BIRD ISLAND

Not very long after I returned form Laos, my team and
another A Team were sent to a tiny volcanic island about 75
miles North of Okinawa that we called “Bird Island.”  We
were scheduled to spend about a week out there.  Our job was
to check all of the caves in the oceanfront cliffs for any
evidence of smugglers and then rig the caves so subsequent
teams could tell if anyone had entered them since we had
been there.

We went by boat [the Green Beret] to the island.  The boat
belonged to the 1st Group.  The boat was used for SCUBA
training and small boat training, mostly SCUBA training.  It
was a small motorized craft that was about 50 foot long, I
guess and I dreaded that trip because I hate boats.  It
seemed like it took forever to get from our boat dock on
Okinawa to that damned island.  Actually the trip only took
us about five hours, but that boat bobbed like a cork the
whole time.

We finally sighted the cliffs of the tiny island late that
afternoon and that was good because I was turning green at
the gills by then.  We loaded into our rubber boats and made
for the island.  One guy was washed overboard when we
reached the breakers and I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t
me.  The shore of that island was straight up all the way
around it.  We were landing at the only place where the
cliffs were accessible.  The natives who had formerly
inhabited the island had built a small concrete dock there
and they had carved steps out of the side of the cliff.  The
steps followed a crevice up to the top.  The steps were
very, very steep.  The inhabitants had also built a cable
system for transporting goods back and forth between the
dock and the top of the 300’ cliffs.  The island was mostly
level, except for the cone-shaped mountain on the northern
end of the island.  We soon discovered that cone-shaped dude
was a damn volcano.

The level part of the island was mostly covered solid with
tall weeds, brush and short, knotty-looking trees something
like midget mesquite trees.  One area was completely covered
by those trees.  The trees were four to six feet high and
intertwined very tight.  So tight, the easiest way to travel
through that area was to walk on top of those damn trees and
hope you didn’t fall through.

We found a couple of abandoned buildings that weren’t
covered by the trees and set up housekeeping.  We found no
evidence of smugglers just a nice, but stinky, stone steam
bath in the bottom of the volcano mouth that used steam from
natural springs.  One small problem, it was all sulphur
water and it smelled terrible.

The weather grew worse each day that we were there.  The
night before the boat was supposed to pick us up again, the
weather became very bad.  Headquarters radioed me that the
boat could only take half of us because a typhoon had made
the seas too rough.  They said that the other half of the
team would have to wait out the storm for a helicopter to
pick us up.

We had already ran out of food earlier that day.  The
options were ride in a tiny boat in a typhoon in the middle
of the damn ocean or sit on a volcano with no food for an
unknown length of time.  Yours truly had no problem choosing
between those two, I volunteered to wait for the chopper.
When the boat arrived the next day, we sent their rucksacks
down by the cable and then watched our brave comrades depart
taking all of those stinking little rubber boats with them.
That ocean looked very bad.  It was nothing but white caps
and the sky was black.  Not blue-black or gray, I mean
black-black and it was the middle of the day.  They made it
to the boat and clambered aboard.  They then loaded the
boats and gear aboard and departed.  That little boat
pitched and rolled along until they were finally out of
sight.  Shortly after they left, the storm became much worse
and we were just getting the edge of the typhoon.  By the
next afternoon, we dug up the sump that we had just covered
two days before and searched it for anything edible.  We
didn’t have much luck there, we only found a few unopened
tins of C-Ration jelly and crackers.

It was a couple of more days before the weather cleared
enough for the choppers to make it to us and we definitely
got hungry before then.  We got so hungry, I tried to figure
out a way to shock fish with my hand-cranked generator with
no luck.  We used a dry cell battery in our portable radios
and I even tried to rig it to shock fish, but had no luck
there either.  The receptacles on those batteries have
several holes and I just could not figure out how to get a
good connection that would produce enough power to shock
those damned fish.

Twenty four SF guys and not one of us had thought to bring a
survival kit so we couldn’t even improvise a fish hook.  How
damn dumb can you get?  The reef was pock-marked with holes
some of which appeared to be very deep.  I suspected that
the holes were connected by tunnels beneath the surface.
The bluish water was crystal clear and you could see a wide
variety of fish down there.  Some of the fish were very
brightly colored.  We knew not to eat brightly colored fish
or frogs because many times they are poisonous.  The
choppers finally picked us up.

When we arrived back at Okinawa, we learned that the Green
Beret boat had almost been lost in that storm.  The storm
had washed all of the little rubber boats and outboard
motors overboard even though they were lashed down.  The
navy had ships out searching for our little Beret boat for a
couple of days.

There’s something good after all to be said for going hungry
now and then — for one, it beats riding on a damn boat.  For
once, I had made the right choice.

Don "Val"  Valentine