Fort Shafter marks century of service in Hawaii
U.S. Army, Pacific
This year marks the centennial of Fort Shafter as a strategic outpost for America's Army in the Pacific. Today, the oldest military post in Hawaii also stands in the forefront of the Army's transformation into the premier land power for the new century.
The major headquarters on post, U.S. Army, Pacific (USARPAC) provides trained and ready land forces to the commander, U.S. Pacific Command. The Palm Circle Historic District, with its magnificent parade field flanked by royal palms and plantation-style buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Most Hawaii residents know Fort Shafter only as an exit off the freeway where an American flag rises majestically over the lush Moanalua Valley. Few people know that more than 5,000 Soldiers, civilians, contractors, and military families live and work on the 589-acre post. In fact, if USARPAC were a business, it would rank as one of the state's largest employers with more than 25,000 full-time Soldiers and civilians employed throughout the Pacific and 9,000 more in the National Guard and Army Reserve.
"It was such a pretty place, in the early days people would actually buy post cards of Fort Shafter's Palm Circle Parade Field, said Olav Holst, lead historian with Home of the Brave Tours in Honolulu. "It was considered one of the most beautiful places in Honolulu and still is."
Each day, Home of the Brave Tours transports dozens of visitors to Fort Shafter. They stop to marvel at the many historical sites, reminisce, and reflect on the sacrifices and contributions American Soldiers have made to the nation over the last century.
"It's a wonderful look back, not only for American military history, but Hawaii's history," Holst says as another group of camera-toting history buffs embark on the walking tour. "The biggest thrill for us, besides seeing the historic buildings and beautiful grounds, is that the Army general staff greets us during the tour."
Once inside the historic structure, Holst informs the group how in 1944 the Army Corps of Engineers built Richardson Hall, the Army Headquarters building that was nicknamed the "Pineapple Pentagon." Many are surprised to learn that what was intended to be a temporary building constructed in an astonishing 44 days, remains the nerve center for Army activity for the entire Pacific Region. Many Soldiers and families still live and work inside the very same plantation-style homes and buildings that were occupied by their military forebearers nearly a century ago.
Among the many sites to admire inside the "Pineapple Pentagon" are historical bronze-works and floor to ceiling murals depicting World War II era Soldiers marching into battle. Also on display are the battle flags, campaign streamers, and an exquisite Medal of Honor exhibit that pays homage to the Soldiers who received the nation's highest honor for heroism and bravery in battle.
The Army recently installed a new touch screen interactive display that allows visitors to learn about America's Army in the Pacific from the vantage points of the past, present, and future and see exactly where today's Soldiers and their units are deployed around the world in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
"The new display really enhances the tour," Holst said, as the group gathered in front of the plasma screens to view photographs and video linked to the new high-tech displays.
Visitors learn that in 1905, the War Department began construction at Fort Shafter as part of an ambitious building program that included the Army's Fort DeRussy, Fort Ruger, and Schofield Barracks. The post was named for Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter, commander of the expeditionary force that liberated Cuba in 1898.
In June 1907, the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment became the first unit stationed in the barracks facing stately Palm Circle.
Over the decades, the post's key location between Pearl Harbor and Honolulu led to its gradual expansion, including a hospital, ordnance depot, anti-aircraft regiment, and signal depot.
From 1921 through WWII, Fort Shafter served as an anti-aircraft artillery post and on December 7, 1941, the Coast Artillery batteries established gun positions on the parade field and sustained the only known casualties on the post.
On the day of infamy, Fort Shafter was strafed during the attacks, and marks are still visible in Lt. Gen. Walter T. Short's famous residence - known simply as Quarters 5. Gen. Short was in charge of security for the Hawaiian Islands and Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Today, the Army's top commander Lt. Gen John M. Brown III and his family occupy the grand home.
After the historical tour through the headquarters, many visitors pause outside to snap photos in front of an ornate fountain built by Italian prisoners of war and King Kamehameha's cannon.
Tourists aren't the only ones impressed by the impeccably preserved post. Hollywood film makers were also captivated by Fort Shafter's beauty. Visitors learn that scenes from movies like Tora Tora Tora, Pearl Harbor and even the television series Hawaii Five-O were filmed on location at Fort Shafter.
In addition to being a prime location for filmmakers over the years, Fort Shafter also had some iconic residents, including Generals George Patton, and "Stormin' " Norman Schwarzkopf.
Aside from its famous former residents, today several military agencies also call Fort Shafter home. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division manages military construction and civil works throughout the region from its headquarters while the U.S. Army Installation Management Agency Pacific Region Office oversees all Army installations in Hawaii, Alaska, and Japan. Fort Shafter Flats is home to the 9th Regional Readiness Command which controls Army Reserve forces in Hawaii, Alaska, and the region.
Prior to the Army settling 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. Over the years, Army staff members have received national accolades and awards for their efforts in documenting and preserving Fort Shafter's important cultural and historical resources.
After World War II, Fort Shafter remained the senior Army headquarters post for the region, while the 25th Infantry Division occupied the more spacious Schofield Barracks. In the 1960s the Moanalua Freeway split Fort Shafter in two, and it survived into the post-Vietnam era. In 1974, the Army replaced USARPAC with a smaller element, U.S. Army Support Command, Hawaii. That same year the Army Corps of Engineers relocated its Pacific Ocean Division from Fort Armstrong to the post.
The headquarters was reborn in 1979 as U.S. Army Western Command and several years later Fort Shafter itself was reduced in area by over half when the Army conveyed 750 undeveloped acres to the state. The headquarters was re-named USARPAC in 1990.
Today, Fort Shafter and the Army headquarters continue to adapt and modernize to meet the needs of military commanders in the region. Future plans include transforming USARPAC into a deployable headquarters for employment anywhere in the region.
For a hundred years, Fort Shafter has served the nation in a variety of ways and will continue to do so in the years ahead as more chapters are added to reflect the enduring legacy of America's Army in the Pacific.
USARPAC postures and prepares the force for unified land operations, responds to threats, sustains and protects the force, and builds military relationships that develop partner defense capacity in order to contribute to a stable and secure U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.
Vincent K. Brooks
|25th Infantry Division|
|U.S. Army Alaska|
|U.S. Army Japan|
|8th Theater Sustainment Command|
|311th Theater Signal Command|
|94th Army Air Missile Defense Command|
|9th Mission Support Command|
|196th Infantry Brigade|
|500th Military Intelligence Brigade|
|18th Medical Command|
|5th Battlefield Coordination Detachment|