Most of remember the movie “Tora Tora Tora” where Japanese bombers apparently came through the Kolekole Pass to pounce on the unwary American P-40 airplanes and then continue onward to ravage Pearl Harbor … Well, er, as we discover today – not quite. We are standing outside a 1940-era hangar at Wheeler Army Air Base, Hawaii. In the distance on the north skyline opens the mountain cleft known as Kolekole.
Despite the movie scene, the Japanese attackers never came through Kolekole. The imperial high command feared that if the Americans were at all prepared for this attack, the P-40s could inflict a crushing welcome. Instead, the Japanese circled the mountains and came in through the side door.
This and much other Dec. 7 lore is brought to light by Dennis C. Drake, a retired Army colonel who presides over the garrison’s public affairs section and the Wheeler National Historical Landmark (email@example.com)
We turn from reading the display board in front of the hangars. If we were to be transported back to early 1941 the scene that meets our eyes would be exactly the same except for growth of the trees. There is a line of stately 80-year-old hangars still in use to shelter sleek helicopters not a part of the Dec. 7 inventory. Behind us across the street are the same laid-back, lanai-style houses for military families. At Schofield Barracks, a base just to the north, one neighborhood of lanai-style houses remains in use. Many of them appeared as scenes in the movie “From Here to Eternity.”
As we enter the hangars, we play the game of spotting shell holes from the attacking planes that remain in girders from that fateful day. The tarmac outside the hangars bears some unusual patching to cover bomb craters. A sunburst effect of flaring gouges on the runway tells of the molten metal spray.
Hangar 206 contains a further historical footnote. The Army allowed Amelia Earhart to shelter her Lockheed Electra here while preparing to circumnavigate the Pacific – a flight from which she never returned.