HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) – Larry Raigetal’s story may sound like a search, but for the traditional canoe navigator, his story begins with his first memories of the experience of Christmas Drop, who grew up on the tiny atoll of Lamotrek.
Every year the people of Guam donate gifts as part of the annual Operation Christmas Drop, which is donated to residents of the outer islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, including Lamotrek, part of the Yap state of the FSM.
Raigetal received these gifts in his childhood. He lived on Lamotrek until he was 16 years old. At that time there were 28 households on the atoll, no electricity and no running water. The atoll and its people were cut off from much of the world.
“Everyone knows everyone. That was my childhood and life as a child was learning and spending time in the canoe house and watching the adults carve canoes or make ropes or build something. We took part in community activities like group fishing or whatever. “
While Lamotrek celebrates Christmas with a celebratory meal, the islanders knew neither about western gift giving traditions nor much about the outside world.
The Christmas Drop offers the Air Force the opportunity to conduct flight training while carrying out the annual humanitarian mission. The gifts are placed in large boxes which are then parachuted before being dropped onto the remote islands on C-130 cargo planes.
“Especially for me, when I was growing up as a child, I appreciated the Christmas Drop in many ways. Not only did it bring the first exposure for me and arouse curiosity, I think that was really the start of my long personal journey to set sail and sail into the horizon to see where these items came from. I was so determined, regardless of what happened, to find out where it came from, and I’m so grateful for this experience, ”said Raigetal.
His earliest memories of the Christmas Drop are from the age of 4 or 5.
“In the early to mid-1970s,” says Raigetal, “it was the event for us children that we could look forward to in addition to the merry Christmas season for the community. I would say the Christmas Drop was more interesting for us. “
All the children in the community were excited about the Christmas Drop because they knew there might be a toy for them. The louder the toy, the better.
“I’ve always hoped for some kind of toy, especially the toys that spoke were always fascinating to me. When the box is set down, they all go to the chief’s house and open from there so that everyone sits around, men, women and children, and they open the box, ”said Raigetal.
While everyone waited patiently to be called for their share of the contents, retrieving the box was like a race for the prize.
Raigetal learned how important it is to get to the pits first and started chasing after the pits at a young age.
“When you have a child who gets to that box first, even if they reach the box and can’t cut the parachute, and an adult has to do it, but that child is the owner of that parachute. In many ways, we’ve always tried to help your father and uncles get to that parachute first, ”said Raigetal.
Raigetal said the parachute was the most important gift. For a year, his family got the box first.
“I remember sleeping under a mosquito net for the first time – it was actually a parachute.”
The Christmas Drop was always unannounced and could take place at any time of the day.
“All these children are walking around on the beach, they saw where the plane was because you can hear the gradual noise when it increases and you are (trying to listen) to where it could be coming from,” said Raigetal.
Everyone dropped what they were doing, he remembered. The men in the lagoon rode back to shore to grab their canoes and run to the crate when it landed in the water. Likewise, the women in the taro fields would drop what they were doing and run to the beach, that is, if it did not land on the taro fields.
It was an exciting but hectic moment, said Raigetal. But the very first Christmas Drop after the war was actually quite scary, according to his memory of his grandfather’s experience of surviving WWII and the Japanese occupation.
“They ran to take cover…. Some of the adults all sounded pretty familiar – fighter planes. So to hear that they all ran and hid. “
But as the Christmas drop continued, the community linked the planes to good times. It became an event everyone looked forward to every year as it brought the much-needed supplies to survive on the atoll.
Last year the community was sad when the Covid-19 pandemic closed the borders of the FSM and the Christmas Drop could not take place.
He said this year’s Christmas Drop brought the Christmas spirit back. Raigetal has seven siblings who still live on the atoll.
He was able to send a postcard as part of the delivery during the final Christmas Drop Push ceremony at Andersen Air Force Base.
The postcard was addressed to his siblings and parishioners.
“Basically, telling them I’m on the other end now. I’ve seen how these things are prepared and dropped, ”said Raigetal. “I thank the community of Guam.”