When I arrived at the Story of Hawaii Museum at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in Kahului on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 5, Buck Mickelsen–who helps run the place–immediately noticed my shirt, which has drawings of old Inter-Island Airways S-38 and S-43 seaplanes on the back. He immediately walked me over to a book of old photos near the back and began showing me photos of the planes flying over Manoa Valley, taking off at Kona and awaiting passengers at old John Rodgers Field on Oahu.
Much as I would have loved spending the afternoon glancing through black and white images of very old aircraft, I was there to see Bryant Neal, Mickelsen’s partner. Neal was just finishing a new exhibit on Camp Maui, the 4th Marine Division’s island base during World War II, and I was anxious to see the results.
The new exhibit centers around a group of photos and text taken from the 4th Marine Division’s official history from World War II. During the fight against the Japanese, the War Department stationed thousands of marines on Maui, both for training and rest.
“Jungle training was big there,” Neal says. But rest and recreation were just as important, if not more so.
“As the months rolled by, Maui more and more became ‘home’ to the men of the Fourth,” states the division history. “USOs in Haiku, Makawao, Kahului, and Wailuku furnished hot showers, games, swimming, tennis, dances, and refreshments. It was here that Marines met the girls of Maui; many a friendship was formed and many a romance blossomed. Back in camp, officer and NCO clubs were built and the beer lines at Post Exchanges became longer and longer.”
“I think these guys had the best rest stop in the war,” Neal said. “The people of Maui were enthusiastic about these guys.”
Neal then brought out a couple pieces of war memorabilia not typically found in a museum. They were old single-use Primo beer bottles, one green, one brown. Neal said came from a guy named Tim Bauer, who lives in Haiku near the old Camp Maui site (4th Marine Division Park there covers a portion of the old base) and digs them out of the ground.
Bauer maintains his own online museum of sorts of the old Marine Corps relics he discovers (4th-marine-division-camp-maui-relics-museum.com). There you can find images of USN spoons, shell casings, buttons and even what appears to be a dummy hand grenade. He also has a link to his eBay page where he sells some of the old Primo bottles he discovers.
The Story of Hawaii Museum’s emphasis on R&R is entirely warranted: In the Pacific, the 4th Marine Division fought on Roi Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. By the end of the war, those battles cost the division 17,000 killed and wounded.
As a fascinating counterweight to the material on Maui’s Marine base, Neal–who’s big on maps–showed me the museum’s many fascinating and rare Japanese maps and images. He began with book of Japanese war art. As was the custom with old books, the images are pasted to the pages, which are bound by ribbon. The images aren’t so much propaganda as actual war art (many combatant nations, including the United States, attached artists as well as photographers and correspondents to combat units).
Neal’s exhibits also display a Japanese resource map, showing the locations and details of natural resources throughout the Dutch East Indies and Pacific, a commemorative set of photos Japanese took of attack on Pearl Harbor produced right after the attack and a Japanese painting of a Gozen Kaigi, a rare conference of the government and emperor. One depicted at the Story of Hawaii museum was the last Gozen Kaigi, in which Emperor Hirohito’s cabinet dealt with the terms of the Japanese surrender shortly before the end of the war.
After looking that over, Neal showed me a newspaper from Japan, dated Dec. 8. It contained perhaps the first published photos of the attackers (Honolulu papers published right after the attack only contained shots of the aftermath). He also has Japanese magazines published during the war on display.
“You look at the faces of these pilots,” Neal told me. “They were kids.”
Neal also has a small, vintage Japanese print of the emperor that bears the image of the cherry blossom, Hirohito’s official seal. In the print, the emperor is seated atop a white horse. It’s a surreal image, with the emperor a little too crisp against the hazy background.
But perhaps Neal’s most impressive holding is a very large, very rare Japanese strategy map (Neal said he knows a guy in Japan who sends him Pearl Harbor-related maps, images and so forth; another friend who speaks Japanese helps him with translations). Printed in March 1941, it was originally in four pieces as it had to be broken down and moved from place to place, but has since been restored to a single piece.
Neal said he’s also in the process of getting a similarly-sized Japanese community map. “I had been under the impression that the Japanese government kept the people in the dark,” he told me. “But they had community maps that the used when they went around explaining war strategy to people.”
The museum has little on Maui’s other wartime camp–the internment camp for Japanese nationals that was also in Haiku–but the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Kahului (Nvmc.org) has an exhibit on internees throughout Hawaii that runs through Dec. 13.
As for that Camp Maui exhibit at the Story of Hawaii Museum, Neal said that should run through the end of January. For more information, visit Storyofhawaiimuseum.com.