Exotic glass balls had a way of escaping from large fishing nets that some Japanese fishermen used in the Pacific Ocean to keep their nets afloat. In time, these now-free objects would drift to the shores of isolated Wake Island, located about 2,300 miles west of Honolulu. They were of all sizes, greenish in color and usually opaque. I have seen them as small as 3 inches in diameter all the way up to over a foot. Sometimes I’d find them washed up onto the shore still enclosed in a piece of netting.
There wasn’t an awful lot to do on this barren coral atoll sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Wake Island was actually three islands shaped into the form of a horseshoe with about 12 miles of beach. Finding and collecting glass balls was a favorite pastime for many of the inhabitants of Wake, especially for the wives of the FAA husbands at work. It was a good way for them to pass some time engaged in a worthwhile pursuit.
I got into the habit of looking for glass balls in my off time from doing Coast Guard search-and-rescue during the war. When I left the island in June of 1966 I had a pretty good collection of my own. I was able to hunt for them early in the morning when I had just gotten off a midnight watch at the rescue center.
The best time to hunt for the glass objects was early in the morning. It became competitive for some when we tried to be the first one out, combing the shoreline for the valuable glass balls. Most often, I was one of the first ones out to hunt.
On one particular day, a Coast Guard buddy and I did some beachcombing. A few minutes after we had seated ourselves on the beach we noticed a large glass ball drifting slowly toward the shoreline. I was able to procure the ball after watching it for a half hour or so. It was a beauty and over 10 inches in diameter.
Because it was after noon, I had a great idea, as I knew some of the residents might be strolling by. We went to our van and procured some thick twine that we could tie around the globe. We did just that and then left plenty of string attached to it. I then placed the ball back into the water. Hopefully, we could have some fun if one of the kids or someone tried to latch onto it.
Sure enough, in a few minutes, we heard the playful chatter of a child along with his mother. When the ball was close enough to grab, the child of 4 or 5 tried to latch his fingers around it. We pulled on the cord a few times, making the child’s task a little more difficult. In another minute or so of teasing the boy before he became too frustrated, we came out from behind the rocks and presented the prize-winning ball to the happy child.
When I left the island I turned over my collection of glass balls to one of my favorite island families. This would prove to be a big mistake as today they are valuable collector’s items. I didn’t think that my wife would care much about them at the time, nor did I know where we would store or display them in our home in Hawaii.
Hunting for those glass balls was a good way for me to spend some time outdoors and walking along the beach as I loved doing. It was also therapeutic for me as I had begun to suspect trouble at my home in paradise.
God bless you fellow beachcombers. I hope that you have had occasion to hunt something as exotic as a glass ball while on some enchanting island in the Pacific, or on any exotic beach, for that matter.