Historic WWII murals arrive in Honolulu from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: Joseph Van Os
Photo: Joseph Van Os

Six wall-sized original paintings that formerly hung in a World War II-era theater on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge arrived by ship in Honolulu on Wednesday.

The murals will be on loan for at least four years to the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, preserving and making them available for the general public to enjoy for the first time in their history.

“Being a Navy veteran myself, I am excited they will be in a venue at Pearl Harbor that tells the story of World War II in the Pacific. Now, thousands of people will be able to enjoy the murals each year,” Refuge manager Sue Schulmeister said.

The 8×12-foot murals depict scenes symbolic of U.S. involvement in World War II and covered the walls in the theater on the island.

They were painted by Victor Nels Solander, 123rd U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, whose Seabee unit was stationed on Midway from June 1, 1944 to Dec. 16, 1945. Solander was awarded a $100 war-bond and his work received many accolades at the time.

“As I watched the increasing deterioration of the theater walls and ceiling in the few years that I have lived here — I knew we would soon lose these beautiful paintings if we could not relocate them to a more stable environment,” Schulmeister said. “Extracting the eight by twelve-foot murals from the walls of the theater was a herculean effort on a remote island with few resources. To carefully preserve the original artwork took a year of research and planning with input from Service historians, engineers and the few staff at hand.”

“The history of World War II is written not just in words but in images. And that includes artwork that was painted in the far-flung outposts of the war. These need to be preserved for future generations,” Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor curator Burl Burlingame said.

The murals will enhance the museum’s current Battle of Midway exhibits and be readied as soon as possible for viewing by the public.

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