Karen A. Iwamoto
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — As runners gear up for the Kolekole 10K on March 11, and the Kolekole Walking Path reaches its second anniversary of being reopened to the community for limited use on March 14, the Hawaii Army Weekly takes a look back at the area’s rich history.
The Kolekole Pass, which sits at an elevation of approximately 1,725 feet, forms a natural cleft in the Waianae mountain range that connects the islandʻs leeward plain to its western coast.
Today, the area is used primarily for military training. Kolekole Road, which runs through the Kolekole Pass, was built by the 3rd Engineer Battalion between 1935 and 1937. But the history of the region goes back much further. Of the two mountain ranges formed by separate ancient volcanic eruptions on Oahu — the Koolau range in the east and the Waianae range in the west — the Waianae range is the oldest.
Warriors’ pass and other ancient legends
One legend, recounted in documents found at the Tropic Lightning Museum at Schofield Barracks, chronicles that in ancient times people from Wahiawa would meet those from Waianae and Kolekole and challenge each other for the right to pass at Kolekole. The chief of the side that lost the challenge would be forced to kneel before a large rock on the pass and place his head on it to be killed.
This could be why the large rock that sits on what is today the Kolekole Walking Path is known as “the beheading stone.” The stone comes up in numerous other accounts about the area and is described as being about 8 feet tall with a bowl-like dip at its top.
Another story collected in documents at the Tropic Lightning Museum centers on a shark god who could transform himself into human form. Instead of swimming, the story goes, he would walk through Helemano to Kolekole and then down to Pokai Bay. “Hele” means path and “mano” means shark so Helemano is said to be named after this shark god. This account refers to human sacrifices and beheadings made to the shark god at the rock on the pass.
Chief Kahekili of Maui defeated Chief Kahahana at Niuhelewai in ancient Honolulu, but his forces killed the last of Kahahana’s fleeing warriors at Kolekole, according to “Place Names of Hawaii,” by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert and Esther T. Mookini.
“Kolekole” translates to raw, or red, and could refer to wounds from battle or blood from human sacrifices, but “Place Names of Hawaii” notes that tales of human sacrifices at the “beheading stone” are probably not true.
A less gruesome story makes reference to a woman named Kolekole who guarded the pass. Those trekking through would leave flowers and lei on the stone as gifts for her.
Japanese planes and the WWII era
For a time it was believed that Japanese fighter planes on their way to attack Pearl Harbor flew through the Kolekole Pass and were shot at by Soldiers at Schofield Barracks. Some versions allude to a Japanese plane being shot down in the area. Subsequent research by American and Japanese historians, however, has debunked these claims.
Documents at the Tropic Lightning Museum cite a 1979 local news article that refers to a cross erected on Kolekole Pass in 1942 to commemorate a Japanese fighter plane downed by a U.S. pursuer during the Pearl Harbor attacks, but the Army concluded that there was no evidence to support the claim that a plane was shot down in this area. The cross has since been removed.
The Kolekole Pass also gets a mention in James Jones’ classic novel, “From Here to Eternity.” The movie version, parts of which were filmed on Schofield Barracks, has brought some attention to the installation over the years. In the book, Jones’ character Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt, as punishment for defying his company commander, Captain “Dynamite” Holmes, is ordered to hike in full field gear from the quad at Schofield Barracks to Kolekole Pass and back, or about 10 miles.
Easter sunrise celebrations
Beginning in the 1920s, Army chaplains erected a series of temporary wooden crosses in the area that is today the Kolekole Walking Path, across from the “beheading stone,” according to documents from the Tropic Lightning Museum. Soldiers would gather at the cross for a sunrise Easter service.
In 1946, the 2nd Ordnance Battalion constructed a 25-foot cross that was erected at the site by the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
In 1948, a 37-foot steel cross, painted white, was erected on the site, reportedly at the request of an Army chaplain who was tired of erecting temporary crosses every year for Easter services.
A cross erected in 1962 to replace the deteriorating cross remained in the area until the late 1990s when the Army removed it to avoid a constitutional challenge to the separation of church and state. Documents indicate the Army had found that the cross was not a shrine or a memorial and had indeed been built and used for religious purposes.
Today, the Kolekole Pass remains a military training area, but the Kolekole Walking Path is open to Department of Defense cardholders and their authorized guests on weekends when live-fire training is not being conducted.
If you are fortunate enough to visit or train in the area, take a moment to reflect on those who came here before you, whether it be the ancient Hawaiian warriors who defeated their rivals in battle or the Soldiers of the Greatest Generation who helped defend the nation during WWII.
Kolekole 10K Run Signup
Runners have until 6:45 a.m. on March 11, the day of the race, to sign up. Registration is $45 and participants should meet at Leaders Field on Schofield Barracks.
To find out when the Kolekole Walking Path will be open to the community, visit the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Facebook page or the Community Calendar section of The Hawaii Army Weekly, which is published on every Friday.