Written by Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal
Photographs capture our memories, document our history and remind us of a moment in time.
For one Coast Guardsman, a fellow shipmate’s photograph brought him more than 20 years in the past with his first experience with the U.S. Coast Guard in a small atoll known as Woleai in Micronesia.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Ken Raigeluw and Master Chief Petty Officer Ronny German realized they had met many years ago during through a shared photo.
German, the command master chief at Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, brought in photos from his trip in 1993 after talking about their experiences.
“I had a photo of a group of kids on a wooden boat that’s on the beach,” said German. Upon showing the photo to Raigeluw, German said “he just turned pale and said, ‘That’s me, that’s my friend, that’s my other friend, that’s my cousin…”
The picture is the only childhood photo of Raigeluw, a picture that reminds him of the day that changed his life forever.
Raigeluw, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard District 14 in Honolulu, said the day the Coast Guard came to his small island home remains one of his fondest childhood memories. Growing up on Woleai, technology was scarce and outside visitors were rare.
“We had one VHF radio on the island so this person told everyone there was a boat coming,” Raigeluw said. “When we heard about the [Coast Guard Cutter Basswood] coming to our island that day we were super excited and that was my first exposure to the Coast Guard.”
German, then a 21-year-old Coast Guardsman, was one of the crew members who visited that day.
“It was 23 years ago, I just joined the Coast Guard,” German said. “Woleai was a small island that had no port to pull into so we had to anchor out and bring small boats ashore. We were told that there was no power, no water. They had a generator so they could listen to the radio to know when storms were coming but that was about it.”
When the Coast Guard touched down on the beach of Woleai they brought with them people and equipment that could help provide aid and support for the locals if there was a need.
“We brought doctors and dentists ashore to look at any of the people and see if they needed any teeth pulled, had any major medical issues, and it was also a kind of morale event,” German said. “We brought barbecues ashore; steak and ice cream, and we were cooking for the local people. At the same time they went fishing for us and caught a whole bunch of lobsters for us.”
Raigeluw was able to interact with the Coast Guardsmen and was invited to see how they lived and operated.
“They even took us to go out on the boat and gave us a tour,” Raigeluw said. “Stepping onto that cutter… that’s the moment that it changed my life.”
German took pictures for his scrapbook throughout the day, documenting both his shipmates and the locals. Unbeknownst to him at the time, one simple photo would end up meaning a great deal to Raigeluw years later.
Raigeluw held onto the memory of that day throughout the following years and after having another chance encounter with the Coast Guard, he decided to enlist. Today Raigeluw works at the district office and supports units in Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.
“BM1 has an awesome reputation,” German said. “His sphere of influence is huge. Every unit has contact with him in some capacity. He always has a smile on his face and always impacts people in a positive way on a daily basis so he’s doing great work for the Coast Guard.”
Despite his accomplishments and success in the Coast Guard, Raigeluw still stays humble and attributes where he is today to his past experience.
“It always brings me back to that one moment,” Raigeluw said. “Who would know that I would be here in the Coast Guard… coming from a small place where outside influence is so rare. Master Chief, that day that you came to my island changed my life forever. If it weren’t for that moment, and for the picture that you took, you made a difference in somebody’s life… that would be me. That is my life that you changed that moment you came to my island.”