FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A 100-foot-long mural painted with Navy logos and welcome-home messages was damaged Wednesday by a brush fire at Kalaeloa.
It wasn't graffiti that finally tainted a mural that has paid tribute to Navy squadrons for more than 50 years in Kalaeloa.
It took a brush fire to destroy several sections of artwork along a 100-foot-long curved wall on Roosevelt Avenue that honored members of the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
The Wednesday brush fire upset lifelong Ewa Beach resident Earl Arakaki, a member of the Navy League who passes the wall in Kalaeloa daily.
"I felt bad about it," Arakaki said. "Some cretins had to go set fire to the shrubbery there, and the thing scorched most of the artwork on that wall. It's kind of heartbreaking."
Fire officials said three brush fires in Kalaeloa on Wednesday might have been intentionally set with fireworks.
The wall became a well-used canvas when the Barbers Point base was operational. Just before Navy personnel returned home from months-long deployment, their spouses would go out with paintbrushes and buckets of paint to adorn the wall, Navy Region Hawaii spokeswoman Agnes Tauyan said.
During that time, spouses painted welcome-home signs, squadron insignias and other representations for squadrons nicknamed, among others, the Screaming Eagles, the Skinny Dragons and the Blue Sharks.
"They would try to outdo each other," Tauyan said. "They were quite creative."
The designs were "private and personal and sentimental," said retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Jim Taylor, who was one of the last people to paint the wall.
Just before the base closed in 1999, Taylor and a buddy, both formerly with Patrol Squadron 22, which was nicknamed the Blue Geese, painted three blue geese flying home.
"It was the best way to say aloha," he said.
Arakaki said many others are lamenting the damaged mural. Many people use Roosevelt Avenue to travel between Ewa Beach and Kapolei daily.
The wall, which is about 8 feet high, remained graffiti-free for more than a half-century, and even after the base closure.
"Over the past six years, none of the graffiti people tampered with it, not one paint mark," Arakaki said.
Tauyan, who remembers the wall while growing up, said, "No one's ever gone to paint over it. They've been sort of respectful."
"I'm actually shocked that that wall hasn't been vandalized," Taylor said. "There's some of us that believed the Hawaiian gods were watching over it."
He plans to organize a group to clean the wall.