From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
Remembering Veterans: Hawaii WWI Centennial Task Force Chairman Colonel Arthur Tulak on the upcoming Honolulu WWI Symposium
In June 7th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 126, host Theo Mayer interviewed Colonel Arthur Tulak, Chairman of the Hawaii World War I Centennial Task Force. Colonel Tulak discusses Hawaii's role in the First World War, the activities of the Task Force, and an upcoming academic symposium in Honolulu. The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: For Remembering Veterans, we're going to start in Honolulu. Hawaii has had a very active World War I centennial period and stood up a World War I Centennial Task Force, built a website hosted by the Commission, participated in 100 Cities/100 Memorials program, held a major armistice centennial event in Honolulu, and is now wrapping things up with an academic symposium co-hosted by Hawaii's Pacific University, the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, and the Task Force. With us today is Colonel Arthur Tulak, U.S. Army, Retired, who's the Chairman of the Hawaii World War I Centennial Task Force. Colonel, thank you for joining us.
Col Arthur T.: Thank you, Theo. It's great to be here.
Theo Mayer: Let's start by talking a little bit about the Hawaii Centennial Task Force, how it came together, and some of the activities that you guys undertook.
Col Arthur T.: Yes, well, this all started in April of 2015 when Governor Ige directed the Hawaii State Department of Defense to put together a committee of some sort to take responsibility and the lead for planning Hawaii's World War I Centennial Commemoration. From May 2015, we got together a bunch of volunteers from academia, from veterans, and patriotic organizations to start developing a concept. This small group eventually became known as the Hawaii World War I Centennial Task Force, so that we've been working on these things ever since and conducted now over 35 events on the islands of Oahu and Maui.
Theo Mayer: Let me ask you this. Most people don't think about Hawaii's role in World War I because it wasn't even a state yet. How did that all play out?
Col Arthur T.: Well, that's correct. It was a territory, but it had a territorial governor. What's really amazing about Hawaii's World War I history is the fact that we had the highest per capita voluntary rate of service or enlistment rate in the nation, so we had 9800 people who served in uniform either in the Hawaii Naval Militia, the Territorial National Guard or who joined the federal services and even a small number who ended up serving in the uniform of our Allied nations on the battlefields in Europe.
Theo Mayer: Now, there is a World War I memorial in Honolulu. It's called the Natatorium. It's really unique. Can you tell us about it?
Col Arthur T.: Well, yes. It is a beautiful Beaux-Arts-style construction of a beautiful arch, which we used as the symbol for our World War I Centennial Commemoration program. We have the silhouette of a doughboy below it. That memorial was built through public support, and the American Legion here in Hawaii was one of the major movers and shakers and getting that thing done. It opened on August 24th, 1927, so it took several years, about 7 years to develop it. It was designed to be a living memorial to those who had served and also died in World War I. People enjoyed that outdoor swimming pool for many, many decades, but it closed in 1979 and remained closed. When we were able to use the World War I Memorial for the Commemoration, in many ways, it brought it back to life and it made it a more vibrant place for the community here in Honolulu as we conducted several events there over Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and even commemorating other events like the Centennial of the Battle of the Somme that we did with our World War I Allies.
Theo Mayer: Well, you know, that's parallel to a lot of cities where people didn't even know that those venues were World War I memorials, so it sort of reawakened people to what it was. Is that true?
Col Arthur T.: Yes, it definitely brought attention because people have talked about what a shame it is that the pool had closed, but to remind everyone that we had the Peace Park, which is right in front of the Memorial, celebrating the peace; of course, the Memorial, itself, celebrating those who served, the 9800 in uniform, many thousands of civilians, also those from Hawaii who died, and of course, the many American soldiers, sailors, marines who died during the War as well.
Theo Mayer: You're planning a symposium coming up later this month. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?
Col Arthur T.: Yeah, we're very excited about it. This is the final culminating event for us. Having focused on entry into the War first with the Allies while we were out, then the initial events that were important to Hawaii (the sinking of the SS Aztec, a merchant mariner that had on board five Hawaiians who perished), then we've been covering all the interesting things here in Hawaii and the Pacific that happened during the War. Now, we're focused at the end of the War period, and a very interesting period when we're trying to establish a lasting peace, so there's a lot of diplomacy that's going on. There is the large-scale de-mobilization of military forces returning home. We had our own Hawaii Territorial National Guard that had the largest mobilization ever in its history in World War I, and therefore, the largest de-mobilization. We're going to be focusing on these kinds of things, including looking at the organizations, the veteran's organizations and military professional organizations that were formed at the end of the War, like the National Defense Industrial Association, the American Legion, Military Order of World Wars and a few others to give people here an idea of the complexity of that end of the War period and the transition into the peace with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Theo Mayer: Colonel, if I wanted to come to Hawaii and participate in this, what's my experience going to be, what kind of things are going to happen?
Col Arthur T.: On the 26th, which is the first day of our presentations at the Aloha Tower campus, we expect about 180, and that's our seating capacity for the presentations. That evening, we'll be having our reception there hosted by Gordon Biersch Restaurant. The following day, we're going to be going out to the Arizona Memorial Visitors' Center where one of our members of the Task Force, the Chief Historian of the Arizona Memorial Visitors' Center, Park Ranger Daniel Martinez will be leading a tour around Ford Island in the Harbor in one of the Navy's boats to show what Pearl Harbor was all about in 1917 to 1919, which is a tour that's never been given before and that we're making available for those who register for the symposium. We also have a walking tour of downtown Honolulu showing people what was happening there in 1917 to 1919. Then, of course, anyone who comes out to Hawaii, you're not very far away from the Hawaii Army Museum and all of the historic sites like the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and Pearl Harbor.
Theo Mayer: How expensive is it to attend the symposium?
Col Arthur T.: Registration's only $25.
Theo Mayer: When is the symposium, where is it and how can people find out more?
Col Arthur T.: Well, the symposium is taking place the 26th through the 28th of June at the Aloha Tower Campus of Hawaii Pacific University. If you go to the events section of the Hawaii webpage on the National World War I Centennial website, you'll see it. We're really looking forward to this. This is an excellent way for us to really reflect in detail on the complex issues at the end of the War and in the transition to peace.
Theo Mayer: Well, Colonel, thank you for coming in and talking to us about this. It's a great excuse to go to Hawaii.
Col Arthur T.: Oh, yes, indeed. We're hoping people will fly out from the mainland to hear these presentations.
Theo Mayer: Colonel Arthur Tulak is the Chairman of the Hawaii World War I Centennial Task Force. We have links for you in the podcast notes to the Hawaii World War I websites and more importantly, to the symposium if you're interested in either going or for submitting a paper for discussion. But, hurry. There's just barely enough time to get it submitted. What a great excuse to go to a wonderful place.