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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kapolei fort defended coast

 •  Fort Barrette Road's name becoming a heated issue

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Each of the two 16-inch guns at Fort Barrette weighed 12 tons and could hurl a 2,240-pound shell 25 miles.

U. S. Army Museum of Hawaii

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Fort Barrette was part of the coastal defense of O'ahu, a military buildup that began in the early 1900s for a naval invasion that never came.

Completed in 1935, the Kapolei fort's two 16-inch guns could hurl a 2,240-pound shell 25 miles. Each gun weighed 12 tons, and a special spur line had to be created off the O.R.&L. railroad to deliver them from Pearl Harbor.

Fort Barrette was one of many such gun emplacements around O'ahu, and by the end of World War II, the island was one of the most heavily defended places in the world.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese strafed the then-uncovered gun emplacement, and Cpl. Joseph A. Medlen was killed.

According to William H. Dorrance in "O'ahu's Hidden History," the Army in 1942 began to "casemate" or provide overhead protection for the guns with eight to 12 feet of concrete.

John Bennett, an O'ahu resident and expert on coastal defenses here, said Fort Barrette, which started out as Kapolei Military Reservation, had a lower reservation of about 35 acres, and an upper tract of about 10 acres.

A network of narrow-gauge railroad track ran around the perimeter, and covered tunnels with side branches and supply rooms were built to support the battery on the volcanic knoll.

Those tunnels are now fenced off and some of the rooms sealed. The big guns were cut up for scrap by 1948.

Fort Barrette was used in the 1960s and 1970s by Battery D, 2nd Missile Battalion, 298th Artillery of the Hawai'i Army National Guard in support of a Nike-Hercules missile battery in the Wai'anae Range, Bennett said.

Dorrance said the city's Department of Parks and Recreation took ownership in 1972. The Kapolei Archery Club now uses land around the empty gun casemates, which are overgrown by kiawe and weeds.

The fenced-off base is adjacent to Kapolei Regional Park. Lester Chang, city Department of Parks and Recreation director, said he foresees a greater parks use of the land some day.

"I see a future in it because as the city of Kapolei grows and park space, open space, gets to be more of a premium, then I see this as being much needed from a parks standpoint," he said.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.