Operation: Walkabout

Map of the South Pacific region

   Like many others, my grandfather had always dreamed about returning to the places he served, during peaceful conditions. The trip was codenamed "Operation Walkabout" and became the one of the most exciting experiences a grandfather and grandson could share.

   During the summer of 1993, he took this special trip, and took his grandson along too. Together traveling for over a month on a self-guided adventure of remembrance about the past. For veterans, the desire to look up old friends, identify old buildings and revisit overgrown battlefields is something only a fellow combatants can appreciate. Seeing my grandfather remember things forgotten for a half century, and locating old friends was just as exciting as the actual traveling. We traveled the same path my grandfather had taken in the Army, a half century ago...

     We passed through Sydney and Brisbane, just as he had, before returning to his Army camp in Rockhampton, Queensland Australia. Then, we traveled to Cairns before departing north for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

   In New Guinea we flew through Nadzab, an airfield built by the Americans during the war, before finally landing at the coastal town of Madang. Returning via Hawaii, we visited Pearl Harbor.



   While in Rockhampton, Grandpa was still able to recognize features he remembered from 50 years ago. There, we linked up with former American soldier Raymond Bennett, who grandpa had not seen for half a century! Their reunion was an unforgettable moment. We also located the descendants of the Rawkins family grandpa knew. Mr. and Mrs. Rawkins lived adjacent to the Army camp in the city's botanical gardens and befriended many of the "Yanks" in their backyard. We visited with their son, who had two children my age. Tim and Amiee Rawkins took me to their school, the Rockhampton Grammar School.

Papua New Guinea

   We traveled to Papua New Guinea, unsure what to expect. Both of us were overwhelmed by the friendliness and warm reception we received as an American war veteran and his grandson. After befriending Shark-Lee Bingani, he took us to his village and a local "sing-sing" (native dance festival). With his help, we located war relics in the regrowth of the jungle. Evidence of the violence in New Guinea was still noticeable! Sunken ships, bomb craters and wreckage remained for those who know where to look...


   After New Guinea, we returned to the place where it all started, Pearl Harbor on the island of Ohau in Hawaii. My grandfather had never been to Hawaii during the war, but had been friends with a sailor on the U.S.S. Arizona. Seeing the sunken ship, and his friend P.Z. Hollenback's name on the memorial was very moving for both of us.

   Although a half century had passed since the war, I felt very connected to the history I was writing about. Having walked in my grandfather's footsteps, I couldn't help but feel that now I was part of the history. Seeing the place my grandfather had served for myself was an overwhelming experience. Back home, I felt like a different person. I resolved to publish my story so other veterans and their grandchildren could become as excited about history as I had become.

journal items



   Click to view photographs from the trip


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