- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A proposal to rename Henderson Field on Guadalcanal after Japan’s national flower — the chrysanthemum — has angered Marines, who say the “revisionist history” dishonors Americans who fought and died for the pivotal airfield.

Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands, was the site of the Allies’ first Pacific offensive during World War II. After taking the island from the Japanese in 1942, the 1st Marine Division completed construction of what is now an international airport for the Solomon Islands.

The Marines named the airstrip for Maj. Lofton Henderson, the first Marine pilot killed in action by the Japanese during the historic Battle of Midway.

A consultant group from Japan, hired by the Solomon Islands’ government, has proposed that the name be changed to one symbolizing their country. The consultants are working on restoration projects to make runway and terminal repairs at the airport, which is frequented by Japanese tourists, according to the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp.

The consultants say a more contemporary and recognizable name is needed.

However, more than 5,000 Marines and supporters disagree. Led by the U.S. Marine Raider Association, they have signed a petition to the Solomon Islands’ government protesting the name change.

“Anything that is changed after 60 years to promote commercial enterprise or false national pride is revisionist history,” said Dr. Ervin Kaplan, veteran of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.

“They lost the war. We turned them all the way back to Tokyo,” Dr. Kaplan said. “They didn’t win the war, and they shouldn’t rename it after their national flower.”

The petition was sent to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who also is being lobbied by members of the Marine Raider Association. Dr. Kaplan said it appears that Mr. Sogavare may oppose the name change.

“The idea that the airport’s name would be changed would dishonor both the Allies who served there, and the Japanese who fought on the island, as it would strip the historical heritage of this important name for future generations of Solomon Islanders, and travelers who arrive and depart the country,” the petition said.

“The airfield is synonymous with sacrifice and was arguably one of the most pivotal airfields in the entire Pacific Campaign, and possibly all of WWII, as its fall would have compromised the shipping lanes to Australia and was vital as America’s first offensive in the Pacific,” it said.

The Japanese fought U.S. occupation of the island for six months, and more than 2,000 Americans were killed. Occupation of the airstrip gave the Allies military dominance throughout the Pacific during the war and marked the turnabout of the Japanese advance.

The island today is independently governed and suffering economic hardships, and the consultants suggest changing the name might boost tourism and development.

“It won’t help commerce in the islands, it won’t do a thing for them. In fact, it would be a negative factor,” Dr. Kaplan said.

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