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89 Year Old Ewa Aviation Site, Battlefield and Top Secret Cold War Mission Control
By John Bond @ 11:31 PM :: 10222 Views :: Hawaii History, Military

89 Year Old Ewa Aviation Site, Battlefield and Top Secret Cold War Mission Control

by John Bond, Pacific Cold War Patrol Museum, January 11, 2014

One of Hawaii's least known very historic sites is the former Ewa Gate (Gate Two) of former NAS Barbers Point. It has a history going back to 1925 as the entrance to US Navy Ewa Mooring Mast Field, and later as the front gate of Ewa Field attacked on December 7, 1941. Then later even more history as it became the entrance gate to a very important top secret Cold War project area, a story which has only become declassified in the past decade.

A February 1957 photo shows the Ewa Gate as NAS Barbers Point. Note the blue haze, most likely from the nearby burning sugarcane fields of Ewa Plantation.

Somewhat ironically you would never know that this historic site is primarily known today as a place for birthday parties and train rides. If you drive down to the end of Renton Road and cross the narrow gauge railway tracks, you are at the site of the Hawaiian Railway Society's Ewa Train Museum.

Ewa Gate Two is now where the Hawaiian Railway Society has their museum and overflow parking area.

When MCAS Ewa closed in 1952, this became "Ewa Gate" or "Gate Two" for NAS Barbers Point which absorbed the former Marine air base into the Navy land holdings. This is likely why most local residents today know this area as "Barbers Point," which actually isn't historically correct, as this area is Ewa and quite far from the actual Barbers Point. However, the Cold War Era came along and this area was needed for some very special top secret Navy projects.

Using a big yellow truck and Photoshop I have recreated how the NAS Barbers Point front gate might look today if it was still there. All we would need now is to add some landscaped plants.

In 1925 this was near the location of the original entrance to the Ewa Mooring Mast construction site and an earlier turn of the century sisal plantation- one of Benjamin Dillingham's many, but not always successful, business ventures.

In the 1920's the Ewa Mooring Mast was a 100 foot tall airship mooring tower and work platform that was very likely the highest man made work place in the entire Hawaiian Islands. It was a real marvel and landmark in it's day and a top visitor attraction for riders on the narrow gauge Oahu Railway which ran along the treeline in the mid distance.

After constructing a roadway into the Navy airship base, two Navy non-commissioned officer quarters were constructed diagonally across from the location of the future Ewa Gate. The Navy Mooring Mast facility was later upgraded again in 1932 with a circular railway and landing strip.

One of the most unusual railways ever constructed in Hawaii was this huge circle railway around the circumference of Ewa Mooring Mast Field. The rail and ties were brought in on the Oahu Railway narrow gauge to build this wide "standard" gauge track, which was made for a single small rail car that would secure the tail section of a large US Navy airship. However it was never actually used for Navy airships because of a series of mainland airship crashes, ending the "Lighter Than Air" program.

In October 1941 after USMC Marine Air Group 21 had arrived and Ewa Field was under construction as a fighter and scout bomber airfield the two original Navy quarters were used as the headquarters and administration building for the Marine Corps airfield. On December 7, 1941 this area was repeatedly strafed by Japanese planes, killing four Marines and two Ewa civilians. Many wounded were taken to nearby Ewa Plantation hospital and most of the aircraft were destroyed in the very effective Imperial Japanese Navy air attack.

A US Navy Base Realignment and Closure survey of NAS Barbers Point Cold War Era facilities (page 176, 1997 Tuggle, etc., Colt Denfield, Ph.D.) says that a PFC Melvin Thompson was at the Ewa Field front gate on December 7, 1941 and was the person firing a 45 pistol at a Japanese Zero, as depicted in the Tom Freeman Pearl Harbor Attack painting series. The incident was preserved in the reminiscences of Lieutenant Yoshio Shiga, the leader of the 1st wave IJN fighter unit from the aircraft carrier KAGA.

Not a big fan of Americans, it is particularly significant that Shiga found in this lone Marine gate guard a spirit of dogged tenacity that, from the Japanese viewpoint, was the very embodiment of bravery and valor.  He clearly was NOT expecting such and related the story in a 1950's interview.

By 1958 the new Patrol Wing Two headquarters building (Facility 972) was constructed across from the Ewa Gate for the top secret Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line patrol operations which consisted of a very large squadron of four engine EC-121 "Willy Victor" Lockheed Constellations, all tied into the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. 

The wing headquarters and intelligence side of the DEW line squadron was intentionally kept separate from the large aircraft parking ramp and maintenance hangar area by Coral Sea Road.

In the 70's the Ewa gate area saw Facility 972 become the headquarters for the Lockheed P3 Orion - Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) program along with the top secret Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) buildings being constructed nearby. Facility 972 was also used as the headquarters for the Vietnam POW-MIA Joint Casualty Resolution Center in the 1970's to 1990's. (the early JPAC).

In 1983 a P-3 Orion crew of 14 were killed in a crash on Kauai. A major and very emotional ceremony was held on the large front lawn area of Patrol Wing Two headquarters (Facility 972) which is directly across from the Ewa Gate Two location. (See video link further below)

****************************************************************

In 1999 Naval Air Station Barbers Point closed and a poorly managed civilian transition began.

Fortunately the historic narrow gauge Oahu Railway-US Navy railway was preserved!

Hawaiian Railway Society, a non-profit 501-c-3, obtained operational and maintenance control of the historic railway after the US Navy gave it up in 1971 and the remaining narrow gauge railway line from Ewa to Nanakuli was placed on the National Historic Register. Later the Hawaiian Railway yard was placed on the Hawaii State Historic Register. This is really a major historic preservation success story in Hawaii.

An additional claim to historic fame for the Hawaiian Railway Museum is that the already historic Oahu Railway line was a Cold War Era US Navy railway used to haul 16 inch battleship shells and powder bags from Lualualei Naval Ammunition Depot to the West Loch Naval Ammunition Depot ordinance loading pier during the Vietnam War.

Today the Hawaiian Railway Society works to restore historic Oahu Railway steam locomotives as well as the very practical and efficient diesel locomotives that are the mainstay of popular train rides down to Kahe Point and back.

The 65 ton Navy 174 Whitcomb diesel under restoration in the Hawaiian Railway "train barn." This locomotive has since been painted in Navy gray and has been undergoing a series of test runs, which visitors to the Ewa railway museum are always invited to inspect and photograph the progress.

Number 302 after a new coat of paint in colors intended to revive the old Oahu railway era, however this is one of two 45 ton 1940's era Whitcomb Navy diesel locomotives that are the reliable workhorses of the Hawaiian Railway Society.

Visit the Ewa train museum and take a ride back into some real great history!

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The crash of Patrol Squadron One (VP-1) Yankee Bravo Zero Six, on June 16, 1983.  LINK: Local news coverage of the crash and memorial service for the 14 crewmen who perished.

Vietnam POW-MIA Joint Casualty Resolution Center at Facility 972

Pacific Cold War Patrol Museum for Facility 972 - Barbers Point

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