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Ewa Field's historic area should grow, feds suggest

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 24, 2015

The National Park Service is suggesting historic designation for a larger area of the Dec. 7, 1941, Ewa Field battlefield, which would help preserve the site and stave off development plans, said John Bond, a proponent of the measure.

Park service language goes beyond the "determination of eligibility" that the Navy -- the landowner -- found in recommending last year that about 81 acres of the old Marine Corps Air Station Ewa be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bond, an Ewa historian, said the battlefield recommendation now includes more of Ewa Field's original 1941 boundaries, for a total of about 150 acres. He said the Navy has expressed a willingness to sign off on the plan.

Bond predicts the area "will become West Oahu's key historic district (and) future visitor attraction, and will present a panorama of Ewa cultural history of all eras."

Navy documentation outlines a "core area" of resources "that retain a strong level of integrity and comprise the most pivotal elements of the former Ewa military installation associated with the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Hawaii," the park service's National Register of Historic Places program said in a recent report.

The 1941 runways, aircraft warm-up area, mooring apron and hangar foundation are part of those core areas.

But "the chaos and confusion of an unprovoked attack seems to call for an expanded definition of the involved battlefield," the park service said, adding that it supports consideration of "outlying support areas where the battlefield action may have involved people fleeing from aerial bombs and bullet fire and taking shelter wherever possible."

A map of that area for inclusion shows the former location of the camp's entrance and flagpole, tent quarters and other facilities near Roosevelt Avenue.

While Ewa Field's location and role on Dec. 7, 1941, are becoming better known, the weedy and overgrown airfield was little more than a forgotten historical footnote in 2009 when the Navy transferred leasehold interest in 540 acres of the shuttered Barbers Point Naval Air Station -- including most of the original Ewa Field -- to the Hunt Cos., a Texas-based developer.

Steve Colon, president of development for Hunt's Hawaii region, said last year the company wanted to put solar panels on the old airfield.

The preservation of Ewa Field was not planned for, and how the growing interest by the park service and National Register of Historic Places program in the former airfield will affect future development plans remains unclear.

At the time of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, the airfield was being changed from the Ewa Mooring Mast Field. A 160-foot-tall mooring mast was completed in 1925 for blimps but never used.

An "Ewa Plain Battlefield" report, completed with a $54,000 American Battlefield Protection Program grant, noted that the Japanese attack on Ewa Field came about two minutes before Pearl Harbor was hit.

Accounts vary, but the battlefield report said the Ewa attack destroyed nine of 11 Wildcat fighters and 18 of 32 scout bombers on the ground.

Marines fought back initially with sidearms and rifles, and one account noted how Lt. Yoshio Shiga, commander of nine Zero fighters, recalled one Marine, oblivious to the machine-gun fire striking the ground around him, standing his ground and emptying his pistol at Shiga's Zero as it roared past.

Four Marines and two civilians were killed.

Japanese planes were attacked over Ewa by celebrated U.S. Army pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor, who took off from Haleiwa Auxiliary Airfield in P-40 fighters.

Bond said planning is underway for an Ewa Field historic heritage park that would preserve Hawaiian, plantation, ranching and World War II-era histories. A re-created Marine Corps tent camp is part of the plan.

Native Hawaiian burial sites exist in the area as well as ancient Hawaiian trails, Bond said. The area was known as a "leina-a-ka-uhane," the spirit leaping place for souls to heaven, Bond said.

A 2009 state Legislature concurrent resolution urged federal government preservation of Ewa Field, or a portion of it, as a national monument, Bond said. Even though the base was expanded from 1942 to 1945, runways and a bullet-pocked concrete ramp remain as they existed in 1941, he said.

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Army photographer Lee Embree snapped this photo of the crash site of a Japanese dive bomber while he was aboard a B17 on the morning of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Hawaii by the Japanese.
U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVES

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