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James Shelby Arrigona: Latter-day Saint on Bikini Atoll

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 19, 2012

The obituary of James Shelby Arrigona reads:

James Shelby Arrigona, born January 28th, 1917 in Eureka, Utah to Peter Arrigona and Lucy Williams, died peacefully at his home in Salt Lake City early on May 14th [2003].

He was a self-made man, an inspiring leader, an avid teller of stories, a stirrer of souls, a champion of missionary work, a tireless servant to his church and family. Always enthusiastic in his endeavors, he was eloquent in his speech and writing, passionate in his beliefs, and deeply interested in the world and its diverse people. he had an infectious smile and magnetic personality. He loved to laugh and be surrounded by others, and delighted in and enjoyed the beautiful and good things of life, particularly good food. His entire life he sought excellence in all things. He served four missions for the LDS Church, first at age 17, then as a mission president in Belgium, and again in Haiti, and lastly serving a mission in Greece with his wife, Anita. He studied at the University of Utah and did doctoral work at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, in Paris. He met his wife, Anita Calliope Kehaya, in Paris and stayed in Europe for many years to raise their four children before returning to Utah.

He is survived by his wife, Anita, their four children, and six grandchildren. He remains deeply imprinted in the memories and hearts of his family, his friends and hundreds of former missionaries and LDS Church members throughout the world. Everythere, he was loved and will be deeply missed.

Sister Arrigona’s obituary from this past September mentions her service with her husband on those three last missions. “Service to her family, her faith and her fellow man was always paramount in her daily actions. … She truly lived by the motto, ‘Live simply, that others may simply live.’”

If a fuller life story of James Shelby Arrigona is ever written, it will no doubt include his military service, including the time he was assigned to Bikini Atoll, the specks of land in the South Pacific, which for twelve years (1946-1958) endured 23 nuclear blasts; all these decades later, Bikini is still too radioactive for the safe return of the people who once lived there. On June 9, 1946, one month before the first blast, Latter-day Saints among the military personnel began meeting on Bikini; that fall Brother Arrigona wrote an account of his summer:

“On this same Island, far removed from the ‘recreation area,’ we hold our Sacrament meeting in a small, but homey, grove of palm and other tropical trees. It is very quiet here, and we have enjoyed the rich spirit of the Lord here. I remember being very much impressed when I visited the garden of gethsemane in Jerusalem and saw the grove of olive trees there where Christ found the peace and spirit necessary to His communion with God. I was similarly impressed with the Sacred Grove in Palmyra where Joseph Smith talked with God, and now I have visited another Grove, here in Bikini, where we have held our communion with our Heavenly Father, been permitted to partake of His sacrament, sing the songs of Zion in His praise, and renew our covenants with Him.

“This group, though small, has accomplished a great deal, and each Sunday we have tried to develop and use the different talents of as many as possible in attendance. Some have participated for the first time, but they wanted to be able when they returned home to take a more active part in the Church, so they have all evidenced a most willing and co-operative spirit. It has been the easiest of responsibilities, for everyone else has worked so hard to see it succeed.

“But be assured, though we were all brought to Bikini to witness the might and power of the atomic bomb, and though we have seen its tremendous force and destructive ability – each one of us is convinced that the power within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the greatest force and power upon the earth, and it, not the atomic bomb, is the only solvent to the problems of the universe. This fact has been repeatedly mentioned in our testimony meetings. We have witnessed the mightiest material force in the world and have seen the havoc wrought by its power, but we have learned and seen more than that. We realize now more than ever before that peace will never be secured through this medium. We have experienced, through our Church service here in Bikini, the peace that will spell happiness for the world, and this is the only channel through which mankind will ever enjoy the real peace that they seek.

“I’m so very happy that I have been favored with the testimony of His truth, and helping to bring it to others is a constant desire and ideal of mine. Bikini would have been a very unpleasant and disagreeable assignment if it hadn’t been for the members of the Church that I have located here, with whom I could discuss our mutual problems and questions. Having the Church here has given much more meaning to Operation Crossroads [the nuclear testing program], and the total result has been extremely interesting and profitable.”



4 Comments »

  1. Wow. My much admired mission president (BBM, 1977-79) speaking to us out of the ground, in his ernest and sensitive manner. Thanks for sharing this. You should write his biography.

    Comment by Kim Golightly — July 19, 2012 @ 7:46 am

  2. The implication is that the group was meeting on Bikini after the bomb tests had begun. Is that really true? I realize that much less was known about the dangers of radioactivity in 1946, but it still seems surprising that anyone would have been allowed that close to the test site so soon afterwards.

    And, you slipped and typed Bimini in the penultimate paragraph. The only excitement there came later, when Congressman Adam Clayton Powell started hanging out there.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 19, 2012 @ 8:18 am

  3. My vast study of the history of Bikini consists chiefly of reading one Wikipedia article, which includes the line “twenty-three nuclear devices were detonated at Bikini Atoll, beginning with the Operation Crossroads series in July 1946″ — which I interpreted to mean that the first blast occurred in July. Perhaps, though, that July date corresponds with preparations for the first blast (preparing a test site, setting up monitors, or whatever one does when one plays around with Armageddon). I don’t know, and input from those who do is welcomed.

    That article, incidentally, has this reference that would seem to tie into Bro. Arrigon’as letter: “The Cross Spikes Club was an improvised bar and hangout created by servicemen on Bikini Island between June and September 1946 during the preparation for Operation Crossroads. The “club” was little more than a small open air building that served alcohol to servicemen and provided outdoor entertainment, including a ping pong table.”

    Kim, delighted to hear from someone who knew Bro. Arrigona!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 19, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  4. Yeah, Ardis, I saw that same Wikipedia article, and I figured the Club was the “recreation area” Bro Arrigona referred to.

    But the first tests did occur in summer 1946–one at an altitude of about 500 feet, on July 1, and another about 90 feet underwater.

    Most of the preparation on site consisted of building structures and placing equipment (tanks, other vehicles, naval vessels) in the area to measure the effects of the blast on them.

    They were, by the way, the first atomic bombs exploded after the two in Japan in August 1945.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 19, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

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