Monday, May 28, 2001

Alan De Coite with one of his relics at the
Maui Military Museum.

Maui man
restores glory to
old military craft

He turns 30 years of
collecting into a museum
of Maui military history

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent

NAPILI, Maui >> Alan De Coite has turned his passion for restoring military aircraft and vehicles into a museum about the military history of Maui.

The Maui Military Museum, which opened earlier this month at the Napili Plaza in West Maui, includes casings of a torpedo and a napalm canister, a collection of Japanese military swords and a restored 1941 Dodge Command Car mounted with a machine gun.

His nine restored aircraft, including a Cobra gunship helicopter and F4U Corsair, are not in the museum for lack of space.

But he has photographs and models of them, along with news articles about World War II pilots who were based on Maui, including Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the United States' first ace pilot in World War II.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, O'Hare shot down five Japanese airplanes and was credited with saving the aircraft carrier Lexington. He became an instructor at the top-gun school for pilots at what was the Naval Air Station at Puunene in Central Maui, De Coite said.

Chicago's main airport is named after O'Hare, who later died in air combat.

De Coite said he began restoring and displaying military airplanes and vehicles to remind people about the sacrifices made by U.S. service people.

"It should serve as a reminder that freedom has never come free," he said.

"We've got to know where we came from so we can look into our future."

De Coite, a Vietnam veteran and a cowboy by profession, has spent the past 30 years and thousands of dollars searching for and restoring abandoned aircraft, military vehicles and other memorabilia.

Residents aware of his interest have helped him slowly build his collection.

"People are bringing me things all the time," he said.

The shell casing of a napalm canister came from David Cup Choy, who has a fence with bombshell casings in the front of his Makawao yard.

De Coite visited a Maui resident for 23 years before the man agreed to turn over the Command Car.

"He saw my passion and dedication and entrusted me with this vehicle," De Coite said.

His search has taken him into remote wilderness areas of Molokai to retrieve an F4U Corsair Navy fighter and to dump sites in Keokea to uncover three F3F Grumman biplanes.

Residents living in the Upcountry region know De Coite for his participation in Fourth of July parades, where he has displayed helicopters, airplanes, Jeeps and a tank.

The museum is focusing on Maui's contribution to the military, especially the naval pilots during World War II. Some World War II veterans visiting the museum have looked through old photographs to find familiar places.

De Coite said he has helped to recover and restore three Cobra gunship helicopters, three Grumman fighter biplanes, two Grumman F6F Hellcats, two Grumman Avengers and two Douglas dive bombers.

Three of the restored aircraft are on the mainland participating in air shows.

A number of the military vehicles and aircraft are on his Upcountry ranch.

"Someday I hope to have them under one roof," he said.

Museum hours

The museum is open 1-8 p.m. seven days a week through the end of June. There is no charge for admission.

Inquiries and contributions to the Maui Military Museum may be made by calling Alan De Coite at 572-7361.

E-mail to City Desk

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