Hawaii Navy memorial is being rebuilt after backlash over surprise demolition at Barbers Point
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 4, 2020
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The last remnants of a P-3 Orion monument erected by the Navy in 1999 to commemorate Naval Air Station Barbers Point’s 57 years of fleet service have been demolished, but a local American Veterans post commander said plans are proceeding to completely rebuild the memorial near the Kalaeloa Airport control tower.
A walkway, concrete pad and several-foot-tall semicircular moss rock wall that once framed a one-fifteenth-scale, pole-mounted P-3 Orion sub-hunting aircraft were jackhammered into pieces in December.
The American Renaissance Academy, which leases 17 acres from the Hunt Cos., including the memorial site across from the old base headquarters, got a volunteer group together and took the airplane and stand down on March 3, 2018.
The “Naval Air Station Barbers Point 1942-1999” nomenclature also was stripped off the wall at the time.
A backlash in the military community — particularly among those who served at the former Navy base — followed the surprise removal.
“I was proud every time I rode by that (memorial) because it was retaining some of our history. They are quick out here to try and do away with our military history,” Bev Brennan, a retired Navy command master chief who was in P-3 units at Barbers Point, said then.
Brennan runs a bowling alley on the former Navy base.
But Carl Vincenti, a retired Marine and commander of the AMVETS Barbers Point post who has ties with the private K-12 school, said he’s planning a community meeting this month for construction volunteers and completion of a rebuilt monument by the end of February.
“Yes, sir,” Vincenti said in a phone interview. “These contractors lay out the wall and get it built in less than a few days for the rock part of it. The masons come in and they’ll do the face, and then it’s a matter of ensuring that we have a way to secure the lettering to the wall.”
Retired Air Force Col. Rob Moore, who was part of a separate hui that previously had arranged for the relocation of the memorial to the control tower grounds, said he was “totally devastated” to see the recent demolition of the moss rock wall.
Moore’s group in 2018 had been tasked by the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board to plan for the relocation of the displaced monument before the project was later taken over by Vincenti.
D. Kalani Capelouto, a former neighborhood board member selected at the time to be the go-between for the project, said that to get state OK for the new location, a group was needed to maintain it, and AMVETS said it would. The organization then selected Vincenti as its pointman.
Moore said his group’s plan was “to try to take everything from the old location and put it in the new location.”
“I had two of the engineers there that I was dealing with say, ‘Yeah, we can get that (moss rock wall) apart and reuse it,’” he said.
Capelouto said if he had known about the planned demolition, “I would have said, ‘Hey, look, I’ll be on-site and ready to catalog each stone’” for as much reuse as possible.
The loss of the wall is the latest surprise action that has touched a nerve following the earlier removal of the P-3 replica and the “Naval Air Station” lettering.
Landowner Hunt and lessee American Renaissance Academy obtained permits to demolish the wall, Vincenti said. The school wants to use the fenced-in land for recreation for its students, officials said.
“You can’t use all the old moss rock, obviously,” Vincenti said. “It’s surrounded by concrete and mortar and whatever.” He said that a “few selected stones” would be used in the new wall at the control tower.
Iosepa Electric & Contracting said it hauled away the moss rock to Laie for use in other stone wall projects.
Barbers Point at one time was the largest naval air station in the Pacific, with 6,500 military, family members and civilians. The “crossroads of the Pacific” had about six P-3 Orion sub-hunter squadrons and around 50 of the propeller aircraft.
Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said at the time of the closure that training and support activity surged at Barbers Point during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Airborne early-warning missions were conducted for seven years during the height of the Cold War. Anti-submarine patrol squadrons operated continuously for almost 50 years.
In 1999 nearly 2,300 Navy personnel, 29 P-3s and nine SH-60 Seahawk helicopters transferred to Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay.
“We wanted a way to adequately memorialize the rich history of the base,” Capt. Robert Kernan, base commander, said of the P-3 monument when it was dedicated.
Vincenti, who said he formerly volunteered as vice president of business development at American Renaissance Academy, where his son is a student, maintained he had been cleaning up the neglected and deteriorating monument for three years before spearheading the effort to relocate it.
“I’m elated that we stopped the desecration, and I’m very, very, very happy for all of our brothers and sisters that served at Barbers Point, and all of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, that we will be bringing (the monument) back, refurbished and as good as new,” he said.
The Fiberglas airplane model, pole and letters were sent to the Marine Corps base. Bronze plaques listing units that served at Barbers Point are in Navy possession, meanwhile. Vincenti said Hunt planned to “gift” the P-3 replica to AMVETS.
Brennan, the Barbers Point veteran, said Monday she will wait to see whether the monument is rebuilt.
“Seeing is believing,” she said. “I want it reconstructed. I mean, it’s a shame that it’s come to what it’s come to. But the history, the words — NAS Barbers Point — need to be remembered.”