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Planning starts again for stalled rebuilding of Naval Air Station Barbers Point memorial

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By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 2, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Following the surprise removal of a Naval Air Station Barbers Point memorial in 2018 and a couple of failed efforts to relocate it, AMVETS Hawaii is again trying to rebuild the pole-mounted scale model P-3 Orion aircraft surrounded by a moss rock wall.

A backlash in the military community—particularly among the thousands of Navy veterans who served at the base—followed its removal.

The now-shuttered 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.

AMVETS Hawaii, part of a national veterans service organization, is trying to raise $15,000 to rebuild the monument, which included "Naval Air Station Barbers Point 1942-1999 " in big letters on a semicircular wall and bronze plaques detailing squadrons and other history.

The fundraiser, started by former Makakilo-Kapolei-Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board member Dean K. Capelouto, had raised $520 in just over a week.

One new plan being considered would place the reconstructed memorial within a security fence near the Barbers Point control tower, which now guides aircraft that use the state-run Kalaeloa Airport.

But Bev Brennan, a 30-year Navy veteran who was stationed at Barbers Point for 13 years and now runs the Barbers Point Bowling Center, said, "That's a bad thing. You put it behind the control tower and nobody can see it. It's a fenced-in area."

Brennan prefers one of two spots out front of the control tower for better public accessibility. The retired command master chief, who was in P-3 units at Barbers Point, said she's "cautiously optimistic " the memorial will be rebuilt, but "it's going to be a fight to get it done right and put in the right place."

Concerns have been raised about vandalism and the possible theft of bronze plaques if the structure is rebuilt outside the control tower security fence, but Brennan said the plaques can be secured and were not stolen for nearly two decades in the original location. Control tower personnel can help keep watch, she said.

Presentations are expected to be made to neighborhood board officials in coming months. The latest attempt to return the memorial to prominence follows a series of missteps.

The American Renaissance Academy, which leased 17 acres from the Hunt Cos., including the original memorial site across from the old base headquarters, got a volunteer group together and hurriedly took the airplane and stand down on March 3, 2018.

Carl Vincenti, who was affiliated with the K-12 private school, said after the removal that he had spearheaded the effort with the school hoping to one day fence off the memorial site to create a bigger play area for students.

The walkway, concrete pad and semicircular rock wall that once framed a one-fifteenth-scale, pole-mounted P-3 Orion were jackhammered into pieces in December 2019.

A group that included Brennan was tasked by the neighborhood board with planning for the relocation and arranged a spot by the control tower and a contractor to move it.

Capelouto, selected at the time as a go-between for the project, said previously that to get state OK for the new location, a group was needed to maintain it, and AMVETS said it would. The organization then picked Vincenti, who at the time was the Barbers Point AMVETS commander, to be its point man on the project.

Vincenti, named AMVETS Hawaii post commander of the year for 2018-19, said a year ago that he was planning a community meeting for construction volunteers with completion of the monument expected by the end of February 2020.

The memorial was not rebuilt, however, and AMVETS Hawaii more recently turned over the effort to a new group that includes Cape-louto and others. Vincenti, contacted by email, did not provide an explanation for the delay.

"The (Naval Air Station ) memorial needs to be rebuilt exactly as the original was, in a spot easily accessible by the public, " Brennan said.

One of the bronze plaques states, "For over half a century, NAS Barbers Point was the pride of the Pacific and home to the 'Rainbow Fleet.'"

Brennan wants a bit of that past to be honored with the memorial's reconstruction.

"I think that so many of us spent so much time stationed here, we have a love of this place, " the Navy veteran said. "We've got to stop the erasing of our history. Everything that's going on right now is just erasing our history."

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