If you’re looking for a sign, visit the Island Memorial Chapel.
On June 26, IMC personnel celebrated the newest addition to the chapel grounds: a large wooden placard bearing the chapel name and service times installed at the facility’s Ocean Road entrance. Personnel from U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four, Detail Marshall Islands completed the installation June 25 and poured custom-designed concrete forms for the placard posts.
Progress on the placard’s installation has been ongoing since 2017, but its history dates back even further. The chapel was dedicated in February 1945. The first service times were not advertised until 1951, according to former longtime resident and island historian Bill Remick.
Over the years the chapel had “a succession of such signs.” Remick recalls a similar installation in 1975. On his first return visit to his “old hometown” island in 1989, Remick said he noticed that sign was gone.
“I would guess that as they fade or wear out, they get replaced with similar but different signs,” he said.
In 2017, the aforethought of expert carpenter Dan Tibbles made the current placard possible. During a chapel roof repair, he reserved a portion of unfinished lumber and built the placard’s baseboard. Together with the island’s then-chaplains—Fr. Vic Langhans and Ch. Steve Munson, of the Catholic and Protestant congregations, respectively—they realized they had, essentially, received a sign.
The team got to work planning the placard. Munson assisted in sanding the large, natural wood panel while Langhans researched past versions in chapel files.
Generations of past Kwaj residents will be struck by how similar this latest placard is to previous iterations. Choices made for lettering and design were informed by vintage photographs. The chapel reached out to a stateside sign shop that custom-designed a retro set of vinyl gothic letterforms in warm yellow.
Then, as sometimes happens, most of the people actively involved in the project PCS’d.
In late 2018, IMC Protestant Ch. Brian Conner inherited his chapel duties and the large wood panel that lay in the chapel’s open-air antechamber. A year later, he began the project anew with Fr. Jim Ludwikowski, IMC administrative staff and members of the Catholic congregation and chapel executive board.
Volunteers from the Noble and Phelon families assisted in affixing the vinyl lettering to the sign and sealing the placard with layers of polyurethane over several weeks. The novel coronavirus further stalled progress on installation until 2021. Thanks to NMCB-4, after four years, the work is finished.
“It doesn’t seem like much,” Remick said, “but on a remote island further isolated by the pandemic, even little changes receive attention.”
On an island with harsh environmental erosion, strict building codes and constant employee turnover, completing a multi-year project like the placard is no small feat. It stands as testimony to the power of vision and island teamwork. One might even call it a sign.