The history of Andersen’s Rota Walk

  • Published
  • By Dr. John Treiber
  • 36th Wing historian
In a couple of weeks Andersenites will make the annual Yuletide pilgrimage known as Rota Walk, one of our base's most beloved traditions.

This evening stroll is not just good for the heart, but for the spirit as well, since the denizens of Rota Drive will be going all out to provide a Christmas illumination show that won't soon be forgotten.

Rota Walk is a direct continuation of celebrating and decorating for Christmas stretching back to Andersen's earliest days. Undoubtedly much decking the halls has always been spontaneous, but in the mid-1950s the base sponsored competitions for the best-decorated houses, barracks, and units for which prizes were routinely awarded. For instance, the 1964 contest winner from each of Andersen's four housing areas received a $25 U.S. savings bond.

Unlike the active encouragement of outdoor lighting displays during the 1950s and 1960s, the base went back and forth on the issue during the petroleum-starved 1970s. In fact evidence suggests that the use of outdoor Christmas lights was either prohibited or severely curtailed in the mid-70s due to the energy crisis.

By 1977 outdoor lights were again allowed and directives for their safe display appeared in the base paper. The following year the same message was published along with the plea for everyone on base to cut back on one hour of TV per night ". . . or some other conservation activity to offset the electricity consumed" by the Christmas lights. Then in 1979 lights were banned entirely ". . . due to climatic conditions and the lack of outside outlets for connections." The anti-lighting position was eventually dropped, although exactly when cannot be pinpointed with accuracy.

Which brings us to Rota Walk.

There is no recorded mention of Andersen's venerable holiday tradition before 1986, and understanding just when and how it began has perpetually been fuzzy for researchers. For example, in December1996 the Andersen newspaper claimed that Rota Walk was celebrating its 10th anniversary, meaning that the event started in 1986. However, in December 2001 the base paper stated that the tradition had reached 20 years, bringing the origin back to the beginning of the 1980s.

The 20-year theory was probably taking into account "Christmas Walk," an OWC Christmas-time fundraising event that took place in 1980 and 1981 (and possibly a couple of more years after that). On this "Walk," individuals bought tickets which gave passage inside ". . . selected homes on General's Hill," the old nickname for the senior leadership area on Rota Drive.

The 1980 event went from 1 to 3 p.m., while the 1981 Christmas Walk started at 4 p.m. Since both instances took place during daylight hours, these proto-Rota Walks were obviously not illumination events. Nevertheless, that they occurred on Rota Drive suggests a strong link to our present-day tradition.

Therefore, rather than 1980-81, 1986 is the most likely candidate for the earliest year that Rota Walk was carried out more or less as it is today, although the event has changed somewhat in the last two decades. In 1986 the Walk was promoted as the "Christmas Eve Rota Drive lighting," which went from 7 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 24. Eventually it took on an official name: The "Rota Drive Christmas Eve Stroll," which was still held on the night before Christmas.

Unfortunately, along with Rota Walk's precise start date, its evolution is also shrouded in the mists of time, though certain details are available. It is said that in the early 1990s, the event grew in scale along with the arrival of the 13th Air Force. By the mid-1990s, Rota Walk had become increasingly professionalized as committees ensured a smooth event and various base organizations sponsored vacant houses along the way. Soon it was no longer a "Christmas Eve Stroll," but one that had a fixed date on the Sunday before Christmas Eve. In recent years, Rota Walk has taken place on various dates in December.

Despite the best laid plans, Rota Walk was cancelled in the wake of Supertyphoon Pongsona which struck Guam on Dec. 8, 2002. On the other hand the event apparently went on unperturbed after Supertyphoon Paka of Dec. 16, 1997, slammed into Andersen.

This year's walk should be as charming as the previous years. Depending on which history one chooses to follow, it will not only mark the Rota Walk's 20th anniversary, but also add yet another example for posterity of Andersenites going all out to celebrate the joy of Christmas and the holidays at our tropical home away from home.