World War II veteran Howard P. Earl of El Paso, Texas always remembered his six-month stint as an air controller at a U.S. Army Air Corp base at Barking Sands in 1942.
For Earl, Kaua’i was an eye-opening experience to a new way of life that was vastly different from what he had been accustomed to in Texas.
Earl said he learned about Hawaiian hospitality and tropical living, ate at luau and played on military softball teams against plantation teams.
For Earl, Kaua’i was his last quiet stopover before he was sent to Iwo Jima, scene of the some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific during World War II , and Saipan, from which American planes launched for bombing runs over Japan near the end of the war. At the end of the war, Earl returned safely back to his native Texas.
In 1997, Earl visited Kaua’i for the first time in more than 50 years, accompanied by a few family members.
Earlier this month, he said he returned to the island with more family members to “show them what I have talked about all these years about my stay on Kaua’i.”
Accompanying Earl, who is 83 years old, were his daughter, Vickie Earl, 52, her daughter, Brigette, 33, and her two children, Matthew, 11, and Michelle, 9, and a friend of the family, Bonnie Franco, all from El Paso, Texas.
Before the start of the war, Earl worked as an air controller at a civilian airport in Fort Worth, Texas, his birthplace.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Earl enlisted even though he had a draft deferment.
That status was granted to people working in civilian jobs, such as Earl’s, that were deemed “essential” by the government during the war.
Because of the demand for his job skills, Earl said the Army Air Corp offered him the chance to serve at any military airport in the country. Earl chose Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, which was close to his home.
Although he had the rank of a private at the time, Earl said he wanted to make his contribution to the war effort. “They said ‘don’t worry about your rank. If you got experience, we will take care of you,'” Earl recalled.
After a while, Earl and other traffic controllers working at stateside military bases were sent either to Europe or to the Pacific.
Earl said his combat preparation was shortened because the military needed experienced air controllers like him at military outposts in the Pacific.
“I never been on a rifle range. But I didn’t need it as much because my job was more of a technical nature,” Earl said. “If you had any experience, they didn’t want to take six months to train you. They wanted you to be there (in the Pacific) right now. They had airfields that were opening up that had no control towers.”
Earl recalled he went from a staging area in Sacramento, Calif. to Hawai’i, where he was temporary put in tents with other air controllers due to the lack of housing.
Subsequently, Earl was sent to his first overseas post – Kaua’i.
Once on the island, he replaced another military air controller who was being “rotated out to go home.” For the next six months, he said learned about Hawai’i and its culture through interaction with local folks, finding them as well to be “very patriotic.”
His job required him to “work the tower, which was opened 24 hours a day, seven days week,” Earl recalled.
During his stint, Earl, a tech sergeant at the time, said he ran the tower, made up watch lists and controlled inbound and outbound flights. Some of the planes he helped fly in and out of the airport towed targets for target practice, Earl said.
Earl said he was sent next to Iwo Jima, where the tower chief was killed during a battle on the beach and much equipment was lost.
As a non-commissioned officer then, Earl recalled he was there to replace a tech sergeant to help run an airfield tower that was put up after enemy attacks subsided.
Earl recalled “banzai charges” were launched by enemy stragglers after American troops took the island. In what was considered among the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, about 7,000 U.S. servicemen and 20,000 Japanese troops died in the battle for Iwo Jima.
An officer Earl said he had initially traveled with from the U.S.. mainland to Hawai’i in 1942, got him transferred to another military air base on Saipan.
B-29s launched from that island for bombing runs over Japan toward the end of the war. With the war ended, the military offered him the option of helping to set up and run U.S. airplane control towers in Japan. Earl said.
But his thoughts were of home, and because he had earned enough “points,” due to his lengthy tour of duty in the Pacific, Earl said he was in line to go home before others.
After the war, Earl returned to Forth Worth, Texas, but was not able to get his old job back as a civilian air controller.
Instead Earl got a job as an assistant air controller for the Civilian Aviation Agency, the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Earl later went to work as a controller in a tower in El Paso, Texas, got married, and stayed at his job for the next 20 years. He later transferred to another control tower in Austin, Texas before retiring.
Earl said his most exciting years as an air controller came, perhaps, during the war years. His family said Earl beams with pride when he talks about his military service on various Pacific islands, particularly on Kaua’i.
“This is the only place in the Pacific he has ever talk about coming back to,” said Earl’s daughter, Vickie. “And we have been here twice.”
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and email@example.com