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The History of Pearl Harbor

Historic Ford Island

Traditionally called Moku’ume’ume by Native Hawaiians, Ford Island was not inhabited before Europeans made contact because there is no naturally occurring fresh water source.

However, the island served as a source of pili grass, which the Native Hawaiians used to thatch the roofs and walls of their dwellings.

1778

Captain James Cook first lands in Hawaii.

While western influence immediately became a factor in the Pearl Harbor area, the region remained less developed than neighboring Honolulu throughout much of the 19th century due to its relative inaccessibility.

Mid-19th Century

Ford Island is functioning as a productive agricultural area. Watermelons and sugarcane are abundant.

1863

James I. Dorsett acquires a portion of the island by auction.

1866

James I. Dowsett sells the property to Caroline Jackson.

Jackson then marries Dr. Seth Ford. It is from the Fords that the island takes its present name; the island has also historically been called Ford’s Island.

1891

Ford Island sold to the John Ii Estate.

The Ford’s son sold Ford Island to the John Ii Estate, which leased Ford Island to the Oahu Sugar Company. The island was planted with sugarcane, aided by the recently dug freshwater wells that provided a reliable source of water on the island.

1890's

The US Navy begins intensive survey efforts in Pearl Harbor, allocating the headquarters for these efforts on Ford Island.

December 7, 1941

The Attack

0755 Hours

Japanese bomber and torpedo planes arrive at Ford Island from aircraft carriers positioned ~230 miles north of Oahu.

While the primary military objective of the attack was to destroy the Pacific Fleet of US aircraft carriers (with were not in Pearl Harbor that morning), the first talks off the day was to preclude an American defense by disabling aircraft located at Ford Island and the other airfields on Oahu.

0758 Hours

An air raid warning goes out and General Quarters (i.e., Battle Stations) were ordered two minutes later.

0803 Hours

The battleships moored at Ford Island came under attack as the Nevada was hit by a bomb and the West Virginia was torpedoed.

0805 Hours

California is hit by a torpedo.

Japanese high-altitude bomber dropped an armor-piercing bomb on the Arizona.

0810 Hours

The Tennesse and The Maryland are hit by two bombs.

Three torpedoes struck the Oklahoma, and the ship eventually capsized. Of the approximately dozen bombs that hit Ford Island, an estimated 9 incendiary 250-kg bombs were dropped on a near Hangar 6 during the initial attack; 4 bombs are believed to have struck Seaplane Ramp Np. 4. One of the bombs dropped near Hangar No, 6 created a 20-foot-wide and 7-foot-deep crater. The seaplane ramp was bombarded and the runaways and hardstand areas were strafed with machine gun fire, the scars of which are still visible.

1000 Hours

The second wave of Japanese attack planes returned to their aircraft carriers.

Pearl Harbor itself was in flames as fame aged ships leaked oil into the water, while clouds of billowing black smoke darkened the morning sky. The harbor was awash with dead and injured U.S. Sailors, oil and debris—a galvanizing start to a perilous and ultimately victorious four years of war.

Although only two of the aircraft hangars suffered

substantial damage, the battleships, other vessels, and aircraft suffered devastating damage. Hangar 6 offered fire damage due to a bomb exploding on the northeast corner of the building. A dud bomb damaged the rood and floor of the Hangar 38, and the windows the building were damaged from the concussion of nearby bomb strikes and flying concrete fragments.

The Death Toll

Although he vast majority of Sailors were on shore leave on that Sunday morning, the loss of military personnel life was staggering. More than 2,300 servicemen were killed, including more than 1,100 on the Arizona alone. More than 1,100 servicemen were wounded in the attack. The numbers of civilian casualties were much smaller—68 killed and wounded.

Today

A Mixed Operational Navy Base

Many of the historic structures are being repurposed for continued use

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has rehabilitated and adaptively repurposed Hangars 37 and 79, along with the Areological Tower, which is part of the Ford Island Control Tower. USPACOM is reusing the Dispensary as the HA / R Center for Excellence, NOAA is reusing Hangars 175 and 176 as the NOAA Pacific Regional Center, and the former BO Building is being used as a Navy Lodge. The Ford Island runway, the most prominent landmark on the island, remains evident. The old hardstand areas, scarred by machine gun strafing and bomb splatter, remain largely intact and in use for a variety of purposes, including parking, roadways, and as stark reminders of Ford Island’s storied past.

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Ford Island Runway and Hardstand Areas: “An American WWII Battlefield”

National Park Service
American Battlefield Protection Program
Ford Island, Pearl Harbor Hawaii
Battle of December 7, 1941

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