Gooney Bird Monument

Gooney Bird Monument – 1972

The year was 1972 and Midway Island had just created the Battle of Midway Memorial Park. The park displayed a panoramic mural depicting the battle, two huge guns that were once stationed at emplacements built to defend the island against a Japanese attack during World War II and several memorial plaques commemorating¬† the historical significance of the island and to the men who died fighting to defend it. But the centerpiece would end up being a 11-foot tall “Mahogany Albatross”, a wooden gooney bird called by many the “Giant Gooney”.

Gooney Bird Monument Installation.
Gooney Bird Monument Installation.

Cmdr. Robert C. Cook, DDS, found a 30-foot mahogany log that had washed up on the beach. Doctor Cook liked carving wood it seems. He also carved the large wooden “Aloha” sign arch that stood at the terminal for years. Many newcomers and many old timers came and went under that arch coming and going from the scheduled Log Flights.

Dr Cook’s statue was revered by all who came and went from Midway. It became a symbol of life there. It became a symbol of Midway. The gooney bird saw many years of posed photos, family picnics, passing horses (bicycles) and simple day to day life at Midway. The statue stood for forty years before¬† a lack of proper maintenance allowed termites to find their way inside to destroy it from the inside out.

Today the memorial park is still there, located next to the old bowling alley, but our familiar friend the Wooden Gooney Bird has passed. The average lifespan of a gooney bird is about 50 years, give or take. I suppose this one lived a good life before it passed away.

Gooney Bird Monument after.
The Battle of Midway Memorial Park and the spot where the Gooney Bird Monument once stood. A mock egg on the form of a float buoy takes it’s place as a token of hope for another Giant Gooney Bird to take its place.¬†

The following is a transcription of an article from the Navy Times from 1972 about the statue.

Gooney Bird Monument

If you’ve never seen a one-ton albatross, you’ve obviously never been to Midway Island. There, you can find one, claimed by many Navymen to be the “biggest damn gooney bird” in the world, standing 11 feet tall with neck outstretched, head tilted back and beak pointed skyward.

In truth, the gooney is a wood sculpture of a Laysan Albatross carved from a 30-foot mahogany log by a Navy dentist, Lieutenant Commander Robert C. Cook.

Why an 11-foot gooney bird?

It seemed a good subject for his log, explained the doctor, especially in view of how people on the island become so infatuated with the bird, almost to the point that their lives evolve around it as they observe its mixture of graceful flights and antics on landing during eight to nine months of the year when the gooney inhabits Midway.

That, plus the fact that the senior dental officer mentioned nothing about having a fireplace in his quarters.

The finished product stands as a central attraction of a new historical center. It was created recently to commemorate the Battle of Midway fought in June 1942; the project began in the doctor’s backyard and was carved from a single 30-foot log.

The log was cut in half-sections, one section becoming the body, the other the head and neck. After being shaped, the two sections were attached with two steel pins, four feet long. The, upon painting, the carving took on the luster of life, so real, in fact, that many goonies appear quite content nesting in the shade of their newly acquired “big brother” who relentlessly stands in his “sky moo” position, looking very proud and very gooney.

–JO3 Lames Alan Bromley, USN

Midway Memorial Gooney Bird Gooney Bird Monument
Above: Dr Cook with his rough carving of the gooney bird head and neck assembly. Right: The live gooney birds are dwarfed by the completed wooden imitation, now a familiar landmark. on Midway Island.

2 Replies to “Gooney Bird Monument”

  1. I still get upset over this one! ANYbody with ANY sense knows what a termite run looks like, and it would have taken just a few minutes to treat the ground with the CHEMICALS THEY HAD ON HAND and save the Gooney! This is what happens when professionals take over. Remember, professionals? They built the Titanic. Amateurs built the Ark! At one FOMA said they would make a fiberglass cast of it, and make a replica. Wonder where that idea went?

    1. I agree with everything that you said Welford. The Giant Gooney is symbolic of how the FWS is preserving the history of Midway.

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