In the early-1900s, a young Italian named Guglielmo Marconi had a new invention: wireless radio. Global communications (using Morse Code) took a giant leap forward, with a two-pronged system of submarine cables and transoceanic wireless communication.
A Marconi station was set up at Kahuku, Oʻahu with a transmitter/receiver radio station & antenna farm. This put Hawaiʻi at the forefront in the use of this technology; it was the largest wireless telegraph station in the world in terms of capacity and power. By 1916, there was regular telegraphic communications between Hawaiʻi and Japan, a distance of 4,200 miles.
With the end of WWI, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) took over the facility; then, preparations and defense facilities, in anticipation of WWII, started popping up on the island.
The north-Oʻahu facility was under the overall command of the Hawaiian Air Force (HAF) headquartered at Hickam, Oʻahu. The HAF was activated on October 28, 1940, as the first air force outside the Continental US. (Bennett)
On November 25, 1941, Army Engineers took over the RCA facility and started constructing an Army Air Base in and around it. They also constructed two other North Shore airfields at Kawaihāpai (Mokuleʻia/Dillingham) and Haleiwa.
The old Marconi/RCA administration building was converted into air base headquarters and Commanding Officer’s quarters. The usual theater of operations support buildings were constructed (i.e., control tower, barracks for enlisted men, officer’s quarters, mess halls, chapel, dispensaries, cold storage, two fire stations, paint shop, Post Exchange, radio station, telephone exchange, etc.)
Early attempts at building a single runway on the limestone, sand dunes and wetlands at Kahuku Point were hindered by poor drainage, which necessitated that the runway being relocated three times before a suitable location was found. To mitigate drainage problems at the location, a system of canals, subterranean drain pipes and culverts were built.
Eventually, two runways were built at Oʻahu’s northern-most point (the runways followed the original line of Marconi towers) – the military reservation was named the “Kahuku Airfield Military Reservation;” also known as “Kahuku Air Base.”
Thirty-two earthen revetments were constructed between both runways to provided minimal protection of aircraft and ground maintenance crews during any aerial or sea bombardment. The typical revetment was trapezoidal in cross section about 14-feet high.
The air base had been planned as a stopover point for the planes on their way to the Western Pacific; the length and width of the runways were a clear indication they were designed to accommodate heavy bombers, i.e., B-17 and B-24, as well as cargo transports ranging from C-47 to C-54. The absence of hangers attested to the airfield being in operation for the duration of the war. (Bennett)
Kahuku Army Air Base (AAB) was activated on June 26, 1942, and became an important training facility for pilots assigned to Wheeler in central Oʻahu adjacent to the large Army post of Schofield Barracks.
The runways were ideal for training flights as they possessed good approaches, appropriate length, and fine takeoff clearance. The base accommodated various air groups and squadrons that flew an assortment of aircraft, i.e., B-24, B-25, F-7, P-47 and C-47, which flew out of Kahuku for various periods of time, either pending deployment to the Central Pacific war zone, or rotated back to Oahu for reassignment, or deactivation.
Then “(t)he large Tsunami that hit the Hawaiian Islands on 4/1/46, caused extensive damage to the air base, the NE/SW runaway was within 100 yards of the shoreline and the NW/SE runway, 200 yards.”
According to an Army Corps of Engineers report, “The wave washed over the protecting sand dunes, rushing inland in some places to a half mile, smashing buildings, uprooting parking areas, and bringing tons of sand & debris onto the runways. Army personnel verbally informed the Estate that their previous fear that the field was too close to the water was amply borne out.”
A portion of the former facility is now part of the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1976 to provide habitat for Hawai‘i’s four endangered waterbirds: aeʻo (Hawaiian stilt,) ʻalae keʻokeʻo (Hawaiian coot,) ʻalae ʻula (Hawaiian moorhen) and koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck.)
As part of the O‘ahu National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the refuge consists of both natural and artificially maintained wetlands. Two wetland units are included within the James Campbell Refuge, the Kiʻi Unit and the Punamano Unit.
Likewise, a portion of the former facility is within the Turtle Bay Resort area. The Airfield, revetments and barracks occupied approximately 195-acres (23%) of the Resort property.