On November 13, 1945, Honolulu residents awoke to news of a mass riot the previous evening by over one thousand sailors in the Damon Tract area in Honolulu. Although it was one of the largest postwar military uprisings on American soil, the riot itself has not been carefully examined in the historical record due other events and interests locally and nationally, as the media continued to operate within a highly militarized state. Remembering and understanding the Damon Tract riot became secondary to America’s Cold War interests in the Pacific, the growth of tourism in the Islands, and efforts to garner statehood for Hawai‘i that depended on unifying these historically contentious identities at the expense of acknowledging conflict that existed in the past.

On Tuesday, November 13, 1945, Honolulu residents awoke to news of a mass riot the previous evening by sailors from the Honolulu Naval Air Station who, “armed with bayonets, clubs, rocks and hammers,” rioted throughout the Damon Tract area in Honolulu for two hours.1 “Smashing doors and windows,” the angry mob demolished two automobiles, including a police car, destroyed a motorcycle, and hurled rocks at the adjoining residential area next to the base. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Advertiser, the two major newspapers in the territory, reported that one thousand sailors made their way as far as Kamehameha Highway, about two blocks from the naval reservation before Honolulu police officers, Shore Patrolmen, and Marine Military Police arrived and arrested over fifty enlisted men and officers. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the sailors had been inflamed into a “revenge bound orgy” after rumors had circulated within the naval base of two sailors who had been killed that night by “gangs of young hoodlums.”2 During the riot, one observer died as a result of a heart attack but no other injuries were reported—police described how civilians retreated inside their homes and “refused to give open battle to the advancing soldiers.”3 Mainland newspapers reported that the riot was a “war” between servicemen and civilian “gooks,” a term that the Berkeley Daily Gazette explained to its readers as a “GI Hawaii name roughly equivalent to the mainland ‘zoot-suiter’,” rebellious minorities wearing oversized suits who often clashed with military and civil authorities.4

Like the 1943 Los Angeles zoot suit riots, the Damon Tract riot, with its racially charged descriptions of the participants, was the result of tensions between locals and military personnel that had been festering for decades. As early as the 1930s, understandings of a “local” culture or a local identity had become a unifying force among different ethnicities in Hawai‘i. Non-whites, who included Asian immigrants and Native Hawaiians, became affiliated in a shared contentious history against the U.S. military in a distinct multi-ethnic cultural identity.5 As historian John P. Rosa explains, “the production of local identity allow[ed] some Hawai‘i residents to articulate a common history of oppression” that collapsed differences between Native Hawaiians and other immigrant populations.6 Military personnel who arrived in Hawai‘i during the war thus confronted a racially diverse population that challenged the popular image of the Islands as a tropical paradise for whites. Servicemen indirectly acknowledged this diversity by blurring racial distinctions between non-whites, referring to locals as “nigger,” “slant-eyes,” “yellow-belly,” and “Jap” regardless of their ethnicity.7

The Damon Tract riot offers important insight into the development of the unique local and military culture in Hawai‘i and longstanding hostilities between servicemen and locals that culminated in one of the largest postwar military uprisings on American soil. Despite this distinction and the concern it generated from local, federal, and military officials, scholars have not carefully examined the riot itself. This oversight was in part due to local and national events and interests as the media operated within a highly militarized state even in the postwar period. Thus, military and business leaders, as well as political supporters of statehood, played an important role in the postwar period in the historical erasure of events like the Damon Tract riot that challenged the emerging victory culture. Subsequently, destabilizing events, such as problems with recently demobilized soldiers, existing military-local tensions, and returning Japanese inmates from mainland incarceration centers and repatriates, were strategically “forgotten” in the postwar period.8 Remembering and understanding events such as the Damon Tract riot became secondary to America’s Cold War interests in the Pacific, the growth of tourism in the Islands, and efforts to garner statehood for Hawai‘i that depended on unifying these historically contentious identities at the expense of acknowledging conflict that existed in the past. However, the causes of the riot remain critical to understanding the dynamic relationship between two of the most powerful yet divisive identities in the Islands. It is essential to recognize the role of history and memory in local and national events to understand the emergence of a unique military and local culture in Hawai‘i.

This article argues that in the pre-World War II period in Hawai‘i, locals and military personnel developed unique identities that were often in opposition to one another. Locals, who were born and raised in the Islands, celebrated their unique multicultural identity and were distinct from the thousands of soldiers who came from across the United States and various branches of the military. The outbreak of war transformed the traditional class and racial hierarchy that originated from the plantations, which further exacerbated preexisting tensions that culminated in the Damon Tract riot. Although the riot was one of the largest postwar military uprisings, its absence in the historical record should be understood within the context of minimizing differences and tensions between locals and military personnel to promote tourism and statehood in the Islands in the postwar period. Understanding this event thus highlights the continued importance of the tourism and military industries in the Islands and reveals the interplay between local and national events in the construction of history and memory.

The U.S. Military, Locals, and Race in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i’s strategic location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean had long attracted the interest of American businessmen and military officials. Foreigners who arrived on Hawai‘i’s shores transformed the self-sustaining indigenous economy into a capitalist system built first on the sandalwood trade, then whaling, and finally sugar cane production. Hawai‘i’s economy was also influenced by the growing presence of the U.S. military, which had been interested in the Islands well before World War II, because of Hawai‘i’s strategic importance in the Pacific. Only a decade after the annexation of Hawai‘i by the United States in 1898, Congress authorized the construction of a naval base at Pearl Harbor. This military base enabled the United States to occupy a strategic bastion in the middle of the Pacific where U.S. naval strength would be used to advance and protect American foreign policy interests. As the military increased its presence in Hawai‘i, officials became increasingly concerned about the growing conflict between military personnel and the various ethnicities in the Islands, culminating in the world-famous Massie case of 1931–1932.

Hawai‘i became the center of national and international attention when Thalia Massie, a white Navy wife from a prominent East Coast family, accused a group of local young men of mixed ethnicities of kidnapping and raping her. Subsequently, Navy personnel abducted, brutally beat, and whipped the Japanese American defendant, Horace Ida; and sailors with ties to Massie kidnapped and murdered the Hawaiian defendant, Joseph Kahahawai. The Massie case highlighted the first time that tensions between locals and military personnel, which had been simmering for decades, captured public attention in both Hawai‘i and the United States; and it foreshadowed events in the Damon Tract riot. During the Massie case, Hawai‘i residents used the term “local” to unite Hawai‘i’s various ethnicities and distinguish them from the mainland-bred, white military defendants, particularly after the verdict was announced.9 This creation of a “local” identity was also reaffirmed through language with the emergence of a Creole language or “pidgin English” that enabled workers of different ethnicities to communicate with English-speaking overseers and with each other. This mode of communication became a “matter of class and racial distinction” unifying the majority of the ethnic population through a distinction made with proper English speakers or “Haoles.”10 This distinctly local culture and identity strongly contrasted with the culture of militarism in the Islands that dominated Hawai‘i during the twentieth century. The Damon Tract riot would once again highlight these underlying tensions.

In 1941, a decade after the Massie case, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and martial law was instituted in Hawai‘i in an unprecedented extension of military control over a civilian population. Meanwhile, Hawai‘i residents witnessed a massive buildup of military personnel in the Islands due to Hawai‘i’s designation as a staging area for the Pacific War. On December 7, 1941, there were only 43,000 soldiers on O‘ahu, plus a handful on the other Islands. By June of 1945, when plans were mounting for an offensive against Japan, troops on O‘ahu alone numbered 253,000. At the peak of the war in December 1944, there were 137,000 enlisted men in the 14th Naval District on O‘ahu. However, that number does not include the “men afloat.” Hundreds of thousands of men were aboard ships in the Central Pacific—550,000 in the spring of 1945, just before the invasion of Okinawa. Almost all came ashore at least once, perhaps as many as 35,000 at time, and to locals it seemed that there were often more servicemen than civilians in Hawai‘i.11

The inundation of the Islands by military personnel was not completely unexpected with the expansion of Pearl Harbor due to growing American concerns in the Pacific.12 To a great extent, however, these men were out of sight of locals and even the Island’s haole middle class and elite. The men were secluded at Pearl Harbor, Schofield Barracks, and Hickam Air Force Base, well away from the downtown business and shopping districts, much less the white residential areas of Mānoa valley and along the Gold Coast of Waikīkī.13 However, the war changed these customary community divisions as there were now too many men who flaunted custom and tradition. These soldiers challenged local mores and embraced an identity distinct from Hawai‘i’s local culture as young military men, often thousands of miles away from home and facing their own mortality during combat. As the war progressed, local-military tensions increased as many became disillusioned with military life and the myth of Hawai‘i that had been created from decades of advertising.14

Figure 1.

“Troops Embarking.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 148, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 1.

“Troops Embarking.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 148, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 2.

“Troops Embarking.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 147, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 2.

“Troops Embarking.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 147, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Instead of the “paradise of the Pacific,” many men in uniform referred to Hawai‘i as “The Rock.” This name was born out of disillusionment and frustration, as evident in the words of one individual who explained, “As for coming out here after this mess is over I’d honestly say to you and everyone else to stay the hell off this lousy Rock where the natives hate the guts of every white man and the [damn] Japs are still running things or have their fingers in everything.”15 Part of the problem was that many of the newcomers had seen movies about Hawai‘i and expected “a hula girl under every palm tree” according to the Central Pacific Base Command’s morale services section. Officials observed that “thousands of service men have been bitterly disappointed in the contrast [as it is today] and the Hawai‘i about which they learned through Technicolor movies and tourist bureau releases.”16

A popular half-hour radio program called “Hawaii Calls” that radio personality Webley Edwards started in 1935 also publicized the lure of the Islands. Broadcasted against a background of waves crashing on the beach from the famed Moana Hotel on Waikīkī beach, the radio program captivated listeners with romantic images of a tropical paradise that became ingrained with images of Hawai‘i. Many mainlanders were surprised by the large number of Asians in the Islands whose numbers and success subverted traditional racial and economic dynamics. Instead of a tropical paradise for whites, Hawai‘i’s racial diversity ensured that whites were the minority, subverting traditional notions of white privilege. As one observer explained, “Hawaii is like the Mainland except for the Japs and Chinese here. They control the island so you know why we (the mainlanders) hate the place.”17 In a survey conducted of attitudes of servicemen in 1945, some compared Hawai‘i to their home states and found the Islands sorely lacking in natural beauty and facilities.

For many, negative feelings toward Hawai‘i were due to being “plain homesick” and the unexpected loss of their freedom and identity in the military.18 As one draftee explained, “Most of all I miss my freedom and that isn’t caused by being here. It is caused by being in the service.”19 As newcomers, many servicemen soon became aware of the unique race and class relations in Hawai‘i that limited their interactions with civilian populations. As one soldier bluntly stated about the local population, “we don’t have anything in common with them and they don’t have anything in common with us.”20 At least in some cases relations between civilians and military personnel were influenced by racial attitudes brought by both groups who came from radically different cultural environments.

For the 30,000 African American soldiers, sailors, and war workers who came to the Islands from the South or had attended Southern training camps where racism was most clearly felt, Hawai‘i was a radical change from the sanctioned segregation and violence that occurred both on and off base.21 Many African Americans experienced radically different racial politics in Hawai‘i where for the first time ethnic populations outnumbered whites. Commonalities with the local ethnic populations in Hawai‘i and the lack of institutionalized discrimination were a transformative experience for many African Americans, and some were unwilling to accept the second-class status that some whites continued to try to enforce in the Islands. In April 1943, violence erupted at the Navy Cantonment near Pearl Harbor after a black face performance escalated existing hostilities and resulted in the assault of a number of African Americans. These African American soldiers reported that a group of Marines took four of them and after putting two of them in a cell “jostled us with their sticks and hit us with their fists.”22 One man was beaten until he became unconscious and had to be carried out by his friends. As a result of this incident, many African Americans reported that they “want to quit and resent the whites more than ever.”23

Yet, even as officials tried to address racial problems on base, fights continued to break out off base and locals became involved. According to Hawai‘i resident Ernest L. Golden, “the relationship between the local people, local men and the Black men was close,” explaining that there was “an empathy from the local people as to what the Blacks had endured.”24 When fights broke out between whites and blacks on the bus, Golden recalled that the bus driver would “hold the doors as long as the blacks were winning [and]…when everything was over, he’d open the doors and let the Blacks disappear.” Thus, many white military personnel associated locals with African Americans, further exacerbating racial tensions between these three groups. During the riot itself, rioters indiscriminately referred to locals as “niggers,” touching upon previous hostilities that were created out of shared experiences of discrimination.

In addition to familiarity with preexisting racial tensions between whites and blacks, many soldiers also arrived in Hawai‘i exposed to World War II racist propaganda against Japanese, the largest ethnic group in the Islands. As the war dragged on, vitriolic sentiment expressed toward the Japanese enemy seemed to be confirmed by the nature of the brutality of the fighting in the Pacific that drew upon racist ideas. In contrast to the fighting in Europe, the conflict in the Pacific was, in the words of historian John Dower, a “race war,” powered by mutual hatred and stereotyping.25 After Pearl Harbor, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey explained his strategy for winning the war: “Kill Japs, kill Japs, and keep on killing Japs!”26 Some American soldiers followed such orders literally: They sadistically collected battlefield trophies—scalps, bones, and ears—and used Japanese skulls as ornaments on U.S. military vehicles. Marvin Chester of the 475 Infantry recalled that during the fall of Myitkyina, Burma, “I had two guys in my platoon that couldn’t wait to hunt for souvenirs…they were going to command posts to try and find all the jewelry and stuff, so I called them the gangsters since they pulled gold teeth out of the bodies.”27 For many men, the ferocity of the fighting in the Pacific led them to engage in previously unthinkable actions and the dehumanization of the enemy. Within this highly racialized conflict, where soldiers would engage in the killing of Japanese combatants, thousands of men would be stationed in Hawai‘i between deployments where the Japanese constituted the largest racial group and were a critical part of the Island’s culture and economy. Many locals, who included Japanese, experienced both subtle and overt expressions of racism from the usage of racial slurs like “Jap” that was also used to describe the participants in the riot, to the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans by civil and military officials during the war.

Figure 3.

“The wounded arrive by ship from action in the Pacific for treatment at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard Hospital: being carried down the gangplank.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 142, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 3.

“The wounded arrive by ship from action in the Pacific for treatment at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard Hospital: being carried down the gangplank.” Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 142, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

The war also exposed Hawai‘i residents to new understandings of race due to the drastic—and largely unanticipated—increase in its population that transformed traditional race relations. By its overwhelming numbers, the military accounted for the majority of newcomers. But the civilian population of O‘ahu also dramatically increased—from 258,000 in 1940 to 348,000 in 1945.28 Mainland defense workers were a large part of that increase, numbering 82,000, a quarter of all the employed persons in the Islands (fig. 5).29 Most of the war workers were young, single, white men, between twenty and forty years old driven by the romantic lure of the Islands caused by years of successful advertising, the opportunity to make money, the desire to escape compulsory military service, and patriotism.30 An article in the magazine Hawaii described them as “rough-hewn men complete with vocabularies of emphatic adjectives not found in the dictionary.”31 Many workers were surprised to learn that other races were “looking down their noses” at these newcomers to the Islands in a reversal of traditional social dynamics where whites were treated with respect due to their superior social and economic position. For the first time, locals witnessed large numbers of Caucasians engaged in manual labor usually reserved for ethnic populations, living and working in often cramped conditions in military civilian housing (fig. 6). They helped to undermine traditional notions of white supremacy that had protected whites and emboldened locals who were willing to fight against discriminatory treatment as evidenced in some of the causes of the riot.

Figure 4.

“Some troops disembark with booty captured from the enemy: young man with Japanese sword.” Companion photograph published in Pearl Harbor Banner, 7 January 1944, p. 5, shows wounded from the Battle of Tarawa being unloaded from the same ship. Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 144, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 4.

“Some troops disembark with booty captured from the enemy: young man with Japanese sword.” Companion photograph published in Pearl Harbor Banner, 7 January 1944, p. 5, shows wounded from the Battle of Tarawa being unloaded from the same ship. Source: Series: Box 4 FF 7, PHNY: Return of the wounded, departure of troops Undated. Cat. no. PHNY 144, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 5.

“New Navy Yard workers arrive by ship.” Published in Honolulu Star Bulletin, 26 March 1943, p. 10: “Here we come. Men from every state in the Union stream down the gangplank to join the men behind the guns. Most of them will work at the Pearl Harbor navy yard.” Source: Series: Civilian Housing Area III (CHA III) 1942–1946, Box 4 FF 8 CHA III: Development and facilities. Cat. no. CHAIII 02, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 5.

“New Navy Yard workers arrive by ship.” Published in Honolulu Star Bulletin, 26 March 1943, p. 10: “Here we come. Men from every state in the Union stream down the gangplank to join the men behind the guns. Most of them will work at the Pearl Harbor navy yard.” Source: Series: Civilian Housing Area III (CHA III) 1942–1946, Box 4 FF 8 CHA III: Development and facilities. Cat. no. CHAIII 02, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 6.

“Layout Map of CHA III.” This image was published in Kokua ia Kakou (Help for all of us), 1 October 1944, p. 24–25 and in Pearl Harbor Banner, 22 December 1944, p. 3. Source: Series: Civilian Housing Area III (CHA III) 1942–1946, Box 4 FF 8 CHA III: Development and facilities. Cat. no. CHAIII 01, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

Figure 6.

“Layout Map of CHA III.” This image was published in Kokua ia Kakou (Help for all of us), 1 October 1944, p. 24–25 and in Pearl Harbor Banner, 22 December 1944, p. 3. Source: Series: Civilian Housing Area III (CHA III) 1942–1946, Box 4 FF 8 CHA III: Development and facilities. Cat. no. CHAIII 01, Robert F. Walden Collection (1936–1991), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library.

“Sin in Paradise”: Prostitution in Hawai‘i and Competition for Local Women

As class and racial boundaries were being upset to the consternation of affluent whites in Hawai‘i, the establishment of military-sanctioned prostitution in Hawai‘i further transformed traditional racial dynamics. Additionally, the arrival of primarily white prostitutes from the mainland challenged notions of protecting “white womanhood,” as articulated in the Massie case. It also spawned a reversal of perceptions by locals who started to believe their own women were not safe from the thousands of military men who patronized these brothels, encouraging further confrontations with military personnel that contributed to the riot.

Since the nineteenth century, civil officials had regarded prostitution as a “social evil” with various attempts made to control the “illicit connections” between sailors and Hawaiian women, including “adultery, fornication, prostitution and rape.”32 With the outbreak of war in 1941 and the exponential growth of the military population, prostitution flourished in Hawai‘i with approximately 250 prostitutes registered with the Honolulu Police Department who worked at twenty to twenty-five known houses at “authorized” rates of three to five dollars for three minutes. In contrast to earlier ethnic prostitutes, the majority of these women were white, from the mainland, and rumored to have been brought over with the “approval of military authorities” as entertainers or “essential war workers.”33 Houses of prostitution were so numerous during the war that according to one observer, “Honolulu was acquiring a national reputation, not for its wonderful climate, its beautiful Waikiki Beach, or its hula girls, but for its River Street and its houses of prostitution.”34

As thousands of servicemen and defense workers poured into the Islands, many of these recent arrivals soon patronized these “houses of ill repute,” including war worker Ted Chernin who became intimately familiar with the numerous “boogie houses” in the Chinatown area.35 Downtown, in the words of Ernest L. Golden, became “one big honky-tonk” with bars, curio shops on Alakea and Hotel Street, tattoo parlors, theaters, and houses of prostitution that lined both sides of River Street. According to Golden, recent arrivals to downtown could expect lines that stretched around the block and led to three destinations: a theater, a liquor store, or a house of prostitution.36 Never before had prostitution been as blatant and commonplace in Hawai‘i as in wartime, with the unprecedented expansion of prostitution houses.37

While prostitutes had serviced the large number of soldiers stationed at Schofield, Hickam, and Pearl Harbor, after the war broke out the exponential increase in the number of men resulted in a huge demand for sex. Subsequently, prostitutes participated in a “mass production” scheme whereby a prostitute could service twelve or more men per hour, and another woman took over when she tired. Ambitious, hard-working women who had the stamina, will, or desire to practice their trade could make an astounding amount of money servicing upwards of one hundred men per day. Prostitutes kept two dollars of every three the men paid and during the war many of the brothel prostitutes averaged around $25,000 a year at a time when a working woman was considered fortunate to make $2,000. The madams who managed the women cleared upwards of $150,000 and the houses took in between $10 and $15 million each year during the war.38

Prostitution not only changed perceptions of white women, but also the reputations of white men, whom locals saw patronizing downtown prostitution houses in broad daylight in large numbers. In a reversal of sexual stereotypes that had been used to characterize the defendants in the Massie case, non-whites began to perceive servicemen in the Islands as highly sexualized and to worry about their intentions toward their female relatives. One local resident stated that “This rock [Island of Hawai‘i] is flooded with Marines who returned from ‘down under’ and they are really sex degenerates…If ever there were Stinkeroos, they are it.”39 Others reported that “there are many rape cases since the Marines who got back from ‘down under’ got stationed here…It’s very dangerous to go out nights” while describing military personnel as “house breakers” and “a pack of wild wolves.” Local men and servicemen engaged in fights as some believed that the shortage of women would endanger the population of local women who would be victimized by “predatory, transient, possibly diseased males.”40 The shortage of women became one of the many reasons officials cited as the cause of the Damon Tract riot as local males allegedly sought to protect local women from these sexual predators or at least to limit their access to local women.

The influx of mainlanders and particularly of young, male military personnel created a huge gender imbalance in the Islands and sparked intense competition for women. In contrast to the Massie affair, conflict over women in the Islands did not stem from protecting “white womanhood” but rather from competition for a limited number of local women, a tension that became one of the causes for the Damon Tract riot. Various military publications produced a great deal of commentary on the gender imbalance in Hawai‘i, including one satire by the Brief, the official magazine of the army air forces in the Pacific Ocean area. The author recalled a time during the war when meeting a local “wahine” was nearly impossible with the “ratio of about one to each 1,000 men” who were usually only seen “on the arms of generals or colonels, headed to the officers club.”41 Although this comment was partly in jest, to many military personnel, this description did not seem like such an exaggeration.42 The shortage of women was so extreme that women living alone often listed their telephone numbers by their initials rather than their given names in order to prevent calls by strangers who resorted to “ingenious approaches” to meet women.43

Despite gender imbalances, servicemen did meet and interact with local women whom they often met at officially sponsored social events. Many women in the Islands regarded attendance at United Service Organization (USO) dances as an “obligation” and a “civic responsibility” to maintain good morale among the soldiers. Inevitably, some romances did begin.44 However, many residents did not entirely accept these relationships that were relatively uncommon before the war due to the historic distrust fostered by the military in the local community. As two sociologists explained, Asian girls who dated servicemen “evoked social disapproval and earned for themselves a ‘bad name.’” They were described as “shameless,” “proud,” “flattered,” and easily “snowed under” by the lines of these glib-talking mainlanders.45 One young Japanese woman explained that it was “really sickening to see especially Japanese girls falling head over heels in love with every doughboy.”46 Although one servicemen claimed that “companionship is what most of us want,” many locals, in particular young men who similarly desired female companionship, were suspicious of the motives of these soldiers.47 As one male Japanese college student bluntly stated, “All service men have one thing in mind—sex.”48

For local men, the influx of sailors and soldiers meant competing for the attention of a scarce number of women and protecting their own female relatives from the unwanted advances of soldiers. According to University of Hawai‘i sociologist Andrew Lind, competition for the attentions and affections of island girls underlay much of the tension between civilians and servicemen during the war and throughout the early postwar period and became one of the causes of the riot. As Lind explains, “Local boys frequently lacked the refinement in manners or the skill in courtship possessed by the mainland G.I.’s…The attentions of the G.I.’s although usually appreciated by the girls were deeply resented by the local boys.”49 In 1945, there were 291 illegitimate births in which the father was known to be a mainland serviceman indicating that there were some grounds for the fears of the local boys who did not “want our girls to be left holding the sack” as a result of the “‘snow jobs’ of the mainland slickers.”50 Yet, despite family pressure condemning these relationships and Army and Navy efforts to discourage interracial marriages by requiring servicemen to obtain official permission before marriage, servicemen were successful in winning the hearts of some 1,200 island girls in marriage between 1943 and 1946. During this same time period, 40 percent of all Caucasian grooms in the Islands married non-Caucasian girls with half of the women of Hawaiian and part Hawaiian ancestry, and a fifth of Japanese descent.51 As a result of these marriages, the number of mixed-race children in Hawai‘i increased by 50 percent between 1942 and 1946.52 Although some women fielded unwanted advances from military men, clearly a number of local women welcomed the attention from military personnel. Interracial dating and marriages were upsetting traditional racial dynamics and divisions in Hawai‘i and many pointed to the large influx of mainland bachelors during the war as one major cause. After the war was concluded, military-local tensions could no longer be contained and erupted in the Damon Tract riot in one of the largest postwar uprisings, involving over one thousand Navy personnel.

A “revenge bound orgy”: The Damon Tract Riot

In Honolulu, most local-military conflicts could be attributed to sailors more than any other personnel from other branches of the military.53 To explain this phenomenon, Lind, who studied service and civilian relations during the war, argued that while life in the Navy may be more “exciting [than] for the average doughboy” it is also “more confining.”54 The conditions both on and outside base were also less than ideal in relieving stress in the naval population. Reporters described the Honolulu Navy Air Station, which the rioters came from, as a “city of 10,000 bachelors.”55 Prior to the outbreak of war, the land was part of the ahupua‘a (land division) of Moanalua that belonged to the descendants of Lot Kupāiwa (Kamehameha V) and Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani. Businessman Samuel Damon leased part of the land for a ranch and when Ke‘elikōlani eventually left the land to Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Bishop left it to Damon, her husband’s business partner. 56 A student paper written prior to the war listed forty families, approximately 193 people, living in the area with Japanese comprising the largest ethnic group at 33.3 percent followed by Chinese-Hawaiian, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and whites, many of whom the Damon family employed as staff to maintain the property or as domestic help (fig. 7).57 In 1924, the Damon family opened Moanalua Gardens, a public park located on the land surrounded by American military installations including Fort Shafter, the oldest military base in Hawai‘i (established in 1907), Tripler Army Medical Center, and Pearl Harbor.

Figure 7.

“Map of Moanalua Gardens Area” (1939). Source: “The Moanalua Garden” by Kent Nakamura. Folder 3, Box 6, Romanzo Adams Social Research Library Student Papers, Hamilton Library Archives, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Figure 7.

“Map of Moanalua Gardens Area” (1939). Source: “The Moanalua Garden” by Kent Nakamura. Folder 3, Box 6, Romanzo Adams Social Research Library Student Papers, Hamilton Library Archives, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

In Naval Housing Area III, built near Moanalua Gardens, men were cramped together with as many as four to a room in houses originally built for families. Rear Admiral William R. Furlong., U.S.N., Commandant of the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, noted that the men often “sleep in kitchens and living rooms as well as in bedrooms” with overcrowding common in these limited accommodations. 58 Military housing in general was less than ideal in Hawai‘i; at nearby ‘Aiea receiving barracks, a soldier described the neighborhood as a “mud-hole” with red dirt blanketing the “transient barracks.”59 Recreational facilities deemed essential for these sailors, who were “ready for a fight or frolic” were sadly lacking despite the efforts of the Navy that hurriedly built Camp Andrews, the Breakers at Waikīkī, and Richardson Recreational Center at Pearl Harbor for the enjoyment of enlisted men.60

On base, sailors employed various means of passing the time as they bemoaned the Navy’s vaunted “hurry up and wait” system. Robert Sain recalled the men’s strategies as they waited to be deployed to the next unknown destination or demobilized:

In the past two weeks, we’ve employed the old means of passing time: poker (outlawed by the OinC [Officer in Charge]), craps (outlawed by the OinC), griping (frowned upon by the OinC), rehashes of encounters with the opposite sex (ignored by the OinC), and work (heartily endorsed by the OinC).61

Sain reported that positive references to O‘ahu and Honolulu by military personnel were often missing as “for the most part the island’s charms are unmentioned and unappreciated.”62 The interminable wait only increased sailors’ disillusionment with Hawai‘i and many not only griped and gambled away their problems, but also turned to alcohol, which had been strictly regulated after the imposition of martial law, to drown their sorrows. Officials cited excessive drinking as both a cause and symptom of postwar unrest, accounting for nearly 63 percent of civilian-military assault cases in the four months following July 1, 1945. Lind reported that the end of martial law coupled with the decline of patriotic fervor after World War II resulted in “old feuds [breaking] out afresh” and a spike in skirmishes that culminated in over 1,000 sailors from the Honolulu Naval Air Station rioting on the evening of December 12, 1941.63

The rioting, which made front page news in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Advertiser, was also publicized in mainland newspapers such as Berkeley Daily Gazette, the Chicago Daily News, and the Baltimore Sun. Major newspapers in New York and Washington, D.C. also provided coverage of the event for their readers.64 According to military officials investigating the riot, for two months prior to the incident small groups of sailors returning to the air station were reportedly beaten and “rolled” for their wallets in an unlighted area about four blocks long between Kamehameha highway and the main gate of the air station.65 Allegedly, youths ranging in age from sixteen to eighteen years old, operating in gangs of six or seven and carrying “metal rods or clubs with which they [would beat] the sailors,” accosted servicemen and inflicted enough damage that some victims were sent to the emergency room. Lt. R.M. Singer, a public information officer at Honolulu Naval Air Station, claimed that attacks were escalating and that there was “increasing evidence of malice toward both sailor navy officer pedestrians and jeep drivers,” with incidents of stoning and the blocking of traffic reported, particularly when Navy men were accompanied by local girls. Although authorities could not confirm these allegations, they did touch upon some of the underlying tensions between local youths and servicemen who competed for the attention of a scarce number of women.

On the evening of December 12, 1945, rumors ran rampant that “some sailors” had been beaten recently at the Damon Tract area and over 1,000 sailors sought revenge “armed with bayonets, iron bars, clubs and sticks, and wearing dungarees.”66 Seventy-five-year-old Joseph Gunthridge, who was watching the rioters throw rocks through windows, died from a heart attack. Remarkably, no one else died during the riot, which lasted for about two hours and resulted in minor property damage, before sixty members of the Honolulu Police and Shore Police restored order shortly after 11 p.m. The next day, naval authorities led by Vice Admiral S.A. Taffinder, commandant of the 14th Naval District, joined together with other naval representatives and Police Chief William A. Gabrielson to investigate the cause of the riot. According to Gabrielson, in the months and weeks prior to the riot, he had received news that “some sailors” had been beaten in the Damon Tract area.67 He advised naval representatives to bring in the complainants but heard nothing more about the incident. “If the navy doesn’t tell us of trouble,” explained Gabrielson, “we can’t do anything about it.” While Gabrielson’s response could be criticized as dismissive, years of military censorship under martial law had created an environment susceptible to rumors; and without official documented reports, Gabrielson had no basis for action.

Following his explanation, Gabrielson admitted that the area was a “thorn in the side of the police department” with “repeated cases of bootlegging, gambling and juvenile delinquency in the area.” He also noted that the area was extremely dark and that the residents “don’t know what a street light is.” Further reports on the Damon Tract riot that emerged in the following days also touched on longstanding tensions between residents of the Damon Tract area and military personnel, as sailors complained that they were frequently “waylaid, beaten and robbed” by individuals in the area. While naval officials or newspaper reporters never identified the racial identity of the participants, the racial slurs that naval personnel used to refer locals such as “nigger,” potentially indicate that many were likely white.68

In the days following the riot, authorities doubled police patrols along the Damon Tract area, and liberty for all male personnel of the Naval Air Station was cancelled.69 However, attacks continued against servicemen and civilians throughout the city, culminating in an incident at ‘Aiea village on Moanalua highway where 150 to 200 sailors prepared to riot before being confronted by Honolulu police officers, the shore patrol, and military police.70 According to Gabrielson, “two soldiers were seen fighting on the military reservation, and that this led to the starting of a rumor that they had been beaten up in Aiea.”71 The willingness of the soldiers to give credence to these rumors and take action was not just a reflection of civilian-military tensions, but also the pervasiveness of rumors in Hawai‘i as a result of the censorship restrictions. The closing of various media outlets and the restricting of information and community news during martial law led to the pervasiveness of rumors even in the postwar period, which became one of the instigating causes of the Damon Tract riot.

Eventually, police arrested twenty-one-year-old Pvt. Steve Bagano and six local juveniles on charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery for the December riot, as well as two Shore Patrolmen for lodging a false complaint related to their report of being fired upon in the Damon Tract area.72 However, the riot and the resulting retaliatory attacks by both servicemen and locals continued to make front page headlines in the newspapers, and news coverage continued for a number of weeks until there was a lack of new developments. Fearing a “current wave of hoodlumism,” a town hall meeting of the American Veterans’ Committee was called at Central Intermediate School that brought together local and military officials to discuss their understanding of the cause of the riot.73

Before an audience of a hundred servicemen and women, Honolulu Police Chief Gabrielson highlighted the predominance of Navy personnel in brawls with local citizens. “We’ve experienced very little trouble with the Army, but a h–ll of a lot of trouble with the Navy,” Gabrielson told the gathering.74 He added, “I don’t know if that’s because of the lack of discipline in the Navy, because the fellows figure they’ll just be here two or three days and don’t give a darn or what. There must be some fundamental cause behind it,” alluding to some of the many causes of servicemen’s disillusionment and their resulting violence. The chief charged that “this trouble out at Damon Tract” was caused by rumors running rampant on base. He also raised the question of how sailors got past the guards at the gates of the naval base to get into the Damon Tract area, putting at least some of the responsibility on naval authorities. As a result of the riot, Gabrielson stated that “Honolulu has been given a black eye.” In a clear warning to potential rioters, he stressed the fact that, contrary to the belief of some servicemen, local civilian police authorities did have the authority to arrest members of the armed forces outside a military reservation. In earlier comments, Gabrielson pointed out that the locals were not without fault for a number of confrontations before and after the riot, explaining that that the fault was “about 50-50” for clashes between civilians and servicemen.75 Police reports during this time period reveal the banding together of different ethnicities of Chinese, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, and Japanese youths against military personnel.76 Local identity seemed to be forged in preemptive or retaliatory criminal activity as—unlike the Massie case—gangs of local boys were establishing their reputation as perpetrators rather than victims of crimes by military personnel in a unique transformation of the relationship that traditionally existed between these two populations.

The lifting of martial law enabled many locals to express longstanding antagonisms, particularly over disputes over local women. According to Lind, “the Island zootsuiters who wantonly attack soldiers and sailors would rationalize their behavior as a means of protecting the honor of their sisters and girlfriends. ‘We don’t want our girls to be left holding the sack when the Haoles leave,’ they would say, ‘our local girls are push-overs for the ‘snow jobs’ of the mainland slickers.’”77 Governor Ingram Stainback reiterated these sentiments as he attributed civilian-servicemen clashes to “girl troubles…the competing of young servicemen for the attentions of a limited number of girls.”78 Although Lind pointed out that “gossip tends to exaggerate the additional number of local girls who were victimized by servicemen,” the public record of nearly 300 illegitimate births during 1945 where the father was known to be a mainland serviceman indicates that there was a basis for such fears.

Colonel F.W. Steere, provost marshal of MidPac, also echoed Gabrielson’s comments about the culpability of both populations and seemed to direct his comments at naval personnel to quell rumors to stop another riot from occurring. Steere expressed his belief that “this whole subject” of local-servicemen hostilities is “being exaggerated,” adding that “I believe it’s a little bit of hysteria that’s going around a lot of loose talk.” 79 To calm the fears of civilian and military personnel, Steere added, “I personally am not the least alarmed by the situation.” The colonel said there were not really organized “gangs” as there had been from 1938 to 1941 and added that the monthly totals of assault and battery cases involving soldiers from July 1944 were comparatively low. Lt. Col. John. C. Coffman, the 14th Naval District legal officer, agreed with Col. Steere, adding, “I don’t believe any riots here are based on racial differences. I believe they’re due chiefly to ‘latrine rumors,’ as the Army slang goes, or ‘scuttlebutt,’ as it’s called in the Navy.”

Urban Allen of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorial staff and panelist on the committee acknowledged that police records reveal that very small percentages of O‘ahu’s civilian population and service forces in Honolulu have been engaged in the recent disturbances. “However,” Allen added, “it IS a danger signal that tendencies of this sort exist in the Territory.”80 He said war itself is probably the “chief reason” for the present situation. “You can’t sell peace as easily as you can sell war, nor placidity as easily as violence,” explained Allen. He added, “Now that the urge for unity is no longer as strong as it was in wartime, there comes the reaction.” Allen pointed to some of the problems facing military personnel with demobilization and the potential dangers posed by returning servicemen who were in fact feared during the postwar period as they reintegrated into society after years at war. Following the conclusion of World War II, Hawai‘i became a staging ground for the demobilization of the Pacific Fleet, with over 10,000 assigned transportation and another 7,621 awaiting the return home.81 In an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser, the territorial governor of Hawai‘i Ingram Stainback highlighted the large number of idle sailors as one of the causes of the riots as there was “somewhat of a breakdown of discipline among servicemen who have nothing to do but await their discharge.”82 As a solution to this problem, Allen recommended “more and better” recreation centers, increased church influence, more male teachers in the higher school grades, and the encouragement of veterans to take active part in the leadership of boys’ clubs as part of a series of suggestions to “cure” prevailing military and local tensions infecting Honolulu.83

Historical Amnesia in Postwar Hawai‘i: The Cold War and the Postwar Transformation of Hawai‘i’s Economic and Political Landscape

The Damon Tract riot involved an unprecedented number of Navy personnel who seemed poised to inflict violence on the local population, who in turn seemed ready to engage in fights. As such, the riot not only concerned local officials, but also reverberated in the highest levels of the federal government and military. The House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., summoned Delegate Joseph H. Farrington to provide an accounting of the events that led to the Damon Tract riot by Governor Stainback and Vice Admiral S.A. Taffinder, commandant of the 14th Naval District, who personally ordered a sweeping but closed investigation about the cause of the riot. Investigators interviewed naval, marine, army, and civilian personnel and several members of the Honolulu Police Department.84 The 14th Naval District board consisted of General. L.W.T. Waller Jr., commander of marine garrison forces; Captain R. L. Peterson, former commander of Ford Island; and Commander Grant Avery. Lt. Commander Spencer L. Levant headed the investigation, which lasted over a month.85 Although the reputation of the investigative team suggests the importance of this investigation, officials never publicly released the report and news of the Damon Tract riot faded from memory.86 As historian Gwenfread Allen pointed out, despite public concerns about the tension that existed between locals and military personnel, authorities actively “minimized the situation,” the riot was mostly forgotten, and the report was lost.87

The actions of military and political figures, both locally and nationally—who despite different interpretations of the causes of the riot were unified in their efforts to downplay and “forget” this event—reflect their shared political and economic interests in the future of Hawai‘i that would be based upon minimizing or ignoring local-military conflicts. According to scholar Marita Sturken, the “forgetting of the past in a culture is often highly organized and strategic,” serving as a means to create consensus, coherence, and historical continuity.88 This need for continuity and consensus was particularly relevant in 1945 as the conclusion of World War II marked the beginning of a new era of uncertainty both locally and nationally with the start of the Cold War and the decline of America’s traditional victory culture.89 In the postwar period, America struggled with some of the troubling legacies of the war that were evident in Hawai‘i: injured veterans, atomic bomb victims, and returning inmates from incarceration centers and repatriates. Hawai‘i would continue to play an important role in national and international events with the U.S. military expansion into Asia and the Pacific, while Hawaiians simultaneously promoted the Islands’ reputation as a tourist destination and advocated for statehood. As scholar Teresia K. Teaiwa points out, the history of other Pacific Islands is often both a “celebration and forgetting” of the islands’ colonial and nuclear past, a dynamic that is evident in Hawai‘i’s postwar history.90 Ironically, as the military and tourism industries became cornerstones of Hawai‘i’s economy, both depended on promoting Hawai‘i’s military and local culture and minimizing conflicts between these two groups to the point of the historical erasure of the Damon Tract riot.

As a result of the Cold War, Hawai‘i became an important military staging area as a central Pacific reserve of manpower for Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. The military grew its presence in the Islands as the United States occupied Japan and waged war in Korea and Vietnam. With sixteen major military installations on O‘ahu alone, Hawai‘i became the “central supply node in America’s network of military bases.”91 Defense dollars poured into the Islands and became a pillar of the post-plantation economy, providing a livelihood for one-fourth of the Islands’ population. Pearl Harbor, the largest military center on the Islands, employed 6,000 individuals, almost three times the number working for all of Hawai‘i’s hotels, and more than the total employment of all the Islands’ public utilities.92 More than any other state, Hawai‘i benefitted financially from the Cold War as a result of direct military investment as well as the launching of the East-West Center in Honolulu in 1960 to promote the cultural policies of integration and military policies of containment. Even today, tensions between locals and military personnel that characterized the prewar period and sparked the Damon Tract riot are absent in local and national news despite the fact that local news is “saturated” with military coverage, from reports on military “Good Samaritan” activities to changes in personnel.93

Only tourism would top defense expenditures for spectacular growth during the 1950s as tourism spending jumped 350 percent from $24 million to $109 million between 1950 and 1959. In the postwar period, tourism became the fourth largest generator of mainland dollars in Hawai‘i, exceeded only by the military and the sugar and pineapple industries. Economists predicted that within the next decade it would exceed sugar and pineapple production, perhaps bringing as much as $350 million annually.94 Commercial flights to and through Honolulu—now only four-and-a-half hours from the mainland—brought half a million air passengers to the Island in 1959, compared to 520 only two decades before. This revolution in aeronautics and air travel resulted in phenomenal growth in the number of tourists on the Islands, from 34,000 in 1945 to 243,000 in 1959. Despite the experiences of servicemen during World War II, the lure of the “Paradise of the Pacific” continued to attract mainland visitors and Hawai‘i proliferated throughout popular culture in travel essays, advertisements, Pacific-themed restaurants and hotels, and movies such as From Here to Eternity (1953) and Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii (1961). Waikīkī, which before World War II was a quiet residential beach area with only three hotels, was transformed nearly overnight into an urban enclave that catered to tourists. After the war, multi-story hotels rose in quick succession as it seemed that the hula dancers, beach boys, and tropical climate celebrated earlier by famous visitors like Mark Twain, Jack London, and Robert Louis Stevenson could now be enjoyed by millions. Local culture, which once served as a unifying force against white plantation owners and military personnel in both the Massie case and Damon Tract riot, now became the basis of the hospitality industry that celebrated diversity as part of serving a global clientele.

While Hawai‘i’s economic and physical landscapes were being transformed, efforts were also made to change Hawai‘i’s political status. As an American territory, Hawai‘i enjoyed a liminal status—residents paid federal taxes, were subject to the laws of the United States, and (if they met national eligibility requirements) were U.S. citizens. At the same time, however, residents of Hawai‘i could not vote in presidential elections, the president appointed the governor, and Hawai‘i’s elected representatives to Congress had no voting power. One major concern in the statehood debate that lasted from 1945 to 1959 was the issue of race as people of Pacific and Asian ancestry outnumbered whites three-to-one on the Islands.95 Southern Democrats such as Senators James Eastland of Mississippi, Herman Talmadge of Georgia, and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina were the primary opponents to Hawaiian statehood, as well as to the broader Civil Rights Movement. Struggling to maintain the legal separation of races in their own states, they were threatened by the prospect of a multiracial state dominated by ethnic populations who would likely elect nonwhite, pro-civil rights senators.

In response to these fears, statehood advocates pointed out Hawai‘i’s racially diverse peoples and its reputation as the “melting pot of the Pacific” as a shining example of racial harmony to the nation during the Civil Rights Movement. After World War II, the mainstream media seized upon Hawai‘i as the place where the American promise of equality for all was being successfully practiced. In 1945, for example, Life published an article entitled, “Hawaii, a Melting Pot, A Score of Races Live Together in Amity,” that rejected the principle of biological racial difference and praised the Islands as “the world’s most successful experiment in mixed breeding, a sociologist’s dream of interracial cultures.”96 With so many races and mixtures, the article insisted, prejudice had become “simply impractical.” The article rejected the notion that intermarriage produced inferior hybrids and celebrated that “a new race” was emerging in the Islands, a claim that it illustrated with numerous photographs of attractive women accompanied by captions identifying their various racial backgrounds. Articles such as these acknowledged the racial conflict that did exist in the Islands. For example, Life magazine indirectly mentioned the Damon Tract riot that had broken out only a week before, referring to the people the white sailors attacked as “gooks—that stupid, shoeless, dirty lower strata of Honolulu citizen.” Other magazines mentioned the racially charged Massie rape-and-murder case of 1931. However, they tended to downplay such incidents as deviations from a normal state of racial harmony. With the granting of statehood in 1959, Time marked the occasion with a celebratory article about Hawai‘i’s multicultural identity and the local culture that produced a “strange breed” from “countless strains of Oriental, Polynesian, and Western blood”—the same racial mixing that fourteen years earlier had been derided in the national coverage of the riot.97 In celebrating Hawai‘i’s new status as a state, statehood advocates noted that it would mark the bridging of an “enormous gap” over its “old, European-rooted consciousness of Caucasian identity” in Hawai‘i’s unique local culture. However, this local culture that is a critical part of Hawai‘i’s tourist industry continues to coexist with an overt military presence in the Islands and with the absence of analysis of events (like the riot) that could potentially undermine this relationship.

Hawai‘i has long had an image of a melting pot, based in large part on the unique local culture that emerged in the Islands from the mixing of different ethnicities that were united in opposition to white elites and the military. However, the distinctiveness between locals and the white elite and military was complicated by the outbreak of World War II, as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the exigencies of war resulted in the implementation of martial law and the arrival of an unprecedented number of servicemen. Although many who arrived expected Hawai‘i to be the “paradise” that had been marketed to Americans for decades, a large number soon became disaffected with life in wartime Hawai‘i and became embroiled in skirmishes and fights with locals, culminating in the Damon Tract riot. The riot, which occurred only a few months after the conclusion of World War II, not only reflected tensions that had accumulated during the war itself, but had its origins in longstanding hostilities between the local and military population—tensions that were no longer suppressed under martial law. The diverse ethnicities of participants and the continuous fights and near riots that occurred in the days, months, and years after reveal the embeddedness of the local and military culture in the landscape of Hawai‘i.

Knowledge of the Damon Tract riots and other destabilizing events that occurred during the postwar period—the return of Japanese inmates, repatriates, and atomic bomb victims—has been forgotten in the culture of victory that has infused America’s understandings of World War II and its immediate aftermath. Political supporters of statehood, military officials, and business leaders in Hawai‘i played an important role in the postwar period in the historical erasure of events like the Damon Tract riot, as these events were contrary to “cultural memory’s role in producing concepts of a ‘nation’ and of an ‘American people.’”98 Sturken notes how “memory provides the very core of identity.” Thus, this selective understanding of the past also became critical in constructing a specific postwar identity for certain groups, particularly Japanese Americans. Even today, the bravery and sacrifice of the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat team still dominate the World War II narrative of Japanese Americans as they began occupying political and economic positions of power as part of the Democratic Revolution of 1954. The advent of the Cold War established Hawai‘i’s continual importance as a military location as the Islands themselves were being transformed from a plantation to tourist-based economy that celebrated Hawai‘i’s unique local culture. Thus the importance of the tourism and military industries today, based upon two distinct cultures and identities, suggests the relevance of the Damon Tract riot to understanding Hawai‘i’s past and present. Ironically, military installations and facilities that have a connection to World War II—Fort DeRussy, Pearl Harbor, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific—have become popular destinations for both American and Asian tourists alike as venues that embrace elements from both local and military communities. According to scholar Christen Tsuyuko Sasaki, militarism and tourism are so intertwined in modern Hawai‘i that “militourism” has erased evidence of the Islands’ violent history of colonialism and occupation through the narrative practices of touristic hospitality.99

Thus, the absence of careful analysis of the Damon Tract riot also reveals the necessity of forgetting in the construction of local and national narratives and the continual interplay of history and memory with local and national events. Conflicts between locals and military personnel are continually downplayed as isolated incidents within the media as tourism and militarism have become such pervasive parts of the Islands. This paradox between visibility and invisibility thus should be understood within the complicated history between these two important populations in Hawai‘i. Military and economic interests continue to shape the media coverage of conflicts between locals and the military, and these two identities remain critical in understanding Hawai‘i’s past and present.

Notes

The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable research assistance of librarian Jodie Mattos of the Hawaiian Collection at Hamilton Library and Sherman Seki of the University of Hawai‘i Archives who made this article possible.

1.

“1,000 Sailors from NAS Riot at Damon Tract,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 13, 1945, 1. The article title quote is from “Taffinder Orders Probe in Navy Damon Tract Riot,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 13, 1945, 1; Proceedings and Debates, 79th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 91, pt. 19: A5247–A5248.

2.

“Taffinder Orders Probe in Navy Damon Tract Riot,” 1; Proceedings and Debates, A5248.

3.

“1000 Navy Men in Riot,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 13, 1945, 1.

4.

“Servicemen Riot with Civilians in Hawaii Outbreak,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, November 13, 1945, 1.

5.

It is important to note that the term “Native Hawaiian” is defined in different ways, depending on the context in which it is used. For the purpose of this article, Native Hawaiians are an indigenous population of the Hawaiian Islands. For more information about terminology, see: J. Kēkaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008).

6.

John P. Rosa, “Local Story: The Massie Case Narrative and the Cultural Production of Local Identity in Hawai'i,” Amerasia 26, no. 2 (2000): 94.

7.

Andrew W. Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” Social Process in Hawaii XI, (1947): 97.

8.

The use of the word “Japanese” in this paper refers to the collective Japanese community in Hawai‘i, including the Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation). By 1940, the Issei who were ineligible for citizenship numbered about 37,000 and constituted nearly one-fourth of the Japanese population in Hawai‘i. Both Issei and Nisei were affected by the war, and there were a number of Issei who also participated in efforts to mobilize the Japanese community. Both Issei and Nisei were incarcerated in the Islands as well as the United States and felt the effects of war. Thus, unless specified, the term Japanese refers to Japanese (Issei/aliens) and Japanese Americans (Nisei/citizens). Many of Issei would also become citizens in the postwar period.

9.

Eric Yamamoto, “From ‘Japanee’ to Local: Community Change and the Redefinition of Sansei Identity in Hawaii” (paper, Liberal Studies Program, University of Hawaii, 1974), 105; John P. Rosa, Local Story: The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014), 5; David E. Stannard, Honor Killing: How the Infamous “Massie Affair” Transformed Hawai‘i (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 413.

10.

John E. Reinecke, Language and Dialect in Hawaii: A Sociolinguistic History to 1935 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1969), 173, 190. The term “haole” is also laden with multiple meanings. See Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian, Revised and Enlarged Edition (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1986), 58; Judy Rohrer, Haoles in Hawai‘i: Race and Ethnicity in Hawai‘i (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), 7–9.

11.

Gwenfread Allen, Hawaii’s War Years (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971), 219–20.

12.

Lyndall Landauer and Donald Landauer, Pearl: The History of the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor (S. Lake Tahoe, California: Flying Cloud Press, 1999).

13.

John Wesley Coulter and Alfred Gomes Serrao, “Manoa Valley: Honolulu: A Study in Economic and Social Geography,” The Bulletin of the Geographic Society of Philadelphia XXX, no. 2 (1932): 109.

14.

V. Cabell Flanagan, “Servicemen in Hawaii—Some Impressions and Attitudes Toward Hawaii,” Social Process in Hawaii IX–X (1945): 79.

15.

“Office of Censorship District Postal Censor, General Information Summary, Vol II, Number 7, April 1–15, 1943,” in General Correspondence, pages 114–15, box 5, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Office of the Commandant, FRC Accession No. 181-58-3404A, RG 181 Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, National Archives and Records Administration, San Francisco; Andrew W. Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu” Social Process in Hawaii XI, (1947): 98.

16.

“A Pocket Guide to Honolulu,” Paradise of the Pacific, March 1945, 25; Flanagan, “Servicemen in Hawaii,” 83. For many Americans, movies provided a “frame of reference” that became “the operative center of the nation’s consciousness,” influencing popular perceptions of Hawai‘i. Andrew Bergman, We’re in the Money: Depression America and Its Films (New York: New York University Press, 1971), xi–xii; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “When the Movies Really Counted,” Show 3, no. 4 (1963): 77.

17.

“Office of Censorship District Postal Censor, General Information Summary, Vol II, Number 9 May 1–15 1943,” p. 8, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Office of the Commandant, General Correspondence (Formerly Classified), box 51, FRC Accession No. 181-58-3404A, RG 181, NARA, San Francisco.

18.

For more information on the loss of servicemen identity see Henry Elkin, “Aggressive and Erotic Tendencies in Army Life,” The American Journal of Sociology 51, no. 5 (1946): 408–13.

19.

Flanagan, “Servicemen in Hawaii,” 77.

20.

Linda Menton and Eileen Tamura, A History of Hawaii (Honolulu: Curriculum Research & Development Group, 1999), 319.

21.

Beth Bailey and David Farber, The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii (New York: Free Press, 1992), 133.

22.

“Disturbance at Navy Cantonment; Evening of 4/1/43,” p. 4, General Correspondence, box 53, FRC Accession No. 181-58-3404A, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Office of the Commandant, RG 181, NARA, San Francisco.

23.

Ibid, 3.

24.

Kathryn Waddell Takara and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Center for Oral History, Oral Histories of African Americans (Honolulu: Center for Oral History, Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1990), 203–4.

25.

During the war, the Japanese described themselves as the leading race (shidō minzoku) of the world and routinely referred to Americans as “brutes” (kedamono) and “wild beasts” (yajū). On the other side, many American saw the Japanese as “bestial,” “evil,” “crazed,” “inhuman” and “lost to all sense of inhumanity.” John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 3, 49, 203, 242.

26.

William F. Halsey and J. Bryan III, Admiral Halsey’s Story (Washington D.C.: Zenger Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), 123.

27.

Patrick K. O’Donnell, Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II’s Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat (New York; London: Free Press, 2002), 113.

28.

Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 349.

29.

Ibid, 233.

30.

Cory Wilson, “Some Social Aspects of Mainland Defense Workers in Honolulu,” Social Process in Hawaii 8, (1943): 61.

31.

Harold A. Mountain, Hawaii, April 1943, 13.

32.

Richard A. Greer, “Collarbone and the Social Evil,” Hawaiian Journal of History 7, (1973): 3.

33.

These quotes and quote in section title come from William F. Snow, Social Protection in Hawaii: How the City of Honolulu Closed Its Red Light District (New York: the American Social Hygiene Association, 1946), 5–6.

34.

Ibid.

35.

Ted Chernin, “My Experiences in the Honolulu Chinatown Red-Light District,” Hawaiian Journal of History 34, (2000): 205.

36.

An Era of Change: Oral Histories of Civilians in World War II Hawai‘i, Honolulu Center for Oral History, Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1496–97, https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10125/29796.

37.

Snow, Social Protection in Hawaii, 5.

38.

Ibid, 8.

39.

General correspondence 1940–1946, box 52, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Office of the Commandant, FRC Accession No. 181-58-3404A, RG 181, NARA, San Francisco.

40.

Chernin, “My Experiences in the Honolulu Chinatown Red-Light District,” 208. Less regulated brothels also existed across the river from the Hotel Street district and establishments such as the “Local Rooms” were staffed by only local women and charged lower prices. Beth Bailey and David Farber, “Hotel Street: Prostitution and the Politics of War,” Radical History Review 52, (1992): 59.

41.

Paradise of the Pacific, March 1945, 3.

42.

A Pocket Guide to Honolulu, produced by the army information branch of the information and education division in Washington D.C., offered dating advice to servicemen arriving in the Islands, cautioning about getting their hopes up of finding a local girl as “telephone numbers here carry the same classifications as war plans” because “there simply aren’t enough wahines (gals) to go around.” A Pocket Guide to Honolulu, 30.

43.

Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 352.

44.

Dorothy Jim and Takiko Takiguchi, “Attitudes on Dating Oriental Girls with Service Men,” Social Process in Hawaii VIII (1943): 70.

45.

Ibid, 71, 68.

46.

“Office of Censorship District Postal Censor, Honolulu, T.H. General Information Summary Volume II, Number 5, March 15–31, 1943” general correspondence, box 51, Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Office of the Commandant, FRC Accession No. 181-58-3404A, RG 181, NARA, San Francisco. The source does not provide information about if this speaker is an Issei or Nisei, but does indicate that such sentiment did exist within the Japanese community in Hawai‘i.

47.

Jim and Takiguchi, “Attitudes on Dating Oriental Girls with Service Men,” 73.

48.

Ibid, 68. The only identifying information about this individual is that he is a Japanese male college student. But due to his age, he is likely a Nisei.

49.

Andrew W. Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” Social Process in Hawaii XI (May 1947): 97–98.

50.

Ibid, 98.

51.

Ibid; Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 353.

52.

Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 353.

53.

The quote “revenge bound orgy” comes from “Police, Navy Probe Cause of NAS Riot,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 14, 1945, 4. The total number of civilian-service clashes reported to the police between July 1 and November 1, 1945 involved 175 sailors (Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine) as defendants compared to twenty-two soldiers, thirty-seven Marines, and 115 civilians. Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” 94.

54.

Ibid.

55.

William R. Furlong, “Pearl Harbor…a memorable date as well as a mighty naval base,” Paradise of the Pacific, 1943, 96.

56.

Kepā Maly and Onaona Maly, He Mo‘olelo ‘Āina: Traditions and Storied Places in the District of ‘Ewa and Moanalua (In The District of Kona), Island of O‘ahu a Traditional Cultural Properties Study—Technical Report (Kumu Pono Associates LLC, 2012), 169.

57.

“The Moanalua Gardens,” student paper by Kent Nakamura, Folder 3, in Romanzo Adams Social Research Laboratory Records, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

58.

Furlong, “Pearl Harbor…a memorable date as well as a mighty naval base,” 96.

59.

Robert Sain, “A Gob on Leave,” New Army and Navy Review, December 1945, 20.

60.

“Providing Fun for Fighting Men,” Paradise of the Pacific, Holiday 1943, 62–63.

61.

Sain, “A Gob on Leave,” 20.

62.

Ibid.

63.

Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” 94.

64.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 14, 1945, 1; Servicemen Riot with Civilians in Hawaii Outbreak,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, November 13, 1945, 1.

65.

“Taffinder Orders Probe in Navy Damon Tract Riot,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 13, 1945, 1.

66.

“Police, Navy Probe Cause of NAS Riot,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 14, 1945, 4; “Taffinder Orders Probe in Navy Damon Tract Riot,” 1.

67.

“Police, Navy Probe Cause of NAS Riot,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 14, 1945, 4.

68.

Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” 97.

69.

“Police, Navy Probe Cause of NAS Riot,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 14, 1945, 1.

70.

“Sailors Beaten in Three More Attacks in City,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 15, 1945, 1; “Governor Acts to Halt Riots,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 15, 1945, 1; “Marine Stabbed in Street Fray; Arrests Mount,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 16, 1945, 1; “Marine Stabbed as Street Fights Continue Here,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 16, 1945, 4; “Yesterday’s Street Fights and Brawls,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 17, 1945, 1; “15 Servicemen Involved in Clashes with Civilians,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 18, 1945, 1; “Police Report ‘Near Riot’ Outside Aiea,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 19, 1945, 4; “Yesterday’s Street Fights and Brawls,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 20, 1945, 1.

71.

“Six Juveniles and Army Private Charged in Damon Rioting Probe,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 20, 1945, 4.

72.

“Police Arrest 7 for Riot at Damon Tract,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 12, 1945, 1; “Six Juveniles and Army Private Charged in Damon Rioting Probe,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 20, 1945, 4.

73.

“Sailors Beaten in Three More Attacks in City,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 15, 1945, 6.

74.

Elaine Fogg, “Services, Police Tend to Minimize Hoodlum Issue,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 19, 1945, 1.

75.

“Sailors Beaten in Three More Attacks in City,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 15, 1945, 6.

76.

Lind, “Service-Civilian Tensions in Honolulu,” 93–96.

77.

Ibid, 98.

78.

“Marine Stabbed in Street Fray; Arrests Mount,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 16, 1945, 6.

79.

Fogg, “Services, Police Tend to Minimize Hoodlum Issue,” 1.

80.

David A. Gerber, “Heroes and Misfits: The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’,” American Quarterly 46, no. 4 (1994): 546–47.

81.

“Admiral Nimitz Is Satisfied with Present Pace of Demobilization,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 20, 1945, 13.

82.

“Marine Stabbed in Street Fray; Arrests Mount,” 6.

83.

Fogg, “Services, Police Tend to Minimize Hoodlum Issue,” 1.

84.

Hearings and Proceedings, A5247–A5248; “Taffinder Orders Probe in Navy Damon Tract Riot,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 13, 1945, 1.

85.

“Testimony on Damon Tract Riot Finished,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1945, 1.

86.

Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 365; Kathy E. Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull, Oh, Say, Can You See? The Semiotics of the Military in Hawaii (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 215.

87.

Allen, Hawai‘i’s War Years, 365. In a letter dated November 16, 1945 written by Governor Ingram M. Stainback to Jack B. Fahy, Assistant Director of the Division of Territories and Island Possessions in the Department of the Interior, Stainback argues that the “riot was been grossly exaggerated on the mainland,” noting that “there were at least three disturbances during the last three years that were worse than the present, although of course there was no publicity attached because they related to service personnel.” He included a report by Rhonda V. Lewis Acting Attorney General of the Territory of Hawai‘i that included a figure of 750 total men involved in the riot. In response, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes noted the “seriousness of the current disturbance” and ordered an investigation to “prevent the building up of strong prejudices on each side” as news of the riot are “deeply disturbing to me as I know they must be to you.” Ingram M. Stainback to Jack B. Fahy, 16 November 1945. Papers of Governor Stainback 1942–1951, Hawai‘i State Archives, General Files, Interior Department, Navy-Civilian Riot Investigation-1945, Series Gov 9-24.

88.

Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the Aids Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 7.

89.

Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 10.

90.

Teresia K. Teaiwa, “Bikinis and Other S/Pacific N/Oceans,” Contemporary Pacific 6, no. 1 (1994): 87. There is a growing body of scholarship that examines the complicated history of U.S. occupation and settler colonialism, particularly in Hawai‘i. See Dean Itsuji Saranillio, Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), xii; Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Y. Okamura, Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai‘i (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press).

91.

Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asian in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press 2003), 244; Noel J. Kent, Hawaii: Islands under the Influence (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 99; Lawrence H. Fuchs, Hawaii Pono: An Ethnic and Political History (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1983), 379.

92.

Fuchs, Hawaii Pono, 379.

93.

Ferguson and Turnbull, Oh, Say, Can You See?, 2.

94.

Fuchs, Hawaii Pono, 380.

95.

By 1959, 54 percent of the population was recorded as Asian with Japanese forming the largest groups at 35 percent, followed by Filipinos at 12 percent, Chinese at 6 percent, and Koreans at 1 percent. Full or part Native Hawaiian accounted for 18 percent of the population, while 2 percent was Puerto Rican. As Christina Klein explains, “the territory of Hawaii was thus simultaneously Asian, in terms of its population, and American, in terms of its political relationship with the U.S.” Klein, Cold War Orientalism, 246.

96.

“Hawaii: A Melting Pot,” Life, November 1945, 103–4.

97.

“Hawaii: The New Breed,” Time, March 1959, 16.

98.

Sturken, Tangled Memories, 1.

99.

Christen Tsuyuko Sasaki, “Threads of Empire: Militourism and the Aloha Wear Industry in Hawai‘i,” American Quarterly 68, no. 3 (2016): 643–44.