The commander of American Veterans Hawaii said he will somehow remove 28 enormous concrete pilings — many nearly 60 feet long — that he had trucked in without permission to the former Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, a Dec. 7, 1941, battlefield that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Donovan Lazarus said he oversaw the placement of the pilings in July in an effort to deter vandalism and improve the visual appearance of a battle-scarred concrete warmup ramp where Marine aircraft were destroyed.
The roughly 93-by-315-yard ramp and a smaller adjacent area are now neatly outlined by the big concrete pilings, which were laid on their sides to create a barrier.
AmVets Hawaii in recent years has sponsored Dec. 7 commemorations on the Ewa Field ramp, and Lazarus expressed a sense of responsibility for the historic site that lies moldering in weeds without much oversight.
However, he admitted he didn’t obtain permission to place the octagonal poles from the Navy, city or developer Hunt Cos., which have authority over the land.
Lazarus said he believed he was doing the right thing. The city maintains otherwise.
“The city is aware of several dozen large pilings that were moved onto the historic airfield in July. This unfortunate incident transpired without the city’s knowledge or approval, and whoever is responsible lacked the authority to do so,” said Andrew Pereira, communications director for the City and County of Honolulu, in an email.
“The city’s position is that whoever is responsible must remove the pilings as soon as possible in a manner that is respect(ful) to this historic site.”
The Navy said it wasn’t contacted about the pilings being put in, and a Hunt official said he didn’t know about the activity either.
Weedy Ewa Field has faced its share of preservation challenges over the years. For filming of the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” an adjacent hangar was purposely set ablaze.
More recently, the site where Marines defiantly fired bolt-action rifles at attacking Japanese planes has been hard-pressed by expanding development, a lack of oversight, dumping, vandalism and car-racing “drifters” as it limps through a process that might someday lead to permanent protection.
The warmup ramp still bears witness to the violence of Dec. 7, with horizontal slashes in the pavement from the machine gun bullets of low-flying Zeros and tight circles where “Val” divebomber backseat gunners trained their fire on planes on the ground. The pavement still shows scorching from fire where one aircraft burned.
About 35 planes were destroyed on the ground and four Marines were killed — three close to the warmup ramp, said Ewa Field historian John Bond, who has devoted over a decade to its preservation.
In the meantime, an evolving and often confusing ownership chain involving the Navy, city and Hunt has left Ewa Field open to all sorts of activity.
“People need to understand historic integrity,” Bond said, noting that moving 28 pilings onto the Ewa Field warmup ramp with heavy trucks would need city, state and federal approval.
“Nobody can decide to just go and put a bunch of pilings by the Arizona (Memorial),” he said.
The Ewa Beach resident said he learned of the pilings’ placement when he received a call on July 9 asking if he knew what was going on with the big trucks that were arriving.
After driving out there, Bond said he saw Lazarus, a truck and two forklifts moving the pilings.
“I said, ‘Donovan, you can’t do this. It’s not your property. You need to have permission to do something like this,’” Bond recalled.
Bond and others also contend the heavy flatbed trucks driving on the warmup ramp added cracks to the concrete.
Lazarus maintains AmVets Hawaii is the best caretaker for Ewa Field.
“If it’s not for us to do, who would?” he said.
But after being notified of the city’s position, Lazarus, a 25-year Army veteran, said, “We’ll move all the pylons. That’s no problem.”
The AmVets commander said he was not sure which trucking company delivered them, but one of the representatives told him, “If there are any issues, I’ll come (back) and take them all,” he said.
The pilings were donated by Watts Constructors to a nonprofit overseen by Lazarus, the AmVets Hawaii Service Foundation. Watts said it also gave pilings to the nonprofit American Renaissance Academy, which, along with Ewa Field, is on the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station site.
About 20 of the long pilings are similarly arrayed around the former Barbers Point P-3 Orion monument grounds, which are leased by Hunt to the private school.
Carl Vincenti, executive vice president of business development at the school and an AmVets post commander, offered up “barriers” for Ewa Field, Lazarus said.
“I didn’t know that they were (huge) pylons” until they showed up, Lazarus said, adding he was envisioning something that could be moved easily.
Watts Project Manager Tim Tucker said the pilings, normally driven into the ground for support, were surplus after a federal government project was canceled.
He declined to identify the project but said he offered to give them to the Navy, which said it didn’t have use for them. Instead of sending them to the landfill, he decided to try to find someone who could use them, he said.
Lazarus said a value of $531,720 was placed on the 28 pilings as a charitable donation, but Tucker said he was not sure if it qualified as a tax write-off.
“This was simply a donation from Watts to these organizations and nothing more,” Tucker said.
Lazarus said he was well-intentioned in adding the piling perimeter when not many others — Bond excluded — seemed to care about the old Marine Corps Air Station Ewa.
The land is caught in limbo between Navy transfer and Hunt and city control, and he said he would get the runaround trying to get permits for commemorations that he envisions getting bigger and better on the warmup ramp.
“We really need to protect it,” he said, adding that the only way to stop vandalism “is not to keep talking about it” and to do something.
Vincenti declined to talk about the pilings but complimented Lazarus.
“Commander Lazarus is an honest man (who) serves our veterans, our children and our community from his heart,” Vincenti said in an email. “He can be counted on when someone is in need of help.”