The Historic Chief Petty Officer Bungalows
July 31, 2017
The U.S. Navy chief petty officer (CPO), known to all as the chief, holds a revered position as the vital link between officers and enlisted personnel. The chiefs are esteemed for their knowledge as highly proficient technical experts with superb supervising skills in their respective ratings. In the Navy, they say: “When the going gets tough, and the task seems impossible, the call goes out to the chief.”
For those few married chiefs stationed at Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor prior to World War II, a limited amount of on-base quarters were available for their families. Five historic homes remain on Belleau Wood Loop, Ford Island, remnants of the the historic CPO neighborhood built nearly 100 years ago. The bungalows, built in the 1920s and 1930s by the Navy, are located along the shoreline of historic Battleship Row, near where the USS Arizona and USS West Virginia were moored on Dec. 7, 1941. These houses were close enough that sailors on board the USS Tennessee bounced potatoes off the roofs of the houses in 1941.1
These military homes were utilized until the 1990s, then sat vacant for nearly 10 years. In 2008, the Navy gave these homes to the National Park Service (NPS) at World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (VALR).
This bungalow neighborhood witnessed families moving in and out every two to three years, children playing in the yards, and aviators and Navy personnel training nearby. The CPO bungalows also created a critical safe place for sailors and families during the attack on Pearl Harbor. These homes stopped shrapnel in its tracks; many of the homes were riddled with shrapnel holes after the attacks.2 The CPO bungalows were 300 yards away from the USS Arizona when she violently exploded. The bungalows protected families from the sites of war and destruction, and they sheltered men, women and children during the attacks. Many sailors swam to shore along Ford Island and took shelter or received aid in these homes.
The value of these buildings can be heard in the stories from those who survived as children to the sailors who sought refuge during the air raid.
One such story comes from an interview with Davalee Behrens. Her mother, Dixie-Lee Ledford, was just seven years old at the time of the attack. Dixie-Lee and her parents, Vada-Lee and Chief Petty Officer Oscar Ledford, lived in CPO Bungalow No. 28 and were fearful for their lives on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. During the attack, Dixie-Lee and her mother Vada-Lee huddled in a corner of their CPO bungalow hiding behind a wingback chair, waiting to hear word from Chief Ledford.3
Another story comes from an interview with Tom Davey. With his two brothers, mother and grandmother, he waited out the first wave of the attack under mattresses on the floor of their home. Once the first wave of the attack was over, they all headed for Adm. Patrick Bellinger’s residence to take cover in an abandoned gun emplacement, known as the “bunker,” a designated shelter for Navy families on Ford Island.4
VALR is working with the preservation community on Oahu to preserve what remains of the Belleau Wood neighborhood. This year, two of the five historical bungalows will receive emergency stabilization so they can be tented for termite treatment. Additional work will occur at all five historical bungalows: a Cultural Landscape Inventory, Historic Structures Report and Cultural Landscape Treatment Report are being done to document the structures and the neighborhood. These reports will assist VALR and Pacific Historic Parks with restoring these structures to their pre-1941 appearance.
Part of the mission of the NPS is to conserve historical places. These structures are a part of history that surrounds Ford Island. Each bungalow tells a story both about the naval aviation experience and the attack on Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. These homes are now part of the historical inventory of VALR and will be preserved for future generations — so their story can continue to be told.
The CPO bungalows provided shelter in peace, protection from war and a home for many Navy families from the 1930s to the 1990s. They are now in need of your assistance to preserve them so that they can continue to bear witness to their historic past. In doing so, that history can be shared with future generations of visitors who come to visit this National Park Service site.
- Davalee Behrens (daughter of a civilian survivor), interviewed by Jo Fuller at Nob Hill, Ford Island, Hawaii, Dec. 4, 2016, transcript, USS Arizona Memorial Archives, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. ↩
- Tom Davey (civilian survivor), interviewed by Jo Fuller at Fort DeRussy, Waikiki, Hawaii, Dec. 3, 2016, transcript, USS Arizona Memorial Archives, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. ↩
- Behrens ↩
- Davey ↩