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The Ford Island Dispensary

This is the third in a series of posts about buildings on Ford Island, NAS Pearl Harbor. Early in the attack, the Ford Island dispensary was damaged by a high-level Japanese bomb that exploded in its central courtyard. However, it continued to operate, treating the wounded until they could be evacuated to hospitals.

Figure 1: Dispensary Courtyard Damage

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Photo 80-G-32599. Dated December 7, 1941.

During the months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy engaged in a vast building program in Hawaii. This included the Fleet Air Base Dispensary on Ford Island designated Building 76. It was created to perform lighter medical care. The dispensary was new but fully operational by the day of the attack. Its design was unusual; it was built around an open-air courtyard with a concrete floor. This gave it a feeling of openness, although its overall design said “generic government building.”

Figure 2: The Dispensary Building

Source: Historic American Building Survey HABS HI-381.

Near the start of the attack, the Japanese dropped armor-piercing bombs on the battleships. Forty-nine Japanese “Kate” bombers flew along the backbone of battleship row in chevrons of five planes. The Kates in each dropped their bombs simultaneously on a single target battleship. To increase the probability of a hit, the Japanese normally flew in three chevrons of three aircraft each. However, they did not have enough planes at Pearl Harbor to do this.

Figure 3: High-Level Attack on the Battleships

Source for background photograph: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Photo 80-G-30551. Captured Japanese photograph.

The massive ship-killer bombs weighed 1,754 pounds (796 kg). However, to gain enough speed to penetrate battleship deck armor, they had to be dropped from an altitude of 10,000 feet. This gave poor accuracy, and most bombs missed their targets. In addition, Figure 3 shows that the bomb was primarily a penetrating piece of steel. Designed to break through 5.8 inches (150 mm of deck armor), the bomb’s nose was 19-inches (48.7 cm) thick. It also had a thick casing that left little room for explosive charge. The charge was only 49.1 pounds (22.3 kg)—a mere 2.8% of the bomb’s total weight. Unless the bomb hit a battleship, penetrated its deck, and detonated near a magazine, it would not do massive damage. Of the 49 Type 99 Number 80 bombs the Japanese dropped on battleships, only one succeeded in sinking a battleship.

Figure 4: Type 99 Number 80 Bomb

Source: United States Technical Mission to Japan, Japanese Bombs, Intelligence Facile O-1, Target O-23.

Several bombs dropped off course, including one aimed at the USS California. Unfortunately, the dispensary sat sitting almost directly alongside the California, near the edge of the island. The errant bomb landed right inside the building, in the central courtyard.

Figure 5: The Dispensary and the California

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Photo 80-G-32499. Dated December 8, 1941.

Fortunately, the bomb buried itself deeply before exploding. Consequently, most of its modest explosion was directed upward. Nevertheless, as Figure 1 shows, the bomb crater was impressive. The bomb caused minor structural damage to the building and knocked out all utilities. However, the dispensary was still able to function. It treated and stabilized the attack victims until they could be evacuated to hospitals for comprehensive treatment. If the bomb had done more damage, the consequences for the wounded would have been severe. The building was repaired in 1942. It is currently being renovated.


General information about the attack and the bomb: Zimm, Alan D., Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions, Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011.

Photographs and information about the Dispensary: Historical American Buildings Survey, U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Fleet Air Base Dispensary, Hornet Avenue between Essex & Enterprise Streets, Pearl City, Honolulu County, HI, Report HABS HI-381, undated but probably around 1990. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/hi0626/

Information about the Type 99 Model 80 bomb: United States Technical Mission to Japan, Japanese Bombs, Intelligence Facile O-1, Target O-23, December 1945, p. 35

Comments on “The Ford Island Dispensary

  1. Thomas Severin, DT3, USN on 2016 06 10 said:

    I was stationed at Bldg. 76 in the dental section from 1965 to 1967.  It was great duty and I miss the many other Navy personnel that I was stationed with and all those who were my patients.  The attack was always a presence from the plaque where the bomb landed in Bldg. 78 to the view of the Arizona out my operating room window. If you look at Figure 2, top deck, far left door, you will see where I spent my days.  Back then we also lived at the dispensary.  My room was opposite the double staircase.  I didn’t think I would miss it so much until I came across this blog.  Best wishes to you all.

  2. Gary Boothe on 2016 02 03 said:

    I have been enjoying the blog posts, still many to read.  Was the dispensary used in the movie “In Harm’s Way” as some other locations on Ford Island were?  There are scenes supposed to be in a medical facility that look like they might be this building.  One or more postings about locations used in this and other films would be a great addition to this blog.  Please keep these great posts coming.

  3. Mark Havlen on 2015 11 25 said:

    I was stationed at NRMC as a Corpsman along with Phillip Piacentini ( above post )in the 70"s . I was also stationed at Barbers Point and Lualualei Ammo Depo. Another spooky place. The buildings were all WW2 vintage. Really miss the Navy didn’t know it at the time, but it was the best 6 years of my life.

  4. John R. Anderson on 2015 11 11 said:

    My father, Charles K. Anderson, was a USN medical corpsman stationed in this building during the attack. 
    He was actually in Building 76, the Dispensary, when the attack began. He saw the torpedoes hit and sink the USS California.
    He told me about that courtyard bomb when I was a little boy, back in the 1950s. He actually saw it strike, as he was going to cross the courtyard to get supplies that were over on the other side.

  5. Philip Piacentini on 2015 02 09 said:

    I used to take the Ford Island ferry over from the dock at Pearl Harbor. You’d pass right by the Arizona memorial, and think about all the sailors left there. Standing duty as a corpsman in the 70s at the dispensary was a strange experience, knowing what had happened, and just being so close to those who had given so much. It really was hallowed ground.
    Philip Piacentini HM3 1975-1979

  6. Steve Ayola on 2014 12 07 said:

    I was HM3 at that dispensary in 1977 attached to NRMC, Pearl Harbor. It was a spooky place to stand duty by yourself at night but it was my favorite duty station because of the historic nature of the building and it’s old school design. Plus my office/sick call had an unobstructed view of ships and subs passing by in the harbor. I would have stayed in the Navy forever if they had just left me there.

  7. CAPT William O. Harrison (MC) USN (ret) on 2014 08 10 said:

    This post brings back some memories.  During the latter third of the 20th century, the Ford Island Dispensary served as the off-crew medical facility for the Polaris missile (FBM) submarine crews.  As medical officer for USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642) Blue Crew from 1968-1971, I had an office in the Dispensary where I held sick call for off-crew members.  As fate would have it, this was the same office that my wife’s second cousin, also a Navy physician, occupied and was actually in, during the Japanese bombings in 1941.  When I was there, there was a bronze plaque on one of the courtyard walls, commemorating the attack.  As I recall, several corpsmen were injured by the bomb blast, but there were no fatalities.

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