Hawaiian History

by | Aug 1, 2014 | History, Second World War, Travel

Over the course of ten days, my family and I were privileged to visit the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui and Kauai. Three days were spent in Oahu with the better part of two days each in the other islands. This article will capture my general impressions of Hawaii.

Oahu and Pearl Harbor

The Arizona Memorial and Bowfin Museum

USS Arizona Memorial

Without question, my most vivid impressions of Hawaii come from our visit to Pearl Harbor and Ford Island. The Visitor’s Center prepares one for the boat ride to the Arizona Memorial. The Visitor’s Center contains several buildings with dioramas illustrating the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American raid on Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle. These buildings, the dioramas, the associated art work and models are extremely well done and informative. Featuring a model of one of the Japanese aircraft carriers, either the Akagi or Kaga , and full-scale replicas of Japanese torpedoes and weaponry, the buildings and displays associated with the Arizona Memorial were striking.

The film one watches before taking the boat ride to the Arizona Memorial reminds one that you are not just in a military harbor. Rather, you are at a gravesite. Both the Arizona and the Utah are rusting and decaying in the waters of Pearl Harbor along with the men who died during the attack. Pearl Harbor is far more than a military installation. It is the final resting place for men who gave all for their country. The tragedy of the human suffering and destruction of December 7, 1941, is never far from the minds of those who work in and around Pearl Harbor.

After watching the film, people travelling to the Arizona Memorial were generally quiet. Upon arriving at the Arizona , people were very somber and reflective. It was good to see people exhibiting proper respect and honor for the dead sailors and marines entombed in that mighty battleship. Flowers and wreaths were positioned adjacent to the marble slabs where the names of the men who died and who are entombed in the Arizona are inscribed. A docent gave a brief presentation on the reasons why the Arizona  and the Utah were not removed from Pearl Harbor. America was at war. The U.S. Navy had to salvage what it could to get back on a fighting footing. The Arizona and the Utah were left behind as gravesites. Little drops of oil seeped to the surface from the oil bunkers of the Arizona and one of the turret rings for the guns still lies above the surface of the water in the harbor. A trip to the Arizona Memorial is a moving experience for any American.

The crew of USS Hawaii man the rails aboard WWII museum ship USS Bowfin

The U.S.S. Bowfin was an American submarine responsible for sinking a number of Japanese vessels during the Second World War. A visit to the Bowfin gives one an appreciation for the technical aspects of developing an underwater vessel in terms of propulsion systems (both diesel power and electric). The depth gauges, controls and other instruments are educational in giving one an idea about how those submarines were operated. The cramped quarters available to the crew are a testament to their stamina and resilience to live and fight in such confining quarters. Adjacent to the Bowfin is a museum with exhibits and photographs covering the development of American submarines. Like the buildings associated with the Arizona Memorial, the Bowfin Museum was extremely well done and informative.

The U.S.S. Missouri

Since my father served on the U.S.S. Missouri, our visit to this battleship was especially meaningful. An Iowa – class battleship, the Missouri  (BB-63) was ordered in 1940 and commissioned in 1944. She fought in the battles if Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and shelled the Japanese home islands. She fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. She was decommissioned in 1955 and reactivated and modernized in 1984.

The Missouri is an imposing vessel since she is the length of three football fields and has nine 16 inch (406 mm) guns which could fire a 2,700-pound armor-piercing shell approximately twenty miles. She also had twenty-five inch (127 mm) guns with a range of about 10 miles and an array of Oerlikon 20 mm and Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns.

USS Missouri watching over USS Arizona - Pearl Harbor
USS Missouri

On April 11, 1945, the Missouri was struck by a Kamikaze aircraft on the starboard side. The ship suffered only superficial damage. The remains of the dead Japanese pilot were recovered and he was buried at sea with full military honors.

She bombarded enemy positions on Okinawa and Kyū shū, as well as the Wanashi Iron Works at Hokkaido. She also guarded American aircraft carriers when they attacked Tokyo. On August 29, 1945, she sailed into Tokyo Bay. The instruments of surrender were signed on her decks on September 2, 1945; a plaque marks that spot today. As one inspects the interior of the ship and climbs about the superstructure, the Missouri is truly an engineering marvel.

The Pacific Air Museum

Catching a bus ride across the bridge onto Ford Island, one has glimpses of the Navy housing on Ford Island until in the distance, the red and white striped control tower and the runway of what was once Luke Field is evident in the distance. Luke Field, named for First World War Ace, Frank Luke, was once home to U.S. Army Air Service and U.S. Army Air Corps pilots and aircraft until they later moved to Hickam and Wheeler Fields. The control tower and associated hangars generally appear as they would have appeared at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

As one enters the first hangar associated with the Pacific Air Museum, one sees a Japanese A6M2 in authentic colors positioned on a simulated flight deck together with a P-40 hanging from the rafters in the colors it would have had on December 7, 1941. Also hanging from the rafters is an Aeronca aircraft that was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Fortunately, the Aeronca aircraft evaded destruction.

Ex-ROKAF F-5 at the Pacific Aviation Museum
Curtis P-40E Kittyhawk
Swamp Ghost restoration at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor

There is a B-25 Mitchell painted in the colors of the Ruptured Duck flown by Captain Ted Lawson. An SBD Dauntless appears in early Second World War colors with a diorama of sinking Japanese aircraft carriers in the background. An F4F Wildcat appears as it would have appeared on Guadalcanal in late 1942. All of these exhibits are very convincing and historically accurate.

The second hangar associated with the Pacific Air Museum is a working hangar. While aircraft are on display, this is an operational hangar without dioramas and artwork to accentuate the aircraft on display. Outside this second hangar sitting behind a fence is a B-17 recovered from New Guinea known as “Swamp Ghost.” Swamp Ghost is fairly intact and is an early model B-17E, S/N: 41-2446. The four engines, wings, fuselage and tail surfaces are generally intact. Perhaps one day Swamp Ghost will be restored. If Tom Reilly can restore B-17, then surely the Pacific Air Museum can restore Swamp Ghost.

The interior of the second hangar houses a number of aircraft such as a Curtiss P-40E Warhawk  (in AVG colors), a MIG-21 , an F-4 Phantom, an F-104 Starfighter, another SBD Dauntless, a MIG-15, an F-86, and a number of U.S. Navy or Marine Corps helicopters. Sitting outside on the tarmac were several other aircraft which are part of the inventory of the Pacific Air Museum.

The Seaplane Tour of Oahu

On our second day in Oahu, we took a seaplane tour of the island. We departed from a bay to the south of Hickam Field and flew generally in a southeasterly direction. Because the bay sits below the Class B Airspace, our pilot had to get a transponder code and a clearance before departing the bay. We flew around the southeastern perimeter of Oahu seeing a lighthouse off our left wing. We flew over Bellows Field which is now closed. It appeared that a building had been erected in the middle of intersecting runways on Bellows. As we approached Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, Luke, our pilot, made contact with the control tower to transition the Airspace. In time, we were on the eastern periphery of Oahu. While we were at a relatively low altitude, there were mountains to our west that towered upward into the lingering layer of clouds. While we wanted to fly through a canyon, the lingering clouds made that impossible. In time, we were on the northeastern periphery of Oahu and were turning westward to Haleiwa Field. Haleiwa is the Field where Lt. Welch and Lt. Taylor departed in two P-40s during the attack on Pearl Harbor and shot down a number of Japanese aircraft. Today, from the air, Haleiwa looks like a strip of about 3500 feet in length that is largely overgrown and forgotten. There is an airport with a paved runway in close proximity to Haleiwa.

From Haleiwa, we turned south looking at a majestic summit that rose to 7,000 feet off our right wing. The next thing I knew, we were transiting the airspace of Wheeler Field. While Wheeler was an Army Air Force base during the Second World War, as we flew over the airport, all I saw were helicopters. Apparently, Wheeler is not a U.S. Army airfield. On the date of our flight, the control tower was closed, and we made position reports in the blind on the tower frequency. It seemed like only about five minutes from the time we departed Haleiwa until Ford Island and Pearl Harbor were looming on the horizon. The length of the trip from the northern coastline of Oahu to our approach to Pearl Harbor seemed fairly short. We were once again in communication with the control tower at Hickam Field and circled Ford Island. Below us, one could see the sunken ships, the Arizona and Utah, as well as the U.S.S. Missouri.

In short order, we made our way back to the bay and landed just south of Hickam Field. Then, we made our way back into town.

We did see some of the old areas of town where soldiers, sailors, and airmen would have spent many hours while on leave in Honolulu. We also spent time at the Bishop Museum that gives one an appreciation about the indigenous peoples of Hawaii and Hawaiian history.

The Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii, Maui

As we flew towards toward the Big Island of Hawaii, it appeared that we flew a clockwise flight path around the island until we arrived at Hilo. Hilo is a large, but very quiet airport without a lot of traffic. We stayed in a home in Volcano, Hawaii, not far from the volcanic crater. We observed the volcano at night with the red glow which is most impressive. The next day, we drove south, then west, then north and saw a remarkable black beach on the southeastern corner of the island. As we made our way back to Hilo, we saw a military airfield in the central portion of the island. The next morning we were off to Maui.

Maui

Maui is a remarkable island. Two memorable events were driving along the perimeter of Maui featuring about 400 hairpin turns and about 40 bridges. In many areas, the road is single lane, and you have to give way to oncoming traffic before you can move forward. Alongside this twisting and turning road one will see waterfalls which are remarkable. In time, we made our way to what appeared to be the western periphery of the island and the resting place of Charles Augustus Lindberg. He is buried outside an Anglican Church. Interestingly, the monument for Lindberg gives very little information other than the date of his birth, his death and his name. For a man who was so accomplished and so famous, there is no mention of his receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor or of his achievements. Lindberg’s final resting place is very beautiful. From Lindberg’s resting place, we made our way back to Kula where we stayed at Kula Lodge for several days. Once again, there was a volcano to be surveyed with an elevation of about 10,000 feet. As we drove to the volcano, we climbed up through the cloud deck and eventually were on top of the clouds. The scenery was truly breathtaking.

Kauai

The fourth island we visited in the Hawaiian chain was Kauai. Unlike Maui that featured fleets of corporate aircraft, I recall seeing only one Gulfstream on the tarmac at Kauai. However, there were helicopters plying their trade in and around the airport. Kauai features the remains of the Coco Palms Hotel captured in Blue Hawaii  featuring Elvis Presley. For aviators, one will have an interest in a valley in what I believe was the northeastern quadrant of the island where a scene from the Flight of the Intruder  was filmed. Looking down on the valley from the ridge on an adjoining mountain, the land below looked like Vietnam with rice paddies and a checkerboard landscape featuring patches of various shades of green. After a couple of days in Hawaii, we made our way back to Oahu for a trip back to the 48 states of America.

Conclusion

Hawaii is truly a breathtaking state. It really is a tropical environment featuring lush vegetation, sparkling blue waters and majestic mountains shrouded by clouds. With regard to the island of Maui, it is said that Charles Lindberg declared that he would prefer to spend two days on Maui than 30 days in New York. One can appreciate why Lindberg felt compelled to make his way to Maui and the Hawaiian Islands in his waning days of life. Perhaps, we will return to the Hawaiian Island for another visit.

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