A P-3C Orion airplane monument put up by the Navy nearly two decades ago to memorialize a long history of maritime patrol service at Naval Air Station Barbers Point has been removed, creating a backlash in the community and concern over how the process was handled.
The Navy dedicated the base memorial — a one-fifteenth-scale fiberglass P-3C Orion on a steel pole surrounded by a rock wall — when the base closed in 1999 to preserve the legacy of 57 years of fleet service.
Barbers Point was at one time the largest naval air station in the Pacific. At its height it had about eight P-3C Orion sub hunter squadrons and 80 to 100 aircraft, historians say.
The American Renaissance Academy, which leases 17 acres from the Hunt Cos., including the memorial site across from the old base headquarters, got a volunteer group together and took the airplane and stand down March 3, a Saturday.
Carl Vincenti, a retired Marine and executive vice president of business development for the K-12 school, said he had been cleaning up the neglected and deteriorating monument of broken beer bottles and other debris for three years, and eventually spearheaded the effort to relocate and safeguard parts of it.
Vincenti also acknowledged the school hopes to one day fence off the memorial site to create a bigger play area for students. The school spread grass seed on the adjacent ground, he said.
The memorial’s support pole and airplane replica are now at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base with an uncertain future. The rock wall remains at the old Barbers Point, stripped of its nomenclature, “Naval Air Station Barbers Point 1942-1999.” The letters are also at the Marine base.
The Saturday removal didn’t sit well with some in the community.
“I was proud every time I rode by that (memorial) because it was retaining some of our history. They are quick out here to try and do away with our military history,” said Bev Brennan, a retired Navy command master chief who was in P-3 units at Barbers Point.
There was “no advance notice for anybody” of the move, said Brennan, co-owner of the Barbers Point Bowling Center. “There are so many veterans out here — we could get a working party and clean that mess up,” she said of the site. “And that wasn’t an option.”
The monument’s condition came up only when the school laid claim to the parcel that includes the base memorial, she said.
Vincenti said others who drove by the memorial didn’t see the neglect he was seeing up close on a regular basis.
The removal hit a nerve with some.
“I was pinned to 2nd (class petty officer) on that very spot. It’s ridiculous it was removed,” retired Navy Senior Chief Holly Miguel said on Facebook.
Vincenti, who’s also a parent at the school, said “the Navy and Hunt reached out and said they had all the proper approvals in place” for the memorial’s removal.
Steve Colon, president of development for Hunt’s Hawaii Region, said in an email that the monument “was not historic” and that it “was transferred to the Kaneohe Marine base to be in front of the P-3 command building there which is where the command transferred to when (Barbers Point) closed down.”
Only a few P-3s are still based at Kaneohe, and belong to the secretive “special projects” VPU-2, which flies highly classified missions.
Vincenti said he consulted state Sen. Mike Gabbard and the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees Barbers Point land.
Brad Hayes, executive director of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, said he was approached several months ago about the monument and asked whether he wanted it.
“They wanted it in our front yard — and that’s not the place for it,” Hayes said. The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor also said it could not take it, Vincenti said.
D. Kalani Capelouto, a Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board member, said in an email that he received “multiple complaints about the missing P-3 monument” and that no one had approached the board to explain there was a problem maintaining it.
The Navy said the marker “is now secured and protected from vandalism and theft,” and it is determining a “good location for it to be displayed.”
The future of the monument’s rock wall is uncertain, but Vincenti said the school will not put its name on it.
Brennan, the retired command master chief, said if it’s moved anywhere, the complete monument should be moved near the Kalaeloa Airport tower on the old base.
“It’s our history. And we would like to keep it where it belongs — which is at the tower,” she said.
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