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FORD ISLAND — The long, two-story barracks fronted by palm trees looks pretty much the same as it did the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when a sleepy Sunday morning turned into hell on earth.
As a Japanese Zero bore down from the south, its guns flashing fire, there was disbelief and confusion.
Herb Franck, a 22-year-old aviation machinist mate 1st class, had just finished breakfast in the barracks "when somebody came running in saying, 'The (Japanese) are bombing us!' and we said, 'Yeah, sure.' "
There had been several weeks of drills, but it was a battleship attack that was feared most. The 250-pound bomb that tore through Hangar 6 sounded similar to ongoing construction blasting to deepen the channel.
"It was chaos, disbelief, disgust, animosity and people were just damned mad," Franck said.
Yesterday, Franck and fellow Ford Island survivor Ernest Olson, both from California, revisited ground zero of the attack that rushed the United States headlong into World War II.
The veterans were invited in for the 64th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack tomorrow, and a fundraiser tonight for the Pacific Aviation Museum-Pearl Harbor, a $50 million effort to preserve that moment in history and others in Pacific wars for generations to come.
The museum site on Ford Island will occupy 16 acres of the 450-acre island, as well as three historic hangars and the familiar barber pole tower that was built as a submarine escape training tower and converted to an airfield control tower after the attack.
A total of $11.5 million has been raised and the museum is expected to open in a 46,000-square-foot hangar on Dec. 7, 2006, with a focus on the attack on Pearl Harbor and beginning of World War II up through Jimmy Doolittle's audacious bomber raid on Tokyo.
The nonprofit museum's collection includes 14 aircraft so far, including a B-25 bomber, a Stearman bi-plane that President George H.W. Bush trained in during World War II, and a Japanese Zero fighter.
In future years, a tram is expected to transport visitors to the other hangars, which will follow Pacific aviation through Korea, Vietnam and the present.
Replicas of burned-out PBY seaplanes are planned to give a sense of the attack at Ford Island, and a visit to the top of the red-and-white control tower will be part of the experience.
Franck, now 86, thinks the museum is needed because if there is not an effort to perpetuate the memory, the lessons learned will be lost.
He volunteers at the San Diego Aerospace Museum. "We had a group of high school students come through and I asked one young man, 'Do you know about Pearl Harbor?' And he said, 'No, who's she?' "
Ford Island had been little changed since World War II until the Navy embarked on a redevelopment project to build new housing and administrative space there. The exteriors of old hangars and the Luke Field runway are being preserved on Ford Island, which is within the Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark District.
Yesterday, a backhoe and jackhammer dug and hammered within the framework of the old base theater, being converted to a Navy conference center.
But Olson and Franck recognized landmarks like the barracks and clinic — the courtyard of which took a 250-pound bomb as wounded were being treated, but the weapon didn't explode.
Olson, an aviation machinist mate 3rd class, threw on some dungarees when the Japanese planes attacked, grabbed a Springfield rifle, and he and a buddy headed over to the boat ramp where the battleship California was moored.
"A Japanese plane came flying overhead — I'd say it was 100 to 200 feet above us," Olson, 85, said. "My buddy Ralph unloaded a clip from his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) into that plane, and I got off one round from my Springfield."
Triple Ace retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, who flew Lightnings and Mustangs in World War II and Phantom jets in Vietnam, will be the keynote speaker for tonight's museum fundraiser at the Hale Koa hotel. The event, which is sold out, is expected to raise $100,000. A national fundraising campaign is expected to start in February or March.
Even though Olds never served in Hawai'i, he said "the impact that Pearl Harbor had on America and its people stuck with you ... even though you were thousands of miles away."
"You don't have anything like what's (being planned with the Pacific Aviation Museum)," Olds added. "If you walk through, I think you'll feel a part of this and understand this from a human point of view."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com .