- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

A proposal to rename Henderson Field on Guadalcanal after Japan’s national flower — the chrysanthemum — has failed thanks in part to a group of determined U.S. Marine veterans who fought during that first Pacific offensive in World War II.

The historic airstrip, however, will now be called the Honiara International Airport-Henderson Field, after the capital city of the Solomon Islands 15 miles away from the airfield.

“They split the baby in half,” said Dr. Ervin Kaplan, veteran of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and spokesman for the Marine Raiders Association.

The name change was suggested by a Japanese consulting group to more symbolize their country. It prompted the Marine Raiders Association to initiate a petition drive that quickly gathered 8,000 supporters.

The idea that the airport’s name would be changed would dishonor both the Allies and the Japanese who fought on the island, the petition said. It also would strip the historical heritage of the name for future generations of Solomon Islanders, and travelers who arrive in and depart from the country.

“I think they bowed to the pressure of the petition, and the response was to give it half the name,” Mr. Kaplan said.

The association presented the petition to Solomon Island Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza, who assured the veterans there would be no name change.

“I had already resolved that there would be no name change when the original name change suggestion was made,” Mr. Kemakeza said in a September letter to the petition signers and veterans.

“We in the Solomon Islands are aware of the WWII heritage all around us. We are especially respectful of the feelings of the U.S. and Solomon Island veterans who served in our country during the Second World War.”

Despite the prime minister’s assurance, the minister of Communication, Aviation and Meteorology, Daniel Fa’afunua, changed the name.

ABC Radio Australia News reported that Mr. Fa’afunua said the name change was a sensitive and emotional issue, but believed that as a sovereign country, the Solomon Islands must decide on the name of its airport.

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.

“I think it is a revision of history, after 60 years to try and change the name that honored a man who was killed in the battle of Midway,” said Mr. Kaplan, after returning from a veterans ceremony on the islands Nov. 13.

More than 2,000 Americans were killed in taking the island. Occupation of the airstrip gave the Allies dominance throughout the area and marked the turnabout of the Japanese advance.

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