"Why did the United States government choose the Marshall Islands to conduct their tests?" I ask Jim.
"At the time, the US government had the mentality that atolls were out in the middle of nowhere and nobody would ever hear about it. They probably viewed the inhabitants as 'brown little people.' Nuke their islands. Who cares?"
Jim Maragos will tell you, "My loyalties are to nature and the islanders, not the United States government." In 1990, as a disgusted high-ranking scientist, he left the Army Corp of Engineers.
Between 1942 and 1944, around 6000 military personnel cycled through Palmyra Atoll. It was primarily used as a communication station in the Pacific. This morning, we walked to the communication bunker with Ron DuBois, one of the pilots who brought us here; also a ham operator, he has run a radio network throughout the Pacific known as "The Foxy Two Net." As part of that network, he talked to Roger Lextrait, the caretaker of Palmyra, every day at five o'clock in the afternoon for close to seven years, from 1993 to 2000.
We enter the bunker, dark, damp, and formidable, with shadows of coconut crabs looming large in midday light. We climb two ladders until we are standing on the roof, the highest point on Palmyra.
Looking out over Palmyra Atoll, we are reminded that the nuclear legacy of the South Pacific almost found a foothold here, making it potentially uninhabitable for any life. In 1978, Palmyra was considered as a repository for spent nuclear fuel rods; the proposal failed, thanks to the courage and vigilance of the Fullard-Leo family and Jim Maragos, who made a strong recommendation to the United States Departments of State and Energy that other alternatives, sites, and concepts must be sought.
The plaintive cries of bristle-thighed curlews rise above the sound of the surf. I have dreamed of seeing these birds all my life. A flock bank in front of us, fanning their cinnamon-colored tail feathers. Threatened species. Will we ever make peace on this planet?
There are ghosts here.