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Photo Prompts Coast Guard Members’ Memory of Long-Ago Meeting

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal Defense Media Activity - Hawaii

HONOLULU, Aug. 20, 2016 — After viewing an old photograph, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Ken Raigeluw and Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Ronny German realized that they’d first met more than 20 years ago on a Pacific atoll known as Woleai.

German, now assigned to Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, had brought in photos from his 1993 trip to Woleai.

“I had a photo of a group of kids on a wooden boat that’s on the beach,” he said.

German recalled that upon showing the photo to Raigeluw, “he just turned pale and said: ‘That’s me. That’s my friend. That’s my other friend, that’s my cousin.’”

Life-Changing Photo

The picture is the only childhood photo of Raigeluw; a picture that reminds him of the day that changed his life.

Raigeluw said that the day the Coast Guard came to his small island home those many years ago remains one of his fondest childhood memories. Growing up on Woleai, he said, technology was scarce and outside visitors were rare.

“We had one VHF radio on the island so this person told everyone there was a boat coming,” Raigeluw said. “When we heard about the [U.S. Coast Guard Cutter CGC Basswood (WLB-388)] coming to our island that day, we were super-excited and that was my first exposure to the Coast Guard.”

German, then age 21, was one of the crew members who visited that day as part of Operation Hand Clasp.

“It was 23 years ago, I just joined the Coast Guard,” German said. “Woleai was a small island that had no port to pull into, so we had to anchor out and bring small boats ashore. We were told that there was no power, no water … they had a generator so they could listen to the radio to know when storms were coming, but that was about it.”

Helping the Local Populace

When the Coast Guard touched down on Woleai’s beach, they brought with them people and equipment that could help provide aid and support for the locals if there was a need.

“We brought doctors and dentists ashore to look at any of the people, and to see if they needed any teeth pulled, had any major medical issues. It was also a kind of morale event,” German said. “We brought barbecues ashore; steak and ice cream. And, we were cooking for the local people. At the same time, they went fishing and caught a whole bunch of lobsters for us.”

Raigeluw was able to interact with the Coast Guard members and was invited to see how they lived and operated.

“They even took us to go out on the boat and gave us a tour,” Raigeluw recalled. “Stepping onto that cutter … that’s the moment that it changed my life.”

German took pictures for his scrapbook throughout that day, documenting both his crewmates and the locals. Unbeknownst to him at the time, one photo would end up meaning a great deal to Raigeluw, years later.

Raigeluw held onto the memory of that day throughout the following years and after having another chance encounter with the Coast Guard, he decided to enlist. Today, Raigeluw works at the district office and supports units in Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.

Despite his accomplishments and success in the Coast Guard Raigeluw still stays humble and attributes where he is today to his past experience.

“It always brings me back to that one moment,” Raigeluw said. “Who would know that I would be here in the Coast Guard? Coming from a small place where outside influence is so rare. Master Chief, that day that you came to my island changed my life forever. If it weren’t for that moment, and for the picture that you took, you made a difference in somebody’s life … that would be me. That is my life that you changed that moment you came to my island.”


Distribution channels: Military