Monday, Sept. 13, 1999

U.S. Army Museum
A soldier hurdles over a barbed wire fence
during advanced training at the jungle
training school here in 1943.

Fortress Hawaii
played key role
in Pacific victory

It was here that much of
the mighty Pacific force
trained and assembled

By Richard Borreca



The battles would be in places named Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa and Guadalcanal. But America's soldiers would learn how to fight those Pacific battles of World War II on the beaches and in the hills of Hawaii.

During the war, Hawaii was the last stop for a million men before they moved into combat.

"The roadside was clogged with hundreds of men near Schofield," Chieko Ginoza wrote in her diary in 1943. "Rows and rows of drab tents, barracks and quonset huts stretched to the horizon."

Before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was the United States' most forward possession in the Pacific and one of the world's most heavily fortified places. The guns and cannons buried in mountains here earned it the nickname: Gibraltar of the Pacific.

Still, the construction was nothing like what Hawaii experienced after the attack, with the U.S. Army and Navy burrowing throughout Oahu. The biggest project: a $42 million gasoline and oil storage center in Central Oahu, according to the history of the Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific, written by Erwin Thompson.

Also built underground were a bombproof radio center and storage tunnels in Kipapa. A cold storage tunnel at Fort Shafter. A Joint Army-Navy command post at Aliamanu Crater.

By the summer of 1942, the size of Sand Island had doubled due to dredged materials from Kapalama and the Keehi Lagoon seaplane project.

The Army occupied over 210,000 acres in Hawaii during the war. And necessity, the military felt, left little time for legal, cultural or environmental niceties.

In Keehi Lagoon, for instance, ancient fish ponds that covered much of the area were filled with dredged material from the adjacent seaplane project by the Army Corps of Engineers.

By war's end, the Army had built 37 miles of runways, 32 miles of taxiways, 2.7 million square yards of aircraft parking, and 470 aircraft bunkers.

It is estimated that almost 4 million feet of barbed wire and about 4,000 concrete pillboxes were erected on prime lands along beaches and strategic inland areas.

In the pineapple fields south of Wheeler Air Field and Schofield Barracks, the Kunia Tunnel was created at a cost of $23 million, a three-story underground structure designed to repair aircraft. The air-conditioned complex could handle B-17 heavy bombers and assemble light planes, and had a cafeteria that could turn out 6,000 meals a day. It continues today as a military installation.

At Makua, the engineers erected replicas of the Japanese beach defenses at Tarawa. In November 1943, that grim 76-hour battle for the Gilbert Islands atoll would leave more than 1,000 Americans dead, twice that number wounded.

And on the Big Island, at Waimea, on the slopes of Mauna Kea, the 5th Marine Division found a hill that resembled Mount Suribachi, the volcanic peak of Iwo Jima. There, the Marines practiced their invasion plans over and again -- fateful drills toward a grisly February 1945 battle which wrought such a heavy death toll that Adm. Chester Nimitz would said: "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

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