Sixty eight years ago, four Marines gave their lives and were among the first American casualties of World War II. They witnessed the advance of Japanese bombers moments before the attack on Pearl Harbor. They struggled to save burning aircraft and fired at the enemy whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Active and retired service members, state officials and members of the community gathered Dec. 6 to honor those Marines at the first Marine Corps Air Station Ewa Memorial at Ewa Field.
What used to be the hub for all Marine aviation units preparing for combat in the Pacific today lies in ruins. The poorly kept flight line is riddled with weeds growing from numerous cracks surrounded by dense shrubbery, a fact many World War II historians would like to change.
“There is a lot more important history that happened out here than most are aware of,” said John Bond, event coordinator and an avid World War II historian. “Not only was Ewa Field attacked but several aircraft were shot down (in Ewa’s airspace). The movies always depict battles only over Pearl Harbor but that’s not how it happened. The Ewa area saw the bulk of the true air-to-air combat of the attack.”
During the ceremony, numerous officials, to include Hawaii State Senators Mike Gabbard and Will Espero, recounted praise from Japanese pilots during the attacks stating, “These were the bravest soldiers (the Japanese) had ever encountered.”
But some of the most compelling stories came from MCAS Ewa survivor retired Maj. John Hughes. Hughes, the only survivor present at the ceremony, recounted what he witnessed Dec. 7, 1941.
Hughes, a Marine sergeant at the time, was waiting for the newspaper that morning when he witnessed Japanese aircraft flying over the airfield headed toward Pearl Harbor. He immediately ran to the guard house and ordered his Marines to start “breaking out ammo.”
He and the Ewa Marines began firing at enemy aircraft as they flew by.
“I got off a few rounds, maybe three shots then started (moving) the planes,” he said “Some planes were on fire and we moved the other ones to save as many as we could. We’d fire a few shots, go back to pushing planes and then go back to firing.”
At the end of the two-hour conflict, 12 Marines were wounded and four had perished.
Bond and numerous officials plan to make the ceremony an annual event and are in the process of making the area an official historical battle site and hope to one day build a museum on the unused field.
“It’s important that the people out in West Oahu know there was a historic battle out here,” Bond said. “Many people believe the area should be preserved for future generations. Civic organizations, neighborhood boards, the State House and Senate have all passed resolutions to make that possible and that’s what we are going to do.”