Johnston Atoll: An Isolated and Abandoned Military Air Base in the Mid Pacific Ocean

johnston-atoll (Image via Google Earth; abandoned runway and base on Johnston Atoll)

There are numerous isolated military bases around the world, but few as remote as Johnston Atoll.  Located in the central Pacific and comprising little more than a vast runway, it’s not hard to imagine what sort of “under the radar” pursuits went on here over the years.

johnston atoll from space (Images via Google Earth)

Johnston Atoll, a United States territory, is a remote group of islands covering 50 square miles.  Chief among them is Johnston Island, with its now abandoned military base.  In 1926, an executive order established Johnston Atoll as a federal bird refuge, but control was transferred to the U.S. Navy in 1934 and the impressive runway still seen today was established.  Soon after, the former wildlife reserve became a nuclear weapons test site.

johnston atoll coral dredging (Image via U.S. Federal Government)

Originally a natural island atop a coral reef about 750 nautical miles west of Hawaii, Johnston Island has been enlarged tremendously over the years by coral dredging.  The result: a semi man-made island providing space for a expansive military base with accommodation for more than 1,000 people at its zenith.

uss lansing (Image via U.S. Navy)

As a U.S. Navy base, Johnston Atoll provided support and docking facilities for warships, such as the USS Lansing (above), in one of the most isolated regions of the Pacific Ocean.  The military runway (9,000 feet-long in its final incarnation) provided the main means of transport to and from Johnston Island, while the atoll was wired with 13 outgoing and 10 incoming commercial telephone lines.

johnston atoll nuclear (Images via U.S. Federal Government)

Between 1958 and 1975, Johnston Atoll was used as a nuclear test site for underground and above-ground nuclear weapons.  Several nuclear test missiles were launched from the atoll during “Operation Dominic” in 1962.  The image above (left) shows the ethereal glow of a high altitude nuclear test.  The second image shows the remains of a rocket engine after a failed test showered Johnston Island with plutonium debris.

johnston atoll rockets (Image via U.S. Federal Government)

Johnston Atoll also served as a launch platform for some of America’s first spy satellites and other scientific rockets.  But by 1993, its military mission had been scaled down to handle the storage and destruction of chemical weapons.  A 25 acre landfill on Johnston Island holds radioactive debris from the failed 1962 nuclear test, along with chemical residue from Vietnam and sarin nerve gas from the former Soviet Union.



  • Marven Gardens

    Why do you people who “worked” on Johnston even bother to admit or brag about doing so, considering “what a fine mess” of plutonium debris, and other PCB contaminants you and your government left on the atoll, islets, and waters surrounding Johnston?

  • Cheryl

    Excuse me? Are you aware that this is a military base? My dad was “stationed” there in the early 50’s in the service of his country. At that time there wasn’t as much information as there is now about chemical dangers. My dad died at the age of 46 from a cancer that they had trouble diagnosing. I haven’t had a dad since I was 15. This was the price he paid. How dare you insult our service men doing a job the were commissioned to do. If you have an issue take it up with the US Government and throw a stone for me as well.

  • JWC

    You might have remembered the Army’s Vessel, LTC John U.D. Page running through there, 1986-87 time frame. We picked up allot of Vehicle refuge and created man made reefs out there. Great sailing times then, especially on the Page which historically is now decommissioned, and is now a Obstacle Course in Fort Sill Oklahoma, where I saw it as a Drill Sergeant in 2003-2005.

  • Charles Gardner

    Hi. I know of the Page. Came into the Army’s boat field in 1983. I too visited Johnston Atoll (several times in 1991) aboard the LSV-2. We brought WWII chemical munitions from the Solomon Is. On You Tube there is a video of us (LSV-2) at the pier. We are at the end of the “60 Minutes” show.

  • Brian Burgess

    There’s a lot going on at places like J.I. . Sometimes lives are lost in the name of National Security . Those men who have made the ultimate sacrifice are not always killed in war. Their sacrifice is no less honorable . National security may require some to remain unknown for their sacrifice . Let those of us who know things like J.I. , give those who given their lives in service of our country all of the honor a respect they so rightly deserve .

  • Greg Coker

    I was there from Dec 87 until Nov 88 with the USACAW MP Co. Worked physical security in the Red Hat Area then as a Security Specialist in SPO.

  • Richard Schmitz

    I was an Air Force Air traffic Controller stationed on Johnston Is. in 1967. Richard V. ScHmitz

  • I am so sorry for your loss. We were having trouble getting assistance from the VA for my husband and for his mother. He father retired from the Air Force. We joined the American Legion and they were able to help point us in the right direction. I know every situation is different but they may be able to help or at least get you in touch with someone who can help. Years after my Father in law passed we were able to get additional benefits for my Mother in Law. Best wishes to you.


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