A Journal of events on Molokai
Hawaii — Autumn of 1958
A picture of Kaunakakai, as Finn remembers it in the late 1950s.
I was part of an outfit of men made up of several squadrons from Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, sent to Molokai in September of 1958 for the specific reason of putting up a fence around a designated bombing range to keep out cattle so they would not be in danger during bombing practice.
We had our own little “crews” that we worked with and two of us are still in contact to this day, me and Harry Morgan. There were four of us that worked together. Harry from Paterson, NJ; Backus from Liberty, MO, C.M. Bennett from Birmingham, AL. and myself, Jerry Finn from St. Paul, MN. Now from Oconto, WI.
We called ourselves the 4-1/2 because when you make a fist there are 4 fingers and the thumb and that made the “half”…we were the ones who were considered the “rebels” waiving our fists and using bad language. We were the “tough guys”… or so we thought.
We were the first military unit there since World War II. Some of us flew to the island while the others made beach head landings with other amphibious equipment. The landing was made on Papohaku Beach, but it is my understanding that Papohaku was not the best place because of the high surf.
We got the camp established close to what is now the airport. The Navy already had a camp with permanent buildings there. Mr. Ray Miller of Friendly Island Realty was stationed there at the time and he was one of the Navy personnel who manned the bombing targets at the West End of the island.
I was a corporal in charge of a small group of workers. Normally in Marine Corps order it would be called a “Fire Team” but we didn’t have weapons so it was a “work group.”
I still remember the first day out; we talked with one of the foremen for Del Monte Pineapple Co. He showed us some very big and heavy fence posts that had been cut a few years before, but were too heavy to use. He asked if we would use those first as corner posts since we had the man power to place them.
He also asked that we drive on the roads only and not cut through any pineapple fields so not to destroy the most delicious fruit. We honored that and he said we could have all the pineapples we wanted as long as we didn’t waste any. In fact, I think we only picked about one or two a day for refreshment or dessert.
One thing that remains in my mind is when we were just about finished with breakfast, the locals would go by in a pickup truck to the fields to pick the pineapple. There was a group in the back of the truck that would sing on the way to work. It is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. It echoed across the fields as they sang. How I would love to capture that sound on a CD.
We had a machine called the “Gray Goose” that was a post-hole digger. I can still see it in the distance rattling and cranking in the field. And there was Sergeant Mario and his bulldozer who would go almost constantly plowing a path for the “Gray Goose”. Some times he would get mad at one of the 4-1/2 because we were such “cut ups”….there are other names for that but I hesitate to use them.
When Sergeant Mario would get mad his eyebrows would come together and his face got long. Then we would say…“Uh-oh, watch out, Mario’s eyebrows are together.” It was so much fun.
We all enjoyed working on Molokai for 3 specific reasons. 1. We never had an inspection all the time there. 2. We never had to get a hair cut and 3. We worked with our shirts off all day every day.
Of course there were many other reasons as well including going to the building where the bakery is now. That was a bar and bowling alley and the place where we went most, plus the Bamboo Bar behind the bakery.
We used to “talk story” as you say on the islands and we heard of a local Hawaiian man with the nick-name of Hitler. Evidently there was some other construction on the island and they were building some kind of tunnel. We heard that this man Hitler worked with a jack hammer all day and could hold it above his head for hours. We all respected and admired such super-human strength and wanted to meet with him but never did. At least I never did, I don’t really know if anyone else ever met him.
In that same bar there was an old haole woman about 50 at the time who invited us all to a luau on her ranch. As many other things I don’t remember her name but we always appreciated that. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t go because I must have had duty or something. But everyone had fun.
On weekends we would go to Papohaku Beach and play like little children. We would let the undertow take us out 20 or 30 yards and then spit us up like so much refuse. That in itself was unique and exciting.
We had some harrowing experiences too, like the time a hurricane or typhoon was headed for the island. There was some panic among the patients in Kalaupapa and they didn’t know what to do, so we liberated them. A man named Jimmy Crow drove a low boy truck and we followed with six-bys.
When we completed the bombing site we were all called back to Kaneohe Bay to go to Japan because of some conflict in the Formosa Straights. They sent the troops from Japan to Formosa and we replaced them in Japan.
That was a very sad time in my life to have to leave Molokai, because all things considered, it was the best time I have ever had. Many others said the same thing and I think it was because we realized how much of a different and exciting experience it was. So unique and unparallelled in itself.
Harry Morgan out in New Jersey said to his knowledge they never did any bombing there because we were called out so fast. However, I do not know if this is true or not. If so, it is a complete mystery where the ordinance they’re finding now came from. I hope all of it can be found so it can be cleaned up and forgotten.
As it turns out, there were bombs dropped in 1958. However, I just learned from Ray Miller that they were little torpedo bombs, about 15 pounds. The device itself didn't explode. When the tip of the torpedo hit the ground a small shell inside the torpedo would emit smoke which was used to mark the location and then radio this information to the pilots. Most think they are dangerous, when in fact they are not.
I am proud to be a part of the armed forces that kept these islands free during the wars. However, I would like to take this time to apologize to the People of Hawaii for what we have done to your most beautiful islands. We have completely defeated the purpose of paradise. Please forgive me!
Jerome (Jerry) Finn….Oconto, Wisconsin…..March 27, 2008