Monday, May 31, 1999


Hawaii War Records Repository
Two sailors and a marine make time with an Army nurse
aboard the hospital ship Solace in 1946. Camouflaged
Aloha Tower is in the background.

Hidden past of
Aloha Tower

There probably isn't a structure more emblematic of Honolulu than Aloha Tower, which has stood proud and beige on the waterfront for longer than Frank Fasi can remember. But what's the deal with this picture showing the Tower painted up like a DEA off-road vehicle?

Historic Honolulu After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii's citizens pitched in to defend the islands. "The artist Juliette May Frasier, for example, organized the lei sellers around Aloha Tower into a defense unit, making camouflage nets," said Bill Dorrance, author of "O'ahu's Hidden History."

The art of camouflage was still new. The point of camouflage is not just to hide, it's also to mislead. If landmarks aren't easily recognized from the air, attackers might lose their bearings in the heat of battle. And so Aloha Tower, the power station and the pier structures in Honolulu were painted.

This was all quite secret. "If you shot a picture of a camouflaged building in World War II, Kodak simply didn't return those pictures to you," said Bishop Museum film archivist DeSoto Brown. "So we don't know what colors these patterns actually were."

The Makapuu lighthouse, for example, was camouflaged and not a single picture of it exists.

The picture here, from the Hawaii War Records Repository, showing two sailors and a marine making time with an Army nurse, was shot aboard the hospital ship Solace in 1946, after martial law was repealed. Aloha Tower was no longer top secret.

Tonia Moy of the State Historic Preservation Division said state records show that "green" paint was sandblasted off Aloha Tower in 1947.

But the Tower shows three shades, not one. The colors were probably two shades of green and one of brown, typical military colors of the period.

At any rate, this Memorial Day, be thankful that you can paint your home as brightly as you want.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

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