The history of Punahou School is sprinkled with a panoply of stories that are interwoven with the people and the history of Hawaii. Of these, none is perhaps so interesting as Punahou’s World War II experience when, with its grounds conscripted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 1:10 on the morning of December 8, 1941, Punahou was forced to leave its beloved campus for other environs.
In many ways, the takeover saved Punahou during a time when dorm students were returning to the neighbor islands and others were evacuating with their families to the safety of the mainland. The precipitous drop in tuition income made it hard enough to pay faculty and staff let alone mow the grass.
Rent received from the Army replaced much of the lost income and was critical to the school’s survival. It afforded time during which the school resurrected itself at homes throughout Manoa and Nuuanu Valleys and at locations as far away as Kahala and Waipahu. High school students, initially meeting at Central Union Church, would eventually relocate to the University of Hawaii‘s Teachers’ College. Seventh and eighth graders would join them there in the fall of ’42. Thus financially and physically stabilized, school could continue while waiting out the war.
But salvation had its price. While the campus facility met the Army’s basic needs for buildings and space, transformations were required of classrooms, auditoriums, and the physical ground itself to support the war’s frenzied efforts. Trenches were dug, fields overtaken, and additional floors installed in existing structures to transform the campus from a bucolic school for children to a wartime machine.
To many, even those who were involved with the school, the story of what went on behind the barbed wire was a mystery that was steeped in speculation, fueled by misunderstanding, and fodder for urban legend. Little has changed in the nearly 70 years since.
In this series of posts, that mystery will be revealed. Here, in a tour delivered by Ellwood “Woody” Fern ’62 and Lynne Gartley ’74 Meyer to the Punahou School classes of 1946 and 1951 during their respective 60th and 55th reunions, is the untold story of what went on at the campus, the people involved, and how this resource served the war effort. Gleaned largely from Charlotte Peabody Dodge’s “Punahou: The War Years 1941-1945” and the Punahou School oral history collection, it’s a unique story that should be told, and learned.
I hope you will enjoy it … and remember.