When you look at a map of the Pacific Ocean, the groups of islands spread across millions of square miles of water, it almost appears that a giant hand has scattered pebbles with no discernable pattern. The total land area of more than 25, 000 islands and islets of 25 nations and territories actually occupy only 1.75 million square miles, about 4/5ths the size of Alaska. And of this area, three island groups, New Guinea, New Zealand and Hawaii. Constitute 93%, while the remaining thousands of islands include land area of less than 35, 000 square miles.
Small as the islands are, they were still of vital importance to the Japanese in the quest for Pacific domination. In October 1942, the Japanese moved into the central Pacific, occupying and fortifying the all (coral island with a lagoon surrounded by a reef) of Tarawa. To encounter this, the U.S. Marine Corps’ 5th Defense Battalion landed and set up headquarters of Funafuti in the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu), and almost a year later, in September 1943, my outfit, 7th Defense Battalion, left Samoa, stopped briefly at Funafuti and proceeded 250 miles north to
the Ellice’s northernmost island, Nanumea, only 450 miles south of Tarawa.
Tuvalu is a group of nine atolls, all occupied. It’s believed that Tuvalu has been occupied since about the 5th century A.D. In the 16th century, Tuvalu was invaded and occupied by Samoans. Tuvalu was called the Ellice Islands from the 1819 to independence in 1978.
European contact began in the 19th century, with visits by American and British whalers, as well as conversion to Christianity by the London Missionary Society. In 1892, to discourage American traders, Britain gave the Ellices protectorate status, and in 1916 joined the Gilberts and the Ellices in the Gilbert and Ellices Islands Colony (GEIC). This actually continued throughout the Japanese occupation of the Gilberts, and
afterward until 1975 when the Ellices separated from the Gilberts and three years later declared the independent nation of Tuvalu.
Like other Pacific islands with thin, sandy soil, Tuvalu’s crops of coconuts, taro, pandanus, bananas and papaya offer only a subsistence living. Half the outside aid comes from a trust fund established by Australia, New Zealand and the United kingdom in 1987. An unexpected and welcome windfall for Tuvalu was the sale in 1998 of its website name, www.tv, for over 50 million dollars, increasing by 50% its
gross income. The payout for the ownership of “.tv” will be made over a ten year period.