By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Seventy-seven years after serving in the Army at
Fort Kamehameha, now part of Hickam Air Force Base,
Conley Cook, 97, returns for a visit.

Fort Kamehameha
looks nothing like
it did in 1920

The post used to guard
Pearl Harbor's entrance but is
now part of Hickam

By Gregg K. Kakesako

It was the love of the tropics and the chance to enlist in the Army's elite coast artillery corps that lured 97-year-old Conley Cook to Hawaii not once, but twice.

Seventy-seven years later, Cook returned to what was once Fort Kamehameha, where he manned 12-inch cannons that guarded the channel leading to Pearl Harbor. It was his first visit back to the military post, now part of Hickam Air Force Base.

Cook found nothing he could recognize, not even his old artillery battery, which had been encased in concrete after he left.

All of the massive coastal defense cannons and mortar pieces that stood vigil near the entrance to Pearl Harbor have long been dismantled. "Not one of the cannons was preserved as a historical artifact," said author and historian William H. Dorrance, who accompanied Cook on his tour.

In his 1993 book, "Fort Kamehameha," Dorrance noted: "Destruction of the coast artillery's guns took place nationwide as their value was deemed to be minimal in the new age of missiles and nuclear weapons."

Cook, a retired linotype operator, first enlisted in the Marine Corps on March 17, 1917, at age 17, but didn't reach Europe until two months before the World War I armistice was signed.

"I got there too late for any of the action, but I did get to see a lot of the country playing ball after the war ended," said the former second baseman.

After getting out of the Marine Corps, Cook was persuaded to return to the military. This time it was the promise of a position in the coast artillery corps and the chance to be stationed in Hawaii.

"I was still young and wanted to get around," said Cook who arrived in Hawaii in 1920 and was stationed at Fort Kamehameha on the finger of land that later became Hickam Field.

The land, once the site of Queen Emma's home, contained three shallow fishponds, groves of kiawe trees and a marsh when the Army purchased it in 1907 and built the first gun battery.

Seventy-seven years ago the area was mainly sugar cane fields, Cook recalled.

"What wasn't sugar cane was swamps. Trains pulled flatbeds which took the troops to the batteries that lined the coast."

A network of narrow-gauge railroad lines also was used to haul harvested cane to sugar mills in Aiea. It also served Watertown, a settlement of nearly 1,000 dredge workers, transients, sugar workers and native Hawaiians, located on the northeastern part of the Pearl Harbor channel.

Cook was stationed at Battery Closson, which had massive coastal artillery guns capable of hurling 12-inch, 975-pound projectiles as far as 30,100 yards.

The coast artillery units had one mission: to protect Honolulu Harbor and Pearl Harbor from enemy battleships.

Besides Fort Kamehameha, there were coastal artillery fortifications built at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki and at Fort Ruger in Diamond Head.

When his enlistment was over, Cook returned to the mainland, but the lure of Hawaii and baseball made him re-enlist in 1923. Stationed at Fort Shafter, he was assigned as a military policeman patrolling downtown Honolulu. For sport, Cook's Army team played rival service organizations as well as civilian teams.

"I remember playing against (former Honolulu Mayor) Neal Blaisdell," he recalled.

"If I remember correctly, he was a really good pitcher."

Fort Kamehameha

1907: Land next to Pearl Harbor channel bought through condemnation from Queen Emma's estate; two 12-inch cannons built.
1909: Renamed Fort Kamehameha, from Fort Upton, after local citizens complained.
1921: Introduction of 12-inch mortars mounted on railroad cars.
1991: Air Force takes possession
Source: "Fort Kamehameha: The Story of The Harbor Defenses of Pearl Harbor" by William Dorrance.

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