Upon entering the Kona International Airport (KOA), you’ll notice an addition to the signage. It now reads Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport At Keahole.
I had no idea who Ellison Onizuka is/was and why his name now appears on the airport’s entrance. “Who is Ellison Onizuka?” a few of my taxi guests have asked me. “I don’t know. They recently placed the name on the sign.”, I would reply. Being that I am one of the first individuals that visitors interact with, upon arrival, I felt compelled to find out the answer. After a quick Google search, his photo popped up in the almost 70,000 search results. I realized I WAS familiar with who Ellison Onizuka is. I knew his face. I knew of his service as one of the seven members of the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger. What I did not know was his name or his background.
Ellison Shoji Onizuka was an American pilot turned astronaut, of Japanese descent. He was also one of Kona’s own! From Kealakekua, Onizuka, recognized as the first person of Japanese Ancestry to visit space- Space Shuttle Discovery on January 24, 1985.
On January 28, 1986, along with six other crew members, Ellison Onizuka was on the Space Shuttle Challenger. To the horror of the millions of TV viewers, and NASA launch personnel, The craft exploded on take off.
Although the sign was recently modified, to reflect the name change, Governor Ige made the dedication official, by signing it into law on July 12th, 2016- with the effective date of January 1st of 2017.
So… The Kona International Airport is now Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole! What a great way to honor the Big Island Man that has, not only dedicated his life, but gave his life to space exploration and discovery!
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