World War II era buildings a reminder of Maui’s past

Our County

As Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. sugar cane disappears from around the island you may begin to notice more and more World War II era buildings in the middle of fields of red dirt.

For anyone who’s lived here awhile, the buildings are no secret. But the fact that they will be visible year-round is something new, and actually quite timely.

These abandoned buildings are all part of our nation’s WWII history and should be noted especially this year, as we observe the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Although most of the attention will be focused on Oahu, people should know that Maui also played a notable role during the war.

We had two naval air stations here, Naval Air Station Pu’unene and Naval Air Station Kahului. If you travel along Mokulele Highway today you’ll see the remnants of an ammunition magazine building and the old runway being used by Maui Raceway Park.

The Kahului air station eventually was turned into the Kahului Airport. Old-timers still call the beach area nearby NASKA, for Naval Air Station Kahului, although more people know it now as Kanaha Park.

Also, because of our island environment, Maui became the place for the military to train for jungle warfare and amphibious operations in the Pacific. There were almost 50 different training areas here according to the Maui Historical Society, including live grenade courses, pistol and rifle and machine-gun ranges, an anti-aircraft firing area and much more.

There were many units training here but Maui was home to only one unit, the 4th Marine Division. About 18,000 marines lived and trained in Haiku at Camp Maui for two years, of which part of the property was converted into the 4th Marine Division Memorial Park, now owned and maintained by the county.

Unfortunately, Maui also had our share of internment camps. The Maui County Jail along with Haiku Military Camp held up to 121 internees from 1942 to 1943. The jail has since been demolished.

After the war was over its presence here lingered on in many ways. A lot of people drove military jeeps left behind. I remember the Apana’s had a store selling military surplus items.

My father’s family was stuck with debt from a farm we no longer had after a soldier told my grandfather not to come back to the property. At the time, he had been so afraid that he would be stuck in an internment camp that he abandoned the farm altogether.

Probably the most lasting effect from the war was the constant bombing of Kahoolawe by the military from 1941 to the 1970s. Maui shook and shuddered almost every day back then from the bombs dropped.

So yes, the attack on Pearl Harbor was devastating for Oahu, but World War II was very real for everyone on the Neighbor Islands as well. Remember that as you observe this 75th anniversary because for better or for worse, the war changed this island forever.

On that note, don’t forget that Veteran’s Day is next week Friday, Nov. 11.

A couple of other things I wanted to mention, the Made in Maui County Festival starts today. Every year this event gets more successful with more and more vendors wanting to participate.

This year, we have more than 140 vendors featuring everything from homemade local pickles to Maui roasted coffee and fresh Molokai bread from Kanemitsu Bakery.

Today is open to buyers and those who purchased a special “early shoppers” event ticket. Saturday is the big shopping day for most of the public.

Also Saturday is the annual Tree Give-Away held by the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens in observance of Arbor Day. There are always long lines in the morning as the first 1,000 people get a free native tree to plant, so make sure you come early if you want one.

Finally, I’d like to address a recent Letter to the Editor by Maui EKO Systems Plant Manager Rubens Fonseca. Mr. Fonseca told my staff that his letter was aimed at The Maui News for the headline attached to my column and not the column itself.

And he’s right, we might write the columns but the newspaper writes the headlines. Please keep that in mind.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.