Retired Airman creates historic farewell gifts

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Theanne Herrmann
  • 624th Regional Support Group
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – A Reserve Citizen Airman preserves Oahu's bullet-riddled history after more than 75 years with his unique, handcrafted farewell gifts.

A self-proclaimed “crafty kind of guy”, Master Sgt. Ronald Wabinga, of Kapa'a, Kauai, who recently retired from the Air Force Reserves, spends his free time making replicas of a bullet-hole marking, or pockmark, at the current headquarters for the Pacific Air Forces Headquarters, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The PACAF headquarters, formerly known as the Hale Makai, previously housed more than 3,000 enlisted service members and was one of the buildings targeted during the Imperial Japanese attack on Oahu December 7, 1941.

“It makes me proud to help preserve history,” said Wabinga. “Especially the historic significance of the PACAF remember the people who perished during the attack.”

Special permission was granted to Wabinga to make a cast of a pockmark caused by bomb shrapnel.

“I took an impression of the hole with the molding clay,” said Wabinga. “I use the mold to make the replicas.”

In 1985, many of the buildings damaged during the attack became protected by the National Register of Historic Places.

“Since the buildings are protected by law, the military can’t change the appearance,” said Jessie Higa, a historian who specializes in the military history of Hickam Field. “The outside markings from the December 7 damage become a birthmark, which makes this building unique. There are no two places that are the same. It’s an identifying mark of that day of infamy. He is capturing a very sentimental gift that people are lucky to receive.”

It takes Wabinga a week to make the 6-by-7 inch memorial block, which includes making the concrete mold, milling down the wooden platform, then sanding and sealing it with finishing oil.

“To make the gift more unique I use koa wood because it only grows in Hawaii,” said Wabinga.

On the backside of the cement block is a picture of the PACAF building with the following message: December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy… This memorial block is a replica of the damage caused by a bomb that struck the Hale Makai (now HQ PACAF) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This site now called the Courtyard of Heroes in honor of the brave men and women who gave their lives for their country.

“This brings history alive,” said Higa, “Those who are blessed to be recipients of the moldings he makes may not have been here on December 7, but they did work in the historical building where that attack took place."

Wabinga recently retired from the Air Force Reserve’s 624th Civil Engineer Squadron with more than 30 years of service, but he still serves in a civilian capacity as a financial manager exercise planner at PACAF.

He plans on continuing his legacy of crafting these historic farewell gifts to help people remember their time in Hawaii and the men and women who gave their lives for their country on December 7, 1941.

"People want to feel a link and tie to the place they served," said Higa. "That sacrifice, that servitude to God and country, to their fellow Airmen and Army personnel. That’s all a part of this long lineage of servitude in the military here at Hickam Field.”