Thursday, August 8, 2013

Preserving 'Ewa Marine Corps field

an uphill struggle

By William Cole Advertiser Columnist   June 30, 2008

'Forgotten' Sacrifice Honored In West Oahu


'Ewa Beach resident John Bond hasn't given up on his struggle to gain preservation of Marine Corps Air Corps Station 'Ewa, one of the first battlefields of U.S. involvement in World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, but he knows he's up against some powerful players with other ideas.

"Despite the recommendations that the 'Ewa Marine Corps Air Field qualifies for the National Historic Register, qualifies for national monument status, qualifies for national battlefield status and the National Battlefield Protection Program," Bond said, the Navy has other plans.

Japanese Zero fighters strafed the nearly 50 Marine aircraft at 'Ewa Field before the first raid on Pearl Harbor minutes later. Four Marines were killed during three waves of attacks.

Joel Fujita, who's now 88, remembers being on the roof of his parents' 'Ewa Plantation home about 50 yards from the base front gate. He and three brothers climbed up on the roof to see what they initially thought was a training exercise.

"A Zero fighter came over. You could see the canopy open," Fujita said. "He was waving to us, so we waved back, and about five minutes later, a plane came back and started to strafe in front of our house."

Bond, an amateur historian who has done a lot of research into 'Ewa Field, said he's pursuing a suggestion from Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, who was onboard the USS Honolulu, for 'Ewa Field to become a new national veterans cemetery.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl has no more space for in-ground burials.

Bond is trying to rally last-minute support as the Navy, which owns the 'Ewa Field land, finalizes plans to lease to Ford Island Properties 499 acres for 40 years with an option to take title to the property.

A chunk of that land includes the old 'Ewa Field runways.

The Navy said the lease still is being negotiated, with an agreement expected by the end of August. Ford Island Properties is part of the Hunt Development Group.

Steve Colon, president of the Hawai'i division of the Hunt Development Group, previously said in a statement that the Kalaeloa land "offers an opportunity to create needed jobs near the urban center of Kapolei," but added that specific plans had not been made for its use.

Bond believes Hunt will build shopping centers and expensive homes on the land, which abuts Barbers Point Golf Course.

The Navy had said 4 to 5 acres at the center of the old runways are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but Bond wants a bigger chunk of the old base preserved.

There's not much left to see of the airfield, with only foundation outlines, a Quonset hut and concrete building or two standing, but the original runways are still there. Dozens of arched concrete aircraft revetments remain on a separate portion of the base.

Bond's development concerns for the area are evident in plans like the final lease agreement that recently was signed to bring as a neighbor to 'Ewa Field a big shopping center.

The agreement was announced by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Tampa, Fla.-based Hawai'i DeBartolo LLC. The center, called Ka Makana Ali'i, will have 1.6 million square feet of commercial space.

Fujita recalls a very different time, when Marines in 1941 used to walk over and wait in the family's front yard for the bus to town.

"We had four good friends, Marine pilots, and we used to do their laundry," Fujita said.

He also remembers during the Dec. 7 attack a Marine wounded and in bandages coming into the street with a rifle looking for Japanese infiltrators.

Larry Galola wrote in to say photos of the concrete aircraft revetments brought back memories of when they were used as bomb shelters for elementary students during the early 1950s.

"I attended Barbers Point Elementary School back then and it was located on the edge of the airfield. During the Cold War bomb drills we walked to those revetments and took shelter there," he said. "I also recall exploring all the old abandoned WWII bunkers as a kid living on base."