Authorities Struggle to Curb Drag Racing at Historic Ewa Field

Reverend Danny Degracia kicks off the first Marine Corps Air Station Ewa Memorial Dec. 6 at what remains of Ewa Field. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso)
Reverend Danny Degracia kicks off the first Marine Corps Air Station Ewa Memorial Dec. 6 at what remains of Ewa Field. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso)

A portion of Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, a key Dec. 7, 1941, battle site, was placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in November and will soon be on the National Register.

However, groups of car-racing enthusiasts sometimes descend on the battlefield, which is hidden behind overgrown kiawe, to spin their tires on wartime history -- in this case a concrete airplane warm-up ramp that bears the scars of Japanese strafing and is at the heart of preservation efforts, said Ewa Beach historian John Bond.

"It's been going off and on for years," said Bond of the racing, which he calls "sacrilegious and not appropriate."

The car drivers trespass on the site where aircraft were destroyed and Marine Corps defenders died, Bond said. They also like to drag-race on Ewa Field runways, he said.

"They like the warm-up ramp because they see the flagpole and they go screaming over to there and do doughnuts around it," Bond said. "I've got tons of pictures of all the burnouts out there. And they've never worn off -- even after all the rains. It remains in the concrete for years."

Sometimes shredded steel-belted tires are discarded on the airfield, he said.

Bond said some of those involved with the land -- including the Navy, Hunt Development Group and the Honolulu Police Department -- just "point a finger at somebody else" in terms of curbing the activity.

However, Steve Colon, president of development for Hunt's Hawaii region, which leased about 140 acres of the old airfield from the Navy, said the company recognizes the historic significance of certain parts of Ewa Field and has been working for several years to limit trespassing.

Hunt originally leased the Ewa Field land thinking it would be developed, and in November asked the Hawaii Historic Places Review Board to reject listing 180 acres on the national register.

"We have a robust private security patrol that monitors that area regularly," Colon said in an email. "We have worked diligently to barricade as many points of entry as possible from Hunt-controlled land. As soon as any of the barricades on our property are damaged or in any way compromised, we address that immediately."

Still, Colon acknowledged that trespassing is a problem, as he assumes it is for other landowners in the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, which includes the Ewa Field land. The base, now called Kalaeloa, was parceled off to entities including Hunt, the City and County of Honolulu and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

"A significant challenge is that there are multiple points of access to that (Ewa Field) area, not only from land that Hunt is leasing, but from other Kalaeloa landowners," Colon said. The issue has been addressed with neighboring property owners. Colon said his understanding is they are developing their own barricades.

The Honolulu Police Department "is doing the best that it can to assist us," Colon said. "Our security officers have called HPD numerous times when they have found evidence of trespassing, but given response times, trespassers have been able to vacate the area before officers have ever arrived."

The establishment of Ewa Mooring Mast Field brought a 160-foot mast in 1925 for dirigibles, but none were ever based there. The site later served as the forward Marine Corps airfield in the Hawaiian Islands during World War II.

There were 49 aircraft at Ewa at the time of the Japanese attacks. Most were SBD Dauntless dive bombers and F4F Wildcat fighters. In the aerial attack that preceded Pearl Harbor by two minutes, nine of 11 Wildcat fighters, 18 of 32 dive bombers and other planes were lost on the ground as Marines fired back with Springfield rifles and handguns, according to battlefield studies.

Four Marines were killed, along with two civilians. Thirteen Marines were wounded. Japanese planes were attacked over Ewa by celebrated U.S. Army pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor, who took off from Haleiwa Airfield in P-40 fighters.

The National Park Service, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places, and the Navy, as the property owner, previously deemed a portion of Ewa Field eligible for the historic recognition. National listing is expected by the end of the month. How many acres of the old base are being listed remains a point of confusion. The total has ranged from about 60 acres to as much as 180 acres.

Bond said the car racers recently cut locks and moved barricades in an indication that another round of racing might be coming up.

"The people that know how to get in and out know (the base area) backwards and forwards, so they've got everything rigged," Bond said.

But he also said he believes that HPD more recently is "getting the message" about the need for greater vigilance. The battlefield is expected to have a more prominent role this Dec. 7 for the 75th anniversary of Japan's attack on Oahu.

HPD Maj. Kurt Kendro said for police to respond to trespassing on Ewa Field, the landowner or the authorized lessee has to file a complaint.

"The onus goes back to the property owner who is responsible for their own private property," Kendro said in an email. "If we, the HPD, get a complaint, we will respond, however, we will not remove people from private property without the owner or lessee present."

What makes enforcement even more complicated is that there are multiple landowners and lessees in the area of the old Ewa Field, he said.

The Navy said the leased property is under HPD's jurisdiction, and not the Navy's, for law enforcement and investigation of trespassing.

"The Navy recognizes the former Ewa Field's importance in American history when the airfield was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941," Navy Region Hawaii spokesman Bill Doughty said in a statement. "Navy resources, to include security patrols, are paid with congressionally appropriated funds specifically to provide service to Navy and Department of Defense activities. As a member of the Kalaeloa Public Safety Group, we have worked with our partners and assisted when appropriate -- but we are not resourced to patrol non-DoD property. Ewa Field is leased to a tenant, and HPD has jurisdiction for law enforcement."

Bond, the Ewa Beach historian, foresees not only some re-creation of the Marine Corps tent camp that existed on Dec. 7, 1941, at Ewa Field, but also a telling of the history of the adjacent Ewa plantation that was hit in the attacks, as well as Hawaiian use of the Barbers Point-area land.

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