Life in the City

Mainland workers arrive in the Islands for a new job—and a new life—at the shipyard.

Photo: University of Hawaii Library, Walden Collection

Civilian housing offered all of the amenities of any Oahu town, including a barbershop.

Photo: University of Hawaii Library, Walden Collection

 The Secret City

Thousands of civilians from all 48 states arrived at the Navy Yard Pearl Harbor during the war to supplement the local workforce. Most of them, typically bachelors, lived at the newly built Civilian Housing Area III (CHA-3), which stretched across what’s now Hickam Air Force Base toward Honolulu International Airport. CHA-3 became the third largest community in Hawaii, after Honolulu and Hilo, with 12,000 residents by the summer of 1943. Their lives revolved around the Yard and its community, which had its own baseball field, movie theater, bowling alley, coffee shops, shopping center and barbershop. The town even had its own newspaper, the Pearl Harbor Banner. It featured listings for sports events, chapel services and movies (in 1942, it featured Abbott and Costello’s Ride ’Em Cowboy and Lupe Valez in Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost.)

Photo: courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives

Got your War Bonds Today?

Faced with constant reminders of the country’s drive for war bonds, Navy Yard workers contributed millions of dollars to the fight, more than any other shipyard in the United States.




Photo: courtesy of the University of Hawaii Library, Walden Collection

What does it take to feed thousands of workers? “The CHA-3 dining hall kitchen staff served 18,000 meals a day, using 8,000 pounds of beef, 4,000 pounds of potatoes and baked 3,500 pies every 24 hours. Thousands of gallons of coffee are consumed daily,” according to Fit to Fight, a book published by the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Association in honor of the 2008 centennial.

Photo: courtesy of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard


On the Train

Local laborers in Honolulu often caught the train to work. The railroad was run by the Oahu Railway & Land Co., the same company that transported plantation workers and sugarcane to the Ewa Plain and North Shore. Ronald Kam was a student at Farrington High School when he went to work as an outside machinist at the Navy Yard in 1941. “I used to go to Aala Park depot to take the train to Pearl; it went down Nimitz Highway to Damon Tract (near the airport) right into the shipyard,” Kam recalls. “It was faster than driving.”

Photo: courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives


The Leaping Tuna

Workers got around the Navy Yard by foot, bicycle or the Leaping Tuna, a converted truck that never stopped, requiring its passengers to literally leap off while it was still running.

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