It was cold and dreary in Iowa in December 1941. Actually it was cold and dreary in Iowa every winter, and winter lasted from November until at least March and sometimes April.

My Dad and his two brothers had grown up in Iowa in the middle of the Depression. After the attack on Pearl Harbor they knew they would get drafted if they didn't enlist somewhere. They had never seen an ocean and they wanted to get as far away from Iowa as possible. Uncle Don was a part time student and had not yet graduated from the University of Iowa. He enlisted in the Marines. He was in the Pacific at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and received the Purple Heart and Navy Cross.

Dad had graduated from the University of Iowa in Business and was trying to play professional baseball. He joined the Navy and went to OCS and graduated in 90 days as an Ensign. He went to Europe, Anzio, Tunisia, Tobruk and was at D-Day. He received two Purple Hearts; Dad hit Norfolk, Virginia in January, 1945 on his way to Japan. I was born in October, 1945. Uncle Charlie, well Uncle Charlie was different.

He was one year older than Dad and had graduated from the University of Iowa in Civil Engineering. He was given a direct commission in the Navy and was assigned to the Seabees and ordered to Wake Island in the Pacific. On the way, he was diverted to Tahiti to help build an airstrip on Bora Bora.

French Polynesia was under the control of the Vichy French Government. The United States seized the Island of Bora Bora and several others in French Polynesia. The move was protested by the French Government but welcomed by the Polynesians.

Uncle Charlie was on Bora Bora for over 2 years. After the airstrip and gun emplacements were complete he was transferred around the South Pacific for other projects, but he never forgot Born Bora. Uncle Charlie spent 5 years in the Navy in the Pacific and never saw a day of combat; Uncle Charlie was released in Jan 1947. He returned to Iowa City, Iowa, but at -10 degrees he was not a happy camper.

Charlie wanted to return to Bora Bora. He dreamed of running a charter air service between the islands. Charlie managed to raise enough money (my Dad & Mom supplied most of it) to buy a Grumman Goose. Unfortunately Charlie didn't realize that a Goose only had an 1,100 mile range and Tahiti was 3,500 miles from Los Angeles. Charlie had a lot of problems like that. Charlie finally raised enough money to ship the Goose from Los Angeles to Samoa on a freighter.

He was able to load extra fuel and fly from Pago Pago, Samoa to Bora Bora and then on to Papeete, Tahiti. Charlie and the Goose arrived in Papeete, Tahiti in June, 1948. The Tahiti Clipper began flying twice a week from Papeete to Bora Bora. He added flights to Raiatea and Huaihine, but his basic route was Papeete, Bora Bora and return.

The flights became known as the Coconut Express and the stations at each end became known as Coconut Charlies. As the Goose aged, there were more and more flight delays due to problems and passengers spent more time in Coconut Charlies than they did in the air. Most of the rich and famous that went to Bora Bora in the 50's, 60's, '70's and 80's went on the Coconut Express, because the ferry was over 15 hours.

In 1953 Charlie fell in love. Erin Shanahan was an Irish nurse who joined the US Navy in 1943. Her father had joined the US Navy in 1942 and died on the USS Indianapolis. She was assigned to the US Naval Hospital in San Diego and then transferred to Honolulu in 1944; she was released from the Navy in 1953 after the end of the Korean War. She had heard stories about Tahiti and took a Navy flight to Papeete after she left the Navy. She couldn't find a job in Papeete but there was no doctor or nurse on Bora Bora. Uncle Charlie made a special run to Papeete to meet Erin and talk her into coming to Bora Bora.

It was love at first sight. Charlie and Erin were married in 30 days and life was wonderful for a couple of years. By early 1955, Erin had become extremely homesick for Dublin. Charlie knew that he would either have to give up Erin or move to Ireland. Charlie was deeply in love and knew he had no choice. He sold his Bora Bora operations to Joe Fitch. Joe kept the name of the Coconut Express but changed the name of the ground operations to Joe's Reef. Joe decided he didn't like that name and he changed the name of the ground operations to Motu Joe's. Well, Motu Joe's is a good name if you know what a motu is, otherwise you're lost.

Charlie and Erin moved to Dublin. Erin found a job at a hospital and Charlie opened a pub called Coconut Charlie's Tavern and Bait Shop. Coconut Charlie's soon became a gathering place for Americans in Dublin. As time went on, many of the customers of Coconut Charlies requested information about travel to the US and other parts of the world. One of the regular bartenders suggested to many that they should ask Charlie-"after all, he'd seen more of the world than Gulliver himself". Well, after a while, the back table in Coconut Charlies became well known as a site for travel information and eventually evolved into Gulliver's Travel Service.

When we decided to open a travel agency in Fort Worth in 1994, there was no question what the name should be.

Anyway, Charlie had sold the whole operation on a note which eventually went delinquent and Charlie had to return to the islands to rescue his investment. As you may have surmised by now, Charlie was not Bernard Baruch. I met Charlie for the first time in 1955. He and Erin stopped in California on their way to Ireland. I was 10 years old and he was the most fascinating person I had ever met. A man who had actually met Gen MacArthur and he came to our family reunion in Long Beach. Charlie left for Born Bora in 1963 and resumed operations of Coconut Charlies and the Coconut Express. Erin and my cousin Charlie Jr. joined him in 1964.

The Coconut Express had expanded to 3 airplanes by 1968. In 1969 Charlie sold 2 of his 3 Grumman aircraft to the CIA for operations in Southeast Asia. Charlie had a lucrative contract delivering mail and freight for the French government and for the first time in his life he had a steady income.

By 1969 Coconut Charlies was much more profitable than the Coconut Express and Charlie sold the air operations to two other operators. Charlie and Erin had problems over the years and Erin and Charlie Jr. returned to Dublin in 1970. They never divorced, but Erin wouldn't return to Bora Bora, and Charlie wouldn't return to Dublin, so they sort of parted.

Charlie continued to operate Coconut Charlies until he died in 1996. He bequeathed the operations to my dog Morgan. I assumed operations of Coconut Charlies but I'm not sure I really have authority from my dog's estate (Charlie and Morgan both died in 1996).

Morgan only met Charlie once, and that was not a happy encounter.

Charlie had talked with Charlie Jr. about giving him the operations, but Charlie Jr. is a Yale graduate and an investment banker in New York with two small children. He and Charlie couldn't have been more dissimilar.

I think maybe Charlie left me Coconut Charlies on purpose because the debts on Coconut Charlies exceeded the assets by a large margin. In any case, I loved my uncle and I will continue the legacy of the Tahiti Clipper, Coconut Charlies, the Coconut Express, Moto Joe's, Joe's Reef and Uncle Charlie.

Harvey Boysen

Coconut Charlie's
2800 S Hulen #110
Fort Worth, Texas 76109
Phone: 817-924-7766 / 800-796-7766
Fax: 817-924-3100

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