Attack on Pearl Harbor Escalates Isolation to Kalaupapa

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Ka`ohulani McGuire, Cultural Anthropologist at Kalaupapa National Historical Park

One not-so-known story is how the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the lives of the children at Kalihi Hospital in Honolulu and ultimately, Kalaupapa Settlement, established in 1866 for Hansen’s disease patients.

On that fateful December 7th morning in 1941, Edwin Lelepali remembers that he, along with the other children and adult patients at Kalihi Hospital, was eating breakfast in the dining hall when they heard a commotion outside. Everyone ran out to look and saw planes flying low overhead. They noticed the big red insignias and big torpedoes underneath. He thought it was just a practice run. “Well, no take long, boom! Way far away we hear, boom! The bombing. And we see the black smoke. We say, ‘This not the kine practice. This is real stuff.’ Then we heard on the radio the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Then we see the planes coming, shooting, shooting. Oh!”

At night, the children went out on patrol with the night watchman around the fenced-in compound. “We go check the fence line if no broke, so nobody come inside. They take two of us, two young kids. We young kids, now. We only about nine years old. They take two to walk with one guy and we patrol right around the compound, go around the compound, watch. When we tired, we go back sleep, then another two guys go. Take turns. That’s how we go. They make us go watch. But we all go. Those war years was really something, I tell you…Oh, I was scared like hell.”

Concerned about the safety of the children because of the hospital’s proximity to Pearl Harbor, the Board of Health decided to move the children and some of the adults to Kalaupapa Settlement. In an interview, Edwin remembered, “May 15, 1942. That’s when we came up here. All I know is we had about 38 of us, mixed with adults, too.”

Upon arriving at Kalaupapa the children were split up and sent to one of the group homes, McVeigh or Baldwin Home for the boys and Bishop Home for the girls. At first there was no organized educational or recreational activities for them and the children had free rein of the settlement. Not used to having unsupervised children running around, the Board of Health decided to reopen the settlement school about six months later. Located where the current Mother Marianne Cope Library is today, the students were crammed into one classroom where they were taught the 3 R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. The Kalaupapa settlement was forever changed as these young children grew up into adulthood and became outstanding leaders and members of their community.

Danny Hashimoto is the last surviving member of the group sent to Kalaupapa in ’42. He will never forget seeing the planes flying overhead and seeing the black smoke of Pearl Harbor in the near distance. Danny was not excited to leave Kalihi and come to Kalaupapa. Says Danny, “I had no choice in the matter. See, they figure we not going live more than five years, maybe less. Well, surprise, surprise.” Danny has been living at Kalaupapa for nearly 77 years!

Photo from Kalaupapa Historical Society Album: Early Protestant minister's residence/Kalaupapa school (1943)/bakery. This structure was torn down for the new Mother Marianne Library.