Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Aboard the Mighty Missouri


By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Olivia Breitha, a Hansen's disease patient from
Kalaupapa, looks down a gun barrel with
Raymond Kauhola on the USS Missouri.

residents renew
historic ties
to Missouri

An earlier ship bearing the same
name saluted the community in 1908,
on orders from Theodore Roosevelt

By Mary Adamski


IT was one year ago that Kalaupapa residents gathered at the shore to watch the USS Missouri pass on the way to its final mooring at Pearl Harbor.

They talked about taking a closer look sometime, and yesterday, with some financial help from their friends, 25 residents came to Oahu to tour the historic battleship, which is now a museum.

Some folks were confined in wheelchairs, raised by forklift to the on-ramp and limited to the main deck. Others climbed to the upper deck, site of the Japanese surrender ending World War II, but didn't attempt the in-and-out clambering to the bridge and elsewhere that many of the 1,200 visitors per day manage to do.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Frances Padeken maneuvers Kuulei Bell
down a narrow passage on the USS Missouri.

But like all visitors with memories of World War II, they kept guides Sarah Lee Cachola and Lilla Le Vine on their toes with questions about the 55-year-old ship. And they had their link with Missouri history to share.

The visit was the latest link in a relationship between the Missouri and Kalaupapa that dates back to 1908. That's when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the Great White Fleet, an armada of 16 Navy ships on a globe-circling cruise, to divert from its course to pass the remote west Molokai peninsula.

"It was Brother Dutton's idea," said Henry Nalaielua, recounting history known to everyone in the tour group if not their shipboard guides. Roosevelt was responding to a letter from Joseph Dutton, a Civil War veteran who had joined Father Damien DeVeuster years earlier to care for Hansen's disease patients quarantined to the settlement.

An earlier battlewagon named Missouri was among the ships that dipped their flags in salute to Dutton and the patients.

The crew of the USS Missouri re-enacted that ritual in September 1986 during a tour to Hawaii. The ship was recommissioned that year after 30 years of inactive status and saw service in the Gulf War before being mothballed again.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Hansen's disease patients gather around Sarah-Lee
Cachola to listen to the tales of the USS Missouri.

"They brought about 11 of us aboard as guests in memory of Dutton," said Nalaielua, remembering the 1986 ceremony of sailors at the railing, as well as the captain's personal hospitality, drinks in his quarters and a turkey dinner.

"What a difference, the deck was spick and span," said Nalaielua, who wore a vintage Missouri cap from that visit. But he said, "I give the volunteers credit for bringing it back this good. I was about 50 times better myself back then."

The view of Pearl Harbor aroused memories among others on the tour. Edwin Lelepali and Catherine Puahala were residents at the Kalihi Hospital for Hansen's Disease patients when Japan attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

"We saw black smoke when we were coming out of the dining room," Lelepali said. "Two planes came over so close we could have hit them with a rock." Then 12 years old, he and other youngsters were drafted to join nighttime patrols around the perimeter fence at the Kalihi Kai facility.

The attack and continuing fear of an invasion led the state to move all Hansen's disease patients to Kalaupapa.

"The state felt it had to protect us," said Puahala, who was 13. "It was the last time I got to see my father." The banishment of patients didn't end until nearly 30 years later and by then, "We love that place. I hope that I never have to leave."

Yesterday was her first excursion to the Missouri, but travel away from home is not a rare thing for Puahala and many other residents. In the past year, she has flown to New York and to China to participate in the "Quest for Dignity" exhibit about the accomplishments of people with Hansen's disease worldwide. And earlier this year, she was among Kalaupapa residents to fly to Belgium to attend the opening of a Belgian-made movie about Damien.

The Missouri expedition was underwritten by the Lions Club, Damien Tours, Molokai Mule Rides and the Kalaupapa Craft Shop.

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