Gov. George R. Ariyoshi
Governor of Hawai‘i, 1974 to 1986
Aloha everyone . . .
Before I say very much, I want to express my appreciation to all of the veterans who served and made it possible for a younger person like me to be able to move after you, and I thank you very much for that opportunity.
I saw another MIS veteran, Rev. [Yoshiaki] Fujitani, and I want him to know that on that December 7th morning at 7 o’clock, I was at the YBA (Young Buddhist Association), playing ping pong, and I did not know that there was an attack taking place. We heard a lot of extraordinary shells going off, but we all thought that the Army was practicing much heavier on that particular day.
I did not get home until 10:30 that morning and I did not know that there was that going on. I met my mother, who was very concerned about my safety, not having come back sooner. She was well-prepared with a bag for each of my family — a bag with food, water, canned food and other things, just in case we had to evacuate. And that was the first time I learned, about 10:30, about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I was a sophomore in high school at that time and my life in high school changed very drastically. On December 7th, all civilian [privileges] were taken away. The military took over completely and we had general orders every morning, telling us what they had to do in the community. One of those that had a great impact on us was curfew. Curfew was 6 o’clock and we had to be off the streets. My curfew was 5 o’clock, because my mother did not want me to miss the 6 o’clock and get in trouble. And because of that curfew, we also could not take part in sports activities that others of our generation could take part in. I tell my children that during my whole high school years, I never went out at night. I spent every night at home with my family. And I learned a lot about my father’s and mother’s Japanese values, which stayed with me and helped me.
We saw, during my high school years, many AJAs being called to volunteer. And they volunteered for the MIS, volunteered for the 442. As Gov. Ige told you earlier, the 100th Battalion had preceded all these groups. We heard about the casualties and I remember the first AJA casualty when I was in high school, [Shigeo] Joe Takata, who was a brilliant ball player for the Asahi baseball team, and many others followed after that.
We decided to fight the battle of the plantation — the weeds and the grass that grew on the plantation. Every month, we went out to the plantation to fight the weeds and the grass. We also felt that we had some responsibility to participate by trying to sell war bonds and they tell me many years later, that McKinley High School had sold enough war bonds to buy an aircraft.
I went on to the University [of Hawai‘i], and while I was there, the call for me came and it was just as the war in Europe was coming to an end. I knew then that I was destined to be involved in the Pacific affairs. By the time I finished basic training, the war with Japan came to an end and I heard my name called out one morning and they said, “You’re not going out. You are going to Minnesota. Fort Snelling.” And that’s how I ended up in the MIS. The MIS learned, brushed up on our language, and then I was sent to Japan with the Occupation forces.
Two things about this period: Number one, I was a very, very proud American. To wear that uniform in Japan. Japan was left intact. General [Douglas] MacArthur’s orders were to make it possible for Japan to make as drastic a recovery as possible. America did not want anything from Japan, only wanted Japan to become a different kind of country. A constitution, a new one, was adopted to be able to develop a friendship with Japan. What a farsighted man General MacArthur was when he moved in that direction.
Shortly after I got there, I met the first Japanese person — a 7-year-old youngster who was shining shoes. And when I saw him I was very concerned about this 7-year-old youngster shining shoes and I asked him about that. His response to me was, “My country is hurting, my family is hurting, and I have to do whatever I can to be very helpful.” This 7-year-old child. I got a piece of bread and went to give it to him. He thanked me profusely and he started to put it in his bag, and I asked him, “Aren’t you hungry?” He said, “I am very hungry, but I’m going to take this home and will eat this together with Mariko.” I asked him, “Who is Mariko?” Mariko was his 3-year-old sister. Imagine a youngster, 7 years old, thinking about his country, his family, wanting to take care of his 3-year-old sister. And that’s when I thought to myself: If that is the spirit of the Japanese, they are going to make a very fast recovery, and, indeed, that’s what happened.
People were very, very grateful to America for the opportunity to rebuild their country and they participated in all kinds of ways to make it possible for that to happen.
I recall in 1974 or ’75, when Ambassador [Mike] Mansfield became ambassador to Japan, I had many occasions to talk to him and he told me that the greatest bilateral relationship between two countries was that between Japan and the United States. Just imagine — two countries at war, one the victor and one defeated, coming together to form the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none. I saw that happen and I’m very grateful. I thought about my Army days and I thought about MacArthur and the emperor to rebuild this country rather than take anything from this country. And so I am very, very grateful.
I also feel very strongly that all of us must not forget the gratitude the Japanese had, must not forget the effort to try to help them get along to get there. I am especially grateful to have come back after that and to have participated in the political arena and to bring about the changes in the community that made Hawai‘i a better place. We wanted equality for all the people in Hawai‘i and the Big Five of old would not permit that to happen.
So, while I participated in the political arena, I could not have made it had it not been for all the good things that the soldiers — the men and women — fought for in the battlefield, and they could not have done it without the support of the people of Hawai‘i. Not just they gave, but many others who really felt that Hawai‘i was ready for a change to become a fairer community. And that’s what I feel very strongly about today and I thank each of you for what you have done to make it possible for Hawai‘i to be a fairer, a better place for all the citizens of our community.
My deepest mahalo to all of you. Aloha . . .