By Bob Krauss
Sixty-two years ago today, 9-year-old Charlie Kawasaki was attending Mass at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Kalihi when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. His story has never been told. It adds fascinating details to the folklore of World War II in Hawai'i.
In 1942, the military confiscated land around the Kawasakis' home in Kalihi for $1 an acre and built one of the least known installations of the war, a segregated camp for black soldiers. Four big mess halls rose on the acre taken from Kawasaki's parents. In all, some 40 barracks housed about 2,000 black GIs.
"The camp surrounded our house on three sides about half a mile above School Street," said Kawasaki. "Our house faced Kalihi Street. Sentries were posted on each corner of the camp. We had a guard on duty 24 hours a day in our driveway.
"Every time a peddler with a vegetable cart turned into our driveway, the sentry said, 'Halt. Show your ID.' It scared the pants off of visitors. Salesmen stopped coming around."
Kawasaki said his mother made him take violin lessons from a lady who drove a
Model A Ford. Every time she came for a lesson, the sentry barked, "Halt. Show your ID." After a few times, the violin teacher begged off the lessons. "That was good," said Kawasaki, who hated violin lessons.
He said several families of caretakers on the Damon Estate in Moanalua were evacuated and came to live in the Kawasakis' big, new, four-bedroom house for six months. With food rationing, feeding so many became a problem until Kawasaki's mother made friends with the cook in the officers' mess.
"He brought her cans of Concord grape juice," Kawasaki recalled. "My mother made wine for him. At night, I went to the fence and he handed over butter. We had all the butter and bacon we could use plus the turkeys and chickens that my mother raised. She traded butter and turkeys to the neighbors for vegetables they grew in victory gardens."
Kawasaki said he saw rifles in racks when he played in the barracks or shined shoes for nickels but the soldiers never marched in drill. Instead they went off in work details every morning. There was a mockup of a ship's deck on the base with booms and blocks and tackles where the soldiers practiced loading cargo.
After the war, only a dozen soldiers remained to take care of the camp. Several ladies of dubious reputation brought mattresses to the empty barracks. Kawasaki and his teenage friends peeked while the ladies and the soldiers conducted business relations interspersed with, "That's it, that's it. Your three minutes is up."
He said his parents got their land back with the mess halls standing on the property. His father, a stone mason, turned them into two- and three-bedroom apartments and rented them at $40 to $45 per month during the housing shortage.
Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.