The Early Years
Construction of Fort Shafter began in 1905 on the ahupua’a of Kahauiki, former Hawaiian Crown Lands ceded to the U.S. government after annexation. The fort was part of an ambitious War Department building program that included the Army’s Fort DeRussy, Fort Ruger and Schofield Barracks. When the post opened in 1907, it was named for Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter, who led the U.S. expedition to Cuba in 1898.
The 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment was the first unit stationed at the new post. After they marched onto the field June 24, 1907, the battalion soldiers became the first unit stationed in the barracks facing stately Palm Circle. In October 1984, the U.S. Department of the Interior added Palm Circle to the National Register of Historic Places.
Fort Shafter gradually spread out from Palm Circle. Over the decades, the post’s key location between Pearl Harbor and Honolulu led to the additions of a hospital, ordnance depot, anti-aircraft regiment and signal depot. Tripler General Hospital once stood where the highway intersection is today (the hospital moved to its present location in 1948). In 1914, engineers built a regimental-sized cantonment area in the area where Richardson Theater now stands. The Hawaiian Ordnance Depot was built in 1917 as a separate post (near today’s post exchange). In June 1921, the Hawaiian Department moved to Fort Shafter from the old Alexander Young Hotel in downtown Honolulu. A new area was constructed in 1940 for Signal Corps elements.
From 1921 through World War II, Fort Shafter served as an anti-aircraft artillery post, and on Dec. 7, 1941, the Coast Artillery batteries established gun positions on the parade field and sustained the only known casualties on the post.
The Day of Infamy
War came suddenly to Fort Shafter on Dec. 7, 1941. The new Hawaiian Department commander, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, had his headquarters at Fort Shafter. Short took command of the Hawaiian Department in February 1941 and moved into Quarters 5, the commanding general’s residence on Palm Circle. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he was preparing for his regular Sunday golf match with his Navy counterpart, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, when he heard heavy firing from the direction of Pearl Harbor. He ordered his command to the highest alert and moved to his forward command post in Aliamanu Crater to direct the deployment of his command. He was relieved Dec. 17, 1941, and retired shortly afterward.
On Dec. 7, the Hawaiian Department suffered far fewer casualties than the Navy or Marines. In all, 228 soldiers were killed or died of wounds, 110 were seriously wounded and 358 were slightly wounded. Only 16 of the soldiers killed were not from the Air Corps. At Fort Shafter, one soldier, Cpl. Arthur A. Favreau from the 64th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft), was killed in his barracks on post by an errant Navy shell.
Fort Shafter quickly became a busy headquarters, and the command converted the barracks on Palm Circle to offices. In 1944, the Army Corps of Engineers erected the “Pineapple Pentagon” (Richardson Hall and two other adjoining buildings) in just 49 days. Army engineers filled in two large fishponds to form Shafter Flats.
After World War II, Fort Shafter remained the senior Army headquarters post for the Asia-Pacific region, while the 25th Infantry Division occupied the more spacious Schofield Barracks. In 1947, the headquarters became the U.S. Army, Pacific, while the post continued to adapt to meet the Army’s evolving requirements. In the 1960s, the Moanalua Freeway split Fort Shafter in two, but it survived into the post-Vietnam era. In late 1974, the Army replaced U.S. Army, Pacific with two smaller elements: U.S. Army Support Command, Hawaii, and CINCPAC Support Group. That same year, the Army Corps of Engineers relocated its Pacific Ocean Division from Fort Armstrong to the post.
The senior Army headquarters at Fort Shafter was reborn in 1979 as U.S. Army Western Command. Several years later, Fort Shafter itself was reduced in area by over half when the Army conveyed 750 undeveloped acres to the state. The headquarters once again became U.S. Army, Pacific, in 1990.
Today, Fort Shafter remains the focal point for command, control and support of Army forces in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. The oldest military post in Hawaii also stands in the forefront of the Army’s transformation into the premier land power for the 21st century.