HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On Memorial Day, men and women of the armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice are remembered. But on this holiday weekend, a group of Hawaii men that was nearly forgotten also were honored.
About 130 men made up the Hui Panala'au colonists. They were mostly Native Hawaiians from Kamehameha Schools, and later from Roosevelt and McKinley High Schools.
From 1935 until 1942, they were sent to serve as colonists on five equatorial Pacific islands, including Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Canton and Enderbury islands, providing the U.S. with staging locations that would become pivotal bases during World War II.
'I had an older brother that had been down there," said Paul Phillips, one of three known surviving colonists in the islands. "He was on his third cruise, so I got all of the first-hand information. In fact I would not have gone if it weren't for him."
Phillips was also one of the last eight colonists evacuated from Jarvis and Enderbury islands after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted the U.S. into the war.
Three of the colonists died in the line of duty. Richard Whaley and Joseph Keliihananui were killed in a Japanese air attack on December 8, 1941. Carl Kahalewai died in 1938 en route to Honolulu due to a ruptured appendix.
For years, hardly anyone knew about the Hui. "All accounts of the program and of the colonists were buried and forgotten," Phillips told a remembrance gathering Sunday at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Noelle Kahanu helped return the Hui to the spotlight when she learned her grandfather was one of the colonists. George Kahanu also co-wrote the song "Under a Jarvis Moon." Noelle Kahanu performed a hula to the song as part of the remembrance ceremony.
Now 97 years old, George Kahanu is basking in the attention.
"When you're on the island, when you have a lot of time, you used to think, 'I wonder if what I'm doing is worthwhile?' And this is worthwhile, seeing this here," he said.
"Recognition of these young men for their service is long overdue," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who told the gathering that the U.S. Senate had just approved a resolution honoring the Hui. "What they did for America is remembered, and we are grateful."