On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became our 50th state. Despite its late entrance into the union, Hawaii had served the US Navy for years, most memorably during WWII. But what is the history between the US Navy and Hawaii?
Known to native Hawaiians as Wai Momi (meaning water of pearl), Pearl Harbor has been home to the Pacific fleet for generations. The harbor was believed to be home to the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau and her brother, Kahi’uka. According to Hawaiian legend, Keaunui, a powerful chief, created a navigable channel named the “Pearl River” making it accessible for navigation. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii for the island’s sandalwood. In the 1830’s the sugar industry was introduced and by the mid-19th century, most of Hawaii had become well established. Up until the 19th century, Pearl Harbor could not be used for large vessels due to its shallow waters and reed blocked entrance. During the 1820’s and 30’s, as the American whaling business grew out of the Port of Honolulu, a growing interest in establishing a naval base in Pearl Harbor began to take root. In 1869, Congress approved the funds to deepen the approach into the harbor. Over the next few years, negotiations would go back and forth over the cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States. In 1887, under King Kalakaua, the United States was given exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor and to establish a coaling and repair station. Over the next 10 years, while the United States had control over Pearl, they did not fortify her as a naval base due to the still formidable barrier that created a shallow entrance. With the Spanish-American War of 1898, a stronger desire to have a preeminent force in the Pacific became a greater concern to the United States. In 1899, with the overthrow of the Hawaiian king, the United Stated annexed Hawaii, and focused on strengthening its naval presence on Oahu. In 1901, work began on dredging the entrance channel, and in 1903, the USS Petral became the first vessel to enter the harbor. While improvements were made in Pearl, most of the Navy’s facilities remained in Honolulu during the beginning of the 20th century. As Honolulu grew, and other governmental agencies began gaining property, the decision was made to begin shifting naval activities to Pearl. In 1908, Naval Station Pearl Harbor was created and construction of the first drydock began the next year. Ford Island, which is in the middle of the harbor, was purchased in 1917 for joint Army-Navy use. In 1919 the first air crews arrived. By 1934, Minecraft Base, Fleet Air Base, and Submarine Base had been added to the existing Navy district. The Submarine Force came to Pearl in 1914 with four F-class boats. These boats were replaced by the K-class submarines in 1915 and operated out of the base until WWI. In 1919, six R-class boats arrived in Pearl, once again bringing a submarine fleet to Hawaii. During WWII, 22 of the 51 American Submarines were homeported in Pearl Harbor. In February 1941, the US Pacific Fleet made Pearl Harbor its permeant base.
On December 7, 1941, America was thrust into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was because of this attack that mainland attitudes towards the US territory began to change. Pearl Harbor and Hawaii became a part of the American identity, paving the way for Hawaii to become the 50th state. In March 1959, the US government approved statehood, and in June of that year the Hawaiian people voted and accepted admittance into the United States. Two months later, Hawaii officially became the 50th state. After December 7th, Pearl remained a main base for the US Pacific Fleet along with Naval Base San Diego. In 2010, the Navy and Air Force merged their two bases, creating Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. From 1932 to 1983, the most recognizable structure on the submarine base was the Escape Training Tank. Just like here in Groton, the 100-foot-tall tower was the escape training method for generations of submariners in up to 80 feet of water. Today, Naval Station Pearl Harbor provides berthing and shore side support to surface ships and submarines. The base accommodates the largest ships in the fleet and is now home to over 160 commands. Pearl Harbor is also the only intermediate maintenance facility for submarines in the Middle Pacific, so it plays host to large numbers of visiting submarines as well. On January 29, 1964, the base was recognized as a National Historic Landmark district and in 1976 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The USS Arizona, Bowfin and Utah, all memorials, are also recognized National Historic Landmarks. Today 11 submarines call Pearl Harbor home as part of Submarine Squadron 7 which was established in 1951. These boats are from the Los Angeles Class. If you are or have ever been stationed in Pearl Harbor, we would love to hear your stories and what you loved most about this beautiful place.