U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Honolulu District Public Affairs
FORT SHAFTER — Seven December 1941 was the opening scene of World War II, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, was there.
At 7:55 a.m., two waves of Japanese warplanes from a naval task force about 250 miles north of Hawaii appeared over Oahu. Some headed for Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field; others hit Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Field and Bellows Field.
The USACE in Hawaii consisted of Soldier-engineers in the Army’s Hawaiian Department, and the Corps’ Honolulu Engineer District, then part of the South Pacific Division.
Col. Albert K.B. Lyman, a native Hawaiian who later attained the rank of general officer, was the Army’s Hawaiian Department engineer with offices at Fort Shafter. He commanded the 34th Eng. Combat Regiment, the 804th Eng. Aviation Battalion, plus the 3rd Eng. Cbt. Bn. of the 25th Infantry Division.
All of Lyman’s engineers were at Schofield Barracks. These military engineers were enlarging and modernizing facilities at Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks, building anti-aircraft gun sites and bombproofing coastal fortifications.
On the civil side, Lt. Col. Theodore Wyman, the Honolulu District engineer, had offices at the Alexander Young Building in Honolulu, employing 10 officers and 400 civilians.
Many District team members were at work that morning; there had been a rapid increase in defense projects after France fell in 1940.
No District team members or engineers were killed, but there were close calls. Paul J. Lynch, the area engineer in charge of construction at Bellows Field, watched with horror as Japanese planes strafed the field, destroying most of the P-40 Warhawk fighter planes. Lynch directed dispersal of his equipment, and because of his efforts, none were lost.
1st Lt. Harvey R. Fraser found his men in the street shooting at attacking planes. Fraser told the supply sergeant to give weapons to anyone who asked and to tell them to shoot at the Japanese planes. He almost had to pay for the weapons, because no one had issued receipts!
All Hawaiian Dept. engineer units served in the war; 34th Eng. landed on Kwajalein, 804th Eng. went to Saipan, 3rd and 64th Eng. fought in the Solomons, New Guinea and the Philippines.