Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kīlauea Military Camp

What once began as an idea by Hilo Board of Trade members for a training ground for the National Guard and an Army “vacation and health recruiting station” has become one of Hawaii’s most unique resorts for the military. (KMC)

Let’s look back.

In 1898, Lorrin Thurston owner of Volcano House and head of the Hawai‘i Promotion Committee (forerunner to the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau) worked closely with the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company to create an excursion business from Honolulu to his hotel at Kīlauea.

Although he sold his interest in Volcano House to hotelier George Lycurgus (1858–1960) in 1904, Thurston continued to promote Kīlauea and Hawai‘i’s other natural sites.

He helped with the establishment of the Hawaiʻi National Park, an entity to encompass both Kīlauea and Haleakalā.  Hawai‘i’s new National Park, established August 1, 1916, was the thirteenth in the new system and the first in a US territory.  (Chapman)

Besides its volcanic interest, the park is noted for its fine examples of tropical vegetation (some forest species being extremely rare;) its native birdlife which is unique in the entire world; its Polynesian archaeology and history; and its character as an international park.  (Edward G Wingate, Superintendent, 1939)

The history of the Park generally mirrors the history of Kīlauea Military Camp (KMC.)

Interest in Kīlauea as a military training and rest area began in September 1911, when Companies A and F, Twentieth Infantry, arrived. They were followed two years later by one hundred men from Company D, First Infantry, who camped near the Volcano House.  (Nakamura)

Thurston helped negotiate a lease for about 50-acres of land from Bishop Estate; trustees held the lease (they included Ex offico the Commander of the Army Department of Hawaii; Ex officio the Commanding General of the National Guard of Hawaii; Lieut Col John T. Moir, National Guard, Island of Hawaiʻi; GH Vicars of Hilo and LA Thurston of Honolulu and Hilo.)

In the early years, to get there, off-island folks took steamer ships to either Hilo or Punaluʻu (from Hilo they caught a train to Glenwood and walked/rode horses to Volcano; one mile west of the Volcano House; a five-mile railroad took passengers to Pahala and then coaches hauled the visitors to the volcano from the Kaʻū side.) Later, the roads opened.

“Tours of all the islands are arranged.  Connected with the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company is the world-famous Volcano House overlooking the everlasting house of fire, as the crater of Halemaʻumaʻu is justly named. “

“A night's ride from Honolulu and an hour by automobile and you are at the Volcano House in the Hawaii National Park on the Island of Hawaiʻi, the only truly historic caravansary of the Hawaiian Islands.”  (The Mid-Pacific, December 1933)

The Camp is located at an elevation of 4,000-feet, directly on the belt road around the island (the road was later relocated mauka of the Camp.)

KMC greeted its first group of US Army Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Infantry, November 6, 1916. Three buildings for dining and recreation were still unfinished, so the visiting Soldiers were expected to provide their own sleeping tents.

A couple weeks later, November 17, KMC was officially opened, and many Soldiers came to this unique site through 1917.

Encouraged by local boosters, including John Giles and Lorrin Thurston, KMC became a mainstay of the volcano park for the next three decades.  (Chapman)

From the latter part of 1916 into early-1917, the newly designated Kīlauea Military Camp witnessed a steady stream of military units.

Then, WWI broke out and virtually all of the troops in Hawai‘i prior to 1917 had transferred to the continental US, many of them then moving on in succeeding months to the trenches of France and Belgium.  (Chapman)

To keep the place going, school summer programs and Boy Scouts stayed at the camp.  Following WWI, the trustees transferred their KSBE lease to the Park Service.  By late-1921, soldiers on recreation leave started to return to the Camp and the facilities started to expand.

The last major addition to KMC was the provision of an airfield; in 1924, the Army built a landing strip just south of Halemaʻumaʻu (known as Sand Spit Horst.)

However, within a few months an explosive eruption at Halemaʻumaʻu threw boulders onto the site.  (Another runway was built closer to the Camp – it was named Boles Field in honor of the Park’s first Superintendent, Thomas R Boles.)

As part of the original agreement, the Navy built its own rest and recreation camp on a 14-acre parcel adjacent to KMC in 1926. The Navy camp was transferred to KMC’s control in 1935, however, due to a slow resolution of the lease agreement between the Park Service and the Navy.  (KMC)

In 1941 it became an important staging ground for the war. From March to October 1942, KMC became the headquarters for the Twenty-seventh Division of the Army. The troops used the buildings at KMC for quarters and the grounds for training.

The R&R Camp also became an internment camp.  The first detainees arrived in the afternoon of December 7, 1941. Most did not stay at KMC for long, however; within a few months all were transferred to Sand Island on Oʻahu.  (Nakamura)

In June 1942 the Battle of Midway changed the tide of the war, and KMC was again re-activated as a rest and recreation camp, but it also continued to support tactical training of troops. In October 1943, the decision was made to return the Camp to a fully recreational facility.  (Nakamura)

In the postwar period, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed for a few days at KMC in 1946.  In 1949, the Army opened KMC to members of all branches of the military.  (Chapman)

On, July 1, 1961, Hawaiʻi National Park’s units were separated and re-designated as Haleakalā National Park and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  The relationship between the military and Park Service was not always smooth.

Today, Kīlauea Military Camp is open to all active and retired armed forces, Reserve/National Guard, dependents, other uniformed services, and current and retired Department of Defense civilians, including Coast Guard civilians and sponsored guests.

The image shows Kīlauea Military Camp in 1923.  In addition, I have added some other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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