Residents in the west Oahu city of Kapolei are demanding answers from the Navy after a public veterans memorial in their community was recently removed without their knowledge.
The memorial honored the legacy of Naval Air Station Barbers Point, which operated between 1942 and 1999 as the largest naval air station in the Pacific theater.
The base was home to the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and was one of several naval installations targeted during the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
When the base ceased operation in 1999 as part of BRAC closures, the Navy erected a public memorial to honor the WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War and Gulf War veterans who served at the air station.
The memorial was located across the street from the former base headquarters and was made of stylized Hawaiian lava rock which read in raised silver letters, “Naval Air Station Barbers Point 1942-1999.” Enclosed within the rock wall was a silver-coated, 1/15-scale model of the P-3C Orion.
John Bond, a Kapolei community historian and military history buff, said residents were completely caught off guard when a forklift came and removed the P-3C model and silver lettering from the memorial on a Saturday morning early last month.
“Everybody who saw it was shocked,” he said. “We thought it was a permanent monument to the naval air station. It’s a public area right where everybody goes by; the last thing in the world we would have thought is this would be taken down.”
A spokesperson for Navy Region Hawaii confirmed it approved the memorial’s removal.
In a statement, Jim Neuman, the History and Heritage Outreach Manager at Navy Region Hawaii, said the memorial was “vandalized, soiled and almost stolen a number of times over the years since base closure.”
Neuman said the memorial had been transferred to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where it will remain under the safekeeping of the Naval Support Detachment and Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Forces of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Bond said he passed the memorial on a weekly basis, but never saw any evidence of vandalism. He believes the memorial’s removal has to do with planned redevelopment of the land, which was recently transferred from the Navy to private developer, Hunt.
Navy Region Hawaii never consulted the community on the memorial’s planned removal, Bond said, adding that the Navy said it didn’t have to do any consulting because the memorial did not meet the 50-year mark required to qualify as “historic property.”
Historic or not, Bond said the memorial held a special place in the community which the Navy’s actions failed to honor.
“I’ve gotten many, many emails from people upset about it, saying they would pay to have it restored or they would pay to get a lawyer to sue the Navy, all kinds of reactions like that,” he said. “Of the Navy veterans who specifically were involved in the P-3 era, they’re especially upset about it. Like all of us, we just had no idea this would ever happen.”