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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2004

Hawai'i misses out on tugboat

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

David Ford was not surprised when he received official word from the Navy late last week that the USS Hoga (YT 146) — the historic tugboat that fought fires and rescued sailors at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — would not be coming home to Hawai'i.

The USS Nokomis worked with the Hoga on Dec. 7, 1941, and is said to be "just as important historically" as Hoga.


Ford, president of the Tugboat Hoga Preservation Society, predicted a week earlier that the Hoga would be handed over to a museum in North Little Rock, Ark., even though the tug's fame and glory rests on its association with "the date which will live in infamy."

"I regret to inform you that the Tugboat Hoga Preservation Society was not selected to acquire the vessel for public display," said the letter dated March 25 that was faxed to Ford from Capt. L. M. Jones Jr., program manager of the Navy's Inactive Ships Program Office.

"After careful assessment, the Secretary of the Navy determined that it was in the nation's best interest to make this historic ship available to Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum of North Little Rock."

Ford thinks the Navy has made a big mistake.

"The point I'm getting at is that technically, legally and financially they are probably within their rights in doing this," Ford said. "Morally, to not put this tugboat in Pearl Harbor is a historic mistake. I can guarantee you that this isn't going to go away."

Ford wants outraged residents to contact their representatives in Congress. He also intends to ask for a congressional investigation into the Hoga affair.

Still, he isn't kidding himself about what he's up against in persuading Congress to go against the recommendation of the secretary of the Navy. When it comes to donating inactive Navy ships, Congress always concurs, he says.

"If it doesn't concur this time, it'll be the first time in the history," he said.

Charles Hinman, a preservation society board member and director of education at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, thinks Hawai'i's best bet lies in another tugboat — the USS Nokomis (YT 142), "which, really, is just about as important historically as the Hoga is."

The Nokomis was there at Pearl Harbor working with the Hoga on Dec. 7, 1941. Like the Hoga, it is in several historic photos from that morning.

"I can't even tell you for sure why it's less historically important," Hinman said. "The Nokomis did all the same kind of work as the Hoga that day, and all through the next few days. But, it just seems like Hoga got all the notoriety."

Melissa Parker, a tugboat captain in San Francisco, believes she knows the answer. Not only is Parker working on "Unsung Heroes," a book about all seven tugboats present during the attack on Pearl Harbor, she owns one of them — the Nokomis, which she bought for $50 at a distress sale and is in the process of restoration through a nonprofit organization.

Parker says the Nokomis never garnered the accolades heaped on the Hoga because it remained at Pearl Harbor in active service for three decades after the war.

"The Hoga got an easy, quick retirement from the Navy work," said Parker, 30. "She came out in a blaze of glory right after the battle and became a fire boat for the city of Oakland. It was after that when she got all the recognition and was made a national landmark and all those things.

"People forgot about the Nokomis because she never got the big brass band sort of celebration that the Hoga received."

The Nokomis, which is nearly identical in design to the Hoga, was built a year before Hoga, in 1939. Both vessels helped beach the stricken USS Nevada so it wouldn't block the harbor entrance, and both spent much of the morning rescuing sailors from oily waters.

Both were cited for their outstanding performance on Dec. 7. About the only thing Hoga really has on Nokomis is its national landmark status, Parker said.

She said she has spoken with Ford and Hinman about working out a deal to bring Nokomis to Hawai'i for a year as a floating educational museum. Eventually, she'd like to establish an exchange program where the Nokomis would remain in Hawai'i during winter and go to San Francisco during summer.

Parker said she would even consider leaving the Nokomis in Hawai'i permanently, but she had to keep in mind the efforts of many people in San Francisco who have faithfully supported the craft.

"I've got a lot of volunteers who have put in time and money getting her to where she is now," Parker said. "I'd have to keep them in consideration. But, we're open to having her kept in Hawai'i for a while."

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