Tower Defense

The Pacific Aviation Museum outlines its plans for preserving a piece of World War II history.

Photo: David Croxford

The Ford Island control tower sits vacant and in disrepair over Luke Airfield—one of the country’s oldest airfields, also in a similar state. Rusted and corroded stairs switchback up the front of what is actually a water tower with communication equipment on top. The red-and-white striped structure lists slightly forward; but it won’t stay this way for long. That is, if Kenneth DeHoff, executive director of the Pacific Aviation Museum, has his way.

DeHoff says the nonprofit museum is in the process of leasing the 69-year-old tower from the Navy, which owns all the buildings on Ford Island, in order to begin restoration.

The tower was built in 1940 as two separate units: a fire house to service the runway and a control tower on top, making it only three stories high. “And then they built the water tower,” DeHoff says. At 108 feet high and 14 feet wide, the tower stored fresh water. Communications and other equipment were added on top of that in 1941.

Renovations will include restoring the tower’s structural integrity and gutting the interior of all hazardous materials, such as lead paint and asbestos slabs.

According to DeHoff, this project will cost an estimated $8 million, $4.8 million of which has been secured through Department of Defense appropriations from the U.S. Congress. “We’ll get the rest from private donors,” he adds.

The hope for the tower, says DeHoff, is to open it up to visitors to show
how communications worked before, during and soon after the last world war. “The tower was the first to alert the base of the Japanese attack,” says DeHoff. “It’s important to restore these things as icons to remember what happened during that era.”

For more information on this project or about the museum in general, visit

The Pacific Aviation Museum is known for its larger-than-life exhibits, but small pieces like this WWII leather aviator’s helmet can be equally intriguing. These helmets were meant less for use as protective “brain buckets” than for warmth—a holdover from the days of open cockpits—and sound transmission; the helmet contains earphones by which the flyer could receive radio instructions. Leather is fragile, and helmets that survive tend to become treasured keepsakes and heirlooms. “There aren’t too many of these around in museums,” says Ken DeHoff, the executive director of the museum. Want to see more of Honolulu’s hidden history? See “Unseen Treasures."—Lavonne Leong