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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Country Club of the Pacific

Chapter 24

“The Country Club of the Pacific”

Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station

Summer, 1941

At the time of commissioning on 4 June 1941, the PBY base at Kaneohe Bay was not yet finished.  Contractors were still working on roads.  Only one of the eventual five big hangars had been completed and a second was half built.  Landscaping was not complete and the new black asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks were bordered by a few newly-planted palm trees and raw red island earth on which grass was just beginning to show.
After the crowded conditions of Ford Island, Kaneohe was a welcome relief to us.  The two-story barracks were large and airy.  We had new steel double-deck bunks that had real mattresses instead of the horsehair pads from our hammocks.  Instead of meager half lockers, each man had a six-foot steel locker at the head of his bunk.
Across an asphalt parking area from the Number One barracks where VP-11 was quartered we had a large ships’ service building that held a ship’s store, coffee shop, bowling alley, and a movie theater.  It was built in an L shape and, behind a curving wall, offered a beer garden for use after working hours in lieu of an enlisted men’s or CPOs’ club.  Officers’ quarters and the officers club were across the broad entry road on the slope of Hawaiiloa Hill.  Beyond a grassy quadrangle between the row of barracks and the administration building was a large mess hall and the brig.  The huge seaplane parking ramp, launch ramps, and the big new hangars fronted on the calm blue waters of Kaneohe Bay.
The view from our new home was magnificent.  Kaneohe is on the green windward side of the island.  From the operating ramp we looked westward across the bay past Chris Holmes Island to the village of Kaneohe and, farther south, toward Kailua.  The backdrop was the Pali side of the Koolau Mountains that divide the island.  Their verdant peaks were eternally topped by towering white cumulus clouds formed by the warm trade winds that swept ceaselessly up the mountain slopes and provided us natural air-conditioning.  To the north, just beyond the entrance to the bay from the sea was the green come of Chinaman’s Hat, a tiny islet just off the white line of breakers along the coast.
It was an idyllic setting.  In the months to come, when the base landscaping was completed, NAS Kaneohe would become known to envious personnel from other bases and from the surface fleet as “the country club of the Pacific”.  We complained about the heat and the mosquitoes, but privately, we all felt fortunate to be stationed there.
The one drawback to life at Kaneohe Bay was that we were a bit isolated form our liberty haunts in Honolulu.  Neither Kaneohe nor Kailua offered much other than some small cafes, a tavern called “The Coconut Grove”, and a small movie theater.  Transportation to Honolulu was via a small local bus line, “Windward Transit”.  We called it the “Red Peril” because the line had but two rather rickety small busses that, beneath many dents and layers of red dust, had once been painted red.  Kanaka drivers wheeled the little busses recklessly over the old Pali Road to the bus stop near the YMCA on Peretania Street.
The old Pali road has been closed for years after a tunnel was dug under the Pali for the current four-lane freeway.  It was something that had to be experienced to be appreciated.  The Pali is a sheer cliff at the top of Nuuanu Valley that overlooks Kailua and scene of King Kamehameha’s triumph over the army of Oahu when he consolidated the islands many years ago and became the first monarch of all the islands.  Legend has it that Kamehameha drove the Oahu army up Nuuanu Valley and straight off the cliff, killing them all.  We heard rumors that bones could still be dug up in the talus at the foot of the cliff.
The old Pali road twisted and turned along ledges that were literally chiseled from the face of the cliff with the sheer rock wall on one side and a straight drop to the floor of the valley on the other.  It was a perilous route but the kanaka drivers wheeled down it with great abandon.  It was a white-knuckle drive in a car, too, but we became accustomed to it and it cut the one hour trip around the island via Koki Head and Kaimuki in half.