U.S. Navy administering the atoll decided to relocate these Islanders to nearby Ebeye, an islet only three islands to the north of Kwajalein and accessible by a short boat ride or walk over the reef at low tide. Nuclear refugees from the atolls irradiated by the American tests were also moved to Ebeye. In 1964, when the United States initiated its Anti-ballistic missile testing program with the Nike-Zeus program in Kwajalein Atoll, authorities moved the remaining Marshall Islanders who lived scattered throughout the atoll to the small shantytown of Ebeye which had been erected with plywood housing by American contractors. This relocation from the Mid-Atoll Corridor would eventually precipitate into the numerous landowner resistance movements by the people of Kwajalein Atoll, who deeply resented the continuing American occupation without their consent and without proper compensation.

With the end of the Cold War and a decreased threat of nuclear attack, many defense programs were canceled in the early 1990s. However, overcrowding on Ebeye remains a major problem. Continuing military operations and launch or re-entry tests perpetuate the dislocation of Marshall Islanders from their small islands throughout Kwajalein Atoll. The United States Army Kwajalein Atoll test site does not provide logistical support to Ebeye or Ennibur islets.

21st century

In 2008, a new coalition government was formed in part from the Aelon Kein Ad Party[38] which represents Kwajalein landowners and is led by Paramount Chief Imata Kabua. This government is negotiating a new Kwajalein Atoll Land Use Agreement with the United States.

With the election of

  • Kwajalein's newspaper, The Hourglass
  • Kwajalein Amateur Radio Club V73AX
  • Kwajalein Scuba Club
  • Kwajalein Yacht Club
  • Kwajalein housing
  • Kwajalein Junior/Senior High School & George Seitz Elementary School

Kwajalein community

  • U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command, Reagan Test Site
  • work performed at Reagan Test Site
  • Bechtel summary of Kwajalein
  • Kwajalein Range Services overview and job opportunities

Work on Kwajalein

  • World War II and Kwajalein
  • World War II Kwajalein photos
  • World War II Kwajalein photos


  • KWA - Kwajalein's airport, Bucholz Army Airfield
  • Air Marshall Islands
  • Continental Air Micronesia


  • Yokwe Online, the largest Marshallese web presence online
  • Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

About the Marshall Islands and current events

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marshallese-English Dictionary - Place Name Index
  2. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 7: Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942-April 1944. University of Illinois Press, 2001, p.230.
  3. ^ Digital MicronesiaCSU,
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia: Kwajalein
  6. ^ Kwajalein and the Kwajalein AtollMcGrath Images, . Retrieved 2010–01–14.
  7. ^ Based partly on testimony of islanders and on Carucci, Laurence M. "In Anxious Anticipation of Kuwajleen's Uneven Fruits: A Cultural History of the Significant Locations and Important Resources of Kuwajleen Atoll," Huntsville, Alabama: United States Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, 1997.
  8. ^ "Unnatural causes: Is inequality making us sick?" (PDF). California Newsreels. 2010-03-05. 
  9. ^ Alexander, William John. Wage Labor, Urbanization and Culture Change in the Marshall Islands: The Ebeye Case, New School for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1978.
  10. ^ "Range Instrumentation". Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. 
  11. ^ Carucci, Laurence M. In Anxious Anticipation of Kuwajleen's Uneven Fruits: A Cultural History of the Significant Locations and Important Resources of Kuwajleen Atoll. Huntsville, Ala.: United States Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, 1997.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m World War II Shipwrecks of Kwajalein Lagoon, Volume I
  13. ^ a b GPS Table
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ a b c Kwajalein Scuba Club
  16. ^ Sharp, Andrew (1960). The discovery if the Pacific Islands. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 27, 28. 
  17. ^ Coello, Francisco (1885). La Cuestión de las Carolinas. Discursos pronunciados en la Sociedad Geográfica de Madrid por su presidente Don Francisco Coello con un mapa, notas y apuntes bibliográficos sobre los antiguos descubrimientos de los españoles en los archipielagos de la Micronesia y sus cercanias. Madrid: Imprenta Fontanet. pp. 83–86. 
  18. ^ Martinez Shaw, Carlos (1999). Relación del viaje que hizo desde Nueva España a las Islas de Poniente, despues Filipinas, Ruy López de Villalobos, de orden del Virrey de Nueva España, Don Antonio de Mendoza / García de Escalante Alvarado. Santander: Universidad de Cantabria. p. 42.  
  19. ^ Brand, Donald D. (1967). Friis, Herman R., ed. The Pacific Basin. A History of its Geographical Exploration. New York: American Geographical Society. p. 122. 
  20. ^ Stommel, Henry (1984). Lost Islands: The story of islands that have vanished from nautical charts. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. pp. 10–15.  
  21. ^ utilomar
  22. ^ In Anxious Anticipation of Kuwajleen's Uneven Fruits: A Cultural History of the Significant Locations and Important Resources of Kuwajleen Atoll. Huntsville, Ala.: United States Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, 1997.
  23. ^ Peattie, Mark R. Nan'yō: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885–1945, Pacific Islands Monograph Series; No. 4. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies School of Hawaiian Asian and Pacific Studies University of Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.
  24. ^ Dvorak, Gregory. "The 'Martial Islands': Making Marshallese Masculinities between American and Japanese Militarism." The Contemporary Pacific Journal, 18(1) January 2008.
  25. ^ Poyer, Lin, Suzanne Falgout, and Laurence Marshall Carucci. The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.
  26. ^ Higuchi, Wakako. Micronesia under the Japanese Administration: Interviews with Former South Sea Bureau and Military Officials. Guam: University of Guam, 1987.
  27. ^ The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia 2001-2002 - Google Books
  28. ^ a b Dvorak, Gregory. Man/Making Home : Breaking through the Concrete of Kwajalein Atoll. Canberra: Gender Relations Centre Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies Australian National University, 2005.
  29. ^ "Marshall Islands Raid February 1, 1942". USS Enterprise CV-6. 1998–2003. 
  30. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House, 1970, p. 470.
  31. ^ Japanese Government, "Senshi Sōshō" (War Chronicles, Marshall Islands Section), p. 216.
  32. ^ Richard, Dorothy, United States Naval Administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Vol. 1 Washington, D.C.: Office of Chief of Naval Operations. 1957, 124.
  33. ^ Gavan Daws (1994). Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific. New York: William Morrow & Company. p. 278. ISBN 0-688-11812-7.
  34. ^ Hezel, Francis X. Strangers in Their Own Land: A Century of Colonial Rule in the Caroline and Marshall Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995. p.229
  35. ^ Hezel, 229.
  36. ^ Poyer, Lin, Suzanne Falgout, and Laurence M. Carucci, "The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War." Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2001, 121.
  37. ^ Hezel, p.246.
  38. ^ Formerly known as the Kabua Party
  39. ^ Rowa, Aenet, Yokwe Online,, Accessed 18 December 2008.
  40. ^ USAKA Commander Says U.S. Plans to Stay at Kwajalein, by Aenet Rowa, Yokwe Online, June 25, 2007. Retrieved 2010–01–14.
  41. ^ in the Marshall Islands Journal (this ref needs improvement)
  42. ^ Clark, Stephen (September 28, 2008). "Sweet success at last for Falcon 1 rocket". Spaceflight Now. 
  43. ^ SpaceX Falcon 9
  44. ^ Pegasus Fact Sheet
  46. ^ USGS Core Science Metadata Clearinghouse
  47. ^ others are at Diego Garcia, Ascension Island, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Hawaii
  48. ^ a b Dvorak, Gregory. Seeds from Afar, Flowers from the Reef: Re-membering the Coral and Concrete of Kwajalein. PhD diss., Australian National University, Canberra, 2007.
  49. ^ a b Dvorak, Gregory. Remapping Home: Touring the Betweenness of Kwajalein. M.A., Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu, 2004.
  50. ^ RMI Constitution, Art II Sec. 5.
  51. ^ Home on the Range, a film by Adam Horowitz, 1983.
  52. ^ Hanlon, David. Remaking Micronesia. University of Hawai'i Press: 1998.
  53. ^ Agreement Regarding the Military Use and operating rights of the Grovernment of the United States in the Marshall Islands Concluded Pursuant to Sections 321 and 323 of the Compact of Free Association, P.L. 99-239-Jan. 14, 1986.
  54. ^ Kwajalein Negotiations Committee, "The Position of Kwajalein Landowners Under the Renewed Compact of Free Association," KNC 2003.
  55. ^ a b Johnson, Giff, "Kwajalein Leader Says 'No' to Extending U.S. Agreement," "Marianas Variety, 25 June 2007.


See also

On Kwajalein Island the primary mode of personal transportation is the bicycle.[49]

Since 1961, several tests of anti-ballistic missiles were conducted on Kwajalein. Therefore, there are launchpads on Illeginni Island ( ), Roi-Namur Island ( ) and Kwajalein Drop Zone, Pacific Ocean ( ).

  • ICAO: PKWAFAA LID: KWA) to the south at Kwajalein:
  • ICAO: PKROFAA LID: ROI) to the north at Roi-Namur:
  • Ebadon Airstrip (IATA: EBN) to the west at Ebadon:
  • Mejato Airstrip on Mejato:
  • Meck Island Airstrip, an eastern island, between Roi-Namur and Kwajalein:

There are two airbases and three airstrips on Kwajalein Atoll:


The U.S., however, considers the Compact to be an "internationally binding" agreement that has been concluded. It thus pays an annual $15 million to the landowners, as agreed provisionally in the MUORA laid out in the 2003 Compact renegotiation; however, as this new LUA has not been signed, the difference of roughly $4 million has been going into an escrow account. The Compact stated that if the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the landowners did not reach an agreement about land payments by the end of 2008, these funds in escrow would be returned to the U.S. Treasury. Referring to this incentive to reach an agreement, then-Senator Tony deBrum stated that it would be "insane" for the Marshallese people to put up with another 70 years of lack of access.[55]

Stating that they had not been consulted about this agreement, the landowners went on to protest it, and mounted an organized boycott of the new LUA.[55] Although the new Compact and its component MUORA was ratified in 2003, they have since held out and refused to sign the LUA of 2003, insisting, through Kwajalein Atoll elected representatives, that either a new LUA should be drafted that considers their needs or the U.S. will have to leave Kwajalein when the active LUA (which began in the 1980s) expires in 2016.

In advance of its expiration in 2016, this LUA was renegotiated in 2003 as part of the Compact of Free Association, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the landowners (by the Republic of the Marshall Islands) $15 million a year, adjusted for inflation. In exchange for these payments, the Compact stipulated a new MUORA that gave the U.S. the option to use Kwajalein through 2066, renewable through 2086. The landowners, affiliated under the Kwajalein Negotiations Committee (KNC), were very unhappy with the proposed LUA, since they believed they should have been receiving at least double that amount in funds and that, more importantly, the LUA did nothing to provide for Marshall Islanders' welfare, health care, safety, and rapidly increasing population on Ebeye. By their independent land appraisals and calculations, the KNC had determined that the minimum acceptable compensation they should receive for Kwajalein lands was at least $19.1 million annually, adjusted for inflation. The landowners also claimed that there were many other terms by which they wished the U.S. would abide should the lease be extended, including providing better support and infrastructure to Ebeye, improving health care and education, guaranteeing that the missile testing was not creating environmental hazards, and providing a comprehensive life and property insurance policy.[54] Despite a consensus among the landowners to refuse to allow the Compact to be signed with this inadequate LUA proposed by the U.S., the new Compact (and the MUORA, by extension) was finalized by officials of the RMI national government and went into effect in 2003.

The first MUORA guaranteed total payments of roughly USD $11 million to the landowners through the year 2016, the majority of which went, via the provisions of the LUA to the irooj (chiefs), who had the largest stake in the land. Some American and Marshallese observers claimed that these land payments were "misused." However, the recipients of these funds strongly maintain that these have always been "rental" payments (like a tenant pays to a landlord) that landowners could use at their own discretion, separate from whatever funds the U.S. earmarked to help develop or improve Kwajalein Atoll, which were funneled into the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority (KADA).

One of these early agreements was the first official Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement (MUORA) between the United States Army and Government of the RMI, which was linked to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was written into the larger Compact of Free Association with the United States.[53] Article 3 of the MUORA obligated the RMI to lease specific sites from their owners through a Land Use Agreement (LUA) and then sub-lease them to the United States. Effectively, this rendered the land negotiations for use of Kwajalein Atoll a "domestic issue" between the national Marshallese government in Majuro and local "landowners," even though Kwajalein, where the local Marshallese population deals on a daily basis with American military activity, is a considerable distance from Majuro. Many Kwajalein Atoll residents have complained in the past that Majuro is out of touch with the realities of Kwajalein Marshallese, and downplays their suffering while profiting from the income provided by the testing site.

Unclear and insufficient in the opinion of these landowners, the original lease arrangements for Kwajalein Atoll with the U.S. were finally negotiated only after the landowners and their supporters demonstrated in the early 1980s with a peaceful protest called "Operation Homecoming," in which Islanders re-inhabited their land at Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, and other restricted sites.[51][52] Although Operation Homecoming did not achieve the level of recognition for all people with land title at Kwajalein, nor an amount of compensation that truly remunerated these families for the natural resources and lands they had lost through displacement, the resulting agreements at least set a precedent for future dealings with the United States government.

Under the constitution of the Republic of the Marshall Islands the government can only own land under limited circumstances.[50] Practically, all land is private and inherited through one's matriline and clan. Since the United States began leasing land, the issue of proper land payments has been a major issue of contention for landowners which continues today. "Landowners" here refers to the consortium of irooj (chiefs), alaps (clan heads) and rijerbal (workers) who have land rights to the places used for military purposes by the United States. In the case of Kwajalein Atoll in particular, a "senior rijerbal" is assigned a role to represent families who have claims to land as "workers" of that location.

Land lease disputes

On Kwajalein Island, housing is free for most personnel, depending on contract or tour of duty.[49]


The Ocean View Club, an open-air lounge on the ocean side of Kwajalein.

Kwajalein Island has several recreational accommodations, including two pools, multiple tennis courts, racquetball courts and basketball courts as well as playing fields for baseball, soccer, and other sports. The Corlett Recreational Center (CRC) is on the northeast side of the island and features several rooms for use by inhabitants as well as a full-size, indoor court where community and youth basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer can be played. The island features a nine-hole golf course near the airport, a bowling alley, libraries, a fitness center and two movie theaters. Inhabitants can rent boats for water skiing and fishing at the Kwajalein marina. Residents spear fish, deep-sea fish and scuba dive.

The Adult Pool on Kwajalein is drained and re-filled once a week with salt water from the ocean.


Kwajalein Island

A ceremony is held at Japan's Yasukuni Shrine annually in April (originally held in February to coincide with the anniversary of the battle), where the memories of the Japanese soldiers are honored and surviving families offer prayers to their spirits. Small groups of bereaved Japanese families have made pilgrimages to Kwajalein on a semi-annual basis since the 1990s. The first of these groups was the Japan Marshall Islands War-Bereaved Families Association, which negotiated its visit with the U.S. Army as far back as 1964 and made its first visit in 1975 at the invitation of the Kwajalein Missile Range. The bereaved families of conscripted Korean laborers have also recently traveled in groups to the Marshall Islands and other parts of Micronesia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with funding from the Japanese government, although they have not yet paid a group visit to Kwajalein.[48]

Japanese bereaved family members consider the sites of sunken Japanese shipwrecks in Kwajalein lagoon to be sacred gravesites. They object to the activities of American divers who attempt to explore these wrecks.[48]

Very few Japanese or Korean remains were ever repatriated from the atoll; thus both Kwajalein and Roi-Namur have ceremonial "cemetery" sites to honor this memory. The memorial on Kwajalein was constructed by the Japan Marshall Islands War-Bereaved Families Association (Māsharu Hōmen Izokukai) in the 1960s, and the memorial on Roi-Namur was constructed by American personnel. The memorial sites are dedicated to Japanese souls and to the sacrifices of Koreans, Marshallese, and Americans. There are similar (but poorly maintained) memorial sites throughout the Marshall Islands, with a large Japanese Peace Park on Majuro and a smaller Korean memorial nearby. U.S. Marine Corps intelligence records and photographs at the U.S. National Archives, together with the testimony of U.S. veterans, indicate that there was a mass-burial site consolidated into one place on Kwajalein islet, at or near the current cemetery. However, remains are scattered throughout the islet, at Roi-Namur, and in places throughout the atoll. Bereaved Japanese and Korean families have mixed sentiments about whether or not to return these remains to their home countries, as none of them are identifiable, and "bone-collecting" missions are sometimes perceived by families as an insult to the dead or a political stunt by the Japanese government.

Site of the "Japanese Cemetery" on Kwajalein built as a memorial to war dead on the Atoll.

Wartime memorials

Kwajalein has one of five ground stations used in controlling the range[47] that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system.

Eleven of the 97 islands are leased by the United States. They are part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), formerly known as Kwajalein Missile Range. The lease is active from 2006-2066, with an option to renew for another 20 years.[45] Leased islands include Kwajalein, Meck, Eniwetak, Omelek, Gellinam, Gagan, Ennugarret, and Roi-Namur on the eastern side of the atoll and Ennylabegan, Legan, and Illeginni on the western side.[46] RTS includes radar installations, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment, which are used for ballistic missile and missile-interceptor testing and space operations support.

Testing sites

Kwajalein and Roi-Namur are the main islands used by the U.S. personnel. Provision is made for family housing. Personnel whose family members are not with them live in hotel room style housing.

Short-term accommodations at the "Kwaj Lodge" showing typical Kwajalein housing construction.

Current use by U.S. military

Since 2000, Kwajalein has become one of five preferred locations from which Pegasus rockets can be launched into equatorial orbit.[44]

SpaceX updated facilities on Omelek Island to launch its commercial Falcon 1 rockets. The first successful Falcon 1 space launch from Omelek was conducted in 2008.[42] It could launch Falcon 9s into polar and geosynchronous orbit. Due to a disagreement about building a new launch pad on Omelek, between either the US military and or the RMI, Space X moved their main facilities to the US and no longer uses the facilities in the atoll.[43]

Kwajalein Atoll has been leased by the United States for missile testing and other operations from well-before independence for the Marshall Islands. Although this military history has influenced the lives of the Marshall Islanders who have lived in the atoll through the war to the present, the military history of Kwajalein has prevented tourism and has kept the environment in relatively pristine condition. American civilians and their families who reside at the military installations in Kwajalein are able to use this environment with few restrictions.

In 2009, American ambassador Clyde Bishop commented[41] that future funding to the Republic of the Marshall Islands was dependent on the use of Kwajalein.

The U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) installation has been downsizing, in part because of budget constraints and technological improvements (such as a new trans-oceanic fiber-optic cable) that will allow the testing range to be operated extensively from sites in the United States, thus minimizing operation costs and the need for on-site workers or residents. Recently, the American population of the Kwajalein installation has dropped dramatically. The aluminum-sided trailers that housed the bulk of the contractor population are systematically being removed from the main island. Nevertheless, the enormous investment in these new technologies and recent statements by Army leadership[40] indicate that the United States is committed to remaining in the Marshall Islands at Kwajalein Atoll for the foreseeable future.

Government leaders and landowners were hopeful that this extension will allow for more money to be paid to the land owners. [39]

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