Saturday, July 31, 2010

Today in History - Britannic Hawaii

Rear Admiral Richard Thomas
On February 25, 1843, the Kingdom of Hawaii was unofficially annexed by British Captain Lord George Paulet of the HMS Carysfort.

Following several unfortunate disputes between the Hawaiian government and the British Consul, Richard Charlton, Captain Paulet cited "alleged insults and malpractices against British subjects" as his justification for his actions.  Both the French Consul and the commander of the U.S. East India Squadron, Commodore Lawrence Kearny, aboard his flagship the USS Constellation, also issued formal protests regarding Paulet's decision.

After five months of British rule under a temporary commission Rear Admiral Richard Thomas sailed into Hawaii aboard his flagship the HMS Dublin to settle the issue on behalf of the Queen.  Immediately upon arriving in port, Thomas requested to see Hawaii's King Kamehameha III.  This resulted in an apology and a promise to restore the kingdom at once with the condition of
The protection of rights and privileges of British subjects in Hawaii and [the guarantee of]  perfect equality with other favored foreigners.
On the morning of July 31, 1843, as the population began to gather at Kulaokahua, a plot of land at the foot of Punchbowl in central Honolulu, a downpour threatened to sour the events planned for Hawaii's restoration.  But according to accounts of the day, at 9am the sky cleared and several companies of Royal Sailors and Marines lined up facing the sea, awaiting the arrival of Admiral Thomas and the king.  Upon their arrival, an artillery unit fired a 21-gun salute.  As the British flag lowered and the Hawaiian flag was raised, British and American warships, merchantmen and whalers fired salvos in honor of the occasion.

In the afternoon, Kawaihao church held a thanksgiving service whereby King Kamehameha III declared that the life of the land had been restored.  He stated, "Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina I ka Pono" or "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."  The phrase eventually became the motto for the State of Hawaii.

In 1850 the area where the ceremony occurred was renamed Thomas Square and became the first public park in Hawaii.  Aerial photos of the square reveal that it is designed in the shape of a Union Jack.

Courtesy of Google Earth

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FDR Visits Hawaii

America’s 32nd Chief Executive made two trips to Honolulu in his unprecedented 12 years as President of the United States. Interestingly, the trips occurred 10 years apart almost to the day.

USS Houston arrives in Honolulu
On July 24, 1934, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first sitting president to visit Hawaii. He spent the day fishing aboard the cruiser USS Houston, off the the coast of Kailua-Kona. The Houston pulled into Hilo Harbor on the 25th and visited many Big Island sites before sailing the next day for Oahu. On the morning of the 26th, he arrived at Pier 2 in Honolulu where he was greeted by more than 60,000 people. Forming the letters “F R” in the sky, 100 Army and Navy aircraft also greeted the man from Hyde Park. As he walked down the gangway with his sons at 9:15 am, the battery at Ft. Armstrong fired a 21 gun salute in his honor while the Marine band played the National Anthem. A few moments later, the president engaged in a whirlwind tour of the island of Oahu.

The presidential entourage circled the city of Honolulu before heading north on the Pali road toward Oahu’s scenic North Shore. At Schofield Barracks, Roosevelt witnessed a 15,000 troop military review, the largest ever staged in Hawaii at that time. Later that evening, he dined with Governor Poindexter at Washington Place. The next day, he visited Pearl Harbor and dedicated the new gate on the Waikiki side of Ala Moana Park. Eventually, the gate would be named Roosevelt Gate. While in Honolulu the president stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where he attended a luau. Olympic swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, taught his sons to surf. He also spent an hour privately conversing with Harvard classmate, Walter Dillingham, at the magnate’s home, La Pietra, located near Diamond Head.

Constantly referred to as “F.R.” in the local paper, not the “F.D.R.” that many have grown accustomed, Roosevelt planted a small kukui tree outside of the Iolani Palace on the 28th before offering farewell remarks and departing the islands at a little before noon.

Radford Mobley of the Honolulu Star Bulletin wrote that the President came to Hawaii,

For more than a mere fishing expedition...Concerning Hawaii as the American outpost of the Pacific, the president is anxious to confer with the heads of the military units first hand to determine for himself the defense needs here. His visit may later lead to an increase in the size of the army and navy posts…As the time approaches for the release of the Philippines, the president desires full preparedness information regarding this bulwark in the Pacific.

By the summer of 1944, much of Mr. Mobley’s insight proved prescient.

MacArthur, Roosevelt and Nimitz
F.D.R. spent well over 10 years in the Oval Office by July 26,1944. Still commander-in-chief when Hawaii, the “bulwark in the Pacific” was “suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” Roosevelt spent the last three years leading the United States from that crippling defeat to repeated victories in Europe and in the Pacific. Now on this July 26th aboard a different cruiser, the U.S.S. Baltimore, he arrived to the fabled port in Hawaii that had become synonymous with the Alamo. There at Pearl Harbor he met with his two Pacific commanders Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur.

Holmes Mansion
Although the three American leaders met briefly onboard the Baltimore, the real discussion transpired at the Waikiki home of a wealthy businessman, Christian Holmes. As in 1934, the president spent a few days touring various areas, mostly military, of Oahu. However, on the evening of the 27th he sat down in front of a large map of the Pacific in the Holmes’s mansion to discuss the way forward in Pacific operations with MacArthur, Nimitz and Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy.

Most historians probably agree that the Honolulu Conference, as it is sometimes called, served several purposes beyond simple military planning. To the president, it was an opportunity to show the country during an election year that he possessed the stamina to remain commander-in-chief for another four years at a time when his health was increasingly under scrutiny. It was also an opportunity to make an appearance with General MacArthur, the sometimes outspoken critic of the president’s policies, who purported to be a potential Republican opponent in the future. While in Honolulu, MacArthur pressured Roosevelt into accepting his plan to liberate the Philippines and thereby fulfill his promise to return to that island nation following defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1942. He argued that the nation’s honor as well as the president’s political future was at stake.

Honolulu Conference

On the 28th F.D.R. made his decision known to proceed with General MacArthur’s plan through the Philippines, while Admiral Nimitz forces continued their thrust toward the Japanese home islands via the Central Pacific. It is unclear whether the president’s decision was purely politically motivated, but it certainly didn’t hurt his election chances when the revered general heaped praises on the president’s firm control and grasp of wartime strategy.

As the U.S.S. Baltimore pulled away from the Hawaiian Islands later that day, the charismatic leader flashed his famous smile, concealing the reality of his failing health which prevented him from witnessing the fruits of that strategy. Within nine months the president would pass into eternity.

On the grounds of the Iolani Palace stands a tall kukui tree and a plaque that reads,
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Planted This Kukui Tree
July 28, 1934
The tree stands as testament to the passage of time and of the momentous events that occurred in the decade between 1934 and 1944 when the Hawaiian Islands took center stage in the world’s history.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Today in History - The USS Nautilus

On July 23, 1958 the USS Nautilus SSN-571, the first nuclear powered submarine departed Pearl Harbor for a historic journey to the North Pole known as "Operation Sunshine". 

The Nautilus and her 116 crewmembers would arrive at 90 degrees north 11 days later on the evening of August 3.  Upon reaching the pole Commanding Officer, Commander William Anderson, would utter the words, "For the world, our country, and the Navy - the North Pole."  This milestone saw the Nautilus traverse under 1,830 miles of polar ice for a total of 96 hours.

The Nautilus is now a museum in Groton, Connecticut.

The USS Nautilus prepares to depart
Pearl Harbor for Operation Sunshine

Monday, July 19, 2010

The U.S.S. San Diego, Fire Island and Pearl Harbor

I am always amazed at the way that history seems to entwine and combine in various patterns that seemingly have no connection until you look just below the surface.

On my desk is a copy of the St. Louis Star-Times from Monday December 8, 1941. Obviously the big news item on that day was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war on the Japanese empire by the United States. As I perused page seven I came across a small article titled “Loss of Battleship First Such Blow in U.S. History.” The piece was squeezed between a lengthy report on Japan’s attack on the Philippines and a larger article discussing President Roosevelt’s address to Congress.

As is the case throughout history, the specific details of such a catastrophic event had yet to filter down through the 4,100 miles between Oahu and the American heartland. Consequently the article reported that one battleship had been lost in the attack and that it had been “officially announced as capsized.” Of course the damage to the U.S. Pacific Fleet was much more extensive than that and the capsized vessel was almost surely the U.S.S. Oklahoma. The article pointed out that this was the first time an American “dreadnought” had been destroyed as a result of war. The word dreadnought is a reference to the first ship of its kind completed by the British, the HMS Dreadnought. The U.S.S. Maine was actually a converted Cruiser at a time when the battleship was in its infancy and would more appropriately be referred to as a pre-Dreadnought vessel, and more to the point it is more likely that the Maine was an accidental sinking and not an act of war.

But what I found most interesting was the closing sentence,

The largest American warship lost during the World War [World War I] was the cruiser San Diego, 15,400 tons, sunk by a mine off Fire Island, N.Y., on July 10, 1918.

The date of the San Diego’s sinking was incorrect; she was actually lost on the evening of July 19 approximately 8 miles off the coast of Long Island as she made her way to New York.

The USS San Diego was actually commissioned as the Armored Cruiser USS California in 1907. The California was recommissioned the San Diego in 1914, in order to reserve the name for the eventual construction of a battleship. (This is another one of those interesting twists in history, considering that the future battleship USS California BB 44 would be tied up to Pearl Harbor’s Foxtrot 3 on the morning of December 7, 1941 but too many twists can get confusing.)

The California has the distinction of being the first deep-draft vessel to enter the channel of Pearl Harbor following its dredging in 1910. On board was Sanford Dole, the first and only president of the Republic of Hawaii from 1893 – 1898. Also on board was Queen Liliuokalani whose kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by Dole.

Why is all of this so fascinating? It's just the way that history has a tendency to be an intertwining of many different eras and epics, peoples and events. The way that a distant newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri would report on the attack on Pearl Harbor and inadvertently reference the very ship that played such an important role in opening Pearl as America’s gateway to the Pacific that thrust it and the Hawaiian Islands onto the world stage in the first place.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wayside Exhibits Get Media Coverage

I had the opportunity this morning to promote our new wayside exhibits on the local KHON morning news. It was a short interview, but I was glad to be able to get the word out.

As I mentioned to Kirk Matthews I have had nothing but positive comments about the exhibits with most people saying that they are glad to see Pearl Harbor's history being properly recognized.

The interview is archived at KHON's website. Click here to watch

Friday, July 2, 2010


All week long, the ships of the Rim of the Pacific exercise, better known as RIMPAC, sail into Pearl Harbor.  RIMPAC, a mainstay of international cooperation in the Pacific was first held in 1971.  The event, conducted bi-annually in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands since 1974, continues to be the world's largest international maritime exercise.

This year's participants include Australia, Chile, Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Peru, Thailand, and the United States.  In all, RIMPAC 2010 will involve over 150 aircraft, 34 ships, 5 submarines, and 20,000 personnel.

The training strengthens international cooperation among the participating nations to ensure safety of major sea lines of communication in strategic and tactical maritime operations.  The joint maneuver plays a critical role in monitoring hot spots along the Pacific rim, such as the Korean peninsula and the increased naval activity by the People's Republic of China. 

The U.S.S. Freedom (LCS 1), the first of the U.S. Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships, makes its debut in Hawaii during RIMPAC 2010.  Designed to operate in shallow waters along the coast, the Freedom and her sister ships move swiftly from mission to mission.  Depending on the need, she uses interchangeable equipment packages, such as anti-mine, anti-submarine, or anti-ship warfare.  These small agile ships allow movement close to shore in congested sea areas to counter various threats, including terrorism and piracy.  The Freedom recently demonstrated her effectiveness in operations with allied navies during a brief exercise with Mexico in April of this year.

In 1825, Andrew Bloxam of the British ship HMS Blonde conducted a survey of the harbor, then known as the Pearl River inlet and declared that "he was convinced that the deep water inside had enough room to float the entire British navy."  At the height of World War II, that theory was put to the test when hundreds of ships filled Pearl Harbor in preparation for one Pacific battle after another.

As I observe the busy harbor, full of ships preparing for RIMPAC, I'm reminded of Pearl Harbor's continued significance as the strategic and geographic center of naval operations in the Pacific.