Soldiers harvest pineapple on Kauai during World War II

Kapaa residents called them the “Pineapple Commandoes” in referring to the 50 to 80 volunteer U.S. Army soldiers stationed on Kauai during World War II who turned out daily for two weeks in July of 1943 to harvest pineapples from Hawaiian Canneries Co. fields.

Hawaiian Canneries manager Albert Horner had made the request to Kauai commanding officer Major General John Millikin for soldier help only as a last resort after his island-wide canvassing effort to obtain civilian labor to harvest the largest pineapple crop in the company’s history had come to no avail.

(By the way, General Millikin would later command the III Corps counterattack toward Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.)

Dressed in Army fatigues, the volunteer soldiers took time out from their routine military duties to pick the pines, which many had not seen before.

A few even admitted they hadn’t known beforehand whether the fruit grew on bushes or in trees or underground.

Their first day on the job was tough.

The hot sun beat down upon them, the work took getting used to, and the soldiers’ hands and arms were scratched by the fruit’s spiny bushes, but when the day’s labor was done, they felt proud of their efforts and were pleased that their toil had helped the pineapple company.

In particular were those soldiers who had come from Mainland farms and could appreciate firsthand the predicament the company would face if the crop was not harvested.

For their voluntary services, the soldiers were paid the regular wage of 45 cents an hour, more if they chose to work on a piecework basis, all of which supplemented their regular Army pay.

At the end of the two-week-long harvest, manager Horner said the soldiers turned in a first rate job of harvesting and proved themselves as good as experienced workers.

He also thanked the Army and noted that the harvest marked a new high in military-civilian cooperation.

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