History of the Pacific Ocean Division

The origins of the Pacific Ocean Division, established in 1957, go back to 1905 when Lieutenant John R. Slattery became the first Honolulu District Engineer. In the early years the District constructed lighthouses and improved harbors in the Territory of Hawaii and erected seacoast fortifications for the defense of Honolulu and Pearl harbors on the island of Oahu. Affected by international events throughout its history, the Honolulu District's geographical boundaries increased dramatically in 1941 when, in an amazingly short time, it constructed a chain of airfields from Hawaii to Australia for the Air Ferry Command. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Engineers strengthened the defenses of Hawaii against an anticipated but unrealized enemy landing. Later, Engineer dredges followed American assault forces across the central Pacific carving out harbors at newly gained islands, and reaching Okinawa even before that island's surrender in 1945.

With the return of peace, the Okinawa Engineer District was established in 1946 and began the immense task of building the war-and-typhoon- devastated island into a modern bastion of defense. In Hawaii the Honolulu District resumed its civil works program and constructed permanent facilities at Army and Air Force installations. Following the Korean War and the United States' decision to maintain armed forces in the Republic of Korea, increasing demands for military construction there, as well as in Japan and Okinawa, led to the establishment of the Pacific Ocean Division in Hawaii and its Far East District in Korea. The Division Engineer became responsible for a military construction program that stretched across the Pacific to include Hawaii, Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and, eventually, Pakistan. In 1959, the Division undertook the construction of antiballistic missile defense test facilities at Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands.

The Division's civil works program experienced similar growth and geographical expansion. By 1980, its boundaries included Hawaii, Territory of Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Territory of American Samoa. Projects included deep-draft and small boat harbors, flood control, and beach erosion control, along with regulatory functions concerning the waters of the United States. Also by 1980, the Division had started navigation studies of the South Han River in the Republic of Korea. It was also responsible for a capital improvement program, as well as regulatory functions, in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

In 1970, the Division became fully operational in nature, as well as administrative with its absorption of the personnel and programs of the Honolulu District and, in part, the other Districts. Today, this westernmost and southernmost of the Corps of Engineers' 9 Divisions has an area of responsibility that covers close to nine million square miles of the earth's surface. Its history is the story of the thousands of dedicated men and women who have contributed to the successful accomplishment of its mission, a mission that is singularly influenced by a unique combination of geography, climate, and world politics.

This brief history is excerpted from the Preface to Pacific Ocean Engineers, History of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific,1905-1980 (Honolulu, 1985) by Erwin N. Thompson.