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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Tourism Talk
For a true wartime-in-Hawai'i experience, try a 'didyaknow' tour

 •  'Pearl Harbor' premiere brings Hollywood to Hawai'i
 •  Advertiser special: Pearl Harbor — Major Movie, Real Memories

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

If Ben Affleck and the rest of the guys in the Pearl Harbor movie opening this week are wearing clean, pressed khakis as their P-40s head into battle, don't you believe it.

Instead ask Olav Holst. The devoted guide for "Home of the Brave" military tours will let you in on the duds really worn that day by Ken Taylor, one of only 14 airmen to get his plane off the ground during the attack and a key model for Affleck's character. Taylor was actually wearing white tuxedo pants, the first crumpled clothing his hand could find on that early Sunday morning. His buddies were in boxer shorts and red and white pinstriped pajamas.

Millions will remember the tale the way Affleck tells it. Only about 3,000 people a year will even hear Olav's version. But over the past decade, Olav's boss, Glen Tomlinson, has been subtly shaping the way Hawai'i visitors experience the real Pearl Harbor, training guides for his tours with an exuberance and devotion to quirky facts usually reserved for baseball fans.

The niche-of-a-niche market the tour caters to (mostly World War II veterans and retired or active military) already know Hawai'i is about "more than just sun and sand," the phrase that's a registered trademark of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau. But with the movie coming out — and Tomlinson's charge from Disney to take several hundred Mainland and international journalists on a mini-version of his real-life "didyaknow" tour — the world may perhaps gain a better appreciation of Hawai'i's unique military history, and the fact that it is, really, actually, part of the United States.

Tomlinson's tour follows the standard visit to the Arizona Memorial with stops at Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter and other sites that illuminate the more than R-rated violence that made Dec. 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy. A few "didyaknows" you won't learn at the movies:

• Did you know that James Jones began writing "From Here to Eternity" while stationed at Schofield Barracks?

• Or that one of the very first reports to be broadcast across America was delivered from The Advertiser building, and was interrupted midway through by the censor?

• Or that there was a second aerial attack on Honolulu in March 1942, and that Japanese planes dropped a bomb on Tantalus and escaped without a mark?

• Or that when taps was played for the very first time in 1862, it was by a Union soldier for his son, a Confederate warrior he had found face down on the battlefield with the sheet music in his pocket? (OK, not WWII history, but pretty darn interesting!).

The movie Titanic supposedly sent cruise bookings through the roof after it came out. If a film about a sinking ship gets more people on boats, then it's not inconceivable a romance about the tragedy of Pearl Harbor might bring more people to Hawai'i. (Program note from Olav: Gloria Stuart, the elderly woman in Titanic, also played in the 1934 movie "Here Comes the Navy," which featured the Arizona as the hero's ship and in lots of background scenes. A clear example of fiction imitating fiction.)

If the movie Pearl Harbor brings more people, or fosters their understanding of Hawai'i as more than sun and sand, that's good.

But it is important to remember that military sites are not like other tourist attractions. They are not just another way for the state to sharpen its brand identity. And they are certainly more than "Ben Affleck was here" places. The Arizona Memorial — the single most visited attraction in Hawai'i — is a place where people cry.

One woman who lives at Fort Bragg with her Vietnam veteran husband said during her go-round with Olav last week that she liked the tour because it makes war real for younger generations.

"For a lot of them," she said, "that's just movie stuff."