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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2001

Army Museum full of history

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Among the first exhibits in the Army Museum of Hawai'i in Waikiki is a painting by Herb Kawainui Kane, showing King Kamehameha and his troops in a fierce battle to unite the Hawaiian Islands.

One detail of the battle has become familiar in the past 200 years of world warfare: the presence of American military advisers.

According to Sheldon Tyau of the Hawaiian Army Museum Society, the haole men shown fighting alongside Kamehameha's troops in the scene from 1791 are just that.

The museum, like Kane's painting, is filled with details that stretch across time, recalling past events and providing a backdrop — maybe even a little insight — to current events.

Thousands of people each year visit the collection at the intersection of Kalia and Saratoga Roads, near the military's Hale Koa hotel at Fort DeRussy, said Tyau, the museum's director of sales and marketing. Few of those visitors are Hawai'i residents.

"We're Waikiki's best-kept secret," he said.

Walter Ozawa, vice president of the Hawai'i Army Museum Society, hopes that in light of the increased patriotism and interest in the military that have followed the events of Sept. 11, the museum will undergo a renaissance.

"It's a wonderful resource right there in Waikiki," Ozawa said. "And it is free."

The museum itself is historic. The exhibits are housed in Battery Randolph, a military structure the U.S. Army built in 1911 to withstand state-of-the-art naval bombardment. It became obsolete a few years later, with the introduction of air warfare in World War I.

Tyau said the Army tried to knock it down but the building refused to yield to the wrecker's ball. Rather than let it stand empty, the Army added the site to a string of military museums across the world.

Although the focus is on the U.S. Army in the Pacific region, the museum includes a section on the Hawaiian monarchy through the 1893 overthrow.

It then tracks the growth of the military throughout the next decades, showing the American leadership's early recognition of the importance of Pearl Harbor and the need to protect it, then demonstrating how that awareness began to slip in the 1930s, when the military on O'ahu had grown so large that an attack seemed unthinkable.

Exhibits from that era contrast U.S. soldiers in Hawai'i competing in boxing tournaments with Japanese troops battling across the Chinese mainland.

Photos of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye as a young Army officer are among the displays of the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also plays prominently upstairs, in the Museum Society's "Gallery of Heroes."

The museum also tracks Hawai'i's role as a staging area for America's two wars on Communism in the Pacific, including Korean combat photographs by Hawai'i's Al Chang, and a reconstruction of a Vietnam-era tavern here — war and war-protest news reels playing on the television over the bar.

Tyau said reactions to the museum vary widely.

"We have visitors who ask us why we glorify violence, and we have those who have wept in here," he said.

The museum is owned by the U.S. Army but the displays are maintained by the Hawai'i Army Museum Society, which raises money through the museum gift store, through an annual golf tournament and through an annual Everyday Heroes Sunrise Breakfast Celebration.

This year, Peter Schall and the Hilton Hawaiian Village staff are being honored at the breakfast. The hotel routinely plays host to military and veterans conferences and events, and offers rooms at reduced rates to military members.

The breakfast, which will be held 7 to 9 a.m. Friday at the hotel's Coral Ballroom, is open to the public. Tickets, which cost $35 per person, are available by calling Barbara Mills at 237-8067 or 955-9552 by Tuesday.