On this particular day, it started with the Ford Island Theatre

Want to know a little secret?

It has to do with this seemingly off-the-wall quirk in my list of favorite places to be. I, Rosa Say, have a thing for military bases.

Building 55

When I lived on one I was a teenager, and my dad had been temporarily stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines; we went with him. However I have equal measure of memories from the rest of my time living right here in Hawai‘i, for the U.S. military presence is exceptionally strong and varied here, a presence which includes just about every branch of the Armed Forces. To not be invited to a military installation every so often is akin to living the hermit’s life under a rock, and these days you would be very hard-pressed to find an island resident not related in some degree of separation to someone who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Why are military bases among my very favorite places to be? It has to do with their prevailing sense of control, order and discipline, a bit ironic when you consider that the common thread of what our Armed Forces fight for is democracy and all the freedoms of independence and self-expression.

Sometimes, rules are good for us. That is to say, enforced-rules are good for us.

The military life of discipline

Say "military base" to me, and these are my word-associations: Control, order, discipline, cleanliness (both people and place), civilized behavior, precision, nobility, honor, decorum, history, respect, legacy, time-tested mettle, bravery and valor, quiet and peacefulness.

Battleship Row today -4
I was so impressed with how clean and well-kept this entire area was; if only all of O‘ahu could look this way in her public spaces!

Realistically there may be some negatives which exist, but they honestly do not exist for me. This may be blasphemous to some in Hawai‘i, but I will forthrightly say I love having the military in our islands and I hope they never leave. I admire their code of behavior and their values, and I like the physical results of those values where they reside in our islands.

On this particular day, my military places experience started with the Ford Island Theatre.

This past Wednesday I accepted an invitation to speak at the Ford Island Theater. My anticipation was sweet, for at about the same time the invitation was extended, I had read this snippet in the Honolulu Star Bulletin:

Military movie houses made memories for many

By Burl Burlingame

» Ford Island: Building No. 65, now gone, was a 1932 arched wooden construction that doubled as a gymnasium. Building No. 89, at the ferry landing, a concrete-and-pile structure so substantial that it doubled as a bomb shelter, was completed later in the war. Movies played at the 400-seat theater until 1980.

Even during the great period of military-theater construction during World War II, the Ford Island Theater stands out as a unique structure," said Dodge. "The Modernism style stripped down the building to a clean, simple box with minimum exterior detailing. The smooth plastered walls are almost reflective against a blue sky. All the visual focus was placed on the grand entrance stair and expansive open lanai.

The Ford Island Theater’s modern design was really a prewar vision, which was immediately stifled with camouflage paint and nightly blackouts. The theater would not be painted a lighter color, as originally intended, until after the war.

Recently, $14 million was spent on "adaptive reuse" of Ford Island Theater – which is on the National Register – converting it into a conference center. The theater lobby and box office were retained, and even feature ’40s-era movie posters.

Romance is never old

I yearned for the old theatre that I had not ever seen (if anyone can find a picture online, please share it with me!) however I was also intrigued with seeing the new.

Ford Island has always been a place of mystery to me. When I was growing up "just up the road" from Pearl Harbor you could only reach Ford Island by military ferry; if I’d ever been there I didn’t remember it, and as I grew older just assumed it wasn’t a realistic option.

Arizona Memorial and the Admiral Clarey Causeway Bridge
The USS Arizona Memorial
and the Admiral Clarey Causeway Bridge

The present Admiral Clarey causeway was not constructed until several years after I had moved to the Big Island, and far as I knew, there was still no access without military ID in hand. I frequently fly over Ford Island on my inter-island business trips, and each look out the airplane windows reminded me it was a place I had not been to, curiosities about it left restless and unsatisfied.

Northwest Shoreline, Ford Island
Northwest Shoreline, Ford Island,
not on the usual tours of the Pearl harbor Historic District.

So to get an invitation was a thrill for me; I planned to spend the afternoon after my presentation there looking around, camera in hand, and these are the results of my day: Two photo sets on Flickr so you can share the afternoon with me:

My photos have descriptions which are a combination of my personal journaling that afternoon and information I subsequently looked up online. It was an afternoon I want to remember; the military presence in Hawai‘i has impressed me once again.

There is so very much we can learn from each other. So much.

I learned several stories that afternoon, some trivia…

The Mighty Mo: Invincible?

From Did you know?:

"Two months after the war, while docked at her Hudson River berth in New York City, the USS Missouri was boarded by 60,000 sightseeing school children in a single day.  The children did so much damage to the ship that she had to go to the Navy Yard for repairs."

Bird’s nest control
Bird’s nest control

This air traffic control tower was under construction when Pearl Harbor
was attacked in 1941; a slight liberty taken with the movie. The tower
was completed in 1942.

Interesting interview with movie co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer by National Geographic: Beyond the Movie.

There was one memorial that moved me the most; it was where I ended my visit that afternoon, and when I left I was determined to find out all I could online.

The USS Utah Memorial
The USS Utah Memorial

"USS Utah has been almost forgotten. Seldom honored by public visits, it rests in the waters of Pearl Harbor as a distant memory of America’s most remembered day, a sad epitaph for a fine battleship.

A Florida-class dreadnought battleship, first launched in December of 1909, she was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the U.S. state of Utah."
—From the History of the USS Utah

The marker you first see there reads:

"Near this spot, at Berth Fox 11, on the morning of 7 December 1941, the USS Utah was struck on the portside with what is believed to have been three aerial torpedoes and was sunk. She was subsequently rolled over to clear the channel, but was left on the bottom."

Then as you move to the next marker at the base of the flagpole, the names of 58 men who are entombed with her. It truly hurt to see this ship left this way in rusted remnants, especially after visiting the dignified nobility of the oft-visited USS Missouri and USS Arizona memorials.

Thus my post today.

A bit of glee to share with you in what was such a memorable day for me: If you have the same opportunity to visit Ford Island, or any of the sights of the Pearl Harbor Historic District, do. It is a visit that will stay with you. I will be back, for I want to see more, feeling more of what those places will surely make me feel, learning more of what they can teach me.

However I am also hoping you will take some time to visit my set-within-a-set of the story of the USS Utah, which starts here, and continues for 10 photos. Even though it will be a virtual visit, I am pretty certain you will remember it too, and we can do our small part as the Ho‘ohana Community so that the USS Utah will not be forgotten.

Honor. Devotion. Hope. Aloha.

Dedicated Memorial Day 1972


  1. says

    December 7th, and thinking about Pearl Harbor today

    Started the online part of my day checking on my article posting for Say “Alaka‘i” and caught sight of this article on The Honolulu Advertiser this morning: On the 67th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a look back at history. It…

  2. Kathleen says

    Thanks so much for this post and the photos. I lived on Ford Island (Luke Field) in the early ’70s and enjoyed reading about it again.

    • Rosa Say says

      Wow Kathleen, that must have been a FABULOUS time to live there (for it was in all of Hawaii as I recall… I lived on O’ahu then too.)

      So glad you made it here to share this post with me. If you click on any of the photos above, you’ll be taken to the Flicker sets they came from — I took quite a few shots that day.

      Much aloha to you ~ Rosa

  3. Bob Hammerstad says

    Thank you for the short trip down memory lane Rosa. I was stationed at Hickam AFB but I had a part time job (there were two of us) working at the Ford Island Theater in 1976-1977. It was very large but our average attendance was about 15 people. Different movie every day. Two operating projectors in the booth. I would unlock the theater, let Neil in to make fresh popcorn and I or my wife would sell tickets until the movie was supposed to start. Then run upstairs, start the movie then run back downstairs and down to the bowling alley to drop off the money from ticket sales. I don’t know where the popcorn money went but the popcorn was the best I’ve ever tasted. If we brought the car to work, which we usually did, we came over to the island on the car ferry. Sometimes we would ride the foot ferry like most of the guys on the island. I proudly wore my “Ford Island, Love It Or Leave It” t-shirt. Great memories.