Army forum to address munitions cleanup plan
By William Cole | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 9, 2016
The Army Corps of Engineers will hold a public meeting Monday to unveil plans for remediation of old munitions at the World War II-era Pacific Jungle Combat Training Center in Oahu’s Kahana and Punaluu valleys.
“The proposed plan provides an overview of the nature and extent of munitions discovered at the former training camp, the potential risks posed to human and ecological receptors, current applicable cleanup standards, and the various alternatives for further action,” the corps’ Honolulu District said.
The meeting is set for 6 to 8 p.m. at the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center in Hauula. Written comments also will be accepted through Feb. 11. Munitions known to have been used or recovered include 75-mm armor-piercing rounds, 105-mm high-explosive rounds, 81-mm high-explosive and practice mortar rounds, 2.36-inch rockets and small-arms rounds.
“The potential for MEC (munitions and explosives of concern) hazards within both Kahana and Punaluu valleys is high,” according to an October 2013 Army Corps report.
In Hawaii, unexploded ordnance, or UXO, is part of the landscape — the consequence of a defensive buildup pre-World War I and the massive rush prior to and during World War II. Dozens of UXO sites have been identified on six Hawaiian Islands, with the cost for cleanup projected to be in the hundreds of millions.
The Army acquired 2,545 acres in noncontiguous parcels in Kahana and Punaluu valleys between 1943 and 1947, according to the Army Corps. Part of the push came after Guadalcanal — where the Army’s 25th Division earned its “Tropic Lightning” nickname — demonstrated the need for jungle training. A big camp was set up in Kaaawa.
Basic jungle warfare was conducted at the “red” and “blue” courses. Advanced jungle warfare training and instructor training took place at the “green” course. The Army Corps said Japanese villages and pillboxes were built along with temporary barracks, a mess hall, a bakery and shower facilities.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which now runs Kahana State Park in the valley, said more than 300,000 soldiers learned to live off the land and construct rope bridges for stream crossings. Live-fire training included rockets, machine guns, flamethrowers, rifles and grenades.
The facility was so big, comedian Bob Hope paid a visit in 1944, firing a belt-fed machine gun from the hip.
Warren B. Smith Jr. said in his book, “A Soldier in the Pacific,” that among the skills he practiced at the jungle training center in 1943 was using a rifle bayonet on an obstacle course.
“The first thing was to jump in a shell hole about six feet deep and then scramble out,” Smith wrote. A lieutenant broke his leg, and another soldier ran a bayonet through his hand. “I remember crossing a high bridge of chicken wire over a small stream. Roman candles were shot at us and charges (were) set off spraying us with water.”
Days and nights were filled with marches, compass exercises and demonstrations.
“We had to crawl under barbed wire with live machine gun fire about two feet above our heads,” Smith said. “A loudspeaker kept saying, ‘Don’t raise your head.’” The training included daily hand-to-hand combat skills with a gravel-voiced instructor shouting “kill, kill,” the onetime soldier recalled.
“After two weeks at the jungle school we knew we could survive anything,” Smith said.
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