Fort Kamehameha, Hickam Air Force Base
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked Secretary of War William Howard Taft to review US defenses in the Pacific.
To protect the new US Territory of Hawai‘i and the Navy’s coaling station at Pearl Harbor, Taft recommended a system of fixed gun emplacements, a so-called “ring of steel.” Between 1907 and 1920, coastal artillery batteries armed with 3- to 14-inch guns were dug in at Fort Ruger at Diamond Head, Fort DeRussy at Waikïkï, Fort Armstrong on Honolulu Harbor and at Fort Kamehameha.
Fort Kamehameha’s arc of coralline beach frontage at ahua Point marks the east shore of the mouth of Pearl Harbor’s narrow entrance channel. The idyllic spot, once owned by Queen Emma, was also a strategic spot, and by 1920 a well-ordered US Army post spread out along the shore among four big gun batteries. Between the concrete hulks, the Army Coast Artillery Corps laid out thirty-three officers’ quarters, as well as barracks, stores, warehouses, garages and a chapel.
Within a decade the batteries became obsolete, as the Army switched over to mobile artillery. Four of the batteries were deactivated, and pleasant Fort Kamehameha became something of a backwater, a “military reservation” where beachfront housing was still much in demand. Eventually the Army gave the fort over to the US Air Force, whose giant Hickam Air Force Base completely surrounds the old post.
Gary O’Donnell, the chief environmental planner for PACAF, the Air Force Pacific Command, drives past Hickam’s flight line, down Mamala Bay Drive and into old Fort Kamehameha, where he points out the triangular green, a little chapel, a bandstand and a flagpole that mark the remains of the post’s center. A black-andwhite MIA flag flutters above a nondescript newer building nearby. That’s JPAC, O’Donnell says, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, whose somber mission is to complete the fullest possible accounting of every American missing as a result of the nation’s conflicts.
O’Donnell turns onto Nelson Avenue, where a black-painted cement hulk, Battery Hawkins, glowers gun-less among big kiawe (mesquite) trees at the edge of the sandy beach. Beyond it, the beach and the Pearl Harbor channel serve as front yard for a row of slightly tired-looking, one-storey, Arts and Crafts-style bungalows, circa 1916, all tucked into a glorious, tree-shaded common lawn. No hedges or fences—a child’s dream. O’Donnell drives slowly, pointing out the quarters’ original leaded glass windows, the board-and-batten siding, the lavarock foundations, the screened lanai and the screened exterior hallways. To him, every detail is precious. He winces when he sees any kind of recent alterations —an enclosed lanai, say, or louvered windows. He notes that a few years after they were built, these houses were copied at Schofield Barracks and on Ford Island. The homes are now all empty; the neighborhood has been completely vacant since August 2008.
According to O’Donnell, the problem is that Fort Kamehameha lies in an APZ, or Accident Potential Zone—in other words,
too close to the big runways shared by the Air Force base and Honolulu International Airport. But, of course, the families of Fort Kamehameha lived with the “accident potential” for the last seventy years without incident.
Earlier this year, the Air Force announced it was moving ahead with plans to “dispose” of Fort Kamehameha by the end of 2009. The options for disposal include adaptive use by some private or public agency, relocation of the homes or demolition. Another option laid out in Air Force plans is to find a “longterm caretaker” to preserve the unused buildings—and future possibilities.