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TRAVELLING IN STYLE : EXCELLENT ADVENTURES : The Ghosts of Pearl Harbor : Beyond the crowded sands and downtown glitz of Waikiki, Honolulu takes on a whole new life through the eyes of history

October 20, 1991|THURSTON CLARKE | Clarke, a contributing editor to Travel Holiday, is the author of "Equator," and of "Pearl Harbor Ghosts," just published by William Morrow & Co., from which this article is adapted

Farther north on the Kamehameha Highway is Wahiawa, in the center of the island. In 1941, this was a rural area of sugar mills and plantation towns. Now it is disfigured by condominium villages and strip malls. A World War II-era fighter plane sits there, at the entrance to Wheeler Field. One might imagine it is one of the handful that managed to take off from this field on Dec. 7 to battle the Japanese--but the marker at its base explains that it's a dummy, built in the 1960s for the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Less than a mile beyond Wheeler Field is Schofield Army Barracks, an "open base" one can enter without prior arrangement. It is probably the most beautiful army base in the nation and will be familiar to anyone who has seen or read "From Here to Eternity"--whose author, James Jones, was quartered there in 1941. Its beautiful quadrangles are virtually unchanged, and with their continuous verandas and lush planting, they suggest a turn-of-the-century resort more than a military encampment. A small museum contains exhibits pertaining to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a red circle on its outside wall identifies a hole purportedly made by a Japanese bullet. Whether or not Schofield actually came under attack on Dec. 7 is a matter of some controversy. What probably happened is that a few Japanese planes fired off some rounds on their way to and from Wheeler Field.

At lonely Kahuku Point, on Oahu's northern coast, Army privates Joseph Lockhard and George Elliott saw a large blip on the screen of their mobile radar station an hour before the attack. Elliott immediately called the Ft. Shafter command center and reported the blip as "very big . . . very noticeable" and "out of the ordinary." The duty officer assumed that it was a flight of American B-17s expected that morning from California and called back to say, "Well, don't worry about it."

Bellows Air Force Base, in the windward town of Waimanalo, definitely came under attack on Dec. 7. Its runway is no longer in use, and the public is allowed to enter on weekends to use its beach, one of the finest and least crowded on Oahu. This is where Kazuo Sakamaki, the captain of a disabled Japanese midget submarine, was washed ashore on the morning of Dec. 8 and promptly taken prisoner by a Japanese-American soldier serving in the Hawaii Territorial Guard. Sakamaki reportedly returned to Oahu several times after the war, in a vain search for the burial site of his lone crewman. Somewhere along the beach there is supposed to be a marker commemorating the captain's capture, but I have not been able to locate it.

BACK IN WAIKIKI, THE LAU YEE CHAI Restaurant in Waikiki Shopping Plaza preserves some of the artifacts and atmosphere of its earlier namesake. During the '30s and '40s, this was the self-proclaimed "Most Beautiful Chinese Restaurant in the World," popular with the military and Honolulu society. It was the site of a gala Harvest Moon Festival on the evening of Dec. 6, 1941. The original Lau Yee Chai was torn down in 1965, and its famous carp pools and bogus backyard volcano are gone forever. But in 1980, its murals, mahogany screens and Chinese art were taken out of storage and used to furnish this nostalgic re-creation.

The only Waikiki hotels surviving from 1941 are the Moana Surfrider, the Halekulani and the Royal Hawaiian--which were, in any case, the only major hostelries here in prewar years. Adm. Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, ate dinner on the Halekulani's terrace the night before the attack. The Moana has recently undergone a major refurbishment, which has left it looking better than it ever did. The Royal Hawaiian has turned much of its famous garden into a concrete shopping center, but its public spaces and the guest rooms in the main building have been carefully preserved. One Pearl Harbor survivor told me that walking down these corridors gave him the spooky feeling that he was walking back into 1941. Many naval officers attended a dance here on the evening of Dec. 6. When, at midnight, the band struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," a young intelligence officer named Edwin T. Layton, who believed that war was coming soon in the Far East, later recalled that he had had to stifle a sudden impulse to shout, "Wake up, America!"

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