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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2004

Group urges push to bring historic tugboat back here

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

What began as a last-ditch effort to bring back the USS Hoga (YT 146) — the heroic little tugboat that dodged bombs and bullets at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — could end in disappointment for Hawai'i if concerned citizens don't act fast.

David Ford, left, of the Tugboat Hoga Preservation Society, talks with Pearl Harbor veteran Al Rodrigues about the Hoga.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

That's according to David Ford, the blunt-speaking president of the Tugboat Hoga Preservation Society, who said the Navy has decided to hand over the historic vessel to North Little Rock, Ark.

"They claim they haven't come to a conclusion," said Ford, whose group rushed to submit its application mere hours before the official deadline two years ago.

"But that's a bunch of bunk. The scuttlebutt from everybody involved that I know, including some at the Naval Sea Systems Command and some of the other applicants, is that it's going to Arkansas."

Ford said the field of applicants has been narrowed down to his group, two organizations in Florida and one in a former president's back yard.

The nod, Ford said, will go to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, scheduled to be completed later this year across the Arkansas River from the new $160 million Clinton Presidential Center & Park, which will open in November.

That museum has acquired the USS Razorback, one of two surviving submarines present at the 1945 Japanese surrender, and its promotional messages refer to the Hoga and Razorback as being the "foundation" of the new facility.

Join the effort

Those interested in bringing the Hoga back to Hawai'i can visit tugboathoga.com or contact Charles Hinman at charleshinman@hawaii.rr.com. The society needs clerical volunteers and monetary donations, and urges people to send their opinions to:

    Gordon R. England
    Secretary of the Navy
    1000 Navy Pentagon
    Washington, D.C. 20350-1000

"Apparently they wrote a better application and they've put solid financial funds from the bank behind it, and god knows what else," Ford said. "Plus, I'm sure they've got the support of former President Clinton, and on and on."

Still, the Navy said it hasn't made up its mind.

"No decision has been made," Patricia Dolan, deputy director of the Office of Congressional Public Affairs for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said late last week.

"I can just tell you it's in the review process, and we're hoping it will be announced in the near future. When I say the near future, I'm hoping it will be within the next week or two."

Dolan said the ultimate decision will be made by Navy Secretary Gordon R. England.

"He's the final decision authority," she said.

Charles Hinman, director of eduction at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and a member of the preservation society board, says the hastily conceived local effort may have been too little too late. The driving force was Ford, who organized the society shortly after learning the Navy was taking applications for the Hoga.

Among the application requirements are a detailed business and financial proposal, similar plans for mooring, maintenance and towing, as well as curatorial, museum and environmental considerations.

"The Navy does give you an outline of what to do to apply for a vessel," Hinman said. "And we met some of the criteria, and some we didn't meet."

Primarily, Hawai'i wasn't able to satisfy the Navy's financial requirements," he said.

"We had to give a business plan and show liability as far as the money end of things go," he said.

Hinman said the society would need about $500,000 to bring the Hoga to Hawai'i and restore it. And, while it has in-kind pledges of service donations that more than equal that amount, the society has only raised a couple of thousand in actual cash donations.

Plus, he said the society is at least $10,000 in the hole in legal debts. There's also the problem of finding a permanent berth at Pearl Harbor. The Navy rejected an offer for a temporary spot on Ford Island near the Arizona Memorial.

Hinman and others in the society are holding out hope for an 11th-hour miracle that will bring the Hoga to the place that made it famous.

Built in 1940, the Hoga had its dramatic date with destiny seven months after it was commissioned in May 1941.

During the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the boat busily tooled about extinguishing battleship fires, plucking wounded seamen from oily, burning waters, and helping prevent the stricken USS Nevada from blocking the harbor entrance.

Daniel Martinez, historian for the National Park Services' USS Arizona Memorial, has called it the "little ship that could." For three days straight it continued to shoot water on the USS Arizona. Admiral Chester Nimitz issued a special citation to the Hoga and its 11-man crew. The 100-foot boat was later designated a national monument.

After the war, it further distinguished itself as the on-loan fireboat in California for the City of Oakland — for which it was renamed. It was retired in 1996. Of the major vessels involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, only the Hoga is still afloat.

It is in some of the most famous history book photos taken on Dec. 7 — such as the spectacular explosion of the USS Shaw.

But for most of the past decade it was bobbing unceremoniously among the outcasts of the Navy's "mothball fleet" at Suisun Bay north of San Francisco.

Ford refuses to give up without a fight and said it's not right that the tug should end up outside Hawai'i. He added that Hawai'i still has a chance if more people squawk loudly enough to the Navy secretary, the White House and anyone else important who will listen.

"If we show public support, the Secretary of the Navy and George Bush will look pretty stupid if they send that boat anywhere else except Hawai'i," he said.

Already the campaign to bring the Hoga back to Hawai'i has garnered some impressive local and national support. Mayor Jeremy Harris has offered his help, Ford said, and Gov. Linda Lingle has not only written to the Secretary of the Navy, but she has offered to use the power of her office to secure a place of honor for the Hoga, "whether in Pearl Harbor or Honolulu Harbor."

Paul Edmondson, vice president and general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says the trust strongly endorses a warm aloha welcome for the Hoga.

"Considering its historical importance, it just seems to us that it would be appropriate to see it returned to Hawai'i," said Edmondson, who thinks the Navy should consider a state offer to berth the Hoga at Honolulu Harbor if necessary until something permanent can be established at Pearl Harbor.

"You've got the USS Missouri there, you've got USS Bowfin there, and you've got the Arizona Memorial there — so, I think it would be wonderful if the Hoga could one day be back at Pearl Harbor.

"I just think it's a natural."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.