Fort Shafter: A Short History

1.  The Early Years

Fort Shafter has been home to the senior Army headquarters in Hawaii for nearly a century. Prior to the Army establishment of Fort Shafter and long before the arrival of Europeans, Native Hawaiians lived and worked in the ahupua'a of Kahauiki. The Army has documented many archaeological sites on the post.

Construction began in 1905 on the ahupua'a of Kahauiki, former Hawaiian crown lands ceded to the United States government after annexation. The fort was part of an ambitious War Department building program that included the Army's Fort DeRussy, Fort Ruger, and Schofield Barracks. When the post opened in 1907, it was named for Major Gen. William R. Shafter (1835-1906), who led the United States expedition to Cuba in 1898.

Army planners laid out Palm Circle as a cantonment for an infantry battalion. They arranged the barracks and officers' quarters around a parade field ringed by Royal Palms. The 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment was the first unit stationed at the new post. After they marched onto the field on 24 June 1907, the battalion Soldiers became the first unit stationed in the barracks facing stately Palm Circle. In October 1984, the U.S. Department of the Interior added Palm Circle to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the fewer than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks across the entire Nation and its territories.

Fort Shafter gradually spread out from Palm Circle. Over the decades, the post's key location between Pearl Harbor and Honolulu led to the additions of a hospital, ordnance depot, anti-aircraft regiment, and signal depot. Tripler General Hospital once stood where the highway intersection is today (the hospital moved to its present location in 1948). In 1914, engineers built a regimental-sized cantonment area in the area of where Richardson Theater now stands. The Hawaiian Ordnance Depot was built in 1917 as a separate post (near today's Post Exchange). In June 1921, the Hawaiian Department moved to Fort Shafter from the old Alexander Young Hotel in downtown Honolulu. A new area was constructed in 1940 for Signal Corps elements.

From 1921 through WWII, Fort Shafter served as an anti-aircraft artillery post and on 7 December 1941, the Coast Artillery batteries established gun positions on the parade field and sustained the only known casualties on the post. Several Fort Shafter residents of this period, who later rose to fame, included: Gen. Charles P. Summerall, who served as commanding general of the Hawaiian Department, 1921-1942; Col. Leslie McNair, G-3 of the Hawaiian Department, 1921-1924; Lt. Col. George S. Patton-who arrived in 1935 and served as the Hawaiian Department G-2; and Gen. J. Lawton ("Lightning Joe") Collins, who briefly served as the chief of staff of the Hawaiian Department following the Japanese attack of 7 December.

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