WWII Wrecks Discovered Off Maui

Echoes of War: World War II wrecks found, off Maui.

Side view of the LVT-4 amphibious assault vehicle.

Photos: courtesy UHM

Off the southern shore of Maui, 70-year-old war relics hid beneath the ocean surface, unknown except to local divers. This year, however, the sites of six historic World War II wrecks have been uncovered and recorded for posterity by a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and students from UH Manoa.

“I love history. A lot of what happened on the ocean can still be read through historic properties underwater,” says Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime historian and archaeologist for NOAA’s office of national marine sanctuaries.

His team of students used standard diving equipment to explore the sites, and recorded rough measurements and characteristics of the equipment that could give clues to their identification, such as the caliber of a mounted weapon. “We’re trying to fill in the blanks of stories that have been forgotten,” says Van Tilburg.

A sea turtle inhabits one of the WWII wreck sites.

Preparing for combat in the Pacific was a dangerous business. In August 1944, a SB2C Helldiver was practicing its mission: bombing targets by diving through the air directly at them. After two successful, steep dives, follow-up evasive maneuvers were cut short when the entire tail section twisted hard to the port and jammed the rudder controls. The captain was forced into the water. He and the other crewmember were rescued, but the Helldiver went to a watery grave.

The crash site was unknown until a local diver found and reported it in 2010. Van Tilburg says they have mapped six sites with the help of local divers, including three amphibious vehicles and a fighter plane.

Though their military purpose is long over, these rusting hulks have new life undersea. “Some of them are very deteriorated, the metal is falling apart, but there’s still enough there to make wonderful habitats for marine life,” Van Tillburg says.

For information on marine sanctuaries, visit sanctuaries.noaa.gov. A project page will be posted soon at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/maritime/expeditions/mh_expeditions.html.

On April 8, 1962, James Gabriel Jr. became the first Hawaii serviceman, and the first Green Beret, to be killed in Vietnam.

photo: billie gabriel

The Faces of Vietnam

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., features the names of 311 fallen soldiers from Hawaii, etched in honor of their service. Soon, there will be an opportunity for their faces to be seen, as well, at the nearby Education Center, for which ground will be broken in 2012.

The new Wall of Faces will display a photo of each soldier for the public to see. So far, only 146 photos have been collected from Hawaii. Billie Gabriel, a local volunteer, is reaching out to find the rest.

“It’s a very personal crusade for me,” she says. Her brother, James Gabriel Jr., was the first soldier from Hawaii to die in Vietnam, as well as the first Green Beret to die in Vietnam. “I want people to know their faces and their names,” she says.

To submit a photo, visit buildthecenter.org/join-the-campaign/pafwan.html, or you can submit photos directly to Gabriel, 497-7264. To search the photos, start here: vvmf.org/thewall.