One of Honolulu’s great, offbeat treasures – the Home of the Brave Museum – needs help or Saturday’s 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor may be one of the last times it welcomes veterans and their families to share a beer and war stories.
“This looks like Grandpa’s attic on steroids,” says Glenn Tomlinson, founder of the museum.
He founded the museum in the early 1990s in a low-rent district a few miles from Waikiki Beach after a successful gig leading Pearl Harbor veterans back to the site of the bombings that got America into World War II for the 50th anniversary in 1991. He has since expanded it to include the Brewseum – featuring nationally recognized craft beers brewed by his adult children – and the Wiki Waki Woo Speakeasy, recognized by Yelp as one of the country’s best tiki bars.
But now gentrification is pricing Home of the Brave out of the increasingly tony enclave of Kakaako.
Tomlinson has been able to keep it going through grants and a second mortgage but recent efforts to move the museum closer to one of Honolulu’s naval bases failed. And moving directly onto a base would likely mean the demise of the business due to heightened security and the need to run a background check on all visitors. So unless he finds a strategic partner or angel investor, the museum will have to close its doors by year’s end.
“This is too important to go away,” Tomlinson tells USA TODAY. “Every night, you have people coming in saying, ’This an American treasure. Save it!’ But this isn’t for me. This is for our younger demographic that didn’t have a chance to hear the stories.”
The museum is home to tales that veterans’ own families may be hearing for the first time themselves.
One of the museum’s most beloved artifacts was donated posthumously by an annual visitor he liked to call “Leyte Larry.”
“He was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (in the Philippines) and he was a Marine who was shipped across the Pacific fighting different battles and then was in the horrific, bloody battle of Okinawa,” Tomlinson says. “He came through the museum. He was one of our regulars on the tour every year. He used to bust my butt every year, saying, ‘Glenn, where’s your Japanese rifle?!? This place is a joke.’”
Tomlinson told him, “Well, Larry, no one’s donated one and we don’t buy anything. That’s the rule: Everything has to be donated because we don’t want things – we want the stories behind the artifacts.’ He goes, ‘Well, I have a World War II Japanese rifle.’”
Larry didn’t show up for the anniversary the next couple of years. Then, Tomlinson got a call from his stepson, who said he’d died.
“I just want to read you something,” Larry’s stepson said. “Last will and testament: To Home of the Brave, I donate my Japanese rifle.”
Tomlinson chokes up a little as he recalls the conversation. “I started laughing because he would always give me such a hard time. And he says, ‘Wait for it … Tell Glenn, now you got a World War II museum!’ Even from the grave, this old salty Marine was jabbing at me.”
He’s resisted attempts by other Pearl Harbor museums to cherry-pick through his collection of memorabilia, which isn’t cordoned off behind velvet ropes. Guests are encouraged to touch the 50-caliber rifle, put on the helmets and sit in the vintage Jeep or Harley Davidson, which were used in the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor.”
But those aren’t Tomlinson’s favorite museum pieces. For him, the best pieces are a bit more personal.
“People ask me, ‘God forbid, if there were a fire, what would be the first thing you’d grab?’ And I always tell them, ‘As many of these photos of these guys as possible.’ I can replace the guns, knives and uniforms but I can’t replace the photos and stories of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have marched through here.”