Preserving Freedom

Kalaeloa’s historic role in defending America

Formerly a hub of historical naval activity in the Pacific, Barbers Point Naval Air Station officially was disestablished July 1, 1999.

The existing airfield has since been owned and operated by the O‘ahu District of the State Airports. Now known as KALAELOA AIRPORT, it acts as a relief area for Honolulu International Airport.

Though it has been a victim of theft and vandalism, recent changes in the area have begun to turn things around.

“Barbers Point Naval Air Station is just starting to recover from all that and finally people are moving into buildings and rehab-bing things,” says Naval Air Museum Barbers Point executive director, Brad Hayes.

Located on the airfield’s property, the museum houses a variety of former planes and seeks to educate residents about the locale’s historical significance.

“Every type of Navy aircraft between 1940 and 1999 has flown from Barbers Point Naval Air Station,” says Hayes. “So our charter as an air museum here, is [to be] a local resource for our part of the island—Kapolei—and we are an educational resource.”

As a base for many top-secret missions, some of its history is slightly shrouded in mystery and is one that begins in the late 1930s.

After a failed attempt by the United States Navy to turn leased land into a mooring mast, the Marine Corps Air Station Ewa was established. There, marines transformed the land into an air station, creating runways and establishing its presence in the area.

Though plans already had been in place to expand the naval aviation facilities at Barbers Point, the Japanese attack on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, halted further immediate development.

“There’s a lot of contention that Marine Corps Air Station Ewa field was actually one of the first places hit on Dec. 7 before Pearl Harbor,” says Hayes.

Regardless, four marines were killed that morning as well as two civilians—a 6-year-old who sustained injuries to her head and a 30-year-old man.

Following the attack, Barbers Point Naval Air Station was created on the opposite side of Coral Sea Road. It officially was commissioned April 1942 to commence flight operations and was completely operating by 1943.

Beyond the vital role it played during World War II, the airfield also played a crucial role in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and notably, the Cold War.

In the 1960s, with the threat of Russian submarines and its missiles looming, many anti-submarine warfare airplanes were flown out of Barbers Point to complete air-sea searches.

“[Some things] probably affected our era like politics or events that have shaped our procedures or foreign policy,” says Hayes, “I would guess to say are directly attributable to Barbers Point’s role in the Cold War.”

Today, Naval Air Museum Barbers Point is working with the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s State Historic Preservation Department to nominate notable buildings on the airfield for the National Historic Register.

Those buildings of particular importance include the Aircraft Operations/Control Tower building, the Torpedo and Bombsight Shop and Storehouse, and Hangar 110.

“At this point, we are still doing the research necessary to document a nomination, obtaining construction drawings and unit histories for occupants of the building,” says Rick Ferris, historic preservation officer at Naval Air Museum Barbers Point.

Residents who are interested in assisting with the process are encouraged by Hayes to write to the government.

“If they really, truly want to help, they can write to the governor’s office and urge him to support historic preservation of the hangars and the tower here on Kalaeloa Aiport and support the Air Museum,” says Hayes.

In the meantime, Naval Air Museum Barbers Point hopes to continue to encourage residents in the area, especially schools, to learn more about Kapolei’s earlier history.

“I think the more people know about their community’s history, the more inclined they may be to go check it out and the more they learn about it, and get some kind of connection to it, there’s more pride in where you live,” says Hayes.

Tours of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point are available from Tuesday through Sunday by appointment only. For more information or to book a tour, call 682-3982 or email info@namvp.org.