By Audrey McAvoy
The federal government plans to spend several million dollars restoring a historic seaplane hangar that played a key role in the Battle of Midway during World War II.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs a nature reserve at the remote atoll of Midway 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, announced the plan yesterday on the 68th anniversary of the battle.
"This is an iconic symbol of the Battle of Midway," said Barbara Maxfield, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman. "We have an obligation to those veterans and their families ... to save what we can."
The battle took place seven months after Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. naval forces crushed a Japanese attempt to seize the strategic island, marking a turning point in the war against Japan.
A Japanese victory would have made Hawai'i and even the U.S. West Coast vulnerable to attack. Instead, the U.S. sank four Japanese aircraft carriers.
The hangar housed amphibious planes that spotted Japanese ships nearing Midway during a scouting patrol mission before the battle. This helped the U.S. prepare for the Japanese navy's arrival.
The hangar was hit twice during the war, once on the night of the Pearl Harbor attack and then again during the June 1942 battle.
The Fish and Wildlife Service uses the hangar today to store construction materials, large vehicles and cranes it uses to offload vessels.
The building is missing windows and its roof has holes, allowing rain and saltwater to leak inside.
The agency says it needs to make the roof watertight and remove some hangar doors so a wall can be stabilized. It also must remove asbestos and lead paint.
"The time is now for this structure or we may lose it," Maxfield said.
The agency expects to complete a detailed restoration plan this year, while the repair work itself is due to start next year.
Maxfield said the agency isn't sure exactly how much the restoration will cost, but estimates the total will be several million dollars.