Old quads get new look at Hawaii Army base
|Video: Army restores historical barracks|
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
In an Army that prides itself on tradition, history runs extra deep at the Quads at Schofield Barracks.
The iconic quadrangle barracks with their grassy courtyards were around when cavalry — the four-legged variety and not the helicopter version — was a fighting force at the post.
The barracks were strafed on Dec. 7, 1941, and 11th Field Artillery Regiment history holds that men of K Quad shot down one of the 29 Japanese planes downed on the day of infamy.
James Jones lived in the Quads, and his classic 1951 novel, "From Here to Eternity," opens with Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt leaning on the third-floor railing of a Quad and surveying the busy courtyard below.
The movie version starred Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr, and one of the best-known embraces in cinematic history (filmed at Halona Cove).
Sgt. Eric Raymond has experienced the history and tradition, too, as well as its downside, including gang latrines and lack of privacy in I Quad.
"Not the easiest way of living," the 24-year-old said.
Completed in 1919, I Quad — actually not a quad, as it has only three sides — is showing its age, as well as the handiwork of less-than-historically-accurate midlife modifications, including lots of overhead pipes, snaking wires, individual air conditioners and boarded-over transoms.
But for the past 12 years, the Army and Hawai'i's congressional delegation have been waging a successful fight to upgrade the standard of living for single soldiers.
Five of the Quads — including one that dates to 1914 — are being restored to historic accuracy on the outside, while their interiors are being gutted and rebuilt to meet modern needs.
"I think it's a casebook study in historic preservation and meeting contemporary needs of the military," said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, who pushed for the barracks improvements.
Raymond, a 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery soldier from Norwich, Conn., likens his newly-renovated E Quad quarters to the "Ritz Carlton of barracks."
He and another soldier share a suite with two lockable bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom in what the Army calls a "one-plus-one" living arrangement.
The $1 billion Schofield effort is part of an overall $10 billion barracks modernization nationwide for a projected 136,000 soldier residents. Construction work at the Wahiawa post will carry into 2011.
Through a public-private partnership, contractors are also building 5,388 Army family homes and renovating 2,506 others over 10 years.
The number of soldiers on O'ahu, meanwhile, grew from 17,000 in 2002 to 18,000 in 2006, and is expected to increase to 21,000 in three years as the Army modernizes and Hawai'i takes a greater role as a forward launching point for military operations throughout Asia and the Pacific.
As a "quality of life" issue at a time when repeat war duty makes recruitment difficult, the Army has found that better barracks for single soldiers significantly increase morale.
For soldiers like Raymond, it's a little bit of privacy while otherwise being surrounded by the Army. He has a blue recliner and big-screen TV to go with the oak-colored desk, bed, TV stand and other furniture that's provided.
"We live so close to work. I can take 10 steps out of my front door, and I'm there," he said. "... To have a place where I can relax in private and not have anybody I work with come hang around me is essential and crucial to my sanity."
E Quad is partly done, but sections are still being renovated. The exterior yard is chewed up and ladders, insulation and other construction materials surround the original concrete shell representing some of the earliest surviving pre-form concrete buildings in the state.
Quads C and F have been renovated, and D and B are scheduled for renovation in 2011, officials said. Each will have housing for about 300 soldiers.
The Army has built 11 new barracks buildings at Schofield and Wheeler Army Airfield, with two remaining to be built.
According to the post's Tropic Lightning Museum, Capt. Joseph C. Castner, a construction quartermaster, arrived on O'ahu in 1908 to begin construction of a cantonment on 14,400 acres of Hawaiian crown lands ceded to the U.S. government.
A year later, the War Department named the post after Gen. John M. Schofield, who had called attention to Hawai'i's strategic value. The first two barracks buildings, now part of B Quad, were completed in 1914 and housed the 4th Cavalry.
Two Quads — J, completed in 1923, and K, built in the late 1930s — have been demolished, and I Quad is expected to come down in February, according to Schofield officials.
Ken Hays, the architectural historian for the project, said consultation with state historic preservation officials led to the agreement in 1998 to demolish the three Quads and have a nationally registered historic district anchored by the other five.
Abercrombie said the Army likely would have started about five years later than it did on what's known as the Whole Barracks Renewal, but he was able to talk members of Congress from other states into supporting the earlier start because it benefited their constituencies.
Abercrombie said he told them, "'My people (from Hawai'i) don't live in the barracks — your people do.' That made a lot of sense, and I talked to the Army and said, 'I want to accelerate this.'"
As part of the renovation, the remaining five Quads are being returned to historical accuracy. Louvered windows are gone, and transoms are back.
Railing slats that run vertically on lanais are being returned to their earlier horizontal appearance. Originally, much of the buildings consisted of bare concrete covered in ivy, but Hays said that by the 1930s, they were being painted, and that's how they remain. The brown base color topped by beige was chosen to keep red dirt staining to a minimum.
FILLED WITH MEMORIES
Inside the renovated quads is a whole different story as well, although not a historic one.
Billy Cardwell, a 74-year-old resident of St. Augustine, Fla., remembered his time as a corporal with the 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds" in the Quads in 1954 and 1955.
At that time, 175 men slept in bunk beds in long bays. He had just returned from Korea.
"We had been in squad tents and sleeping bags," he said. "We came back there (to Hawai'i) and those white sheets — I thought I'd gone to heaven."
A series of renovations were made over the years, and by the 1970s, the big bays had been divided up into smaller living sections. Cardwell visited his old post in June and was impressed with the newest living arrangements.
"I couldn't believe that these guys now have the privacy of being in an apartment," he said.
Hays, the architectural historian, said so many generations of soldiers have lived in the Quads, it's almost like a West Point.
"I have so many of them come up to me and say that their dad and their granddad had served here," Hays said. "It's a very strong tradition."
Even the dilapidated I Quad is respected by the latest generation of soldiers who live there because of those who have gone before them.
In the buildings where the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery lives, an old framed photo shows the men of Charlie Battery, who won the Knox Award in 1940 as best artillery battery in the Army.
A plaque hangs on the wall, meanwhile, that cites Pfc. William Thompson, who was killed in 1950 in Korea fighting a superior force so his platoon could escape. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
"Being in a Quad like this, and knowing that soldiers were behind me here years ago, it kind of gives me a camaraderie with those guys," said Spc. Jose Rodriguez, 27, from San Antonio.
The battalion is getting ready to write another chapter in that history with a deployment to Iraq with the Stryker brigade.
While they are gone, I Quad will be demolished. The soldiers won't miss the lines for the common-area showers and bathrooms and dingy rooms.
Lt. Col. Joe Gleichenhaus, the battalion commander, hopes his younger soldiers get better accommodations when they return.
"When you talk to these guys, they are motivated," Gleichenhaus said. But with second and third deployments, "they are getting worn out, and those guys in the (I Quad) barracks deserve to come back to something nice."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.