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History on Kadena: Quonset the Hut, last of its kind

A seal bearing the 18th Wing's motto, "unguibus et rostro," meaning with beak and talon, or tooth and nail, decorates the entry way of the newly restored Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan.  This is the last standing Quonset hut on the air base. It has recently been restored by volunteers from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron with the help of the 18th Wing History office and others on base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

A seal bearing the 18th Wing's motto, "unguibus et rostro," meaning with beak and talon, or tooth and nail, decorates the entry way of the newly restored Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan. This is the last standing Quonset hut on the air base. It has recently been restored by volunteers from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron with the help of the 18th Wing History office and others on base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

Decades ago, most on-base, indoor activities took place in Quonset huts.  This shows how a hut used for daily briefings would have looked in its hayday.  This is the last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan.  It was recently renovated to show Airmen of today what life was like on their base years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

Decades ago, most on-base, indoor activities took place in Quonset huts. This shows how a hut used for daily briefings would have looked in its hayday. This is the last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan. It was recently renovated to show Airmen of today what life was like on their base years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

Members of the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron who volunteered their time and skills to renovate the last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan, stand in front of the newly unveiled piece of Kadena history, along with Col. Charles McDaniel, 18th Wing vice commander, Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, 18th Wing command chief, and distinguished guests Sadashi HIga, Kazuto Higa and Jimmy Schwartz, Aug. 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

Members of the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron who volunteered their time and skills to renovate the last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan, stand in front of the newly unveiled piece of Kadena history, along with Col. Charles McDaniel, 18th Wing vice commander, Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, 18th Wing command chief, and distinguished guests Sadashi HIga, Kazuto Higa and Jimmy Schwartz, Aug. 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

A sign rests outside the only remaining Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan. This hut was completely restored to give visitors an idea of what life was like during the days of Quonset hut use. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

A sign rests outside the only remaining Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan. This hut was completely restored to give visitors an idea of what life was like during the days of Quonset hut use. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

The last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan, was recently renovated by a group of volunteers from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron with the help of the 18th Wing History office and others on base.  This preserved piece of base history was revealed during a ceremony Aug. 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

The last standing Quonset hut on Kadena Air Base, Japan, was recently renovated by a group of volunteers from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron with the help of the 18th Wing History office and others on base. This preserved piece of base history was revealed during a ceremony Aug. 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Rich-Pendracki/Released)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- (Editor's note: This is the first article in a series about historical sites on Kadena Air Base.)

History is everywhere. Nowhere is that more true than at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Shrines, landmarks and buildings of significance are scattered about, so unassuming people tend to walk or drive by them each day and don't realize what is right in front of them.

Established in 1945, Kadena Air Base is 68 years old. It was established in 1945. In its first days of operation, people lived and worked out of tents. Soon the tents gave way to a unique and very identifiable structure that most military members stationed in the Pacific during that time would easily recognize: the Quonset hut.

A Quonset hut is a lightweight, easy to assemble, prefabricated structure. It has a semicircle cross-section, which gives the hut its particular look. It was inexpensive and took little skill or manpower to construct, yet they were robust and able to withstand the elements.

"The Quonset hut here is special in that anyone can visit it and have a direct link to a piece of military history that literally any veteran from a period of 1945, and in some cases until 1980, has a direct relation to in that they were utilized as hospitals, chapels, schools and military housing to name a few," said Casey Connell, 18th Wing History office historian. "They also represent American ingenuity similar to the C-ration, where mass production techniques were used to provide a simple comfort to all the American military branches based around the globe."

At one time there were thousands of Quonset huts on Kadena. They were used for every facet of indoor life from work, to play, to living quarters. Jimmy Schwartz, a long-time civilian employee at Kadena Air Base remembers these huts well. Known as Jimmy, he is somewhat of a local legend and has lived and worked on Kadena over the last 63 years.
"I lived in one of these for about 10 years," Schwartz said. "There are a lot of memories I have from life in these [huts]."

The hay day of the Quonset hut on Kadena is long gone. As a matter of fact, there is only one of these huts left standing. Last year, it was discovered this hut was on a list to be demolished. At first, a mission to save this hut seemed out of reach due to costs, but members of the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron, along with the 18th Wing History office, partnered up and used their knowledge and skills to restore the hut.

"What we wanted to do was preserve base history," said Staff Sgt. Eric Gargus, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron structural craftsman. "This is a piece of who we are."
It took 11 months of work, dedication, countless volunteer hours, and numerous supply contributions to restore this Quonset hut to its like-new appearance. The restored hut has been overhauled from floor to ceiling. It is set up inside to illustrate the different facets of life that one might have encountered in one of these structures. Walking inside is like taking a step back into history.

"This is how our predecessors lived. I was very happy to be a part of this restoration," Schwartz said. "Now we might be able to tell our grandkids about this and show them a part of where we came from."

The last remaining Quonset hut on Kadena is not far from the static displays near Gate 1. It is located across the parking area from the base legal office. It is not open to the general population, but is available for unit professional development tours, please contact the 18th Wing History office.