Anybody who ever visited the island of Maui has a lump in their throat these days. A good chunk of it is gone, wiped out by the recent wildfire.
I connected with the place in 1965 when I was a naval officer stationed at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. I had free time enough to do a little moonlighting as a freelance writer.
Hilton Hotels launched a project that year to build condominiums in the village of Kaanapali just west of Lahaina. Turns out they were looking for someone to put together a newsletter about the project. I made a phone call and got the job.
That was good news. Better news was I had a Navy buddy who moonlighted as a pilot for the inter-island airline, shuttling folks from Oahu to Maui, Kaui, Molokai and the big island of Hawaii. Anytime I needed a ride to Maui, he would get me there.
Maui had a large commercial airport, of course, but we never landed there. Turns out there was a short landing strip carved out of the middle of a cane field at Kaanapali, just west of Lahaina. It had been created by order of Gen. Wallace Greene, who was commandant of the Marine Corps at that time.
Greene was headquartered at Pearl Harbor but also had a defense project set up at Kaanapali. Rather than fly into Lahaina International, which was an hour’s drive from Kaanapali, he cut a deal with the cane grower to build a strip in his field.
One day as we approached the island, we noticed something peculiar. A large swath of cane at the end of the airstrip was destroyed. After landing, we found out why.
Greene’s personal aircraft was a lumbering DC3 that used up every inch of the airstrip to land and get airborne. It had rained heavily a few days before, and when Greene’s pilot set the DC3 down, it skidded into the cane at the end of the strip.
The story was that after repeated failed attempts to free the plane from the mud, the pilot was temporarily relieved of his duties and the general plopped into the pilot’s seat, redlined the engines and got the plane back on the runway.
Then, he reportedly told his pilot, “Now, get us the hell out of here.” Later, the general told reporters there was no way he would let the Marine Corps’ spotless war record be blemished by a field of sugar cane.